Monday, 5 May 2014

How red our are valleys? Wales 2015

After London yesterday, I turn now to Wales.  And Wales's experience of the last few years has been very different from London's.

Wales is the poorest part of Britain.  Its GVA per head is £15,401, considerably less than half that of London and less than three quarters of the UK average.  That's in the same ballpark as Greece, Portugal and Estonia.  It saw the steepest rise in unemployment following the 2008 crash; however, last year unemployment dropped more steeply in Wales than almost anywhere else and the unemployment rate is now below the national average.  But prospects for Wales look poorer than elsewhere in the UK:

So the impact of the economic recovery on voting intentions may be less than in more prosperous areas.

Wales has older demographics than most of the UK:

In 2012 the median age was two years higher than the UK average, and people aged 65 and over made up 19.1% of the population, compared with 17.0% for the UK.  This may make voters more socially conservative - and more likely to vote.

Wales, of course, has devolved government.  This is, as it has been since its inception, Labour controlled.  It is responsible for, among other things, education, health and the environment, so many of the subjects that are the subject of political debate for the Westminster election in England are of less pressing importance in Wales.

Also, we should not forget the presence of a fourth party with Westminster MPs, Plaid Cymru.  This gives rise to special considerations in some constituencies, as considered below.

The most recent Welsh opinion poll dates from the middle of last month:

Labour: 45%
Conservative: 24%
LibDems: 7%
Plaid Cymru: 11%
UKIP: 10%
Others: 3%

This represents a 5.5% swing from the Conservatives to Labour.  The Lib Dems polled 20% at the last election, so have apparently lost two thirds of their vote in Wales, as in Scotland.

To the seats in play:

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 Lib Dem vote to Labour (the figure is derived by assuming that half will desert the Lib Dems and that these will break for Labour rather than the Conservatives in a 3:1 proportion).

As you can see, I've taken a very broad view of what constitutes a seat in play, and still the competitive seats are few indeed. Only two seats are predicted by the bookies to change hands: Cardiff Central and Cardiff North.  Of the rest, only Arfon looks close to a toss-up. 

The one seat that's a mandatory bet is Cardiff Central.  There's an underround and simply by betting in properly weighted stakes on both Labour and the Lib Dems would yield a 7% return - not to be sneezed at.  But which do I prefer?

When I looked at this a couple of weeks ago, I liked the Lib Dems at 2/1. But I hadn't appreciated just how badly they've slumped in Wales as well as Scotland. Uniform national swing is meaningless at such levels. 

Unlike Scotland, the Lib Dem vote was very inefficiently spread in Wales. From 40 seats they picked up just three with over 20% of the vote. So they have a lot more wasted votes to lose in irrelevant constituencies. They can reasonably try to hold all three of their current seats through personal votes, at the expense of watching their vote crash almost everywhere else.  

But that vote won't crash completely. The Lib Dems tallied 18.2% in the 37 constituencies that they didn't take in 2010.  I doubt it will drop below 3% in almost any constituency and in some it will be considerably higher (especially as some areas of Wales which do not have a Lib Dem MP, such as Montgomeryshire, have strong Liberal traditions).   An average in these seats closer to 5% therefore looks more likely.

To hold their seats, the Lib Dem Welsh national vote share will therefore need to increase a fair bit.  2/1 on the Lib Dems in Cardiff Central looks right, which means that the 4/6 on Labour is the value. Good job there's an underround. 

If the Lib Dem vote is indeed going to crash in Wales, that means that the potential swing to Labour could be greater in those seats where the Lib Dems are not seriously campaigning, assuming that these 2010 Lib Dems continue to break in the way I have assumed.  I would therefore be very careful about betting on the Conservatives in any Welsh constituency.  But I don't see any clear bets on Labour here either.  The swings required do not make the odds offered attractive, with the possible exception of the 10/1 longshot on Labour in Clwyd West.

I suppose the 1/12 on Labour in Newport East beats what you could get in the bank.  It seems unlikely that the Lib Dems are going to be in genuine contention in seats like this in 2015, given their national polling.  It's not a bet I shall be making though.

How will Plaid Cymru fare?  Unlike their Scottish counterparts, they have languished in the Welsh national polls.  But Plaid Cymru has historically been a regional party and like the Lib Dems its national vote share will not help us predict its seat tally.  It is a left wing party, so no assumption can be made that 2010 Lib Dem voters who abandon that ship will break particularly for Labour rather than Plaid when both are in contention.  Indeed, in Ceredigion I would expect Plaid Cymru to benefit from former Lib Dem disaffection much as Labour will do in seats where Labour is second placed.  The 2/1 in that seat looks a bit mean on Plaid Cymru, however, given the size of the swing required.

Nor do I fancy a bet in either Arfon or Ynys Mon, where Labour and Plaid Cymru are tussling it out.  While Labour have benefited from a national swing in their favour against Plaid since 2010, these seats are very individual.  Without local knowledge, I won't be betting on either.

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