As I wrote in the run-up to the general election, political betting markets can be lucrative ones for punters. One of the so-called ‘iron laws’ of Conservative leadership contests is that the front runner does not win it. In 2019, Boris Johnson finally put the myth to bed. Labour on the other hand have a different past, much more content to back the front runner and at time they have proved to be coronations rather than contests. 2019 has the potential to break into a civil war for the party.
The first contest to be held after gambling was liberated in the 1960s was in 1976 when Harold Wilson’s reign as Labour leader finally came to an end. His thirteen years as leader had created a number of suitable replacements who now read like a who’s who of post-war Labour titans. The bookmakers opened up with James Callaghan (4/5), Denis Healey (7/4), Tony Crosland (7/2) Roy Jenkins (5/1), Tony Benn (10/1), Michael Foot (12/1), Shirley Williams (20/1) and Eric Varley at (25/1).
Callaghan was immediately seen as the ‘likely successor’ and adopted a Boris Johnson-Esque safety first strategy; refusing to outline a policy platform, refusing to make a speech or do an interview during the campaign. Back then, the contest was selected by MPs alone and Callaghan benefited from a push to ‘stop Michael Foot’, winning by 176 to 137 in the final round.
Labour’s next contest would be in the wake of its 1979 defeat.
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