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GE2017 heralds the return of two party politics

June 5th, 2017

Alastair Meeks looks at the betting implications

What to make of the polling?  Are the Conservatives out of sight or are we in hung Parliament territory?  Everyone has their own theory and many of them are contradictory.  I’m not proposing in this thread to go into the question of whether the young or previous non-voters are going to unleash a crimson tide.  This is fast becoming a question of theology rather than psephology, at least until Thursday.

There are other polling questions.  As always, some of the most important opinion poll findings are ignored because they are perceived as uninteresting.  The obvious, however, is usually a good place to start.

Whatever the differences between opinion pollsters about how Labour and the Conservatives are doing relative to each other, they are in agreement about one thing – they’re picking up votes at the expense of other parties.  The pollsters are herding towards finding that the big two are picking up around 80% of the vote between them.  The punchiest, Ipsos-MORI, found that they shared a stonking 85% of the vote between them.

This is a big change from 2015, where the Conservatives scored 37% and Labour 31%, making a combined total of 68%.  I’m a simple soul at heart and if the pollsters tell me that both Labour and the Conservatives are well up on last time, who am I to disagree with them?

It’s tempting to think that this is all about the collapse of UKIP.  But it isn’t.  UKIP are still regularly scoring 4 or 5% in most of the polls, meaning that the two main parties have eked a further 3% or so from the remainder.  That’s a proportionately large share of small numbers.

This trend could continue.  Ipsos-MORI found UKIP tallying just 2%, and with many constituencies lacking a UKIP candidate, even without a further squeeze by the larger parties – which seems likely given the dynamics of the race – the current UKIP poll numbers could be overstated.

This trend is set to be disastrous for all of the minor parties. When the campaign started, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru were hoping to make gains. Far from their campaigns catching light, they have guttered and fizzled out into irrelevance.  A large chunk of UKIP’s support evaporated on the election being called and the rest is wandering away.  Even the SNP glacier of support is retreating, with up to a fifth of their 2015 support mislaid in the polls as more Scots decide that it’s more important whether they’re in the red corner or the blue corner. 

While everyone has concentrated on the main event, betting opportunities abound as a consequence of this universally-identified but mostly-ignored development.  The Lib Dems are going to struggle to match their 2015 vote percentage and both main parties have apparently gained positive swing against them.  Are they really going to get as many seats as last time?  Yet you can even today back the Lib Dems getting under 10 seats at 2.68 (13/8 in old money) on Betfair.  Even allowing for the fact that the Lib Dems’ campaign is going to be around individual constituencies rather than a national campaign, that looks generous.  Right now I’d make it at worst an evens shot.

Plaid Cymru also offer opportunities.  You can sell their seat count on Sporting Index at 3.6.  On the most recent Welsh poll, they would be wiped out.  Aha, you might argue, Plaid Cymru’s redoubts are very localised.  But there’s no sign in the subsample of any better performance in their regional strongholds.  They must be more likely to lose seats than gain them and even on a spectacular day they would win only a maximum of 6 seats.  If you’re comfortable with the risks involved in spread betting, this looks like a clear bet to me.  If you don’t like spread betting, you can back them getting under 5 seats at 4/7 with William Hill.  This should be something like 1/5 or shorter.

The SNP are better placed to dig in. Yet I still think they are more likely to surprise on the downside – the risk that they have is that their new voters for the referendum who stuck with them in 2015 have disengaged (it is after all the fifth Scotland-wide or UK-wide election in under three years, so who can blame them?).  I’m now backing them to get fewer than 49 seats at 5/6 (with William Hill).  They’re probably still value at the same price for the “fewer than 47 seats” offered by Paddy Power and Ladbrokes.

Alastair Meeks