It always used to be the received wisdom that rich over-optimistic Tories were responsible for keeping the Conservative price short and their seat spread high. Famously one such Tory lost over £100k in 1997, because of his faith that John Major would not do as badly as he did.
ButÂ there was little evidence of this effect this time last year; punters seemed to be guided more by opinion polls and by the various models driven by them. The bookmakers and Betfair Exchange were generally slightly more pro-Tory than most models, which could suggest a slight Conservative bias (or more likely a scepticism about the polling). Nevertheless the Conservative majority drifted and drifted, going off around 14/1 on the day itself: plenty of people prepared to risk thousands for a 7% [or less, with the bookies] return on the inevitability of a hung Parliament.
So the old rules no longer seem to apply, Alastair Meeks’ Sunday piece notwithstanding.
Indeed, looking at Betfair now, the two most stand-out “wrong” prices are to my mind those about the standard-bearers of the new Old Left: Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.
Bernie Sanders is 15.0 (6.7%) to be Next President. He has already all but lost to Hillary. Even if we very generously give him a the 10% chance of winning the nomination that Betfair does (9.8), it requires a touching faith in hypothetical match-ups to give the aging Vermont socialist a 65%+ chance of winning the general, even with the Republicans in such a mess. If the FBI derail Hillary – which I reckon is the only way she can lose the nomination – Joe Biden might yet be better placed to snatch the prize. I wouldn’t touch the 15.0 with a bargepole.
Even more ludicrously,Jeremy Corbyn is trading around 7.4 (13.5%) to be Prime Minister After Cameron. This eventuality requires three things to happen, so can be thought of as a treble*:
- Cameron has to not step down before the election (generously: 20%, bearing in mind both the EU referendum but also the eclipse of his preferred successor)
- Corbyn has to make it to the election (50-50 according to Paddy Power, but let’s be uber-kind and say 60%)
- Labour have to win enough seats (not necessarily most seats) to make installing Corbyn realistic – let’s optimistically say that’s a 6/4 chance (40%).
20% * 60% * 40% = 4.8%, which equates to about 21.0 on Betfair, and I was being generous at every turn. I wouldn’t touch the 7.4 with your bargepole.
Perhaps I’m being unkind in suggesting it’s the left generally betting with their hearts: this seems to be something that happens at the cult-like fringes of politics. We saw the same happen with Ron Paul in the USA, and plenty of UKIPpers were backing their party to win 50+ seats right at the close of the campaign last year, even while the party themselves were only seriously targeting half-a-dozen.
But when there’s irrationality in one part of the market, there’s value elsewhere. Sometimes it takes the shape of 1/2 shots like Hillary Clinton; sometimes 11/1 chances like Theresa May. Good luck, however you bet!