Political betting is serious business these days. About £10 million’s worth of bets were placed on the 2010 election; this year the sum is expected to surpass £40 million. It can’t be long before some self-righteous MP — step forward Tom Watson, your country needs you — calls it a national disease.
Why all the wagering? It must be partly, at least, because 7 May is likely to be the most exciting general election of recent times (for the reasons Liam Halligan sets out). It’s revolt on the right, on the left and in Scotland, as Ukip, the Greens and the SNP all profit from the decline of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The two-or-three-party hold on parliament has been broken, and we can expect more coalitions and minority governments. William Hill reports that one high-roller has put £200,000 — the largest bet ever made on a general election, apparently — on a hung parliament come 8 May.
But when everyone is predicting the unpredictable, it’s time to be contrary, to dare to be dull. When all the hype is about new kids on the Westminster block, the odds on the old parties inevitably drift long. On Betfair’s exchange, for instance, an outright Labour majority is trading at about 17/1. That’s an incredible price: by way of comparison, William Hill is offering just 7/1. Yes, Labour is being murdered by the SNP in Scotland — recent polls suggest that they may be reduced to four seats north of the border — and, yes, their leader is Ed Miliband. But look at the fundamentals: the electoral system very much favours Labour; put simply, they can still win with a considerably smaller vote share than the Conservatives. Moreover, Labour is heading into the election with 257 MPs. As our political editor James Forsyth pointed out in these pages back in 2010, only three oppositions have failed to win from such a strong starting position since 1884.
An outright Labour win remains unlikely, but in the next ten weeks momentum is bound to swing back and forth between red and blue, and the great thing about exchange gambling is that you can back ‘Labour majority’ now and lay out for a profit when the odds drift in to a more accurate price. The Oracle Forsyth tells me this would be about 5 or 6/1.
The odds on David Cameron winning after 7 May have shrunk in recent months. The boom in employment, and the faint whiff of future prosperity in the air, have all helped: another Conservative/Lib Dem coalition is currently favourite in the ‘next government’ markets, at 4/1; Labour minority second at 9/2. Again, the opposition seems underpriced. As Mike Smithson, who runs politicalbetting.com, puts it, ‘If you were to toss a coin and somebody were to offer you better than evens on it being tails, you’d take it. That’s what it’s like on Labour now.’
Price for a Labour majority on Betfair
Price at William Hill
James Forsyth’s estimate
Miliband may poll far behind Cameron in the leadership ratings, but in the likely event of a toss-up hung parliament, that might not matter. So pinch your adenoids and plump for Team Ed. Think of it this way: you’ll be considerably worse off if Miliband does reach No. 10. It could be a much-needed consolation.
An interesting side market can be found on Betfair: ‘Which of Clegg, Farage and Salmond will be MPs after the election?’ ‘All three’ is priced at just 6/4, which seems short, given that they all face stiff opposition. Clegg is unloved, to put it mildly, even in his own seat in Sheffield. Farage is throwing everything he has at South Thanet, but he has to overturn a 17 per cent Tory majority. Salmond, meanwhile, is by no means guaranteed to land the Gordon seat — it’s part of Scotland which said ‘no’ to him in the independence referendum last year, where the falling oil price makes a mockery of SNP fiscal plans and where, I’m told, the main unionist parties will effectively pull out to give the Lib Dems the best possible chance of holding the seat. You can back ‘none of’ Nick, Nigel and Alex to be in the next parliament at 50/1.
Worth a fiver, surely?