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Sunak narrow favourite over Truss for next PM, says ‘Mystic Meg of politics’ | Conservative leadership


The “Mystic Meg” professor who accurately predicted the number of Tory MPs who would back Boris Johnson in last month’s confidence vote has tentatively cast his runes for the final outcome of the Conservative leadership election.

“Without any confidence at all, I’d say Rishi Sunak will become the next prime minister,” said Jonathan Tonge, who teaches British politics at the University of Liverpool. “But I think it’s a 51/49 call because Liz Truss plays pretty well with the Tory party members too.

“I think the members could see Sunak as a slightly more plausible prime minister than Truss because I don’t think they are quite as obsessed about tax cuts as has been as popularly supposed. The Conservative party members are obsessed with Brexit, and in that sense Sunak has the upper hand over Truss because he is the longer-term Brexiteer.”

Tonge predicts that Tory members will not punish Sunak for his resignation from the cabinet. “I think Sunak was sufficiently loyal to Johnson for a long period while also maintaining a semblance of distance,” he said.

He thinks the anti-Sunak camp played their hand too early: if they had revealed Sunak’s wife’s non-dom status during this leadership election, he said, it would have sunk his chances, but he has now recovered from that furore.

“Sunak also looks the part of PM marginally more than Truss,” Tonge said. “He’s a polished performer who understands economics and the gravity of the economic situation better than any of his rivals. He’s pragmatic and not gung-ho, which contrasts with Truss and the Northern Ireland protocol bill – although that will not play badly for her.”

He said he could not guarantee that Sunak would be up against Truss at the final stage, with Penny Mordaunt also a strong contender.

“Unlike Truss, Mordaunt was a Brexiteer from the start, and there’s clearly a ‘stop Rishi’ campaign, where MPs will place their vote for the final two candidates based on who they think is likeliest to beat him in the final vote. If they think the Tory party membership, who cast the final ballot, cares more about Brexit than tax cuts, they’ll choose Mordaunt.”

Nevertheless, Tonge said: “I think Truss will probably shade it ahead of Mordaunt.”

Tonge’s predictions have not always been warmly welcomed: one commenter scathingly referred to him as a “trumped-up Nostradamus”, a moniker Tonge said he liked so much he was tempted to put it on his Twitter bio (although he prefers to think of himself as a “poor man’s John Curtice”, in reference to the veteran pollster).

But his predictions have largely come good. He says he has won more than he has lost on political bets, including winning £1,200 on the Northern Ireland assembly election in 2017 and £600 on an early bet on Boris Johnson succeeding Theresa May.

Tonge also made some predictions for the Guardian in June, most of which came to pass, including the outcome of the byelections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton. He also said he would be “very surprised” if Keir Starmer was fined by Durham constabulary.

Two predictions did not come to pass: if Boris Johnson had had a full reshuffle of his cabinet, Tonge predicted that Sunak would be moved to foreign secretary. He also tentatively said the next chancellor would be Sajid Javid, although he added: “I wouldn’t bet on this. Javid is a man that likes the highest office.”



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