The Racing Card

The Bet - How many seats will the parties win at the general election?

Labour: 374-382
Tories: 211-219
Liberal Democrats: 38-41

(Source: City Index)

If, like me, you spent a fortune over Christmas and New Year, you may want to get some money back by having a punt on the election. With Labour at 1-7 to win with William Hill, you may be tempted to put your mortgage on, but my advice is to get on it before they close the book.

The main point of interest in this election, to be held in May (1-3 favourite), is the number of seats each party will win. From now until the election, we will concentrate on this, popularly known as the spread. This will be the first election where the internet will play such a significant role for the bookies, and they are hoping for a bigger bonanza than the £4m that punters waged last time.

As soon as the election is called, you will also be able to bet on individual constituencies, and it is here, with local knowledge, that you will be able to beat the bookies. Ever since last June, the number of seats the punters think Labour will win has steadily increased, rising to 382 today.

The gap between the main parties has widened from 110 to 163 but, as I've said before, the gap in 1997 was 253, so even at 382 it is still worth "buying" Labour, which won 410 seats last time. Or you could ask for a spread on the number of seats by which Labour will beat the Tories.

The bookies will also be opening a book on the turnout, which will undoubtedly be a big issue as Labour desperately tries to convince its supporters to vote in an election that, for them, already seems won. Don't forget Scotland, because the Tories will still struggle to win a seat there, and last time the bookies offered 50-1 on that happening. The SNP could also struggle to win the same number of seats - and you can bet on that, too.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Dotcoms will rise again