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My first bitter taste of political betting

July 11th, 2009

A guest article from Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson

I have been writing the Mark Reckons political blog for a while now where I happily pontificate on the political events of the day and even make predictions about what I ‘reckon’ will happen in the future.

I have followed Political Betting for a few years but had not made any bets on political events myself. However recently I started to think it might be time to put my money where my blog is and I have dipped my toe in the water with a few bets with fellow bloggers. They have focused so far on the timing of Gordon Brown’s exit from Downing Street.

On Thursday 4th June in the morning I posted this entry Does someone fancy a little wager? which challenged one of my readers to step up and put a tenner on with me (at evens) that Brown would still be in place by the end of the month – I thought he would be out. I ended up with two takers, Charlotte Gore a fellow blogger and Kalvis Jansons – the man behind the infamous Gordon Brown resign petition on the No 10 website. In both their cases I think they were looking for compensation if they had to put up with Brown as PM beyond June!

I placed the bets in the febrile atmosphere just after Hazel Blears had resigned and on the day that James Purnell also bailed out. Michael Crick on Newsnight had given Brown a 50/50 chance of surviving the month as PM the night before. With the expected dreadful election results (both local and European) due at the weekend and further mooted cabinet resignations I was supremely confident that my bets would come in. I had even been considering putting some serious money on with a bookmaker as well, so sure was I that he would be out, although in the end I held back from doing this. Thank goodness I did because as we all now know it wasn’t to be.

Although the election results were dreadful and there were more resignations to come in the ensuing days and at the reshuffle, Brown survived. He is a very much weakened figure but he is still there.

So where did I go wrong? I think the two lessons I have learned (for me) from this little chapter are:

1) Don’t place bets in the middle of a febrile political atmosphere.

Nobody can honestly claim to know what will happen in situations like that, not even the soothsayer Mr Crick! There were so many variables that I was not able to properly assess at the time. I only bet a relatively small amount of money and it was effectively a bit of fun but I was tempted to go further and I am lucky I didn’t.

2) Think through what you are betting on.

In hindsight it is now clear to me that the main reason why more senior people in the party did not move against Brown is because the pressure for a snap general election (that Labour would likely have lost badly) would have been immense. From their perspective it is better to have a slow death than an instant suicide. Yet in my deliberations I didn’t even consider this. I was too wrapped up in the excitement of ministers resigning and imminent elections to see what was likely to happen next.

My losses have not deterred me from political betting altogether though. With my newly acquired knowledge about why the Labour party declined to ditch Brown in June, I am now more convinced than ever that he will not lead Labour into the next election. I have a bet on with Constantly Furious, another fellow blogger for £10 that Brown will not be PM by the end of the year. I also intend to put a chunkier sum on with a bookmaker that Brown will not lead Labour into the general election. I just can’t see it happening.

Who knows, I might even win this one and start to gain a reputation as a proper political better. If I were Mike Smithson though I wouldn’t be too worried about my position just yet!

Mark Thompson is a Liberal Democrat blogger whose blog is here. He is not the Director General of the BBC.