Why Boris Johnson is no slam dunk for Tory crown

Boris Johnson is the frontrunner to succeed Theresa May as British prime minister, but his victory is far from a done deal | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Why Boris Johnson is no slam dunk for Tory crown

History shows that being the early favorite can be a curse in Tory leadership races.


6/11/19, 2:03 PM CET

Updated 6/12/19, 4:36 AM CET

LONDON — Boris Johnson is the bookies’ favorite to succeed Theresa May — but don’t bet on it.

Previous leadership contests for the U.K.’s Tory party suggest that the title of “front-runner” — the tag currently attached to the former foreign secretary — is more hindrance than help.

It draws fire from other contenders and brings disproportionate scrutiny from the media early in the race, as well as from what one veteran described as the “duplicitous electorate” of Tory MPs.

“Do the favorites win? History says very rarely,” said Steven Norris, a veteran former Conservative MP.

Here is POLITICO’s guide to the Tory leaders that never were, and the factors that led to their undoing after promising so much at the start of their leadership campaigns. The form book shows that Tory leadership elections often produce shock results.

The aborted contest

The most recent Tory leadership contest, in 2016, was triggered when David Cameron stood down the morning after the Brexit referendum result.

Johnson, who was the early front-runner three years ago, dropped out unexpectedly after his campaign manager Michael Gove, a fellow leading light in the Leave campaign,

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