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

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.