Friday, 28 December 2012

2013: unlucky for whom?

So, what lies ahead for politics in 2013?  Pausing only to admire my willingness to have a go, given my mediocre track record in predictions, let's get stuck in. 

The current state of play

Where are we now?  For this, I can borrow wholesale from my summary from last year.

1. The public doesn't approve of the Coalition.
2. The public doesn't much like David Cameron.
3. The public really doesn't like Nick Clegg.
4. The public doesn't rate Ed Miliband either.
5. The public doesn't like the EU. Surveys show that more people want to leave the EU than remain in it.
6. In fact, it's very hard to find anyone or anything at all that the public approves of right now.  (Apart from the Queen and the Royal Family.  The public love the Queen.)

But some things have changed a bit.  Ed Miliband isn't disliked as much as he was a year ago, while the gilt has continued to come off David Cameron's gingerbread (though David Cameron and George Osborne retain a substantial lead on economic trust over the two Eds).  Boris Johnson had a gala year, but has ended it with his star dimmed in the eyes of the headbangers because of his apostasy on matters connected to the EU.  Alex Salmond had a pretty mediocre year on the UK stage, saved only by the dismal quality of his Scottish opponents.  The suspicion persists that he's a flat track bully, too easily found out when he tries to take the step up against more serious opposition.   And UKIP have definitely taken a step forward this year, consistently polling near or ahead of the Lib Dems in the polls, and having made some impact in by-elections.   Economically, Britain had a pretty dismal year.  The best that can be said is that some other countries had grimmer years.  But it was not a land of milk and honey.  Employment is rising, unemployment is falling, but real incomes continue to decline.  Growth remains fragile and the deficit remains stubbornly high.    On the plus side, the Eurozone did not collapse.  That's a much bigger achievement than seems to be acknowledged.  It is leading to a financial union of the Eurozone, with Britain on the outside.  The implications of this have not begun to be understood either in Britain or in the rest of the EU.   So, what's next?   Last year, I concluded that when no one commands public support, the public follow Newton's First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them.  I stand by this judgement.   If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures.  Or, as happened this year, where one of the parties scores an own goal.
2013 has fewer set piece big events than 2012 that can already be foreseen, but three stand out as of particular importance:

1. The fiscal cliff

As I write, the news media are full of stories of the Republicans and Barack Obama's failure so far to agree on how to avoid the fiscal cliff leading to a massive tightening of US policy.  Whether or not agreement is reached by 1 January 2013 (I doubt it), some form of resolution will ultimately be reached, largely on Barack Obama's terms - because he's won the battle of public opinion in the USA and the Republicans will need to avoid lasting blame.  This is likely to have a very substantial impact on the debate in the UK on the proper treatment of deficit reduction vs growth.  This could be shaped by either George Osborne or Ed Balls in their favour if grasped quickly.

In practice, I expect neither to gain a competitive advantage by themselves, which means that the media will be decisive.  I expect that on balance the press will regard this as giving more weight to Ed Balls's "too far too fast" narrative, which may in turn mean that Labour gain some points in economic credibility.

2 The Royal baby

In the summer, assuming that the Royal pregnancy proceeds as we all hope, we shall succumb to Royal baby mania.  Republicans may wish to check likely dates in order to book their holidays now.

While this story is not of direct political relevance, the papers are likely to spend some time considering the prospects for children born today.  The coalition looks weak on family-friendliness.  This may in turn give a nudge in Labour's favour.

3. The German election

Germany will hold its federal elections in September or October.  At present, Angela Merkel looks likely to win.  But whoever wins, the new Government will be ready to take a more dynamic position regarding the Eurozone and its future.  The end of the year is likely to be taken up (again) with interminable discussions about the future of the EU, and Britain's place in it.  I'm sure you can't wait.

More generally, there is no obvious sign that Britain's economy is going to start improving dramatically any time soon.    There are a few recent signs that George Osborne is getting better at expectations management.

North of the border, the debate over Scottish independence will continue.  To date, the NO side has been very effective with its message of fear, uncertainty and doubt, aided by some entirely avoidable blunders by the SNP.


OK, time to bite the bullet.  In a year where there are relatively few British political events scheduled, I suppose it should be harder to get too much wrong (famous last words).

Labour will keep and perhaps increase its lead in the polls

If the economy doesn't improve, faith in the coalition's policies will continue to wane.  I have already noted two reasons why Labour may get additional support in the polls, and neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems are doing particularly well at media management, to say the least.  Labour are not doing anything brilliant, and the public are not going to fall in love with them, but there aren't too many options out there for the disaffected, and Labour remains the obvious one.

UKIP will rise further in the polls

The EU is going to be in the news a lot this year, from discussions about Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, Croatia's accession on 1 July (another country to supply immigrants?), budgets, fiscal union and its consequences to Britain's role in the new European order.  Aided and abetted by the continuing hysteria of the Tory right acting as a fifth column, UKIP will pick up its share of the disaffected.  Nothing David Cameron can say or do will ever satisfy the hardliners, of course.

But don't expect major changes in the identity of Britain's politicians

This will be another year where our top politicians stay put.  Barring mortality, personal decision or unforeseen scandal, all three party leaders look safe enough for the coming year.  David Cameron is likely to come under most pressure, but in the absence of a remotely credible rival, he should be safe enough (even in the Conservative party, which is addicted to plotting).

The Cabinet is unlikely to undergo a major reshuffle (it's too complicated and anyway David Cameron doesn't seem to believe in reshuffling endlessly).  Will Andrew Mitchell or Chris Huhne return?  Chris Huhne will have firmer party support if he rebuts the charges against him, but it would be easier to accommodate Andrew Mitchell (there are more Conservatives in Cabinet to eject).  In practice, I expect both will find their political aspirations in 2013 progressing outside the Cabinet, unless others blot their copybook and create the necessary space.

The cause of Scottish independence will continue to languish

2012 showed that the SNP are nowhere near ready enough with their ideas as to what an independent Scotland would look like, or even what the route to independence would look like.  Unless they can get a grip on this very quickly in 2013, the public will decide that it's all just too big a gamble.  Since there is no sign at present of them doing so, I expect the polls to look pretty dreary for the independence cause.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

antifrank verdict: could do better

For the last two years, I've made predictions about the year ahead.  It's important to see how these have panned out.  This year, well...

Here was the original piece:

Looking back, there is much to approve of in the original analysis.  The terrain at the end of 2011 seems well mapped and the grid for 2012 covers all the main foreseeable events.  So the predictions should be good, yes?  Ahem, let's see.

Boris will probably win the Mayoral election, but it will be a lot tighter than is currently assumed

Well, that's a good start.  Boris did indeed win by a tight margin. 

Polling this time next year won't be far off what it is now

Not so good.  At the end of last year, Labour and the Conservatives were both in the high 30s or early 40s, while the Lib Dems were languishing around the 10% mark.  The current UK Polling Report average is Con 31/32 (UK Polling Report itself doesn't seem sure), Lab 42, LD 9.  There has been a sharp swing to Labour from the Conservatives.

With the best will in the world, you couldn't say that polling isn't far off what it was last year.  (Except for the Lib Dems, who seem comatose.)  Why was I wrong?

I spotted the risk myself, and highlighted it twice:

"The net effect of all of this, when no one commands public support, seems to be that the public are following Newton's First Law of Motion, proceeding in a straight line with no outside force operating on them.

If this is correct, then we should not expect events by themselves to make much difference until sections of the public are persuaded from their current default settings by the analysis of those events put forward by one or more public figures."

"The public seems to have formed settled views of the respective merits of the three main parties. In the absence of anything persuading them to take a fresh look, they probably won't change their opinions."

What changed the public's mind?  This is easy: the Budget.  Whatever the economic rights and wrongs of the Budget, politically it was a disaster for the Conservatives.  A section of the public concluded that the rich were getting the gravy while the poor were getting the blame.  Labour's support rose accordingly.

If my comments last year about the public's detachment from politicians is correct, this may prove a major problem for the Conservatives in the year ahead.  There's no obvious reason why this polling should change.

Politicians will mostly stay put

Not too bad, I suppose.  Generally, that was correct.  The party leaders are, as I expected, in situ. 

The Cabinet went through some change, but it was quite limited, considering that it was a reshuffle year.  I named four potential departures, of whom two are no longer in the Cabinet (Caroline Spelman and Kenneth Clarke).

Chris Huhne eventually had to step down when charged and Andrew Mitchell resigned over plebgate.   Andrew Mitchell to me was the outlier - his formal offence was not particularly egregious.  But what he was accused of was resonant.

I note that John Bercow is still in office.  What a pity there was nowhere to bet on that being so.

The minor parties will continue to miss trick after trick...

You'd have to be charitable to give me many marks for that prediction.  UKIP now appear, despite their best efforts, to be taking tricks at the end of the year.   Is this a temporary phenomenon?  We'll know more in 2013.

... except for the SNP

The SNP has done OK, but it hasn't been as good a year for the SNP as 2011.  Through self-inflicted wounds, blood has been drawn.  Alex Salmond has looked slippery and the SNP's independence proposition has looked flaky at times.  But as 2012 closes, the SNP still look the dominant force in Scottish politics.

Undaunted by my mediocre predictions, I shall have another go for 2013 before the year closes.


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

2012 Season Review (Betting)

This year's been pretty good. Excepting 2009, when I got a 70/1 tip right and got about 4 tips right for Monza (still my best race to date), it's been the best season so far. It's also the best full season (my tipping in 2009 was patchier than a pirate's face).

On the whole, as you'd expect, I'm pretty happy with how things went. However, there are still some areas for improvement. I've still got a bad habit of starting a season poorly and now have a tradition of a second half dip in form. That said, I finished ahead on race bets (both ways), qualifying bets (both ways), title bets and on the 2013 drivers' market (the latter two were not tipped specifically in my pb2 articles so I won't go into them too much).

The latter half of the season began fairly well, but from Singapore to India I endured four successive red races. A small part of that can be ascribed to bad luck. I certainly benefited from good luck at other times, but Alonso's failure to score a Japanese podium was probably due to the racing incident with Raikkonen. Mostly, I was just getting things a bit wrong.

Interestingly, hedging was much better in the first half of the season but worse in the second half. After 2011, when not hedging was approximately twice as profitable over the full year, this points to me getting more things nearly right. Happily, the season was slightly better (without hedging) than last and significantly better (with hedging) than 2011. Over the full season you would be slightly better off hedging your bets.

There was a substantial difference in the qualifying/racing split as well. They were almost exactly even for non-hedging, but with hedging my race profits were well over twice my qualifying profits (hedged qualifying profits were about two-thirds non-hedged qualifying profits, and hedged race profits were close to twice non-hedged race profits).

Qualifying was slightly odd. I got three tips wrong, then three right, then four wrong. The reason for only tipping at half the sessions was largely due to timezone issues (I like to see what P3 is like) and occasionally due to uncertainty/cowardice, perhaps related to weather. Laying Alonso at 1.14 in Valencia/Europe to reach Q3 was perhaps my favourite, and most profitable, tip of the year. Little bit lucky as he was very close, but some close calls didn't go my way.

Racing was generally more reliable, after the initial dodgy start and the late season slump mentioned above. On a hedged basis, from China to Belgium (11 races) I got at least one tip right and from Bahrain to Belgium (10 races) I only made two losses, one of which was of 50p (assuming £10 stakes). The other loss, Europe, coincided with my Alonso tip so the weekend remained green.

The green line (tips offered by commenters) did not go well. However, I think that's largely due to the way I structured it (opt-out, and with no hedging). It's also the case that if Mr. Putney had tipped his insurance-style bet on Button in Interlagos I think that would've put the green line into profitability.

Next year I'll listen to what the regulars want regarding the green line. My thoughts are to either axe it, or include it separately, make it opt-in and allow for hedges.

There were also several bets that I didn't tip. This was usually due to lack of liquidity, instant buyer's remorse or a sly early bet to try and see how it went. Alas, they did not end well and overall I finished behind on these.

Title bets, thanks to Abu Dhabi, went alright, with a green finish for Top 3 Raikkonen and Vettel getting the title. I cocked up regarding the Constructors', when I laid Red Bull when it seemed they'd get trounced by McLaren.

I also finished ahead on the 2013 drivers' market. I backed Massa at 4 after he got a podium in Japan, and backed four different drivers to replace Hamilton. Thankfully, Perez was at 9 so that ended quite nicely.

I'm pretty content with the season as a whole, but a bit displeased with the mid-season slump. Next year I plan on looking at the first race of the past few seasons and seeing how they panned out. I don't plan on betting on the 2013 title as yet, but suspect Perez and Raikkonen could offer the best odds right now.

So, let me know what you made of the bets this year, and what you think I should do regarding the green line.

Morris Dancer

Monday, 3 December 2012

2012 Season Review (Racing)

Although the last quarter turned into a little bit of a Red Bull procession, the season as a whole was the most exciting and unpredictable I think I can remember. I've decided to chop the season up into uneven quarters to look back on it. The first section covers the initial fly away races, and the second is from the early season break to the mid-season interval. The third covers the three following races, and the fourth quarter covers the three pairs of back-to-back races with which we ended the season.

Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain

The start of the season was ominous for everyone except McLaren. In Oz, they locked out the front row in qualifying and got first and third in the race. It would've been a 1-2 but the safety car came out at exactly the wrong moment which meant a back-to-back pit stop enabled Vettel to leapfrog Hamilton.

In Malaysia it was a wetter than a pair of mermaids in a bath. In the rain the Ferrari's lack of pace mattered less and the team executed its strategy perfectly to give Alonso the win. Perez had a stonking race and came second, but had the speed to win it had he not slid near the end.

China saw a third team and driver win the third race. Rosberg got a great pole and win, and the Mercedes was miles faster than all others. Schumacher's bad luck continued, as the team forgot to put all four wheels on during his pit stop. But for that a podium was possible. Behind Rosberg were the two McLarens, suggesting the soggy Malaysia might've been a weather-related blip.

Bahrain, most controversial race on the calendar, saw another surprising race. Vettel got the win after qualifying on pole and the Lotus team had a great weekend with a double podium result. Hamilton could only manage eighth and Button didn't even score due to reliability failure.

After the first four races, which saw four different teams and drivers win, it still seemed that McLaren were the team to beat, but for pit stop problems and the odd breakdown.

Spain to Hungary

Spain saw a comedy of errors (not enough fuel) relegate Hamilton from a deserved pole to last on the grid. This pushed Maldonado to pole and Alonso to second, which was also where they finished. The race displayed just how great the Williams has been this year, and Maldonado, lacking much contact (in both senses of the word) with other traffic showed his raw pace to take a fantastic win. The McLarens had a race to forget, coming 8th and 9th.

I predicted a Rosberg pole in Monaco, but it was Schumacher who had the fastest qualifying time. Alas, he was put down 5 places due to hitting Senna in Spain so it was Webber and Rosberg on the front row. They finished where they started, with Alonso getting third. After this, it was strictly downhill for the Silver Arrows.

Canada was a terrific race. It started Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, but the McLaren driver opted for a two-stop strategy and his rivals one stop. It looked like it could go either way, but by the end it was clear Hamilton not only had probably the fastest race pace anyway, he also had the right strategy. Late, forced pit stops put Vettel and Alonso off the podium, where Grosjean and Perez enjoyed Hamilton's company.

Valencia was weird, because it's almost always tedious, but this year was phenomenal. Vettel was fastest in qualifying and ahead by miles in the race, but a reliability failure cost him a certain victory. Alonso qualified a feeble 11th, but rose through the field to eventually claim the 25 points and, with Raikkonen and Schumacher joining him on the podium, it was like 2006. Hamilton had the pace for many points, but a collision with a vindictive Maldonado cost him any hope of them.

In British qualifying the soggy weather favoured Ferrari, but he and Webber swapped the 1st and 2nd places in the race (Webber seems to excel in the UK). Vettel and Massa followed, and McLaren were just 8th and 10th.

Germany saw Alonso start and finish first. This was probably Ferrari's most competitive period in terms of pace. It was also fantastic for Sauber, who rose from 12th and 17th to 4th and 6th.

Hungary saw the resurgence of McLaren dominance with Hamilton qualifying and finishing first. The Lotuses got 2nd and 3rd, with Vettel and Alonso following.

At the mid-season interval which followed Hungary it appeared that McLaren had the fastest car, but a series of errors (including in pit stops) meant that they were not cruising to either title. Red Bull had suffered some reliability failures, but Ferrari and Lotus were solid and fast, though probably behind the other two top teams.

Belgium to Singapore

Memories of Belgium are dominated, naturally, by Grosjean's massive and entirely unnecessary crash at the start which wiped out multiple cars. However, in racing terms Button enjoyed a great pole and a dominant victory. Vettel and Raikkonen joined him on the podium, with Hulkenberg scoring an impressive 4th.

In Italy the McLarens continued their supremacy and locked out the front row, with the Red Bulls 6th and 12th and the Ferraris 3rd and 10th. Hamilton won the race, with Perez climbing from 13th to 2nd and Alonso from 10th to 3rd. Neither Red Bull finished, with Vettel suffering another alternator failure.

Singapore proved boring, and also that whilst the McLaren was very fast it was also fragile. Hamilton retired from certain victory, gifting the win to Vettel. Button and Alonso followed, and Di Resta's 4th suggests that Force India's development was perhaps the most impressive of the midfield teams.

Japan to Brazil

The last six races of the season were three pairs of back-to-back races.

Japan was a very different story to recent races. Red Bull upgrades gave them the front row and although Webber was taken out early on Vettel cruised to a seemingly effortless win. Alonso was also taken out early on in a racing incident, but Massa's strong 2nd suggests his team mate could have done very well otherwise. It was very nice to see Kobayashi on the podium at his home race, especially as it may be his last season in the sport.

In Korea Red Bull started and finished 1st and 2nd, albeit swapping in the race so that Vettel claimed the win. Some serious bad luck (a mechanical failure and then getting some astroturf snagged on his bodywork) really hampered Hamilton, who managed the greatest 10th place finish of the season. The Ferraris finished 3 and 4, but Massa was so fast that, all else being equal, he probably could've beaten Alonso.

India saw the once unpredictable season continue to dissolve in Vettel's dominance, as he claimed the pole and then the win, his fourth in a row. Alonso grabbed 2nd but the McLarens finished only 4th and 5th.

Abu Dhabi, like Valencia, is a normally tedious circuit that was fantastic this year, partly because Vettel also lacked fuel (as per Hamilton in Spain) and ended up starting from the pit lane. Despite this, and aided by some monumental luck regarding safety cars, he managed to drive through the field to 3rd, finishing right behind Alonso. Hamilton would've racked up another victory had his car not failed, which gave Raikkonen not only the prize for most entertaining radio messages of the year but also his first victory since his return.

It was the first race at the new Circuit of the Americas, and it proved to be a cracker (if hard to follow on the radio). Vettel and Hamilton were in a league of their own, but this time it was the Briton who came out on top, passing Vettel on the track to seal a famous (and back-to-back) win in America. Alonso got 3rd, his best realistic position, and Massa continued his strong form with 4th.

Interlagos is perhaps my favourite circuit, and the first two blistering laps showed why. The Ferraris leapt up the field, the McLarens drove away from everyone else, several cars crashed out and Vettel was spun and 22nd of 22 running cars within half a lap. Raikkonen took a long detour, presumably hunting for a pub, and Hulkenberg was unfortunate to slide a short way into Hamilton, earning himself a drive-through penalty and ending the Briton's race. Button finished second only to the safety car, and Alonso's 2nd was not good enough to overturn Vettel's substantial points advantage.

Season ebbs and flows

McLaren should be the most disappointed team on the grid. At the very start, very end and middle of the season they had the fastest car, sometimes by a considerable margin. A combination of poor pit stops, fragile reliability and Button losing lots of pace mid-season cost them any shot at either title. For them, it was the equivalent of confidently wandering into an 18th century duel with a sub-machinegun and then leaving the safety on and getting a musket ball in the face.

Red Bull should be pretty happy (unsurprisingly, they won both titles for the third consecutive year). Early on their car was fairly quick but not the fastest, but around Singapore a significant upgrade gave them the best car by miles for the next few races.

Ferrari are harder to assess because their initial car was absolutely abysmal. However, in the early mid-season break they brought a very good set of updates which closed the gap to the frontrunners significantly. Around Germany/UK they were competitive at the sharp end in the race, but subsequently the updates were too infrequent and simply didn't bring enough (if any) extra speed. Wind tunnel woe continues to afflict the team.

Looking ahead to 2013

The car matters more than the driver (cf Hamilton this year). There are probably four teams capable of producing a title-winning car:

Red Bull - have the best recent record by a mile, and Vettel really knows how to use it. Webber was ahead of him mid-2012, but was unable to get the best out of the updated, faster car. Hard to see Webber beating his team mate.

Ferrari - Massa's shown a resurgence in form, but Alonso is the only man at the team permitted victory. The prancing horse has started most recent seasons in quite a lame fashion, but Alonso drove a fantastic season. If they can put together a competitive car from the off he would stand an excellent chance of taking the title.

McLaren - fast but fragile at times this year. They need more reliability, both in the car and in the pit stops. Button and Perez are both fast drivers, but the former struggles if the car isn't spot on and the latter will be new to a top team. I don't read much into Perez's failure to score points for the last X races of 2012, as he had a few dry spells earlier in the season too.

Lotus - their car this year was very reliable and often got their drivers on the podium, but they need a bit of extra oomph to really challenge for the title. New sponsor Burn (like Red Bull but made by Coca-Cola) may give them the cash to develop the car a bit more. Raikkonen proved ultra-reliable and generally fast, but Grosjean needs to sort his head out. The Frenchman's amiable and quick but needs a cooler head on his shoulders.

It also depends on how the various teams stack up. If one gets an advantage and the others are all a close second this'll allow the leader to just drive off into the distance, as per 2011. If they're all highly competitive at the same level the title race could be close for a long time, as happened this year.

I do not advocate betting on the title at this stage, unless you can get silly odds on Vettel, Alonso, Button, Perez or Raikkonen.

The betting review, which will be rather shorter, will be up fairly soon.

Morris Dancer