Archive for August, 2005


Will we have three new faces next time?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Blair, Howard and Kennedy
It could be all change at the next election

The focus of British political gamblers over the months since the General Election has been on the next Conservative leader. There is a market on the next Labour leader (and the deputy too), along with betting on when Tony Blair will resign as Prime Minister and Labour leader.

There is no market as yet on the Liberal Democrat leadership, where there are two interesting questions: when will Charles Kennedy go, and who will replace him?

Though the next General Election will certainly see a new Conservative leader, and Tony Blair is very likely to have stepped down, it’s an open question whether Kennedy will still be at the head of the Lib Dems in 2009 or 2010. After winning the best third-party result in 70 years, he is hardly disqualified from fighting a third election. However, having been an MP since the age of 23, and with a young family, he may decide not to continue beyond, say, the conclusion of the party’s policy review.

With many political journalists not well-connected (or just not very interested) in Liberal Democrat circles, reading what press coverage there is of a potential leadership contest often gives a misleading impression of the likely candidates. Unlikely to be in serious contention, for instance, are party president Simon Hughes (a popular figure within the party but not seen as focused and organised enough for the leadership), treasury spokesman Vincent Cable, deputy leader Menzies Campbell (at 62 and 64 respectively, not regarded as long-term choices), or home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten (though often promoted by the press as the leader of the party’s right, he is seen across the ideological range as having quite shallow roots in the party).

More likely contenders would be work and pensions spokesman David Laws from the right of the party, trade and industry spokesman Norman Lamb from the centre-right, and education spokesman Edward Davey from the centre-left – if there were to be a leadership election during this parliament. On the other hand, some in the party – even if they are not Kennedy fans – will be taking into their calculations the calibre of the Liberal Democrat MPs newly elected this year. Fans of Nick Clegg or Susan Kramer would probably prefer a leadership vacancy to be deferred until after the next election, rather than see their favourites have to sit it out as first-term MPs.

Even with the date of a leadership change uncertain, this would be an interesting market for betting – both on the date of the change and on who the next leader will be. During the last parliament, Betfair had a market on which combination of Blair, Duncan-Smith and Kennedy would still be leaders at the 2005 General Election. Once a new Tory leader has been elected, this would be a good one to have back.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Has he changed his mind too late?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

Kenneth Clarke
Will Clarke’s switch on the euro come across as common sense or opportunism?

In the Conservative leadership race, the chances of Kenneth Clarke seem to have been rescued from a badly flagging position since Clarke – the only really prominent Conservative to have supported the euro – admitted that he now saw the single currency as “a failure”.

Less than two weeks ago, Clarke’s campaign was being deserted by former supporters such as Tony Baldry, with only John Bercow and Ann Widdecombe left as publically declared allies. Now the momentum has turned round. Tim Yeo may only have been a “leadership contender” to boost his shadow cabinet chances under the eventual winner, but his endorsement of Clarke seems to mark the stage where the former Chancellor has begun to be seen as in with a chance again. The betting markets agree, pulling Clarke’s odds in to 5.6/1. Doubtless Clarke and David Cameron would argue as to who it was that rejected the “dream ticket” idea first, but both are running hard in their own right.

Clarke argues that his great merit is his ability to beat Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and on what polling evidence is available, he is correct that he has more public appeal than other leadership candidates. On the other hand, polls about hypothetical alternative party leaders tend to reflect name recognition quite strongly rather than thought-out opinions on the candidates. Labour sources are reported as saying Clarke is the candidate they fear most, though parties would probably be wise not to try outfoxing their opponents based on comments which are conveniently allowed to leak to the press.

With British entry into the euro having fallen way down the political agenda, and a future Gordon Brown government unlikely to be in a hurry to resurrect it, Clarke’s change of position on it could be seen as a common-sense recognition of the facts of the current situation. But those who distrust Clarke will conjure up another parallel. In the approach to the final round of 1997 leadership election, Clarke made a deal with John Redwood, the most right-wing candidate in the contest, for his support. With so little political common ground between Clarke and Redwood, the odd coupling did not go down well with Tory MPs, and William Hague won the leadership by 22 votes. Whilst some of Clarke’s public appeal comes from the perception that he goes ahead and speaks his mind regardless of the consequences, supporters of other candidates may try to link his change in position with the Redwood pact in a pattern of opportunism.

Conspicuous by his absence from recent coverage has been frontrunner David Davis – and that may be the most advantageous position for him, while Clarke and Cameron are seen as fighting each other. With some fire drawn away from him, a three-horse race could boost Davis’s chances.

As punters in this market return to digest the long weekend’s news, the momentum towards Clarke should have further to run. And even if this is overdone, it does reflect a genuine recovery of his prospects from their low point. But beyond that, the transformation into a three-cornered contest has the effect of making David Davis (currently 0.75/1) better value than has been the case for a while.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Bank holiday competition

Monday, August 29th, 2005

I won the pbcompetition and all I got was this lousy publicity
Win a prize that money cannot buy

To occupy you over the bank holiday, another of’s occasional prediction competitions. It looks like the only prize on offer will be the admiring respect of your peers on the site.

The rules

  • Post your entry as a comment on this thread.
  • Please don’t use this thread for anything other than entries – discussion of the questions can go on the thread below this one.
  • Entries close at 11.59pm BST on Saturday 3rd September, as measured by the time shown on your comment.
  • Make sure you put a valid address in the “email” box when you post your entry so you can be contacted if you win.
  • One entry per person please, even for those who post here under multiple names!
  • The scoring scheme is shown along with the questions. No question will give you a negative score.
  • After the last result is available (either the Conservative National Convention on 27th September or the Livingston by-election, whichever is later) I will add up the scores and ask Mike Smithson to announce the winner on the site.

The questions


1: What percentage of votes cast at the Conservative National Convention will be for the constitutional amendment giving MPs the final say in electing a leader?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 1% you are out
2: Which party will win the Livingston by-election?
5 points
3: What will be the percentage turnout in the Livingston by-election?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 1% you are out
4: What will be Labour’s winning margin in Livingston as a percentage of votes cast? (if Labour lose, this will be a negative number)
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 0.5% you are out


5: Which parties will hold ministerial office in the new government?
4 points for each correct party; -4 for each incorrect party; CDU–CSU treated as a single party
6: What percentage of national (party list) vote share will the FDP receive?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 0.25% you are out
7: What percentage of national (party list) vote share will Die Linke–PDS receive?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 0.25% you are out

New Zealand

8: How many parties (no need to name them) will win seats in parliament?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 5 points for each 1 you are out
9: What percentage of national (party list) vote share will the National party receive?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for every whole 0.5% you are out


10: What percentage of vote share will the Democratic party receive in the block constituencies?
10 points for the correct answer, reducing by 1 point for each whole 0.5% you are out

Good luck!

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Bank holiday competition comments

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Please use this thread for any discussion of the competition… the comments section on the competition post itself should be for entries only. Many thanks.


Sunday press roundup, 28th August 2005

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

Weekend words weighed
Printing press
The Conservative leadership election gets heavy coverage in today’s papers. The Sunday Times reminds readers that the left-leaning former minister Tim Yeo was still in the race, but has now dropped out to back Kenneth Clarke. Clarke is interviewed in the paper and, in a sentence that both his supporters and opponents are likely to enjoy, is quoted as saying: “I find it almost comic the number of people who tell me they would vote Tory if I were leader.” The Observer repeats another quote from that interview – “The Lib Dems are terrified of me” – and also predicts that Clarke will speak out during the campaign on his opposition to the Iraq war.

The once vaunted idea of a Clarke–Cameron “dream ticket” now seems dead, and the Sunday Telegraph has both the former Chancellor and the Shadow Education Secretary saying so. Pro-Clarke sources say that “Ken can win, with or without David Cameron … Something drastic would have to happen to stop him from running now. He is fit, robust and raring to go.” Those outside his inner circle would probably score him two out of three on that. A separate and more comprehensive interview with Cameron, which quotes him as rejecting a pact with Clarke (“I don’t believe that the right way of going about this is talking about doing deals.”) and, on the policy front, calling for compulsory community service for school-leavers. Melissa Kite’s article also describes a “thawing of relations” between Cameron and David Davis.

The Independent on Sunday has a short article making the point that Clarke is likely to run whether or not the system for electing the leader is changed.

The betting markets have upgraded Clarke’s chances to a 6/1 shot, while Davis is at 0.75/1 and Cameron at 4.2/1.

The main coverage of foreign politics in the British papers today is on the German general election, to be held on 18th September. The Observer covers the election and reports that 48% of Germans remain undecided on how to vote. In The Sunday Times‘s long profile of CDU leader Angela Merkel [split across two web pages], the paper sees the 4th September TV debate between Merkel and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as key, and points out that the contrast between Schröder’s assurance with the media and Merkel’s more hesitant delivery could benefit either one of them.

The betting on Germany remains quiet, with Merkel still regarded as nearly certain to become Chancellor after the election.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Saturday markets update, 27th August 2005

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

New, moving and interesting markets this week
Trading pit
In last week’s markets update, we commented that the fixed odds betting on the German general election predicted that Angela Merkel was almost certain to become Chancellor after the 18th September election (which has now been formally authorised by the Constitutional Court). This is still the case, with Merkel 1/16 to become Chancellor, and the CDU–CSU 1/33 to be the largest party in the Bundestag. However, Cantor Spreadfair has added interest by creating a spread betting market on the parties’ vote shares. The market is very new and no bids or offers have yet been posted – Spreadfair is a betting exchange on which your bet is against another punter. A guide to the likely prices is the latest polls collated on the Umfragen site. These have the CDU–CSU on around 42%, the SPD about 28%, with the Greens and FDP both around 8%. Though these numbers have been almost rock steady for the last week, it’s hard to see there being no movement at all between now and the election; and knowledgeable watchers of German politics may have a view on which parties are over- and underestimated by opinion pollsters.

Spreadfair has also indicated that a spread market on the 11th September general election in Japan will be coming very soon.

Another new market is Paddy Power‘s on the 2007 French presidential election. The 5/4 favourite is Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy of the Gaullist UMP party. Second favourite at 7/2 is the Socialist François Hollande. With this market, your money is tied up for the two years until the election – during which time there are likely to be plenty of twists and turns in the story. Gamblers interested in this election would probably prefer to have a betting exchange to trade in and out of positions.

On Thursday we saw that the betting odds on the New Zealand general election were moving towards Labour. This movement has continued on Centrebet, with Labour now at 7/25 and National at 9/4. Betfair has better odds if you are backing Labour, but not as good if your money is going on National.

Friday’s article covered the Tradesports markets on the US party nominations for the 2008 Presidential elections. The Democratic favourite, still by a long way, is Hillary Clinton at 42.9% (1.33/1). On the Republican side, the race is much closer, with George Allen at 20.2% (3.95/1), John McCain at 18.0% (4.56/1) and Rudy Giuliani at 14.9% (5.71/1). Better value might be found looking further down the list for state governors, whose record in getting to the White House over the last 30 years is better than that of Senators or mayors.

Returning home to the UK, the market attracting most interest is on the Conservative leadership. The clear favourite is still Shadow Home Secretary David Davis at 0.73/1. After former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke’s statement in which he described the euro as a failure – so far, his odds have shortened slightly to 7.8/1. Shadow Education Secretary David Cameron remains second-placed at 4.3/1.

A new market, which appeared online just after Tuesday’s article here, is on the next Labour deputy leader. Paddy Power gives the edge here to David Blunkett (7/2), followed by Jack Straw (4/1) and Charles Clarke (9/2). All three ministers are regarded as Blairites; an alternative betting strategy would be to look for candidates who could balance a Gordon Brown-led ticket in a different way – though perhaps not as “different” as 100/1 outsider George Galloway.

If you are opening a Spreadfair account, it would be appreciated if you followed the link in this article or on the right-hand sidebar. This pays a small commission which goes towards the costs of running the site. Many thanks.

Philip Grant

Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Senator vs Senator in 2008?

Friday, August 26th, 2005

The favourites on both sides are Washington insiders
Nixon and McGovern coffee cups
There was a time, 40 years ago, when a career in the US Senate seemed a prerequisite for the Presidency. In 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972, both major party candidates were serving or former Senators. But Richard Nixon’s 1972 defeat of George McGovern (the candidates are pictured in a not-quite-full-colour “coffee cup poll”) was the last time this happened. Since then, no serving or former Senator has been elected as President, though four have received major party nominations (Mondale, Dole, Gore and Kerry).

But right now, the betting markets on Tradesports – the most liquid exchange at this stage in the race – have Senators as frontrunners for both the Democratic and Republican nominations. On the Democrat side, the favourite is Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York, whose candidacy has been covered on this site several times: most recently here. She can be backed at a probability of 43.8% (odds of 1.28/1). For the Republicans, the two favourites are Senators John McCain (Arizona) and George Allen (Virginia) – seemingly the man with the momentum this week – are almost neck and neck. They can be backed at 18.0% (4.55/1) and 20.4% (3.90/1) respectively.

Since the 1960s, the tenor of American political campaigning has changed: ironically, shifted in part by two of those Senators who went for the White House – Nixon and Goldwater. A candidate who can run as a “Washington outsider” tends to get the edge over a Senator whose past positions and movements on every issue can be traced through the voting records. Since Nixon, every elected President except the elder Bush has been a former state governor. Although Allen served from 1994-1998 as Governor of Virginia (a state which forbids governors serving consecutive terms) before entering the Senate, the “insider” perception may still stick to him.

Punters should consider avoiding the current favourites and looking towards the governors’ mansions for betting value.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.


Labour’s fight for a third term…

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

…in New Zealand
Helen Clark (Labour) and Don Brash (National)
In Saturday’s article we mentioned Centrebet’s market on the 17th September general election in New Zealand. Paradoxically inspired by Matthew Parris’s downgrading of the globetrotting political columnist…

It’s about the Game. It’s about jousting. It’s about personality, performance, plots, ploys and counter-ploys. With sinking heart I realise that I and my ilk are really no more than sports commentators of a rarefied sport. Adjust your settings and you can play it anywhere.

…let’s try to handicap the race.

The Labour party, led by Prime Minister Helen Clark, has led in the polls for the last few months, apart from one recent blip when Don Brash‘s National party took a brief lead. Brash probably didn’t help himself after a recent debate between the leaders when he claimed to have “restrained himself” because his opponent is a woman.

But even if Labour is comfortably the largest party, piecing together a coalition government might not be straightforward. Currently, Labour and the Progressive party make up a formal coalition, with the Greens and the social conservative United Future party declining to bring the government down in key votes. The Greens are currently very close in the polls to the 5% threshold below which they would not be entitled to any seats in the list part of the election. (The electoral system uses a mixture of constituency seats and party lists; but the Greens are not in serious contention in any one constituency.)

Clark has been campaigning alongside the Green leader, Jeanette Fitzsimons, and must be hoping a few Labour supporters will vote tactically to keep the Greens in parliament. This hasn’t please United Future, however, which has promised to “slay the Green monster”. If the arithmetic works out, the Maori party might be able to prop up a Labour/Progressive/Green government even without United Future support; the polls see UF losing seats, though they are likely to remain with some representation through winning constituency seats.

Meanwhile, National would face its own problems in governing even if Labour failed to create a stable government. The ACT party, seen as its natural coalition partner on the right, is polling less than 2% and looking at being wiped out of Parliament – like the Greens with Labour, it wants to see National tacitly backing tactical voting.

Seen as the wildcard is the third-largest party, New Zealand First. Its leader, Winston Peters, is seen as a maverick with whom neither of the major parties really wants a deal. If NZ First is ruled out, getting to a parliamentary majority doesn’t look easy for either side.

The odds from Centrebet on which party will supply the next Prime Minister are 0.33/1 Labour, 2/1 National; a solid move to Labour since we last covered this market, during which time a NZ$20,000 (£7,800) bet went on Labour. Betfair’s market has picked up liquidity and has 0.41/1 Labour, 2.15/1 National.

With this level of uncertainty about the result, the shift in the odds towards Labour may have been an overshoot. But it’s a tough call. Maybe our settings need a bit more adjustment.

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.