The Racing Card

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

Labour Party: 368-376
Conservative Party: 214-222
Liberal Democrats 40-43

(Source: City Index)

Outside No 10, Tony Blair delivered the most compelling argument I have heard for going ahead with the general election on 3 May. He said that only a tiny minority of people were affected by foot-and-mouth and that there were no practical reasons for delaying. He also added, no doubt at Gordon Brown's insistence, that business needed stability. His only reason for the delay was that it enabled him and his spin-doctors to prattle

on about "one nation" and "putting country before party". This is code for their belief that the Labour Party isn't fit to run the country, only Blair is. The farmers have held the country to ransom and Blair has given in.

The only two national newspapers that called for a delay, the Tory-supporting Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, thanked him for his decision by accusing him of dithering. No one knows how Blair's indecision will affect the result of the election, but we can see what the most accurate predictor says. I'm not referring to the polls but the bookies, and in particular the spread-betting companies. The day before Alastair Campbell informed the Sun that the election would be postponed, City Index had Labour at 376-384. By the Monday morning when Blair made his "statesmanlike" announcement, the market had moved against Labour to 368-376. City Index said that there had been "significant sellers of Labour" and that this had been in a "non-volatile market", meaning that it expected the market to continue to move against Labour. William Hill, on learning of the delay, moved its odds on Labour down from 1-9 to 1-8, on the basis that the perception was that Blair was "not in control of the situation". Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that Blair wants a reduced majority.

This article first appeared in the 09 April 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Duel for the Tube