Voices: Odds are on that Keir Starmer could be in Downing Street in two years

·5-min read

These are good days for Keir Starmer, at least if the polls are to be believed. The smasher YouGov recently published, showing Labour with a 15 point lead, was probably over egging the scale of the party’s support.

I don’t think anyone is seriously expecting cautious Keir to turn the 80 seat majority the Tories mustered at the last election into the Tony Blair style landslide YouGov’s poll would produce if replicated at the ballot box. That’d be like almost like Leicester winning the Premiership again.

But here’s the thing: the odds of a Labour majority, even if only a small one, are now shorter than those of Tories repeating the trick, at least according to users of Betfair’s exchange – who set their own odds. They put the price at a little over 5-2. A Tory majority can be backed at just below 3-1. A hung parliament (evens) remains the strong favourite.

When it comes to who will win the most seats – the most popular market – the exchange has them more or less level pegging. The same is true of Ladbrokes (10-11), although the Tories are marginally favoured with a number of its rivals. But Labour’s odds have been coming in for months now, while the Tories have been drifting like a pair of Pooh sticks thrown into the River Thames from Westminster Bridge.

In another good sign for Starmer, Ladbrokes has him as the odds on favourite to be prime minister after the next general election (8-11). The explanation for the shorter price on Starmer getting into Number 10 is the fact that there is almost no way the smaller parties would prop up another Tory government.

The Lib Dems’ experience of sleeping with the enemy during the coalition helps explain why. The voters took a brutal revenge, almost wiping them out. Ed Davey won’t make that mistake again if he can break the blue wall in a sufficiently large number of seats to hold the balance of power. It probably still keeps him up at night.

Labour’s odds may lengthen a bit if the new prime minister – likely Liz Truss – enjoys a “honeymoon”. However, the dire economic situation she faces – plus her embrace of people far to the right of most Tory voters, if not members – means that it likely won’t last for long.

There are also Britain’s creaking public services, which she’s had almost nothing to say about, and its current industrial strife to deal with. Sure, the odds aren’t yet as favourable to Labour as are the polls.

But the fact that the people who put money on politics (and bookies will tell you they represent a small, but unusually well informed cohort) think the winner of the next election is now a toss-up matters.

In the last election, Labour slumped to its worst result since the 1930s. Commentators said it could take several electoral cycles for the party to get so much as a sniff of power in future. Bettors felt the same way. Some likened Starmer to Neil Kinnock, who fought – and lost – two general elections before handing over to the late John Smith, and then Blair.

Things look very different today. This is good for Starmer and Labour, because it isn’t just punters who like to back a winner. There is a subset of voters that do too. Donors even more so. Don’t let’s underestimate that.

Winning elections costs money – and donors are much likely to put their cash behind a party with a credible chance of forming the next government than they are a no-hoper. If the people you’ve backed get in, then its money well spent: you can buttonhole ministers, or join the queue for a gong via Britain’s deeply corrupted honours system.

Starmer still has work to do. Watching “cautious” Keir go about the business of politics is sometimes maddeningly frustrating. Sure, he’s scored some hits recently; notably his (allegedly) fully-funded energy price freeze. That was a good idea, it’s popular with the public and it has made the Tories sweat. But he does rather have a habit of hitting the fences he should clear. He’s no Desert Orchid and he’d really struggle at Aintree.

It often feels as if he’s nervous of advocating some of the party’s more popular ideas for fear of antagonising a largely hostile press, which is never going to be nice to him. Keir, do you realise that public ownership is popular, and that doesn’t just apply the railways? Privatisation isn’t. It tastes like the s**t the privatised water companies dumped on Britain’s beaches.

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Workers’ rights? Voters are quite keen on them too, because lots of them are workers. The public sometimes seems to understand why some of them are striking better than the Labour leader does. If it is too much for him to have frontbenchers on picket lines, he could at least forcefully explain why the current unrest is happening and what needs to be done to bring it to an end.

But I’m willing to acknowledge that I could be wrong about that. Someone who’s careful, competent, and not completely out in la la land, like Liz Truss and the bonkers brigade of Lannister lookalikes she’s lining up to inflict upon the country? They might look good enough to start in the stalls as the clear favourites come election day.

If the Resolution Foundation has it right, Britons are going to experience the greatest decline in living standards in 100 years, a period that included the great depression, the Second World War and the financial crisis. Voters tend to punish parties that leave them poorer, and so they should.

Does that mean I’m putting money down on team Starmer? Well that’s the big question, isn’t it? If Truss does enjoy a modest honeymoon such that Labour’s odds drift a bit, I might be inclined to put some where my mouth is. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought that about Labour.