Monday, 22 March 2010

London seat markets – strange town

I turn now to the London betting markets. In a sense, I feel I know London almost too well to write about these markets. Sometimes knowing absolutely nothing about an area is better. I shall try to confine myself to facts and make it clear where I am writing from personal knowledge or prejudice.

London is a more diverse region than pretty well any other and it is very dangerous to extrapolate from one seat even in relation to adjacent seats. The demographics can be very different indeed and I strongly urge you to look at these individually before wagering any money. For example, both Islington South & Finsbury and Bethnal Green & Bow are geographically close and showed very sharp swings away from Labour over the Iraq war in 2005, but the swingers are from very different backgrounds. These seats may both swing in tandem again this time, but it would be very dangerous to assume so without further investigation.

The geography of London’s MPs can be crudely described as a blue hole at the centre, a large red swathe of inner London seats forming almost a complete ring, then an outer ring of blue seats, with the Lib Dems occupying the outer south-west London seats. However, underneath the surface, the picture is more complex. The Lib Dems have cut a swathe through the urban professionals of north London and in east London the 2005 election was a story of minor parties. In west London, the Tories are getting stronger. Labour’s control of inner London is under attack from four different parties in four different areas.

Labour will, so far as possible, be looking to hold the line. The Tories will be looking to make the outer ring thicker blue and make the blue hole at the centre thicker on the west side of London: they will also be seeking to take back some of those south-west London seats from the Lib Dems.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems will be trying to hold those seats and build a yellow hole in north London. Hornsey and Wood Green was a famous win in 2005, and the Lib Dems are notionally second to Labour in the contiguous seats of Islington North, Islington South & Finsbury, Holborn & St Pancras, Brent Central and Hampstead & Kilburn. They will be hoping to take some of these and to cement their position in the rest.

And what of east London? In 2005, Labour lost much of the Muslim vote to Respect, who won Bethnal Green & Bow, came second in West Ham and East Ham and third in Poplar & Limehouse: these four seats are contiguous. Meanwhile, the BNP came third in Barking and polled well in the adjacent seat of Dagenham & Rainham. These parties will be looking to build local strongholds.

I include my now-customary tables showing the seats arranged in order of odds rather than swing, but I have to say that I feel that these are less useful here than in any previous area that I have looked at:

Bunnco wrote an excellent article on pb2 a week ago looking at the size of turnover in a given constituency. In London, that turnover is rapid. Of course, turnover doesn’t matter if the constituents who leave are replaced by constituents who are of broadly similar sympathies, but in London areas change socially with high speed. The Rolling Stones song “Play with fire” from the 1960s refers to a character living in Chelsea, not in Knightsbridge any more, with the now-lost implication that she had gone seriously down in the world. In 1992, I voted in Lewisham East, which until that election was Tory-held. Labour is now 1/10 to hold it. Meanwhile, Tooting will be most associated by older readers with Citizen Smith and has been Labour-held since its formation in 1974. The Tories are, however, 8/13 favourites to take it. (Seat boundaries have changed, but the point is I think still valid).

With these considerations in mind, it is surprising that the bookies rate so few of the London seats as seriously in play. Only 19 of the 73 London seats are quoted at their best price as having any party as being in the range of 1/3 to 3/1. I suggest that this underrates the degree of uncertainty in London caused by demographic change and that accordingly the longer shots are worth some serious consideration (and that shorter priced bet should be treated with unusual care).

As a general comment, the bookies have not yet caught up with Labour's revival in the polls. The value as a default lies on that side of the fence.

In a recent Comres poll (21 February 2010), 57% of Muslims nationally said that they would vote Labour. This suggests that Labour are good value to rebuild their position in east London where the Muslim vote is strong. They are quoted at 11/10 to retain Poplar & Limehouse and I now see this as excellent value: I see this as a 2/5 shot, even with recent demographic changes. The Tories need Respect to eat into the Labour vote if they are to stand a chance of taking this seat and even the unique George Galloway is likely to struggle to do this. You may also like the look of the 3/10 for Labour to retake Bethnal Green & Bow.

Labour are likely to be less successful in keeping hold of those seats where urban professionals are in play. In a city as obsessed by house prices as London is, the Conservatives’ proposed reforms of inheritance tax play well and the Lib Dems’ mansion tax doesn’t. The Conservatives are still seen as the party of the City even by those in the City who are not Conservative. Many City professionals feel like Millwall fans – no one loves us and we don’t care – and there is a hope among many such professionals that if the Conservatives get in, the tax on the higher paid will be lower than it would be under Labour (bear in mind that the City is full of the aspirational who are all hoping to be among the very highest paid, even if they aren’t now). The Conservatives will do well in their targets in west London and as younger urban professionals spread outward, they may post good tallies in some surprising places that are not serious targets for any other party. Those seats where 30-50 year old professionals congregate are likely to be more resistant to Tory charms, since the Major years are still well-remembered by this group.

The outer London seats, particularly in north west, south east and east London, have large numbers of people who are the British equivalent of John Howard’s battlers. Such people are not particularly impressed by David Cameron but they are really unimpressed by Gordon Brown. If they eventually decide to vote Conservative, they may do so in large numbers and there could be some extreme swings. The Conservatives may be worth backing at 6/5 in Ealing North (Stephen Pound’s seat) and 11/8 in Dagenham & Rainham (Jon Cruddas’s seat). If you want a longshot in this type of seat, take a look at the Tories at 4/1 in Erith & Thamesmead. They’d need a 13% swing, but given the Labour party’s selection difficulties in this seat, this one might be worth thinking about. On the same lines, the Tories can be backed at 11/2 in Lewisham West and Penge where they need a 11.3% swing - I actually prefer this bet to the Erith & Thamesmead bet. Conversely, if you think that this group’s disenchantment with David Cameron might lead them to stay with Labour, try 4/1 on Labour in Eltham.

What of the Lib Dem/Tory seats in south-west London? These are not seats on which I want to put much money, because they are so local. If you must bet on these, my own rule is that no one really knows what’s going on with the Lib Dems, so bet against the favourite. So maybe back the Lib Dems in Carshalton & Wallington at 15/8 (or if you’re feeling wild, in the west London seat of Ealing Central & Acton at 6/1) or the Tories in Kingston & Surbiton at 11/4. I’m not rushing to do any of these.

How will the Lib Dems do in their north London targets? I suggest that they will make only limited progress or maybe even go backwards. In Guardian and Independent reading households, Iraq is a much less important topic than five years ago. Polly Toynbee’s nosepegs for Labour will find many takers here among previous Lib Dem defectors. The Lib Dems have struggled to appeal to potential tactical Tory voters and their message seems more geared towards retaining tactical Labour voters in other areas. In the Mayoral elections, the Tories got excellent tallies in inner London (they have, however, completely failed to build on this) and it is entirely possible that the Tories might retake second place from the Lib Dems in the less marginal seats.

With this in mind, I have backed Labour at 6/4 in my home constituency of Islington South & Finsbury (the Lib Dems may well win, but they shouldn’t be as strong favourites as 8/15) and in Holborn & St Pancras. As a long shot, I have backed Labour in Hornsey & Wood Green. If Iraq is now not a vote-shifting issue, Labour should rebound in this seat. Lynne Featherstone is certainly not as safe in her seat as Vince Cable.

Finally, what of Hampstead & Kilburn, a three-way marginal between the main parties? The Lib Dems’ strongly pro-Palestinian message is unlikely to enthuse the Jewish constituents and those for whom the Lib Dems’ Iraq message appealed last time are as already noted more likely to be voting on other issues this time around. Both the Conservatives and, particularly, Labour look like rather better value – back either or both according to taste.



Richard Nabavi said...

Excellent article, as we have come to expect from antifrank. I agree that the value is likely to be with Labour in many of these seats. In particular, where the LibDem vote was boosted heavily in 2005, it will probably drop back.

One correction: I think you've forgotten (or misheard) the line from 'Play with Fire':

"Now she gets her kicks in Stepney, not in Knightsbridge any more"

timmo said...

One of the Lib Dem seats is going to fall in Sutton more likely the Sutton and Cheam side.
Pretty close to call though and will definetley be affected by activist stretch on the day.
15/8 on the LD incumbent in CandW is good value as on the ground it is tighter than that.

Alastair said...

Richard Nabavi, what a gross mistake on my part!

Timmo, that's a really helpful tip. That Carshalton & Wallington bet looks much more attractive.

Peter from Putney said...

"What of the Lib Dem/Tory seats in south-west London? These are not seats on which I want to put much money, because they are so local."

Eh? I thought you might have pitched in with your thoughts on Richmond Park, certainly the marginal in this neck of the woods, made all the more interesting by the clash between LibDem incumbency and the high profile, mega rich Tory candidate, enlivened further by the betting odds being on a knife edge.

Otherwise your piece is both interesting and informative. I have to say however that I see very little evidence of your having identified much in the way of net Tory Gains in the Capital - If you are right in this regard and this is repeatedly nationally, then Cameron has no chance of forming a majority Government.

Alastair said...

Peter from Putney, I think my lack of enthusiasm for bets on the Tories is not so much that I don't rate their chances, more that the odds offered for their chances are unexciting. There are quite a few seats where I expect Labour to lose but where the odds offered on them are better than I would rate them myself.

As I said in the article, I am interested in longshot Tory bets on the outskirts of London. The suburban seats around London were very swingy in 1979 and the mood feels very like 1979 to me.

As for Richmond Park, since you ask, I think that Susan Kramer will win. She is a first time incumbent, so will get a boost from that and Zak Goldsmith is just too complicated a candidate for the Tories.


Peter from Putney said...

antifrank - I think you're probably right about Kramer winning Richmond Park. This is precisely the type of seat which will determine whether the LibDems win 60+ seats or 50- seats (both Baxter and Wells have them winning 46 seats on a 39:32:19:10 share of the national vote.
I'm biased as this is my neighbouring constituency and where I spend much of my time, but I sense the outcome there and therefore the outcome for the LibDems is quite likely to determine the outcome of the GE as a whole, ie:

LDs winning 50 seats = small Tory majority.

LDs winning 60 seats = large Tory minority.

It could be interesting should they win somewhere between the two, which I believe is likely. I can't see them winning the 22.65% level of support they achieved in 2005 and I doubt their share of the vote this time will exceed 20%.
The won't enjoy anything like the same degree of tactical voting they enjoyed in the previous 3 GEs and, to my mind at least, they have a lightweight and untested leader.
I guess we'll all know in just over 6 weeks time!

Aspiring scribbler said...

I'm a long time lurker on PB, but saw this and wanted to comment.

I've found your posts on the regions really helpful antifrank- a good guide for investing tomorrow's payday money!

However, I've just done some rough analysis of national ICM polls this year looking at Lab-LD switchers and I'd disagree with you on LD chances.

Every ICM poll this year bar one has shown a net move Lab-LD, often at a similar level to the Lab-Con switch. Also every poll has a higher number of respondents saying they'll vote LD than respondents saying they voted LD in 2005. I know there are caveats on both this stats, but nevertheless I expect the LDs to advance against Labour, including in London.

Alastair said...

Aspiring scribbler, I'm glad you find my articles useful - I do them mainly for my own benefit and effectively post them when I've concluded my thinking for the while. Since I regularly change my mind, don't treat them as tablets of stone.

I'm very interested in your comments about LD/Lab switchers. I'd like to know much more about your analysis. These seats, of course, relate to a very specific batch of floating voters. They may have behaviour that would not show up in nationwide opinion polls.

Also, with thoughtful comments like this one, please don't lurk!

Aspiring scribbler said...

Thanks, I hope to make the time to lurk less and post more in the run-up to the election.
Analysis of the numbers is on my blog:
But here’s the thrust of it:

“What is notable is the consistency in the percentage of Labour voters saying they are voting LD next time. The LDs are pulling in between 8% and 12% of 2005 Labour voters in every poll. The number of 2005 LD voters thinking about Labouring next time is much more variable, ranging from 19% in the 3-4 March (outlier) poll to 5% in the 3-4 Feb poll.

In four of the polls the LDs are bringing in almost the same proportion of 2005 Labour voters as the Tories. In two polls (including 3-4 March) the Tories are attracting many more 2005 Lab voters and in one poll the LDs seem a more popular destination for 2005 Labour voters.”

As I say, its a bit rough (and partisan!), but I think there's a trend there. Its not a massive swing, but my belief is that, like the Tories, the LDs are attracting Lab voters in the seats they are targeting. Sadly there’s no recent polling to prove or disprove this, but at the last election they got some big swings and I suspect there will be a couple again this time. Whatever way it pans out, I think this election is going to produce some very odd regional and localised swings.