Mad politics make betting fun

    3 October 2015

    Never mind ‘Tories for Corbyn’: what about gamblers for Corbyn? We all know the new Labour leader was a 200-1 shot when his campaign began. It’s less well known that in June one plucky Betfair punter stuck a tenner on him at 700-1. Ladbrokes also let slip that a customer who ‘lives very close to Jeremy Corbyn’ in Islington had put on £50 at around 100-1. Was it Jez himself? Politics is so mad at the moment that you can’t rule anything out — and for betting addicts this sheer unpredictability makes political wagering more fun than ever.

    But now the crazy Labour leadership race is over, what’s left? (To bet on, I mean: no one’s offering odds on the demise of democratic socialism.) You could, if you think the world order has been turned on its head, plump for Corbyn to be the next Prime Minister at 10-1, but that’s a brave call. Tory moderates might prefer to back George Osborne in the next Tory leader market, although at 11-8 he looks a bit short-priced (brag alert: readers who followed the advice of this column could have had him at 16-1). If you prefer to bet on a contest that will be settled before next summer, the London mayoral market could be the one for you. Here again, however, leading contenders Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan don’t offer much value, at 6-5 and 8-11 respectively.

    So it might be worth looking across the Atlantic, at nominations for the 2016 US presidential election. More madness here: a few months ago, Hillary Clinton seemed unstoppable — but now she looks far from it. Her support is even eroding among women, who are meant to be her strong suit. The preferred establishment alternative is likeable vice-president Joe Biden, who’s thought to have the backing of Barack Obama. But Biden hasn’t (at time of writing) declared his candidacy, and anyone who has followed his career will know that this veteran gaffe-machine from Scranton, Pennsylvania, is never a slick campaigner. He once suggested Hillary Clinton would have made a better vice-president than him; it’s hard to see why he thinks he’d be better at the top job.

    Clinton’s challenger to the left, meanwhile, is Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Everyone says the socialist Sanders is way too left-wing for American Democrats. But everyone said the same about Corbyn and Labour, and Sanders has started to poll above Clinton for the Iowa caucuses and in New Hampshire. His 5-1 price looks generous.

    The Republican race is even more perplexing. The dreaded Donald Trump (5-2) still leads the polls, even though only crazy people seem to support him. His success can be put down to an angry electorate, plus his showbiz appeal — he generates clicks like no other politician — and the fact that his rivals are so numerous and so weak. But it’s hard to see his bonkers campaign sustaining itself into the winter. Some pundits think even Trump himself is tiring of the joke.

    Bookmakers still favour former Florida governor Jeb Bush (2-1) even though his popularity has been tanking: from 16 per cent in July down to 7.5 per cent in September. It could all change, of course, but at current odds the smart money is ‘laying’ (betting against) him on Betfair.

    The sensible Republican pick would be one of the lesser–known candidates — but which? There are too many. Florida senator Marco Rubio (11-2) is a smooth talker with the added advantage of being Hispanic, but never quite lives up to his neocon hype. I had a punt on Ohio governor John Kasich at 16-1 last month, but he has lost momentum. A better bet might be Carly Fiorina (10-1), who performed well in the second televised GOP debate last month. As a strong-jawed Texan businesswoman who talks about standing up to Vladimir Putin, she appeals to hawkish right-wingers. But her business CV might hurt her: while she was running the IT company Hewlett-Packard, its share price dropped by 50 per cent.

    The Speculator’s nap would be Dr Ben Carson (14‑1), whom we interviewed in The Spectator last month and who is (perhaps for that very reason) surging in the polls. As a black neurosurgeon whose mother was illiterate, he’s an embodiment of the American dream and has raised a fortune for his campaign on social media. He has the advantage of not being as obviously narcissistic as ‘the Donald’ and he’s eccentrically right-wing enough to appeal to the Tea Party brigade: he thinks straight people who go into prison often come out gay, for instance, and his recent anti-Muslim outburst probably won’t do him any harm. In these crazy days, he might have exactly what it takes.