Thursday, 17 April 2014

In the blue corner: how do the Conservatives shape up to resist a Labour advance?

Yesterday I considered the prospects for Labour gains.  Today I want to look at the other side of the coin, how the Conservatives are placed to defend their current seat tally.  This is not quite the same question, because Labour have the prospects of gains from the Lib Dems, while the Conservatives are sitting on some tiny majorities over the Lib Dems also.  But the main action is blue on red.
Here are the Conservative seats ranked in order of increasing majority:

The first thing that leaps out is how well the Conservatives did in close battles.  They won 18 seats with a majority of less than 1,000 and 18 seats with a lead of 2% or less.  So even a 1% swing away from the Tories would be a real struggle for them.  And that's leaving aside the fact that voters seem to have moved between the parties in some pretty non-standard ways this time round, which may not be particularly to the advantage of the Conservatives.
Just a note on the colour coding.  The colour of the majority represents the nearest challenger: red for Labour, gold for Lib Dems and grey for the Wyre Forest hospital chap.  As you can see, six of the top 20 most marginal Conservative seats have a Lib Dem as the closest challenger last time around.

Note, the prices have moved on during the week, so the odds on the Conservatives in a few seats (eg Morecambe & Lunesdale) are not directly comparable.
Anyway, let's look at this in terms of bookies' odds:
And once again we see a transformation.  The bookies have more or less written off the Lib Dems' chances of making any gains against the Conservatives.  We see the Lib Dem seats slump to the bottom of the table.  The only gold on the first page of this table is Watford, and that's because Labour finished a close third.  And it's a similar story on the second page.  Both Colne Valley and Bristol North West have Labour in a not-too-distant third.  The first seat on this list in which the Lib Dems are second favourite is Camborne & Redruth, where the Conservatives have a micro-majority of 92.  Even there, the Conservatives are priced at a very short 8/15.
The opposite is the case for Labour.  The Conservatives are odds against in 44 seats on this list. If they lost all of those without making any other gains, their chances of staying in power would be remote.  They are quoted at odds of more than 2/1 in 25 seats that they currently hold.
The basic question is whether you think current polling is a reliable indicator of the result in May 2015.  It has to be the starting point for our thinking, even if we apply adjustments for how polling might move.  But where might we expect to see the Conservatives do disproportionately well?
In the red/blue contests where I am considering a bet on the Tories, I look for constituencies with a fairly low Lib Dem tally and where the Conservatives and Labour have a relatively high share of the vote.  Such constituencies can be expected to have fewer protest voters of the type that might be attracted to UKIP and fewer Lib Dem voters who are likely to be backing Labour.  On that basis, Morecambe & Lunesdale looks fair value even at 3/1 despite its tiny majority (compare and contrast Lancaster & Fleetwood), as does Stockton South at 7/2.  Both seats have first time incumbents (historically first time incumbents of any party tend to outperform their party at elections, having built up some personal loyalty), and indeed this is a consideration that should help the Conservatives in many of their marginals this time around.  Wolverhampton South West at 3/1 is worth considering for the same reason.  Cannock Chase, despite the best efforts of its MP, is worth nabbing at 11/5 with Paddy Power.  Ladbrokes rate this an evens shot and I think Ladbrokes is much closer to the mark.  This seat seems to be trending Conservative.
Generally I'm much less attracted by the shorter priced Conservative seats.  It's unclear how the Lib Dem vote in particular is going to distribute itself.  The short prices have hidden risks that are not fully priced in, in my view. I have, however, taken the 1/2 on the Conservatives in Tamworth.  The Lib Dem vote share there is relatively low.
Two seats, Thurrock and South Thanet, have a substantial intervention from UKIP.  I shall look at the possible impact of UKIP separately.  But I'll note now that betting on the Conservatives in both these seats at present prices needs to be carefully weighed.
What haven't I talked about in this thread?  I have studiously avoided talking about looking at the seat market for a proxy for a Conservative overall majority or Conservative most seats bet.  We need a separate table for that.  I'll look at that tomorrow.

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