The Racing Card

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

Labour: 366-374
Tories: 222-230
Liberals: 36-39

(Source: Sporting Index)

"Nothing I will ever do will be designed to harm the government or party." So said Peter Mandelson last week. Had anyone else said this, then it would be taken to mean that they wouldn't do anything to harm the party. Mandelson didn't mean that at all. The telling word is "designed". This means he can continue to say and do what he likes and stuff the party.

For two Sundays in a row, he dominated the headlines with stories of his own creation. I remember just after John Smith died, when speculation was rife as to who would succeed him, a friend told me to watch Mandelson and the Sunday papers. The doubly disgraced MP for Hartlepool knows better than anyone how important the Sundays are in setting the agenda, and how damaging stories about him can be for Labour.

Fortunately, according to the bookies, he has yet to harm Labour much, though there has been a small shift to the Tories since he was sacked. In the past two weeks, Labour has moved four seats down and the Tories four up. The spread on the size of Labour's majority has gone from 80-90 to 75-83. The market movements have not been due to huge bets being placed; very little has been waged so far.

William Hill reports that the biggest bet it has had all week was £100 on Frank Bruno to win in Brentwood. It also says there has been more interest in the new "Goldfish" game, where you can bet on which fish will swim under the bridge first.

The other matter worrying the big City bookies at the moment is whether the Budget will clash with Cheltenham races. My money is on no clash - there are hundreds of racing fanatics in the Treasury.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Exclusive: how Labour could lose