No lackeys here. Heaven forbid that Crikey be accused of being a lackey of the United States so I note that Pravda exhorts that “if the people of the world are being asked to judge the actions of the Russian Federation through press reports based on the information that is presented to them, then it would be a good idea to begin from a viewpoint whereby the international media presents the truth and not some half-baked subjective attempt to package the story in a way that is hostile to Moscow.” Hence these extracts from Pravda and I am confident that they will help rather than hinder our readers make up their own minds:

For a start, Moscow has been careful to inform the world media through a tireless campaign from its press attaches at its Embassies, whereby the Russian Foreign Ministry has provided detailed information as to Moscow’s constant attempts to broker a peace deal in South Ossetia, constantly stressing the need to satisfy both Tblissi (Georgia) and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia). Where has this information appeared in a single western news outlet? It has been systematically ignored in a massive attempt at misinformation.

Secondly, hours after it announced a ceasefire, Georgia instructed its peacekeeping forces to attack the Russian peacekeepers in the area, an act which raises questions as to the sanity of Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili and more seriously, to the intentions of Washington, which along with Tel Aviv, has hundreds of military advisors supporting the Georgian armed forces. How could this attack not have received approval from the puppet-master who pulls Saakashvili’s strings?

Support for the underdog theory. An intriguing story in the Northern Territory News this morning pointing out that the nine per cent swing to the Country Liberal Party on Saturday was not because the Opposition attracted more votes than last time. The reason for the gain was the abnormally high proportion of people who did not bother to vote at all. A conclusion that can reasonably be reached is that people who previously were Labor voters could not be bothered turning up at the polling booths at all. That fits exactly into the underdog theory I advanced yesterday.

A curly question for Britain. The return to exile in England by former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife Potjaman will surely present the British Government with a difficult decision. The British have prided themselves on providing a safe home for political refugees of all kinds, but this pair are both convicted criminals and Thailand itself is a parliamentary democracy albeit a sometimes struggling one. To allow the two Thais to stay will be nothing less than an insult to the Thai judicial system. A spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday said “”We do not comment on individual cases” but Mr Thaksin will clearly claim that his life will be at risk if forced to return to Thailand. “I receive information and hints about attempts to assassinate me all the time,’ Thaksin said in the statement faxed to Bangkok TV stations. The fax also said that his political enemies were trying “to get rid of me’ and he maintained his innocence. “This is what I get for serving the country, the monarchy and the people with hard work and dedication for six years as prime minister,” Mr. Thaksin said in a bitter handwritten note. “I am not perfect but I insist that I am not as bad as what they accuse me of.”

A little note on the odds. My colleague on Crikey Possum Comitatus regularly tries to disparage the market as an indicator of what will happen in elections and yesterday was no exception. The Possum seemed to take great joy in arguing that the Northern Territory result was proof of how the collective wisdom of the market was no good as an indicator without opinion polls to guide it and there is no doubt that the more informed a market is the more likely it is to be accurate. But there is never perfect knowledge of the intentions of people when it comes to voting and some evidence that on occasion it is the very fact that the polls (or in their absence the collective wisdom of the pundits) are pointing to an easy victory for a government that causes voters to have a last minute change of heart. I am sure that the sentiment often is that people don’t mind the b’s winning but they don’t want them to win by as much as expected for fear they’ll get too arrogant. The people thus change their vote at the last moment. Think Jeff Kennett defeated as Premier of Victoria or Sally Anne Atkinson rolled as Lord Mayor of Brisbane against all the expectations of the pollsters and punters alike.

That was certainly the premise I worked on throughout all my campaigns for the Labor Party. In case any one thinks I was inventing opinion poll numbers back in those days to show Labor’s internal polling having Hawke behind, or only narrowly in front, let me say in my defence that I was merely adjusting the actuals to take account of this underdog impact. I believe it exists but the very scarcity of elections where it might apply makes it difficult to prove with any great confidence because of the small sample size.

Yet I do know that bookmakers are people of considerable rat cunning. They love people to think they are idiots who regularly get things wrong. It encourages the mob to part with their money and I’m sure that Centrebet’s Neil Evans was delighted with this comment by my other Crikey colleague Bernard Keane:

By Saturday morning CLP had widened to $8 and Labor shortened to $1.07 and Centrebet’s Neil Evans was claiming the “death knell” had sounded for the CLP: “there’ll have to be a full moon … and some bizarre turnaround, for this to become a political contest. It’s rather embarrassing. In fact, it’s a punting ambush.” Embarrassing indeed.

What bookmakers and others who play the markets know is that six times in every 100 they can expect $1.07 chances to get beaten and that applies whether the price if influenced by an opinion poll or not. The only thing that will have upset Centrebet about Saturday’s result is that the Northern Territory election was not actually one of that 6%.

Note: Richard Farmer in a previous life was chairman of an ASX listed internet bookmaking sports betting business and a tactician on Bob Hawke’s campaign teams.

Peter Fray

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