Lots of ‘free betting’ websites are offering bets on the outcome of the election, but it’s notable that political betting has been thrown into turmoil by the sudden and unexpected rise of the Liberal Democrats. Just a month ago, the odds were for a small – if workable – majority for the Conservative Party. Now the talk is of hung parliaments and coalition Government, which is almost unknown in the British political system. For now Nick Clegg can luxuriate in the possibility of being kingmaker come the morning of May 7th but out curious electoral system means that political betting is extraordinarily difficult to do. With individual constituencies returning MPs rather than the country as a whole, local history and issues can make almost any seat in the country defy wider national trends. In fact, at the last election the Tories actually polled more votes than the Labour Party and yet still lost by a biggish margin in terms of seats. Traditionally, turnout in rural areas is both higher than the national average and more staunchly Tory by inclination. That means that in their seats the Tories pile up the votes but can’t make inroads in the smaller urban seats where Labour dominates. So whatever the headline shares of the votes forecast for the parties by the pollsters, it is there micro-trends at local level that actually determine the outcome. And with trust in politicians at an all time low, polling companies have found records numbers of “haven’t decideds” and people who literally don’t want to vote for any of the major parties. Align that with the strong showing by fringe parties in recent years (the BNP polling well in Labour heartlands, for example) which leeches support from the main parties and this election is almost impossible to call. That all being said, we think the Tories will shade a small majority which will be enough to let them govern – albeit perhaps horse-trading with the Lib Dems on free vote issues. Gordon Brown’s unhappy stint as Prime Minister looks sure to end ignominiously as Labour seem likely to register their lowest share of the popular vote in generations. That they will still probably have far more seats than the Lib Dems on a similar share of the vote will only serve to heighten the case for electoral reform in favour of a more proportional system.