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How long will Friday counting delay the result?

September 12th, 2009

Could this spice up the betting?

The Facebook group of the campaign to “Keep General Election Night”has attracted almost 4,000 members in its first week, and those involved have begun surveying which seats might need to wait until Friday afternoon to know the identity of their new MP.

I happen to be absolutely on the side of the traditionalists with this one – not least given that my new home is in a time zone where a late finishing Thursday count would still be done in time for me to catch last orders – but there are also possible betting implications that could come out of this move.

Our Genial Host’s indispensible book “The Political Punter” gives many sage pieces of advice that have been oft-repeated on PoliticalBetting.com over the years. Tory favourites for leader rarely win, betting on David Blunkett is rarely unprofitable, and the one that comes to mind in this case is the surety that Sunderland South will be first to announce its result.

Sunderland South has been modified and renamed Houghton & Sunderland South this time around, but the smart money would surely have been on the new seat emulating its predecessor which won the race to announce first in every General Election since 1992. However, the Facebook campaign having conducted their survey, we are told that this constituency is still in the “Undecided” column, albeit leaning towards counting on Thursday. However, should Friday counting really take hold and should Sunderland’s local authority choose to follow the pack, then the expected market on “Seat to announce result first” would be hugely affected.

The other expected market that is perhaps made more interesting by the move is the time at which a concession speech from either Gordon Brown or David Cameron is made. This video (hat-tip ConHome) showing BBC coverage from 1997 reminded me that Labour won an overall majority at 3:13 am (fans of the film ‘Wag the Dog’ should remember the significance of a clock showing 03:13am!) and John Major conceded defeat at 3:27am.

If all the constituencies (maybe except Na h-Eileanan an Iar, or some Cornish seats) were counting on the Thursday, then the market would likely reflect (perhaps) odds for which half-hour interval between midnight and 4am would see a concession (if at all). Friday counting changes that dynamic entirely, and even with an encyclopaedic knowledge of constituencies, predicting which hour between the close of polls at 22:00 Thursday and the possible end of counting 20-or-so hours later could be much harder.

Furthermore, the betting on size of majority (or a Hung Parliament) being related to which seats might be won by the victorious party, and those seats splitting into Thursday-counters and Friday-counters could also allow some interesting partial arbitrage, not to mention some exciting in-play betting.

So, whilst I wish the “Save the General Election” campaign every success, political punters might want to consider how their betting behaviour should adapt to what could be a very significant change in the conduct of the next General Election.

Morus – now in New York