Let’s go outside.Â Betting strategies in a tinderbox
Â Sometimes a lot of knowledge is a dangerous thing.Â You can get very bogged down in the minutiae and ignore the big picture.Â And right now, there are precisely three important things going on in British politics.
- Labour are divided and moving leftwards under their new leader, to the horror of most of their MPs.
- The Conservatives are divided with a large chunk of the party wishing to move rightwards as a result of the referendum psychodrama, with the added siren call of UKIP to destabilise that party.
- Large parts of the centre ground are largely empty with no sign of any party being able to lay automatic claim to a space where the largest chunk of voters sit. Far from anyone seeking to occupy the space, it is becoming more deserted.
The gravitational pull of the centre has been replaced with centrifugal force.Â This reversal of political norms is both highly unusual and very unstable.Â With the elastic of both main parties being put under immense pressure, we have a distinct possibility of one or both snapping or twanging into the outer reaches.
What this means is that we may see some pretty weird stuff happening – or at least, pretty weird stuff is less unlikely than usual.Â This has betting implications.Â As a general rule, lay short priced favourites and look closely at the longshots for value.
Let’s look at two markets in particular:
Next Labour leader
Labour are a very unhappy crew at present.Â The right of the party are appalled with their leader and see no conceivable way of replacing him with anyone acceptable to them.Â The left of the party are ecstatic to have control of the party, are working to cement that control but fret that Jeremy Corbyn is a taste that many will never acquire.Â The left is therefore working to ram through as many policy changes as it can as quickly as possible and to snuff out the ability of MPs to thwart the leader.Â Further conflict is inevitable and the ultimate outcome is unknowable – whether victory for the left in a party that remains whole, a part of the party splintering off to the left or more likely the right, or the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn with a new leader acceptable to the entire party.Â The new leader could be chosen at a time of enormous crisis for the party and may not be picked with particularly close scrutiny of their merits and as much for who they are not as for who they are.
I see only one short-priced candidate who needs to be kept on-side: Tom Watson, who could perform the role of a unity candidate and who already has a mandate.Â While the next leader might come from the current ranks of front-runners – I see the case for Lisa Nandy, for example – the position is so volatile that someone might be catapulted to the front rank who doesn’t yet feature on the betting lists, and the possibility of this is sufficiently high to make the shorter priced candidates just too short.Â The fact that Keir Starmer and Stephen Kinnock, both new MPs in 2015, have been talked about in some quarters illustrates this well.Â Indeed, Keir Starmer is just 14/1, which is either a ridiculous price or an indication of Labour’s desperate straits.
I have already tipped John McDonnell at 50/1 and Ed Miliband at 200/1 in this market.Â Heidi Alexander is 66/1, which is an astonishing price for a Labour politician with responsibility for the Health brief.Â I’ve taken some of this.Â I’m also laying the favourite Dan Jarvis – he’s just too short-priced.
The Conservatives’ coherence is being strained by the EU referendum.Â Labour’s coherence is being strained by the left of the party’s determination to secure their permanent control.Â It is entirely plausible that we may see a realignment of parties on either the left or the right of British politics, or both.Â The dynamics of the Westminster electoral system are a powerful reason for parties to hold together, so that probability should not be overstated.Â But with both the right of the Labour party having space to move into and the right of the Conservative party having a ready-made ally to work with should it lose patience, the possibility is appreciably higher than usual (and indeed, the one feeds off against the other).
If Labour splits, we are likely to see any new centre left party get a lot of attention. At a time when the right is also divided and the liberal elements of the media are desperate for an alternative, it is likely that such a party will receive a fair wind.
If the Conservatives split, it is likely that UKIP (or a UKIP-traditional Conservative alliance) will be greatly strengthened and the rump Conservative party correspondingly weakened.Â It is far from clear which part would prevail on the right.
Either way, the chances of a new serious contender party emerging are substantial.Â I make the chance of at least one breakaway no lower than 1 in 6, given the stresses on both main parties at present and the opportunities available to new parties.Â At that point, the odds for most seats would change rapidly.
Given all this, the 1.36 for Conservative Most Seats on Betfair looks like a clear lay to me, given the unusual instability of politics at present.Â The Conservatives should obviously be favourites, but they’re far too short. If you can’t stand that, put a sporting amount on “other parties most seats” at 250/1.Â Or UKIP most seats at the same price.Â Or even the Lib Dems, if you must.Â Strange things look more likely to happen than they usually do.Â Time to start covering the strange possibilities.