Towards the end of 2016, some bookmakers reduced the odds slightly on a general election being called in 2017. These narrowed from around 6/4 to 6/5, but no election was still favourite. However, as time passed and we moved into 2017, the consensus from virtually all those seen as experts in the field, was that no election would be held.
Then, the podium suddenly appeared outside 10 Downing Street, letting the world know that an announcement was imminent. The biggest clue that ‘something was up’ was the fact that no government insignia was on the front of this podium, meaning that it was a Conservative Party, rather than an official government, announcement.
Why The U-Turn?
It’s a famous phrase, coined by the previous female Prime Minister, but it certainly applies in this case. In the autumn of 2016, Theresa May was quite clear that there would be no election over Brexit – but this one can’t be about anything else.
There will be ongoing speculation about the reasons, but it may have as much, if not more, to do with Conservative backbenchers than a feeble-looking opposition. With a small majority, the hardest of Brexiteers could hold their own government over hot coals to get more of what they want.
However, if an election produces a substantial Tory majority – and many bets will probably be placed on the size that this is likely to be – then the Prime Minister might find herself better able to hold off the more extreme of views about what the ‘Brexit Deal’ should be.
Incidentally, it appears that many government ministers were not aware of what was about to happen well into the morning the announcement was made!
Are All Bets Really Off?
Of course not! It’s certainly likely that, should you want to bet on a Labour victory, then generous odds – for a two-horse race – are likely to be offered. Some may already be looking to wager on the name of the next Labour leader, going with a general assumption that Jeremy Corbyn is going to suffer a crushing defeat. It is likely then that betting will be heavier on the margin of victory and the number of seats which each party will gain.
Three Places To Look To Punt
So, within the overall context of the election, there are likely to be wide ranges of betting opportunities. Here are a few areas to look out for.
With the SNP holding all but three of Scotland’s Westminster seats, then it is probably going to be difficult, although certainly not impossible, for them to retain every one. Scottish Labour don’t yet seem to be in a position to gain much; but it will be an interesting bet to consider the number of seats the Scottish Conservatives might gain. Their leader, Ruth Davidson, has a fairly positive public profile. Add into this volatile equation the request, lying on Theresa May’s desk, for a second devolution referendum. If the SNP vote decreases more than marginally, or if they were to lose a reasonable number of seats, then this could be slightly less of an immediate worry for the PM.
Northern Ireland is, as always, a completely different kettle of fish. With no functioning Assembly, after their recent vote, and an electorate that seems pretty fed up with all NI politicians, who knows? The total nationalist vote came very close, in that recent event, to that of the unionists. Gamblers might like to consider really close constituencies as an option for picking those elusive winners.
Wales has a more varied collection of MPs. With the main parties all represented, punters might consider whether Plaid Cymru could gain some disaffected voters, and which constituencies these results are most likely to come from.
There’ll Always Be An England…
… but, politically, what colour will it be? No matter how their leader performs, there are still many safe Labour red seats out there. It might be an interesting bet if you see them holding on to a few more than many experts might predict. Another interesting gamble would be on UKIP. Are they likely to sustain their challenge, especially in some Labour seats in the north-east and north-west? Or, will their vote fall away, as voters see the in-fighting but also consider that UKIP’s job is done? Current odds see them holding no seats as a warm favourite.
Another interesting bet could be on the seats gained by the Liberal Democrats. Last time, they paid a huge price for being part of the coalition. This time they may place themselves as a moderating influence, as many thought they were in government. Therefore, looking at key seats across the south and south-west, and in the border country between Scotland and England, may offer some good wagering opportunities for an increase in the number of seats they will represent after the vote. With at least one bookmaker, the clear expectation is for them to hold a dozen seats or more.
Early Betting Trends
Right at the start of this campaign, and not surprisingly, a Conservative majority is hugely odds-on, every other outcome offering generous odds. Even a hung parliament, and any combination of possible two or three party coalitions, are not fancied.
The 2015 General Election traded £28m across all the markets; low compared to Brexit’s £127m. To what level this election catches the betting imagination remains to be seen, but there will be many options available. Recent occasions suggests this is a growing betting market, with the number of seats gained likely to be just one of many popular flutters. You’ll certainly also get pretty good odds on Jeremy Corbyn surviving into 2018.
If you want a fun flutter, it might be worth looking at the possible candidates for the next Speaker of the House of Commons. Even if John Bercow chooses to remain into the new Parliament, it’s hugely unlikely that he would see out the full term. Another interesting bet, if you are in it for the long haul, is to guess when Labour might next form a majority government in the UK. The current favourite appears to be between 2021 and 2025!
Whatever your choice of bets, there is little doubt that this will be a bitter campaign, with many feeling that an election should not have been called at all. Recriminations might even begin before any votes are cast! And, by June 9th, Theresa May will know how hard or soft a path she is likely to walk along towards Brexit.