Monday Call – August 16 2004 [next planned update Wednesday]

Monday Call – August 16 2004 [next planned update Wednesday]


    Hartlepool – Can Labour hold on?

9am update
Campaigning has started in earnest for the Hartlepool by-election and Politicalbetting has urged William Hill to make a market available on-line ASAP. The date has yet to be fixed but already the contest is attracting more media interest than last month’s two contests and we expect this to be reflected in the betting activity. These are the ’01 party shares together with GE predictions from Martin Baxter based on his latest “poll of polls”.

LAB 59.1 (46.2) : CON 20.9 (20.2): LIBD 15.0 (21.3) : OTH 5.9 (12.4) : MAJ 38.3 (24.9)

The vote shares from the all-postal local elections in the seat in June were:-

LAB 36: LD 27: CON 13: UKIP 8

We called Leicester South for the Lib Dems even before the markets opened with the party at 11/8 but we had reservations about their prospects in Hodge Hill. We were right on both. The following are our assessments for Hartlepool.

Labour have got off to a faltering start after having to replace controversial Midlands MP, Tom Watson, as campaign manager whose main strategy was to try to “demonise” the LD candidate for the job she does just as he did in Hodge Hill. He accused, Jody Dunn, of “ making excuses for junkies” because, as a barrister, she represented them in court. Clearly party bosses saw that denouncing a lawyer for defending a client could be taking Labour into dangerous territory. Although party “spinners” said the change was “planned all along” there’s no question from reading Watson’s blog that he was going to be in Hartlepool for the duration. Chances of winning 45%.

The Conservatives. Even though they were second to Peter Mandelson in 2001 we don’t think they’ve a chance and look certain, as in July’s contests, to slip into third place. In spite of the Labour “spinning” last month their vote mostly held up but the last time they had a by-election gain was in the rarefied political atmosphere of the Falklands war in June 1982. Since then there’ve been 5 General Elections three of which they won. They have no by-election form. Their only plus point from Hartlepool is that it’s opened up divisions in UKIP which could help their overall national rating. Chances of winning 5%.

The Lib Dems. The stakes are high because anything less than a victory will be seen as a major setback and they lost council seats there to Labour in June. The margin they are trying to overhaul is bigger than the one in Leicester but less than what they did against the Tom Watson campaign in Hodge Hill where they came within 460 votes of Labour’s 14,800 lead. The early announcement of Mandelson’s new job has given them time to plan and organise and the Watson salvo has rebounded. It’s a brave punter who bets against the Lib Dem by-election team. Chances of winning 45%.

The United Kingdom Independence Party could just be the joker in the pack but it is a very long-shot made even longer by Robert Kilroy-Silk not being allowed to be the candidate. The machinations in the party that saw this decision showed that it is lacking in robustness because, conceivably, the former TV star could have made a huge impact there and kept the UKIP band-wagon rolling. Chances of winning 5%.

General Election
Even though our call that Labour will get most seats remains our ongoing view that the pundits are overstating the Labour position was given strong support in Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer yesterday. There might be a debate on detailed numbers but Labour are going to get nowhere near the number of MPs that almost all the pundits are predicting. This is part of Cohen’s piece:-

If you search for, you will see how advisers to spread betters are taking the conventional wisdom apart. ‘The “experts” are calling it wrong,’ when they predict a three-figure Labour majority. They are applying ‘the swings to the parties’ vote shares in pre-election opinion polls on a uniform national basis’ when it’s far from clear the country will behave in a uniform manner next time.

Complacent Blairites are taking no account of a potential collapse in tactical voting. Last time Labour won about 40 seats as a result of Liberal Democrat supporters voting tactically for Labour. Although the high-rollers predict that Labour supporters will happily vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out, they doubt that Lib Dem supporters, and there will be a lot more Lib Dem supporters, will vote Labour. Because of Iraq, because of tuition fees, because of David Blunkett.

Without tactical voting, the Tories will be able to come through the middle in many seats. The gamblers also note that the Tories are in slightly better shape than they were and that the collapse in Labour Party membership will make it harder to get the vote out. Put these together and, they say, there’s only one conclusion: ‘sell Labour’.

I know quite a few of the Westminster pundits, and in the rare moments when they’re not drunk or in the grip of an egotistical mania, they’re a fine bunch of men and women. But I would trust a punter over a pundit any day. At least the gambler puts his money where his mouth is.

The current spread sell level on Labour has been declining and is the equivalent of an overall majority of 36, which is not the 100+ that many pundits are talking about and does not represent a comfortable margin.

Our favourite GE punt is combining bets on the Bet365 seat market for Tories to get 220 seats or less at 7/4 with one on Labour at 11/8 to get 335 seats or less. Unless there is a collapse by the LDs and/or the nationalist parties at least one and quite likely both are bound to come in. If Labour do better then you will win your Tory bet and vice versa. You can only lose on both bets if the Speaker, the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists ,the Northern Ireland parties, the LDs and any other party fail between them to get more than 89 seats and the main two parties are both very close to 221 and 336.

Latest spread-betting prices.

LAB 342-350: CON 212-220: LIBD 66-70 (No change)

HOLIDAYS: Site updated Monday, Wednesday and Fridays until next Monday – then next update on Wednesday September 8.

Mike Smithson


Comments are closed.