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Next Labour Leader Betting: Corbyn will liven up a dull race and could surprise

Corbyn has stronger grassroots support than the market reckons
Corbyn has stronger grassroots support than the market reckons
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With nominations now closed for the Labour leadership contest, Paul Krishnamurty looks at the four-runner race and he's drawn to the surprise candidature of veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn...

"The first rule for predicting party leadership races is to know an electorate who are, by definition, an unrepresentative bunch in an era when joining any political party is a minority sport. Swing voters or owners and editors of national newspapers - arguably the people Labour need to win over to ever gain power again - do not get a vote. When Tory members got their first chance to pick the leader, they opted overwhelmingly for the totally unelectable outsider Iain Duncan Smith."

After a month of soul-searching and recriminations, without a concrete explanation as to why they lost so badly, a shell-shocked Labour Party can at least now progress to what it hopes will be the first step of a recovery. Nominations to replace Ed Miliband as leader were closed at 12pm, with four candidates making the cut. One thing that both Labourites and the wider watching public should be able to agree about, is that Jeremy Corbyn's inclusion on the ballot paper just made the race much more interesting.

The early exchanges offered no indication that the nuanced, caveated debate between Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper about the party's future would cut through to people outside Westminster. Even the media seemed disinterested and plenty of activists despaired at the lack of real choice, prompting social media campaigns to get Sir Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy to run.

Love him or hate him, that cannot be said about Corbyn or his distinct analysis of the party's problems, and again a weekend #Jeremy4leader campaign on Twitter may have swayed some MPs to lend their support, with a view towards widening the debate.

Clearly the 66-year-old, who never served on the front bench under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband, is not what we're used to as a candidate for party leader. He has only made it into the run-off because some MPs lent their support, under pressure from members. The market currently dismisses him at odds of [25.0].

However, the first rule for predicting party leadership races is to know an electorate who are, by definition, an unrepresentative bunch in an era when joining any political party is a minority sport. Swing voters or owners and editors of national newspapers - arguably the people Labour need to win over to ever gain power again - do not get a vote. When Tory members got their first chance to pick the leader, they opted overwhelmingly for the totally unelectable outsider Iain Duncan Smith.

This will be the first Labour contest under similar one member, one vote rules. The power of both MPs and trade unions has been diluted so, unlike in 2010 when David Miliband dominated among MPs but the unions backed Ed, there is no straight dual between two overmighty blocks.

The membership is downbeat and looking for answers, not just about the 2015 election, but why the party has been in decline for a decade. They have witnessed the party implode in Scotland, along with numerous social-democratic sister parties across Europe and rightly fear the trend spreading to England.

Regardless of wider electoral problems, Miliband was a good party leader, who managed to unite Labour when it could easily have split after the trauma of 2010. That unity now looks extremely fragile.

Nothing less than a big, no-holds-barred debate about the party's direction will do this time, and the main three candidates will simply never provide it. The early, simplistic cariacatures are that Burnham represents the Left and the unions, Kendall the right-wing Blairite candidate, Cooper the least divisive, broadly representing a continuation of the 'Brownism' that Ed Miliband was schooled in.

Very few people could actually explain their policy differences and, in reality, they barely exist. All were loyal New Labour supporters and frontline players for Team Miliband. Of the big issues to define Labour this century - the Iraq war, their response to the bank crisis, support for austerity economics - there is not a cigarette paper between them.

That, however, cannot be said of Corbyn. A key ally of Ken Livingstone when the former Mayor of London was a troublesome backbencher, Corbyn opposed Iraq with a passion along with most British foreign policy since being elected in 1983. An avowed socialist who writes for the Morning Star, supports renationalisation and CND, he represents the section of the Left that Blair and Brown tried to exclude with their New Labour project.

Because Labour has hardly selected any MPs from that wing for 25 years, it is no surprise Corbyn struggled to get 35 supporters, but this has never truly reflected the wider movement, that remains firmly left-wing. Even Blair at his peak came badly unstuck when trying to thwart Livingstone's 'dangerous' mayoral bid.

Moreover Corbyn's pitch, that the party should have opposed austerity, will convince many. It is certainly one of the main reasons why they lost 40 seats in Scotland. Unlike the others, at least Corbyn will be able to stand up to and the SNP and scrutinise their record when it doesn't match their populist rhetoric.

Of course the flipside is that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest England will ever vote for a socialist, let alone one certain to be labelled 'loony left' by The Sun. The Tories will be cheering Corbyn's bid to the rafters, and one must expect that message will eventually reach Labour members. Nevertheless predicting how he will fare, or his wider effect on the others and second preferences, is unclear at least until we see some TV hustings and proper polling.

One eyecatching survey to emerge over the weekend came from the LabourList site, very much part of the mainstream Labour family. Their poll of 1,912 readers put Corbyn on 47%, with next best Burnham on just 13%. We don't know how representative that survey was, but it is hardly what one expects from a 24/1 outsider of four! Nor will a 13% score cheer those backing Burnham at even money.

At this early stage of a long race, Corbyn has to be the value bet. His core economic message is clear, distinct from the rest and appeals to a wider section of people, particularly political activists, than the mainstream media give credit. It will be no surprise at all to see him top more polls in the next few weeks, if only temporarily, and those odds collapsing into single figures.


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