The Racing Card

The Bet - What will be the date of the next general election?

March 2001: 20-1
April 2001: 12-1
May 2001: 4-5
May 2002: 6-1
June 2002: 25-1

(Source William Hill)

Following on from the local election results, there has been a series of polls showing reduced support for Labour in general and Tony Blair in particular. These tell us what we already know, but they have had the effect of generating a new bout of stories about the date of the next general election. Given that the only person who knows the date is Blair himself, most of these stories can be safely ignored. The stories do, however, give an indication of what the courtiers around Blair are thinking.

The front-page Guardian story by Patrick Wintour, which said that the election would be delayed, had all the hallmarks of a Peter Mandelson briefing, which, I'm told, sent Alastair Campbell into one of his notorious rages. Mandelson may want to delay the election, which has always been planned for May 2001, but Campbell believes that to delay it would make Blair look even weaker than he already is. There is clearly a sense of panic in No 10, but it is not shared by the bookies, who still have May next year as odds-on firm favourite. The only recent change in the odds has been a slight lengthening from 4-6 to 4-5; and, unless Blair is seen having a small punt in the Westminster branch of William Hill, the odds are likely to remain fairly static.

Interestingly, the odds on May 2002 have shortened from 8-1 to 6-1, and June 2002, the last possible date, can be had at 25-1. If you like very long odds, then you could put a few quid on January next year at 200-1, but that's as likely as me becoming the next political editor of the BBC.

This article first appeared in the 22 May 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Hacking their way to a fortune