Five markets to follow in 2021

This is a huge year for Boris Johnson’s political future and much could depend on the success of the Covid-19 vaccine. He united his party around Brexit, with all of his MPs voting to pass the trade deal at the end of 2020, but how long will they stick together on other matters? Johnson is 4.57/2 to leave office in 2021 – the longest odds we’ve seen for several months – and 2.26/5 to make it all the way to 2024, the year when the next general election is scheduled to take place.

I’m not convinced he’ll lead them into the next election, especially not if there’s a public inquiry into his handling of the pandemic and if, as rumoured, his former adviser Dominic Cummings testifies that he told Johnson to put the country into lockdown sooner. The 4.57/2 on 2021 is a good price and, even if Johnson survives the year, those odds are likely to shorten and provide a trading opportunity.

A nice phrase in one of today’s papers that sums up the new breed of cabinet minister: “Too rubbish to fail.” It’s a reference to Gavin Williamson, who was previously sacked by Theresa May for compromising national security, and is now in charge of our young people’s educations. Williamson epitomises a cabinet full of ministers who are there on the basis of loyalty over ability and who want the status and none of the responsibility that comes with high office.

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Williamson is 8/1 to be the first to go while Priti Patel is the favourite at 5/1. There’s ample reason for either of them to leave but they don’t resign and Johnson doesn’t want to sack them, at least not in response to public opinion or political pressure. There could be a cabinet reshuffle soon, though, so keep an eye on the two mentioned above, Matt Hancock 12/1, Robert Jenrick 12/1 and Alister Jack 7/1.

As if the country hadn’t wasted enough time on the Conservative party’s internal rivalries, we now get to speculate about who might succeed Johnson as leader. This market looks very different to the way it did 12 months ago, with chancellor Rishi Sunak now the 3.45 favourite.

Sunak made a confident start, when succeeding Sajid Javid early last year, and was for a while the most popular chancellor since Gordon Brown’s heyday. Will it last? The economic impact of the pandemic could get a lot worse for many people and, so far, Sunak has shown little imagination in how he might address that, indicating that he sees spending cuts as the solution.

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Michael Gove 8.415/2, who’s served in every Tory government since 2010, is his nearest rival in the betting, while Jeremy Hunt 9.08/1 lurks on the backbenches, as does Sajid Javid 18.017/1.

Nicola Sturgeon has been talking up the chances of another referendum on Scottish independence since 24 June 2016 – the day after Britain (or rather, England and Wales) voted to leave the European Union.

Scottish elections in May means Sturgeon’s SNP have the chance to win a majority at Holyrood. That would give her the mandate to ask Johnson for a referendum, probably to take place in 2022. Johnson has insisted that he will say ‘no’ and Sturgeon has indicated that she could pursue the matter through the courts.

On the Exchange, it’s 1.9520/21 that there won’t be a referendum this side of 2025. If you think Sturgeon will get her way, and the vote will take place, then it’s 5/6 on the Sportsbook that Scots will vote for independence and the same price that they vote to remain in the union.

The previous decade saw four general elections and, at the outset of the 2020s, the UK public were probably fed up of voting. The next general election is set to take place in May 2024 and on the Exchange it’s 1.412/5 that will happen.

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That could change, however, especially if there’s a new Conservative leader. The Tories are 1.794/5 to win the most seats at the next election and that’s the shortest price we’ve seen on them for a while, as they had drifted to around 1.855/6 amid poor polling in 2020.

Exchange bettors are not convinced, however, that they will win another majority and make another hung parliament the odds-against favourite 2.26/5. That would be an excellent outcome for Labour, given the Tories current 80-seat majority, and allow them to build towards victory in 2029.