Friday, 12 March 2010

Welsh seats -- there's gold in them thar hills

Having looked at the Scottish seats, I feel confident enough to move onto Wales. My local knowledge of Wales is even more compelling than Scotland: I once visited Conwy Castle, I had a single trip with work for the day to Cardiff and I went on a (very memorable) stag weekend to Barmouth, just outside Aberystwyth. I'm sure you're all suitably impressed.

I do not propose, therefore, to say much about the intricacies of each seat, but to analyse the swings needed, the markets and to draw some inferences. There seem to be some really good prices in Wales and I'm going to take a lot of talking out of that conclusion.

I have ignored those seats where one party has crushingly short odds and each party where its odds in a seat are very long (except where it is on the list of another party’s target seats). Once again, I’ve listed these seats in ranking of odds, and included the swing. What do the markets seem to be saying? Well, they seem to be confident of quite a few Conservative gains.

The Tories must be hoping to add to their three Welsh seats. By the time that you get to Clwyd South, they will need just under a 10% swing. For that, the best price that you can get is 11/8. I suggest that is not that exciting a prospect.

Interestingly, the market assumption in England that Lib Dem seats will hold out better than Labour seats against the Tories seems not to apply very strongly. The two Lib Dem seats are a little lower on the list than we might expect if they were Labour seats, but only a little. Perhaps these are two unusually weak Lib Dem MPs. Certainly Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire has a reputation to live down.

Turning to the Lib Dems, every picture tells a story:

First, the Lib Dems don’t have many realistic targets in Wales. Secondly, all such targets are in Labour seats. Thirdly, the markets seem, shall we say, optimistic about Lib Dem chances in their few targets. Are the Lib Dems really going to get an 11% swing in Newport East (a seat where they are only a few hundred ahead of the Conservatives) and a 7% swing in Swansea West? The polling evidence for this possibility is sparse and certainly doesn't justify the short odds on the Lib Dems doing so.

On the other hand, the markets are surprisingly gloomy about the Lib Dems chances of retaining their seats. The best-priced odds in Cardiff Central are frankly insulting to the local MP. Ladbrokes quote the Lib Dems' chances in this seat at 1/33 and that seems far more realistic to me than the odds that all the other bookies quote on this seat. Labour would have to play out of their skins to take this seat. As we shall see, they probably have their hands full elsewhere.

I've already noted how Lembit Opik doesn't feel much love from punters. To be quoted at only 2/5 to avoid an adverse swing of 11.4% is astounding. Has he really blotted his copybook that much? Local knowledge in a seat like this is everything, but these odds look very generous at face value. The best Conservative price is 11/4, so it is possible to back both and make a profit - no one else stands an earthly.

Plaid Cymru are in contention in a surprising number of seats:

Arfon, while notionally Labour, has a sitting Plaid MP. But look at the odds in Llanelli - 6/4 to get a swing of over 10%? You have to put a lot of faith in their ability to convert Welsh Assembly results into Westminster votes for that. I don't.

Historically, Plaid Cymru have flattered to deceive at Westminster elections. There isn't much sign in the polls that they will do amazingly well. I would prefer to be betting against them than for them.

This brings me to what I regard as the bonanza, Labour prices:

Some of these are incomprehensible unless you assume Labour is going to be hammered and that the Welsh Assembly and EU election results are going to be repeated. Even then, some of the prices are barely comprehensible.

Cardiff West, Llanelli, Newport East and Wrexham all look like complete steals at 1/2. Can you see more than one of these falling? I can't. I doubt whether any of them will. Look at the swings required. In Wrexham and Newport East, there are a multiplicity of challengers as well. Swansea West at 10/11 also looks great value, when you consider that the challenger is the Lib Dems, who have been languishing in Wales.

I am more wary where the Conservatives are the challengers to Labour, since they do appear to have made progress in Wales. Even there, many seats have no tradition of voting Conservative. Progress is likely to be slower than in returning English heartlands.

Finally, Ynys Mon is a seat I would like to know much more about. Plaid fancy their chances there, but they fancied their chances there in 2005 and were disappointed. Is the 5/2 on Labour worth having? My spider sense tells me that it might be.



Anonymous said...

"I went on a (very memorable) stag weekend to Barmouth, just outside Aberystwyth."

It can't have been that memorable given that Barmouth is nowhere near Aberystwyth. It's 30 miles by road and about 15 by sea. In a land that measures 120 miles by 50, that's a veritable light year :-)!

For information on Anglesey, try here:

which is rapidly becoming a must read on this most unfortunate of all islands. He (if it is a he) also thinks Albert Owen may just hang on, but that depends on a number of factors.

Not altogether sold on some of your reasoning - I think there is a real prospect of a Tory advance in Wales. I would however say you are right about the Lib Dems and Labour's chances of hanging on to some notionally vulnerable seats (e.g. Llanelli, which should be a fairly easy hold).

Anonymous said...

"I think there is a real prospect of a Tory advance in Wales."

Sorry, having read it more carefully you do make that point. I withdraw my remark about not being sold on your reasoning and apologise!

The one possible unknown for them of their notionally "easy" seats is Aberconwy - there are some very strange local factors coming into play. It will not be a major surprise if Plaid take it rather than the Tories.

Alastair said...

DoctorHuw, I agree that the Tories should make an advance this time. The question is whether they are too short-priced in individual seats. My contention is that by and large they are.

I am pleased to have local support for some of my conclusions (if not my geographical knowledge). Many thanks for the blog recommendation, I'm going to look at that now.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, with those useful tables of how the odds are ranked. On the Tory side I'm less inclined to see major gains now that I was when I wrote my 3 articles on the marginals a couple of months ago.
I find it slightly odd that Cardiff North is considered less of a cert than Vale of Glamorgan.
The value seems to me to be in the north, where I think the Tories will achieve greater swings than in e.g. Newport / Bridgend / Gower. In Clwyd South, though, I think boundary changes are unfavourable to the Tories.

I think the Libs have a chance in Swansea, with the retirement of the sitting MP. You're right that Cardiff Central is safe as houses. Both seats in Powys are very unpredictable for different reasons.

On Labour, you're right. I'd certainly be tempted to back them in Newport West, and a cheeky flutter on Blaenau Gwent.

On Ynys Mon, Labour's chances are better than they were. Peter Rogers (independent) is probably standing again, and the previous Tory candidate has quit. So it's Labour v Plaid. I think Labour's odds are about right.
The Druid's blog, mentioned by Huw, is an interesting read, but quite markedly right-wing in its slant.

On Plaid, I understand why you express uncertainty about our Westminster prospects - there's the whole TV debates problem too. But please believe that it isn't spin when I tell you that our campaign infrastructure / seat targetting is as night and day compared to 2005. So the YouGov polls indicate a small rise in our vote, but there's reason to believe that it'll be concentrated in useful places.

There's a look over the Welsh prospects by the psephologist Roger Scully here if you're interested:


Alastair said...

Meurig, as always your comments are extremely interesting, as was the page you linked to. I tend to steer clear of seats like Blaenau Gwent where I have no local knowledge - they must be a nightmare for the bookies to price.

I shall bear in mind very carefully your comment about the value for the Tories being in the north.

Anonymous said...

The very smart money in Montgomeryshire on Glyn Davies for a Portillo moment win. Frankly, we are fed up to the teeth of Lembit Opik's antics and regard him as a national joke. We find him terrribly embarrassing and even the most loyal of Libs are refusing to vote for him. He should have been deselected in order to maintain a Lib seat. Interesting that at last people are getting real about Glyn Davies' chances here. Especially with every seat being so very precious to the Tories now. Watch out for the big guns arriving in Montgomeryshire. I've got £100 on GD to win!

Twm said...

Doctor Huw,

I think that druidsrevenge is a bit out on his prediction. He calculates a 5% swing against Labour as them losing 5% of their vote (not 5% of the total vote).

i.e. instead of going from 34.6% to 29.6% he has them only dropping to (34.6% * 95% = 32.87%).

His calculations are therefore quite a bit off.

I really can't see Labour holding on here. Their vote collapsed to only 17.6% at the Assembly.

The Tory selection fiasco means that they are completely out of it.

Peter Rogers might be worth a punt but I can't see Albert Owen holding on.

(though if someone does bet on Labour it might make the odds better for my own betting!!!)

Other than that I think betting on Labour in Cardiff West is a very strong bet. And agree with backing Labour in Swansea (West and East) and Newport East.