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Lord Ashcroft: If your horses have run slowly at Cheltenham, now may be a time to back a politician or two

AshcroftBy Lord Ashcroft, KCMG.

During my four decades as a businessman, I have taken many gambles – sometimes playing for seriously high stakes – but I have never been a great one for betting on the horses, the dogs or other sporting events.

You will not, for example, have seen me at the Cheltenham Festival this week when millions and millions of pounds were wagered on the biggest meeting in the jump racing calendar.

However, I do, of course, have a considerable interest in politics, in general, and polling, in particular, and I therefore occasionally glance at the odds on various future events.

So, as those who like a bet on the nags are likely to be either considerably poorer or richer when the Cheltenham Festival ends today, I thought I would share some of the more interesting odds on various political events with you. One thing is certain: betting on politics is one of the fastest-growing areas of the gambling industry, as a swift trawl through gambling websites will testify.

Anyway, those who like to place a wager with the bookies, the betting exchanges or the spread betting firms might like to offer their thoughts on which of the following they consider good-value bets, and which are odds they would easily shun?

Did you know, for example, that George Osborne and Boris Johnson are considered equally likely to be the next leader of the Conservative Party? Both men are currently joint favourites for the “race”, at around 5-1 with the various bookmakers. However, you can get odds of up to 7-1 on each man if you shop around.

William Hague is priced up at between 6-1 and 10-1 to be the next party leader (a job he has, of course, done before but would he really want to do it again?). As an aside, what a fine Prime Minister he would be.

Two of my colleagues, Tim Montgomerie (who, of course, edits this website) and Iain Dale are both quoted (rather surprisingly) at 200-1 by Ladbrokes in the same “race” (one that David Cameron, no doubt, hopes is some way off). No odds can be offered on those in the House of Lords as the Constitution of the Conservative Party limits the choice only to those in Commons.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is priced at up to 66 to 1 to be the party’s next leader but the bad news for him is that his odds are as low as 4-7 (that’s odds-on) for him to be the next minister to leave the Coalition Cabinet – clearly as a result of the controversy over his health service reforms. If the bookies are right, he is clinging to his job by his fingertips.

If we switch our interest to the Lib Dems, then Nick Clegg is a red-hot favourite at 2-5 to still be the leader of the party at the next election, while Tim Farron is in pole position, at odds of around 6-4, to be the next leader of the Lib Dems, whenever that might be.  Chris Huhne’s unwanted legal distractions mean that his odds to be the next party leader have now drifted to as much as 12-1.

Moving on to Labour, Ed Miliband is as low as 1-3 be party leader at the next election. If the bookies have it right, then Yvette Cooper is the most likely person to succeed him (at odds of around 5-2), while David Miliband is the next most likely candidate (at odds of around 6-1) to succeed his brother.

Incidentally, 2015 (or later) is considered the most likely date of the next election at odds of 4-7, while Britain is a firm favourite – at odds of 2-7 – not to lose its triple A credit rating by August 2013.

Although the bookies make the Conservative Party 8-11 on to win the most seats at the next election, it is considered an equal chance that they will get a majority as that they will not get one (odds of 6-4 are on offer for each Tory victory).

2014 is the favourite year (at 2-7) for the referendum on Scottish independence but the bad news for Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, is that bookies offer exactly the same odds on Scotland saying “no” to independence.

Those who prefer a more international flavour to their political betting can get odds of just 2-5 for Barack Obama to win the next presidential election in the US, while Nicolas Sarkozy will, no doubt, be alarmed to see that his rival, Francois Hollande, is the clear favourite (at 2-7) to win the next French presidential election.

Those who favour a quirkier bet should note that Ken Clarke has been priced up at 1-2 to fall asleep during the forthcoming Budget speech. I have deliberately, so far, not offered my own views on what I consider to be good and bad bets. But those odds on our Justice Secretary succumbing to such an embarrassing case of drowsiness seem mighty slim to me.


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