In the third century AD, the Romans arranged coastal defences around the east coast from the Humber to the Solent to deal with unwelcome immigrants in a system called the Saxon Shore. In 2015, many of the constituencies on the same coast will be dominated by the same concern at the ballot box.
The east of England and south eastern England are among the most prosperous parts of the country. But this prosperity has very often not reached the coastline. While there are some very attractive coastal towns in this area, there are others that have suffered decades of decline. A 2007 Department for Communities and Local Government Select Committee report found that many coastal towns shared a number of common characteristics, including: physical isolation, high deprivation levels, inward migration of older people, large numbers of people passing through without settling, outward migration of young people and poor-quality housing. A 2008 study by DCLG similarly concluded that, taking account of a range of socio-economic indicators, the larger English seaside towns are, on average, more disadvantaged than England as a whole, with high unemployment.
This sharp difference between the eastern and south eastern coast and the inland south east and east means that it is worth looking at these separately. They seem to be behaving quite differently politically - at least, bookies and punters think so. So let's take things littorally:
These are all the 51 coastal constituencies from the Humber to the Solent (including the Isle of Wight).
Because these seats are primarily Conservative-held and all have some interest for the Conservatives, I have presented them as a Conservative battleground, ordered by odds on a Conservative victory. 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).
The first thing to note is just how many seats are in play among these. Five are expected by the bookies to change hands, with a sixth with the incumbent odds against (though still favourite) and a seventh rated a toss-up. In a further seven seats, the incumbent is rated 1/2 or longer to hold their seat. Without us really noticing, a whole new electoral front has opened up.
The next thing to note is how multi-party many of these seats are. The Greens and the Lib Dems both hold seats on this coastline (indeed, the Lib Dems hold more seats than Labour do, with Labour's three seats being found at the opposite extremes of this coastline). UKIP are quoted at best odds of 10/1 or less in seven of these seats.
This coastal stretch seems to be an area of particular UKIP strength. Eight out of ten of the constituencies notionally won by UKIP last year were on the Saxon Shore:
I have already looked at the rise of UKIP in the eastern side of England:
As I noted on that thread, it seems that Labour has so far been unable to take all of the advantage you would expect them to take of conditions that would ordinarily favour them, and UKIP has stepped into the vacuum.
There is some support for that idea from the Survation constituency polls conducted for UKIP. Six out of the eight conducted so far have been conducted in Saxon Shore constituencies: Eastleigh, Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Folkestone & Hythe, South Thanet, Great Yarmouth and Great Grimsby:
UKIP were shown as winning Eastleigh and strong in the others. When tested in South Thanet their vote was recorded as being not particularly likely to switch to the Conservatives and unimpressed at the idea of letting in Ed Miliband. Whether or not you believe the vote shares recorded to be accurate, I see no reason to disbelieve these findings about the nature of UKIP's vote. Their supporters aren't Tories on holiday but dissidents against both main parties.
For me the most striking of these constituency polls was Bognor Regis & Littlehampton. It's historically been an uber-safe Conservative seat with the Lib Dems comfortably in second. Yet UKIP were recorded as having more than a quarter of the polled support. This is a huge turn-around.
We will no doubt see more of these constituency polls and I expect most of them will continue to concentrate on this coastline.
What's happening in the betting markets? Well, the bookies seem confused. That's great news for gamblers, because there are no fewer than four seats with underrounds: Brigg & Goole, South Basildon & East Thurrock, Cleethorpes and Brighton Kemptown. There's guaranteed money to be made in these seats just by backing the different horses at appropriate stakes. The underround in Brigg & Goole offers you a guaranteed 9% return if you so wish.
So these are four must-bet constituencies. Where's the value?
No one knows for certain and anyone who claims otherwise is either a fool or lying. So what follows is guesswork.
The first thing to note is that in all four seats the Lib Dems had a reasonable but not amazing showing (13.4% in South Basildon & East Thurrock, 15% in Brigg & Goole, 18% in the other two seats). So Labour can hope for a bit of a lift there.
UKIP are as short as 20/1 in both Basildon & East Thurrock and in Cleethorpes. So they may do better than average there. If they draw their vote the same way in those constituencies that they draw their vote nationally (we don't know that, but in the absence of other evidence we should tentatively assume that), that also should help Labour.
I believe that the price on Labour is where most of the value probably lies in all four of these constituencies, but especially Basildon & East Thurrock and Cleethorpes. Indeed, if the Survation polls are remotely correct, Labour may well benefit in many constituencies by the upheaval between the Conservatives and UKIP in these seats. But I'm far from sure and we may get a lot more helpful data after the impending batch of elections.
The same effects, coupled with the apparent resilience of UKIP's vote as described in South Thanet, lead me to infer that Labour are value at 6/4 in Great Yarmouth. In adjoining Waveney I tipped UKIP at 50/1. That price is no longer available but you can still get 33/1. This still looks like a good price, given the types of movements being described in the Alan Bown polls.
For a longshot, I've had a small stake on Labour in Rochford & Southend East at 20/1. There's a large 2010 Lib Dem vote to squeeze here, and if UKIP is going to be as disruptive as the Alan Bown polling suggests, Labour could find itself getting home on a relatively small vote share. I'm not sure what odds it should be, but it doesn't look like a 20/1 shot - maybe 8/1.
One further thought: so far the Conservatives have sought to appeal to would-be UKIP voters on a "stop Ed Miliband" basis, so far unsuccessfully. Will they start to seek to appeal to more progressive voters on a "stop UKIP" basis in these constituencies? Polling shows that UKIP is the party which has the largest number of voters dislike it. So it's something they might like to try in Eastleigh, for example, if they're cheeky. The recent Alan Bown poll in that constituency showing UKIP first and the Conservatives second makes that a plausible pitch.
Finally, something completely different: Brighton Pavilion. You can back both the Greens and Labour at evens. I haven't placed a bet on this constituency (local knowledge is vital in this case and I don't think I have enough), but despite the Green council's travails, I'd prefer to back the Greens if I were forced to choose. There is no particular reason to assume that 2010 Lib Dems will break for Labour rather than the Greens and it is likely that Caroline Lucas will get some form of first term incumbency bounce.