Well, for my final £20 I was looking for a broader bet on seat numbers, vote share, or a majority. But most of these wagers seem to be pretty poor value, particularly given the uncertainty in this race.
So to crush the Pickard “tortoise”, I’ve picked out a few seats again based on conversations with some campaigners.
The first is a Tory win in Feltham & Heston. Alan Keen has had a rough time over expenses and he’s facing a two-pronged assault from the Tories and Lib Dems. The Tories are doing pretty well on the ground and the Lib Dem rise could actually work in their favour by splitting the Labour vote. I’ve put £10 down at 13/8 with Paddy Power.
Now in the home run and I’m consolidating my prudent approach to gambling (Alex = hare, Jim = tortoise) with my last two bets – both of which I believe are safe.
I’ve placed £20 at Ladbrokes on the BNP not winning a single seat. No pollster or political expert has suggested in the last month that the BNP have sufficient momentum in any constituency and I have no reason to doubt this. You may consider the 1/4 odds paltry but in financial markets a 25 per cent return over 48 hours would be considered rather impressive.
Luckily it’s a correction in my favour. I wrote on Friday that I had lost a £1 bet on which country was mentioned first in the third election debate. Since then, however, PaddyPower has deposited £9 in my account: it transpires that my prediction – America – was right at 8/1.
Thus I made a 45 per cent profit off the evening’s bets rather than the zero I thought. Eat that, Alex Barker!
Somewhere in Lib Dem HQ is a top secret target list. These aren’t the seats Nick Clegg visits; it’s an underground movement behind enemy lines. Not even Clegg will know the full battleplan. When Chris Rennard was leading campaigns, it was said that “the leader could never be trusted enough to see the canvas returns”. That probably still holds true.
Sadly I’ve failed in a long quest to uncover the list, but I’ve been given a few hints. The odds on Lib Dem wins have shortened considerably of late and I was waiting for a better moment to put down some money. But I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to take the gamble.
The strategy, if you can call it that, is to lay £5 on a eight seats that the Lib Dems have an outside chance of winning. They are split into four categories:
Post Cleggmania, people are no longer talking about a big Tory majority as a certainty in the way they were doing months ago. Even the best psephologists have no idea which way this general election is going.
But the most likely outcome still seems to be the Conservatives either getting a tiny majority (over 326) or falling short by a few dozen seats.
PaddyPower is offering just below evens on David Cameron’s party ending up with 301-350 seats. That would be consistent with a poor showing for Labour – not helped by Duffygate – and a strong (but not astonishing) performance by the Lib Dems.
After selecting a couple of outsiders, I’ve gone for a safer bet on low turnout.
The received wisdom is that this is a close election with big stakes that is re-engaging voters. Some commentators think turnout could even rise from what is a very low base of 61 to over 70 per cent, which is much closer to the historic average.
But from the limited time I’ve spent speaking to voters in marginals, this doesn’t ring true. None of the parties have really captured the public imagination in the way Tony Blair did in 1997, and even then turnout was only 71 per cent.
Labour voters are clearly fed up with Gordon Brown. Those unable to bring themselves to vote against Labour will just stay at home. As Matthew Taylor notes, Labour activists are worried about low turnout. The Gillian Duffy incident will not have soothed their concerns. In addition, young voters have been flocking to the Lib Dems, but that age group has a poor track record of actually voting.
Ladbrokes is offering tempting odds on the viewing figures for tomorrow’s debate. It has 3/1 on an audience of 5m-9.99m and 5/4 on 10m-14.99m.
The former in particular seems like a very generous offer:the first debate got an audience of 9.4m on ITV and the second got 4m on Sky, reflecting the latter’s generally lower viewing figures.
I’m also putting a bet on the slightly higher range, just in case more people turn out for the grand spectactular on the BBC. (I’m not betting that they stay for the full 90 minutes, however).
I couldn’t resist placing two bets on Thursday’s debate. Curiously, David Cameron is favourite to win, perhaps because (at least at first glance) he seemed to come out on top last time around. I’m not so certain.
Labour are confident that their man will emerge triumphant because the economy is his strong suit. I doubt it; Gordon Brown will be hugely vulnerable to accusations that he failed to see the crash coming (Clegg and Cameron will surely remind him of his hubristic phrase ‘no return to boom and bust’). Viewers may also be sceptical of his claims that the economy is at risk in any hands other than his own.
It’s fair to say that Alex will easily win our little contest if his Cardiff South (40:1) bet comes in on the Liberal Democrats. But it’s a long shot by definition. By contrast I’m sticking to a core strategy of going for unsurprising victories where the odds are better than they should be.
Harrow West, until 1997, was Tory through and through. In 1997 it was seized by Gareth Thomas, a likeable Labour MP who has served as a minister in DFID and the business department. He is looking seriously vulnerable, however, with a majority of only about 2,000. A swing of 9 per cent to the Tories and he is a goner.
For my second political bet of the campaign I’m heading to Cardiff again, a place which could will emerge as the first major city in England and Wales with no Labour MP.
My first bet was on the outside chance of the Lib Dems taking Cardiff South (40-1). The Lib Dems are safe in Cardiff Central and Labour are seen as a spent force in much of the city, so the Lib Dems are concentrating their resources on a big upset in the South.
Imagine for just a second that the Lib Dem bounce is transient, and their poll support slips back down to the low 20s over the next fortnight. It’s not unlikely; especially with two more TV debates to come. (Much of their current support is coming from people who are still unsure how exactly they will vote).
The Greens are now racing ahead of all others in the betting on Brighton Pavilion. With party head Caroline Lucas standing for the south coast seat hopes are running high that the party will claim its first Westminster seat. During the Labour conference last autumn I spoke to many locals and there was a clear pro-Green mood in the air (the party also did well in the European and local elections).