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What if this latest from YouGov proves to be correct?

May 31st, 2017

Alastair Meeks looks at the possibilities & the bets

All the sensible people had decided.  The Conservatives’ epic leads of the early part of the election campaign may have dissipated in part, but they remained set for a hefty overall majority. Then YouGov published their first seat-by-seat estimates, which to the consternation of many showed a hung Parliament.

The reaction of far too many has been that this cannot possibly be right.  Even before YouGov’s analysis came out, I explained why I thought the idea of a surge in support from the young and previous non-voters was less likely than the alternative picture painted by pollsters such as ICM and ComRes.  This is all hypothesis though.  YouGov and Survation are reputable pollsters.  We need to consider seriously the possibility that they’re along the right lines.

This is not going to be another thread about methodologies.   For one, I’m not a pollster and for two, such threads are of what I shall politely call niche interest.  On 9 June 2017, only a few hundred people are going to be concentrating on sampling techniques, filters and such like.  Everyone else is going to be looking at the actual result.

With that in mind, let’s look at what YouGov’s estimates would mean.  First things first, it would mean that Britain would have a hung Parliament.  As I write, you can back that at 8/1 with Betfair Sportsbook.  It’s just one poll from one pollster at present, so that’s probably a marginal bet at present, though I wouldn’t criticise anyone for taking it.  Keep an eye on this – if we see similar polls, you should ensure you have this possibility covered.

The question that many have reasonably asked is where Labour would get their gains from.  The answer is to be found in the seats where Labour are getting their increased support from.  Look for Conservative seats which are younger than average, less white than average and where voters have more capital value in their property than average.  London, its suburbs and exurbs could prove positive territory for them – Theresa May has set out her pitch to the nation founded on a flinty provincialism so she could hardly complain if the spurned capital in turn rejects her.  Battersea (6/1 with Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power), Bedford (11/2 with Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power) and Brighton Kemptown (5/2 with Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power) might conceivably turn from blue to red, even as Halifax and North East Derbyshire might head in the opposite direction.  I’m on all of these.

So about this hung Parliament.  The Conservative and Labour figures would be strikingly similar to the tallies each got in 2010.  That resulted in a durable Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.  That option would not be available this time because the seat tallies of the Lib Dems and the SNP would be almost exactly reversed.

The numbers would be such that only the Conservatives could in practice form a government (Labour is too internally divided to make a government from second place conceivable, even in the highly unlikely event that the Northern Irish unionist contingent, whose shuddering loathing for Jeremy Corbyn could be measured on the Richter scale, and both the SNP and the Lib Dems could be squared off).  That government would be very unstable.

The Lib Dems have already said that they will not go into a coalition after the election, so the Conservatives would be running a minority government, relying upon the kindness of strangers to get Parliament’s backing for the most demanding set of negotiations ever undertaken by this country.  Either the government would seek to roll the dice for another election in fairly short order – and given how this election campaign has panned out, that seems unlikely – or the Conservatives would be forced to compromise extensively on their vision for Brexit in order to secure a strong and stable negotiating position.

What of Theresa May?  She would have sought a mandate to crush the saboteurs, only to find herself sabotaged.  Could she go on?  Unfortunately for her, there is another question: could she step down?  In the confusion of a hung Parliament, with a two year countdown on Brexit ticking, the Conservatives would lack time and space to replace her.  She could be speedily replaced only by a Conservative unity candidate who could work comfortably with other parties, possibilities for which are conspicuously lacking within the Conservative Parliamentary party at present. 

The ideal candidate would be David Cameron, but that option is now unavailable.  The Conservatives might very well find themselves stuck with a leader levitating at the top of the party without any means of support.  If you want to back a next Prime Minister though, Philip Hammond might be worth a flutter on this basis.  I managed to back him at 500/1 on Betfair Exchange to be the Prime Minister to form the first government after the election.  It’s a long odds bet, but not that long odds.

In 2015 YouGov substantially overstated the Labour seat tally and understated the Conservatives’.  For the reasons I have previously given, I expect that they are doing so again.  However, I shall be keeping an open mind and continuing to look for bets that might represent value if YouGov are right.  I’ve been wrong often enough in the past.

Alastair Meeks