Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Constituency betting - choosing which Tory targets to back

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.



Yokel said...

The prime targets here must surely be in the Midlands.

I dipped into a number of seats at the more long range end of standard swing expectations a while back. Im convinced that they are where potential 'shock' wins will come.

Marginal & regional poll samples since suggest this isnt a bad move. One or two of the more extreme swings may not play but overall, theres possibly still value there.

For someone like me who loathes backing at deadly short odds, no matter how certain, I get a lot more pleasure looking to the outer expectation seats.

colin said...

good column. I checked the Ladbrooke prices and as I said yesterday local knowledge can help.

I think David Drew holding Storud is worth a punt at 6/1. On UNS, and looking at council seats etc he will be clobbered but... he is a superb independent minded constituency MP, Anti EU (so UKIP may give him support) very Green (Will the strongish Stroud Greens stand against him) and squeaky clean on expenses. The local paper has also effectively endorsed him

He is definitely not the favourite but at 6/1 he has a few quid of my money.

I made several hundred last election on constituencies where I had some inside knowledge. This is the best betting opportunity so will look out for some more.

Richard Nabavi said...

Excellent, antifrank. I've been working along similar lines but have not been as methodical as you have.

Your point about the relative odds of seats like Amber Valley compared with Tory Majority is well observed. In fact, allowing for LibDem 'bed blockers' (seats which appear below Amber Valley in the swing rankings, but are actually LibDem-held and therefore, on current polls, less vulnerable), the difference is even greater.

stjohn said...


This is outstanding. It must have taken you ages. Many thanks.

I've piled in to The Tories to win Nuneaton at 8/13. Reviewing my bets I see I have Tories to win Nuneaton with Skybet at Evens, struck a year ago.

Tories now 4/9 with vc.bet to win Nuneaton! Oops!

Mark Senior said...

A tour de force Antifrank very well done and important points made .
One other point that could be taken into consideration is - Are the notional majorities consistent with the 3 sets of notionals ( Baxter/Wells and R and T ) . Some of the seats have quite different notional figures .
To give just one example St Austell and Newquay almost certainly has a much higher notional majority than the one you quote probably with Truro/Falmouth having a compensating lower notional majority . This is born out by the Corbwall CC results last year .

Peter from Putney said...

A truly terrific effort and a most valuable guide to constituency betting.

What comes out of it for me is the following:

1 Politically - the extreme difficulty for the Tories, or so it seems to me, is the sheer difficulty facing they face in making serious inroads into the second half of the list as measured by the swing required (here I am looking at the nature of the constituencies involved rather than just the bald numbers)- leading me to the conclusion that a 300-340 tally for the Tories is far more realistic currently than a 341-400 seat total. Of course, the polls may yet move further in their favour - more likely I believe than the converse, bearing in mind the likely newsflow over the next 10 weeks.

2. From a betting perspective, most of the odds available for the last 50 of the 200 seat list, measured by the swing required for the Tories to win such seats, appear ridiculously mean, in many cases being priced at little more than evens - for me these are to be avoided like the plague.

What the current odds do clearly show, virtually across the board, is that the real value was available 9-12 months ago, as antifrank is only too well aware, since he was very active at that time.
In a significant number of cases, the odds against a Tory win are now 30%-40% shorter than they were then. To put it bluntly therefore, most of the value has now gone and one would have to be very smart indeed to beat the bookies, starting from here. Mike has recently made the point that the high rollers only come in for the final few days before the GE, when the likely outcome is capable of being predicted with some confidence. That may well be the case, but such punters have certainly lost some excellent opportunities along the way.

Finally, my impression is that for antifrank, this must have been a true labour of love (no pun intended), he couldn't possibly have completed the task were this not the case.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding work,antifrank.

This is the most graphic illustration of the battleground yet seen.

More than ever I am convinced that the answer to 'everything' is not 42 but how the Conservatives will perform against the Liberal Democrats.


Andy D said...

Superb stuff. Something that'll be studied time and time again before the Election.

Alastair said...

Thanks for all the compliments: it's very flattering.

Peter from Putney's two points are really important. The sheer difficulty of the Tories getting much above 350 seats is completely glossed over. Tories often complain that leftwing commentators say that the Tories aren't doing as well as Tony Blair before 1997, but then simultaneously seem to imagine that the Tories can stroll to a landslide victory. If they are to go much further, then they are going to have to sweep the Lib Dems aside also, as URW suggests. The straws in the wind suggest that they will not. Labour may be hammered - I still expect that they will be - but the Tories can't expect automatically to get a landslide as a result.

Peter from Putney's second point about the generally mediocre odds in the last 50 seats on this list is also well made. There are some seats, some not on this list, where the Tories' odds do make for good longshots - and like Yokel, I like a value longshot bet - and if I get time I shall write a further piece on this in due course.

Richard Nabavi said...

Mark Senior's point about the notionals is quite right.

One particular seat where there is a big difference between Anthony Wells and Rallings and Thrasher is Copeland - swing required 8.7% (Anthony), as opposed to 6.6% (R and T). Clearly that has a big effect on where it should appear in the tables.

Andy JS said...

I would have chosen to work with the Rallings & Thrasher notionals. Any particular reason for choosing the UKPR figures?

Alastair said...

Andy JS, my reason for choosing the UK Polling Report notionals rather than the Rallings & Thrasher notionals was simple: they are more conveniently presented for my purpose. Mark Senior, Richard Nabavi and you are all, obviously, correct in saying that using different notionals would result in different notional swings. Both sets of notionals should be checked before deciding whether to place a bet.

These tables should in any case be used as a guide, not tablets of stone. For example, I'm a big fan of backing the Tories in Ipswich at 4/7, but would struggle to justify this on the basis of these tables. Local considerations have to be taken into account.


Phil Armstrong said...

Oxford East is a Labour constituency at the moment: Andrew Smith MP (assuming that the colour coding is meant to show current party).

Alastair said...

Phil Armstrong, the colour coding shows notional holders of seats. Oxford East is notionally Lib Dem following boundary changes (though they may have a hard time converting the notionality into the reality). See here for Anthony Wells's detailed account of the seat:


Penddu said...

Commenting only on the Welsh seats, Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire West all look certs for Conservatives and priced accordingly.

Aberconwy at 2/7 looks a shakey bet - Labour has collapsed here but fight is between Conservatives (having a few local problems) and Plaid (who hold this in Assembly, and in Euro votes). Dont risk your money here.

Arfon at 16/1 is a waste of money - might as well be 100/1.

The best value price I can see is in Vale of Clwyd at 4/6 which should be comfortable Conservative win

DavidL said...

These very interesting tables (which will no doubt be shown as the "battleground") on election night show the radical nature of Andy Cooke's analysis. According to him a 6% lead should lead to an overall majority. My understanding is that a 6% tory lead is equivalent to a 4.5% swing (6+3/2). It is startling how many of these seats would not apparently fall on such a swing. Who is right? There is clearly a lot of money riding on it (as well as the future of the country).