Will it be their first by-election gain since 1982?
Two by-elections are being held on Thursday 19th July. If the markets are to be believed, Sedgefield, where voters are choosing a successor to Tony Blair following his appointment as envoy for the Quartet in the Middle East, looks a shoo-in for Labour, as they are trading at just 1.04 on Betfair. Labour are defending a majority of over 18 thousand, with Blair taking 59% of the vote in 2005.
However, the West London seat of Ealing Southall, vacant following the death of 82-year old Piara Khabra, looks less clear cut. Labour defend a majority of 11,440 and took 49% of the 2005 vote to 24 for the Lib Dems and 22 for the Conservatives. It’s the Tories’ audacious choice of Tony Lit as their candidate that has led some to believe that an unlikely victory could yet be achieved.
Until very recently, Lit was managing director of Sunrise Radio, which caters specifically for the Asian community and is based in Southall – and indeed he didn’t actually join the Conservative Party until he had resigned his post at the radio station. Lit’s father Avtar, owner of Sunrise, stood as an independent candidate at the 2001 general election, taking 12% of the vote, which was one of the best showings by an independent in the whole of the UK.
Labour have selected the 70-year old Ealing councillor Virendra Sharma as their candidate, while the Lib Dems are fielding Nigel Bakhai, their candidate in 2005. The Greens, Respect, and UKIP are all fielding candidates, and pb.com regular John Cartwright (JohnLoony) is standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party – if you think he will become the new MP, “Any Other Party” is available at 30 on Betfair. Full lists of all the candidates are available on the links above. Despite the choice of Lit, it should be noted that the Conservatives are still only third favourites on the markets, currently 5 on Betfair (4 to 1 in “old money”) behind Labour at 1.42 and the Lib Dems at 4.5.
The by-elections will of course be Gordon Brown’s first test at the ballot box for Commons seats, and there have also been rumours that third place for the Lib Dems could put Ming Campbell’s embattled leadership under very severe pressure. Finally, don’t forget that the Betfair markets (current Sedgefield prices are here and Southall’s are here) will be “in-play” on polling day and will trade right up to the declaration of the result, allowing punters the excitement of betting on election day rumours and news from the vote counting. Will these two by-elections be as exciting as the Lib Dems’ sensational victory at Dunfermline or an unlikely recount being forced in Bromley?
Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”
Mike Smithson returns on 16th July
Paul Maggs produces The Election Game – click on the logo to email for more info.