Archive for September, 2006

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Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

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    Has Election Night Special Had its Day?

One of my pet hates is the BBC’s Election Night Special. It’s not too bad for General Elections, but their coverage of local elections is woeful. One spends hours watching talking heads, trying to spin the results on behalf of their respective political parties, and all piously agreeing with each other about how dreadful the British National Party is. Amid all this verbiage, one then gets about ten minutes of Professor Anthony King, or someone equally well-qualified, giving some worthwhile analysis of the results.

The absolute low point, in my view, was the local election coverage of 2003. The commentators had decided from the outset, that it was a very poor night for the Conservatives, who in fact, gained nearly 600 seats. Every so often, a little blue symbol would flash up on the screen saying “Conservative gain”, yet still the view from the Studio was that this was a bad night for the Conservatives. It was truly surreal. I actually felt sorry for Theresa May (not something you’ll hear me say often), who kept trying to draw attention to the fact that the Conservatives were actually performing rather well.

    This is where Political Betting really comes into its own. In my opinion, its coverage of the local election results, in the early hours of May 5th this year, was vastly superior to anything appearing on the BBC programme.

Lots of posters were standing in local elections, or working for the political parties, and were able to post up to the minute information on this blog, well before it reached the BBC. While political activists all had their slant on the results, the level of objectivity on this site was far superior to anything I saw on the BBC programme. Overall, I must have spent about three hours coming back repeatedly to Political Betting, and other websites (and to be fair, the BBC website was very good) , and about 30 minutes watching the BBC programme. I consider that time was well spent.

Election night programmes are of interest only to political anoraks. Nonetheless, I’ve no doubt that most political anoraks far prefer objective coverage of the results, to endless spin, and unless the BBC can provide that, Election Night Special is doomed.

Thursday night saw some curious results. Outside Scotland, the Labour vote held up pretty well overall, confirming today’s Yougov poll:-

Gateshead MBC, Dunston & Wear: Labour 694, Lib Dem 269, BNP 226, Conservative 76. Labour Hold.

North Tyneside MBC, Benton. Conservative 1,359, Labour 1,191, Lib Dem, 210. Conservative hold.

East Hants DC, Whitehill Deadwater: Lib Dem 214, Conservative 93, Labour 24. Lib Dem hold

Rossendale DC, Cribden. Labour 391, Lib Dem 312, Conservative 186, BNP 89. Labour gain from Lib Dem. For some reason, the Lib Dems didn’t field a candidate when this seat was last contested in 2004, and it was won by the Conservatives. It is still a good result for Labour though, because the last time all three parties fought the seat, in 2003, they won about a third of the vote each, and the Lib Dems narrowly won. The Conservative vote was well down on 2003.

Nottinghamshire CC, East Mansfield. Labour 1,228, Conservative 628, Independent 620, Lib Dem 544, Green 217. Labour hold. Another strong performance from Labour, whose vote share was up 6%, compared to 2005.

Fife SUA, Monkinch and Woodside: SNP 892, Labour 388, Lib Dem 257, Conservative 39, Independent 29. SNP gain from Labour. A truly terrible result for Labour, who suffered a swing of 30% against them, and continues a run of poor results in Scotland.

Blackburn with Darwen UA, East Rural. Independent 209, Conservative 201, England First 99, Lib Dem 91, BNP 70. Independent gain from Conservative. At first sight, it is astonishing that the Conservatives could lose a seat where they won 94% of the vote in May. However, the successful Independent is in fact a Conservative, and the daughter of the previous councillor. In reality it remains a safe Conservative seat – so safe that the Conservatives can run candidates against each other.

It also demonstrates, like Bridge in Redbridge, that far right candidates can poll strongly in Conservative, as well as Labour wards (23% went for the BNP and England First).

Wrexham UA: Conservative 413, Lib Dem 378, Labour 251. Conservative gain from Indpendent. A very strong performance from the Conservatives.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist



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YouGov: Labour now level-pegging with the Tories

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

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    Lib Dems suffer most from Blair farewell conference boost

On Tuesday in the aftermath of Tony Blair’s extraordinary farewell speech I predicted here that this would “give the party a small but significant boost in the polls and … might even see Labour back into the lead..”

And so it has happened. A Yougov survey for the Telegraph that was mostly carried out in the immediate aftermath of the Blair speech has these shares this morning with comparisons on their last poll a week ago. CON 36(-1): LAB 36%(+3): LD16%(-2)..

There can be little doubt that the extensive and favourable coverage of the speech and the general display of unity at the Manchester conference has given Labour a much-needed polling boost. This is the first time since April that the Tories have not been in the lead in a poll with a politically weighted sample.

The main consolation for the Tories is that they only went down a point and the main hit seems to have been taken by the Lib Dems who have dropped to 16% – where they were at in May.

    Today’s changes almost directly parallel what happened after Labour’s conference a year ago. Then the Labour YouGov share went up three points to 40% with the Tories staying on 32% and the Lib Dems dropping from 21 to 20%.

One of the annual problems the Tories have got is that theirs is always the last in the autumn conference season so they almost always gather by the seaside with their relative position against Labour getting worse. They’ve also not been getting much of a look-in in the media over the past month which has been dominated by the Labour succession.

I think that there is a possibility that Labour could be back into the lead in the Populus Poll for the Times that should be out on Tuesday. Last year the pollster recorded the Labour lead going up from 2% to 10% in the poll taken immediarly after the Labour conference.

Even so this is a blow to David Cameron as he prepares for his first party annual gathering and there are some other polling details showing that perceptions of him have declined over the past nine months.

Mike Smithson



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Labour leaders get BrandIndex boost

Friday, September 29th, 2006

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    Blair and Reid the big movers

For all the reported infighting at Labour’s Manchester conference the latest BrandIndex figures from YouGov show a boost for all the main party leaders during the week.

These are based on five-day rolling averages of more than 600 online interviews a day until yesterday – so the full impact will not be seen until after the weekend. John Reid, who spoke yesterday, got a huge boost and if that continues over the next few days the graph should move up even further.

But the biggest mover of all was Tony Blair who is now recording his highest ever ratings since YouGov launched the BrandIndex polling in the Spring.

The movements on the week are: Blair + 12: Reid +5: Brown +4: Johnson +1: Miliband +1

There’s a fuller report on Anthony Well’s UK Polling Report site.

There have been no national opinion polls since Monday and it seems highly likely that Labour will get a significant boost. Could they have over-taken the Tories? We’ll have to wait and see but it’s a well-established polling pattern that parties usually get a conference boost in the polls.

Mike Smithson



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Gordon Brown’s Manchester conference

Friday, September 29th, 2006

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    Day by day – how punters views changed

I’ve been working with the Guardian this afternoon on help with a graphic on how gamblers have changed their views on Gordon Brown’s leadership chances as the week has progressed. The only problem I’ve had is that they’ve wanted the prices in old fashioned fractional odds – not the decimal-type that we tend to use here.

So if it is used tomorrow it will be a bit different from my chart above – which shows the movements and represents the best betting price that was available at any one time. It illustrates the impact of his speech on Monday, the reported comments of Cherie Blair that day, the reaction to Tony Blair’s speech and yesterday’s moves following John Reid’s address.

Mike Smithson



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Guest slot: Peter Smith on managing your betting

Friday, September 29th, 2006

    Creating and Managing A Betting Bank

You like a punt and think you have spotted an opportunity – but how much do you stake? Of course, it’s entirely up to you but I reckon a systematic staking plan will help to improve your betting.

Begin by creating a Betting Bank. I mean by this a separate sum of money, ring-fenced from your daily budget and preferably kept in a separate account. Its size will depend not just on your means but also what you feel comfortable with. My own Bank this year is £4,000 because that’s what I could afford to lose without it impacting my lifestyle unduly but the important thing is not so much the size as the identification of a specific amount dedicated exclusively to betting. This will give you a clear benchmark for your staking plan.

How? Well, the crucial consideration is that it is essential you never exhaust your Bank. If you bet regularly, you are certain to have long losing runs from time to time. If your Bank is big enough to sustain you through such spells, you can expect to recover those losses in due course but if you empty the Bank, that’s it; you are out of the game and losses will never be recovered. Bookmakers know this and depend upon it. Most punters, sooner or later, hit a run so bad that their resources are exhausted. They withdraw from the game and temporary losses become permanent.

The solution is to fix your stake as a percentage of your Bank. What percentage depends upon your success rate which in turn is dependent on whether you tend to go for short priced favorites or, like me, look for the longer shots. To illustrate, let’s assume a fairly moderate strike rate of 25% (i.e. you back one winner in every four bets). What is the longest losing run you are likely to endure?

Statisticians can get wonderfully complicated about such questions but for the purposes of this illustration, please accept that there would be a 1% chance of hitting a run of 17 losing bets. Round this up to 20 and it implies that at a standard stake of 5% of the Bank, there would be less than a 1 in a 100 chance of exhausting it. Even this might appear too high a risk, given the catastrophic consequences of hitting rock bottom, so I suggest two ways of reducing the risk further.

First, graduate your bets according to how good you think they are, allocating 1% to the weakest and 5% only to the ones in which you have the greatest confidence. Secondly, don’t scale the bets to the starting Bank but to the actual Bank, so that if it grows, your stakes increase and diminish when it shrinks. That way, in theory, the Bank should never be exhausted.

Applying these principles to my own Bank, I started the year working to a maximum stake of £200 (5% of £4,000) and a minimum of £40. In practice, most of my punts are round about the £100 mark. I’m fairly comfortable with that, which brings me to my last point.

Never mind the stats; don’t bet outside your comfort zone. If you are not comfortable risking 5% of your Bank on a single bet, don’t do it. On the odd occasions when I have significantly exceeded my self-imposed limits, I have felt miserable and however successful the bet has proved, the strain has simply not been worth it.

One benefit of a clear staking plan is the sense of control it gives you in respect of money management. This aids confidence which is likely to spill over into your betting generally. By following the simple principles outlined here, there’s a fair chance your results and profits from betting will improve automatically.

In fact, I’m prepared to bet on it.

Peter Smith (aka Peter the Punter)

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Is John Reid now carrying the flag for Team Blair?

Thursday, September 28th, 2006
    But could his “Back Story” blow his chances?

reid guns.JPGJudging by the way Tony Blair enthusiastically greeted John Reid’s conference speech are the “anyone but Brown” factions now pinning their hopes on the Home Secretary? Certainly it appeared that way and punters have eased off Brown and have now backed Reid into the second favourite slot again.

There can be little doubt that Reid’s powerful speech was in all but name a declaration that he will be standing.

    The big question mark over Reid is that every aspect of the lives of prospective candidates lives will be put under the media microscope in a way that we have not seen before. Is this where the Home Secretary could be vulnerable?

For there are many parts of his past that could be tricky for someone who aspires to be Prime Minster. During the 1990s Bosnian War, for instance, he was reported to have struck up a friendship with the Serb rebel leader Radovan Karadžić who was later indicted for war crimes. It’s said that Reid spent three days at a luxury Swiss hotel as a guest of Karadžić in 1993. What went on there? Why did he go? Reid needs convincing explanations.

This could raise questions about his former membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In typical Reid style he is quoted as saying “I used to be a Communist. I used to believe in Santa Claus”. You can see the Tories and the Brownites getting their teeth into that one.

His reported heavy drinking which he has now stopped completely and his reputation as a “bruiser” in his youth all open up lines of inquiry that will be highlighted during a leadership campaign.

Reid needs to pre-empt all of this by closing down these issues as soon as possible otherwise it will haunt him throughout the coming months.

What is going to be critical is how his challenge is rated in the opinion polls. Was the controversial Frank Luntz focus group a fair reflection of the general public and the views of Labour supporters? Gordon Brown has got so much momentum going for him that it is going to take some serious pro-Reid polling evidence for him to get a toe-hold.

For latest leadership betting click here.

Mike Smithson



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ICM data shows Brown retaining just 60% of Labour ’05 voters

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

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    New polling innovation shows problem for Ming as well

In a major new way of presenting and collating polling information the detailed data from Friday’s ICM September poll in the Guardian, just out, gives a breakdown of what people will do based on how they voted in the 2005 General Election. The news is not good for the Fife neighbours, Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell.

    For only three out of five people who voted Labour in 2005 told ICM they would do the same at the next General Election if Brown was leader.

We are able to track this because in what I believe is a first for a pollster we are now able to see how allegiances have switched between the parties since the last election and how different groups respond to questions like how they would vote with different people named as party leaders. This could be a vital resource if Labour’s succession is to be decided by a contest.

    In the past we have only been able to make informed guesses about how votes were moving between the parties. Now ICM is giving us firmer information.

It shows on the main voting intention question, for instance, that 77% of Labour voters last time intend to do the same at the next election. A total of 8% of them now say they will vote Tory and 11% would vote Lib Dem with the balance going to “others”

Thus for the Tories the retention factor is 91% with 4% going Lib Dem and 1% to Labour. A total of 74% of the 2005 Lib Dem supporters stay with 14% going Tory and 8% going Labour.

The real shock comes when respondents were asked how they would vote if Cameron/Brown/Campbell are the leaders – for there are significant losses for both Labour and the Lib Dems. These are the main points:-

  • Labour ’05 voters Just three out of five say they would stick with the party with Brown as leader. A tenth would go to the Tories; a tenth to the Lib Dems. The balance is accounted for by “others” “don’t knows” and refusers.
  • Lib Dem ’05 voters Just 59% say they would stay Lib Dem with this line-up of leaders – the party losing 16% to the Tories and 11% to Labour.
  • Tory ’05 voters. Cameron’s Tories retain 83% with 2% going to Labour and 3% going to the Lib Dems. The party picks up significant Labour and Lib Dem support
  • Clearly in each case you gain a few votes in one direction and you lose a few in the other. However you look at it the figures for Labour and the Lib Dems when Brown and Ming are named as leaders are not encouraging.

      This is the first time data has been collated in this way and we need the evidence of a number of polls before we can draw firm conclusions – but the Brown retention element might be seized on by the Blairites who are trying to stop him.

    ICM have built up a reputation as a pioneer in the polling business and should be congratulated on this welcome innovation. I am really looking forward to the next ICM poll to see if there changes are consistent. Let’s hope that other pollsters follow suit.

    In the Labour leadership betting Brown is 0.48/1.

    Mike Smithson



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    Markets move to June 2007 departure

    Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

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      Will Gordon have to wait longer before he can go at Cameron?

    Comments in a Radio 4 interview by the Education Secretary and possible leadership challenger, Alan Johnson, that Tony Blair would stay longer than most people were expecting has led to active trading on the departure date and the “length of third term” spread betting markets.

    Johnson’s comments indicated a late summer departure which could deprive the new leader of taking over while the Commons is still sitting. It’s known that Gordon Brown has been pressing for the actual transfer date to be during the parliamentary session so that, if elected, he could have five or six weeks to “go at Cameron” before the recess.

      If Johnson is calling this right then the new leader would probably have to wait until October 2007 before facing the Tory leader across the chamber at Prime Minister’s Questions.

    The market from Cantor Spreadfair on how many weeks Blair’s third term will continue for is now showing a spread of 101-106 weeks which is six weeks longer than yesterday and would take the change-over into June.

    Week one began on May 9th 2005 so the buy price starts in June 2007. The bookmaker makes clear that “…if Tony Blair announces his resignation for a date in the future, but carries on as Prime Minister in the interim, then the market will be settled on his actual final day as Prime Minister, not the time of the announcement”.

    This is very different from the Betfair betting exchange definition of the market which is “When will Tony Blair officially cease to be leader of the Labour Party?”
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    I can see problems of interpretation ahead on this if Blair were to announce, say, in April that he was planning to go at the start of July when a new leader was in place. The party rules seem to indicate that no election is possible until Blair has stepped aside so the operative date would be when that is submitted.

    This is one of the reasons why you can still get 5.6/1 on the July-September option.

    When Iain Duncan Smith, who incidentally I met today, had to step down in the autumn of 2003 Betfair settled on the basis of his leaving date – not when the vote of no confidence went through.

    Mike Smithson