With the resignation of Boris Johnson, the UK is facing their fourth Conservative Prime Minister since the defeat of New Labour in 2010. Whether it’s Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, the Tories are going to be going in a new direction from Boris. We can legally bet on UK Prime Minister odds in the United States with PredictIt.
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Next UK Prime Minister Odds
In the Conservative Party, the Members of Parliament vote until two candidates emerge as options, before those two go to the party’s grassroots members to select the leader.
In this case, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak were the two selected from the MPs, and while Sunak “won” that contest, the results of the MP’s votes have no bearing on the membership results.
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Sunak would represent the first British Prime Minister of Indian descendent and the first non-white Prime Minister since Disraeli in the 1860s. An MP since 2015, Sunak was gifted William Hague’s safe seat upon Hague’s elevation to the House of Lords – a way to elevate star talent.
A Hague loyalist, Sunak was given a minor role by Theresa May before supporting Boris Johnson in 2019 and being rewarded with a sizable promotion – and then being made Chancellor of the Exchequer when the then-Chancellor resigned mere weeks before COVID shut down the world.
As Chancellor, Sunak spent billions upon billions to keep the economy from collapse, but did so mostly at the pressure of Johnson. Before his part in the run of resignations forced Boris out, Sunak was attempting to pull back on spending during an inflationary crisis caused in part by his spending decisions and Brexit, which he supported in 2016 and still does.
Sunak is also known for having a wealthy wife who was using a legal, but controversial, tax status designed for citizens who do not intend to permanently live in the UK to limit tax liabilities. While there were no claims of illegality or abuse, the concept of the Chancellor’s wife being a “Non-Dom”, as it’s referred, was a political scandal earlier this year.
If I told you that one of the candidates for this leadership was a pro-Remain, former Lib Dem who rose in Conservative politics under David Cameron, you’d think that this person was the candidate of the Tory left. Somehow, you’d be wrong.
Liz Truss owes her political career to Cameron, whose desire to select women for winnable Conservative seats in 2010 and to promote women in the 2010-15 Parliament led to a first-term MP ending the Coalition as a Cabinet Minister.
Potentially related, she backed Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, arguing against border restrictions with the continent and arguing that the economic costs of Brexit would make it infeasible. Now that she’s seeking the votes of the pro-Brexit membership (and had to make it to the top two), she has said she was wrong.
Truss has been a longtime chameleon in the Conservative Party, always ensuring she was in the ascendant wing of the party, and is now riding the momentum of the Tory right to try and get the top job.
Analyzing UK Prime Minister Odds
Liz Truss will win.
Why? I don’t have a good answer to explain why the Tory right have rallied to someone so willing to say whatever it is her audience wants to hear, but it is clear that she has the votes to win this in the membership.
Sunak is burnt from his wife being a Nom-Dom – his attempt to paint himself as an everyman who has made the best out of Britain’s opportunities is (kind of) true, but nobody will listen when you married an Indian heiress who, rightly or wrongly, is viewed as a tax avoider.
Sunak’s claim to be a shining example of the greatest of England and the ability for anyone to make something of themselves is also undercut by the fact that he went to Winchester College and was given the seat of a former Tory leader and Foreign Secretary when he entered Parliament.
Is he the only actual Brexiteer in this race, and should this fact matter? Sure, but this isn’t about what should matter, it’s about what will, and it’s clear that Truss has convinced the Tory membership she’s the right choice.
She has a 24% lead over Sunak in the most recent poll of the Conservative Membership from YouGov, and she has enough commitments from strong, longstanding haters of the European Union that she won’t be dogged by her choice in the 2016 referendum.
Truss is also singing from the hymnbook that the Tory membership wants to hear – tax cuts and freedom, a callback to the Thatcher years when slashing tax rates corresponded with Britain bouncing back from a decade of lost economic growth under Labour.
Whether or not the Thatcher tax reforms had much, if any, impact is beside the point – nor is the fact that a handful of Thatcher’s living Cabinet colleagues have pushed back on the idea that she would support Truss’ tax plans relevant. The Tory membership, after years of tax and spend, want their party to come home to their roots.
Truss is both the candidate of direct discontinuity with Boris – Sunak was the Chancellor of the last administration, and so is tied to the economic legacy of that government in a way that she isn’t – but also of broader Tory continuity. She is the candidate who Tories want to believe in.
How did Sunak blow this, given that he has been the Chancellor who was long mooted to be the obvious next successor? He waited too long, and he took the punishments of the current inflationary crisis on. Had he resigned in the winter at the peak of public anger over PartyGate, he would be walking into No. 10 easily. But he blew it.
Sunak has spent too much for his membership, people who came of age in the time of Thatcher railing against debt and deficits and Labour’s tax and spend Governments. The membership wants fiscal responsibility and tax cuts, and the man who raised taxes during the highest sustained inflation since the 80s isn’t what they’re looking for.
This is Truss’ to lose, and it’s nearly impossible to think of how she could lose it.