With Ladbrokes having now put up odds on every constituency in the UK, we are now well-placed to judge just exactly which seats offer the best prospects for the thoughtful better. While they do not represent the only betting opportunities, the seats that the Tories hope to take must form the centrepiece of our thoughts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bookies present the seats in a manner that suits their interests. It is more helpful, however, to set them out in a more logical way.
I attach a link to the top 200 Conservative target seats as judged by swing, according to Anthony Wells and have included a column with the best price on the Conservatives with the six bookies offering prices:
It will immediately be apparent that there is only a loose link between size of swing and the odds quoted.
The point can be made still more starkly if we rank these 200 seats not by swing but by length of odds:
Instantly the colour code changes from a fairly random mix of red, yellow and grey to a sea of red up to seat 60, when the first Lib Dem seat appears. The bookies (or punters) are confident that this election is going to about swing against Labour.
Notice anything about the band from 10/11 to 11/10? Ten out of nineteen seats in this range are Lib Dem held, far beyond the number you would expect at random. Nobody really knows anything about how the Lib Dems are going to hold out against the Tory tide. Also in this band is Watford, a seat that has given rise to a Mrs Merton style heated debate between JackW, our host and others. Bet in these seats on the basis of inside knowledge or according to prejudice.
Can we make more constructive comments elsewhere? Well, the Tories notionally have 214 seats and would need 326 for a majority of 2, so would need to take 112 extra seats. Seat number 112 (as ranked by odds) is Amber Valley, at odds of 8/11. While the Tories don't need to take this seat specifically, they will have to take this seat or one at the same or longer odds to get an absolute majority. Meanwhile, the bookies offer 1/2 for an absolute majority. If you can find the right marginal (or book of marginals), you can do much better on constituency betting than on that market. Look for the most normal looking marginal in that band with the fewest special considerations, and hey presto, you've turned a 1/2 bet into an 8/11 bet. Just pray that the Tory candidate doesn't then run off with a choirboy.
If you're less sanguine about Tory chances, note that they need about 65 extra seats to be the largest party. 65th in the list is Waveney at 1/3. Most bookies are quoting about 1/12 on the Tories having the most seats. So there are value bets here as well.
Another way to look for possible bets is as follows. Look at how far from its rank on swing basis a seat is when ranked by odds. The further away that it is from its par ranking, the greater the special factors needed to justify it. To take an example, Westmorland & Lonsdale is the 14th Tory target as ranked by swing. However, it ranks a lowly 173rd in the table of odds. Why is it so far adrift? You need to be very sure that the incumbency of the current Lib Dem MP is going to see him through. (As it happens, I am.)
When doing this, you need to be very aware that Labour seats often look as though they have artificially low rankings by swing, given that the swing will be against them rather than the Lib Dems. An absolutely stand-out bet (for me) is Nuneaton. Its theoretical ranking is 85th by swing and 98th by odds. When you consider that there are a further 13 Lib Dem seats that rank higher by swing but lower by odds, the differential in terms of Labour seats alone is 26. There are of course also more complicated Labour seats with justly longer Tory odds. I cannot see any justification for the length of the price in Nuneaton. Erewash, where a considerably higher swing is needed, is at a shorter price.
Dagenham & Rainham also looks like a good bet. You need to be very sure that Jon Cruddas is worth swing to decide otherwise. I like him a lot (and might well vote for him if I lived in his constituency) but I fear for his chances.
In short, when considering in which seats to bet on Tory chances, don't think of the seats in isolation. Look at the prospects relative to each other. It is of course permissible to conclude that the Tory chances aren't as good as the main markets would suggest, but if they poll at the levels that the opinion polls are currently suggesting, their votes have to go somewhere. These lists should help you decide how they might be most profitably spread for you.