The Racing Card

The Bet - Who will be the next Tory leader?

Portillo: 3-10
Duncan Smith: 9-2
Clarke: 11-2
Widdecombe: 8-1
Davis: 16-1
Maude: 33-1

Source: William Hill

For the first time in my life, I have won a competition. Sporting Index asked political hacks to make various predictions as to the number of seats the parties would win at the general election. My prediction of 412 seats for Labour (I wasn't including the Speaker) secured me a free weekend for two in Paris. Readers of this column who followed my advice to buy Labour will be able to afford their own weekend in Paris.

The race for the Tory party leadership is probably easier to predict, though it's worth recalling that the favourite with the bookies rarely wins. Margaret Thatcher and John Major were both outsiders - and look what happened to them.

Ladbrokes is so sure of the winner that it sent me a fax saying that it had suspended betting on Michael Portillo for leader after "witnessing a major gamble on him". This may be another publicity stunt following the extensive coverage Ladbrokes got for paying out on Labour before the election. There is not much use in a bookie that won't take your money, so if you fancy Portillo you'll have to take your cash to William Hill.

Big bets have been piling on there, too, with one punter betting a couple of grand. Portillo's odds have shortened considerably, but plenty of money has also been put on Kenneth Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith. The real dark horse is Ann Widdecombe, who has drifted all over the place. A few months ago, she was around 25-1, but has shortened to 6-1. In recent days, she has drifted out again, but if she were to become one of the final two, who knows what the Tory party membership would do? But I don't think even they are barmy enough to back Widdecombe, so my 50p is on Portillo.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the people who make Tony Blair sweat