The question of who will lead the United Kingdom into the uncharted territory of a post-Brexit future took a House of Cards-type turn last week when former London Mayor Boris Johnson, one of the favorites to take over leadership of the Conservative Party, was undone by a former rival and his politically connected wife.
However, Johnson’s political knifing by Lord Chancellor Michael Gove, his former ally in the fight to leave the European Union, may in the end just clear the way for a candidate who went into the referendum supporting the Remain side.
On Thursday, Gove announced that he no longer had confidence in Johnson’s ability to lead the country toward a future separated from Europe and announced his own candidacy instead. This came after the publication of a private email to Gove from his wife, journalist Sarah Vine, advising him that influential media titans, including Rupert Murdoch, did not trust Johnson, but had confidence in Gove.
With Gove pulling the rug out from under him, Johnson announced that he would not seek to lead the party.
If Gove thought his Frank Underwood-style undercutting of an erstwhile ally would propel him into the leadership of the Tories, though, he may have been mistaken. British bookmakers, who have a long history of laying odds on leadership elections, rate him a distant third in the field of candidates.
The favorite is Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, who publicly opposed the move to leave the European Union prior to the vote. (Post-vote, she has declared that she intends to honor the decision. “Brexit means Brexit,” she said. “The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”)
Major bookmakers in the U.K. all appear to expect May to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, though these are the same odds-setters who predicted the Remain camp would win the Brexit vote. Paddy Power, William Hill and Ladbrokes consider her an odds-on favorite, with a probability of between 70 and 80 percent of taking resigning Prime Minister David Cameron’s place.
Behind May is Andrea Leadsom, a former financial services executive who currently serves as the government’s Energy Minister. The betting markets all place her chances at around 20 percent.
Gove is currently given roughly a 10 percent shot at the office.
Under the British system, lawmakers will narrow the field of candidates to two, who will then be presented to Conservative Party members for a vote. According to Ladbrokes, the chances of Gove even appearing on the final ballot are currently about one-in-three.
Frank Underwood would not be impressed.