Archive for October, 2006


Brown’s price tightens to pre-Cameron levels

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

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    Is the Iraq debate encouraging punters to back the Chancellor?

With Tony Blair preparing to face a difficult session in the House of Commons tonight on calls for an inquiry in Iraq the best betting price on Gordon Brown being Tony Blair’s successor has tightened to 0.35/1 – a level that it has been at only once before since David Cameron’s election as Tory leader on December 6th.

The price has been moving in this direction for the past three weeks when punter sentiment started to change and few were taking rival bids seriously. The scale of the change is best expressed in what a £100 winning Brown bet would produce. In the first week of October you would have come out with £56 – today that’s down to £35.

For punters following this market the big question is whether it will tighten further or will it bottom out. Certainly for today a Government defeat on the Iraq motion should send the price even tighter. What happens after that is hard to say.

Mike Smithson – the UK’s most read political blog


Are Lib Dem voters still being loyal to Gordon?

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

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    Will today’s YouGov data give a better pointer to tactical voting?

Detailed data from the October YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph, due out sometime today, should provide an indication of how tactical voting might impact on the next General Election.

The poll, it will be recalled had a CON 46% – Lab 33% split to the question “If you had to choose, which would you prefer to see after the next election, a Conservative Government led by David Cameron or a Labour Government led by Gordon Brown?”. What poll watchers will be looking at is how the Lib Dem voters in the survey responded and the detailed data should provide the answer.

Two months after Cameron had been elected Tory leader, in February, the Lib Dems responded CON 22% – LAB 52% when asked this forced question. By June, when the question was asked again, Lib Dem voters were still overwhelmingly with Labour and split CON 28% – LAB 48%. In August this had moved to CON 35% – LAB 44%.

Could today’s figures show that the two main parties were nearer to level-pegging? Given the way the top-line figures have moved then there is a good chance that this might have happened.

I regard this as quite important because one of the factors that has given Labour more seats for its vote share has been anti-Tory tactical voting. This happened again in 2005 where Labour incumbents in Lab-Con marginals performed better than the party generally – a sign, it’s suggested, of Lib Dems and others switching to stop the Tories.

    If there are signs that anti-Tory tactical voting might not happen on the same scale then the seat predictors could be giving an over-optimistic view of Labour’s position.

Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report has now posted full list of polling responses to the question since since the famous 2003 survey that had Iain Duncan Smith trailing Tony Blair by just 3%.

UPDATE 10am: The YouGov data has now been published and the Lib Dems in the sample split CON 36-LAB 42 on the question “If you had to choose, which would you prefer to see after the next election, a Conservative Government led by David Cameron or a Labour Government led by Gordon Brown?”.

Mike Smithson – the UK’s most read political blog


Why are punters ignoring 2006’s biggest elections?

Monday, October 30th, 2006


    This is your chance to bet on whether Bush gets a bloody nose?

In terms of global importance by far the biggest elections anywhere in the world take place across America next Tuesday. If the polls have got this right then the Republican grip on Congress is set to come to an end and there could be a spill over in British politics.

For after winning back the White House in 2004 on what was the biggest day ever for political betting George Bush looks as though he might get a bloody nose – and that could have ramifications for the rest of his time there.

The polls for the House of Representatives do not look good. Those taken last week have recorded leads of 11-19% for the Democrats, and although the arithmetic is not as simple as that, the “blues” as the Democrats are known appear set to beat the “reds”.

    But so far the election has barely caused a ripple of activity in the UK. On the Betfair exchange just £5,420 has been traded on Senate market and £8,632 on the House of Representatives elections. This is absolute peanuts.

Is it any wonder the Betfair is reluctant to open up new political betting opportunities when those they do have attract such little interest?

For the House the Democrats are 0.37/1 which is about the same return as you’ll get on Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. The only difference is that winning bets will get paid next week.

For the Senate the Republicans are favourite at 0.56/1.

Mike Smithson


What should Gordon do about McDonnell?

Monday, October 30th, 2006

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The illustration, with its imagery of the protests against the Iraq war, is the masthead from the campaign website of the only person so far to declare that he is standing for the Labour Leadership – the Hayes and Harlington MP and former Deputy to Ken Livingstone on the old GLC, John McDonnell. With much less being heard about a Reid or Johnson challenge the chances are that he could be the only alternative to Brown when next year’s race gets under way.

Yesterday he featured on BBC 1’s Sunday AM programme and he came over well. He’s photogenic; his voice is easy on the ear; and he is lucid. If he is the only candidate then he’ll get a lot more exposure and would present Gordon with a big problem when the inevitable calls for TV debates will be made. Should the Chancellor apparently give status to McDonnell by agreeing to take part and how would people compare the two?

    A big part of McDonnell’s pitch is that he provides a protest vehicle for those large sections of the movement who are sore about NuLab generally and about the Iraq War. Because Brown’s victory is seen as a foregone conclusion many members and trade unionists will give him their votes without the risk of him getting it.

Of course Brown’s eventual victory is assured but a reasonable showing by McDonnell could be highly damaging and could also raise the issue of Gordon’s backing for Blair on Iraq.

McDonnell’s biggest challenge, however, will be getting on the ballot paper in the first place. The rules require him to find 44 fellow Labour MPs to sign his nomination and the signs are that this will be tough. With many colleagues focused on their career prospects under the new leadership there won’t be too many prepared to risk upsetting Gordon.

    So for Gordon is it better to have a contest than a coronation? Could he, for instance, encourage McDonnell to stand by enouraging others to sign the nomination?

Brown might judge that the best way of starting his leadership would be with an emphatic election victory. The way he had got the job would be seen to have been fair and all the associated publicity of a campaign might help create the succession poll bounce that his team so desperately want.

The alternative, a coronation, could open him and the party up to attacks from the Tories and Lib Dems who have both gone through leadership contrasts in the past year. What does it say about Labour, you can hear it being argued, that there was only one candidate because not enough Labour MPs wanted to risk upsetting their future boss by signing his opponent’s nomination paper?

The more I’ve thought about this the more I am drawn to the view that Gordon will avoid a contest if at all possible. He’s risk averse and a challenge poses the bigger uncertainty. I do believe, however, that McDonnell’s quest for his 44 signatures will become a big story and that he will succeed whether Gordon likes it or not.

In the betting I’ve invested a total of £6 at an average price of 478/1 on McDonnell. I do not think he will win but that price will move dramatically if he is able to run and I should get out at a profit.

Mike Smithson – the UK’s most read political blog


Will the loans affair eventually bring Blair down?

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

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    Why is Cameron going easy with Blair on the succession?

The main political story in the Sunday Times this morning is of developments in the police “loans for peerages” investigation that could blight the final months of Tony Blair’s time at Number 10 and impact on his departure time-table.

According to the paper Labour’s chief fundraiser, Lord Levy, “has implicated Tony Blair as the key figure in the cash-for-honours scandal, a well-placed source has revealed.”

Levy is said to have “told Scotland Yard detectives last month that he was acting on the direct orders of Blair when he secretly obtained £14m in loans from businessmen to fund the party…He has been questioned twice in the past four months after it emerged that four businessmen who lent Labour money were also recommended by Blair for peerages. The honours were blocked by an official watchdog..Levy’s potentially incriminating testimony could prove crucial to the decision to question Blair — the culmination of a seven-month inquiry. Police hope to interview the prime minister within the next five weeks..A prosecution source said: “Levy told the police that everything he did was for the top man. It wasn’t for anybody else, just for Blair. That’s why the PM has to be interviewed.”

All this links to the Blair departure time-table and another issue highlighted in this morning’s papers – why is Cameron not pressing Blair every week over the succession and, in particular, whether Brown has Blair’s support?

As Andrew Rawnsley observes in the Observer Blair had a very poor PMQs a fortnight ago when when Cameron taunted him. Did Blair want Brown or not? ‘Yes or no? – ‘I do, does he?’

Rawnsely writes: “After that squirming moment, Tony Blair was worried that the Tory leader would keep jabbing his finger into this vulnerable spot on a weekly basis. So was Gordon Brown. They are both a bit surprised that Mr Cameron has not asked the Prime Minister whether he endorses the Chancellor every Wednesday.”

For me this raises the question of what is the ideal Tory scenario for Blair’s departure.

    Has Cameron calculated that him pressing Blair at every PMQs could hasten the departure when it is strategically better for the Tories for the Labour Prime Minister to go at the messy end of the police investigation?

The Tories have been dogged for years by the repercussions of the Hamilton, Aitken and Archer court cases. Are they hoping that this could all be topped by Blair and “loans for peerages”?

In the Blair departure betting the Q2 2007 price has now tightened to 0.8/1.

Mike Smithson – the UK’s most read political blog


Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Saturday, October 28th, 2006
    Previewing the London Assembly Elections

london assembly.JPGThe London Assembly was established at the same time as the London Mayoralty. It is sometimes compared to the Greater London Council, although its powers are actually very limited by comparison.

It has 25 members in total, of whom 14 are elected by first past the post, and 11 by a London-wide top up list, which allocates the remainder of the seats by a form of proportional representation. Each constituency covers two or three boroughs.

In 2004, the Conservatives won 9 seats at constituency level, and Labour won 5. The Conservatives failed to win any additional seats, but Labour won 2. The Liberal Democrats won no seats at constituency level, but won 5 of the additional seats. Neither the Greens nor UKIP won any seats at constituency level, but each party won 2 additional seats.

The next election will be held in 2008. Ten of the fourteen constituencies can be regarded as safe. Ealing/Hillingdon, Barnet/Camden, West Central, Havering/Redbridge, Bromley/Bexley, Croydon/Sutton and Merton/Wandsworth will be retained by the Conservatives. North East, City and East, and Greenwich/Lewisham will be retained by Labour. This leaves four constituencies which will be keenly contested.

Bob Blackman beat Lord Harris to win Brent/Harrow with a lead of just 4,686, in 2004. The results from this year’s local elections suggest that the outcome will be similar in 18 months time. Tony Arbour has a lead of only 4,067 in South West, over the Liberal Democrats. This seat includes the Liberal Democrat strongholds of Richmond and Kingston. Crucially though, it also includes Hounslow, where the Liberal Democrats are weak. If the Liberal Democrats were unable to win this seat in either 2000 or 2004, I cannot see them doing so next time. The Liberal Democrats’ best chance of a win, at constituency level, is likely to be in Lambeth/Southwark, where Valerie Shawcross has a majority of 5,475, and where there is still a fair-sized Conservative vote to squeeze. Labour did very well in Lambeth in May, but I expect they will still struggle to keep the Liberal Democrats at bay in 2008.

    This leaves the most marginal seat of all, Enfield/Haringey, where Joanne McCartney beat the Conservative, Peter Forrest, by a mere 1,574. Crucially, UKIP polled over 10,000 votes here.

It is unlikely that they will do that well next time, as the election is not being held on the same day as the European Parliamentary elections. That should certainly assist the Conservatives. As against this, Labour clearly outpolled the Conservatives in this May’s local elections, across the constituency, and has strong representation in both Haringey and Enfield. By contrast, the Conservatives now hardly feature in Haringey.

At the London-wide level, the Liberal Democrats will probably lose one seat if they win Lambeth/Southwark. If Labour were to lose Enfield/Haringey and Lambeth/Southwark, they would almost certainly gain a London-wide seat. The Conservatives are most unlikely to gain any London-wide seats, unless they lose a couple of seats at constituency level. Given that a Conservative vote at London-wide level will probably be a wasted vote, then a canny Conservative voter might choose to give his second vote to another centre right party, such as UKIP.

Without such tactical voting, UKIP are very likely to fall below the 5% threshold and not get any representatives elected. The British National Party, on the other hand, and Respect, both only just fell short of 5% in 2004, and are both likely to clear that barrier next time. In fact, if the BNP can win 8 or 9% of the London wide vote, which seems likely, they will take two seats on the Assembly. The Greens should be able to retain their two seats.

Thursday saw four contests:
Alnwick DC, Amble West Lib Dem. 237 Ind 94 Con 90 Lib Dem gain from Independent.
Blyth Valley BC, Hartley Lab 413 Lib Dem. 361 Con 285 Labour hold, but a strong swing to the Liberal Democrats.
Chester City DC, Newton St Michaels Con 518, Lib Dem 497, Lab 197, Green 24 Con gain from Lib Dem. Although the Liberal Democrat vote share rose by comparison with May, this is still a very good result for the Conservatives, in a seat which has no recent tradition of electing Conservatives.
Rotherham MBC, Rotherham West Lab 1024 BNP 606 Ind 538 Con 146 Lab hold. This continues the recent run of good results for far-right candidates. The Independent candidate was a councillor in this ward until May, and only narrowly lost to Labour.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist


The Time cover that’s sparked off the excitement

Saturday, October 28th, 2006
    The Obama price tightens from 33/1 to 12/1

obama time magazine.JPGThis is the cover of last week’s Time magazine which for seven days has been appearing on news-stands right across the US.

This is the cover that has propelled the young first time Senator from Illinois into a position where the pundits are saying that only he can stop Hillary Clinton from securing the Democratic nomination for the 2008 White House race.

This is the cover that prompted the questioning six days ago that led to him saying that he was considering putting himself forward.

This is the cover that caused the Slate online magazine to decalre yesterday that “The Obama Rules. In one week he has turned American politics upside down.”

This is the cover that has caused the UK betting price on Obama for next President to tighten from 33/1 to 12/1 in just six days.

This is how the Slate is describing the entrance of Obama. “Political assumptions can remain constant for long periods and then change very quickly. And so they have in the approximately 10 days since the publication of Barack Obama’s book.. In the brief time he’s been on book tour, Obama has overthrown much of the reigning conventional wisdom about what’s likely to happen in the 2008 campaign, how shrewd politicians ought to behave, and what the informal rules of the American system really are.”

    But is all this just a media hype and could it all be forgotten in a month or so?

I should say that I am biased and my judgement might be being affected by the fact that I tipped and bet on Obama when he was 50/1 in May last year. I believe, however, that he offers a much more attractive proposition to the Democrats than Hillary Clinton who will for ever be a divisive figure.

We will have to wait until January 14th 2008 before Obama’s appeal is really tested. That’s the day of the Iowa state caucuses which is the first major event in the 2008 election. Here party supporters get together in big and small gatherings right across the state and talk over the chances of each potential nominee. It was Iowa in 2004 that caused Howard Dean’s campaign to come to a halt.

My view is that Barack Obama is ideally suited to the Iowa format and that this will be the launch pad for him getting the Democratic nomination. After that who knows?

Mike Smithson


Guest slot: Ian Jones on who will be next Chancellor

Friday, October 27th, 2006

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    Who’s going to win the battle for Number 11?

These are my thoughts on the subject from a betting perspective.

Alistair Darling: The Trade & Industry Secretary is an arch Brownite, and has for a long while been one of the favorites to be the next Chancellor. Currently available on Betfair to back at 2.5/1, or to lay from 2.75/1. Darling could conceivably be the next Chancellor, but the current prices don’t tempt me either way at present.

Ed Balls: Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and for years a close adviser to Gordon Brown. Tipped by some as a future Chancellor, but would he really come straight into the cabinet at that level? Current back price of 2.65/1 seems quite short, and I would lay at this level. Balls is also hampered by a less than fluent style of communication (though that didn’t stop Gordon). To make matters worse, the boundary commission has abolished his seat!

David Miliband: Generally regarded as one of the ‘high flyers’ of the government, the current DEFRA Secretary was traditionally viewed as a Blair supporter. Though, he now seems to have a foot in both Blair and Brown camps, and is likely to continue his rise whoever the next Labour leader is. However, the current back price of 9.5/1 on Betfair would need to drift a little before I would risk even a small amount.

Stephen Timms: Currently Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and a leading Brownite. Has lately been taking a more prominent role in Labour’s attack on Tory economic ‘policy’. A comment by Nick Palmer on this site a couple of weeks ago that Timms would be a good bet, narrowed his price from 40 to 10 in a matter of minutes. Currently available to back on Betfair at 12.5/1, which still seems good value.

Others: Alan Johnson, John Reid, and Jack Straw are all available to back between 16/1 and 33/1, however I can’t really see Gordon appointing any of them as Chancellor. But what if a Blairite (say John Hutton) was the next leader? Would he bring in another Blairite like Alan Milburn to be Chancellor? I wouldn’t touch Milburn, even at his current back price of 75/1 as I can’t see anyone other than Gordon being the next Labour leader. George Osbourne’s lay price of 75/1 looks good value if you are brave enough to lay at those kind of levels!

To conclude, Darling is a feasible candidate, but I am not tempted by his odds. Balls will probably be Chief Secretary in a Brown government, and therefore is well worth laying at current prices. Miliband could be worth a small punt if his price drifts further (but only to lay off when the price tightens). Timms at 13.5 is excellent value. He is a Brownite, and knows the Treasury well.

My money is on Timms – and I’m keeping it there.

Ian Jones

Site notice: Sean Fear’s local election report will be posted tomororw.