As the final part in this series, I look now at UKIP's battles. Although many kippers like to refer to LibLabCon as a single opponent, in fact its battles against each are a little different.
I look at each in turn.
UKIP are in contention against the Conservatives in the following:
This table, as with the tables that follow below, is organised by the UKIP price of taking the constituency. There is duplication between these tables because UKIP feature in many three and four way marginals. Every seat where UKIP are priced at 16/1 or less is included.
For UKIP, this is the main event. All five of the seats that they are favourites to take are currently Conservative-held and this list of targets is far longer than either of the other two battlegrounds.
If they are going to underperform in seat totals, by definition it must be in this battleground. So we can consider each of these five seats one at a time.
Even in their bleakest moments, I very much doubt that UKIP fear losing Clacton. Douglas Carswell appears to be a genuinely popular constituency MP and having retained a thumping majority at the by-election, he looks good value even at 1/10.
UKIP's next best hope is Boston & Skegness, where it is firm favourite following a Survation opinion poll putting them streets ahead. The internal workings of that poll look a bit strange, but it would need to be very wrong indeed to justify betting against them.
The other three seats in which UKIP are favourites are all triangular Conservative/Labour/UKIP battles: Thanet South, Thurrock and Great Yarmouth. As we shall see, triangular battles are a feature of UKIP prospects.
Of these three, the Conservatives are UKIP's main rivals in Thanet South, Labour are UKIP's main rivals in Thurrock and in Great Yarmouth both main parties will regard themselves as in with a good chance. There have been local opinion polls in all three (more than one in Thanet South and Great Yarmouth). UKIP have been ahead in all three constituencies, though in the most recent poll in Thanet South the Conservatives had a small lead.
None of these seats are anything like certainties for UKIP. Will tactical voting play a part? In Thanet South, I expect the voting to be for or against Nigel Farage. His national profile will generally be a plus, but there may be more voters than usual for UKIP who see this in personal terms and who wish to stop someone who inspires loathing in those that are not in the fan club.
I would not be betting on Nigel Farage at 8/13, which seems a bit too short to me. I agree that he should be favourite, but given that he has at best a small lead and may be behind in the constituency at present, I would rate him only slightly better than evens. If you can get on with BetVictor (I can't), you can back him at 4/5 to win a seat there. That's a fair bet. There looks to be a touch of value in the Conservatives at 15/8 and I've placed a small bet on this. Note, with the BetVictor bet there is a small underround, so you should be betting on one or more of the main three parties.
Contrary to my original expectations, Thurrock has resolved itself into a two horse race between Labour and UKIP. In such seats I expect to see UKIP having better luck getting tactical votes from the Conservatives than in seats where Labour are in third. I like the 5/6 on UKIP with William Hill, but I'm already well-stocked up on UKIP in this seat. Is the 9/4 on Labour also value? The price looks about right to me. I'm not yet ready to hedge though.
Great Yarmouth is a hard seat to call. In an early example of what has become a trend, UKIP had an entirely avoidable selection scandal in this seat, picking a candidate who was subsequently charged with electoral fraud. They now have a new candidate, Alan Grey, who looks more suitable. However, their status as favourites is a bit odd, given that there have been three polls in the constituency and they haven't been ahead in any of them. It is obviously going to be a confused seat, but if you asked me to price it, I'd suggest roughly 7/4 Labour, 2/1 the Conservatives and 9/4 UKIP, though I wouldn't quibble if you shifted the Conservatives and Labour around. Anyway, either way Labour look like value and I'm on.
If UKIP are going to exceed expectations against the Conservatives, where might they do it? It is apparent from the many constituency polls conducted where UKIP are in the mix that their performance varies very substantially from seat to seat. It is curious that we have not had a constituency poll in Castle Point, where UKIP have a track record, have the support of very well-organised local independents and have a lively local candidate. Without further information 11/8 is short enough.
We cannot complain about not having enough polls in Rochester & Strood. The final poll in the by-election from Lord Ashcroft suggested that UKIP would win the by-election but lose at the general election. This has been taken seriously by punters, with the result that UKIP are 13/8 to take a seat that they already hold. I am already backing UKIP in this seat, but regard the 13/8 as a good price, given that Mark Reckless can use the remaining period of the Parliament to cement his incumbency with UKIP. Opinion polls are snapshots not predictions, and UKIP gaining the seat alters the dynamics.
As I noted in the summer, UKIP stand a much better chance of getting to 35% and winning a three way marginal than they do of getting to 45% and winning a two way marginal. In the absence of very specific on the ground information, I therefore ignore all those seats where UKIP are 16/1 facing an incumbent at 1/100. UKIP might win such a seat, but I have no way of knowing where they're seriously in with a shot.
I prefer looking at seats where UKIP have multiple serious opponents. Of the short-priced seats, the UKIP candidate in Dover has some brio and faces a Conservative opponent who has not handled UKIP astutely - I'm already on this seat though. I backed UKIP at 25/1 in Wyre Forest (and NHS Action at 5/1), but I have concerns about Lord Ashcroft's poll in this seat, which prompted respondents for UKIP but not for NHA Action. Since their candidate came second in 2010 and was the incumbent MP till then, that seems remiss. The 1/2 on the Conservatives is now probably good value, given that NHA Action may well attract some of the protest vote that would otherwise have gone to UKIP. I'm humming and hawing about this, but haven't placed it yet.
Among the longer shots, I have put a small amount on UKIP in Plymouth Sutton & Devonport at 16/1. When Lord Ashcroft polled this seat in July, UKIP were in third and well behind Labour in first. Since then, however, UKIP have picked up relative to Labour and this looks like the sort of seat where UKIP might have picked up support. I note that UKIP are breathing hard down Labour's neck in Plymouth Moor View and I doubt this effect stopped at the constituency boundary.
For the same reason I've put a small amount on UKIP in Dudley South at 6/1.
On to the battle with Labour:
As I have already noted, there's a heavy overlap between this and the last list because of the number of triangular fights. Because of the lower target percentage, these three way fights look more promising seats to me in general. But let's now focus on the Labour-held seats in particular.
Since UKIP are not currently favourites to win any of these seats, they can only exceed expectations fighting against Labour. And unusually, it seems to me that the markets are underestimating UKIP's chances. Until recently, there was no real evidence that UKIP was making any significant inroad into Labour territory. But that changed before Christmas when we got Lord Ashcroft's polling in four Labour-held UKIP targets:
In all four seats UKIP was even or ahead in the general polling question, and even when respondents were prompted to think of their own constituencies, UKIP were only a short neck behind in all four. Curiously, prompting respondents to think of their own constituencies seems to have provoked some Conservative supporters to switch to Labour - evidence of some tactical voting? But Conservative voters in these seats are a little less inclined to rule out voting for UKIP than for Labour. Anyway, all four of these seats look tight and if UKIP are able to get more Conservatives to lend them their votes, they may creep over the line. I'm already on the kippers in Rother Valley and I've added Dudley North and Plymouth Moor View to the roster.
Are there any other similar seats where UKIP may be worth a flutter? I've put a small sum on UKIP in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Walsall North. Both of these seats are also Labour-held with a moderate Conservative showing in 2010.
The Lib Dems
Here are the seats where UKIP are head to head with the Lib Dems:
And what stands out is that there isn't really a separate UKIP-Lib Dem battleground. Every seat except three on this list is on the Conservative battleground list, and the other three (Redcar, Ashfield and Rochdale) are on the Labour list.
That is good news when looking for UKIP bets, because as I have previously noted, triangles equal a better chance of power. Some seats need close attention. Lord Ashcroft and Survation have each conducted a poll in Camborne & Redruth. Lord Ashcroft's poll in June showed UKIP in second place behind the Conservatives, while Survation's more recent poll in November shows UKIP in the lead. The UKIP candidate's website suggests that he is rough around the edges:
"Robert believes our relationship with the European Union was based on trickery. The people were tricked in 1972 and are still being conned by both Conservatives and Labour."
However, I'm not too concerned about the quality of the candidate - UKIP voters are more interested in the feeling of the party rather than any specifics, it seems. 3/1 seems a fair price, even allowing for the fact that Survation are consistently the most UKIP-friendly of the pollsters. I've made a small bet on UKIP in this seat.
Similarly, UKIP have been close enough to the lead in two different polls from Lord Ashcroft in St Austell & Newquay to make the 9/2 on them look worthwhile.
Finally, I found this a useful resource and you might too - details of UKIP's candidates in many of their most promising seats: