The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will be the next Tory leader?

Michael Portillo: evens
Kenneth Clarke: 9-4
Ann Widdecombe: 7-1
John Redwood: 20-1
Theresa May: 20-1
(Source: Ladbrokes)

Following the Budget, the bookies moved Labour's odds from 1-9 to 1-10, making the party the biggest ever favourite to win a general election. However, with the foot-and-mouth crisis, it is not clear that the election can take place on 3 May, the date on which Labour strategists have targeted all their campaigning. A month's delay may not be too difficult to cope with, particularly as it would give us all the chance to have an Easter break. But a delay until the autumn would not help anyone, including the Conservatives, who are desperate to get the defeat over and done with as soon as possible.

When I asked the Tory spinstress Amanda Platell last week what she planned to do after the election defeat, she just hit me. She is the only Tory I've met who refuses even privately to admit that the game is up. The rest of the party is gearing up for a leadership election. Michael Portillo never wanted to be shadow chancellor because he thought that fighting Labour on the economy would be too difficult. He has been proved right but remains the firm favourite to take over from William Hague. His odds have shortened from 6-4 to evens. Ken Clarke has now moved to second favourite, which is no surprise to New Statesman readers, who have seen him make a strong showing in our Fantasy Politics. The big loser has been Ann Widdecombe; her odds have lengthened considerably from 3-1 to 7-1.

The question remains, however: how many seats will the Tories have to lose by before Hague resigns? Watch out for the spin by Platell on this one.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Trapped in the human zoo