RIGHT at the height of the aborted coup attempt by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt last week, a Labour local council leader went on the radio and said that the leadership of the party is not an issue. Even if Jesus Christ came back and took over, he said, some people would never vote for the party.
No doubt true. But to say that Gordon Brown is not a problem for voters is a little disingenuous. Almost nobody outside his immediate family members wants the scowling Scot to be PM. The Hoon-Hewitt intervention simply came too late – changing horses at this late point in the race would be suicide. The plot was a non-starter.
This can be seen by the small movements that it caused in the spreads last week. At the start of the week, the spreads for the number of seats that the parties will win at the next election stood at Labour: 212-217, Conservatives: 345-350. (The prices come from Extrabet.)
When Hoon and Hewitt made their move, spread betters initially wondered whether Labour might fall below 200, but the price only dipped very slightly, to 209-214. The Conservatives’ spread moved up to 347-352. Clearly, punters thought that the attempt to unseat Brown would fizzle out.
By the weekend, the prices had stabilized to Labour: 211-216; and Conservatives: 246-351. The wobble from David Cameron earlier in the week when he appeared to become confused about his own policy on marriage appears not to have damaged him at all, and was overshadowed by the half-hearted coup attempt.
One clear trend that is emerging in this campaign is increasing support for the Liberal Democrats. Back on 30 June 2008, their seats spread stood at 40-43, but is now 52-55. (Also with Extrabet.)
The Lib Dems will probably continue to gain support. Leader Nick Clegg is expected to do well out of the televised debates: a lack of visibility is the perennial problem for the Lib Dems and several hours of prime-time televisual exposure will help with this.
The other bet that looks tasty is the number of days that Gordon Brown will be prime minister. Assuming that Brown will not be PM after the election, then Sporting Index’s Brown and Out bet is effectively a punt on the date that the country will go to the polls. At the moment the spread stands at 1,035-1,040, which takes you to May 6.
Last week, the Conservatives and Lib Dems were calling for an immediate general election. It is hard to see a situation where Brown would call one. Since he admitted that there will be a spring budget, this suggests that there will not be a March election, as some had suggested, as a budget could not take place during a campaign. However, suspicious minds might consider Brown’s statement a ploy.
Alternatively, on the grounds that Gordon Brown has the same attitude to power that Charlton Heston had to guns – it will have to be prised from his cold, dead hand – then who is to say that he will not hold on until the last possible date, 3 June?
ELECTION BETS | CURRENT PRICES
To win the next election
Lib Dems 80/1 (Extrabet)
Number of seats parties will win at the election:
Liberal Democrats: 54-57
Number of Days Gordon Brown will have been prime minister (“Brown and Out”)
1,035-1,040 – is, up to May 6
Who will be the next Labour
leader after Brown?
David Miliband 11/4
Alan Johnson 4/1
Ed Miliband 5/1
Harriet Harman 8/1
Lord Mandelson 10/1
Jon Cruddas 14/1