Archive for April, 2006


Calling Mr. Betfair – what about the locals?

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

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    When are we going to see betting on next week’s elections?

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With so many unpredictable factors and the main polls painting completely different pictures there looks as though there will be shocks of some sort in next week’s local elections. A lot could depend on the outcome for the three main party leaders.

For Ming Campbell a successful May 4th will be the ideal start to his term as party leader. But what are we to make of the polls? YouGov has the party going in reverse gear and standing at just 17% nationally. Meanwhile ICM has the party surging forward to 24%. Which is right and how successful will the night be. We want to bet on Lib Dem gains and losses.

For David Cameron
this is also his first big electoral test. Expectations had been high but started to fade a bit following a Newsnight feature suggesting losses and the Tories edging down in the national polls. Will a week a tomorrow be a bountiful day or will it be the moment that the Cameron honeymoon officially comes to an end. We want to bet on Conservative gains and losses.

For Tony Blair many have been pointing to the elections as the point that could see the end of his leadership. if Labour does really badly then could the moves start to get him unseated? Or is he there for another couple of years. We want to bet on Labour gains and losses.

For the BNP
May 4th is being set up as a big opportunity. The 7% showing in the YouGov poll following the warnings by Margaret Hodge should surely give the party its best chance yet of picking up council seats. But could the pollster be wrong?. We want to bet on the number of BNP seats.

If you do have an account with Betfair and/or other bookmakers then please email them to ask that markets be established. It would be crazy if next week’s critical elections take place without punters being able to back up their judgements with cash.

Meanwhile BBC News 24 reported overnight that “a poll” had a split of CON 30: LAB 30: LD 25. I have not been able to find out anything online. This could well be the April Mori poll.

If the figures are right then Labour would be down 9%, the Tories down 4% with the Lib Dems up 6% on the March figures. The others total would be 15% – up seven points on March. These would be massive changes if it is, indeed, confirmed as the Mori poll.

The Mori headline figures are usually based on those “absolutely certain to vote” and the pollster does not weight by past vote recall. Without this control factor Mori tends to fluctuate an enormous amount – although the trend here, if it is indeed Mori, is in line with the ICM poll yesterday.

UPDATE. This has now been confirmed as the April Mori poll which is being carried by the Sun.

In the last six months Mori has reported:-
The Tories in a range from 30-40%
Labour in a range from 30-42%
The LDs in a range from 15-25%

I do not believe that public opinion fluctuates by as much as this and this is happening because the pollster does not use past vote weighting.

Mike Smithson


LDs surge as Labour drops below 2000 fuel protest levels

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

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    ICM has Lib Dems up three – Labour down three

The monthly ICM poll for the Guardian this morning records a big increase in Lib Dem support at the expense of Labour. The shares are compared with the last ICM poll three weeks ago CON 34%(-1): LAB 32%(-3): LD 24%(+3).

This is a huge boost for the Lib Dems ahead of the local elections less than two weeks away and is the biggest ICM share for the party for two years.

    The last time Labour was at the 32% with ICM’s monthly Guardian poll was three days before the party’s defeat in the 1987 General Election. Today’s share for the party is two points lower than the pollster recorded during the low point for the party in modern times – the aftermath of the fuel protests in September 2000.

The other low, though not in the ICM monthly Guardian poll, was, as Anthony Wells of UK PollingReport points out in a News of the World survey just after the Brent East by-election in 2003 when Labour was recorded at 31%.

The BNP are at 2% in sharp contrast to the 7% figure recorded by YouGov last week.

This is the first real polling evidence that Labour is suffering because of the ongoing rows over “cash for peerages” and the NHS cuts.

    Even though Labour’s drop means that the Tories are back in the lead again with ICM for the first time since February Cameron’s team must be disappointed that it is the Lib Dems and not them who are benefiting from Labour’s troubles.

Today’s poll will be particularly pleasing for the Lib Dems who had not seen any progress after going through the trauma of the ousting of Charles Kennedy and the leadership race. It will also be a good answer to those in the party who had started raising questions about the leadership of Ming Campbell.

Over the years ICM has established itself as the UK’s leading telephone pollster and has pioneered the technique of weighting its samples by the recalled past vote of those taking part in its surveys. In recent surveys is has been weighting at the levels of CON 32.2%: LAB 38.8%: LD 21.3%. Populus, by contrast, has been weighting at CON 31.1: LAB 40.3: LD 21.3. The difference between these figures and the actual result is to compensate for “misremembering”.

Meanwhile people keep asking me whether they can bet on next week’s local elections. As far as I can see there are no markets open yet. If you are a Betfair customer please email them asking that a market be established.

Mike Smithson


Dealing with Dave – my advice to Labour

Monday, April 24th, 2006

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    How the party’s “Dave the Chameleon” boosts the Tories

In 1997 when Labour won its first land-slide victory more than 80% of the population were without multichannel television and had to rely on just four channels for their information and recreational needs.

Audiences for the then main TV news bulletins – BBC1 at 9pm and the ITN News at Ten – were vast compared with what their equivalents get today.

    We’ve now reached a stage where two out of every three households have digital TV and the vastly increased choice. Large numbers of viewers never go near a channel where they can see news and current affairs so there’s much less exposure to politics.

In this context it is now much harder for opposition parties in particular to command coverage that will reach large proportions of the electorate. Quite simply the mass media is less “mass” than it used to be. All this is likely to be exacerbated by the political party spending cut-backs – which seem certain following the cash for honours controversy.

The lack of media exposure to the political process is showing up in the polls. What we are seeing are larger “don’t know” figures. Thus the last time that YouGov asked its panellists to rate the party leaders 38% did not know about Cameron and 44% had no view on Campbell. In this category were nearly quarter of all intending Tory voters while nearly a third of Lib Dems replied “don’t know” on Campbell.

So anything that increases awareness is to be welcomed – even if it’s the other’s campaigning.

Given the polls show that the Tories get a 1-5% uplift if the word “Cameron” is associated with “Conservative” then Labour’s priority, surely, should be to do nothing that links the opposition leader’s name with his party.

    This is reinforced by a BPIX poll in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday on Labour’s “Dave the Chameleon” PPB. One in 20 of those who saw the ad said they’d be less likely to vote Tory, while 1 in 7 said it made them more likely to vote for Cameron’s party. BPIX, it should be noted, is not listed as a member of the British Polling Council.

Producing a campaign that leads to more voters wanting to vote for the other side does not seem very smart. The old adage of never mentioning your opponent’s name should should prevail.

Labour should continue with the strategy that has worked for a decade – just keep on demonising the Conservatives without ever mentioning Cameron.

Mike Smithson


The Guest Slot – Harry Hayfield

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

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    Boundary Changes : The Great Leveller or An Unfair Advantage?

Since the Second World War there have been seven boundary changes to the United Kingdom parliament. Some have been caused by changes in the UK constitution (for instance the reduction of the Scottish seats) and some have been caused due to the underpopulation of urban centres and the overpopulation of rural areas, but do these changes favour any one party or do they reflect the whole country?

Ted Heath won Election 1970 with a majority of 30 (overturning Harold Wilson’s 96 Labour majority in 1966) when the boundary reviews started, by the time they had finished Britain had gained an extra five constituencies (which you may think seems not much effort for what was a radical sort through of the constituencies that had been in existence since 1955), but boy did the Boundary Commission of the day have it’s work cut out.

A massive 350 constituencies were “rejigged” and to give you an example of the sort of problems they faced, let’s take the two constituencies in Havering borough in London. Romford (in the north of the borough) had an electorate of 79,448 in 1970 whilst Hornchurch (in the south) had an electorate of 99,800 giving the borough a grand total of 179,248. Now that is plainly miles too many for just two constituencies so the Boundary Commission said “Right, let’s split Romford and Hornchurch in half and place them on the left hand side of the borough, and create a new Upminster constituency in the right hand side of the borough”.

So the Boundary Commission have made their judgement and now it’s down to the parties to campaign like billyo. But hold on a second! In 1970 Romford was won by Labour (Lab 53% Con 47%) and Hornchurch was won by the Conservatives (Con 50% Lab 42% Lib 9%), what’s happened to all those people who have found themselves in this new Upminster seat. Well, thanks to those technical whizzkids at the BBC Election Unit we have an answer. It appears that Romford loses Conservatives voters to Upminster and Hornchurch loses Labour voters to Upminster, so by that logic Romford becomes a solid Lab seat, Hornchurch a solid Con seat and Upminster must be therefore a bit of a mix of the two.

And it’s not the only seat to be left in a sort of limbo either. Kingswood, Dudley West, Putney, The Wrekin, West Bromwich West, Hazel Grove are all in the same boat as well as Devon North. (Hang on a moment! Are you trying to tell me that Jeremy Thorpe, Lib MP for Devon North didn’t win his seat!) No, in 1970 Devon North was Lib 44% Con 43% Lab 12% Dem 0% and that allowing for the boundary changes the Liberal majority over Conservative would be reduced even further. But don’t worry the BBC have a way out of this little problem. “If the name’s the same, then so is the party”. So what does all this rejigging do to the party totals.

Well, the clear loser is Labour who lose 9 London seats and the biggest gainers are the Conservatives who gain 11 Home Counties seats, so when we tot up the new starting post positions based on Election 1970 we find that compared with the Con 330 Lab 287 Lib 6 Others 7, the new positions are Con 338 (+8) Lab 284 (-3) Lib 6 Others 7. In other words, a Conservatives do the best out of that boundary change. And as we know, February 1974 led to a hung parliament.

The next set of boundary changes came into play in 1983 increasing the House of Commons by fifteen MP’s and here the benefits for the Conservatives were even more marked. At the 1979 General Election, the Conservatives won 339 seats, to Labour’s 269 and the Liberal’s 11 with 2 Plaid Cymru and 2 SNP members as well giving the Conservatives a majority of 43, but thanks to those wonderful boundary changes that majority rocketed up to a massive 68! How? Well, again Labour seats with a low electorate were merged and new Conservative seats with a high electorate established. The Conservatives gained 20 seats, Labour lost 8, the Liberals lost 2 and the Others (in Northern Ireland) gained 1, so it was no real surprise at all that the Conservatives won the 1983 general election.

There was a slight boundary change in 1992 when Milton Keynes got split into two and the interesting boundary change in Scotland when Loch Tay was brought into Tayside North and that several hundred fish now had a Conservative MP to represent them in Westminster as opposed to a Lib Dem MP.

But rhe next big boundary change came in 1997. Surely in the midst of an impending Labour landslide Labour would be rewarded. No chance! Election 1992 saw the Conservatives win 336 seats, Labour 271, Liberal Democrats 20 and the Others 24, along came the Boundary Commissioners, rejigged the country and left Britain with 343 Conservatives (+7), 273 Labour (+2), 18 Liberal Democrats (-2) and 24 Others. Yet again, the Conservatives gained seats as a result of the Boundary Commission.

At the most recent changes, caused by the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, again Labour had a poor showing due to boundary changes managing to lose 10 seats (of the 13 got rid off), so when the next set of boundary changes comes around for the 2009/2010 general election, what can we expect? Well, the simple answer is “More of the same!”

Using the same method as the BBC back in 1974 and using information published by Martin Baxter on his website, I’ve done a calculation for the new boundaries at the next election and surprise, surprise, the Conservatives gain whilst Labour lose seats! As we know at Election 2005, Labour won 356 seats to the Conservatives 198, the Liberal Democrats 62 and the Others on 30. After all the rejigging of the Boundary Commission, what do we get? Labour winning 348 seats (-8), the Conservatives winning 213 seats (+15), the Liberal Democrats winning 60 seats (-2) and the Others winning 29 seats (-1). Yet another example of the Conservatives gaining due to boundary changes!

But it doesn’t all go the Conservatives way in this latest rejig of seats. Clwyd West in Wales for instance was a sign of great jubilation as the Conservative got their first seat in North Wales for nearly 8 years, but hold on a second! Lab 36% Con 36% Lib Dem 13% Plaid 11% Others 3%! “No” cry the Clwyd West Conservatives, “don’t say we have to gain the seat all over again!” I’m afraid so and it’s not just the Conservatives who have the occasional hiccup. Take the Liberal Democrats and their mighty gain of Rochdale. Sorry Menzies it’s back to square one for you there (Lab 41% Lib Dem 40% Con 11% Others 8%) and even Plaid Cymru have troubles losing Arfon to Labour by 95!

So seven sets of boundary changes since the Second World War and since 1974 every single boundary change has helped the Conservatives and hindered Labour! What we do know is that come the next election, David Cameron will have a spring in his step as he sets off in his battlebus (but a spring created by the Boundary Comissioners!)

Harry Hatfield

Note by Mike Smithson.
Would you like to write a guest slot? Please drop me an email


Will Marcus win his first bet?

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

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    Is the 2.9/1 “Tories getting a majority” price worth taking?

In the thread yesterday Marcus Wood, one the PB.C’s most long-standing contributors and pictured above when he stood for the Tories at Torbay in 2005, posted the following comment:-

+++ BIG NEWS +++
I have broken the habit of a lifetime (no betting)and just opened an account on Betfair and placed a bet on an overall Con majority.
I have to say to anyone not having done it before it was a doddle.
It was the Luntz show that made me finally put my money where my mouth is.

I assume he was betting in the Betfair “Election Outcome” market which was opened a couple of months ago after representations from people on the site.

Unlike the other market, available from a number of bookies, on which party will win most seats this offers the options of Labour or the Tories winning an overall majority and there being a hung parliament.

Because the bar is higher the current price on Marcus’s bet is 2.9/1 compared with the 1.16/1 that’s available on Cameron’s party leading on seats. The Labour price is 2/1 against the 0.89/1 in the most seats market while the favourite is a hung parliament at 1.4/1.

    Whilst I admire Marcus for putting his money where his mouth is I think that he is going to lose.

We have discussed many times here how the Tories are going to need a very substantial vote margin over Labour even to come top on seats. To take the party over the “overall majority” line requires a move to the party that, so far at least, is not being seen in the polls.

Labour have a formidable fighting machine and even without the master strategist, Tony Blair, are not going to give up power easily. It is also very hard predicting how things will look when Labour has a new leader.

Will Gordon Brown, assuming that it is indeed he, give the party a boost as most of the polls, up to six months ago, seemed to suggest would happen? Or could his succession be like that of his fellow Fife MP, Ming Campbell, for the Liberal Democrats who has hardly made an impact?

What I take from the polling and the Luntz metering is that the public respond well to Cameron. I expect him to have a good General Election campaign with his party, unlike 2005, seeing increase in support in the final month. But the 6-7% lead needed to be certain of government seems too big a hurdle.

Mike Smithson


What are we to make of the latest Frank Luntz metering?

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

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    The US pollster puts the three leaders and Gordon under the microscope

The BNP story has somewhat overshadowed the latest focus group on Newsnight by the US pollster, Frank Luntz which was screened in two parts. These always make good television and the positive reactions of the panel last October played a big part in David Cameron’s bid for the Tory leadership.

In the latest studies – available to watch here – Luntz tests the views of floating voters to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Ming Campbell. While clips from speeches are being shown members of the group press buttons so that negative or positive reactions can be seen on the screen.

    Rating the four men at the end none of the 32 went Tony Blair or Ming Campbell, eight went for Gordon Brown and the rest went for David Cameron.

Interestingly, given the criticism it has attracted, Cameron’s “fossil fuel Chancellor” attack on Gordon Brown in the Budget debate received widespread approval.

As Andrew Grice describes it in the Independent today “..most hands went up for Mr Cameron. But a hesitant woman cried out: ‘If he wasn’t a Conservative.’ It was a revealing moment. People like Mr Cameron but remain very unsure about his party.”

In his conclusion Luntz said “David Cameron was the winner. But they still question whether or not he will deliver and, more importantly, [whether he] represents the Conservative Party or is alone in the Conservative Party.”

The reaction to Ming Campbell was depressing for Lib Dems. He was dismissed by almost all as being “old” and not appearing to “have it”.

There was an almost unanimous view of Tony Blair with all but about three of the panel agreeing that he should go as soon as possible.

Gordon Brown got a mixed reaction – with respect for his abilities but questions over his personality and whether he is liked.

    So the problem for Labour is its leader while for Conservatives it’s their party

The problem with a programme like this is that it is artificial. Most people give very little attention to political speeches and have only a small interest in politics and politicians – except every four years in the couple of weeks before a General Election.

It was probably a good foretaste of the 2009/10 General Election – the charismatic Tory leader getting an extraordinary positive response as a person – up against the less-liked but highly respected Brown. In the General Election betting Labour continues to tighten while the Tory price eases out.

Mike Smithson


Sean Fear’s local election spot

Friday, April 21st, 2006

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    Competition Time

I am offering a £40 Amazon gift voucher to anyone who comes closest to predicting accurately the London Borough Election Results. It is quite straightforward. Each contestant will receive one point for guessing correctly the political control of each London borough after May 4th.

You have five choices: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Other, or No Overall Control. No Overall Control means failure by any one party to win more than half of the seats on an authority. Thus, if one party takes control with the aid of the Mayor’s casting vote, that will still count as No Overall Control.

Likewise, I will only take into account the result of the election in each borough. If one party takes control as a result of defections, following the election, this will not count towards the result of the competition. Mayoral elections will not count towards this contest (thus if a party wins a Mayoralty, but less than half the council seats, that will count as No Overall Control).

The competition will remain open until Monday 24th April. You may not alter your prediction, once it has been posted. In the event of a tie, then the person who responded most quickly to this post will win. Please leave your correct e-mail addresses on the post form. This is not published.

The results of the 2002 elections were as follows:-

Barnet (Con); Barking and Dagenham (Lab); Bexley (Lab); Brent (Lab); Bromley (Con); Camden (Lab); Croydon (Lab); Ealing (Lab); Enfield (Con); Greenwich (Lab); Hammersmith & Fulham (Lab); Hackney (Lab); Harrow (NOC); Havering (NOC); Hounslow (Lab); Hillingdon (NOC); Haringey (Lab); Islington (Lib Dem); Kensington (Con); Kingston (Lib Dem); Lewisham (Lab); Lambeth (NOC); Merton (Lab); Newham (Lab); Redbridge (Con); Richmond (Con); Sutton (Lib Dem); Southwark (NOC); Tower Hamlets (Lab); Westminster (Con); Wandsworth (Con); Waltham Forest (NOC).

Last night’s results were generally good for the Conservatives, in terms of overall vote share, and poor for Labour. However, most of the contests took place in areas of Labour weakness.

Arun DC; Rustington West. Con 769, Lib Dem 581, UKIP 277, 115. An almost identical result to the last time it was contested.
Mendip DC, Frome Keyford; Lib Dem 487, Lab 128, Con 104, UKIP 51. Lib Dem gain from Independent.
South Derbyshire DC; Swadlincote;
Lab 565, Con 356. Lab. Hold. Both Labour and Conservatives benefited from the disappearance of an independent.
Derbyshire Dales DC: Winster and South Dar. Con 316, Lib Dem 281. Con gain from Lib Dem. A striking turnaround from last time.
West Wiltshire DC; Warminster East. Lib Dem 777, Con 736, Independents 241. Lib Dem gain from Con. A very strong performance from the Lib Dems in a part of the world where they have been performing well in by-elections.
Wycombe DC: Tylers Green.
Con 888, Lib Dem 387, Lab 75. An easy Conservative hold.
Buckinghamshire CC: Ryemead.
Con 1,277, Lib Dem 596, Lab 221. Conservative hold.
West Berks. UA, Pangbourne. Con 725, Lib Dem 151, Lab 96. Con. Hold.

Sean Fear

Sean is a Tory activist in London


YouGov gives the BNP 7%

Friday, April 21st, 2006


    But is this just the YouGov “magnifier” working again?

In a poll that will send shock waves throughout British politics a YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph today puts support for the British National Party up from just above zero to seven per cent.

In echoes of the internet pollster’s surveys in May 2004 showing a huge surge for UKIP ahead of the Euro elections YouGov has the following shares with changes on last month: CON 33%(-3), LAB 35%(-1), LD17%(-1), BNP 7%. Unlike other pollsters YouGov does not usually factor in the likelihood of respondents voting.

When assessing the poll bear in mind that a key weighting calculation that YouGov usually uses is based on the newspapers that those surveyed say they read. In its last published poll this worked out at: SUN/STAR 21.9%: EXPRESS/MAIL 16%: MIRROR/RECORD 16%: FT/TIMES/TELEGRAPH 9.5%: GUARDIAN/INDEPENDENT 4%

Normally YouGov gets many more Guardian and Indy readers taking part so their views are scaled back considerably. Sun and Star participants, on the other hand, are usually in short supply so, for example, their voting intentions last month were magnified by more than a third.

In March 2005 I suggested that those PB.C users who are on the YouGov panel could boost their influence and get invited to take part in more surveys if they told the firm they were Sun regulars. This led to me being banned by the firm’s boss, Peter Kellner.

The poll follows, of course, the great media focus on the BNP in the past week or so with the comments by Margaret Hodge and the report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust which was, in fact, based on surveys carried out two years ago.

These poll findings could not have come at a worst time for the main parties which are in the final fortnight of their campaigning in this year’s local elections because they will give the BNP a bit more credibility.

It is worth recalling how YouGov was first to pick up the move to UKIP two years ago though in the end the pollster produced what were inflated projections. In its final poll which included a large proportion of respondents who had voted by post already YouGov had: CON 26: LAB 24: UKIP 21: LD 13 GRN 6. In fact the
Euro election shares were CON 26.7: LAB 22.6: UKIP 16.1: LD 14.9: GRN 6.3.

    So in 2004 YouGov over-stated UKIP by nearly a third – which was not a good performance for the firm.

It was suggested after those elections that the way YouGov carries out its surveys can have the effect of magnifying trends. Is that happening with YouGov’s BNP at the moment?

My predictions

  • Today’s poll will not be mirrored by the other pollsters although they will show an increase in BNP support
  • It will have a big impact on turnout on May 4th and will galvanise support for the main parties in seats where the BNP is standing.
  • Labour, which always has problems getting its vote out, will probably perform better.
  • The BNP will be several points short of 7% on May 4th
  • The poll could hurt David Cameron because it will call into question his strategy of taking the party to the centre ground.
  • Mike Smithson