Sunday, 29 June 2014

Site note

I'm away for the next three months and won't be posting in that period. I expect a reasonable amount will change on the markets in my absence. Have a good summer.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Lib Dem battleground in June 2014

To complete my look at the current battlegrounds of the parties, here's my look at the prices in the Lib Dem seats and targets:

I've included every seat that the Lib Dems hold and every other seat where the Lib Dem price is 10/1 or less.

This isn't a happy table for Lib Dems.  If the seats fall in order of the odds quoted, the Lib Dems will lose 22 seats if they hold only those where they have an evens or better chance (or 24 if we work off 5/6, the bookies' evens).  That would leave them with 35 (or 33) MPs.

The bookies and punters expect the Lib Dems to hold up much better against the Conservatives than against Labour.  For example, the Lib Dems are at prices of 11/4 and 2/1 in Redcar and Cardiff Central respectively, but in Portsmouth South, a seat with a similar sized majority (and with a far more complicated candidate selection problem), they are 8/11.

Punters appear to have continuing faith that the Lib Dems are in with a shout of making gains in some seats.  They are quoted at a price of 10/1 or less in 26 constituencies that they don't already hold.  Given their current polling performance, this seems exuberantly optimistic on the part of Lib Dem supporting gamblers.  There may be very specific exceptions (Watford, for example), but they must stand next to no chance in most of these seats.

Let's take Truro & Falmouth as an example.  The Lib Dems are priced at 11/2 to take this seat.  Lord Ashcroft recently conducted an opinion poll in this constituency.  Even after prompting voters to think about candidates in that particular constituency, the Lib Dems were trailing in fourth on 16%.  I am sceptical about constituency specific opinion polls because of the challenges of getting the right base, but even I would place some weight on this finding.  The 1/4 on the Conservatives in this seat looks like a fair bet.  Heck, the 25/1 on UKIP (currently polling second in the constituency if Lord Ashcroft is to be believed) is a better bet than the 11/2 on the Lib Dems.

Nor is Truro & Falmouth exceptional.  On this polling, the Lib Dems are being crushed in every notional Tory target, with the exception of Watford (click on the picture to enlarge):

Unless you have truly exceptional information, avoid all bets on the Lib Dems in their notional targets.  They look like an invitation from the bookies to commit larceny on yourself.

In turn, this means that the incumbent in such seats may be offered at a good, if short, price.  The 1/5 on Labour in Ashfield stands out.  Labour are priced at 1/7 in Burnley, a seat in which they have to get a swing of 2.2% and where they have no incumbency advantage.  Ashfield has a first time incumbent with a strong public profile (Gloria De Piero).  I'm on Labour in this seat.

This phenomenon of good short prices is not just found at this end of the table.  You can back Vince Cable to hold Twickenham at 1/4 with Paddy Power.  I'm on this bet too.

Bookies and punters continue to expect the Lib Dems to outperform their polling based on incumbency.  On the basis of Lord Ashcroft's polling, only Sutton & Cheam really justifies the shortness of the Lib Dem price in the constituency.  The good local election results and the clear margin of the Lib Dem lead in the constituency poll means I'm on the 5/6 with Paddy Power here.

I'm bearish on the Lib Dems in many seats, but two seats in particular stand out as having prices that are too short on the Lib Dem side:  Gordon and Portsmouth South.  Malcolm Bruce is stepping down as MP in Gordon and we can now be fairly sure that Mike Hancock will not be standing in Lib Dem colours next time either.  Whatever the local Lib Dem party strengths, those are obstacles that will be hard to overcome.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Labour battleground in June 2014

Having looked at the Conservative side of the picture, it's time to look at things from a Labour perspective.  So here are the important seats for Labour, arranged by odds:

I've included Labour's top 125 targets, the 35 most marginal Labour held seats and any other seat where the odds on Labour are between 1/10 and 10/1.

You will see that some seats that Labour already hold are seen as rather less safe bets than some seats that they are targeting. I struggle to see why Southampton Itchen should have a better price on Labour than Waveney or Birmingham Edgbaston should have a better price on Labour than North Warwickshire.  Sentiment on individual constituencies can lead to skewings of prices in aggregate.

How are Labour shaping up?  To gain an overall majority, they need to take 68 seats.  If these seats fall in the order of the current odds, the 68th extra seat is Portsmouth North, for which Labour are quoted 5/4.  You can back an overall majority for Labour at 9/4 with Betfair as I write, and odds of 2/1 are widely available with conventional bookies on the same proposition.

It's a similar story when you look at proxies for a bet on Labour most seats.  If these seats fall in the order of the current odds, Labour would have 290 seats if it took Nuneaton (odds 4/9) and 300 seats if it took City of Chester (odds 4/7).  You can back Labour most seats at 10/11 with Bet365 or Betfair as I write.

That means that you generally will get much better value by betting on the general markets than on the constituency markets if you want to back Labour (and the 10/11 on Labour getting most seats in particular looks like good value).  You should only be wanting to back Labour in an individual constituency if you are confident that the price is wildly out of line or if you have compelling local knowledge.

The conventional Conservative/Labour marginals don't offer much value on the Labour side, in my opinion.  The few seats where Labour may be worth backing in individual constituencies rather than the general markets are those where Labour faces different opponents. and in particular the Lib Dems.  In Scotland, the Lib Dems' polling remains appalling.  Labour should be considerably shorter than 4/5 in Edinburgh West.  Simon Hughes may be hugely personally popular in his constituency, but the Lib Dems are being flattened in London at present, and 2/1 on Labour taking his seat also looks like good value.

I looked at the Labour targets in April:

Since then, there has been a slight drifting of Labour prices in their targets, mirroring the slight tightening on the Conservative side in their own seats.

Finally we can look at the Labour battleground and the Conservative battleground together, to see how the two battlegrounds dovetail.  The link to the Conservative battleground is here:

The hinge point is at Nuneaton at present: appropriate for a place very close to the centre of the country.  If all seats fell in order of odds on both sides to that point, the Lib Dems would lose 22 seats to Labour and the Conservatives.  Right now, I expect the Lib Dems would take that.  Who has most seats may well depend on which of the main parties can take most of their Lib Dem targets.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Conservative battleground June 2014 update: the sorting

The constituency markets have changed considerably in the last couple of months, so I thought it was time to have another look at the seats ranked by odds. I've presented these in the form of a Conservative battleground. I've included every seat in the top 75 Conservative targets (where there is a market), every seat in the top 100 most marginal Conservative seats, every other seat where the Conservatives are priced between 10/1 and 1/10 and selected other seats:

Since last time, there have been three trends: two absolutely clear, one a little more tentative. First, the prices on the Conservatives have generally shortened in Conservative-held seats and Lib Dem held seats.  Secondly, the Conservatives have generally lengthened in Labour-held seats (this is a little more tentative because some of this movement is down to Paddy Power now listing constituencies - Mr Power seems to take a more pessimistic view of Conservative chances in many constituencies than Ladbrokes).  As a result, the red in the table looks much more sorted towards the top than the last version of this table.  It seems that the bookies and punters put a heavy weight on incumbency.

If you want to, you can compare and contrast how things have changed via this post from April (I haven't directly linked to the table itself because I figured it would be too confusing having links to two very similar tables in a single post):

I suggest that you do take the time to look through both tables.  There have been some fairly striking moves.

What's the net of all these changes?  Well, if these seats fall in the order of the odds in this table, the Conservatives would have an overall majority if they took Waveney.  That's a 3/1 shot.  When I last looked at this in April, the golden seat was Yeovil and priced at 10/3.  So overall prices have come in a bit for the Conservatives on this proposition.

As I write, you can get a best price of 11/4 with Ladbrokes or Betfair on the Conservatives gaining an overall majority.  So there is a small advantage in backing the Conservatives in individual markets, but it's not sensational.

What about most seats?  This is harder to judge because that depends on how many seats you need, which is not set in stone.  In April, comparing the Labour battleground with the Conservative battleground (each arranged by odds) showed that 290 was the magic number.  The Conservatives get 290 seats if they take these seats in the order of their odds up to and including Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, which is priced at 6/4.

Again, this price has come in a bit.  In April, the 290th seat was priced at 7/4.

The gap between the implied odds from the constituency market and the express odds for Conservative most seats is significant: the best price you can get on the direct bet on Conservative most seats is evens (this is widely available).  The conclusion, therefore, is that if you want to cover the possibility of a Conservative overall majority, there's a bit of an edge in using the constituency markets, but it's not huge.  However, to make a play on Conservative most seats, do so through the constituency markets.  This is quite clear cut.

Anyway, are there any bargains?  It will be apparent from the above that we should be looking for bargains in the evens to 7/4 range (and if you're so inclined, counterbalancing those bets with a bet on Labour most seats at 10/11 with Bet365 and Stan James in such a way as to maximise your exposure to a Labour victory or a Conservative victory according to taste). For seats in this band, you should probably start from the assumption that the price is good unless you have a clear reason for believing otherwise.

In the left column of the table I've included the ranking of the seat by Conservative target or marginality - an asterisk means that it's either outside the top 75 Conservative targets or outside the top 100 most marginal Conservative seats.  Where seats are ranked by odds a significant distance from other seats of similar marginality, antennae should prick up.  Sometimes there's a good reason (South Thanet, for example, where UKIP throw the seat into confusion, though I still like the Conservatives at 7/4 as it happens) but sometimes the reason isn't obvious.  City of Chester stands out.  So does St Ives.  I'm on both of these.

Outside this band, Somerton & Frome at 1/2 looks a solid bet. Some of the very short priced bets on the Conservatives look like a good way of making low risk returns closer ito the election - 1/6 on the blues in Basingstoke is really good value.

But you need to plough through this list for yourself.  Happy hunting.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The latest election round: what have we learned about UKIP? Part 3: the wild card effect

So far I have looked at the recent round of election results from the perspective of UKIP's own chances of winning seats. Now I shall look at what the data from these election results implies for the other parties' chances. This comprises two elements: where and who.

Well, it now seems clear that UKIP voters are going to be found in many areas in significant quantities. While I am sceptical of their abilities to win many (or even any) seats, they are going to be active players across the eastern side of England, in the north midlands, along the south coast and in the south west.  They are also going to rack up votes, if not seats, in Yorkshire and north east working class constituencies.

Some of these seats will be two way fights between an incumbent and UKIP: I would ordinarily expect UKIP of standing little chance of getting the sort of vote share that would cause a strong incumbent any jitters.  But UKIP are going to gatecrash a host of two way and three way marginals, pulling votes from the serious contenders in unpredictable ways.

This is potentially very profitable for those can identify who this is going to benefit.  Or very expensive if you don't spot an undercurrent.


One difficulty in working out the impact of this is that UKIP voters are come in several different types.  I've already taken one look at this:

While I have been considering the "who" question on a national level for some time, I had not given too much thought to how the background of UKIP voters intersected with individual constituencies until prompted to do so by an observation of another_richard in the comments section on  Put another way, much attention has been given to the nature of the coalition of voters that UKIP is putting together.  Far less attention has been given to how other parties' coalitions are being affected by this.

Others will be able to do this with far more psephological accuracy than me, but as it happens I doubt that would be particularly helpful for betting purposes.  We only need a rough idea.  So with the sort of precision that you could find only in a saloon bar, I set out a cariacature of the previous coalition of each party.

Labour: unionised workers, public sector workers, lower paid workers, the workless, those from ethnic minorities, professionals who are progressive values-driven.

Conservatives: professionals (other than those who are progressive values-driven), higher paid workers, the self-employed, home owners, the elderly, the battlers.

Lib Dems: localists, professionals who are progressive values-driven, protest voters.

UKIP have put together a coalition built on very different lines, comprising those intellectually hostile to the EU, the socially conservative, those hostile to immigration, those in low paid work and protest voters. These cut across former party boundaries.

Labour is vulnerable to losing lower paid workers and some of the workless, while other parts of its coalition, such as those from ethnic minorities or progressive values-driven professionals, are most unlikely to be tempted to vote purple next year.  In some geographical areas, this barely affects the Labour vote.  We saw that Labour had a very good performance in London in May, reflecting the fact that Labour's vote here largely comes from the UKIP-resistant part of Labour's coalition.  Its vote similarly held up well in the Core Cities.   Because of the shape of their coalition, they are likely to lose little of their vote in university towns to the Kippers (helping to explain the short prices on Labour in Bristol West, Leeds North West and Cambridge).

But in areas where Labour's vote is much more drawn from those in lower paid work, UKIP appear to have undermined Labour's efforts.  They lost control of both North East Lincolnshire and Thurrock. Labour also seem unclear how to identify the categories of voters that they have lost with any precision: in Swindon they won the popular vote but went backwards in seat count.  Labour is likely to lose disproportionately high shares of its coalition in less urban and less well-educated workforces.

If Labour have problems with UKIP, the Conservatives have bigger problems still.  UKIP has bitten a big chunk out of its battler vote - the lower paid workers who have philosophy of self-reliance and who have modest aspirations.  This is especially a problem in Essex and Kent for the blue team, but a problem everywhere for them.  Those intellectually hostile to the EU tend to be fewer in number and more evenly spread.

The Conservatives will also lose proportionately more of their vote in less urban and less well-educated workforces.  Some seats are going to be like a slow bicycle race in reverse, where the party that loses fewer voters to UKIP will take the seat.  In such seats, if in doubt then the assumption has to be that Labour will lose fewer voters than the Conservatives, simply because the Conservatives have been losing more voters to UKIP than Labour have.

Overall, the rise of UKIP is good for Labour in its battles against the Conservatives, but there will be some very different results in different seats.

The Lib Dems have seen their coalition splinter into three.  Its share of progressive values-driven voters has largely decamped to Labour, while the protest voters have taken their protest elsewhere, either to Labour or to UKIP.  In seats where the Lib Dems finished third in 2010, the effect of UKIP picking up the protest vote will be irrelevant on the seat count: the race in such seats will remain between Labour and the Conservatives, and that switch of protest will not affect that race.

Where things get interesting is where former Lib Dem voters were half localists, half anti-metropolitan protest voters.  This was a relatively common combination in the south west and the risk of even some of these voters moving to UKIP is potentially very dangerous for the Lib Dems, where they hold a string of seats with small majorities over the Conservatives.

How to tell how this is playing out in individual seats?

Ah yes, I was hoping you weren't going to ask me that.  Whoever gets that right is going to be highly in demand.  I don't think I've got it remotely right yet (though I don't think anyone else has either).

I do have some ideas though.  In the Labour/Conservative marginals, I'm working loosely on the basis of "low education, high education, public sector/private sector".

In areas with high rates of people with no qualifications (the average rate for England & Wales is 23%, we can expect both the Labour and Conservative vote to be fraying in the direction of UKIP.  Where the jobs are disproportionately to be found in the public sector, we can expect the Conservatives to suffer more heavily from this than Labour, and vice versa when the area's jobs are disproportionately in the private sector.

In areas with high rates of people with degree level qualification, I expect the relatively few professionals who are UKIP-friendly to all come from the Conservative side of the fence.  But when you find such high rates in an area which also has high rates of people with no qualifications, the impact of UKIP - whether in favour of Labour or the Tories - is likely to be magnified.  A seat centred around private sector employment and lots of people with both no qualifications and degree level qualifications is likely to have a Conservative-voting middle class and a Labour-voting working class, making the seat more favourable to the Conservatives than it might otherwise appear.  A seat centred around public sector employment and lots of people with degree level qualifications is likely to have a Labour or Lib Dem-voting middle class and thus Labour will be more UKIP-resistant.

You can do your investigations on local authorities here:

It's laborious, but valuable.

Betting implications

This is all very well, but what does this mean for betting purposes?  The important thing to remember is that UKIP's rise is already taken into account in the polling, so we only want to be making further adjustments where there is going to be a disproportionate impact one way or the other.

The Labour/Conservative marginals of most interest are those where the Conservatives' coalition is relatively less damaged, simply because the Labour individual constituency prices are on average not as good value as betting on Labour getting most seats or an overall majority.  (Labour may be value at 2/1 in Great Yarmouth, however.)

As an example of potential differential impact, another_richard drew attention to Sherwood as a seat where Labour's support was largely working class while the Conservatives' support was much more drawn from middle class professionals.  The east Midlands has other such marginals (Erewash and North West Leicestershire) and similar seats can be found elsewhere, such as Swindon South and Milton Keynes South.  The Conservatives in Erewash at 6/4 look interesting.

The other battleground that needs reassessment is the south west.  To date, the focus has been on the extent to which the Lib Dems could retain tactical Labour votes.  If the Lib Dems are going to lose a slew of votes to UKIP as well, seats that looked safer will look much less safe.  The Conservatives are odds against in North Devon and St Ives and evens in North Cornwall.  They look worth backing in all three. They should perhaps be firmer favourites in some other seats in the region too.

This is very much dipping a toe in the water, and others will have more and probably better ideas how to tackle this.  Given that UKIP is going to be a disruptive force up and down the country in 2015, it is essential to have a strategy for factoring in its impact when betting in individual constituencies. Ignoring it is not an option, unless you want to lose money.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The latest election round: what have we learned about UKIP? Part 2: UKIP's chances by location

In my last post, I looked at the general picture for UKIP nationally.  But the general picture is going to be of relatively little use in understanding where UKIP is going to have most impact.  We need to look at the detail.

UKIP, like other parties, is geographically concentrated

We now have more data about the nature of that concentration, courtesy of the local elections and European elections.

Yesterday, I noted that UKIP had done poorly in the actual winning of council seats. That is not true in every area:

UKIP managed to accumulate substantial numbers of councillors in some boroughs, notably Great Yarmouth*, Havering, Rotherham, Dudley, North East Lincolnshire*, Portsmouth*, Southend-on-Sea*, Thurrock, Basildon*, Cannock Chase, Castle Point, Harlow* and Wyre Forest*. In those asterisked, UKIP gathered at least as many councillors as any other party this time round. Here at least, UKIP has learned how to win.

It would be helpful to have full percentage shares for UKIP from both elections on a borough-by-borough basis. This information has, as far as I am aware, not yet been compiled and published.

For now, we can use a handy map of UKIP polling influence prepared by Robert Ford co-author of The Revolt On The Right and Ian Warren of Election Data:

It should be noted that this map is not based solely on election results but on "an index of local Ukip strength, measuring concentrations of “left-behind” groups". There is an element of the compilers' own interpretation about this, so it should not be treated as compiled from raw data.

This map does not look anything like definitive to me.  The Survation constituency polls strongly suggest that UKIP has considerably more potential support to draw upon on the south coast than the map suggests, while Plaid UKIP has so far performed nowhere near as well as that map would suggest.

Nevertheless, the picture that it shows is instructive. Where UKIP was once confined to the eastern and southeastern coastline, it now seems to be gaining a much greater span of support. It has also found substantial potential support in a swathe across the north midlands, in the south west, in Wales and in the far north of England.  And the election results confirmed that UKIP has moved beyond its southern Conservative-oriented confines: it topped the poll in Doncaster in the European elections and polled well in places like Sunderland and Rotherham.

Conversely, it remains weak in London and the prosperous parts of southern England, and in the bulk of the north west and the western half of Yorkshire. In London, only an eastern band was enticed by UKIP:

UKIP tallied above 20% in the areas that are purple.

UKIP's prices in general look very short

Let us have another look at the seats where UKIP is short priced:

Straight away, we can see that the geographical spread of UKIP strength is very fully priced into the markets. Apparently on the strength of UKIP topping the poll in the area in the European elections, UKIP is priced at 6/1 in Christchurch (the safest Conservative seat in the southwest of England). This is not an appealing bet, particularly when you bear in mind that UKIP has so far not demonstrated that they can work a ground game and that the Conservatives have no other realistic challenger, making the vote share that UKIP would need to achieve that much higher.

The favourites in such markets, even at very short prices, can offer value. The Conservatives are priced at 1/10 in Christchurch, which represents an annualised return of 10% as of today's date. This must be closer to a 1/50 shot in reality.

When UKIP's newfound support remains untested then to some extent everyone, bookies and gamblers alike, is guessing how that will play out.  It appears that those that wish to bet on UKIP pursue every plausible option with enthusiasm, resulting in prices being driven artificially low in the shortest priced seats, while bookies exercise caution about their prices for what might just prove to be a phenomenon.

With such a disruptive entry onto the scene, where no one really knows what is going on, not even UKIP itself, longshots may well often prove better value.  Of course, many value bets are losing bets.

Let's start by considering which bets to discount.  For myself, I would not bet on UKIP where the incumbent presently has no serious challenger at any odds below 10/1 without the most compelling evidence of a seachange.  The bar for getting the requisite vote share is just too high otherwise.  I haven't seen evidence of such a seachange that would yet persuade me to do so.

So of the short priced UKIP bets, I immediately rule out betting on UKIP in Folkestone & Hythe, Louth & Horncastle, Boston & Skegness, Rotherham, North Thanet, Cambridgeshire North West, Christchurch, Spelthorne, East Devon, Basingstoke, Bognor Regis & Littlehampton and Forest of Dean.  I am strongly considering backing the other side of the bet in each of these locations up to and including Spelthorne in due course, but I don't see any particular hurry to do this because I'm not expecting those prices to shorten particularly quickly.

Folkestone & Hythe is a case in point. There aren't too many constituencies where you can get 1/4 on an incumbent defending a majority of more than 10,000 and where the perceived main challenger would need a swing of over 22% to take the seat.  Since even the recent Survation constituency poll for Alan Bown showed the Conservatives still enjoying a reasonable lead, this seems generous indeed. In the commentary on that poll, Survation noted:

"Once this transformation in the state of the race becomes widely known to voters, the question is whether Labour and Lib Dem voters will side with UKIP for a chance to defeat Tory incumbents, or fall in behind the Conservatives to keep out the chance of a UKIP gain."

The result in Newark, considered yesterday, suggests to me that you'll get a little from column A and a little from column B, and sufficient from column B to thwart UKIP's chances in such seats.

Having undertaken that preliminary elimination, we can now look by region.  UKIP's strongest areas do not neatly fit in the traditional boundaries set for the regions, and these areas are themselves evolving.  My own previous categorisation of the Saxon shore remains convenient:

To this we must also add consideration of the southwest and the north midland belt.

Saxon shore update 

The Saxon shore - the seats of the eastern and south-eastern coastline - is currently predominantly blue.  Labour at present hold only three seats with an eastern or southern seafront south of Middlesbrough South  & East Cleveland.  The Lib Dems hold four seats.  The Greens hold Brighton Pavilion.

UKIP performed strongly along this coast at the European elections, topping the poll in many constituencies and often by some distance.  But I counsel caution about putting money into any constituency market on the strength of European election polling alone.  While such results will prove useful for UKIP in its election material next year, votes cast under an entirely different system for a different purpose are of questionable use.  Turnout will be much higher next year. The question to ask is whether UKIP can sustain or improve its performance next year on a higher turnout.  It's not enough for UKIP to get a high vote share in a constituency: its vote share must be higher than its rivals.  I am proceeding on the basis of taking most seriously UKIP's chances where it has shown that it has learned how to win first past the post elections. What follows reflects that.

There are such constituencies.  UKIP topped both the vote share and the councillor tally in North East Lincolnshire.  This comprises the Parliamentary constituencies of Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes.  Both of these seats look set to be triangular fights, the first being Labour held and the second being Conservative held.  

In Great Grimsby the UKIP candidate fought very successfully under Conservative colours in 2010, slashing Labour's majority, though she appears to have a complicated backstory.  She presumably has a personal vote and Austen Mitchell is standing down (no replacement has yet been named).  I judge that UKIP may well supplant the Conservatives as Labour's chief challenger if their support does not fade.  If so, I suspect that the mix of tactical voting by Conservative supporters in such seats might well be more helpful to UKIP than tactical voting by Labour supporters where Labour is not in contention.  With UKIP having a proven track record of winning first past the post elections and a candidate with a strong history in the seat, the 6/1 on UKIP looks a respectable bet, though it's not one I shall be making given the candidate's colourful history.

In Cleethorpes, the Conservative MP is a first term incumbent who has been assiduously courting the Eurosceptic vote.  For example, he has organised his own unofficial referendum on EU membership:

Whether or not this is sufficient to hold off Labour, it may well be enough to hold off UKIP.  I shall come back to this seat again in another post.

UKIP did extremely well in Great Yarmouth in the local elections, taking 10 out of 13 of the council seats up for election.  This looks like being a complicated seat next year (it is a Labour target seat).  Much depends on how well you think UKIP's support will hold up over the next year. You should also be aware that UKIP's current candidate has been charged with electoral malpractice and is currently suspended from the UKIP County Council group. While that remains unresolved, it's hard to contemplate betting on UKIP at odds of 3/1, even in such a promising seat. UKIP do seem to have problems checking the backstory of their candidates in their most winnable seats.

The adjacent seat of Waveney did not have local elections this time. It bears many similarities to Great Yarmouth, though its results last year were not as spectacular as those of its neighbour this year. UKIP has apparently yet to select a candidate to fight the seat and it is priced at 20/1 to win it. I already have this bet at 50/1 and don't feel the need to top up my bets. But in a tight Conservative/Labour marginal, UKIP must have a decent chance of making inroads. This is probably still value.

So far we've looked at seats in pairs. The Thames estuary has UKIP-friendly seats in much higher concentrations. UKIP got most seats this time round in Southend-on-Sea and Basildon, and also got good results in Castle Point and Thurrock and decent results in Havering (technically in the London region but spiritually Essex). This is a concentration of seats that is worthy of notice.

The following constituencies can be found in that band: Dagenham & Rainham, Romford, Hornchurch & Upminster, Basildon & Billericay, South Basildon & East Thurrock, Thurrock, Castle Point, Rochford & Southend East and Southend West. There is no market as yet on either Romford or Hornchurch & Upminster, but both seats in any case look like safe Conservative holds. Similarly, Basildon & Billericay and Rochford & Southend East both have five figure Conservative majorities. I'm not tempted to back UKIP at odds as short as 12/1 in these seats, for the reasons given above. UKIP performed less well in the Southend West wards than the Conservatives, so the 25/1 on UKIP in a seat with another substantial Conservative majority is not obviously unmissable value.

That leaves four seats for consideration: Castle Point, Dagenham & Rainham, South Basildon & East Thurrock and Thurrock.

Castle Point is a seat with an unusual history, because at the last election the Conservatives retook the seat from Bob Spink who, having left the Conservative party, was variously described as a UKIP MP and an independent.  The local election results both last year and this year show that UKIP is strong in Castle Point (and UKIP secured nearly twice the Conservative vote at the European elections, making it their fourth best result in the country).  While the Conservatives took more council seats than UKIP, UKIP did not stand against the Canvey Island Independents, who seem supportive of the Kippers.  This seat will probably be a straight blue/purple fight in 2015 but unusually for such seats the 3/1 on UKIP may still represent value, given their proven local ability to win first past the post contests and their local strength.  It is unclear what Bob Spink's own intentions are, so I'm steering clear for now.  This needs more local knowledge.

No elections were held on the Kent side of the estuary.  It now seems fairly clear, however, that Nigel Farage will stand in Thanet South.  UKIP's odds there are now a miserly 6/4.  I shall look at this triangular contest with the three on the north side of the estuary (Dagenham & Rainham, South Basildon & East Thurrock and Thurrock).

The good news for UKIP is that the target in these seats is going to be much lower.  In a three-way contest, UKIP only need to get something like 35% of the vote rather than approaching for 45% that it would take in a two way contest.  My assessment - based on not much more than the polling evidence that UKIP voters are disproportionately drawn from former Conservative voters - is that where the Conservatives look like also-rans, their votes will break more favourably for UKIP than where Labour look like also-rans.  But given that Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham & Rainham, is the godfather of the Blue Labour movement that competes with UKIP, my expectation is that this effect will be more than cancelled out by voter loyalty to the MP in this constituency.

In both South Basildon & East Thurrock and Thanet South, I expect that the Conservatives will emerge as the chief rivals to UKIP.  My interpretation of the Newark result is that the Conservatives can expect a reasonable amount of tactical voting in their favour in such contests.  This interpretation is tentative, and others have already expressed doubt about its correctness, which I pay full regard to.  All things being equal, however, I regard UKIP as just too short in both of these constituencies.  Please note, this is not to say that they have no chance - clearly they do stand a good chance in both - but that the odds are too short to justify betting on them.

In Thurrock it seems likely to me that right up to polling day it will be unclear who out of Labour and the Conservatives is best placed to stop UKIP.  If the UKIP local election results had been better in Thurrock, I would have seen the 5/1 bet as outstanding value.  As it is, it seems to represent fair value to me.  It was priced at 16/1 not so long ago.  That was definitely great value.

At the other end of the Saxon shore, UKIP performed well in Portsmouth.  Portsmouth South is a Lib Dem held seat, but Mike Hancock is currently suspended from the party with no obvious way back.  The result in this constituency is likely to be chaotic. 5/1 on a party that is doing well locally has to be worth backing.  I'm on.

UKIP finished second in Eastleigh.  To win the seat they will need to increase their vote share from the by-election and hope that neither the Lib Dems nor the Conservatives increase their vote share by more.  I expect that either the Lib Dems will get an incumbency bounce or (less likely) that the Conservatives will pick up tactical votes against UKIP from progressives.  For UKIP to win, a currently unstable balance would need to stay unstable.  While it's not a longshot, it's longer than 5/2.

The south west

I can deal with this quite briefly.  UKIP have not yet proved themselves in first past the post elections in the south west.  While absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, I regard the odds offered in all south west constituencies as far too short as justifying a bet on UKIP.

Don't get me wrong.  UKIP will certainly feature next year in this region and will have a decisive influence in quite a few constituencies, even if it does not win the seat itself or even come close.  I do not rule out the possibility of it taking seats in the south west (I do see this as heavily odds against).  At present prices, I don't see a UKIP bet that is worth backing in this region.

The north midlands

This is an ugly and inaccurate name, but I can't think of any better way of describing the flash of seats from Wyre Forest through Dudley and Walsall that extends up to the Humber.  I'm open to better suggestions.

Again, my test is electoral success.  UKIP have won significant numbers of councillors and took significant numbers of votes in this strip, but to take whole seats (as opposed to have a decisive influence on the outcome) they would need to outpoll rivals.  So far, they have not shown that ability, with the exception of Wyre Forest.  In that constituency, UKIP have finished top or near as damnit for two years running.  That's a track record that's worth noting.  UKIP are presently 16/1 in this constituency.  Their candidate is Michael Wrench, who seems to scrub up well.  As mentioned, I'm on this at 25/1, and regard this as one to watch.


UKIP topped the local elections in Harlow.  You can back them at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.  I haven't, but I'm very torn whether I should.

Next up, I've looked at UKIP from a UKIP perspective.  But UKIP are at least as important from the viewpoint of how they will affect the other parties' chances in seats that they will not win.  That's the next task.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The latest election round: what have we learned about UKIP? Part 1: the national trends

In the last few weeks, we've had the European elections, local elections, the Newark by-election and a shedload of polling.  This means that I have to look again at my previous assumptions and work out what still holds and what new information we have.  Old ideas, no matter how appealing, will need to be thrown out if they now look to be wrong.  New ideas need to be taken on board.

I shall start by going in off the deep end by trying to make sense of how UKIP are doing at the moment. This is both one of the most controversial and one of the most complicated questions that the election round has thrown up.  Others have very different views on some or all of these points.  But I shall set out my thinking.  Today I'll look at the overall national picture and tomorrow I'll look at the regional patterns of UKIP voting.

The bare facts first.

1) UKIP came first across the UK in the European elections with 27.5% of the vote.  It came second in Wales and fourth in Scotland.  As a result, it increased its tally of MEPs to 24.

2) UKIP came third in vote share in the local elections on the same day with what has been estimated to be a notional national election vote of 17%.  However, they did far worse in terms of getting councillors elected, managing to get only 166 councillors elected (including three in northern Ireland),  tallying under 4% of the councillors up for grabs in Britain.

3) UKIP came second in Newark with just under 26% of the vote.  In 2010, UKIP lost their deposit.

So far, so uncontroversial.  But what does all this mean?  Some observations, in no particular order.

UKIP's share of the vote in the European elections was much higher than in the local elections

Clearly considerable numbers of voters favoured UKIP specifically for the European elections.  Since my main area of concern is how voters will vote in the general election next year, I infer that it is very dangerous to assume that voters will behave similarly in elections for different purposes, when clearly they do not.

Which of these elections is a more reliable signpost for the general election?  Since UKIP's unique selling point is its aim of Britain leaving the EU, I see the European election result as more confined to its own facts.  An impressive result, mind.


One minor point to dispose of.  Some ardent Kippers claim that most of An Independence From Europe's vote share should be attributed to it as a spoiler party (I can't really see the point of obsessing about this, since the European elections were carried out under a different system for a different purpose, but since I have a view, I'll express it).  While it seems likely that some voters were confused, I'm very doubtful that the number was substantial.  The party name is not particularly close to UKIP's and while its slogan had potential to confuse the hasty, AIFE managed to gain some profile, mainly by dint of a memorable if lurid party political broadcast.

AIFE's vote share varied considerably across the English regions it contested, from 1.2% in London to 2.3% in the North East.  The relative size of AIFE's vote share correlated only loosely with UKIP's vote share: UKIP got under 30% in the North East, while in the East of England UKIP tallied a stonking 34.5% and AIFE managed a relatively poor 1.7%.  Perhaps this differential performance was down to ballot paper design (or differing intelligence levels in different regions), but that seems unlikely to me.  It seems more likely that it simply reflects differential performance by a minor party.

The clincher for me is the West Midlands region, Mike Nattrass's home territory where he was an incumbent MEP.  Voters in that region had a plethora of anti-EU parties to choose from. UKIP polled 31% and AIFE polled 2%.  But We Demand A Referendum tallied 1.7%, and the BNP, English Democrats and NO2EU notched a further 2.8% between them.  It seems likely that Mike Nattrass would have had some form of personal vote.  Whether that would be more or less than that of Nikki Sinclaire of We Demand A Referendum is moot.  I would start from the presumption that the 0.3% difference between two very similar parties was referable to voter confusion.  Beyond that, I'd take some convincing.  I'd take that as my marker across the country.

UKIP aren't yet winning in first past the post elections

This may reflect inexperience in fighting such campaigns, it may reflect lack of infrastructure or it may reflect tactical voting against them (I'll come back to this last point).  Whatever, UKIP aren't yet winning very often in a set of contests where there is no prize for second place.

UKIP's notional national election vote in the local elections apparently declined from 2013 to 2014

Actually, I don't put all that much weight on this.  Without a detailed understanding of how last year's NNEV was calculated, it seems likely to me that it overstated UKIP's share by not allowing for UKIP's relative weakness in large cities and especially London.  UKIP seem to have done as well in the shires as last year.  But UKIP don't seem to have taken another step forward from last year.

UKIP is becoming the natural choice of the protest vote

I had not expected UKIP to do anything like as well as 26% in Newark.    They did so by becoming the party of opposition to the Conservatives.  This was an impressive harvesting of votes at one level.

But UKIP's ground game is not what it could be

UKIP thought that it was within 2,500 votes of the Conservatives on the night of the by-election.  They were in fact over 7,000 adrift.

Moreover, they may have missed out on their best support. Before the by-election got going, the unmissable Election Data site published this profile of the constituency:

I'm particularly interested in this chart of receptiveness to UKIP:

Newark itself is marked as the least receptive area for the Kippers.  Yet the anecdotal evidence suggests that UKIP focused heavily on the town.  This is both good news and bad news for UKIP.  On the one hand, it suggests that they have further to go.  On the other hand, their methods of reaching their potential vote may need quite a bit of work.

There appears to have been anti-UKIP tactical voting at Newark

This needs explaining.  Occam's razor suggests that where one party, UKIP, sees its support grow by more than 20% while all the others fall back, we should not infer tactical voting against that party.  Some Kippers have been accordingly reluctant to entertain the idea of tactical voting against their party, and I can understand why.

But quite apart from the anecdotal evidence from Labour canvassers and the evidence that the Conservatives explicitly targeted this, the result itself at face value is hard to square with what we know of the UKIP support base.  The Conservative vote share dropped by only 9%, which considering the circumstances of the by-election was a small drop.  Meanwhile, the Lib Dem vote share dropped by 18% - a nearly 90% drop.  If we take the result at face value, UKIP picked up twice as many 2010 Lib Dems as 2010 Conservatives.

This seems improbable, even allowing for the fact that the figures could be skewed by the differential turn-out between the 2010 election and the by-election, and by the Conservatives' intense ground game.  We have considerable polling evidence that UKIP normally pick up far more support from former Conservatives than from former Lib Dems - and unsurprisingly so, given the Lib Dem core messages and support base.

What seems to have taken place is a complex set of voter movements, with tactical voting both against the Conservatives and against UKIP.  The Conservatives seem to have managed to persuade some progressive voters to vote for them against UKIP.  That is new and important.

Such behaviour would not, however, be surprising.  ICM polling established in March that UKIP was the least liked and most disliked party:

It would not be surprising to see voters act accordingly.

Polling evidence suggests that UKIP support remains solid - but the polling evidence seems quite hard to square with the facts

A ComRes poll after the European elections suggested that 37% of UKIP's support in those elections are certain to vote for UKIP in the general election next year, while 49% of UKIP's support were likely to do so.  That would imply that UKIP would gain the support of far more of these voters next year than they managed in practice in the local elections held on the same day as the European elections.  This seems inherently improbable.  Nevertheless, we can probably treat the 37% certain UKIP voters as a reliable base.  Given the differential turn-out in European elections and general elections, this means that UKIP have a floor of 5% and on this opinion poll they have entirely reasonable hopes of double that.


UKIP had an excellent result in the European elections, but have yet to convert their success in those elections into meaningful success in first past the post elections, despite continuing to pick up substantial support in other elections.  UKIP seems to be reaching a ceiling in support and is starting to provoke some tactical voting against it from progressive voters.  Its ground game is shaky, as is to be expected of a new party.

All this means that in general it is better to bet against UKIP succeeding in first past the post elections than to bet on them doing so.  Their only serious hope of a seat on present trends is in three way marginals.  Even in such seats, they will face a harder fight if a stop-UKIP candidate emerges.  And the weaker ground game looks likely to hurt them.

Here are the current seats where UKIP feature at a short price (I've defined "short" as less than 20/1):

The UKIP odds in many markets have shortened considerably since I last looked at this in April.  For the reasons given above, that makes me think that there should be value on the opposite side of the bet in many of these constituencies.  Of the 24 seats where UKIP are quoted at 10/1 or less, 11 of those seats have majorities of 10,000 or more (and of course in every case the majority is not over UKIP).  I'm not tempted by propositions of that kind.

The better value on UKIP is to be found in the relative longshots.  One wild seat is Wyre Forest.  The Conservatives took this from Dr Richard Taylor (Health Concern) in 2010.  Dr Taylor is apparently intending to stand again.  In 2013 UKIP topped the polls in the local elections in Wyre Forest Borough Council and came within an ace of doing so again in 2014 (gaining five councillors in the process).  I took odds of 25/1 last night on UKIP taking this seat.  These odds have now shortened to 16/1, which probably does not represent any great value.  But this is a seat to keep a close eye on.

But the other parties need to plan on the basis that UKIP will still be a substantial presence in May 2015.  What does this mean in detail?  For that I need to look regionally and demographically, and will turn to that in my next post.  I'll also have a look at some of the UKIP-friendly constituencies in more detail tomorrow.