The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will win Brentwood and Ongar?

Eric Pickles (Tory): 1-5
Martin Bell (Independent): 3-1
Frank Bruno: 66-1

(Source William Hill)

With Labour still 1-7 to win the election, the first book on an individual seat was made last week. The reason for this was the announcement by the former boxer and current pantomime star Frank Bruno that he would be standing for the Conservative Party in Brentwood and Ongar.

Unfortunately for fearless Frank, a Tory candidate had already been selected, but he clearly forgot to check first. His election slogan could be "Vote for Frank - I'm a plank". That the squeaky clean Martin Bell had already thrown his hat into the ring for the seat means that media attention will be intense.

Bell has really enjoyed life in Westminster and now bitterly regrets his promise to Tatton voters to stand for only one term. He has shown that he is unfit to be a politician by not going back on his word. A real politician would have persuaded the local paper to organise a poll showing that the punters wanted him to stand, and then bowed to popular demand.

Now that Screaming Lord Sutch is dead, there are no good "joke" candidates to enliven interest in the election race for the bookies. So the entry of Bruno is a godsend for them. Lord Sutch was so important to the bookies that, once, when he was facing bankruptcy, William Hill stepped in to finance his election deposits.

The Tories may have launched their election campaign with new posters, but it has not much excited the punters. Very little money has changed hands since last week, and the spread remains Labour 374-382, Tories 211-219 and Liberal Democrats 38-41.

I'm still buying Labour until it reaches 400.

This article first appeared in the 22 January 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the great cover-up