Divide and conquer? Betting on the October 19th by-elections

Divide and conquer? Betting on the October 19th by-elections

October 19th sees two by-elections, both in similarly safe Tory seats. The bookies (and presumably punters) rate the Tory chances as fairly different in the two seats. I’m not sure that’s right.

Tamworth and Mid Beds certainly have their differences. Tamworth is a Midlands seat which heavily backed leave with an estimated 66% of their vote, whereas Mid Beds is a more affluent southern seat which is estimated to have voted leave by 53% – almost exactly the national average. However, they have an awful lot in common too, not least the starting positions for the parties.

TamworthMid Beds
Tory Vote Share66.359.8

Tory Majority (%)
Lab + LD Vote Share2934.3
Best Odds (Tory Hold)10/3 (23%)2/1 (33%)

As you can see, while it isn’t earth-shattering the Tories are given a much more fighting chance in Mid Beds than Tamworth. I can think of three reasons for this, none of which justify the odds difference in my mind.

  1. The Lib Dems may split the vote with Labour in Mid Beds

Mid Beds is one of the only seats in the country where the Lib Dems and Labour could both credibly challenge in a by-election, and both parties have been campaigning hard. It’s been speculated this might let the Tories hold on with the opposition vote split, and the latest poll did indicate that might be happening.

However, voters have shown a remarkable ability to get behind a single opposition party in by-elections this year and with both constituency polls putting Labour ahead of the Lib Dems I suspect the final Lib Dem vote share will be somewhat ground down.

  1. Tamworth has more swing voters

The huge national polling shift since 2019, an election the Tories won by a double-digit vote share, have been particularly strong among leave voters. As mentioned above, Tamworth has more of those than Mid Beds.

However, both seats have plenty of fertile territory for opposition parties. Mid Beds is more socially liberal than Tamworth, which makes it more vulnerable to campaigns against Tory culture war proposals. More generally, I believe the anti-Tory sentiment in the national polls is broadly driven by concerns about the Tories ability to deliver and their general competence. Such issues are universal in all voter groups.

  1. Mid Beds has polls, Tamworth doesn’t

My theory is this is driving the prices. In Mid Beds we know the Tories have a shot at the seat because we have two polls showing them in second and joint first place. In Tamworth we don’t know that. But I think it’s likely a similar situation, and the market is overreacting to having it confirmed in one seat and not the other despite having good reason to suspect a Tamworth poll would show a tight race also.

I may eat my words here, but I think the markets have both swung too hard against the Tories and are treating the two races as too different. I got in early on Labour in Mid Beds, but instead of cashing out those bets I’m backing the Tories in Tamworth instead. If both seats go the same way then I’ll profit from the longer odds, but if not I might get burned.


Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Labour winning Mid Bedfordshire at 5/1. He has bets on the Tories winning Tamworth at 10/3. Odds quoted in the table above exclude betting exchanges, where slightly longer odds are available on both seats. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts

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