The Racing Card

The Bet - How has the Budget changed the odds?

Labour to win general election 2-11
Gordon Brown to be next leader 4-7

(Source Ladbrokes)

The Budget is the most important political event of the year, which is why Tony Blair always looks so uncomfortable when Gordon Brown is delivering his Budget speech. Blair thinks he should be making it himself. So much so that, this year, he decided to make his own statement the next day. This actually made him look even weaker than Brown, but no one has had the bottle to tell Alastair Campbell that.

Before Brown delivered his fourth Budget, Labour was already 1-5 on to win the next election; by the time he sat down, the odds had shortened to 2-11. In normal circumstances, the bookies would have stopped taking bets, and even now they must be considering doing just that. Brown remains the firmest favourite ever as leader-in-waiting at 4-7, with Byers and Milburn now complete outsiders.

At Cheltenham, the bookies were all telling me that Brown had to cut betting tax because, otherwise, all betting would go offshore. In fact, betting duty revenue has gone up despite the move offshore by some bookies. The punters themselves did not think that Brown would cut betting duty. City Index quoted odds on a number of Budget measures, but no one put any money on changes to betting duty. Overall, it was not a good Budget for the bookies - they got most things totally wrong. The length of the speech was just 51 minutes - probably the shortest ever, but the bookies had it down for over an hour. The most-used word in the speech was "prudence", which Brown said 12 times, yet the bookies had "Internet" down as favourite, which he actually only used twice. The silliest bet was on how many sips of water Brown would take during his speech. The bookies said four, but he had none.

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - How we have lost the joy of sex