Thursday, 22 April 2010

Two polls give it to Clegg - one to Cameron

Three post debate polls on who won:-

ComRes for ITV

33% Clegg
30% Cameron
30% Brown


32% Clegg
36% Cameron
29% Brown

Angus Reid

35% Clegg
33% Cameron
23% Brown

Sorry - main site is down

Sunday, 18 April 2010

China : post-race analysis

A correction: the Spanish GP is in three weeks’ time, not a fortnight. Won’t be a post until pre-qualifying, unless something dramatic occurs (perhaps if the volcanic situation persists and creates logistical difficulties).

The rain made the race highly entertaining, and (again) a lottery. Once more the pole-sitter didn’t take the win. Overall, the bets (more due to luck than skill, save the laying of Vettel) came good. Vettel didn’t win, both McLarens got a podium. However, Webber was nowhere near the win.

Personally, I laid every bet save the laying of Vettel (would’ve finished a bit better off if I hadn’t, but there we are). I think that, taking both qualifying and the race, the tips finished green rather than red. Congrats to Nigel for his 18/1 spot on Button for the win.

I’d assumed Rosberg and Alonso would be unable to stave off the McLarens on the straight, and maybe a Red Bull would explode, hence my podium tips. As it happened, the rain meant that the McLarens got a deserved 1-2. Webber had a great start but, like Vettel, ended up in the middle of the points.

Impressed with Petrov. His bad luck came to an end today and he scored a good 7th. Kubica and Alonso (5th and 4th respectively) did well, especially after El Cheatero decided waiting for the start was an optional extra and got a drive-through penalty for being naughty.

Massa for the title now looks a bit, um, moronic on my part. However, it is early in the season and no driver has a decisive advantage. I did back Button for the title at 15 halfway through the race, he’s now down at 8, which I think is still value.

The Constructors seems to be between Red Bull and McLaren at the moment. Both are between evens and 3, which is about right. Schumacher’s poor performance and lack of pace mean that Mercedes have little chance, and the Ferraris, after a stonking start in Bahrain, just seem a little too slow. McLaren has pace and reliability, and the Red Bulls are the fastest.

Button tops the title race by 10 points, leading Rosberg. Button’s edge is down to a number of factors: reliable car, fast driver and fast car, and, most importantly, a cool head. He’s making the right calls on tyres and keeping calm when he must. Hamilton’s too prone to stress and losing it, even though I believe he’s got better raw pace than Button.

This is utterly contrary to what I thought would happen, having predicted Hamilton would thrash Button with relative ease. However, my forecast that Vettel would do that to Webber has proved more accurate. At Mercedes, Rosberg has shown himself to be good, but not, as yet, top class, and Schumacher seems to be a shadow of his former self. I think it’s hard to assess Massa and Alonso. Right now, their car isn’t quick enough, I feel.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 17 April 2010

China: pre-race

Argh. Argh, I tell you. I may stop tipping/betting on qualifying. Red Bull seem able to win regardless of practice form. McLaren were looking good in earlier qualifying, but in Q3 their car decided to be rubbish.

The race starts at 3pm local time. Here’re a few forecasts: – light rain
BBC – heavy rain shower
Wunderground – 20% chance of rain

So, rain is possible, but not certain.

I’ve backed Hamilton and Button to get a podium spot each, at 2.4 and 3.45 respectively. The McLaren seems a little slower than most on the soft tyre, but great on the hard, which may’ve had an impact on the relatively poor qualifying positions (6th and 5th). It’s also mighty on the straights, and as China has a big one, and some smaller ones, this should allow each McLaren man to make passes with ease.

I’ve laid Vettel for the win at 1.97. His car can be unreliable, rain could disrupt his race, Webber may well try and wreak vengeance upon Vettel for the sneaky overtaking at the start, and F1 is generally unpredictable. Vettel is the best driver, but his odds are still short and everybody else’s are long.

Backed Webber for the win. I think he’s top of the middle of the pack rather than top drawer, but his car is brilliant and has a habit of not exploding when Vettel’s does. Plus, 8.6 for second place man is too long.

Let’s hope these do better than the qualifying tips. Post-race analysis may be delayed. Next race is Spain in a fortnight.

Morris Dancer

Looking Ahead to the Second Debate

In this post, Bunnco - Your Man on the Spot, looks ahead to the second Leader's Debate and wonders how the battle will be fought on the ground and which weapons will help Clegg, Cameron & Brown

About 10 years ago Bunnco was involved with the fundraising campaign to rebuild the American Library in Norwich, which had been lost in a disastrous fire in 2004. People in Norfolk have long memories about how the Over-Sexed-and-Over-Here Yanks fought alongside us in WWII and the USAAF 8th Airforce, 2nd Air Division Association is still going strong with a New Generation of supporters.

The money was raised and the Library was opened just after 9/11. And every year-or-so the Association asks a prominent politician to deliver an address around about Armistice Day on foreign affairs and defence in a keynote speech. Douglas Hurd delivered one a few years ago and last November it was Gen Sir Richard Dannatt's turn. Dannatt's a local man in Norfolk and Bunnco went along to hear.

As an aside, I was privileged to sit alongside two genuine WWII airmen, one of whose Texan wife had some quite fruity things to say about Obama! But that's another story.

The obvious topics for Foreign Affairs are Europe, Immigration, 'The Global Recession', the 'Global Consensus' on Terrorism. But what's not so obvious is the link between defence and foreign affairs.

And what Dannatt told the audience last November made the non-obvious connection between Foreign Policy and Defence, which I want to highlight because the next Leaders' Debate is all about 'Foreign Affairs', which will inevitably include Defence, an area where I consider Brown to be weak at a point in time where he is weakened himself.

Now I know Dannatt has been revealed to be a Tory, but no matter, he explained quite lucidly that Military Force is the means by which you prosecute your Foreign Policy when you can't get your own way by talking alone. As they say, 'jaw-jaw is better than war-war' but if jaw-jaw fails...

Like all good ideas, it's obvious when it's pointed-out but it got me thinking Politically and, now that the Leaders debate is upon us, it's worth thinking about what that obvious link between Foreign Policy and Defence means for next week and who might do best.

My initial observation is that, under Labour, the tight link between Foriegn Policy and Defence hasn't been obvious. Milliband appears to me to have been focused on Europe and 'Terrorist' Issues. Brown's clearly never been interested in the Military. And the MoD has been caught in the middle, unloved, and treated like just one of the other 'spending departments'.

And because the Political Case for the various wars was not clearly articulated to the population, the Military have not had the clear steer about how to fight and certainly it's been stop-start on the equipment required. The reasons for Afghanistan have drifted from 'peace-keeping' to 'terrorism' to 'drugs' to 'Iran'. It's hardly surprising that we're in a military muddle with Brown and Milliband disinterested in the consequences of their actions, whilst briefing against each other in the real war - that between Blairites and Brownites.

Meanwhile, the Public is behind 'Our Boys' and the love of our Servicemen contrasts with the loathing of those that have put them in harm's way.

Brown simply has to keep the Foreign Affairs brief away from Defence but it's difficult to see how he can when military action is the expression of foreign policy.

Ok, so let's conflate Foreign Affairs and Defence and try to see how the Leaders' Debate might pan-out next week.

In the Blue Corner, Europe's an issue Cameron seems to have taken the rap for even though it's Labour that's broken its Manifesto promise to hold a referendum. The debate is probably his chance to set the record straight and claw-back the UKIP-waverers.

Cameron's made a big play of setting up a War Cabinet to address the Afghanistan issue properly and I think this will be popular and be seen to be decisive and supporting 'our boys'. Immigration is also something that plays to foreign affairs, where Cameron scored well last Thursday. He could build on the success here in a Stateman-like manner.

In the Yellow Corner, Clegg's a bit of a one-trick pony on defence - stop Trident and that alone cannot sustain a 90-minute debate when we're fighting a war. The LibDem europhile tendancy could be damaging in the South West, where there's a healthy scepticism.

Perhaps he'll fall-back on the anti-Iraq meme that played well in 2005... it's about the only USP that might help. With the spotlight-on, Clegg's got an uphill battle to develop a coherent foreign/defence strategy that holds water without sounding too pro-European or Pro-Euro at a time most of the EuroZone wants to get out.

In the red corner, Brown's on a bit of a sticky wicket at the worst possible time. He's on the back-foot and Foreign Affairs & Defence are away from his 'secure-the-recovery' comfort-zone. His mis-handling of The Military Covenant will leave him exposed to questions from servicemen in the audience. Cue the drop-jaw and Clunking Fist.

He's going to have to rely upon is his work with the G20 where he 'saved' the world. But didn't. And this will invite comparisons with the relative economic performance of our overseas peers. Copenhagen wasn't exactly the big success he hoped for and can anyone remember that Yemen conference in February? His best shot is having a go at the Global Bank Tax that he tells us has worldwide backing but of which we are still to see the evidence. It's all a bit flakey really.

The Sky News guys must be rubbing their hands with glee as the viewing figures in digital-TV households go through the roof. Boulton is a more robust interviewer than Alistair Stewart and there'll be some more rigour there. It will be his job to keep to the Foreign Affairs subject matter - a hard task. And away from Tractor Stats.

But it certainly isn't going to be a re-run of last Thursday. The subject matter is heavier and more demanding. Cameron should be best prepared and able to fight this battle on the ground more to his liking. Clegg's got a lot to catch-up on and I'm not sure that Saint Vince is going to be much help. Who is the LibDem head of foreign affairs?

If Brown can keep the debate away from defence and immigration and onto the 'Global' Recession, he'll be best-advantaged but this is fraught with difficulty as we have compared poorly economically with our peers. I just hope all three Leaders are less practiced and more 'themselves' - we'll get more out of it and the narrative will turn again just as the postal votes are issued.

Bunnco - Your Man on the Spot

Friday, 16 April 2010

China: pre-qualifying

This post is being made before P3, because of differences with the time zones between England and China.

The Chinese GP last year was remarkable in that it was in the first half of the season, yet Brawn didn’t win. Red Bull scored a sexy one two (naturally Vettel beat Webber). Pre-practice, I expected Red Bull and McLaren to be frontrunners, because of Red Bull’s general excellent pace this season and the McLaren being superb on straights (China has a big one, plus a few smaller ones).

P1 was a McLaren-Mercedes affair, with Button fastest, then Rosberg and Hamilton (both within a tenth of Button’s time) and then Schumacher eight-tenths off the pace. Vettel was 5th, Kubica 6th, Webber 8th then Sutil and Massa (Alonso didn’t set a time).

P2 was pretty similar. Hamilton led, then Rosberg (more than two-tenths down), then Button and Schumacher about a tenth off Rosberg. The Red Bulls were 5th and 6th, Sutil 7th, Kubica 9th and the Ferraris 10th and 11th.

I’ve made a couple of bets, all with small stakes. Hamilton is, in my view, favourite for pole. Backed him at 5 (unwisely, he’s now up to 6. Silly me). I’ve also put some on Rosberg, who is an astonishing 38 despite coming second in both practice sessions. He’s less likely to win than Hamilton, but 37/1 is a bloody silly price for a chap who’s second twice and who beat Vettel (on the same tyres) in Malaysian qualifying. I was just going to back Hamilton, but 38 is such a long price I had to have a little.

I’ve also laid Massa to reach Q3, but only had a little (1.2 or less is worth taking). He’s been 10th and 11th so far. I think the Red Bulls, McLarens, Mercedes, Kubica and Sutil are all dead certs for Q3, which only leaves a pair of spots, and I have only small confidence Massa will get one.

China’s produced a different winner each time the race has been held, and there is a question mark over Sunday’s weather. Saturday will be dry, however, which is helpful.

Anyway, let’s hope one or more of those tips come good.

Morris Dancer

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.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

Malaysia: post-race analysis

I am beginning to hate Red Bull. I think the team is fine, and I like Vettel a lot, but their reliability has thwarted me yet again. If one had failed, the Kubica bet would’ve worked. If both, the Rosberg bet too would’ve come good. Instead, infuriatingly, their car failed to explode even a little bit.

No rain put paid to the safety car bet as well. I think Rosberg was a misjudgement on my part, he may be the new Kovalainen, punching below his weight come race day. Kubica at 5.6 for a podium was reasonable, and damned unlucky not to have any rain at all. Oh well. Still marginally ahead for the race weekend.

The race itself was quite entertaining, especially as it was dry throughout, yet not a procession like Bahrain. Hamilton cut through the field, as did Button to a lesser extent. I was, however, more impressed with the Ferraris, especially Massa, who has been poor at every part of the weekend except the race.

Many cars broke, including Schumacher’s and Alonso’s. We also saw in the race that the Force India is strong on straights, with even Hamilton unable to pass Sutil, and that the Red Bull loves fast corners.

Although it was bad for my bank balance, it’s impossible to say that Vettel does not deserve a win. In fact, he deserves three. I wish Webber’s car had broken, but sadly it didn’t happen.

The title challenge is three races old now, and is tantalisingly close. Here are the top 6:
Massa 39
Alonso 37
Vettel 37
Button 35
Rosberg 35
Hamilton 31

At the moment reliability is outdoing raw speed, but only just. The question of how this unfolds depends on whether Red Bull can stay reliable and whether they maintain dominance at other tracks. If, like last season, different tracks favour different cars that bodes ill for Vettel. However, their car does seem to be top dog by a distance. I can’t decide whether Massa was a good bet at the moment. He’s been pretty consistent and tops the table by a slender margin, and has done well at two tracks he looked like being very poor at. However, he’s never really fired on all cylinders and has yet to score a victory. Surprised his odds are out at 13. He’s gone from 4 points adrift to 2 points ahead and his odds have lengthened.

The next race is in China, in a fortnight. Last season it was the only one of the first seven races not to feature a Brawn victory, and saw Vettel do a single ultra-fast lap in qualifying to get pole. Vettel went on to deservedly win the race.

So, a mixed bag this weekend for me, but overall slightly ahead, and that’s an improvement. Let’s hope there are more winning tips in China.

Morris Dancer

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Malaysia: pre-race

Well, one tip was right and one was wrong. If you managed to get on both of them then you’ll’ve made a profit. I was off the computer for the hour leading up to qualifying, so no idea if more money went on Massa for Q3. Ironically, if you backed the tips I decided against offering you would have made even more money.

In terms of entertainment, qualifying was absolutely fantastic and unpredictable. McLaren and Ferrari both made schoolboy errors by staying in for Q1, thinking the rain would pass, when it actually came down harder. All four cars from the two teams are near the back of the grid, with Button in 17th, and Alonso, Hamilton and Massa coming 19th to 21st.

But, where there are losers there are winners. The Force Indias both made Q3, with Sutil 4th and Liuzzi 10th. At the front of the grid is Webber, who topped the timesheets by a mile due to a cunning decision to use the intermediate tyre, followed by Rosberg and Vettel. All the top 10 were on wets, save Webber. Kubica and Barrichello came 6th and 7th.

A huge factor in the race will be rain (we saw the dramatic and game-changing effect it had in qualifying).

So, what are the forecasters saying?

Wunderground: 30-40% chance of a thunderstorm
BBC: heavy rain showers rain showers

That’s identical to the forecast for the same time today (when qualifying occurred), so it’s highly likely there’ll be some rain, and Malaysia tends only to have heavy showers or persistent torrents. It also affects different parts of the track very differently; some areas can be dry, others can be very wet, making tyre choice and the risk of accidents more challenging.

I think a safety car is highly likely (could occur right at the start if the rain’s strong enough, during the race if it’s heavy or if any car goes off dangerously). Odds are an issue, I’d definitely back it at 1.6, maybe at 1.4.

It’s very hard to say how the race will go, as we don’t know whether it’ll be wet at the start, if it is who will benefit etc. I do think Massa will struggle to rise far, as he’s furthest back of the hot shots and he wasn’t exactly setting the world alight in practice. Alonso’s more aggressive but also wasn’t quite top notch in practice. I expect the McLarens and especially Hamilton to cut through the field like a hot knife through butter. However, the odds are not appealing (Hamilton 1.5 for points and 4.8 for a podium). Given the large amount of places they have to make up and the possibility of an error on a wet track or being hit by an accident I’m steering clear of any bet to do with the Ferraris and McLarens.

Rosberg tempts me. He was close to Hamilton in P1, just 0.002 seconds behind Vettel in P2 and further off the pace (half a second) in P3, but that may’ve been a fuel effect. He’s 8 for the win, despite starting second. So far this year he’s been steady rather than spectacular but hasn’t slipped down the grid or made any real errors. Both Vettel and Webber are scarcely over 3 for the win, whereas 2nd placed Rosberg is 8. I think that’s too long, and I’m going to back him.

I’ve had a quick look back at the two starts thus far, and Kubica has been aggressive both times, and overtook a couple of cars at the start of Australia. He’s 5.6 for a podium, longer than Hamilton, and I’m going to back that as well. It’s easy to forget that Kubica was the third challenger in 2008, and is a very good driver. In favour of both driver bets is the reliability problem Red Bull have been suffering, which hopefully will assist Rosberg and Kubica.

Of those, the most confident I feel about is the safety car, though, sadly, the odds are pretty poor. I’ve put half my usual stake on the two position bets (Rosberg to win, Kubica to get a podium) due to the difficult rain issue. I was considering sitting the race out, like Nigel, but even if all my bets fail I’ll still be ahead, and I’m not sure having regular tipping columns without tips makes sense.

That said, the rain makes this a very difficult race to call, so the cautious may prefer to sit it out.

So, let’s hope the race starts under a safety car, the Red Bulls take each other off during the restart and Kubica passes everyone except Rosberg. Regardless of the way that things play out, the race should be very entertaining and unpredictable.

Morris Dancer

Malaysia: pre-qualifying

Rain may be the single biggest factor in Malaysia. Last season it was so torrential the race had to be stopped halfway through and half-points were doled out. This may present an opportunity for wise (and perhaps numerous) tyre changes, as well as making it likelier that a safety car will be needed.

But, before we get into that, here’s how practice went.

A dry session which saw McLaren and Mercedes do very well, with Hamilton leading followed by Rosberg and Button, with Schumacher in 4th. Kubica and Sutil were 5th and 7th respectively, and the Ferraris seemed a bit off the pace, Alonso coming 8th and Massa 11th.

Also dry, which may make predicting the race or qualifying tricky if either is wet. Once again, Hamilton topped the timesheets, with Vettel in second, followed by Rosberg, Button and Schumacher (identical to P1 save for Vettel coming 2nd). However, both Red Bulls had reliability issues, with an engine/gearbox problem (probably) for Webber and power steering issues for Vettel. Alonso was 7th and Massa 15th. Kubica came 6th and Sutil 10th.

Webber led, followed very closely by Hamilton, who was just ahead of Vettel. Button came 4th followed by Schumacher, Rosberg and Massa came in 8th. Barrichello, Kubica and Sutil came I in the 9th to 11th spots.

Weather forecasts:

BBC – heavy rain showers
Wunderground – 40% chance of a thunderstorm at 5pm, 30% chance at 2pm – rain showers

So, it looks like rain is a distinct possibility for qualifying, but not an absolute guarantee. The effects of rain should be borne in mind for qualifying bets, but shouldn’t be the sole factor considered.

I’m backing Hamilton for pole. He topped two sessions and came a very close second in P3. He’s also good in the wet, and probably feels he has something to prove after Australia. I’ve backed him at 5.6, and would readily take 5 or over [does make me wonder whether I should’ve just backed him after P2 when he was 6.8 though].

I’ve also laid Massa to get into Q3. Bit risky, but on average worth it, I feel. He was 11th, 15th and 8th, which average between 11th and 12th. Laid him at 1.18 after P2, though presently he doesn’t have good lay odds. I’d try to lay at 1.2 or less, if possible, and wouldn’t go over 1.3.

Other bets I looked at were laying Vettel at 2.4 for pole or backing Webber at about 7. Decided against both because Vettel has done very well in qualifying, despite his car consistently exploding in-race, and Webber has less chance than Hamilton despite being fastest in P3 (he came 6th, and 20th earlier).

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, some cars will go off at turn 11 and escape the rather feeble gravel trap there, as many have during practice. Be interesting to see if the Red Bulls get through without any issues.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on qualifying, hopefully one or both will come good. It starts at 9am UK time, hence the earliness of this article.

Morris Dancer

Friday, 2 April 2010

Crystal Ball gazing: Adjusting for "house effects" in polls

What I'm aiming to do here is to look at the hypothesis that you can adjust polls for "house effects" (assumed systematic bias between pollsters) by adding or subtracting a given number from the various shares. It's been suggested in a few places that I've seen, some of which have been linked to on pbc by Rod.

Firstly, a confession: I don't believe that adjusting polls between pollsters by simply adding a constant is a realistic way of doing business. Simply put, I do not accept that you can convert polls with different weightings, question design, spiral of silence adjustments/lack of same, different sampling techniques (internet versus phone) , turnout filters, and so on between each other by the simple addition of a constant. Go over to UKPolling report and open the YouGov and ICM polling charts over the entire parliament in different tabs. Click between them. If you could do as described, the lines would simply shift up or down by a constant amount each time. They don't - in periods when YouGov's Tory share is high, it is higher than ICM's. When it is low, it is lower. The same (in reverse) for the Labour share. I could bite if it were some kind of multiplicative transform - but the simple addition of a constant doesn't work.

At least, not over a long timeframe with significantly varying levels of true support, changing between demographics. However, I will reluctantly accept that the technique may give useful data over shorter timeframes, as long as there are no large changes in support and the methodology within polling houses is invariant. Mainly because when I tried it, it came up with fairly consistent results. Plus, I did use a variant of this technique to predict the 2008 Mayoral Election results and it seemed to work quite well (although there was a significant amount of "educated guesswork" on weightings, and what I believe was a considerable dollop of old-fashioned luck). So just because I think that the technique shouldn't work, doesn't mean that I should disregard it in reality. This is in the nature of musing out loud - trying it to see if it can work.

So, bearing in mind that I'm cynical about the technique and I look on it as questionable (albeit arguably valid over timeframes with minor shifts) - what are sensible conversion constants?

We have one advantage right now - YouGov (regardless of what you may think of its weightings) is polling nearly every day, giving a consistent baseline against which to measure other polls (using the latest YouGov methodology since the daily polls began). Ignore conversions from last year or the year before - the support levels and demographics were different for certain.


I assumed that we can look at the polls over March as being consistent both internally (no major methodology changes) and as reflecting a level of support that hasn't changed too much in terms of where the support comes from. This gave 22 YouGov polls, 5 ICM polls, 4 Opinium polls, 4 Harris, 2 Angus Reid (old methodology), 2 BPIX, 1 Ipsos-Mori, 1 ComRes, 1 TNS-BMRB and 0 Populus polls. Unfortunately, small sample sizes for most. The small samples are aided somewhat by the flood of YouGov polls - in most cases, the comparisons can be made between 2 flanking YouGovs sandwiching the poll we're trying to compare against. Extending back to 25 Feb gives an extra ComRes and Opinium and 2 more YouGovs without the methodologies changing, so it's worth looking at those four days for baselining.

Comparing adjacent polls, we get a "conversion constant" of:

TABLE 1 - "BEST DATA" (8 - 9 comparisons possible)
YouGov --> ICM: Con +2 Lab -1 LD +1
YouGov --> Opinium: Con -0.5 Lab -3.5 LD -2
YouGov --> Harris: Con -1.5 Lab -4 LD -1
(These mean that - for example - to convert a YouGov poll in March into an equivalent ICM one, add 2 points to the Con score, take one off the Labour score and add one to the Lib Dem score. It won't be exact always - the statistical noise that's reflected in the MoE means that two ICM polls conducted simultaneously would probably have slightly different scores - but it will tend to be very close and the differences should tend to balance out over time)

TABLE 2 - "WEAK DATA" (3-4 comparisons possible, 2 polls only available for each)
YouGov --> Angus Reid: Con +2 Lab -6.5 LD +1
YouGov --> ComRes: Con -1 Lab -2 LD +2
YouGov --> BPIX: Con -1.5 Lab +0 LD +1

For Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB, only one poll from each company was available - and trying to make a comparison off of that would be way too far. Table 2 is weak enough. No Populus polls were available for comparison.

So far, so good - although even the "best data" table is weak statistically and the "weak data" is very weak. So we try to improve them - by cross-reference to the strongest data we've got. Can we cross-refer ICM polls (9 comparisons with YouGov from 5 published ICM polls) to the other data and compare with the YouGov comparisons? Well, for this, I'm going to have to extend the baseline because ICM polls haven't been nearly as frequent as YouGov ones. However, as ICM are famously constant methodologically and the shift since January hasn't been that big, we'll have a look. Extending the ICM comparison baseline to the start of the year provides 6 Angus Reid polls for comparison to ICM, 3 Comres polls, 3 Ipsos-Mori, 2 Populus, 2 BPIX and 2 TNS-BMRB.

From looking at these, the Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB don't make very good comparisons. both are more volatile in comparison to ICM than the others (Mori especially) and the agreement with the ICM and YouGov referents is poor. My call is that my initial caveat on comparisons via an addition of a constant is too strong for these methodological differences.

The Angus Reid (old methodology), ComRes and BPIX comparisons with ICM, however, marry up very well with their comparisons with YouGov:

TABLE 3: (ICM conversions to pollster, with YouGov-derived expectations for ICM conversions in brackets)

ICM --> Angus Reid: Con +0.5 (+0) Lab -5 (-5.5) LD +0 (+0)
ICM --> ComRes: Con -2.5 (-3) Lab +0 (-1) LD +1 (+1)
ICM --> BPIX: Con -3 (-3.5) Lab +1 (+1) LD +0.5 (+0)

In most cases, there were still more comparisons possible with YouGov polls, and as the baseline is taken over a shorter period, the YouGov comparison is taken as the figure with the ICM comparison being a "sanity check".

ICM --> Populus is far harder due to poor co-location of polls. Looking over the entire Parliament (with consistent methodologies), I am pulled more and more to the null hypothesis for this one. Conversion constant of 0 for each figure is postulated.
Overall, the data is still fairly weak statistically, but worth raising for discussion purposes. It means that we can convert any polls to any desired company (out of YouGov (since the methodology change), ICM, ComRes, ARPO, Harris, Opinium, BPIX and Populus) - but only while there's no big shifts in sentiment.

Which is nice. But bear in mind those great big caveats. But bearing them in mind, let's convert all the March polls (less the non-convertable Mori and TNS-BMRB) to "ICM-equivalent" polls and see how things stand:

Looking at the actual figures:

Looks reasonable (ones with asterisks are real ICM polls, all others are polls from others "converted" into "ICM-equivalent" polls). How about smoothing it a bit? It's actually an ideal candidate for using a Kalman filter (such as SampleMiser), because it's (now) all from "one pollster". You won't get the artifacts created by attempting the equivalent of sensor fusion without compensating for systematic errors. However, I'm a bit short on time (trawling through for 40-odd polls worth of sample sizes will take ages - I'll do it some other time, when I've got a few more spare hours. What I've done is weight them similarly to how Anthony Wells does it, but with a faster fall-off (his technique has polls drop off after 21 days - I'm having them fall off faster and drop off after 6 days). The weighting is: 1.0 for completion of fieldwork, 0.95 for day after, 0.9 for two days after, 0.8 for 3 days after, 0.6 for 4 days after, 0.2 for 5 days after, disregarded after 6 days. This gives:

Table of figures:

Looking at this, I'd say that Brown's best shots to minimise Cameron's chances/number of seats/probability of a majority would (inevitably) have been 25th March ...
The Lib Dems seem to have a decent trend developing, however. It's very close to the 40/30/20 meme.

One final caveat - although we are (due to ICM's record) using ICM as the yardstick, it's very apparent that the different models are in fact measuring subtly different things. We've got the "newcomers", who tend to bring up larger scores for "Others". We've got YouGov and BPIX tending to one end of the spectrum on Labour leads, and Angus Reid and Opinium tending to the other side, with Harris, ICM, Populus and ComRes in between. We've got TNS-BMRB and Ipsos-Mori using a non-politically weighted paradigm with harsh turnout filters. In fact, we've got more variety of approaches now than I can recall, so it's a guess, really, to decide which approach to measure against.

And, of course, bear in mind that the additive constant might shift over time as the distribution of support changes - so the methodological differences between pollsters means that the models change differently. Nevertheless, for March alone, it does look like it works acceptably.

How to win a general election in one easy step : Wait!

By all expectations, on Tuesday morning Gordon Brown will travel to the Palace, seek the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament and then announce the worst kept secret in British politics since the fact that he was going to be the next Prime Minister after Tony Blair by calling the general election and with the polls pointing to a hung parliament you might think that would be the end result? Not in the slightest! Every campaign since 1992 has seen really quite marked movements between the start of the campaign and the final result and these changes could have a massive impact on your betting strategy.

In 1992, the last poll before the election was called put Labour 3% ahead, but as the campaign ended Labour was only 1% ahead, the exit poll put the Conservatives 4% ahead and as we know on the night the Conservatives ended 8% ahead, a swing of 5.5% from Labour to Conservative during the course of the campaign. But it wasn't just 1992!

General Election 1997
Pre Election Poll: Lab lead of 29%
Last Campaign Poll: Lab lead of 14%
Exit Poll: Lab lead of 17%
Final Result: Lab lead of 11%
Swing during campaign: Lab to Con of 9%

General Election 2001
Pre Election Poll: Lab lead of 22%
Last Campaign Poll: Lab lead of 17%
Exit Poll: Lab lead of 12.5%
Final Result: Lab lead of 9%
Swing during campaign: Lab to Con of 6.5%

General Election 2005
Pre Election Poll: Lab lead of 6%
Last Campaign Poll: Lab lead of 5%
Exit Poll: Lab lead of 4%
Final Result: Lab lead of 3%
Swing during campaign: Lab to Con of 1.5%

So with the average of this morning's polls indicating a Con lead of 7%, and over the last four elections an average swing to Con of 5.5% during the campaign, that suggests a Con lead of 18% (and all the suggestions of a Conservative landslide of almost Blairesque proportions suddenly became a reality again)