Prof Jon Tonge has faced remorseless teasing since being hailed as the “Mystic Meg of political science” for accurately predicting Monday’s confidence vote in Boris Johnson.
When he turned up to a conference in Belfast on Thursday, an academic colleague said “the soothsayer has just walked in”. And his youngest daughter asked him: “If you can see things, how come you can’t tell you’re a complete loser?”
When he predicted Johnson would be out in six months, he faced a barrage of hostile comments on the Daily Mail website such as “burn him at the stake”. But Tonge, who teaches British politics at the University of Liverpool, is undaunted: “One of the commenters said I was a ‘trumped-up Nostradamus’. I’m tempted to put that on my Twitter bio.”
Now he is willing to risk further derision with more political predictions. His forecasts come with many caveats. “There are all sorts of hostages to fortune here,” he warns and adds: “I’m a poor man’s John Curtice,” in reference to the veteran pollster.
But Tonge, who has accounts with three bookmakers, says he has won more than he has lost on political bets. His winnings include £1,200 on the Northern Ireland assembly election in 2017 and £600 on an early bet on Boris Johnson succeeding Theresa May. So the following predictions might be worth a flutter:
Wakefield byelection 🔮
“Labour is absolutely certain to win because it only needs a 4% swing from the Conservatives. Labour will win by between 8,000 and 10,000 votes. It was a constituency that was, in effect, loaned to the Conservatives because of Brexit. The only thing that could dim the size of Labour’s majority is a low turnout.”
Tiverton and Honiton byelection 🔮
“This is harder to predict given the Conservatives won 60% of the vote. But it has gone close a couple of times and I would expect the Liberal Democrats to win it. It needs a 23% swing for that to happen and in Chesham and Amersham there was a 25% swing. The mood music has probably got worse since then, so I think the Lib Dems will win by around 2,000 votes.”
Next Tory leader 🔮
“A few weeks ago I would definitely have said Rishi Sunak. And although the non-dom status of his wife hasn’t helped, I still think it’s between Sunak and Liz Truss, with Ben Wallace a long shot at 20-1. It won’t be Jeremy Hunt.
“But it’s a difficult one. Tory leadership contests can throw up considerable surprises.
“As chancellor, Sunak has got to deal with an economy that is in a mess. And Truss, as foreign secretary, has the horrible poison chalice of the Northern Ireland protocol.
“These issues could do for either or both of them. If they can handle their in-trays they are prime minister material. If I was pushed, I’d say Truss will get it. If she makes it to the ballot she’s the favourite among members.”
Next Labour leader 🔮
“There won’t be a vacancy. I would be very surprised if Keir Starmer is fined by Durham police.
“But if he did quit, I think it would be between Andy Burnham and Lisa Nandy. When he was elected as Manchester mayor, he won in places like leafy Cheshire and Hale so he can connect.
“For a party committed to equality it is absolutely farcical that they have never found a woman to lead them and Nandy has a very clear idea of how Labour can win back those northern seats.
“Burnham would edge it over Nandy, but only just. And Wes Streeting would come some distance behind.”
Next chancellor and reshuffle 🔮
“There are four possibilities for the next chancellor. And if I had to rank them it would be: Sajid Javid again; Kwasi Kwarteng; Steve Barclay; Michael Gove. But I wouldn’t bet on this. Javid is a man that likes the highest office. Kwarteng is capable and a good communicator. Barclay is safe. I don’t know where Gove goes next, he is idiosyncratic and unpredictable.
“I don’t see some sort of brutal purge of the cabinet because Johnson doesn’t do brutal. People have said Priti Patel will be moved, but I don’t actually see that. Making Sunak foreign secretary would be his next logical job.”
Next general election 🔮
“This is almost impossible to predict at this stage. It depends on so many things, with the economy above all. I don’t think any party is going to get an overall majority.
“I have the Conservatives on 301 seats. Labour will gain about 50 to put them on 262. The Scottish National party will slip from 48 to 45. There’ll be 18 for the Northern Ireland parties. Plaid Cymru will get five seats, and the Greens one. That puts the Lib Dems on 18 seats. I’m a bit nervous about that Lib Dem figure but I’ll stick with it. There have been so many Lib Dem false dawns.
“I struggle to see how the Conservatives are going to form a government because they are friendless. So it will be a Starmer-led coalition. Expect all the ‘coalition of chaos’ stuff to be thrown at Labour again.”