Archive for the 'Lib Dems' Category


Norman Lamb says he not standing in LD leadership race

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

So now it looks like Cable versus Davey

The busiest UK political betting market at the moment is on the LD leadership and within the last few minutes the Guardian has published the piece linked to above by the ex-health minister, Norman Lamb.

This has come as a shock because Lamb did very well against Farron last time and the recent Mark Pack survey had him just ahead of Cable if Swinson wasn’t on the ballot. This is the reason given by Lamb.

“I have just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat. Attempting to win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in an area that voted quite heavily to leave the EU was bound to be a challenge. Not only was the party’s position on Brexit toxic to many erstwhile Liberal Democrat voters in North Norfolk, but I found myself sympathising with those who felt that the party was not listening to them and was treating them with some disdain.”

So the race looks set to be between the 74 year old Vince Cable and Sir Ed Davey who was a cabinet minister in the coalition government.

Cable is currently the very strong odds-on favourite.

Two weeks ago Lamb did well to hold onto his North Norfolk seat – an area that had voted very heavily for LEAVE. Almost all the other LD MPs are in areas which were strongly REMAIN.

Mike Smithson


The LDs appear to have chosen their next two leaders without a single vote being cast

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

The veteran former Business Secretary, Sir Vince Cable, has now moved to a 60%+ chance in the betting of becoming Farron’s successor following an extraordinary 36 hours when the party appears to have decided who should get the job AND who should succeed Vince.

As soon as Farron announced that he was going last week the LD blogger, Mark Pack, ran a survey of party members on the succession. In the past these have usually been fairly good pointers to the actual outcome.

On Monday the results were published and the woman who took back Dunbartonshire East at GE17, Jo Swinson, was found to have the support of a staggering 57% of the members who participated.

Inevitably she became a strong betting favourite with the only question being whether she wanted it or not. In fact she didn’t at this stage and has now become deputy leader – a position that is selected by the parliamentary party.

Her announcement left three potential runners, Cable, Norman Lamb the ex-health Minister, and Sir Ed Davey, the former cabinet minister who retook Kingston & Surbiton in the election.

Yesterday morning the 74 year old Cable became the first to formally put his hat into the ring with heavy hints that he’d stand aside in two or three years.

It didn’t take much working out for disappointed Swinson supporters to figure that a time limited Cable leadership would best suit their woman. Lamb and Davey are much younger than Vince and they would be looking to be in the job for the long term.

So there we have it and the reason there’s been such a move to Cable in the betting.

Mike Smithson


Electing a leader from Scotland could give the LDs a huge boost north of the the border

Friday, June 16th, 2017

If Gordon Brown could do it at GE10 then what about the Yellows?

We all know that GE10 wasn’t a good one for Gordon Brown’s LAB. The party lost power after having a comfortable majority for 13 years and suffered huge seat losses.

The chart above shows the party’s vote share changes in different parts of the UK but there was one place which bucked the overall trend Scotland.

Whereas in England LAB was down more than 7.4% in Scotland the party in increased its vote share by 3.1% and came away with 41 of the 59 seats north of the border.

    So extraordinarily LAB’s average vote change in Scotland at GE2010 was a whopping 10.5% better in Scotland than in England.

The reason was simple – the LAB leader, Gordon Brown, was Scottish. As was remarked at the time by a prominent Scottish politics academic “Brown maybe a bastard but he’s OUR bastard.”

When the LDs were last led by Scottish leader, the late Charles Kennedy at GE2005, they won 13 seats north of the border making them the second party in terms of Scottish MPs at that election.

On June 8th this year the party made most of its gains in Scotland and with the possibility of the SNP declining even more next time then the chances are that this will be fertile territory once again. Certainly their main target, Fife NE they were just two votes behind.

The LDs are so far behind where they were that the potential of a leader to help gain just a few extra seats will be very appealing.

I’ve little doubt that all of this will be communicated to LD members very strongly by the campaign of Glasweigan Jo Swinson if, as seems likely, she puts her hat into the ring.

Mike Smithson


Farron quits as LD leader

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

My guess is that Jo Swinson will succeed him

Mike Smithson


Breaking the chain. Can the Lib Dems defy history?

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

The opinion polls have obscured the view of what’s happening in the election rather than clarifying it.  But bettors remain convinced of the following:

  1. The Conservatives are going to do better than most of the polling would suggest on an application of uniform national swing. The under/over line is set with Ladbrokes at 360.5, while the recent Opinium poll (which is fairly mainstream) would imply 349 seats.
  2. Labour are going to do worse than most of the polling would suggest on an application of uniform national swing. The under/over line is set with Ladbrokes at 209.5, while the recent Opinium poll would imply 221 seats.
  3. The Lib Dems, like the Conservatives, are going to do better than most of the polling would suggest on an application of uniform national swing. The under/over line is set with all the bookies at 10.5, while the recent Opinium poll would imply just 3 seats..

The problem is that these three assumptions aren’t really consistent with each other and past electoral history.  Since the foundation of the Lib Dems, their seat count numbers have risen or fallen in tandem with their swing from or to the Conservatives.  There have been years, such as 1997, when the Lib Dems’ poll share has fallen and they have gained seats.  There have been years, such as 2010, when the Lib Dems’ poll share has risen and they have lost seats.  But there has never been a general election where the Lib Dems have gained seats with a relative swing from them to the Conservatives (or lost seats with a relative swing to them from the Conservatives).

This is not particularly surprising, although it is at odds with the Lib Dems’ image as doughty campaigners whose performance is independent of their national vote share.  The Lib Dems have primarily positioned themselves as the rivals to the Conservatives in seats where the Labour party is not in contention.  Their battles with Labour have been much more localised.  So you would expect the Lib Dems’ fortunes to be closely linked with their relative performance against the Conservatives rather than by reference to their absolute vote share.  And so it proves.

Such rules are made to be broken.  Over many elections, the Conservatives’ and the SNP’s seat tallies were on a similar seesaw, with the SNP never gaining seats in a year when the Conservatives gained seats and never losing seats in a year when the Conservatives fell back.  But in 2015, after the independence referendum, the two decoupled, each leveraging support off the back of the other’s expected success.

Is the inverse relationship between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems likely to end in 2017?  It doesn’t look likely to me.  The Conservatives have put on support relative to 2015 in every single poll in the election campaign.  Even those showing lower Conservative leads over Labour show them somewhere around the 43% mark.  Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are at best flatlining at 8% or so – their appeal to appalled Remainers has cut no ice with most voters.

The par swing from Lib Dems to the Conservatives therefore looks to be at least 3%.  It could easily be higher if ICM or ComRes are to be believed.  And if bettors are right that the Conservatives are going to perform still better than the polls suggest, it must surely be higher.  There are no obvious reasons to presume that seats that the Lib Dems have a special interest in are going to differ particularly from the par.  Five of the nine Lib Dem-held seats have a Conservative challenger in second place.  None of these look particularly safe.

So do the Lib Dems have other sources of seats to compensate? Not against Labour, against whom they have also suffered an adverse swing and who will be eyeing two Lib Dem-held seats with interest (and the Lib Dems have in any case few realistic targets against Labour).  Their only real hope of putting on seat numbers if the polling is anything like the eventual vote share is to resist as best they can the twin-pronged attacks from the Conservatives and Labour, hope to nick a seat or two against the head and to win seats on tactical voting in Scotland.      

Candidly, that doesn’t sound particularly plausible to me.  It sounds even less plausible if the Conservatives are outperforming the polls thanks to a realignment of the underlying party coalitions or to superior campaigning techniques, as the current betting implies.

If you don’t believe that the Lib Dems’ polling is going to improve much or that the Conservatives are going to slip much further, betting against the Lib Dems is marked.  Rather than take the “under” side of the bet at the Lib Dems taking 10.5 seats at 5/6, back them getting under 10 seats on Betfair (currently at 3.8).  If you’re nervous about them taking exactly 10 seats, also back that on Ladbrokes at 10/1 for combined odds with the under 10 seats bet of just worse than 2/1 (much better than that 5/6 bet).

Personally I’m not bothering with covering 10 seats.  I’m not expecting the Lib Dems to get that many.

Alastair Meeks


The future’s not orange. The Lib Dems look set to miss out

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

Pedants are quick to point out that for Labour to be decimated at the next election, they would need to lose only one in ten seats, while current polling shows them doing far worse than this. So in the interests of accuracy, I record that on 8 June I expect to see Labour crushed, marmalised and eviscerated.  With the Conservatives having established close to a two power standard in most of the polling, we can expect to see swathes of red seats turn blue.

Labour and the Conservatives are not the only participants, and each of the other parties is absorbed with their own ambitions, routines, worries and inherited craziness.  It is time to consider the prospects of the Lib Dems in this election.

I noted a couple of weeks ago that the markets seemed irrationally exuberant about the Lib Dems’ prospects and advised backing the unders markets on their seat counts when they were in the high 20s.  As at the time of writing, following local elections in which the Lib Dems seriously underperformed most prior expectations, William Hill price the midpoint at 18.5.  What a falling off was there.

What’s gone wrong?  Even the most enthusiastic Lib Dem would have to concede that the very limited airtime that they get could have been better used than discussing Tim Farron’s religious beliefs about gay sex and whether David Ward’s views should debar him from standing as a  Parliamentary candidate.  But more profoundly, it seems that opposing Brexit is going to be insufficient to give them much of a leg-up.  Lord Ashcroft summarised part of the findings of one of his focus groups as suggesting that the Lib Dems potentially appealed to unhappy voters who satisfied two conditions:

“First, they were still very much exercised about the referendum result. Second, they thought something could still be done to frustrate or reverse it:”

But as Lord Ashcroft noted, these do not seem to be sufficient.  The public thinks them irrelevant, doesn’t trust them and wants to know more about what they stand for.  The strategy is failing.

So how well realistically can we expect the Lib Dems to do?  My preferred approach is to look less at swing required (though in the tightest races obviously that’s important) and more at vote share at the last election.  In 2015, the Lib Dems got over half the vote in only one seat (Westmorland & Lonsdale), over 40% in only two more (Orkney & Shetland and Sheffield Hallam) and over 30% in just 31 seats.  I don’t intend to investigate more than a handful of seats beyond that level – the Lib Dems hold only one of them (Richmond Park).

We need to investigate Lib Dem seats of interest in batches.  They can be divided into the following groups: Conservative-facing in Leave areas; Conservative-facing in Remain areas; Labour-facing in Remain areas; Labour-facing in Leave areas; and Scottish seats.

The Lib Dems have a huge problem in Conservative-facing seats in Leave areas: the Conservative vote is going through the roof in such seats.  The challenge is less whether they can gain such seats but to make sure that they don’t lose any.  Carshalton & Wallington and Norfolk North both look like awkward defences and they could easily lose both.  The Conservatives are unaccountably odds against in St Ives and this is a mandatory bet.  The Lib Dems are far more likely to go backwards in such seats than go forwards.  The Conservatives are just doing far too well in these seats for the Lib Dems to make much progress.

They have better chances in some Conservative-facing Remain seats.  There are some very steamed-up middle class voters in these seats.  But there aren’t many such seats and in any case the Conservatives are gaining support even in Remain seats.  After Twickenham, Richmond Park and Kingston & Surbiton, the list of prospects rapidly dries up.  Cheadle?  Bath? Cheltenham?  Oxford West & Abingdon?  The Lib Dems might gain a couple, but even that’s fairly optimistic. And they need to watch their flank – with John Pugh retiring in Southport (on an already-low vote share) and the tactical Tory vote in well-heeled Sheffield Hallam likely to unwind, they might suffer losses in such seats as well as gains.  16/1 with Ladbrokes in Sheffield Hallam is probably fair value.

I’d rather be on the Conservatives in Southport at 4/6 with Betfair Sportsbook and William Hill than the Lib Dems at 11/10 with William Hill, despite the blue team’s long history of apparent ineptitude in this constituency.  The 11/10 on the Conservatives in Kingston & Surbiton with Ladbrokes is probably better value than any of these bets.  If you want to bet on the Lib Dems in such seats, the 10/11 in Richmond Park with Bet 365 is worth looking at – I can’t see Zac Goldsmith proving more attractive to this ultra-Remainian constituency than last year, especially since he looks so unprincipled in going back to the Conservatives after leaving them over the Heathrow decision.  Overall, the Lib Dems might have a net gain of a couple of such seats, but sweeping gains are for now unlikely.

Things look better for the Lib Dems in Labour-facing Remain seats, with Labour’s vote under so much pressure.  Cambridge and Southwark & Old Bermondsey must be strong chances, and the 4/6 on the Lib Dems with Ladbrokes in the latter seat looks great value to me.  But again, there aren’t many such seats.  The 7/2 with Ladbrokes on the Lib Dems in Manchester Withington is appealing.  I’m on them at 3/1 in Hornsey & Wood Green (the odds have shortened since).  But then where? The Lib Dems are hoping to build up a head of steam in the Remain redoubt of Vauxhall against hardline Brexiteer Kate Hoey but it must be firmly odds against, and considerably longer than the prices currently being quoted.  On a good day, the Lib Dems will be gaining a few seats from Labour.  But no more than a few.

The only Labour-facing Leave seat that the Lib Dems have serious chances in is Burnley.  They’re odds-on favourites there, which seems to be overstating their chances, even with the former MP Gordon Birtwhistle standing again for them.  The brave might well back Labour at 2/1 with William Hill or Bet 365.  I’ve been brave to small stakes.

Finally, to Scotland, where for a change the Lib Dems are better placed to sweep up tactical unionist votes in seats where they are the main challengers to the SNP.  They can reasonably hope to pick up Edinburgh West and East Dunbartonshire, and the local election results in Edinburgh West suggest that the 4/7 with Betfair Sportsbook is value.

In total, the Lib Dems look set to finish with something like 10 to 15 seats.  Bet 365 are offering 11-15 seats at 4/1 and while that’s a tight band, I’ve placed a sporting bet on it.  If you want a bit more leeway, the 2/1 on 10-19 with Ladbrokes also seems good value to me.

Those willing to take the risks involved in spread betting should still be selling them on Sporting Index at 21.  The nervous should consider that Tim Farron has named that number as his target.  The chances of them exceeding the named target can’t be all that high.  But before doing so, make sure you understand the risks.  If I’m wrong, it could be very expensive indeed.

Oh, and take that under 18.5 with William Hill.  It still looks on the high side to me.

Alastair Meeks


Being realistic on the prospects for Lib Dem gains

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Alastair Meeks takes a hard look

The Lib Dems’ emblem is the liberty bird.  In 2015, it was put on the critically endangered list, found only in eight locations where volunteers toiled night and day to protect it from poachers.  Pundits, including me, gloomily pondered whether extinction was on the cards.

It’s a compelling case study how climate change is not necessarily bad for everyone.  In the wake of Brexit, the Lib Dems have found a new purpose as the party of ultra-Remain.  It has gained vote share in every Parliamentary by-election held since the referendum that it has contested.  Following the announcement of a snap general election, former MPs who had previously retired from politics, like Vince Cable and Stephen Lloyd, have deretired in an attempt to win back their seats.  Hopes are high of substantial gains.

The bookies have by and large bought this story.  The current midpoints of their seat counts range between 26.5 and 29.5 (with prices at 5/6 on offer over or under the set midpoints).  Given that the Lib Dems currently only hold 9 seats, this implies a major bounceback.  Is this right?

Bluntly, I don’t think it is.  You can look at this lots of different ways and none of them stack up.

Let’s look at this first by swing.  Here are the Lib Dems’ top 100 targets organised by swing.  They pick up 18 seats if they get a 6% swing to themselves in these seats.  But at present the Lib Dems are suffering an adverse national swing to the Conservatives of 2% or so if the polls are to be believed, and 11 of those 18 seats are Conservative-held.   There are going to need to be some major special factors to buck the national swing to that extent (I’ll come back to Brexit, don’t worry) – or other gains from other parties.  But there simply aren’t that many targets within reach on a uniform swing from other parties.  The Lib Dems would need a 7.5% swing to them from the SNP to pick up six seats and an 8% swing to them from Labour to pick up six seats.  In the absence of any national swing in Scotland from the SNP to the Lib Dems, they’re going to need some serious unionist tactical voting.

What special factors might there be?  Two are usually mentioned in relation to the Lib Dems.  First, their indefatigable local campaigning, effectively treating each constituency as a by-election.  And secondly, Brexit.

Let’s deal with Brexit first.  The line of argument goes that 48% of the public voted for Remain.  No one else is going into bat for the Remainers, so the Lib Dem ratings can soar from the 8% that they tallied in 2015.  There’s only one problem with this line of argument: not that many people seem to be ready to vote just on Brexit.  In ICM’s poll conducted immediately in the wake of the election announcement, just 17% said that it was a second referendum by proxy, with 67% treating it as a normal general election.  Of course, a substantial number of that 17% will be wishing to underscore the need to Leave, and they will not assist the Lib Dems one little bit.

Roughly 95 constituencies voted Remain by more than 60%.  But very few are the Conservative/Lib Dem marginals and semi-marginals that the Lib Dems would need to build up a head of steam in if they are to start making substantial gains.

As for the Lib Dems’ indefatigable local campaigning, clearly that has got better in the last year – both local and Parliamentary by-elections show that.  But the main two parties have got wise to the Lib Dems’ approach and are using it themselves.  At the 2015 election, the Conservatives took a very localist approach in their campaigning and reaped the rewards.  Their new MPs will have been building up incumbency ever since.  They will not be pushovers.

Is it possible that the Lib Dems might catch the zeitgeist and we might see Farronmania at some point? Possible, but unlikely.  25 seats looks very stretching indeed – the Lib Dems should be very happy if they get to 20 seats.  So I recommend that you do as I do, and take the “under” side of the bet on the Lib Dem seats wherever you can find it.  To me it looks like a very good bet indeed.

Alastair Meeks


The canvas data that proved to be spot on in Richmond suggests Labour could be in trouble in Manchester Gorton

Monday, April 17th, 2017

At Richmond Park the LD numbers understated their position

For all the speculation on Labour’s polling collapse there’s only one thing that really matters – how the party performs in actual elections and the first real test of that is May 4th which includes, of course, the Manchester Gorton by-election where they are defending a majority of 24k.

On the face of it Gorton looks impregnable but is it? The Lib Dems have published their latest canvas data for the seat which had them on 31% to LAB’s 51%.

Before you dismiss party canvas data remember what happened when the LDs published similar data ahead of last December’s Richmond Park by-election. This was treated with a high degree of scepticism at the time yet as the chart shows it was extraordinarily predictive of what was going to happen. Those who backed Zac at very tight odds lost.

In Richmond the LD’s main challenge was to attract LAB tactical voters – a task made easier by the way Zac had conducted his London mayoral campaign seven months earlier. The yellows wanted LAB voters to be in no doubt that they could defeat Zac by switching to the LDs and we had the bizarre experience of seeing LAB pick up fewer votes than members in the constituency.

In Manchester Gorton there is a very different challenge – simply trying to get over the fact that they can be credible in a seat where at GE2015 they lost their deposit coming in fifth place with just 4.2% of the vote. The more the battle is portrayed as between red and yellow the greater LD hopes can be.

    The 51-31 LAB-LD split is dramatically closer than at GE2015 and suggests a high degree of momentum. An LD victory while not being probable is now starting to look possible

Previous by-election experience is that we can expect a high degree of narrowing between the contenders seen to be in the final two during the close of the campaign. Could, for instance, many of the 9.7% GE2015 CON voters decide that their vote is best used creating another awful embarrassment for Labour?

We can expect more such canvas data releases the LDs.

The current betting value is with the LDs who are are 4/1 or 5/1.

Mike Smithson