Commentators and pundits could not fathom the size of the defeat that would be inflicted on the Tories in 1997. And like the experts, the spread betting firms have also continually undervalued Labour’s majority in the run up to the 1997 and 2001 elections. One reason for this could be the nature of spread betting’s clientele. Although the thousands of people who now have accounts come from a varied background, the traditional heart of the industry would still seem to be the city/stockbroker brigade—and without stereotyping, many of them tend to be Conservative.
Certainly several of the biggest bets laid on the last election came from Tory sympathisers who backed their opinions with their money. One punter, reputed to be a Tory MP, lost tens of thousands after backing his party and it seems that a small number of big bets backing the number of seats the Conservatives would hold kept the price up artificially. Probably the biggest loser was one client who allegedly lost in excess of £500,000 with Sporting after buying Tory seats in 1997.
The effect is that quotes on total seats and percentages are skewed towards the Conservatives—not unlike the pro-Arsenal effect discussed in the earlier chapter on football. Big punter Brian Hartigan had one of his best paydays after repeatedly selling Tory seats at the 1997 election—and it was all thanks to the BBC and the power of the internet.