My last article, arguing Labour are rightly favourite in Selby & Ainsty, provoked a very fair rebuttal from some commenters. The Tories may be vulnerable, but Labour are hardly a party with a history of by-election upsets. That’s what the Lib Dems are for.
The Lib Dems have enjoyed three by-election victories since the last election, winning not just Remain-leaning Chesham & Amersham but also Leave seats in North Shropshire and Tiverton & Honiton. In these latter two seats they also came from 3rd place, making a mockery of Labour claims to be the main challenger.
Punters anticipate the same thing to happen in Mid Beds, where Nadine Dorries has announced she’s standing down (though is yet to actually do so). The ‘Yellow Peril’ were quickly installed as roughly 1/2 favourites at the bookies and remain favourites at just under evens despite a constituency poll placing the party 4th!
That poll was quite surprising in many ways, with a strong independent candidate and Labour winning on just 28%, and triggered only a modest reaction from punters. The market just doesn’t buy Labour outperforming the Lib Dems here. I’m less sceptical.
Labour seems to have more mojo than it did a year or more back. Looking at national polls Labour were averaging barely 35% in December 2021 when North Shropshire went to the polls, tied with the Tories, and a touch under 40% in June 2022 when Tiverton & Honiton did. Now they average almost 50%, rising sharply the last few weeks.
Furthermore, we have lots of polling showing Labour making big progress in so-called ‘Blue Wall’ seats – and the Lib Dems struggling to do so. Various pollsters have conducted polls of this, admittedly vaguely defined at times, category of seats. They almost all find the same result: Labour and the Lib Dems were roughly tied in these seats overall back in 2019, with the Tories way ahead. Now Labour have made massive advances and perhaps doubled their support, overtaking the Tories. The Lib Dems, by contrast, have made little to no progress at all.
There is a common assumption that the next election will see Labour and the Lib Dems informally dividing up territory and each competing in different kinds of seats. I wonder if we might be overstating this, and Labour will simply march forward almost everywhere the Lib Dems weren’t clear 2nd placed last time around. Given Labour came 2nd in Mid Beds back in 2019, perhaps the constituency poll isn’t so implausible.
There is one big flaw with this theory: The precedents of Tiverton & Honiton and North Shropshire, both seats where the Lib Dems won from 3rd place even though the Blue Wall polling already showed the strong Labour trend. I certainly wouldn’t rule out that happening again here (or the Tories holding on, the majority is massive).
But I think the market is being too dismissive of a Labour victory. Their national poll numbers are so good they should be competitive everywhere, and Blue Wall polling supports this. They are certainly giving the campaign some serious resources: I think the market should take them seriously too. You can get 5/1 on them with Betway or similar at betting exchanges, and that’s too long.
PS: I stand by my logic in my previous article that Labour should be favourites in Selby & Ainsty, but the markets have swung way too far in my opinion. I’ve taken profit on my position by backing the Tories at 5/1, and think it is clear value. An 18% swing to Labour is hardly nailed on.
It may seem odd to place both these bets at the same time, but both are way longer than evens and we know by-elections throw up surprises. Backing surprises when we have so little data is the right strategy in my opinion.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Labour winning Mid Bedfordshire at 5/1. He has bets on Labour winning Selby & Ainsty at 5/4 and the Tories holding it at 5/1. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts