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.


Anonymous said...

Ukip topped poll in dudley north this year

Anonymous said...

The idea that Labour voters will vote Tory to stop UKIP and at the same time perhaps also stop Labour gaining a majority is absurd.

And if you want to know which seats are most susceptible to UKIP look for the ones where the Labour vote has been in significant decline since 1997/2001. Particularly look for those in Grammar School areas which have a considerable heritage of resisting the unwanted interference and attentions of the European mainland and who now have considerable links (transport, town-twinning etc)

UKIP are not picking up large numbers of Tory core voters but those who switched from Labour or from not voting to vote Tory in 2005 and/or 2010 and having suffered the Coalition (and Labour's disastrous noughties) are looking for something meaningful and decisive.