Cleggmania may soon fade, so now is the time to place election bets

THE televised debates have caused a seismic shift in British politics and we are likely to be spending a good part of election night on the edge of our seats. On Friday, after the second televised debate, the average of all five post-debate polls showed that Nick Clegg and David Cameron were neck and neck on 33 per cent, with Gordon Brown trailing slightly at 27 per cent.

And if you fancy an extra sharp tug on the nerves come election night, then some of the spread betting providers are offering punts on a number of different markets. The most interesting, and the most traded, is the total number of seats that each party will win.

At the time of the party conferences last autumn, the Conservatives were forecast to win about 364 seats in the 2010 general election but this has since been eroded to the low 300s.

It was of course the televised debates that have been the real game changer. Ahead of the first debate, BGC Partners’ David Buik had the Tories on 332-337 and the Liberal Democrats on 59-61. By last Thursday, Cleggmania had really kicked in: Buik put the Tories on 302-307 and the Lib Dems on 85-89. The Tories’ great error was to agree to take part in a debate which included the Lib Dems; Brown’s great error was his decision to take part in any debate at all. Clegg did all of the right things and outshone Cameron on his supposed strength – youth and presentation.

Sporting Index’s Zak Taylor says that Clegg’s performance took all the pollsters and spread betting commentators completely by surprise. “We were forced to suspend our election markets during the first televised debate as we had around 200 buyers in the space of an hour and a half. And every time we try to lower the Liberal Democrats’ seats spread we get more buyers coming into the market.”

The Liberal Democrats’ gain have been at the expense of the Conservatives, who have seen their expected number of seats fall to 307-12 on Friday from 332-337 just two weeks ago. So true blue spread betters anticipating a last minute pull-ahead for the Tories should look to buy at the current level. Extrabet is offering 303-308 for the Conservatives and 83-87 for the Liberal Democrats while Sporting Index betters seem to be leaning slightly more to the right – the Tories are on 308-13 and the Lib Dems on 82-85.

Spread betters reckoning that the novelty of the Lib Dems will wear off and that the first-past-the-post system will work against the third party ought to go short on the market now while we are at these historically high levels.

As if the number of seats to bet on weren’t enough, most providers with political spreads are also offering what are known as election specials. One of the most popular is percentage turnout. Extrabet is already offering a spread on this market of 68-69 – at the last election in 2005, turnout was just 61.4 per cent. As an indication, at the last hung parliament in February 1974, the turnout was 78.8 per cent, the highest level since 1951.

Sporting Index will also be launching a turnout market this week with the spread somewhere around the 65 per cent figure, says Taylor. Turnout matters as the Lib Dems seem to have gained ground the most among the young, who don’t vote as much as their elders.

Whatever the outcome, having a bet on will only make it more exciting.