The Racing Card

The Bet: Who will win the next General Election?

Labour 1-4
Tories 11-4
Liberal Democrats 80-1

(Source: William Hill)

Punters bet more than £2.5 million on the result of the 1997 general election with William Hill alone. But with Labour such an overwhelming favourite next time round, and not very good value at 1-4, most of the money will now be staked on individual constituency results. The Labour MP for Hove, Ivor Caplin, told me in the Ladbrokes box at White Hart Lane recently that some of his constituents made a mint by backing him to win. Similarly, you would have pocketed a fortune if you had backed Stephen Twigg to beat Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate. The book on individual seats has not opened yet, but if you don't fancy a punt on the overall result you could always bet on when the next election will be.

Favourite at 2-5 is 2001, with 2002 at 15-8,

but if you think that Tony will go next year you can get odds of 16-1, which is pretty good value. You may also fancy Portillo to lead the Tories into the next election at 6-1.

The 80-1 quote for the Liberal Democrats to win the next election is not generous - 500-1 would be nearer the mark. In fact, before the last election William Hill quoted them at 500-1 and an angry Liberal Democrat spin-doctor rang to complain but also asked how much money they would need to lay out to shorten the odds!

It is worth recalling that when it comes to forecasting the general election result, the bookies have been much more successful than the pollsters. In 1992 the bookies made the Tories favourites, albeit on the last day, while the pollsters got it wrong. But be warned. Before putting your house on a Labour victory just recall that Labour is not as hot a favourite to win as the All Blacks were to beat France.

Charlie Whelan

This article first appeared in the 08 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - To uplift the souls of the people