- How the betting records show that Hitchens was wrong
What happened at the Tory conference at Blackpool in October 2005 has become one of those pivotal moments in UK politics and, as we saw, in the programme on Cameron on Channel 4 by Peter Hitchens, a number of myths have developed which don’t fit with the facts.
For the above chart shows the implied probabilities based on bets betting odds of the four leading candidates from the start of the party conference on October 3rd 2005 and for the following two weeks. The chronology is critical.
June – September 2005: David Davis hardens his position as firm favourite but for almost all of the period David Cameron is the second favourite. The big question is how the contest will take place – will it be MPs or the membership which have the final decision? Michael Howard pressed for the power to be returned to the parliamentary party which arguably would have benefited Davis most. Howard lost and the system stayed the same.
Monday October 3rd: An ICM online focus group in the Guardian shows the promise of Cameron and this is reinforced on Newsnight with the famous Frank Luntz televised focus group. Davis remains a firm odds-on favourite. Cameron’s price tightens a bit but he is still miles behind Davis.
Tuesday October 4th: The day of the famous Cameron speech which sees the markets move to the young old Etonian but Davis remains an odds-on favourite.
Wednesday October 5th: The David Davis speech which bombs. When he started speaking he was still odds on – by the end you could have got better than evens. This was not the media reaction but that of punters risking their money.
Thursday October 6th: Davis greeted by poor press coverage of his speech and comparisons with Cameron – but he finishes the day still in the favourite slot but only by a small margin.
Friday October 7th: The big news is a YouGov poll of Tory members which shows an overwhelming switch to Cameron who is now attracting getting on for two thirds of the potential vote in a membership ballot. Cameron becomes favourite but he could still be had at better than evens. The critical question is whether he would make the final two in the MPs ballot to decide which contenders be put to the mass vote.
So it wasn’t a media conspiracy or Frank Luntz which drove the markets but the Davis speech and the YouGov poll. The betting prices are important because they show graphically the collective perceptions of people prepared to back up their judgements with hard cash.