The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will win the next election?

Labour: 1-5
Tories: 3-1
Liberal Democrats: 80-1

(Source: William Hill)

I was talking to a top Tory this week - yes, I do talk to Tories - and we were discussing the most important political event of the past few weeks. He said that it was Prescott acting like Prescott at the earth summit, conveniently forgetting the by-elections on 23 November.

The day after Labour's clean sweep, I went to Ascot. The biggest bet of the day by a punter was not on the nags, but on Labour to win the election. He laid out a modest £50,000 with William Hill, having seen the odds cut from 1-4 to 1-5 following the by-election results. This is the largest bet waged since May 1997. In case you think the odds are too short, the return on your money, at 20 per cent, is still a lot more than current interest rates.

My strong advice is to pile the money on now before the bookies close the book for the first time in history. If that happens, the big bookies may have to consider entering the spread-betting market, which took £4m at the 1997 election. This market can't close, and already the companies are doing a roaring trade. The Tories have seen their odds drift out to 3-1 but, even at that price, there have been no takers. Is it any wonder that their attention is now focused on who will take over from William Hague?

Michael Portillo and his "friends" may have given Ann Widdecombe a bloody nose after the Tory conference, but she's still a threat to his leadership ambitions. Portillo may be the bookies' clear favourite to replace Hague, but Widdecombe will be pleased to know that no ante-post favourite has won the race in recent years.

Before parting with your hard-earned cash on this one, remember that six months before Major became leader he wasn't even given a price by the bookies.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Goodbye to the dirty mac image