In the last few days, I have looked at the betting odds in each constituency from the perspective of, consecutively, Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, UKIP and the SNP. The overwhelming majority of seats in mainland Great Britain will be won by one of these five parties. But not all of them. At present three more parties hold seats in Parliament (currently holding five seats between them) and a fourth is led by someone who did so until 2010. All four of these parties will be contesting some seats at the next election where the bookies deem that they are in the mix. What are their chances?
Here are the relevant tables of target seats for each of them.
National Health Action:
Regrettably, I have yet to find any target seats for the Justice For Men And Boys Party worthy of inclusion.
To recap, these tables are compiled on the basis that in aggregate the constituency odds are our best estimate of what's going on, while noting that there may be individual anomalies (otherwise known as betting opportunities). The constituency odds factor those matters in to the best judgement of bookies and punters. By arranging constituencies by order of odds rather than majority, we can see how many seats gamblers expect the parties to take - or what the odds are that each party will take a given number of seats.
None of these parties is going to feature in many seats. I have taken a very generous view of what constitutes a prospect for all four of these parties, as can be seen. The very long combined list features 34 seats. Of those where the minor party is rated at 10/1 or shorter, there are only ten: five Plaid Cymru seats and targets, three Green seats and targets, one Respect target (won at a by-election) and one National Health Action target. For all the talk of a move to much more multi-party politics, the long tail isn't very long in practice.
On the plus side, that means that we can look at these ten seats in some detail.
I've already looked at the Greens very recently here:
I don't have too much to add to what I said then. One thing I didn't note in that piece was that Lord Ashcroft did not prompt for the Greens in his polls in Brighton Pavilion and Norwich South (he did prompt for Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and UKIP). That wouldn't have made very much difference in Brighton Pavilion, given that Caroline Lucas is very high profile - though it might have been enough to reverse the 1% lead that Labour had over the Greens in his constituency poll in June. However, it probably would have added a few extra points to the Greens' tally in Norwich South. Perhaps that 5/1 remains good value after all.
Keep an eye on Edinburgh East. Much depends on what the SNP decide to do in relation to the Greens. That remains an open question right now. If the SNP were to decide to enter into a pact with the Greens, this price would crash. This is still entirely possible: Stewart Hosie, one of the candidates for the deputy leadership, is suggesting just such a pact on the Yes side. Depending on how this is structured, however, such a pact could mess up bets on the Greens (and indeed the SNP) in Scottish constituencies.
Plaid Cymru, unlike any other parties in this list, are sure to retain at least one seat and in all probability at least two. Their third seat, Arfon, looks like a cliffhanger, while the bookies assess them as having a decent chance of taking Ceredigion and an outside chance of taking Ynys Mon.
According to this FT article from last week, Plaid Cymru hopes to double its seat tally to six:
It is hard to see where a sixth would come from.
Let's take a look at the Wales-only opinion polls:
From these, we can see that Plaid Cymru appear to be polling at least as well in Wales as they did in 2010 (note that they flattered to deceive in the year before the 2010 election in the polls). Given that Plaid Cymru are a force in so few seats, however, I don't regard even Wales-wide opinion polls as particularly informative.
In Arfon and Ynys Mon, Plaid Cymru's main opponent is Labour. Welsh Labour are more traditional than the English flavour of that party, but nevertheless Plaid Cymru attack Labour from the left:
As in the more remote areas of Scotland, the north west corner of Wales's politics are very much personality-driven. I'm not particularly familiar with the personalities, so I'm not betting. To an outsider, the 3/1 on Plaid Cymru in Ynys Mon looks tempting, particularly bearing in mind that the rise of UKIP is likely to harm Labour more than Plaid Cymru, but without the necessary local knowledge my cash is staying in my pocket.
Similarly, Mark Williams appears to have built himself a profile in Ceredigion that is quite independent of the Lib Dems. No doubt he will lose quite a lot of support in 2015, particularly among the substantial university population in Aberystwyth. But he has a large majority and the area, which is predominantly a rural area, is not obviously the first place you'd look to build an election-winning coalition on the radical left. A good summary of the candidates and the battle ahead can be found here:
Again, it's a constituency where I don't want to bet on either side of the fence. If you forced me to, I'd probably back the Lib Dems. But at 2/5 when Lib Dem support has crashed by two thirds since the last election, it's not a compelling proposition.
Despite a sensational by-election win in Bradford West, Respect have spent another parliament on political in-fighting. It seems to have fissiparous instincts bred deep into its DNA. George Galloway has fallen out with Respect's councillors on Bradford council over his plans to stand for the London Mayoralty in 2016, as a consequence of which they have left the party and now sit as independents. Respect have been unable to get any further councillors elected since. 3/1 looks considerably too short for George Galloway to retain this seat, given the loss of this part of his support base (note that Respect finished third in both Bethnal Green & Bow and Poplar & Limehouse in 2010 following Respect's schism in the last parliament, showing that the gold seam from the Galloway Midas touch can be exhausted). This in turn makes the 1/3 on Labour with Ladbrokes look attractive. I'm on.
National Health Action
This new party was founded by Dr Richard Taylor, the former MP for Wyre Forest who had sat as an independent campaigning on health for two parliaments. It initially attracted a lot of celebrity backing, but has since struggled to get any media traction.
While this new party is standing in 12 constituencies (all Conservative held except for Sheffield Hallam and Sutton & Cheam), the only seat in which it is considered to have more than an outside chance is Wyre Forest, where Dr Taylor is again standing. He would need a 2.6% swing to retake the seat. In 2001 and 2005, the Lib Dems stood aside for Dr Taylor, but given the National Health Action's decision to stand against Nick Clegg, I don't expect them to do the same in 2015 (they stood against him in 2010, and the votes they took comfortably exceeded the Conservatives' margin of victory over him). On the other hand, the Lib Dems are unlikely to do as well in 2015 and UKIP, who I've already backed at fairly long odds in this seat, will doubtless take votes from the Conservatives. Dr Taylor remains well placed to pick up the left of centre vote, retains a high profile and this is better than a 5/1 shot. I'm on.