The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will be the next Tory leader?

Michael Portillo: 11-8
Ann Widdecombe: 7-2
Francis Maude: 5-1
Kenneth Clarke: 7-1
John Redwood: 33-1

(Source: William Hill)

With the general election on hold, the political hacks have had to fill their pages with any old rubbish they can. Robin Cook's "chicken tikka masala" speech has helped. This embarrassingly shallow look at "Britishness", designed to label all Conservatives as racist, backfired badly, and, to the delight of the Tories, only resulted in all politicians being attacked by the ethnic minorities.

The media have had much more fun with who will become the next Tory leader. The more speculation there is about it, the more leading Tories (and Portillo in particular) have to pledge their loyalty to Hague. This makes Hague look even weaker, thus fuelling even more speculation. There is no doubt that many of the stories about a leadership race are simply made up, but that does not mean Tory MPs aren't discussing it.

The bookies report much more activity in this market than betting on the general election. Not surprising, since William Hill has moved its odds on a Labour win from 1-8 to 1-10. Given all the publicity Portillo gets, you would expect him to be on shorter odds than 11-8, but he remains very firm favourite.

Widdecombe's odds have been moving substantially: the last month has seen them shorten from 7-1 to 7-2. But the biggest mover has been Clarke, who has slipped from second favourite, at 9-4, down to 7-1. He may deny that he will back Portillo, but the bookies don't believe him, and they are usually right. Still, I would want to look elsewhere for the winner - remember past contests with Major at 25-1 and Thatcher 20-1.

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How new Labour wrestled with a world it never made