Peter Kellner, political analyst and founder of the pollsters You.Gov, is known as the best numbers man in Westminster. He has consistently and accurately predicted the number of seats and percentages for the main political parties, drawing on his own assessment of the political situation and careful reading of opinion polls. His spread betting experience only started when he was approached by the Racing Post to do a weekly column in the weeks running up to the 1997 General Election. As he says:‘I had never had a spread bet in my life—I didn’t know what it was. But when I did the column and looked at the quotes, I knew they were just plain wrong.
I believe the market-makers got the quote wrong because they refused to believe the opinion polls could be right. There was a belief that Labour could not win by more than 50 or so seats—it was like voodoo. After opening an accounts, backed my judgement and made a significant amount.’ This is not the time or the place for a comprehensive assessment of the political landscape since the early 1980s. However, it would seem relatively uncontroversial to suggest that the last two elections have led to such enormous landslide victories for Labour largely because of the phenomenon of vociferous anti-Tory tactical voting.
Large numbers of voters who would normally have been potential Conservative supporters abandoned the party, feeling at best let down, at worst betrayed, by the party’s leadership. After 18 years in power, the strength of feeling was such that many voters decided they would vote for a party other than their first choice to ensure the Conservatives were defeated. It was an aspect that was underestimated by most analysts and market-makers alike and which Kellner—and those who followed his tips in the Racing Post—cashed in on.