Bookies sort political favourites from rank outsiders

Political betting is one way of forecasting how this election might go.

Working on the premise that bookies rarely lose money and always do their homework, the odds they are offering might give an overall picture of what the country will look like electorally on May 8.

There has been a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the leaders of the two main parties. Despite being trusted more by voters, Prime Minister, David Cameron is neck and neck with Labour leader Ed Milliband, to be the PM, with both being offered at 10/11 on.

Just as the opinion polls see the Tories (6/1) with a small lead on Labour (16/1) with the smaller parties likely to hold the balance of power, no overall majority is a very short odds on prospect at 1/6.

But it is in some of the key marginals where the betting could help shed a light.

Thurrock, once a fight between Tories and Labour, taken by only 92 votes by the Conservatives in 2010, looks likely to be taken by UKIP if William Hill’s odds are to be believed. Despite Labour having Milliband’s key aide Polly Billington as candidate, Hill sees UKIP’s Tim Aker as the odds on favourite (8/13) to take the Essex seat.

Hampstead and Kilburn was the number two most marginal seat at the 2010 election, when Labour took it by 42 votes. The bookies are reflecting recent polling data by Lord Ashcroft that saw Labour up by 17pts and Tulip Siddiq, the candidate chosen to replace the outgoing Glenda Jackson, is 1/4 to win.

In Warwickshire North, the third most marginal seat in 2010, taken by the Tories by 54 votes, UKIP’s damaging effect could have most impact. The 0.1% Tory majority has now been transformed to a Labour lead of more than 10 percentage points and the party is very short odds at 2/7. UKIP has stolen a large number of votes from both the Tories and Lib Dems.

In another key marginal, boundary changes mean Labour is likely to take Lancaster and Fleetwood and William Hill offers 2/7.

Labour is short priced to win key target seats in the North West. Government minister and former TV presenter Esther McVey looks likely to lose Wirral West in a close race. Labour are 8/11 on, with McVey even money. Ashcroft polling in March saw Labour with a seven point lead.

Closer to home there’s no money to be made. Labour is short priced in the majority of local constituencies. In West Lancashire Labour is 1/66 for the win, cruising in nearby Sefton Central at 1/50 and in staunchly red Knowsley, it is an even greater 1/100. The Tories are odds on to take South Ribble at 4/11.

The interesting constituency at one stage was Southport, where the Lib Dems faced a threat from both the Tories and Labour. However, sitting MP John Pugh is 13pts up in polling and is now 1/3 to take the seaside seat.

Who’s going to win?  Show me the money

I blogged previously about a conference at which academics made predictions for potential election results based on a range of factors.

One of those factors was money.

It is possible, by looking at the Electoral Commission website, to see which constituency or local parties have received the most in donations in any particular quarter. Parties have to send this information in by law when donations are over a certain amount.

Election campaigns cost money.  Election campaigns in seats which a party is hoping to win, or is defending hard, cost more money. So logically those local parties generating most in donations are those who are main players in tight contests.

It’s also the case that national party fundraising efforts will often focus on particular target seats.  I know as a party member myself that requests for money are being made for some constituencies and not others.

So to test this thesis, let’s look at what everyone would agree is a marginal seat (Warrington South) and what everyone would agree is a safe seat (Bootle).

Warrington South, from 1 September until today, shows £15,000 of large donations coming in to two parties (Labour and Conservative).  Bootle however shows no large donations to any party.  Even if the searching reaches back to 2013, still no large donations appear.

Now of course it is possible that donations go to another part of a political party before being moved to a local account nearer the election. It may also be that some local parties are very active in fundraising terms, but the sums donated are small enough to be under the regular reporting radar. But even with these caveats, the contrast between Warrington South and Bootle is stark.

come cannot be a sole predictor.  After all it’s not just what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. But in an environment in which a ground campaign could make the difference, the capacity to campaign, and the preparation to do that, is significant.