Could a “favourite” be artificially created on the betting markets?
The strange goings-on with the Huhne betting price during the final weeks of the Lib Dem race raise the question of whether party supporters with deep pockets could influence the course of a Westminster by-election.
For in these contests a party has to establish itself as the undisputed challenger – an area of activity where the Lib Dems reign supreme. Any information, however tenuous, is used to get over that you are the challenger and that, in the most famous of by-election cliches, it is “a two horse race”.
We don’t know how or when it’s going to happen and we don’t want to wish ill on anybody but there will be a parliamentary by election sooner or later.
Then could be critical for the two opposition parties with new leaders. For can Ming Campbell continue his party’s extraordinary run of success or will Cameron’s Tories break their 23 year old by-election famine?
It is here, surely, that a group of rich supporters could play a winning part. We saw the huge benefit that Chris Huhne got because he was “the bookies’ favourite” and such an effect could be even more crucial in a Westminster by-election.
Many journalists look to simple cliches when reporting a campaign and it is easy to envisage a well managed betting price being used to get over that the Tory or Lib Dem candidate is the challenger. Charts like the one we use on PB.C could be drawn up to demonstrate graphically that your man/woman has the momentum behind them and is the only one who can challenge the incumbent.
A betting strategy could also be used defensively to show that, say, the Tories or Labour are beating off a Lib Dem challenge.
All this has been made much easier by the rise of the betting exchanges where 24/7 punters can bet for and against different outcomes and all this is available live on trading screens. The beauty of a successful betting strategy is that if you get it right and your person wins – then you get your money back and more.
Such an approach is not new. There were suggestions during the 2004 White House Race that a prominent anti-Bush billionaire sought to promote Kerry’s chances on the betting exchanges and the Huhne case has, no doubt, opened some people’s eyes to the possibility.