I'm working my way up to the central battleground between Labour and the Conservatives, but let's keep skirting round the edges for now. The Conservatives entertain hopes of an overall majority, despite being behind in the polls at present. But what do the bookies make of their chances?
If you were to go onto Betfair today, you could back the Conservatives for an overall majority at 4.3 (100/30). But what of the constituencies that would make up that hypothetical majority? Here are the constituencies that the Conservatives would need to make inroads into if they were to achieve an overall majority:
The Conservatives would need to take a minimum of 19 to get a majority. Measured by size of majority, the bookies aren't remotely convinced. Number 19 on this list is Newcastle-under-Lyme, and the best price that you can get is 8/1. But let's sort them by odds instead. And here a very different picture emerges:
It seems that the bookies regard the Lib Dems as much easier pickings than Labour-held seats. As if by magic, the yellow rises to the top. The first 21 seats on the list are all Lib Dem held, and are at prices of 2/1 or less. Seven of these are seats that don't even feature on the first list at all, being outside the Conservatives' first 75 targets as measured by size of swing required. If the Conservatives could hold their existing seats and take these 21 seats, they would have their overall majority. I shall come back in a separate post to the question whether that is a sensible way of judging the respective merits of a 2/1 constituency bet on Carshalton & Wallington against the 100/30 of the Betfair price on an overall majority (spoiler: it isn't). Are these prices sensible? I shall be coming back to this question in later posts.
But I note that on today's ICM poll, where the Conservatives polled 32% and the Lib Dems polled just 12%, there has been a swing from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives of 3% from the last election. On a uniform swing, that would give the Tories just eight of these target seats. The Lib Dems may have lost half their support, but the Conservatives have also lost some vote share. We shall need to work out what will happen in Lib Dem-held constituencies in particular: what will happen to the Lib Dem vote? And what will happen to the Conservative vote? That is going to take further analysis in future posts. The destiny of these seats at the next election is not obvious on first inspection. Of the Lib Dem seats, I like the look of the 11/10 on the Conservatives in St Ives and North Cornwall best. The odds in Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk and in North Devon both look decidedly mean.
What about those more difficult Labour seats? Are there any seats where the Conservatives are worth backing? Well clearly on current polling the Conservatives cannot hope to take many of these. If you believe that the pendulum will swing in the Conservatives' favour, you need next to consider where the Conservatives will gain support and where Labour will lose it. By definition, the current state of play will not prevail. So Walsall South at 8/1 looks like it might be value, requiring only a 2.2% swing and with a relatively small Lib Dem third party vote. It certainly looks more appealing than the 8/1 you'd get on the Conservatives defeating the Lib Dems in Westmorland & Lonsdale. The 16/1 in Scunthorpe is worth considering if you think that UKIP will make inroads into the traditional working class Labour support (but note that it was Elliot Morley's seat, which may have affected Labour's performance in that seat). The 10/1 in Great Grimsby looks like it might be value as well, for the same reason (though note that there is a big Lib Dem contingent here). And the 5/1 in Wirral South is relatively long for the minuscule majority Labour have in the seat.
It has to be recognised, however, that all of these seats are going to be a challenge for the Conservatives without major movements in the polls. Any bets placed need to be understood to be outside bets.