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Monday, 12 November, 2018

Electorate's funny mood is no joke for Lib Dems

The betting expert expects Jeremy Corbyn to stand firm as Labour leader

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempts to win over some swing voters
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Five weeks have passed. Five weeks since that mad Tuesday when the Racing Post called and said: "Could you write something about the election?" and their allegedly clued-up columnist replied: "What election?"

And then nothing happened. Theresa May strutted round the country, saying almost nothing; Jeremy Corbyn wandered round, burbling; Tim Farron rushed round, and found no one was listening. The stock market stayed calm; the betting markets lifeless.

Then suddenly: ka-boom. The Labour manifesto, incoherent as a whole, contained a few attractive bullet points.

The Conservative manifesto, supposed to be inclusive, bland and non-committal, turned out to include a ticking bomb - the dementia tax. It was a policy that was truly demented, because it created totally open-ended costs for long-term social care.

But May is a skilful politician in lots of ways. And she is particularly good at clambering out of holes she has dug for herself. This week she began looking for an exit from this one, accompanied by a load of bluster about "fake Corbyn claims" which weren't fake at all.

So where does this leave punters? May suddenly seems a lot less strong and stable - and less trustworthy. But the essential facts remain. May will still be prime minister next month (1-10 Betfred, Ladbrokes); the Conservatives will win most seats (1-14 Ladbrokes); and they will have a majority (1-8 general).

That's not my idea of betting but I have been out there and seen how people shake their heads and say: "I won't vote for Corbyn" when Labour candidates come to call.

In 1970 the splendidly shameless sports writer Desmond Hackett said he would walk barefoot home from Wembley if Chelsea won the Cup (they did and he didn't). And I'll walk barefoot home from Westminster if Corbyn becomes prime minister.

But the electorate remains in a funny mood. The beauty of political betting used to be that humans reacted in ways humans could understand. But now voters are starting to act as unpredictably as thoroughbreds.

Matthew Shaddick, Ladbrokes' politics guru, seems upbeat about all this. Though this has felt like a dead slow election, he is hopeful that his firm might surpass the £4m it took on the 2015 election, precisely because the old certainties have been swept aside.

Three shock results inside 18 months - Cameron's majority in 2015, Brexit and Trump - have encouraged new political punters to move in and take their chance. A fair few have been nibbling at Corbyn becoming PM in the last few days, including one who had £7,000 at 10s with Ladbrokes.

Meanwhile, many of the alleged experts (including this one) have already been confounded by the apparent failure of the Liberal Democrats to make any impact at all. There are now serious fears at Lib Dem HQ that they could go even lower than their current nine seats.

The deputy leader Norman Lamb is considered a gone gosling in Brexity North Norfolk (already priced up, with the Tories a general
4-7) and Farron himself could be vulnerable in his Westmorland fortress (Tories 7-2).

And there is no longer the same confidence that they will pick up many or any of their pro-Remain targets in the suburbs and university towns. It would now be a plausible betting strategy to sell the Lib Dems everywhere and hope for a wipeout.

I am not suggesting that yet - there is still time for a late charge. And it is hard to find a simple way of doing it.

The layers have still not quite recovered from the initial shock of the election being called. There is nothing like the range of markets that were offered two years ago and once brave bookmakers are being cautious.

You won't get much on but Vince Cable could be worth a sporting bet to be next Lib Dem leader at 25-1, on the basis that he might be in parliament (1-2 in Twickenham) and Farron and Lamb might not. 

You should be able to get a bigger bet on the straightforward over-and-under betting on Tory seats. Certainly, anyone who followed my advice to go high at 345.5 when the election was called might want to consider hedging now. Ladbrokes' mark of 388.5, which implies a majority of almost 130, looks too high as we await the fallout from the dementia shambles.

And another thing. If Labour get a result that is anything short of complete disgrace, Corbyn can be expected to cling on as long as he can, if only to ensure a change of rules to help elect another leftie leader. Paddy Power's 6-4 about Corbyn staying until at least 2018 is tempting.

Recommendations
J Corbyn to remain Labour leader until at least 2018
3pts 6-4 Paddy Power
Under 388.5 Conservative seats
2pts 5-6 Ladbrokes
V Cable to be next Liberal Democrat leader
0.5pt 25-1 Hills

Theresa May strutted round, saying almost nothing; Jeremy Corbyn wandered round, burbling; Tim Farron rushed round, but found no one was listening
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