Archive for May, 2005

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The French EU referendum – it’s down to turnout

Friday, May 27th, 2005

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    Is this an election for punters to avoid?

With the polls showing that 54-55% of French people say they will vote no in the EU constitutional referendum on Sunday the best price you can get on this outcome is 3/10 on.

There are two main spread-betting markets operating :- IG Index have 47-49% on the proportion voting YES. Confusingly the Spreadfair market is on the proportion voting NO where the latest spread is 52-53.9% .

Any deviation from what the polls are showing might come from the make-up of those saying they want to reject the reforms. From a UK polling perspective the sections of society most opposed are those who would be less likely to vote in an election. It is hard to know whether the same applies in France.

    Our guess is that the result will be closer than the polls are showing but we are not betting on it.

The political fall-out across Europe of a French rejection followed four days later by a similar vote in the Netherlands is likely to be enormous. By Thursday morning the constitution might look dead whatever its protagonists say about waiting to see what each of the member states does. The French and the Dutch were amongst the original six members of the EEC and are still very much at the heart of Europe.

In the UK the votes could not come at a more interesting time for the Next Tory leader election because the party has been totally divided by Europe ever since Denmark voted against the Maastricht treaty in 1992. It was the Danish vote almost exactly thirteen years ago that gave heart to the Europhobe wing of the Conservative party and caused all the problems for John Major.

Mike Smithson



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Could this man be the next President of the United States?

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

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Barack Obama – 3rd favourite for the Democratic nomination

Over the past few months there has been growing speculation that Barack Obama, a Senator from Illinois, might be the Democrat contender for the White House. He came to prominence with a major speech at the party Convention in Boston last July and in recent weeks has become third favourite in the betting behind Hilary Clinton and John Edwards. The best price you can get is 8/1.

But a better long-shot bet might be the 50/1 that’s available on him going all the way and becoming George Bush’s successor at the White House. We normally do not like these long-distance bets where the only purpose seems to aid the cash-flow of the bookie. In this case we think it might be worth a small punt.

In a profile in the Independent David Usborne had a good description of the rising expectations that Obama might be the man.

….Obama, a lanky man with distractingly long fingers and a narrow face that looks younger than his 43 years, is suddenly one of the brightest and most promising stars in the American political firmament. It really started at the Democrat’s national convention in Boston last summer. The speech he delivered in praise of the party’s presidential candidate, John Kerry, galvanised delegates and captivated reporters. “Political poetry”, gushed one CNN commentator. One line rang in the hall the longest. It was the one about the hope “of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too”. Himself, in other words.If he had any doubt that such a place existed, it was surely eased a few months later. Kerry did not win the White House, but Obama’s victory in Illinois was spectacular. After eight years of relative obscurity toiling in the state legislature, he defeated his Republican opponent in the Senate race by a landslide. With 70 per cent of the votes, he found himself singled out as just about the only good thing that happened to the Democrats in 2004..

Looking at the other possible candidates for the Democrat nomination Hilary Clinton is always going to be a divisive character and clearly is the one to beat. John Edwards is in second place in the betting but his position might have been hurt by being on the losing ticket with John Kerry last November. In this context Barack might stand a chance – just. Worth a tenner surely?

Mike Smithson



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Could Michael Howard be forced out within weeks?

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

    Is the Tory leader’s authority slipping away?

Michael Howard’s pleasure at seeing his lifelong love, Liverpool, pull off that sensational victory in the European Cup last night could be tempered by the problems in his party that are the main lead in early editions of the Daily Telegraph. This is suggesting that moves might be afoot to force him out “within weeks” and to have his successor in place by the end of July.

The report quotes an interview with a leading David Davis backer, Derek Conway, on ITV News, that many people in the party were unhappy at the prospect of Mr Howard’s staying on until December. In response to a question whether MPs were considering collecting forcing a vote of confidence Conway said: “We are counselling caution rather than action but groups of people are talking about it.”

According to the paper “worries that he was now a lame duck leader, having announced that he would go by the end of the year, were aggravated by his lacklustre performance against Tony Blair at the first Prime Minister’s question time of the new parliament.”

    As we saw with the fall of Mrs Thatcher and the downing of Ian Duncan Smith in 2003 the Conservatives are the most brutal of parties when it comes to ditching a leader.

In the Next Tory leader market an early departure for Michael Howard is most likely to benefit David Davis – although the Shadow Home Secretary has to be careful about not appearing to be the assassin. The prospective candidates most vulnerable in the current environment could be the young turks promoted after the General Election by Michael Howard.

What would be good now is a market on when Michael Howard will go.

PHONEY EMAIL ADDRESSES When you post you are asked for your email address which is not published. This allows me to contact posters directly if there are issues in relation to their comments. In future where I am unable to do this because the email address is not correct then comments might be deleted and the poster will automatically go on the moderation list and there might be a delay before they get published.

Mike Smithson



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Will David Davis be rewarded for his forbearance in 2003?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

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    Will standing aside for Howard assure him the succession?

Could the latest Conservative turmoil over the proposed changes in procedures for choosing the leader be just what David Davis needs to ensure that it is he who takes over from Michael Howard later in the year?

For his supporters, no doubt, will remind colleagues how their man’s forbearance in October and November 2003 spared the party a divisive battle that could have left big scars in the run up to the General Election. For it was his decision not to contest the leadership on the night of the confidence vote on Ian Duncan Smith that led to Michael Howard’s smooth transition.

[This move, incidentally was first revealed on the Betfair betting screens when with an hour to go before the voting closed David Davis’s price on succeeding IDS suddenly jumped from 2/1 to 10/1. Somebody who knew something at 5.30 pm made a nice profit two or three hours before David Davis’s formal statement.]

David Davis continues to be the firm favourite in the Next Tory leader market and so far few other serious challengers have emerged.

Under the proposed changes any Conservative MP who can get the support of 20 of his/her colleagues will go forward to a national convention where representatives from the grass-roots of the party will rate the candidates in order. It would then be for Conservative MPs to make the final decision. The aim is to avoid a situation where a candidate who does not have the support of colleagues in the Commons is foisted on MPs by the membership as a whole.

    But isn’t there are danger that under the proposed new system the party at large could have foisted on them a leader who doesn’t command their support?

Assuming Davis will get 20 MPs to support him then it would seem pretty likely that he’ll make the number one spot at the national convention. It’s also likely that the former Conservative Chancellor who has been rebuffed twice for the leadership, Ken Clarke, would receive a pretty low rating at this meeting because of his support for the EU. It then might be quite hard for the party’s MPs to reject the “grass-root” choice particularly after the way Michael Howard’s election worked in 2003.

The 2/1 on David Davis is a fair price.

Mike Smithson



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Make money on a Labour vote slump in South Staffs?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

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    Evens on 30% or less looks great value

With less than a month to go before the electors of South Staffordshire get their chance to vote in the 2005 General Election more betting markets have now opened on the poll, incorrectly being described as a by-election, that had to be moved back from May 5th because of the death of the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Even in the 2001 landslide the veteran Tory MP, Patrick Cormack, retained the seat with more than 50.5% of the votes ahead of Labour on 34.2% and the Lib Dems on 11.6%. If ever there was a seat that looks a Conservative certainty it’s this one although there would be nervousness if South Staffordshire was ever the subject of a mid-term by-election.

With Labour nationally having lost one seventh of its 2001 vote three weeks ago and the Lib Dems starting so far behind it is hard to see anything other than an easy Conservative victory. The betting exchange, Betfair, has not even felt it necessary to list Charles Kennedy’s party as one of the options in its market on the outcome.

So the main betting interests are on the size of the majority and how well Labour and the Conservatives will do. Skybet offer these options on the Tory vote share: 55%+ 5/4: 50-55% 13/8: less than 50% 5/2. The evens price on Labour getting a less than 30% of the votes looks really good.

  • If South Staffs follows the May 5th national swing then Labour would end up with 29.5% and you win.
  • On General Election day Labour saw its biggest vote drop in places where it did not matter – like South Staffs.
  • With no prospect of victory the party is going to find it very hard motivating its supporters and even the 29.5% May 5th projection looks optimistic.
  • Labour might be vulnerable to the Lib Dems which saw its 15.1% share in 1992 drop four points in the 1997 and 2001 landslides when the anti-Tory vote tended to concentrate on the party most likely to beat them. This could unwind.
    • All told the chances of Labour getting below the 30% level are much much better than the current odds and we think there’s money to be made. If you want to go for a higher profit at a slightly higher risk take the 5/4 against the Tories getting 55% or more.

    Whatever there are profits to be made. Bet now before the price tightens.

    Mike Smithson



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    The French Referendum: the money goes on NON

    Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

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      Could there be a late swing back to OUI?

    The latest polls showing gathering support for the NON position in the weekend referendum in France on the EU Constitution has seen sharp changes in the betting where the NON outcome is now the firm favourite.

    The best bookmaker price is 8/11 with the Betfair market showing 0.75/1. The Spreadfair spread betting exchange on the percentage the NON side will get is showing 51-51.5% – so there’s probably better value there than with the normal bookmakers.

    But a lot can happen in the final few days and with the race so close anything could still happen. Meanwhile the Telegraph reports that the leader of France’s main EU ally, the Germany’s Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, will attend a Socialist YES rally in Toulouse.

    Whether the intervention of the leader of another country will help those trying to save the constitution is a moot point. If Gerhard Schröder comes to Britiain during next year’s referendum it would, surely, be the kiss of death for those trying to get it accepted!

    Mike Smithson



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    Did the “Labour dirty tricks” film tell us anything new?

    Monday, May 23rd, 2005

      Was the billing bigger than the content?

    Over the past few days there’s been a lot of hype about tonight’s Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 in which a young worker, Jenny Kleeman (above) was “planted” in Labour’s London press office to find out how Tony Blair’s party fought the election.

    The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Labour party was ” braced for criticism” over the programme’s allegations of dirty tricks. The Telegraph focussed on the allegation that “Labour used its supporters to pose as independent members of the public during the general election campaign”

    Under the title – Dispatches: Undercover in New Labour we were promised revelations of dirty tricks. Certainly the programme makers had gone to great lengths to get their programme but did what was revealed add up to very much?

    We were told that the Labour press office sends out suggested “letters to the editor” for constituency parties to arrange to have sent to their local papers from, apparently, “ordinary members of the public”. So what?

    We were told that the happy crowds of “ordinary people” who formed the backdrop whenever Tony Blair and Gordon Brown spoke anywhere were in fact well orchestrated Labour activists. So what?

    We were told that some of the spontaneous demonstrations by members of the public that Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy had to face on the campaign trail were in fact organised by the Labour machine. So what?

      Somebody in Channel 4 should grow up. This is politics; Labour was fighting to stay in power; and there was a lot at stake. Manipulating the media and the way the campaign is presented is all part of the game.

    The only danger for the party from a programme like this is that people will be looking out for examples of manipulation next time and it might be harder to do. But that is a long way off.

    Mike Smithson



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    Did Labour lose half a million votes in the final 48 hours?

    Monday, May 23rd, 2005

      Should Tony Blair have had a positive message to close on?

    The closing two days of the campaign were dominated by Labour’s no holds barred warning of the dangers of what could happen if one in ten party supporters did not vote or supported another party. Such was the importance of getting this message across that it devoted its entire final election broadcast on the Tuesday to the subject. The emphasis was almost 100% on the negative.

      Yet looking back at the polls from the period it’s questionable whether this tough approach had the desired effect and, in fact, the opposite might have occurred.

    The final surveys by five of the six major pollsters that were completed by the Tuesday and Wednesday reported Labour leads that were the equivalent of 1.3 million to 1.56 million votes. Yet come polling day the actual margin was 784,000. These figures are huge particularly when set against the overall Labour vote total of just 9.56m

    If this had been the picture from one sort of pollster you could more easily dismiss it as being a product of the methodology employed. But the five pollsters represented the full spectrum of polling approaches with two telephone, one face to face, and two internet surveys. Also, in a big improvement on 2001, all but one of the final twelve polls had the Tories at within 1.2%, or just over 300,000 votes, of their final total.

    Of course Labour won the election and enjoy a very substantial, if reduced, majority in the Commons.

      But if Labour’s lead had been at the levels that almost all the polls were picking up within the final two days it would have had another three figure majority which was somewhat closer to the 94 seats that the spread-betting markets were predicting.

    According the Andrew Grice in the Indy at the weekend the election result has left Tony Blair “frustrated and hurt…. after failing to win as big a majority as he hoped on 5 May.” Maybe he has only himself to blame for not giving voters a more positive reason for voting Labour than just not being the Tories.

    Mike Smithson