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Betting on Bozza for PM?

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As Labour’s penultimate gamble – the budget – works its way through the system, professionals and dabblers alike are starting to size up the odds on the next election. There is tax-free money to be made – and lost as well – and whilst we’re never going to advocate betting the house, here are some pointers that anyone looking to have a little flutter may find useful.

First off, the election is getting closer. The latest date on which an election may be held – barring military coup, or serious parliamentary tinkering – is 3 June 2010 or (as some purists have argued, Friday 4 June).

Commentators doubt that Gordon Brown would dare push his rule out that far, not least because most forecasts are for Labour to receive an absolute hammering in the local elections due to take place a month earlier. Received wisdom is that such a move would be electoral suicide – so the smart money, assuming a 2010 election, is on Thursday 6 May.

Expect an upbeat budget in April 2010, loads of highly partisan measures, with parliament dissolved a couple of days later.

It is just conceivable that Gordon Brown could go for an election in October of this year. Back in 1978, Prime Minister Jim Callaghan faced a similar fix: rock bottom polls, economy in a mess, parliamentary term running out. Every expectation was that he would go to the polls before he was absolutely forced to - as in the end he was, six months later. Then, what was always predicted to be certain Labour defeat turned to absolute rout.

Over the last 100 years, the most popular month for general elections – preferred on 6 out of 25 occasions – was October. May and June have come into favour only over the last two decades. The last January election took place in 1911: the last August one in 1895. There has never been a September General Election.

As possible election dates grow fewer, so the frequency with which polling organisations turn out their predictions grows ever more frequent.

The latest projection – and the first post-budget forecast – comes from YouGov, who chart a Labour collapse and clear Tory lead. That is:

Tory 45% Labour 27% Lib Dem 18%

This translates, according to what is called "uniform swing" to a Tory lead over Labour of 102 seats and an overall Tory majority. However, the experts who follow this sort of thing – the "psephologists" - are more cautious. UK Polling suggest that on these figures the Tory lead should be adjusted down to 88.

The main difficulties that afflict any attempt to forecast electoral outcomes are to be found first in interpretation of the raw data, and second in the application of that data to a seriously quirky first-past-the-post electoral system. This time round, prediction will be made even more difficult by changes to constituency boundaries since the last election.

The figures quoted by most polls relate to expressed preferences. There is a wealth of debate and analysis as to how the exact question asked can affect the answer given: however, a far greater skew is given by the allocation of those who don’t express a clear preference. These are the "don’t knows" and the "likely to vote" for a given party (but not sure).

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