The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will win the next election?

Labour Party: 2-9
Conservative Party: 3-1
Liberal Democrats: 50-1

Source: William Hill

Ladbrokes closed the book on the 2001 election last Monday, and paid out on a Labour win. This is nothing new in betting in general (the bookies often pay out in advance on Manchester United winning the Premiership), but is a first for political betting. Unlike Ladbrokes, William Hill kept its book open - but, at 1-100 on, it definitely wasn't worth a punt. The spread-betting companies, meanwhile, were just beginning to trade large amounts of money on their books.

When I first began this column last year, you could have "bought" Labour seats at 350; later, the number of Labour seats predicted moved up to 412 with Sporting Index. Just before the election, one punter "bought" Labour for £800 each at 411 seats, and all week there were buyers for Labour and sellers for the Tories. As we approached the close of the poll, Sporting Index had Labour at around 406-412, the Tories 164-170, and the Liberal Democrats 52-54. Almost spot on, it turned out.

It was after the polls had closed that the betting on the spread reached its height, as the punters tried to get out of their losing positions, or make even more. It is estimated that more than £5m was staked on the result of this election.

William Hill, having lost out to the Ladbrokes PR coup of paying out before the result, hit back by opening the book on the next election. The odds are at the top of this column. Whatever hopeful noises the Tories make, the bookies clearly don't see any prospect of a quick comeback.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, There are years of fun to come