Is a Tory victory a near certainty?
Ever since the betting markets opened on the Crewe and Nantwich by election all the money has been going one way. Ladbrokes opened with a 4/5 Tory price which then went to 4/7 and is now at 1/2.
Betfair has seen a big rush to get on the Tories and, as I write, the best you can get is 0.34/1. Another bookmaker has 4/9.
But is punter confidence in the Tories justified – after all we have to go back until June 1982 to find the last time that the party gained a seat in a Westminster by-election?
The central questions are how many of the 22,140 who voted for Gwyneth Dunwoody in 2005 have switched and, the extent to which party machine is be able to get its core vote to the polling stations on May 22nd. For Labour always finds it much harder to get its people out in elections when the government of the country is not at stake – just look at last week’s locals.
The national general election polls are telling us two things: that Labour supporters are much less likely than Tories to say they are certain to vote and that between 12% and 20% of those who say they were Labour in 2005 have now switched to the Tories.
On the face of it then it’s a no-brainer – if the Tories can maintain the bulk of their general election vote of 14,162 and are attracting Labour switchers on the scale that the polls are suggesting then Cameron will do it.
The fly in the ointment could be the Lib Dems who polled a creditable 8,083 three years ago. Their initial task is to persuade enough of the electors that voting for them, and not the Tories, is the best way of unseating Labour. They have also got a terrific by election record, hundreds of activists who flood into the area every day to help, and a track record of producing by election literature that works.
Their challenge is not being squeezed out with the media increasingly presenting the current political situation in two party terms. What happened to the Lib Dem vote in London shows where that can lead.
By election polls. We have only seen two of these in recent years – at Hartlepool in 2004 and in Gwent last year. In the former the Labour vote was hugely inflated while in the latter the poll got the final outcome wrong. They are very difficult for pollsters to do because it’s hard getting a representative sample. Also opinion is more likely than at other elections to change during a campaign. I don’t know whether there will be one but if there is I would treat it with ultra caution.