Betting on a UKIP by-election upset in the absence of hard polling

November 30th, 2015

Alastair Meeks gives his view

Oldham West & Royton should have been a spectacularly boring by-election.  It is a previously-safe Labour seat held at the last general election by a leftwing MP with a thumping majority and an absolute majority of votes cast.  To gain it, UKIP would require a swing of 17.1%.  Such a swing would be remarkable against a party of government, never mind against a party of opposition.  In normal circumstances, you would expect a very comfortable Labour hold.

These are not normal circumstances.  Labour seem to be testing to destruction the concept of a core vote by stage managing a procession of calamities and internal feuding to climax just in time for the by-election vote.  As a result, a string of nervous accounts of canvassing have been percolating out from Labour activists via twitter and newspaper articles.  Might Labour actually manage the previously unimaginable and lose this seat?

We do not have any published opinion polls to clutter our thinking (which is perhaps just as well given how they led us astray in the general election) so we are thrown back on first principles.

By chance, we have four recent by-elections in the vicinity from the last Parliament as comparison points: Oldham East & Saddleworth, Manchester Central, Heywood & Middleton and Wythenshawe & Sale East.  The first three of these constituencies are adjacent to Oldham West & Royton – there must be something in the water round there.  In all four, Labour actually increased its share of the vote at the by-election.  Turnout dropped in all four: least in Oldham East & Saddleworth (which had been a marginal), where turnout was at 78% of its general election level, and most in Wythenshawe & Sale East, where turnout was 51.9% of its general election level.

Clearly if Labour increases its share of the vote in this by-election it will hold the seat.  No one seems to think that it will do anything like that well.  It has been suggested that at least half of its general election voters will not turn out for it on 2 December.  However, while worse than in any of the four by-elections referred to above, that wouldn’t be all that bad.  If Labour retain only 50% of their votes from the general election and UKIP turn out two thirds of their vote from the general election, UKIP would still need to find almost as many votes again to overtake Labour.

So UKIP would need to secure direct defections from Labour, improve the turnout of its own general election support and harness tactical Conservative votes in its cause.  It is important to grasp that UKIP need to make substantial numbers of new converts come what may – if they turn out every last one of their general election supporters and get no new supporters, they are left hoping that 37% or fewer of Labour supporters in May turn out.  Even for a dark wet day in December against a party led by a man who has not yet gained the demeanour of a vote winner, hoping for such a spectacular vote strike looks like a losing strategy to me.

UKIP have no doubt been particularly focussing on getting direct defections from Labour simply because there are more Labour voters to go at in this constituency.  If Labour turnout is 50% of their May vote and UKIP turn out two thirds of their vote, UKIP will snatch the seat if they can persuade a third of the former Labour supporters to back their cause and twist the arms of a quarter of the Conservative support to lend them their votes.

Is that doable?  Maybe, but make no mistake, it would be a landmark success for UKIP if it were done.  Conservative voters don’t have much of a track record of tactical voting but equally Jeremy Corbyn’s polling levels with Conservatives are dismal even for a Labour leader, so who knows?  Perhaps fewer than 50% of Labour’s May voters will turn out.  If that figure drops towards the low 40s, Labour look in deep trouble.

Enough of the numbers, what is actually going on?  No one really seems too sure, which is perhaps not that surprising in a constituency that will have not been subject to extensive canvassing in the past.  Labour will be reliant on their experience in running a postal voting operation while UKIP, unusually, have the benefit of the experience of a seasoned local campaigner in Joe Fitzpatrick (who when still with Labour masterminded Phil Woolas’ subsequently-overturned victory in 2010 in Oldham East & Saddleworth).

The consensus of the various field reports seems to be that Labour will hold with a small majority; some have mentioned a majority in the hundreds.  That smacks of herding rather than insight to me, given the sketchiness of the information.

Current best prices are Labour 1/3 and UKIP 5/2 (both prices are available with a range of bookies).  You can get 11/4 on Betfair as I write.  Labour are rightly favourites and might yet win with a decent majority but the chances of a UKIP win on the information that we possess look a bit better than one in three.  I’m already on UKIP at 11/4 and longer and I’m not topping up, but if I were starting from scratch I’d be backing UKIP now.

Given that this by-election is not going to help choose the next government and given that Jeremy Corbyn is reportedly not attracting the admiration of the typical Oldham voter, turnout is likely to suffer.  Ladbrokes previously offered an over/under line at 44.5%, which seemed very generous.  This has now been updated to 37.5% (5/6 over or under, according to your preference).  This would place the drop in turnout from the general election very close to the average of the four nearby by-elections in the last Parliament.  If like me you think that turnout is going to drop by more than usual, take the under side of this bet.

Whatever happens, this by-election is going to prove educational.  If Labour win well, we should take careful note of Labour’s efficient expectations management.  Any other result is grim for the red team.  We can rest assured that in that case the reasons will be debated at length.

Alastair Meeks


New large sample poll finds just 43% of GE2015 LAB voters saying they approve of Corbyn as party leader

November 30th, 2015

The more educated you are the more likely you’ll approve of JC as LAB leader

This is a new venture by Ian Warren of Election Data who in the run-up to GE2015 provided analysis for two of the main parties. He devised the questions and provided the analysis. YouGov did the fieldwork. The initial release relates to just English adults – other parts are to follow.

Overall amongst the entire sample Corbyn had 23% saying they approved of him with 52% saying they didn’t. Cameron, by comparison had 37% approval to 42% disapproval.

There’s a huge amount of data in the poll on how party allegiances have changed since GE2015 – I have focused in this first post on Corbyn’s approval rating to which the question was “To what extent do you approve or disapprove of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party”.

The years of education chart is very revealing because it was the older generations who finished their formal time at school/college the earliers.

Corbyn has his best approval ratings from the youngest segment who are least likely to be on the electoral register and least likely to vote.

What we don’t have is any comparative data. This is all new.

Corbyn’s opponents within his party will no doubt register these numbers.

Mike Smithson


Welcome to week 13 of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

November 30th, 2015


His supporters now saying that EdM was a Tory

This looks set to be massive political week with Syria and, of course, on Thursday the first by-election of the 2015 parliament.

Just about everything in British politics is now looked at through the prism of the impact on Labour’s new leadership. Is Corbyn going to try to impose a whip on his party to oppose Syrian air-strikes and what happens to his party either way?

The by-election is looking tighter and tighter and at 5/2 on Betfair UKIP must be the value bet.

    A big UKIP message in Oldham to LAB supporters is that a victory for them could help end Corbyn’s leadership. That could resonate and might encourage Labour stay-at-homes.

In the meantime the young LAB activist and former EdM loyalist, whose Oldham Tweets I reported in the previous thread, is being told that the former LAB leader is a Tory. The world’s gone mad

There’s some interesting Corbyn polling due.

Mike Smithson


The first hand experiences of a Labour canvasser in Oldham

November 29th, 2015


The favourite to be next Labour leader has now decided he wants Corbyn’s job

November 29th, 2015

Someone in the Parliamentary Labour Party is going to have to take one for the team if they want Corbyn gone.

In today’s Independent on Sunday, Jane Merrick writes

I understand that [Dan] Jarvis now wants to be Labour leader – and when a vacancy arises he will go for it. He is not perfect, and he will not be the only candidate. Yet Jarvis can count on more support than he would have had earlier this summer. The question is, in what form will that vacancy arise – in a bloody coup or when Corbyn decides to stand down? For Jarvis’s prospects to survive, he cannot be part of any plot.

Rightly or wrongly the current Labour leadership are seen as unpatriotic, the easiest way to undo that perception is to elect as leader someone who has served in the armed forces. Step forward Major Dan Jarvis, the Member of Parliament for Barnsley Central, this gives him an advantage over most of the other contenders to replace Corbyn. Labour does have form for replacing a pacifist leader with an ex major, when Major Clement Attlee replaced George Lansbury whose pacifism was rejected at the 1935 Labour party conference.

But I think the lesson of the 1990 Tory leadership of “he who wields the knife never wears the crown” is influencing those who want Corbyn gone, personal ambitions of many may stop Corbyn being toppled as it was clear from Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Marr this morning where Corbyn said “I’m not going anywhere” that he won’t be going voluntarily.


PS – Though it would be remiss of me not to mention that a lot of Labour’s current travails stem from a former Army Major, Eric Joyce whose problems caused him to stand down as an MP and the process to choose his replacement in Falkirk became so troublesome that Ed Miliband changed the way Labour leaders are elected, if Ed Miliband hadn’t it would be very unlikely Jeremy Corbyn would have become Labour Leader.


The latest Jeremy Hunt betting

November 29th, 2015


Another story that hasn’t received the coverage it deserves is the problems Jeremy Hunt is having with junior doctors, but with the first junior doctors’ strike scheduled for this Tuesday, that will change.  But people like David Cameron and George Osborne are aware of how important the NHS is, a few days ago, The Spectator reported that

Another area where Osborne is determined to keep putting in extra resources is the health service. He believes it was Cameron’s NHS commitment that was the most important and electorally significant element of Tory modernisation. The tensions between 10 and 11 Downing Street and Jeremy Hunt in recent weeks have been borne out of frustration that, despite the cash that the Tories are pumping in, they are still regularly waking up to headlines about the NHS being in crisis.

William Hill have a market up on whether Jeremy Hunt will remain Health Secretary until 2017. I’d probably take the 5/2 because Cameron has form for moving a cabinet minister that manages to upset a profession that is respected and trusted by the public, especially if it undoes the Conservative modernisation and detoxification strategy.

Michael Gove was moved from the Department of Education and replaced with the more emollient Nicky Morgan, after Gove had antagonised the teaching profession with Lynton Crosby warning Cameron that Gove was toxic for the Tories. The omens are not good for Jeremy Hunt continuing as Health Secretary for much longer. As Alastair Meeks noted a few weeks ago ‘It seems to me that Jeremy Hunt can lose quickly or he can lose slowly.’



The Tory bullying scandal claims the scalp of ex-party chairman, Grant Shapps

November 28th, 2015


BBC News

Could this take the media pressure off Mr. Corbyn?

Until now the ongoing Tory bullying scandal has been largely over-shadowed by the events within LAB. This could possibly change following this afternoon’s resignation from his post as a minister of the party chairman at the General Election last May, Grant Shapps.

All this follows the apparent suicide two months of 21 year old CON activist, Elliott Johnson, whose body was found by the East Coast main line at Sandy in Bedfordshire.

Since then there’ve been allegations of bullying and sexual assault within the party.

Mike Smithson


So what happened to the long-term plan, George?

November 28th, 2015


Labour’s current travails have hidden the Chancellor’s own problems

George Osborne is fond of saying that he’s fixing the roof while the sun is shining. Well, this week he decided to knock off early and catch some rays. After all, what’s the rush? It’s not going to rain overnight. Mañana.

Nor will it rain economically tomorrow, next week, next month and in all probability, next year. The economy is growing healthily, employment and wages are rising, inflation remains subdued, consumer borrowing is modest by historic standards and while there’s a house price boom in London, that’s largely down to local factors. There doesn’t seem much risk of either imminent overheating or a credit crunch.

Which is probably why when the OBR found £23bn down the back of George Osborne’s sofa, the Chancellor decided to spend pretty much all of it rather reduce the deficit faster. That spending – on tax credits amongst other things – has bought off plenty of political opposition, though at the cost of conceding the point.

All this is now easily forgotten. To be fair, it did happen nearly half a week ago and much has taken place since then. Above all, Labour has once again indulged in directing their fire at their own feet; something they’ve done so frequently since May that their lower extremities probably resemble Swiss cheese.

However, neither Osborne nor the wider government can assume that Labour will continue to be so self-absorbed and fractious for the whole of the parliament – or that if they are, some other party won’t find themselves capable of providing a decent opposition. Had one such existed now, Osborne would be under a fair bit of pressure and not only because of his U-turn.

Recessions do not run to timetables. We cannot predict the next one simply on the basis of when the last was; events play too large a role. Some of these events we can predict with a degree of accuracy: it’s possible to model for labour market tightness, private sector borrowing, house prices and so on. Other events, particularly those from overseas, can come out of the blue. Which is a problem for forecasters and tends to result in forecasts being projections rather than predictions (not least because even if you know that a bubble is going to burst, it’s almost impossible to work out when: in October 2007, just after Northern Rock had gone bust, the government was still predicting steady annual growth of around 2.5% and borrowing of about £40bn a year for the next three years).

And against that uncertainty, Osborne has kicked the can a little further down the road at a time when Britain’s deficit is still worse than it was before the last recession, public debt is vastly worse and interest rates remain at ‘emergency’ lows. In the big scheme of things the £23bn doesn’t matter much: over the parliament, it’s less than a penny per pound of expenditure. What’s more significant is the signal it gives as well as reducing future options.

Labour’s vacation of the centre ground (and indeed, the centre-left), combined with the Lib Dems’ near-annihilation has provided Osborne with an historic political opportunity to enable the Tories to dominate for years, as New Labour did and in like manner. The danger, as with Blair and Brown, is that the dominance in the centre comes at the cost of office-holding for its own sake which not only has a tendency to develop unhealthy relationships with client voting groups but also leaves a party lacking in ideological direction. Playing against sub-par opposition also allows laziness to creep into your own game.

The Conservatives have few excuses now: they’ll have run the economy for ten years by the next election, for five years by themselves. With Labour wracked by division, dissent and all-round incompetence, now should be the moment for Osborne to take the tough but necessary action to bear down further on the deficit. It won’t last forever.

David Herdson