I love newspaper headlines, the way that they shout at you competitively from the stand on a Sunday morning – imploring your attention like a bunch of gape-mouthed nestlings. I have always admired the art with which the headline writer will take the story before him and bleach it of conditionals, sharpening and condensing and pushing it to the limit of credibility so that the faltering fingers of the deluded consumer will feel unable to resist. And yet in all my years of knowing chuckling at the headlines, I don’t think I have ever come across such a brazen confection of suggestio falsi and suppressio veri as appeared yesterday in large print across one of the Sundays. “Brown on course to win election,” it said.
When I had regained my breath, I thought of some other propositions the headline writer might have touted – with an equal measure of foundation. How about “Pope on course to win Wimbledon”? Or “Simon Heffer on course to win Miss World”?
I have an answer for all those befuddled by the recent mutability of the polls. May I direct you to Betfair, a political betting website that in my experience is almost uncanny in its accuracy. Here you are looking at the predictions that people are willing to defend with their own money, and the money is still overwhelmingly on the Tories. The single most likely outcome – and you can actually watch as the bets go down and the stakes mount up – is that the Tories will have a comfortable overall majority, easily enough to govern for five years. As for the idea that Gordon Brown ‘s Labour Party could win the election, with an overall majority – that possibility has been flatlining for months at between five and 10 per cent. The reason I trust the punters of Betfair more than I trust a poll in a Sunday paper is that the punters have thought it through with the care of those investing their own money.
They have put themselves in the position of the tens of millions of sensible men and women who will be going to the polling stations in the next few weeks. The gamblers have focused hardheadedly on the reality of the choice.
There you are on May 6 (or whenever), pencil poised. Are you really going to give Gordon Brown another five years in Downing Street? This is a Government that has spent the past two years lurching disastrously from one abortive putsch to another. One by one, they have stepped up to plunge the rubber dagger into his impervious back, from Clarke to Hoon to Hewitt to Alistair Darling himself, while the atmosphere has become so poisonous that some talents – Siôn Simon and James Purnell, for example – have not only abandoned their ministerial careers, but given up on the Commons altogether.
Do we really want another five years of the holepunch-hurling horror of Gordon Brown’s management style? Do we want the Downing Street switchboard to be endlessly jammed with people bleating to some “bullying helpline”? Is this any way to run a country? And that is just froth compared to the real charges against Labour.
If Gordon Brown is on course to win the election, then Elvis Presley is on course to win The X Factor and Shergar to win the Grand National.
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