The Bookies and the British Election

LONDON – I used to be considered a pretty good forecaster of British and other countries’ elections. I was, after all, once a party chairman.

I can now confess my method. It was not based on any novel political insight. I did not have a magic algorithm relating economic factors to voting intentions – though I do think that there is some correlation between net disposable income and how people normally vote. But my own technique, which I still use, has proved more reliable than even poring over the political entrails in every constituency.

What I do is not very sophisticated: I watch the bookmakers’ odds. Doing so proved invaluable as recently as the Scottish independence referendum last September. Two days before the count, bookmakers were paying out to gamblers who had bet that Scotland would vote “No” to independence. Guess which way Scotland actually voted.

My method is based largely on the observation that you rarely hear of a poor bookie. So I apply the American writer Damon Runyon’s famous adage: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”