The third of the chief election-deciding regions is the North West. Unlike the West Midlands and the East Midlands, the bulk of the seats in this region are held by Labour (mostly with sturdy majorities), but 13 of the top 100 marginals held by the Conservatives are also in this region.
The North West is far from the ripples of the London economy. It has lower than average wages and higher than average unemployment. However, it has grown relative to the rest of the country over the period from 1997 to 2012, and in 2012 it had one of the fastest growing GVAs per head in the country.
The region is dominated by the two big cities in the south, Manchester and Liverpool. Both are core cities (the eight largest cities of England after London) and their experience of the last few years has been sharply different from the rest of the region. Manchester is a fast-growing city - a 19% population increase between 2001 and 2011, accounting by itself for 20% of the population growth in the region. In 2012, Greater Manchester was the third fastest-growing sub-region in the country. Liverpool also has reversed its longterm population decline in recent years.
Other parts of the region have falling population. Eight of the 17 local authorities with population declines from 2001 to 2011 were in the North West: Barrow-in-Furness; Knowlsey; Sefton; Burnley; Hyndburn; St Helens; Stockport and Blackpool. This is usually a proxy for relative economic decline also. On the other hand, Warrington has the highest GVA per head in the region, well above the national average.
This dominance of the region extends to the seat count. There are 75 seats in the north west. Of those 75, 42 are in either Merseyside or Greater Manchester. Of those 42, all bar seven are held by Labour (four are Lib Dem and three are Conservative). Of the remaining 33 seats, 19 are held by the Conservatives, two by the Lib Dems and 12 by Labour. In the North West at least, the Conservatives don't so much have a northern problem as a core city problem. I shall look at this again in more detail in a later post. For now, it is enough to note that we should not expect the core city seats and the remainder of the North West constituencies necessarily to behave in the same way.
By way of contrast, the Lib Dems till now have prospered in Manchester and Liverpool: they polled above 20% in every constituency in an unbroken strip from Liverpool Riverside through the southern side of Manchester as far east as Sheffield South East, in many cases forming the main opposition to Labour.
Here's the ONS guide to the region:
And here are the constituency markets:
As usual, I have put together a Conservative battleground (largely because the constituency odds on the Conservative side generally compare a bit more favourably with the odds on the Conservatives getting an overall majority or being largest party, as compared with the Labour counterpart odds) with a selection of other seat markets at the end. As previously, the third column reflects the effect on the majority in Labour/Conservative marginals that would be had by allocating a quarter of the 2010 Lib Dem vote to Labour (the figure is derived by assuming that half will leave the Lib Dems and that these will break for Labour rather than the Conservatives in a 3:1 proportion). I have included Stan James's prices, though at the point of writing they have been suspended: no doubt they will return soon enough.
Once again, UKIP are nowhere really to be seen on the list. I find this surprising. I got pennies on with Stan James in Blackpool North & Cleveleys at 250/1. Given that Blackpool is a seaside town that has seen better days (its GVA per head is now just over 60% of the national average) and this constituency is a Conservative/Labour marginal, thus reducing the tally that UKIP would need to reach to win the seat, this seems far too long. We may be a long way from the east coast, but Blackpool shares more in common with Great Yarmouth than donkeys on the beach. If UKIP do well notionally in this constituency in the European elections, as they very well might, this price should shorten a lot.
The only constituency market in the North West with an underround is Carlisle. I prefer the 4/1 on the Conservatives to the 2/7 on Labour, but both prices are very fair in comparison with the alternatives in other seats.
The standout bet in this list is on the Conservatives at 4/6 in Crewe & Nantwich. This price is way out of line with the price available in other similar constituencies. Unless you think that it's a 6/4 shot that Labour will get a very substantial overall majority, this bet seems marked. In my view the odds should be 2/7 or shorter.
The 6/5 on the Conservatives in Cheadle also looks a sound bet. The Lib Dems have efficiently squeezed the Labour vote here in the past, and enough of it will still be sulking next year to make this a very tough ask. My only concern about this bet is that with so many Lib Dems in the wider area, they will be have resources to fight to save this seat, Manchester Withington and Hazel Grove, abandoning other seats for now. But their chances of saving Manchester Withington look forlorn. Can they save one or both of the seats that they are defending against the Conservatives? They may need to choose.
So far I have tipped entirely on the blue side of the fence. Relative to other seat prices, the 1/2 on Labour in Bury North looks good. Bury North is one of only two seats in Greater Manchester that the Conservatives hold and the other (Altrincham & Sale West) has a chunky majority with Labour in third. So Labour will be concentrating much of their undoubtedly potent firepower on this seat to try to win it back. As I note above, the Conservatives struggle in Manchester in a way that they have not struggled so much in the less urban parts of the North West. For all that, the 1/2 still looks way too short to me to be worth a bet, given the options available. If Labour take this seat, I expect them to have most seats. Far better to bet at 1.85 on Betfair on that prospect in my view.