Archive for the 'Guest Contribution' Category


Mortimer with a tip for the more adventurous gamblers

Monday, May 16th, 2016

2016 General Election Betting

A few days ago during the inevitable Political Betting dissection of the too-ings and fro-ings of another day in the EU referendum campaign the fact that this race really might be a close one began to sink in.

I am a moderate Leaver – the sort who accepts that there are weaknesses in some of the arguments put forward by the Leave campaign, but for various reasons sees that our future and Europe’s might be better apart. I can therefore also be realistic over problems that having several competing Leave camps has created – not least the apparent fall-out between Vote Leave and Nigel Farage this week over TV debates. And realistic too about the prospect of asking people to vote on what often amounts to a hunch, a gut instinct, a pride, a hope and a trust in the ingenuity of an independent British future.

Remain, meanwhile, are not arguing amongst themselves, they have the Prime Minister and HM Government on their side, with the vast supplies of resources and patronage that has brought in the run up to the campaign proper. The leaderships of many supranational bodies, respected captains of industry and well thought of celebrities are also for In. Even the President of the United States visited to suggest we should stay. They also have the benefit of trying to sell the status quo, which is generally seen in the UK as the easiest position to explain in a referendum. And yet the polling averages suggest that the two campaigns are almost tied. Stepping back from the daily bunfights, the name calling and the last media cycle, one has to wonder: why are Remain not walking this referendum?

The Remain campaign are leading with what they think is the strongest message, but one which might prove to be the wrong message for the referendum. Economics, the pounds in people’s pockets and in their pay packets, might trump almost everything else in general elections, when increasingly we’re choosing the people who will be deciding often difficult tax and spending plans. All the more so when the country is struggling to fund it’s commitments – winning 2015 was therefore about framing Conservative economic competence and ‘finishing the job’.

But, for two reasons it might not work this time; firstly, figures can be disputed, and Leave, for all their faults, have done a great job of casting doubt on the figures released in the past 3 weeks. Economics is no science, and the inclusion of longer-term forecasts is also dangerous when the public are a little bit too used to a Chancellor not meeting his deficit reduction targets. Economic forecasts two or three years ahead can rarely be relied upon for important decisions, and the public, probably quite rightly, seem to consider estimates for 2030 with a healthy degree of scepticism.

Secondly, leading so strongly with an economics-based argument almost looks like Remain are avoiding discussions of sovereignty and immigration. Again, to give credit where it is due, the Leave campaign have very successfully focused their campaign on these issues. And for many people, especially the C1, D and E demographic groups, the daily reality of immigration is more likely to be witnessed as a form of real or (sometimes media driven) perceived economic competition in the job market and real or perceived competition for access to public services.

Remain might struggle to win over voters if they are overplay economics not only because people don’t believe the economic arguments and figures, but also because some of us might consider from experience that the gains of improved sovereignty or a reduction in the immigration figures could be more personally significant.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, the relative positioning and lead messages of the two campaigns also allows for an entirely divergent group of people to tend towards Leave: those willing to accept there might be an economic cost, and even buy into the figures and forecasts provided by the Treasury, Bank of England and IMF, but consider this to be a “price worth paying”. When Arron Banks suggests similar he is laughed at, but as easy as it might seem to dismiss this argument out of hand when it comes from a wealthy individual and prominent donor to UKIP, personal experience suggests that this concept might resonate with a group who will worry the Remain campaign far, far more: pensioners. Many of whom will remember a Britain before EU membership.

So if long-term economic forecasts are not trusted by a large proportion of the public, if some consider the economic implications of immigration and sovereignty more personally significant to their pocket, and if some groups, like pensioners, are even happy to accept that there might be a real economic cost but that it is worth leaving the EU anyway, how is the savvy punter to get the best odds?

The obvious position to take is an outright bet on Leave – which is still only a little over an implied 30% likelihood on Betfair. The 9/4 odds offered by Ladbrokes on Leave are matched by their odds for David Cameron ceasing to be Prime Minister in 2016; and as I hazard that a Leave vote would be followed by a resignation, this makes sense. The 16/1 odds from Ladbrokes on a UK general election in 2016, surely a possibility in the event of a Leave vote, might however be attractive to those of us willing to take a bit more of a risk.



Cyclefree’s analysis of the Remain campaign

Sunday, March 6th, 2016


Picture credit: Britain Stronger In Facebook page

While there has rightly been analysis of an often incoherent Leave campaign, perhaps some scrutiny is needed of some common Remain tropes – those focusing on why we should stay rather than why we should not Leave – and what they might mean for the referendum result and the UK’s longer term relationship with its European neighbours.

1. We will be in a reformed EU and can continue with further reform.

This is the Remain campaign’s equivalent of whistling to keep one’s spirits up, even when there’s no reason to. No-one believes you’re really happy but they admire your determination. The EU is not reformed in any sense the UK would understand and, to the extent that it has made some changes to accommodate the UK, it has no real desire to do any more, will do so only unwillingly and certainly sees no need to reform itself into something the UK might feel comfortable with. Any change in the EU will be towards further integration, a more centralized EU, a more political EU not the a la carte EU principally concerned with trade the UK might prefer.

2. We will have influence.

Setting aside the initial and unworthy thought that this is no more than politicians and FCO-wallahs wanting a stage to strut on, there are two types of influence being confused here: (a) how much actual power we can wield – through votes, reliable alliances or groupings; and (b) “soft power” influence which comes from being thought of as worth listening to, moral authority, someone whose views cannot be ignored. The UK has relatively little of the former, partly because of QMV and partly because it has failed over the years to build effective and long-lasting alliances (and may never have succeeded even if it had really tried). It also has relatively little of the latter. Much of its approach to both the political and legal issues arising within the EU is so at variance with how the majority of other countries approach matters that is hard to see how such influence could succeed or, indeed, where it has succeeded in the past. Ironically, the one basis on which it could claim “influence” – the level of its contributions – is not deployed. Remain are deluding themselves if they think the UK will have any meaningful influence while it remains determined to stay out of the EU’s primary purpose of political and economic union. This is in the EU’s DNA; it is not in the UK’s.

3. The “Javid” argument – or “I wouldn’t have joined but now we’re in we’d better stay”.

Why this should be so is never really explained. It is not so much an argument for staying but rather a justification for why it would be too much effort to leave. Likely to be effective since laziness is much more widespread than courage. But an essentially fearful and passive argument.

4. A new deal for Britain.

Not now heard much of since the announcement of the deal. While this may have been the best that could be obtained (arguable but let’s given Remain the benefit of the doubt on that) overselling a package which amounted to not very much has harmed the PM’s credibility with his party, may have done so with the public and has wasted such credit as the UK has within the EU for very little. Not so much Paris being worth a Mass as London being worth, well, what? The right to pay Bulgarian children a bit less benefit. Perfidious Albion indeed.

5. We would be turning our backs on Europe.

Possibly the most dishonest trope of all. Europe is not the EU. Conflating the two is to assume that a particular statist, centralist, bureaucratic and essentially French political model is what Europe is and should be about. France has given much to European civilization but stable, democratic, liberal and long-standing polities are not among French strengths. Many who love Europe and the idea of a free, liberal, democratic, peaceful Europe are aghast at how the EU has sought to appropriate that idea to itself, to leave no space for any other idea of Europe, any better idea of Europe. They are even more aghast at how doing so has woken some of the nastier dragons which are also part of European history. Turning our back on the EU is not the same as turning away from Europe, any more than not voting Tory is not the same as turning away from Britain.

There are many other tropes which other PB’ers will doubtless be quick to identify. Underlying all of the above is an assumption that a vote for Remain is a vote for the status quo, a mistaken assumption as far as the EU is concerned and even more so for the UK, given that it will become even more marginal as the EU integrates further.

Will this work? The likely answer is yes. Those who are infuriated by such arguments are likely to be Leavers in any case. Many others may discount these arguments and vote Remain out of concern about the alternatives.

What will this do for the longer-term relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU, if Remain wins? This merits a whole thread of its own. But, in essence the failure over the last 40 years of membership to set out clearly what the EU project is about and what this means for Britain has been at the heart of the disconnect between the establishment and voters about EU matters and the disconnect between Britain and the rest of the EU. Nothing in the way the Remain campaign is being run has addressed these issues and may indeed exacerbate them.


CycleFree is a long standing poster on PB


Pulpstar on the Republican Nomination

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

The GOP race for the White House is utterly fascinating, and represents a proper betting contest rather than the 1-10 shot Hilary Clinton is in the Democrat race.

I look on as an outsider, with no particular knowledge of US politics outside of resources available to anyone else – Wikipedia, 538 and real clear politics. How should we start to analyse such an interesting contest – well past performance is no guarantee to the future, but there are quite a lot of known unknowns that may be able to point us in the right direction:

We have the Iowa caucus on the 1st February and the New Hampshire primary on the 9th February, and South Carolina shortly after. Super Tuesday allocates a lot of delegates, but the betting will surely have shifted by the time that comes around and if we genuinely believe one of the candidates can win who has not taken any of the first three states then surely their price will reflect this, and we can back accordingly. (Rubio is most likely to be this man in the betting, my guess is he will be longer than his current 2-1 if he takes none of the first 3 states, though).

Anyway looking to the first 3 states :



*2004;1992;1984;1970 excluded due to incumbent president, all other challengers won 0 states.

** Wisconsin 1968 1st; Pennsylvania 3rd

** Wisconsin 1964/60 2nd; Illinois 3rd

[1] Ron Paul did a bit of an Iowa coup winning 22 delegates, leaving Santorum with 0 even though he won the popular vote ! (Romney was a close 2nd on votes, and got 6 delegates).

So, we can see that in every election since 1952 the winner of either the first or 2nd state has gone onto gain the nomination. In recent times this is Iowa/New Hampshire. In particular New Hampshire looks to be a slightly stronger steer than Iowa.

Looking to this race, Trump remains dominant in New Hampshire as Romney was most recently in 2012.

Here is the RCP New Hampshire chart:


The national polling is also not massively dissimilar to this, so there is no indication that NH this time round should prove to be an anomaly.

Bush’s performance is staggeringly bad for by far the biggest spending candidate of the race, if he drops out then I can think that Marco Rubio benefits the most, but Chris Christie may also and it won’t be the 100% transfer the betting markets appear to be assuming…

Anyway onto current prices:

Rubio 2.88/2.94;               Cruz 3.75/4.0;                    Trump 4.5/4.6;                  Bush 9.6/10.5;   Christie 15/16; the field 100-1 or longer

If I was starting from here, I’d back Trump (Should be favourite), Cruz (Could win Iowa and come in) & lay Rubio (Too short), Bush (Won’t win and heading backwards) leaving Christie and the field perhaps at a nice even zero. Be prepared to change your mind if the facts change. AND WATCH NEW HAMPSHIRE LIKE A HAWK !



Why Corbyn represents something more than just Corbynmania

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015


A guest post by Professor Glen O’Hara

It’d be easy to laugh at Jeremy Corbyn’s unsteady progress over the last few days. The shambolic late night appointment of the Shadow Cabinet; the outrage over his treatment of Labour women; the long walk of shame when he refused to answer any questions about it, and then tried to get a policeman to help him out; the forgotten bits of the TUC speech; the furore over the national anthem; the Whips’ Office debacle on the tax credits vote; the fact that Shadow Cabinet Minister’s won’t even agree with him in public. It’s quite a list.

But all this is just noise: if Corbyn does get a chance to gain a hearing, he could be around much longer than people think. If he rides out this initial crisis, the very reasons for his elevation to Labour’s top job may take a hold and keep him there for quite some time. It seems less likely that he’ll contest a General Election than it did when his landslide win was announced on Saturday. Can you imagine this farrago of blunders in a full-on short campaign? But betting on years, rather than months, still seems the most prudent course.

This isn’t just because of the pusillanimity of Labour’s MPs. They’ve already shown, at their meeting with Corbyn, that they’re not prepared to give him an easy ride. Having along with Ed Miliband, they’re determined not to go down with the ship again. Nor is it due to Labour’s arcane rule book. That’ll just get torn up if there is a real move against Labour’s ever-more-interim ‘leader’.

No. It’s because Corbyn speaks for, and to, a great big slice of Britain – who just happen to include the audience and selectorate that, for now, dominate Labour thinking and discussion. Consider the many reasons he’s made it there in the first place, obscured by the clown car mashup of his first few days. The first reason is disillusion with mainstream politics itself. Politicians have never been that popular: but, following a brief burst of faith and interest in the early Blair years, Parliament and Parliamentarians’ ratings have slid and slid.

The disaster of the second Iraq War of course makes up a great deal of that: the expenses scandal was in some respects a last straw. Taken with airbrushed front rank politicians’ inability to say anything at all that isn’t qualified and nuanced to the nth degree, in case it comes back and trips them up later, and you now have a public that loathes the way it’s spoken to.

Hence the appeal of Corbyn’s apparently home-spun rhetoric: he just doesn’t sound like a politician. Every time Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall opened their mouths, everyone, a little unfairly, just heard the same old platitudes. Corbyn might be able to make a virtue out of allowing his followers to disagree, and of musing out loud, just saying ‘well, it’s all very interesting’ every time there’s a controversy. It’s a long shot– this week’s low key and restrained Prime Minister’s Questions being the first example. And it might appeal to voters who are sick of being talked down to.

The second reason Corbyn appeals is just the sheer amount of rage and anger there is out there in the country. Hence, in their different ways, the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party; hence the rejection of Labour’s business-as-usual options. The young people who flock to Corbyn’s rallies, who will never be able to buy a house if they live in the South of England. The older people who have such low rates of interest on their savings. Low paid workers who just feel that they’re slipping backwards all the time. A good old-fashioned blast of state socialism might appeal to many of them. Nationalisation of the railways and energy companies is fairly popular, taken in and of itself.

The third reason for his election was the rise of the ‘new politics’ his adherents keep talking about. The Mirror, that traditional voice of Labour, endorsed Andy Burnham; The Guardian, Yvette Cooper. They got nowhere. Why? Partly because of the influence of new social media, in which tens of thousands of clicktivists keep circulating the same blogs and talking points until they convince themselves that they are exclusively right – part of the reason behind Corbynism’s messianic sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ politics. Such activists roam from party to party (many of them came from the Greens to vote in Labour’s £3 ‘supporter’ category), looking for an inspiring moral cause to get their teeth into – and to signal their virtue.

They found it in an obscure MP who had already served his constituency for over thirty years, but they might just as easily have latched onto another cause. It was partly happenstance. They think little of the traditional party structures and loyalties of yesteryear, as we saw when so many of them were confused about why they had been excluded from Labour’s vote – for supporting, or even paying for, Green or other candidates.

They think that they should be able to fight for what they believe in using any of the increasingly shell-like structures that post-war British politics has left behind. And, you have to wonder: why shouldn’t they? Their enthusiasm, drive and energy has been something to behold, as it was in Scotland’s ‘Yes’ camp during the independence referendum there: if Corbyn can use that energy to launch a really massive registration and canvassing drive, he might be on to something.

Now let’s not get carried away. We’re talking about hanging on as Leader of the Opposition here, and of making a mark. Every single piece of data we have says that the wider electorate, especially centrist voters in smaller English towns, will probably hate all this. But we have to take the reasons for Corbyn’s victory seriously and think about why this has happened.

Otherwise, it might happen to the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, or even the SNP – doing lasting damage to our democracy. And these are powerful forces that are reshaping British politics. They won’t go away just because their representative is seen to fail. Disengagement, disillusionment, fury and clicktivism are powerful forces. They mean that Corbyn might last much longer than looks likely right now.

Politicalbetting contributors are laughing (or crying) at the moment. Labour’s new leader appears set on slipping on every banana skin he can find. But the deeper forces Corbyn represents – and to some extent, will unleash – are not going to go away. That’s something you should consider carefully when you’re betting about Brexit, a second Scottish independence referendum, the post-David Cameron Conservative leadership, and the 2020 General Election. They might all throw up entirely unexpected results.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Paradoxes of Progress: Governing Post-War Britain, 1951-1973 (2011). He is currently working on A History of Water in Modern Britain (forthcoming, 2016). He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past and can be followed on Twitter at @gsoh31.


Should Labour move swiftly to depose Corbyn?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015


If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well 

It were done quickly.

Trading as short as 1/6, let us assume that Jeremy Corbyn wins. Let us also assume that the electoral cause of Labour will be better served by getting rid of him. Elections are won on the centre ground, and Stephen Bush has pretty conclusively shown that non-voters are not, collectively, an alternative viable route to victory. Even if Corbyn does manage to turn out a bunch of new voters, they’ll be disproportionately in safe Labour seats, just as Ed Miliband found to his cost in May.

Most Labour MPs know all of the above. Less than 10% of the PLP actively want him to win: 14 of his nominators are intending to vote for someone else.

So, he’s got to go at some point. The conventional wisdom is seemingly to give him enough rope to hang himself. But why wait? I would suggest that waiting carries more risk than striking as soon as possible.

Delay might let the left take control of the party more generally

Michael Crick has reported on alleged plans for deselections, though these are denied by the Corbyn campaign. However, with a boundary review coming, outright deselections may not even be necessary. The impact of the squeeze from 650 down to 600 will fall most heavily on Labour seats in Wales and the North. In many cases neighbouring MPs may have to go head-to-head with each other.

There are also selections for winnable seats (marginals and retirements) to think about. The Labour right has already been outmanoeuvred on 2010-15 selections as antifrank showed in his analysis of the Labour intake. A Corbyn-led party would make it all but impossible for moderates to win such selections.

Beyond parliamentary selections there’s the Shadow Cabinet (if not elected) and the NEC to worry about. The former in terms of media presentation and policy, and the latter – which is currently finely balanced – re amending the party rulebook.

Delay breeds inertia, and Corbyn might be superficially popular

Labour MPs may never be more angry about Corbyn’s leadership than on Saturday morning. Some will succumb to shadow posts, some will dedicate themselves to constituency work, and some will involve themselves in think tanks or single-issue campaigns.

Others will set Corbyn electoral tests – such as winning London, winning Wales, or depriving the SNP of a majority in Scotland. But if – and it is an if – he fails to meet them, excuses will be made: the wrong candidate; local factors; media bias.

In any case, there’s no guarantee that Corbyn will fail these tests. Governments routinely lose popularity mid-term and this current government is already ceding ground and losing votes in the Commons. Pretty much any bad economic news could be portrayed by the opposition as a failure of austerity. “People’s QE” could look appealing, no matter how economically illiterate it may be.


The most common reason given for not moving against Corbyn straight away is that it would “look awful and undemocratic”.  But one could equally make the same complaint about the leadership election itself. Letting all and sundry sign up for the not-so-princely sum of £3 is, as William Hague put it, grounds for failing an “NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party”.

The exact nature of JC’s victory will be important here: if he doesn’t carry the full members then he will be much more vulnerable. It might be helpful for the party if the leadership contest went the distance so that a final head-to-head comparison in the various parts of the college is available: my guess is that the “purge” is more about keeping him under 50% in the first round than any faint hope he might not win. And by adding in declared votes from MPs it will probably be possible to prove that he would have lost under the old system.

A coup could be a Clause IV moment, on steroids

It might look awful. But it could also look decisive. If the PLP can swiftly assert themselves and eject Corbyn they would be making a big, bold statement about the future Labour Party. Blair’s Clause IV reform was essentially cosmetic: this would be a facelift.

Labour’s brand has been horribly tarnished by this leadership election; they are already being seen as heading back to the worst excesses of the 1980s. Every month of Corbyn’s leadership risks damaging the brand further. But, much as the Tories were partly detoxified in Opposition by some of their more hardline supporters heading off to UKIP, Labour could be deloonified by an exodus of Corbynistas to the Greens or other left-wing parties.

Finally, rejecting Corbyn would probably finally break the trade union link. This would be both emotionally and financially difficult for the party. But the finances are already under threat from Tory reforms, and the party needs to move beyond the public sector as a base, both out of electoral necessity and to better reflect the modern world of work.

Can it be done?

So could a coup be organised? It would need both an imminent pretext and a single replacement leader. Labour can’t afford – in either sense – another contest. But any would-be Macbeth would do well to remember Heseltine’s maxim that “he who wields the knife never wears the crown”. However a Michael Howard-style leader could be ideal: someone who doesn’t aspire to be Prime Minister but would be willing to do the party a huge favour and allow them to regroup behind them, change the leadership rules back to something more coherent, and then stand aside for a new leader (possibly even after the Tories have chosen theirs).

There are very few greybeards left in the PLP thanks mostly to the extraordinary attrition of the Blair-Brown era. Alan Johnson has already refused too many times to be credible. Tom Watson has the organisational clout, and will be very close to the action assuming he is elected Deputy, but he probably has too much baggage. However Harriet Harman could be a decent option; she may have presided over a shambles of a leadership contest but that is hardly her fault.

As for a pretext, David Cameron and George Osborne will surely be lining up a succession of litmus tests in the Commons. Syria is probably the topic most likely to divide Corbyn from his party, and the nation more generally.

There is of course risk in toppling any leader, no matter how contentious their mandate. But if the last 7 years have taught Labour anything, it should surely be that there can be more risk in not doing so.

Tissue Price


Guest Slot: Social media and shy rightwingers

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Dan Hannan Tweet

Tissue Price on the polling errors across Europe

The inquest into the polling disaster at the UK General Election continues. Matt Singh of NumberCruncherPolitics provided an excellent overview of the pollsters’ initial thoughts last week, ahead of the first meeting of the official BPC/MRS inquiry.

Some pollsters think faulty sampling was the principal cause of error, some blame turnout modelling, and one thinks a genuine late swing was the biggest single factor.

Dan Hodges channels Emile Zola in accusing the pollsters of herding, and Danny Finkelstein (£) thinks we’ll never know the true answer.

However Matt’s bet – and mine – is that Peter Kellner is right and that 2015 was a classic case of shy Tory syndrome. Peter chiefly attributes this to the Tories’ image, but I wonder whether his earlier explanation of “social satisficing” – not wanting to admit your views to a stranger for fear of being thought less of – might be nearer the mark, notwithstanding the fact that the majority of UK polls were online.

The reason for thinking this is that similar polling errors have occurred in other national elections this year. In Israel, Likud were predicted to gain 22 seats (of 120) and ended up with 30, and last week in Denmark the blue block were expected to win by 1 or 2% and actually won by 5% – with the populist DPP notably outperforming their eve-of-election polling by 3% (21% to 18%).

On more limited polling, the same pattern can be seen in Finland – with the Centre Party overestimated by about 3% at the expense of the populist True Finns and centre-right National Coalition Party; in Estonia, where the winning centre-right Reform Party were underestimated; in the Croatian presidential election, where the polls didn’t give the narrow winner Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović much of a chance (though interestingly the exit polls nailed it); and in Poland’s presidential election, where Andrzej Duda’s first round victory came as a total shock.

You could even make a case that Ireland’s marriage referendum fits the pattern, with the 62-38 victory for Yes contrasting with opinion polling expecting a 70-30 result.

The social media explanation

Is there a ready (and no doubt oversimplistic) explanation for why people all over Europe, in a variety of elections, might have been conditioned into suppressing their true intentions – even online? I think that perhaps social media – Twitter, and more importantly Facebook – has the answer.

Twitter has long been described as an echo chamber, and undoubtedly has a leftwing bias in terms of the sheer number of tweets. Dan Hannan’s tongue-in-cheek Venn diagram (at the head of this article) is to the point; the FT provided a more aesthetically pleasing proof of the same effect with some very nice network graphs.

However on Twitter you can choose who you follow and what you are exposed to. On Facebook you have to put up with your friends’ opinions. Now I am a fully paid-up PB Tory, with a social circle to match, but even I have some leftwing friends. And they didn’t shy away from signalling their virtue!

That’s anecdotal, but here is some data from the British Election Study posted by Philip Cowley of Nottingham University which confirms that left-wingers were much more likely to post content online during the election campaign:


Bes 2

NB the wider reach of Facebook – it’s by far the more important social network for communicating with the electorate at large. Ofcom estimate that there are about 35m Facebook users in the UK and only 12m Twitter users.

My supposition is that it’s easier – as in, less risk of argument or confrontation – to post left-wing opinion online. Your intentions are assumed to be good and your motives pure, whereas right-wing opinion may often carry a whiff of self-interest in financial matters and might be supposed to be xenophobic or worse in other areas.

So, there’s my overarching theory to explain the multiple failures of polling across Europe this year: an online culture in which leftwing messages get disproportionately liked or retweeted into your timeline might have helped to bring about the emergence of shy Tories. What do you think?

Tissue Price


Guest slot: The boundaries of reason

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Antifrank looks at The boundaries of reason: the possible shape of the 2020 election

I previously looked back at the impact of demographic changes on party politics from 1992 to 2015.  That’s all well and good, but what changes can we expect for 2020?  To determine that we first need to consider what the new boundaries are likely to look like.

It might be thought that the future musings of the Boundary Commissions are imponderable, but we have quite a lot of clues to go on.  We should use them.

The terms of any boundary review are closely delimited in legislation.  The following will occur unless the law is changed or the proposed boundary changes are defeated in Parliament:

1) The election will be fought on 600 seats.

2) There will be two Isle of Wight constituencies, a constituency for Orkney & Shetlands and a constituency for Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

3) The 600 seats will be allocated between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland according to a strict formula based on the number of registered voters as at the review date in each.

4) Except for the exceptions already noted, the seats will have a population of 95% to 105% of the average constituency size (there are size requirements that are relevant only in Scotland and Northern Ireland has special rules).

These are pretty prescriptive rules. There are already rumblings among Conservative MPs that the seat count should be kept at 650.  As we shall see, this may be in the interests of individual Conservative MPs but it is unlikely to be in the interests of the Conservative party as a whole.

The next thing to realise is that the Boundary Commissions have already started looking at this once (until their work was brought to a juddering halt by the Lib Dems ganging up on their coalition partners: as we shall see, this was absolutely correct from a narrow party interest).  So we already can see the general direction of travel.

For the moment I’m going to work on the basis of a 650 seat Parliament to explore what difference the boundary review might make.  While this is not what the law currently requires, it makes it easier to see what difference the impact of movements in registered voters might have.

Allocation of seats around the component parts of the UK

So, what should we expect?  The first thing to do is to determine the number of registered voters in each part of the UK.  This will be set at the end of this year, so we don’t have the precise figures, but the numbers from the general election should provide a fairly decent guide.  We have the electoral commission’s preliminary results:

This gives a national total of registered voters of 46,425,476.

I’ve separated these out into the component parts of the UK:

From these we can derive the following totals of registered voters:

Northern Ireland:1,236,683, Wales: 2,282,297, Scotland: 4,094,784, England: 38,811,712

When the seat allocation is eventually determined, it is done by a broadly proportionate approach.  Since we don’t have the relevant registered voter numbers yet, it is pointless doing anything more than a pro rata approach.  If the seat allocation stays at 650, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 17 seats, Wales to get roughly 32 seats, Scotland to get roughly 57 seats and England to get roughly 543 seats (with one seat up for grabs).  If the seat reduction to 600 seats takes effect, we can expect Northern Ireland to get roughly 16 seats, Wales to get roughly 30 seats, Scotland to get 52 or 53 seats and England to get 501 or 502 seats.  This is almost exactly what the allocation would have been if the boundary review had gone ahead last time.  So much for all the fuss about the voter registration changes.

Either way, English MPs will become still more dominant in Parliament.  This can only be good news for the Conservatives, whose who dominate much of England and rely on it for almost all of their seats.

Allocation of seats within England

Just as important as how the seats are distributed in the UK is how the seats will be distributed in England.  The Boundary Commission for England is not legally obliged to follow the same approach when allocating seats between English regions, but in practice it intended to do so in the last Parliament and I expect it to do so again this time.

The English regions had registered voter totals at the general election as follows:

Eastern: 4,364,656, East Midlands: 3,350,769, London: 5,401,616, North East: 1,941,841, North West: 5,240,724, South East: 6,419,548, South West:4,076,494, West Midlands: 4,140,587, Yorkshire & the Humber: 3,875,477

This would result in the following seat allocations, based on England having 543 seats in a 650 seat Parliament (I have assumed a 650 seat Parliament for ease of comparability):

AF Table

*Plus two Isle of Wight constituencies

Again, this seems to benefit the Tories.  More seats are being added in their strongest areas while the seat count in the North West and the North East, two of their weaker areas, continues to decline.

Putting numbers on these changes

So, what would these movements mean in real seat numbers?  Unfortunately, we cannot simply apply a formula because much depends on how the boundaries are actually set.  Thinking about the detail of boundary commission reviews will need to be the subject for another post, but some general principles can be laid down now.

1) Boundary reviews are bad for incumbents.  The more extensive the boundary alterations, the less of an advantage incumbency gives.

2) Within an area, a seat reduction will increase the advantage of the party with the most support.  To give an extreme example, if Wales were reduced to one constituency, Labour would expect to take 100% of seats in the area.  Considered on a wider scale, it would obviously be to Labour’s detriment to have only one seat within Wales, but within Wales itself it would accentuate its political dominance.

3) With a seat reduction in an area, regional strength of trailing parties will outweigh general strength in the area.  For example, if Wales were reduced to four constituencies, Labour might reasonably hope to take all four constituencies.  But it would probably be most worried about losing a seat to Plaid Cymru because of its regional strength in north west Wales.  The fact that the Conservatives poll twice Plaid Cymru’s vote share across Wales as a whole would not affect this calculation.

4) An increase of seats in an area will naturally tend to produce more seats for the dominant party in the area, but the increased granularity may help another party gain an odd seat where a pocket of support has previously been swamped by the dominant party’s support in previously-attached areas (this is the inverse of the last two points).  For example, Peterborough is a Conservative-held marginal seat comprising a city with outlying areas attached.  Making the reasonable assumption that the city is more Labour-leaning than the outlying areas, I infer that if the seat count in the area were increased and the boundaries are confined more tightly around the town, Labour might hope to pick up a new seat in an area of Conservative dominance.  Incidentally, this will tend to work better for Labour than for the Conservatives, given the way in which Labour support tends to cluster in towns.

With these principles in mind, and without going through the detail of my thought process (which is more art than science in any case), my guess is that if the votes cast in May were cast on the boundaries of a new 650 seat Parliament that I have outlined above, the seat count would be something like:

Conservative: 335, Labour: 229, SNP: 55, Lib Dem: 8, Plaid Cymru: 3, UKIP: 1, Green: 1, Speaker: 1, Northern Irish parties: 17

So I imagine a hypothetical increase in the Conservative majority by ten or so, but it wouldn’t fundamentally alter the dynamics of the next election.  I feel that I have made midpoint assumptions in coming to these numbers.

The impact of switching to a 600 seat Parliament

But as the law stands, the boundary review will be conducted on the basis that we will get a 600 seat Parliament, and that will intensify some of the effects that I have just noted.  The new 600 seat Parliament would be comprised roughly as follows:

Scotland: 52, Wales: 30, Northern Ireland: 16, England: 502, – Eastern 56 – East Midlands 43 – London 70 – North East 25 – North West 68 – South East 83 (including two Isle of Wight constituencies) – South West 53 – West Midlands 54 – Yorkshire & The Humber 50

The seat reorganisation would be relatively minor in the Eastern, South East and South West regions, given the minor adjustments in seat counts, and these are as it happens all overwhelmingly Conservative areas.  They would, however, be very extensive in Wales, the North West and the North East: all Labour areas (Scotland also would be seriously affected).  Of the Conservative-leaning areas, only the West Midlands would see heavy reorganisation.

The consequence might well be that the bulk of Conservative incumbents could see their incumbency damaged in only minor ways, while Labour incumbents would be much more likely to see their incumbency seriously affected.

It gets worse for Labour.  Many of the constituencies with the lowest number of registered voters are in contiguous Labour-held areas.  On a shrinking seat count determined by numbers of registered voters, that is the worst permutation for a party, because there is much less scope to recoup lost seats in the area by taking seats of a rival party.  Leeds, Bradford, Hull and Liverpool are all stuffed full of constituencies with very low numbers of registered voters, all with large Labour majorities.  If the seat count in those areas is reduced, that will probably come straight off the top of the Labour seat total.

Meanwhile, the smaller parties all get hit still harder because of the consequences of reducing the seat count noted above.

My artist’s impression of how the results of the last election might have translated onto reasonably normal boundaries on the new basis is something like the following:

Conservatives: 316 Labour: 209 SNP: 50 Lib Dems: 5 Plaid Cymru: 2 UKIP: 1 (maybe) Greens: 0 Speaker: 1 Northern Ireland: 16

By this stage, the Conservative majority, now hypothetically 32, is starting to look very solid given the smaller size of the House.  Again, I don’t feel that I have particularly stepped out in one direction or another.

So if you want to see why the Opposition (and the Lib Dems in particular) might seek to block the boundary review, this is why.  Their task is hard enough, without the Conservatives being given a still greater head start.



Holyrood 2016: who will come second?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Making a tissue on a “Betting Without” market

This is a betting thread without a market as yet. However, the best prices on any political market can usually be found within either the first six hours or the last six. So a little forethought as to what you’d be prepared to back – and at what price – can often be rewarded handsomely. Someone launching a “without the SNP” market on Holyrood is only going to be a matter of time and there’s every reason to think there might be value about. Let’s make our own tissue.

A quick refresher on the voting system: voters get two votes, one for their local constituency, and one for a regional list (regions comprising between 8 and 10 constituencies). The list seats are doled out using a d’Hondt system, but taking the constituency results into account.

Polling at 60% in the constituency section, the SNP are going to win. Indeed, Ladbrokes only offer 5/2 on them winning all 73 constituencies, which might be a touch skinny. But the 2/7 on an overall majority (65+ seats – the parliament has 129 MSPs) looks about right: they will probably be in a position to win one or more top-up seats in a region where they sweep the constituencies – just as they did in North East Scotland last time.

So, in the face of an SNP near-sweep, who will come second in seats is predominately a question of who will come second in list votes. Even if Labour or the Conservatives pick up a constituency or two this will usually be at the expense of a list seat they would have won anyway. An exception might be if one party could do especially well in the constituencies of a specific region: there’s one plausible possibility I’ll highlight below.

The TNS list polling [from 13th-31st May] was as follows (changes from 2011 result):

SNP 50% (+6)

Labour 19% (-7)

Conservatives 14% (+2)

Greens 10% (+6)

Lib Dems 5% (=)

I think we can pretty safely rule out the Lib Dems coming second in seats, so I’ll examine the case for and against the other 3 parties. It looks like around 18% will be enough to win.


Labour are deservedly the clear second favourites on the main market – 10/1 at Ladbrokes. But this is because they are best placed to benefit in the event of any major scandal or cock-up on the SNP’s part. Absent that, there’s actually little reason to assume that there might not be a further net movement away from Labour.  As John Curtice puts it:

Labour’s figures in [the polling quoted above] are also much worse (and the SNP’s better) than they were in polls conducted by YouGov and Survation just before the May 7th ballot that saw all but one of Labour’s MPs swept away.

In short, it looks as though that disaster may have further dented voters’ confidence in the party’s ability to govern and/or persuaded them the SNP is better able to advocate and promote Scotland’s interests.

For all that, I think Labour should still be well odds-on, representing as they do the default opposition.  I’ll say 70% for now.


The Scottish Tory surge has been a long-running meme on PB, and a profitable one for those who’ve opposed it. In the context of the SNP dominance, the Tories are now surging by standing still.

The Tories might also manage to pick up several constituencies in South Scotland. They already hold Ayr, Galloway and West Dumfries, and the triple-barrelled Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire, though the SNP are a potential threat in every one of these. Dumfriesshire is a target gain from Labour for both Con & SNP. If they were to win all four seats this is likely to be a net improvement on their theoretical entitlement based on the list percentages.

However unless the Tories can actually put on votes (from ex-Lib Dems, maybe?) then they’re going to have a hard time getting enough to come second overall.  Let’s give them a 15% chance for now.


The Greens aren’t going to overtake both Labour and the Conservatives on the strength of their message. But they are likely to be the beneficiaries of an attempt to play the voting system by independence supporters voting “SNP constituency : Green list”.

By voting this way their votes will definitely go towards electing two independence-minded MSPs – whereas if they go SNP:SNP they may not see any extra list SNP members elected at all in a region, because the constituency sweep will already have given the SNP their fair share.

So the nub of this market is to assess how widespread this phenomenon will be. The SNP can’t endorse it explicitly and even if they do so tacitly they run the risk of upsetting their own list candidates. But some of the membership will think differently of their own accord and spread the message online, where the SNP have a strong presence.

Perversely, if the SNP continue to poll 50% or above the appeal of this manoeuvre is reduced since that makes the Nats more likely to pick up list seats. 45% is probably the sweet spot.

Overall, I’ll credit the Greens with a real shot at pulling this off and say 25% for now.

Making a tissue

We now need to scale our 70:15:25 estimates back to total 100%, giving us 64:14:23. Converted to the nearest classical bookie prices that gives us a tissue of:

Labour 4/7

Green 7/2

Conservatives 6/1

If, when the market goes up, you see a price bigger than this on any of these I’d tentatively suggest that it might be value.

If we wanted to act as a bookmaker, we would scale back up to e.g. 110%, to give ourselves some margin. But rather than multiplying through back up to 70:25:15 it would be more usual to stick 3% or so onto each realistic runner (which is all three, in this case).

Labour 1/2

Green 11/4

Conservatives 5/1

Finally, when trying to estimate political probabilities, I’ve frequently found the comments on pb threads to be a huge source of wisdom and information.  So no doubt I’ll be re-evaluating these prices in an hour or so!

Tissue Price