Archive for December, 2004

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Our Election Prediction Competition

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

    Something more to argue about

New Year’s Eve and a good moment to launch our General Election Prediction Competition. Apart from the honour and the recognition from your peers we are hoping that a sponsor will provide a suitable prize. At the moment the best we have got is a colour picture of Ken Livingstone with his autograph on it and a Tony Blair mug where the nose grows as you pour in hot water.

  • Post your entries as a comment by the end of next Saturday – January 7 2005.
  • Please do not use the comments section here for anything other than entries. Discussion on the competition should be on the previous thread
  • Copy and paste the list below and type in your predictions accordingly.
  • Please include a valid email address and only one entry is allowed per person.
  • My decision on all matters relating to the competition is final.
  • 1. Size of the Labour majority/minority. Fifteen points for getting it right reducing by one point either side for each seat off target.

    2. Size of Labour’s lead/deficit in the GB popular vote in percentage points. Ten points for getting it right reducing by one point either way for each 0.25% off target.

    3. Most accurate pollster. This will be decided on the size of the predicted Lab-Con margin based on their final surveys. Choose one from ICM, Mori, NOP, CR, or YouGov. Four points for winner. Two points for second.

    4. Winning party Bethnal Green and Bow. Two points.

    5. Winning party Bristol West Two points.

    6. Winning party Cambridge Two points.

    7. Winning party Colne Valley Two points.

    8. Winning party Inverness Two points.

    9. Winning party Maidenhead Two points.

    10. Winning party St. Albans Two points.

    11. Winning party Upper Bann Two points.

    12. Winning party Ynys Mon Two points.

    Thanks to all who have provided ideas for which seats to choose. Best of luck and a happy New Year.

    Mike Smithson



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    Help wanted – General Election Competition

    Thursday, December 30th, 2004

    I am compiling a General Election Prediction competition which as well as the general forecasts has six or seven seat specific elements.

    At the moment I’ve got Bethnal Green & Bow (George Galloway); Cambridge (the most discussed seat on the site) ; Dorset West (Oliver Letwin’s and a LD decapitation target) ; Brent East (by-election follow-up) and St. Albans (possible tactical vote unwind) .

    I’d like interesting Scottish and Welsh seats as well as any other suggestions for seats that represent a type.

    This will go out tomorow – New Year’s Eve.

    Mike Smithson



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    Can Blair appeal to the liberal and illiberal at the same time?

    Thursday, December 30th, 2004


    In his attempt to pull off an unprecedented and spectacular third General Election victory Tony Blair is making crime/law & order/ and immigration the centre pieces of Labour’s policy portfolio. These were the main items in the Queen’s Speech last month and they are the centre part of his New Year’s message, just published.

    Before the 1997 Election Blair had the brilliant “Tough on Crime – Tough on the Causes of Crime” rhetoric to underpin his appeal to both the liberal and illiberal. Since then the Home Secretaryships of Straw and Blunkett have put Labour firmly in the authoritarian camp and this will go on. But is it the right strategy? Is he in danger of not pleasing either?

  • Labour continue to trail behind the Tories on these issues which are the one area where the Tories are consistently ahead.
  • Labour needs to hang on to Lib Dem leaning supporters to assure victory and these groups have grown substantialy due to disillusionment over Iraq, tuition fees, and the law and order policies such as ID cards.
  • It reinforces Michael Howard’s record and his “prison works” rhetoric which went down well with the illiberal.
  • The expected voting dynamic of the coming election will be of the Tories flat-lining – but not moving back – but with real volatility between Labour and the Lib Dems. Tony Blair has to be able to shore up switching to the Tories while keeping the liberal faction on board. These objectives might not be possible to reconcile and LD slippage looks to be the most menacing.

      Why not put the focus on Labour’s strengths – the NHS, where the extra investment is starting to show, and the economy where the UK has weathered the recent world down-turn remarkably well?

    Meanwhile the General Election seat spreads have shown one seat movements to both the LDs and Tories. These are from Spreadfair - the spreadbetting exchange. LAB 351.5-353: CON 195-199: LIBD 71 -71.5: SNP 5-6: PC 4-5: UKIP 0.6-1.1

    Users should note that in order to defray some of Politicalbetting’s costs we receive a commission on accounts that are opened through the site.

    Mike Smithson



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    Combine Blunkett & Blair – a possible arbitrage

    Wednesday, December 29th, 2004


    One of the great pleasures of political gambling is when you find situations where whatever happens you end up a winner. With the news in the Sun today that David Blunkett will return to the Cabinet if Tony Blair wins the election then an interesting situation opens up.

    The current best price on Blunkett returning during 2005 is 4/1 which, given the Sun’s status as almost the “official mouthpiece of New Labour” for such things, makes that the best bet there is on Labour winning the General Election. It’s certainly much better value than the 1/6 best price that’s available on Labour winning most seats.

    To cover yourself what about combining the bet with the 7/2 that’s still available on Tony Blair’s tenure as Prime minister ending during 2005?

      So if Blair stays you should win on the Blunkett bet – if he goes you win on the end of tenure bet.

    If just one of these bets comes up you make a profit and the risk of both falling down must be a lot lower than the profit you make at 7/2 and 4/1. There’s also a possibility that you could win on both.

    This is not a true arbitrage because it is just feasible that Blair will still be at Number 10 and Blunkett will not be in the Cabinet. But the Sun story is pretty strong and it’s not often that it gets one of these wrong. There’s also the risk of the election being postponed beyond January 1 2006. But this is worth the punt.

    Get on while this is still available.



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    Punters unimpressed by early election talk

    Wednesday, December 29th, 2004


    The recent speculation that Tony Blair is thinking of a snap election in the first quarter of the year has had no impact on the betting markets.

    The price on the election being in the April-June period of 2005 has barely moved from the 1/6 to 1/5 region and you can still get 15/2 on the poll being before March 31st.

    In a good analysis of the election date options the Independent columnist and former Tory MP, Michael Brown observes today :- The downside is that this early date might deprive the Government of holding a pre-election budget of goodies on the eve of the formal campaign. Budgets are usually held in the second or third week of March. This would not be possible if Parliament had already been dissolved. But if there is a budget on 2 March (notice of this would be given some weeks ahead), be on your guard for an announcement, immediately afterwards, of an election on 31 March. Remember that, in 1992, John Major dissolved Parliament 48 hours after an early March budget. I do not expect this to happen. However, if it does, you read it here first.

    Brown also notes that Harold Wilson held the 1996 General Election on March 31st and Labour was returned with a 100 majority. Such a date this time would mean that the impact of the student vote might be reduced because it would be the vacation and Charles Kennedy would be deprived of the expected campaign boost from the birth of his first child.

    A complication of such a date might be that the fact Easter in 2005 is just about as early as it can be with Easter Day being on March 27th.

    Blair has shown that he likes holding more than one election on the same day and it is hard to see him not following the same pattern and having the General Election on May 5th – the date set for the County Council elections.

    But it does no harm for him to keep everybody guessing.

    Mike Smithson



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    The poll that “missed” two out of five Tories

    Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

      Have the polls really got better?

    Whenever we’ve criticised polling accuracy apologists for the industry have rushed to their defence saying that techniques have improved and things have got better since 2001 when the average overstatement of the Labour lead was 6.6%.

    But in a recent example since then, at the Scottish Parliament Elections last year, the overstatement by the conventional pollsters of the LAB-CON margin was two percentage points bigger than the national polls at the 1992 General Election, which itself was one of the worst polling performances ever.

      One final week survey by a major national firm put the Tories on 10% against the 16.6% that was actually achieved. The works out at a “loss” of two out of five. The other two interviewer-based pollsters recorded 12% – thus “missing” more than 1 Tory in 4.

    The pollster to come out of Scotland 2003 with its reputation most intact was the internet survey by YouGov which over-estimated Labour by 1.4% and underestimated the Tories by 0.6%.

    YouGov, of course, do not use interviewers which we believe are at the heart of many of the polling problems. People respond to people and at election after election it has been shown that Tories find it hard to admit their allegiance.

      Maybe in Scotland last year it was even harder to tell another human being that you supported what was then IDS’s party – hence the huge proportion of missing Tories.

    We are not naming the conventional polling firms here because we are making a general point about the use of interviewers. A problem with YouGov is that those that are polled are self-selected members of the firm’s “polling club” who get paid for taking part. For each survey the firm decides who shall take part and it does this on the basis of information supplied when people join. This, it is argued, makes their samples less random.

    All this reinforces our scepticism about the current poll ratings. We are certainly not suggesting that current national polls are like the Scottish ones and losing one in four Tories but we think that Michael Howard’s party is doing much better than current figures suggest.

    We think that the future of polling will be based on automation where you take away the personal dimension of the interviewer. This replicates more closely the conditions of a secret ballot and the UK experience of such an approach has been very positive.

    Mike Smithson



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    Have the Lib Dems set themselves an impossible target?

    Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

      Charles Kennedy’s Catch-22

    At their conference in Bournemouth in September the Lib Dems made great play of the fact that their goal was to replace the Tories as the party of opposition and they are still repeating the line, even today, which looks set to become a big plank of their General Election campaign.

    Given the current dynamic of the Tories remaining static and the big switch being between Labour and the LDs then the party is likely to end the election being even further behind the Tories in terms of the number of MPs than they are at the moment. The more successful Charles Kennedy’s party is in securing Labour votes the better things will be for the Tories.

      If you want to define a goal in relation to another party then at least choose one that’s on the decline. Michael Howard’s party might not be moving forward but they are not moving back either.

    In our article last week we argued that the mathematics of the coming election mean that if the Tories remain on their 32.7% share of last time then the party picks up four times as many seats as the Lib Dems for each percentage point of vote share that switches from Labour. This is not about reverse tactical voting but the simple operation of the uniform national swing using Martin Baxter’s calculator to the last General Election result.

      Last time the LDs got 52 MPs to the Tory tally of 165 – 113 seats behind. It is very hard seeing how that margin will reduce making the LDs “replacing the Tories” rhetoric” look very sick indeed. The party goal will look even further away after the election than it does at the moment.

    The LDs might be able to present their relative improvment on the Tories in terms of votes, which is almost certain to happen, as a great success. But the heart of the problem is the first-past-the-post electoral system and how vote changes affect each seat.

    In the coming months the Lib Dems need to refine their rhetoric so it is clear they are talking about votes and not seats otherwise the outcome could look like a big failure.

    Latest Lib Dem General Election seat spreads from Spreadfair - the spreadbetting exchange. 68-71.5 seats.

    Mike Smithson



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    “The Website of Choice for Real Political Anoraks”

    Monday, December 27th, 2004


      Telegraph commentator says LDs might be a good buy

    We don’t know whether Tony Blair is a regular on the site yet but a feature in the Daily Telegraph today by George Trefgarne states that “For real political anoraks, the website of choice is politicalbetting.com.”

    Whether the thousands of users who come onto the site each day share that view of themselves we do not know but there is little doubt that a huge amount of detailed knowledge about what is going on throughout the country is shared here by the site’s many contributors.

    In an end of year assessment of the current political scene and how the betting markets are moving Trefgarne looks at tactical vote unwind, the latest state of the polls and how well the Lib Dems might do. It’s worth reading.

    He observes Like millions of others, the followers of politicalbetting.com are deeply depressed at the surprising uselessness of Michael Howard’s Tories. Prices reflect this malaise. Last summer, Sportingindex was offering a spread of 235-240 on the number of seats the Tories could gain at the next election (they won 166 in 2001). Now the spread has collapsed to just 198-206. However, my guess is that Labour’s lead is wobbly, like a man on stilts. The polls show there is a widespread feeling that Labour ministers – not just Tony Blair – are not to be trusted; that the war is a fiasco; that crime is rising; immigration is out of control; and that public services are chaotic and bad value for money. History also tells us that governments start to fall apart when they lose control of the public finances. Last month, Gordon Brown borrowed £9.4 billion, more than any other chancellor on record. The public are not stupid and sense there is a serious deficit: a recent poll by Populus found that 67 per cent believe Labour will put up taxes after the election.

    If you think Labour is pretty awful and the Tories lack spine, you may be left with no choice but to vote Liberal Democrat. Of course, nobody expects them to form a government, and their bizarre policy platform shows worrying signs of multiple personality disorder. They are in favour of 50 per cent income tax for higher earners; joining the euro; congestion charging in London but not in Edinburgh; and as recently as 2002 half the front bench actually voted in favour of ID cards. But they do have the advantage of being neither Labour nor Tories.

    Trefgarne goes on to suggest that if the Lib Dem spread price falls to 65-70 Commons seats then a buy might be a good bet. We are not so sure.

    Latest General Election seat spreads from Spreadfair - the spreadbetting exchange.
    LAB 351.5-352.7: CON 194-199: LIBD 68-71.5: SNP 5-6: PC 4-5: UKIP 0.6-1.1
    The spreads are usually much narrower because Spreadfair combines the benefits of a betting exchange with a spread market. Their spreads are also much more market sensitive.

    In order to defray some of Politicalbetting’s costs we have reached an agreement whereby we receive a commission on accounts that are opened through the site. We like the way that Spreadfair has a full range of party options though not, as yet, Respect. If you are opening a spread-betting account I would be grateful if you could do it through the site. Many thanks.

    Mike Smithson