Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lib Dem national prospects - how to get as rich as creases?

This article is not one that I had originally intended to write. I'm away this week in my holiday home in rural Hungary, just near Lake Balaton. My intention had been to spend the week in my swimming pool. However, a flood in the room housing the pump and the filter has put paid to that idea and stjohn neatly filled the gap by suggesting that I might wish to investigate the Lib Dem target seats. His wish is my command.

My starting point with the Lib Dems is simple: no one really has a clue how they are going to do. How can I be so sure of this? Well, look at these two links:

This list gives the Lib Dem target seats and the seats that in turn on the list of the Lib Dem seats that are targets for the Tories and Labour. At the end of the first link, I include four other Lib Dem seats that for various reasons are thought to be in play. These tables are ranked by size of swing needed.

This second list ranks the same seats in order of the best bookies' odds on the Lib Dems, with the shortest odds first.

As you can see, there are 69 seats where the Lib Dems' best price is somewhere between 1/3 and 3/1. Out of the 142 seats on this list, that's a very high tally - the more so when you realise that they are at 10/1 or above in a further 49 seats, so the bookies are essentially discounting their chances more or less completely in those seats. Contrast this with the London seats that I looked at a couple of weeks ago. Out of 73 seats, only 19 had any party between 1/3 and 3/1. In other words, the bookies and punters are very uncertain whether the Lib Dems are going to soar or crash (or simply stand still).

Let's put that into a political context. If the Lib Dems fail to win any seat where their odds of winning the seat are 1/3 or worse, they will lose 39 seats. Martin Day's minibus would beckon. If on the other hand the Lib Dems win every seat where their odds of winning the seat were 3/1 or better, they will gain 30 seats. The Lib Dems would be a political force to be reckoned with.

Now this makes the Lib Dems a high risk play. Much could be lost by misunderstanding these markets, but equally much could be gained by getting this right. So, what is driving the odds?

It is about the opponents

The markets clearly think that the Conservatives are going to do better against the Lib Dems than Labour are, which presumably reflects the fact that there will probably be a swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories and a swing from Labour to the Lib Dems. The first Conservative seat to appear on the list is Somerton & Frome, which is only notionally Tory, being held by the excellent David Heath for the Lib Dems. In fact, the only seats actually held by the Conservatives that are priced at 3/1 or less are Eastbourne, St Albans, Totnes, Guildford and Wells.

It's not just swing

Some Lib Dem seats that are nominally vulnerable to a small swing are seen as safe - Rochdale and Westmorland & Lonsdale, Eastleigh and Bristol West. This transcends challenging party lines, though all four seats are held by first timers, so perhaps punters are setting great store on a first time incumbency bonus (which does make sense to me).

Equally, the target seats that are seen as vulnerable to a Lib Dem charge are only loosely correlated with swing. Burnley is seen as a shoo-in for the Lib Dems at 4/7, despite them needing a 7.4% swing. Swansea West is an evens shot despite the Lib Dems needing a 6.45% swing and Brent Central is a miserly 6/5, despite the Lib Dems needing a 9% swing. By contrast, Aberdeen South is a 9/4 shot for the Lib Dems, despite them only needing a 1.6% swing.

Location makes a big difference

The Lib Dems are seen as having relatively poor prospects in Scotland. Why else would Gordon be priced at only 2/7 for the Lib Dems, when they would only lose it on a 12.4% swing and the seat is held by a prominent Lib Dem? They are odds against in Argyll & Bute and only 4/6 favourites in Aberdeenshire West & Kincardineshire, where the Tories would need a swing of 8.95%. Their Scottish targets are similarly priced - they are 6/4 to take Edinburgh South and 9/4 as noted above to take Aberdeen South.

Northern Labour targets are seen as more promising. The Lib Dems are tightly priced not just in Burnley, but for example in Durham, where they are 5/6 to achieve a 3.7% swing, Liverpool Wavertree, where they are the same price for a 4.35% swing, Oldham East & Saddleworth and Newcastle upon Tyne North, in each of which they are 5/4 to get swings of 5% and 8.45% respectively and Sheffield Central, where they are a mere 11/8 to get an 8% swing.

The Lib Dems' chances of holding on against the Conservatives in the south west are viewed with considerable doubt. Only Thornbury & Yate (not listed) and Yeovil are shorter than a 1/3 shot. Devon North is the next most secure Lib Dem seat where the Tories are second, with odds of 4/6.

Individual MPs count

MPs who are perceived to be strong are given much shorter odds than MPs who are perceived to be weak. Tim Farron in Westmorland & Lonsdale, majority 836, is quoted at exactly the same odds as Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire (long term Liberal bastion, majority 7,020) - 2/5. David Heath, sitting on a notional Conservative majority of 39 in Somerton & Frome, is given 6/5 chances of keeping his seat, while Sandra Gidley's majority of 455 in Romsey & Southampton North is priced at a much more forlorn 9/4.

The same is true on the other side of the fence. Nigel Waterson has received a fair deal of criticism as an MP, and faces a Lib Dem opponent whose best price is 5/4. The notional majority in Guildford is much smaller, but the Lib Dems are 3/1 to take that seat. Wiltshire North is Lib Dem target 81, but the local Conservative MP's much publicised personal life means that the Lib Dems are as short as 7/2 to take the seat. Lib Dem target 80, Hertfordshire South West, is also a Conservative held seat and the Lib Dems are 20/1 to take that seat.

My views

I do have some general principles that I have been applying in my betting on the Lib Dems. I am expecting that there will be a swing to the Tories from the Lib Dems and from Labour to the Lib Dems. Coldstone has repeatedly predicted a result of 38:28:22 and that seems a fair place to start right now. That would mean a 2.5% swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories and a 4% swing from Labour to the Lib Dems. This could be higher, this could be lower.

My starting point is how the Lib Dem vote might change from the last election. There are four critical considerations, two of which I regard as positive for the Lib Dems, two of which I regard as negative. These are:

1. Incumbency

The Lib Dem MPs are generally regarded higher locally than most MPs of the major parties. Many of them have sought and kept their seats almost by not being politicians but by being local spokesmen and women and fixers.

Where an MP has done well in his first term, he or she can expect a substantial uplift in his or her personal vote at the next election. That dissipates at subsequent elections (because it's already factored in). However, if the Lib Dems can persuade the electorate that it's a local campaign for local people, this will make the Lib Dem MPs stickier than might otherwise be expected.

2. Expenses

One of the big stories of this Parliament has been the expenses scandal. The Lib Dems have in general come out of this well (indeed, they may find their incumbency in their own seats reinforced as a result) but some of the MPs in their target seats have not. If the Lib Dems can capitalise on the "kick out the bums" atmosphere, they may claim some surprising scalps.

3. It's a two horse race

There has been a lot of talk about this being a change election. I'm not convinced that it necessarily is, but if the two main parties can make this election a battle between "the devil you know" and "change", the Lib Dems are going to struggle. In such battles, those seeking to follow a third path are going to be regarded with suspicion on both sides. It is my judgement that the Lib Dems' equidistance will not serve them well this time. Voters who regard the direction of the country are vital may well not vote for Lib Dem MPs who they otherwise regard as good if they are unclear that they will ally themselves with the major party that they want to see hold the reins. It may well neutralise much of the incumbency advantage that would otherwise accrue. Set against that, the Lib Dems may benefit from more tactical voting in constituencies where one of the main parties has no real chance.

4. Iraq is a long time ago

In 2005, the Lib Dems had a clear USP relating to Iraq. It won them lots of votes in constituencies with a lot of Muslims, Guardianistas and or the generally bien pensant. With a recent ComRes poll suggesting that 57% of Muslims will vote for Labour, it appears that much of the Muslim support will be doubtful. Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that Guardianistas see it as particularly important to keep out the great Satan that is David Cameron. Building on the 2005 election results against Labour may prove more challenging than it might superficially appear.

Mr Smithson noted this morning that the Lib Dems got differential results referable to the swings against Labour and the Tories in 2005, largely underperforming. This to a large extent reflects the untactical voting that took place (the more conventional name is protest voting). If the protest voters decide that this time is too serious to protest, the Lib Dems are in trouble.

Applying my observations

The big tension, I think, is between disillusionment over expenses and the polarisation between Labour and the Conservatives. Ultimately, I expect the second to be more important to more voters, but different voters will react differently in different seats. There will be some hard-to-predict results.

Starting with Labour/Lib Dem marginals, my expectation is that the Lib Dems will do surprisingly poorly, especially in those seats that were particularly influenced by Iraq in 2005. I'm backing Labour at 11/8 (with Stan James or Coral) in Islington South & Finsbury and in Rochdale at 11/4 (with Paddy Power or Victor Chandler). The Lib Dems may win both of these seats, but I think they're a lot harder for them than they look.

Local knowledge is very important (and which I by and large lack). Even with the expenses difficulties that Kitty Ussher faced, the odds on the Lib Dems in Burnley are unfathomably short. They still need a large swing, and 4/7 is mean indeed.

I am no brighter for the Lib Dems in the south west. They will find many of their voters peeling off in a blue direction. They may be able to recoup voters from Labour, but in many of these seats they are already squeezed to the bone. Truro & Falmouth has a large Labour vote to squeeze, so the 8/11 with Paddy Power looks good. Before betting on any of these seats, check the size of the Labour third place vote. Generally, I'm in the blue corner in the south west.

I get more positive about the Lib Dems when their majorities are higher. The Lib Dems can't ignore the impact of swing (much though some pb Lib Dem supporters occasionally suggest otherwise), but there is no particular reason to assume that they aren't going to be able to put up a decent fight. The Lib Dems look nailed on in Colchester (4/9 widely available) and given the Tory troubles in Southport, the 4/5 available on them with Coral is a steal. The Tories will do well to take either Cornwall North or Cornwall South East on the type of swing I currently anticipate and the odds on the Lib Dems in each are worth taking.

Incumbency is important, but I do think it's overstated. I have drawn attention to the odds on Montgomery and Westmorland & Lonsdale. I don't think that a good MP is clearly worth 6,000 votes more than a problematic MP. Westmorland & Lonsdale has offered good odds in the past (and I have backed the Lib Dems heavily here over the last year), but I would now prefer to put my money on the Lib Dems in Montgomery. Even Lembit Opik is surely going to avoid suffering a 12% swing.

Are the Lib Dems worth backing for any gains? This is where I have to get really controversial. All party supporters like to back their party in exciting contests. For most, that means in possible gains. The Lib Dems have relatively few prospects. That means that a wall of money has flooded to back the Lib Dems in these seats. I see practically no value in any of them in the absence of inside information.

The Lib Dems are likely to get flattened by the two main parties in most three way marginals. The most promising seats are those with seriously compromised opponents with not too great a swing required. In general, though, I would rather back their opponents. I don't see them getting an 8% swing in Sheffield Central, I am sceptical that they will get a 9% swing in Brent Central (even with a hopeless Labour incumbent) or an 8% swing in Manchester Gorton. Yet the Lib Dems are priced at under 2/1 in all three of these. I prefer the look of the 12/5 on the Lib Dems in St Albans, where the Conservative opponent is mired in sleaze and Labour are likely to collapse in support. The 3/1 on the Lib Dems in Wells is also worth thinking about, given David Heathcote-Amory's problems. Maybe the 5/2 in Bradford East is worth thinking about, but I doubt it.

I shall conclude with three value Lib Dem bets in a surprising area: Scotland. In my view, the gloom on the Lib Dems in Scotland is overdone. Their vote is likely to be down, but not necessarily by that much and they have built strongholds that are quite resistant to swing. The 2/7 odds on Gordon are absurdly short and the Tories will have to put in an epic performance to take Aberdeenshire West & Kincardineshire, making the 4/6 on the Lib Dems attractive. Finally, the 5/4 on the Lib Dems in Argyll & Bute looks solid value. With the two nearest challengers the Conservatives (who are unlikely to gain a major swing in Scotland) and Labour (who are likely to tread water at best), this looks a fairly clear hold.

One final point. I'm very aware that many will disagree vehemently with my observations. As I said at the outset, nobody knows what's going on (though lots of people like to guess). That includes me.



Dave B said...

Re: SW England.
The Speccy suggests that the Tories have a compelling "vote Tory, or else" issue with 'cider duty'.

Richard Nabavi said...

Another invaluable article, antifrank.

One correction, if I've understood correctly: The 2/7 odds on Gordon are absurdly short. I think you mean the opposite?

stjohn said...

antifrank. Fantastic article. Many thanks.

It will take some digesting!

How would you and other PBers price up the LD seat bands:

Less 50

Matt said...

Apologies for nit-picking, but it's rich as Croesus.

(Better at pedantry than betting)

Alastair said...

Matt, "creases" was an in-joke for stjohn. It's very bad manners to use an in-joke on a page that is intended for anyone to read, so my apologies.

Richard Nabavi, you are of course correct. I find short odds-on favourites confusing linguistically. For a home banker, Malcolm Bruce looks great value at 2/7.

Stjohn, you ask a good question without my having a clear answer. I have decided generally to avoid seatbands on the Lib Dems because there are just too many unknowns and because it's incredibly sensitive. If I were to price them up, I would do so using the seats priced by odds and apply a swingometer. If the Lib Dems were to take all seats up to and including those at 5/6 (the bookies' evens), they would lose 10 seats net. If they were only to take those up to 8/11 - hardly a big shift - they would lose a further 9 seats net. If they were to take all those seats up to 6/5 inclusive, they would only lose one seat net. If they were to take all those seats up to 11/8 inclusive, they would gain 10 seats net.

So, from 8/11 to 11/8 is a swing of 29 seats, encompassing all your bands. You can see why I'm reluctant to price these bands up: the slightest mistake in the general assumption about how well the Lib Dems will do will radically alter the bands. I would be very slow to put money on the central bands for that reason and because no one really knows what's going on. What URW likes to refer to as the Loony Toons offer unusually good value in my opinion.

As things stand, I see the bookies as overstating Lib Dem chances. I would put par at roughly 50. This could change rapidly with a Lib Dem surge in the polls though.

Have I now lost all chance of ever being invited to a Liberal Democrat dinner party?


rheape said...

Very interesting article.

I have a simlar view. Lib. dems will lose maybe 15-20 seats to Torys and gain but 5 - 10 sets from labour giving a range of 47-57.
My own bet is on the 40-49 range.The dynamics are that in Lib/Con marginals the argument that the "only way to get rid of Brown is to vote in aConservative Government" will bring all those ex tory LIb dem voters back into the blue fold.
In Lab/Lib marginals the argument above would suggst that Tories in lab seats where lib Dem is a close second and Tories area poor third would give Tory tactical voting for the Lib dems-but there has been lttle evidenc eof this in the past.Also I suspect many labour supporters will not switch to Lib Dems butwill stay at homew or vote BNP/UKIP.

Thusn in terms of pssible gains seats wher the lab majority is small but The cons have a strong 3 rd place like Nowwich S,Oldham E,Watford,Hampstead may not be won.
At the otherend places where the Tory's are in a poor third palc ebut requiring swings of 5%+ may just be too much unless there is a superb polling day operation.
Scotalnd is I think different.With a 4 party system they are well used toptactical voting and that makes the odds on Edinburgh s and Aberdeen S wortyh going for.

Finally coldstones forecast for vote shre is 38,28,22 mine is 41,28.21- but this remains the greatest unceratinity.

The Lib dem ratings from ICm are the samea sthe strt of campaign in 2005 and For Populius it is 2%.
lib dem support grew by 1.6&% during the campaign in 2005 which woould give a similar figure between 22/23%.
but what if the gap beween Llab and Lib closed duruin ng the camaoign>AR ha sthe loesst albour ratingand a gap of just 4%.If Lib dems can take more share from Labourthe tory lead grows thus reducing the chances ofa HP and mayb emaking som etries move as well.All bets would be off if labour were pushed into third palcein the campign.10% chance of happening but if Lib dems runa good camapign who knows.Then thios ebest obn lib des winning Blaydona t 13/8 are mighty profitablr.

Anonymous said...


Not that Nick said...

Is anyone else having problems with the main site?

HurstLlama said...

Yup, looks like the main site has gone down

Not that Nick said...

Aaaaagh - lurker withdrawal syndrome strikes

Me said...

I can see the comments in the main site but not post.

HurstLlama said...

Your doing better than me. I can't even connect to the site on any machine or any browser.

Waster said...

@Me how's the flooding going for you now

wibbler said...

You can at get to the main site by replacing "www" with "www1" but you can't post any comments that way.

Ted said...

Me - looks bad in Rio, hope everything good with you at least.

I can get on main site by inserting www1 or www2 before politicalbetting but as no-one can post that isn't much use.

BTW Antifrank - good stuff.

jsfl said...

Can Mike or Robert provide an update as to whats wrong with the main site and if we need to implement a work-around.....

Anonymous said...

I can't even see any comments I just get the page not found or error messsage.

Blue rog

Anonymous said...

Great article antifrank, thanks for giving up your holiday time.

Site problems - same here. I'll check back here hopefully for an update. In the meantime you efforts with the servers are appreciated.


Anonymous said...

The www2 website has gone peculiar as well now!!!!

jsfl said...

I can get the front page using but thats it, it times out.

So much for the new load balancing configuration. I take Mike or Robert know.....

Anonymous said...

Note for Matt above - the rich as creases comment is a PB joke which refers to Chris Huhne and his trouser press. :)


Nick Palmer said...

Pity about the main site buty it's encouraged me to read antifrank's excellent LibDem analysis - looks sensible to me. One point is that at present the LibDems seem to be rhetorically tilting against the Tories - certainly on the NI issue. That should help them get Labour tactical votes in Lib-Con marginals and maybe gain some Labour votes in Lab-Lib marginals; conversely it will weaken their appeal to Tories in Lab/Lib marginals. Of course, they may vary their emphasis over the coming weeks.

Anecdotally, canvassing a low-turnout working-class area (yes, I do have a couple) I found certainty to vote well up on 2005. People were either uninterested or keen, whereas in the past they've been uninterested or "I suppose so". If that's a general pattern it may point to higher turnout overall.

Ted said...

even beginning to miss "jake" and his misleading twitter rubbish...

BrianB said...

The main site seems to be back now

Mitchell Stirling said...

YouGov/Sun: Con 40%, Lab 31%, Lib Dem 18% from @Sun_Election on Twitter

wibbler said...

Yougov 39 32 18

from the graph on

Ted said...

YouGov graph says 39:32:18 so Cons up 2

jsfl said...

By the way - the main site is back!


Ted said...

wonder if Anthony has put in the before weighting for certainty to vote figures on graph?

Anonymous said...

Has the site gone down again?

Anonymous said...

Site is down again for me.


EdP said...

The main site is very slow, if not dead. With all respect to Mike and Robert, technical failures 4 weeks before the election, don't bode well for the big night on May 6th.

wibbler said...

Better to get the gremlins out of the way now than on May 6...

Anonymous said...

Is it just yougov tonight ?

Me said...

Pb is back

jsfl said...

Even the Treasury agreed with Cameron!

Chris A said...

Well I can see the main site again- very slow but can't see any of the comments.

Me said...

Posted this in the main site:

"Just read the comments asking how thing are going here(Pb2). Well, everything’s ok with Me. Thanks for your concern.

Trying not go out a lot because the weather is very unstable and the streets are full with garbage. There’s a big risk of more mudslides. More than 173 people dead and 14 000 without home.

I hear the sound of sirens all the time. Quite sad, really."

Me said...

Chris A. I used Firefox, because IE wasn't working very well.

Fitalass said...

Is anyone able to access right now?

Chris A said...

Can't even get the site to load with IE. Loads fine with Firefox but always comes up with the error can't connect with the server when trying to load the comments.

BTW parliament has been prorogued - did anyone notice? An end to a bad lot I suppose.

Me said...

Fitaloon. Yes. Through Firefox and this link

Anonymous said...

jsfl - the pic of Brown in that Times article sort of confirms what I read ealier about him doing Stalin type stares at journos. Oh dear.


Fitalass said...

Me, thanks will try that link.

Fitalass said...

Me, still not getting the link to work? Any other tips?

Me said...

Fitaloon. I tried this one earlier, but I was only able to read.

Kristin said...

Not working on chrome or firefox for me. Guess I'll pop back later.

wibbler said...

Mo' servers, mo' problems

jsfl said...

is it down again

Kristin said...

looks like it.

Kristin said...

Scotland's housekeeper found guilty. Sky.

Me said...

I'm still having serious problems with the site. Anyone else having it too?

wibbler said...


Yes, me too. It is quite intermittent.

I can sometimes access but not post using www1.

Me said...

Same here Wibbler. But it seems to be ok now.

Kristin said...

More server problems ?

Kristin said...

poll.. from Dale.. looks still unconfirmed ..

I hear rumours from the campaign trail of a Harris Poll in tomorrow's Daily Mail which will show a ten point Tory lead, but with the LibDems closing on Labour. If my information is correct the figures are 37-27-22 with others on a massive 15%.

If this proves to be correct, the Tories will be pleased to finish the week with a double digit lead. I have to say I certainly don't believe Labour really is as low as 27%. The explanation would be that their support is haemorraging to the minor parties and the LibDems.

Over the last few weeks the 'others' support has reduced to 10%. I have to say I expect this to rise a bit during the campaign. There are going to be a lot of independent candidates and I think they will attract a lot of support from the 'a plague on all your houses' vote.

Plato said...

Ah more server probs - and here was me thinking it was popular adulation for Gordon's speech :D

Kristin said...

Sky didn't even show his speech, they red buttoned him lol

jsfl said...

Have we crashed again?

Anonymous said...

So the prediction is:
- Lib Dems to get "flattened" in three-way marginals
- Lib Dems in "trouble" with non-tactical voters in Lab-Con seats
- Lib Dems to "do surprisingly poorly" in Lab-LD marginals
- Lib Dems to see voters "peeling off" in Con-LD marginals
- Lib Dems to lose votes in line with swing where they have large majorities; no real positive incumbency effect

This would all be consistent with winning 22% last time if the party were now polling 15%. But it isn't.