Despite my occasional bias on here, I really see myself as more of an impartial public service blogger. Today, I have two bits of useful and helpful information for Ken Livingstone’s supporters.
Firstly, I understand there are still tickets available for Ken’s special fundraising dinner on 23rd February. At just £125 a ticket (or an absolute snip at £1,000 for a table of ten) and with “special guest Ed Miliband” in attendance, it’s frankly a shock that tickets haven’t sold out already. The email I’ve received about the event promises it will be a “memorable evening”, which I don’t doubt for a minute – especially if Ed gives one of those witty and punchy speeches for which he’s renowned. I’ve emailed back asking whether Ed will still attend even if he’s no longer Labour leader at that point. There’s been no reply as yet.
My second helpful announcement is aimed at those lefties who not only shriek and boast about how Boris has no chance, but who want to make some easy money from Ken’s ‘guaranteed’ victory. Over at Bet365.com, Ken’s odds have today slipped from 9/4 to 11/4. Out from evens just five months ago, they’re the longest odds on Ken since he was chosen as Labour’s candidate (i.e. the betting market is now more certain than it’s ever been that he won’t win). Although there are absolutely no grounds for Tory complacency (is now a good time to mention Kinnock’s Sheffield Rally?), Ken’s going to need to do substantially more than promise an unfunded, unaffordable fares cut if he’s to convince voters of his merits. But hey, lefties, don’t let that stop you splashing the cash…
The Betfair market on Boris and Ken’s chances has moved noticeably in Boris’ favour over the last month. It now puts Boris’ chance of victory at 74%, with Ken at just 23%. But what prompted the widening of the gap? As can be seen on the graph to the right (or see here for a live version) the divergence began almost immediately after Ken raised his fares-cut pledge from 5% to 7% (5th December).
Sometimes in politics you can make a pledge which is so eye-catchingly brazen that, whilst your supporters may glorify it as a bold and enterprising game-changer, it prompts punters and voters alike to question how practical, achievable or affordable it really is. Whereas the voters might have been willing to believe that a freeze or tiny cut to fares was possible, a pledge to cut them by 7% simply comes across as preposterous. Certainly punters seem to have looked at Ken’s pledge and are increasingly confident it won’t win him the election. Perhaps Ken will come to regret not taking a more conservative but believable and affordable approach…
Regular readers will know I rate betting markets as the best indicator of how political campaigns are going. Opinion polls only reflect current opinion, often skewed by very recent events or impacted by dubious weighting approaches, whereas betting markets reflect longer-term, objective analysis. The best recent example came at the time of the AV referendum. Early on in the campaigns, the polls frequently showed ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to be neck and neck, but the betting markets remained convinced – ultimately correctly – that ‘No’ would prevail.
With this in mind, I keep a keen eye on the mayoral betting markets, and am always fascinated by the movements. Perhaps the most interesting spell was around the time of the London riots. Boris’ chances fell a bit immediately after the riots, before rising to a higher point than they’d been before when he launched his response (the £50million fund to restore damaged high streets, £20million for riot-hit Tottenham and Croydon, hastily re-launching the Croydon tramlink service and arguing against government police cuts, amongst other things).
Fast forward a couple of months, and a move on the markets today leaves Ken Livingstone in his worst position since he was selected as Labour’s mayoral candidate last year. bet365 are now offering 2/1 on a Livingstone victory, with Boris the heavy favourite at 4/11. Given most bookies put Barack Obama near evens in his election campaign, that means they now reckon Boris’s chances of re-election are considerably better than Barack’s. What’s more, the markets haven’t moved in Livingstone’s favour at all since he announced his fares-cut policy – punters clearly expect it to be revealed as the deceit that it is.
I’ve said before how highly I rate the betting markets when trying to predict the outcome of political events. Betting odds are the result of objective forecasts made by people for whom it pays to be correct, whereas opinion polls – or other less scientific readings of public opinion – simply show people’s current views, often at times of high emotion.
With that in mind, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the London Mayoral Election odds in the last couple of days. Lefties have been beside themselves with excitement since the weekend, telling anyone who’ll listen that Boris has responded badly to the London riots - under the apparent (glorious) misapprehension that Boris could have single-handedly prevented the carnage if he hadn’t had the temerity to be on his summer holiday when it all kicked off. That’s not how I’ve seen it at all. He returned from his holiday promptly (remember we didn’t realise how big an issue this had become until late on Sunday night, and he was on his way back by Monday afternoon – no mean feat, given he had to arrange a flight from around 5,000 miles away), and within hours of his return he was out in the community, meeting people, thanking volunteers and supporting emergency workers. Both yesterday and today, as he’s toured London, he’s been met with cheers from members of the public. Even yesterday’s “heckling” was actually some distraught Londoners asking, quite reasonably, where on earth the police had been – it certainly wasn’t the backlash against Boris that lefties tried to paint it as.
Anyway, I digress. Today is the first day that the London Mayoral betting markets have moved since the riots, and they show Boris to have improved his odds of being re-elected next May, with William Hill having cut him from 4/9 to 2/5. At the same time, they’ve lengthened the odds of Ken being successful – from 13/8 to 7/4. They’ve also shortened Boris’ odds of becoming the next Tory leader, making him the clear favourite. He still has a huge amount of work to do – a city to lead in a truly dark hour, millions of people to reassure, a monumental clear-up and rebuilding project to orchestrate, and no doubt a huge investigation to heed the results of – but the signs are that he’s got it right so far.
I make no apology for going on about the importance of Boris backers having no complacency in the nine months leading up to next year’s London mayoral election. Every time a political commentator suggests that Boris’ re-election is a formality (as John Rentoul, hardly a Boris supporter himself, wrote last week), I cringe and fear that somewhere a potential Boris backer has naively decided that his or her help is not required. Conversely, I seize with relish on any article by an independent or right-wing commentator which suggests that the contest will be much closer than many people think. Cue Mike Smithson on PoliticalBetting.com, who writes:
“As the chart of Betfair prices illustrates [see right-hand side of this blog] punter sentiment is strongly with the incumbent.
In 2008 Ken ran Boris reasonably close at a time when his party, Labour, had slumped to almost a low point in the national polls. Next May the national situation could be very different and, as we saw at the 2010 general election, London moved less to the Tories than any other region in England.
My view is that this could be a lot closer than the markets suggest.”
They’re my thoughts exactly. Of course, it’s great that Boris is the favourite – he certainly wouldn’t want to be in Ken’s shoes – but there is still so much time and so many possible occurrences before the election, that no-one should pretend to be certain of the outcome. Given the slowness with which the economy is recovering, the chances are that the country will still be close to its economic nadir next spring. Cuts will have been enforced, jobs will have been lost, the Tories nationally will be miles behind in the polls – Ken Livingstone couldn’t wish for better conditions in which to try and depose Boris. To suggest that the contest will be anything other than close is arrogant, complacent and naïve.
Anyone interested in trying to predict the outcome of political events will know to rely far more on betting markets than on the results of opinion polls. As an example, when the AV opinion polls were showing the race to be broadly neck-and-neck, the betting markets were consistently (and, with hindsight, correctly) showing the ‘No’ camp to be favourites. The reason for this is that those responding to opinion polls are essentially saying how they would vote if the election/referendum was today, whereas those making bets on the outcome are making an objective forecast of how things will turn out.
With this in mind, I was pleased to read on the PoliticalBetting.com site that Boris has become an even stronger favourite in the mayoral race over the last couple of months:
Having had, towards the end of March, just a 47% chance of winning next year’s election, Boris now has a 62% chance of victory according to Betfair. Over the same period, Ken has dropped from 40% to 33%. This makes Boris now almost twice as likely as Ken to win next spring.
I actually still think that the contest will be really tight – and that Boris backers shouldn’t have any arrogance whatsoever – but these stats are hugely encouraging, and fly in the face of those Ken supporters who are prone to declaring “OMG, Boris is the worst person ever! Ken has so much support all over London! #GetagripBoris! LOL.” at an increasingly desperate frequency.
Mike Smithson on the Political Betting site reckons that “Ken has far too much history to be a credible candidate. Someone like John Cruddas would have given Boris a run for his money”. Whilst I agree that there were probably stronger candidates than Ken – I think Alan Johnson would have been an inspired choice – I still think Ken is more than capable of winning next year if conditions assist him. I’ve said again and again how unpopular I expect the Tories to be by next spring, meaning Boris will require one of the strongest campaigns in British political history in order to secure victory. Time will reveal all, but the betting markets suggest he’s certainly got a good chance.
“I met Ed Miliband recently. Oh dear, oh dear. He has the weakest handshake in western Europe. I went straight to William Hill and asked them to take a bet that he will not be Labour leader by the next election.”
(The Apprentice’s Nick Hewer.)
We’re now just eight days away from the AV referendum. Frankly, it’s been an awful fight so far, with both sides scraping the bottom of the campaign barrel in search of a way – any way – to persuade people to support them. I’m still firmly in the ‘No’ camp, because I truly believe that AV is an utter mess of an electoral system, but the campaign has hardly facilitated a mature discussion of the relative virtues of AV and first-past-the-post.
Anyway, as we get closer to polling day, I’m naturally encouraged to try to predict, and bet on, the outcome. A few months ago, there was a competition over on PoliticalBetting.com, which asked readers to predict what the ‘Yes’ percentage will be. I went with 47% – in other words, I predicted ‘No’ to win 53-47. Although much has happened since then, and some of the recent opinion polls seem to forecast a far bigger ‘No’ victory (yesterday’s YouGov poll has ‘No’ 18% ahead), I’m going to stick with my initial prediction. I suspect the result will be much closer than many people are expecting.
Which leads me to the betting. The contest is, in my mind, almost impossible to call with any certainty. Whilst the polls seem to favour the ‘No’ camp, there are so many variables – known and unknown – that I don’t think the deal is anywhere close to being sealed. For starters, the ‘Yes’ campaign’s latest tactic – to encourage people to vote ‘Yes’ to give Cameron and Osborne bloody noses – is a clever political move which could really resonate with Labour voters. Secondly, I’m not convinced that pollsters have taken geographical variations into sufficient account – for example, turnout will be highest in Scotland and Wales where they have parliamentary elections on the same day, and where (in Scotland’s case, particularly) the electorate won’t want to do anything that is deemed to benefit the Tories.
Unless I’m completely misreading the campaign, I think we’re actually looking at what is essentially a 50:50 contest – neither result would surprise me. When you then look at the odds and see that ‘Yes’ is 10/3, and ‘No’ is 1/5 (with William Hill), it’s obvious where you should be putting your money. So, despite predicting ‘No’ to win, I’ve whacked a reasonable amount of cash on ‘Yes’. The winnings would at least fund the drowning of sorrows…
Many readers will be aware of John Rentoul’s ‘Questions to Which the Answer is No.’ series. It includes such gems as “Usain Bolt: is he a woman?” and “Could Lib Dems WIN this election?”. I’ve surely just spotted another candidate for the series, as posed by Damian Thompson of the Telegraph. He asks:
Having risen above the attempted mockery of critics (senior Labour politicians included) and led the UN Security Council to the passing of a resolution on a no-fly zone over Libya, David Cameron has shown himself to be a serious global statesman and a highly competent diplomat. It’s at times like these that I wonder if many Labour supporters wish they’d chosen David Miliband as leader instead of his younger brother. David at least always seemed comfortable on the international stage. Ed, by contrast, seems uncomfortable in his own body, let alone in a serious setting.
So, ‘Does anyone wish Ed Miliband was Prime Minister right now?’. The answer is surely ‘No’. The bigger question for Labour is ‘Can anyone imagine Ed Miliband ever becoming Prime Minister?’. If the answer to that is ‘No’, they’ve got problems. I’d recommend a small wager on him not being Labour leader at the next election. You can get 2/1 at Ladbrokes…
I wrote a few months ago about the current lack of alternatives for Tory party leader, were Cameron to be hit by a bus tomorrow. Boris is obviously not currently an option, Michael Gove’s career as a minister has seen more u-turns than your average plumber, William Hague seems increasingly disinterested in politics and I struggle to see George Osborne as party leader (though my view there has, perhaps, softened a bit in the last couple of months). Delve a bit further, and you’re looking at the likes of Liam Fox, Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt – none of whom seem particularly credible options (though Stewart is the dark horse to keep an eye on).
Anyway, I’ve been interested to keep an eye on the ‘next Conservative leader’ odds at Ladbrokes. Osborne’s remained at 8/1, Hague’s remained (perhaps surprisingly) at 10/1, Gove has slipped sharply from 5/1 to 10/1 in the space of about 3 months, but most interestingly for me is that the odds of Boris being the next Tory leader have shortened from 4/1 to 3/1. That makes him now the firm favourite to lead the party whenever Cameron goes.
As great news as that is for Boris backers, those odds seem poor to me. I like a bet, and I’m keen on the idea of Boris as Tory leader, but I won’t be putting any cash on him to be our next leader. There are innumerable obstacles that have to be surmounted before it could happen – and it probably relies on Cameron remaining leader until at least the end of the decade. The first obstacle is the mayoral election next year. If Boris loses, I suspect his reputation would be too damaged to ever hope to lead the party – unless he could pin the blame on Cameron and the government. If he wins, he’s tied up until 2016. Assuming he had no wish to serve a third term as mayor, he would then be free to re-enter parliament – presumably via a by-election in the 2015-2020 parliament.
But in order to be the next Tory leader, as opposed to a future Tory leader, he has to take over from Cameron. I imagine that if the Tories lose the general election in 2015, Cameron would quit. The only way Boris could become leader then would be if he’d lost in 2012 and promptly found himself a way into parliament by 2015. As I’ve said, I see it as highly unlikely that he could become Tory leader just three years after losing the mayoralty. Instead, I think the only way he can be the next leader is by winning in 2012, the Tories winning in 2015, then him entering parliament via a by-election sometime after his second term finishes in 2016. He’d then be free to take over from Cameron.
However, Cameron’s chosen departure time would also have a significant impact on Boris’ chances. The impression I get is that Cameron isn’t power-mad in a Brown-esque way. By 2020, he’d have been Prime Minister for ten years and party leader for fifteen years. I’d be surprised to see him pursue a third term as Prime Minister. Of course, this is idle speculation (as has this entire post been), but I could imagine him handing over to someone six months before the 2020 election. That means entering parliament in 2020 would be too late for Boris. He’d have to win a by-election somewhere between 2016-2019 – something that is easier said than done, given the limited number of by-elections that governing parties typically win.
So there you have it. I’m all speculated out. Just don’t put your cash on Boris to lead the party next. Rory Stewart at 16/1 looks a far better bet…