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Friday, 18 January, 2019

'Each candidate is nervous as they face the ballot box'

The political betting expert's final thoughts on the General Election

The clock is ticking at the Palace of Westminster
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What, I was wondering seven weeks ago when Theresa May announced her whizzo idea, if they gave an election and nobody came?

Now, as the day approaches, the question seems to have moved on a bit. What if they gave an election and everybody lost?

Of course every candidate is nervous before they face the unknown contents of the ballot boxes - except perhaps Lord Buckethead, standing against May in Maidenhead and, so he hopes, standing next to her, complete with bucket on head.

But it's much more than nervousness: all seven of the major mainland parties are, in different ways, in trouble.

Start with May herself who ran a personality-cult campaign, which screamed her name and downgraded her party. She has turned to be an erratic and cowardly campaigner. Even if she has a mega-win her reputation may never wholly recover.

Then take Labour. The polls have narrowed in their favour, but that has not cheered many of their candidates because: a) their own canvass returns look gloomier than the polls; b) perceived success encourages complacency among their supporters; and c) the better Labour does, the harder it will be to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn and move on.

Yet there does appear to be a quite startling reversal of the 60-year trend away from the big two parties. The Lib Dems, Greens, Ukip and the Celtic nationalists (from a very high base in Scotland) are all doing badly in the polls.

However, the pollsters no longer have the betting market's confidence. Indeed they don't even trust themselves. The different research firms have taken steps to try to avoid overstating the Labour vote as they did in 2015. But they have all done it differently and may prove to be getting themselves in an even bigger tangle.

Everything, of course, takes place against the backdrop of the horrific events in Manchester and London. We don't even know how that will play out. Does it hurt Corbyn, perceived as soft on terrorism? Or May who, after seven years as home secretary and PM, can hardly blame anyone else for security defects?

I am certainly inclined to trust the punters rather than the pollsters on the big picture. There is no plausible path to victory for Corbyn: on most seats (7-1 Betfair); most votes (not widely offered but 100-30 with Coral); or PM after the election (9-2 Betfair).

Even if the Tories do lose their majority, they will have a cushion of about ten Ulster Protestants who will be easily signed up in return for a few goodies. So May could still scrape back in, even with an improbable net loss of 15 seats.  

What is probable? Huge regional variations, with Labour doing well in inner London and other Remain areas but worse than ever in the aspirational car-washing, 72-inch-telly-watching, Mail-reading, Brexit-voting suburbs.

We may also see the return of tactical voting. Now that the Lib Dems are not despised, as in 2015, merely ignored, they actually have the chance to exceed what are now very low expectations in terms of seats.

The SNP, from their artificially high base (all but three seats in Scotland), could well lose some to all their rivals, not just the Tories. And Wales is different again. Labour's recovery there appears to be influenced in part by the wave of mourning for the much-loved former first minister Rhodri Morgan.

But experienced Labour candidates are not getting carried away. "Our young supporters are much more enthusiastic than in 2015," said one fighting a northern seat yesterday "I keep being asked for selfies. And I don't think the Ukip vote is breaking Tory as much as everyone believed, maybe only 60-40.

"But I'm still a sceptic. Registration hasn't increased. And the Corbyn factor is still out there. And not just him. 'Corbyn and Abbott,' people say. 'We're not having them.'"

The hopes/fears of a landslide have passed. And the spreads and over-under betting now match something like the professional consensus - a Tory majority of around 70. Slavish followers of this column, if any exist, will already collect on any number between 42 and 126.

In strict value terms, the best bets now are probably the back-door ones on the status quo: 2-7 (Hills) a Tory majority; 2-9 (Coral) that May will still be PM on July 1; 1-5 (Hills, Ladbrokes,Sky Bet) that she will still be there on Saturday. These are not recommendations, partly because if they're wrong, your portfolio will also plummet.

Bearing in mind that, the best bets are probably nibbles round the edges. I still believe that turnout will decline. And I offer a non-partisan selection of constituency bets from the far north to the deep south: a Lib Dem recapture in the Highlands, Labour holds in Yorkshire and Sussex and a Tory gain in the Manchester suburbs, where the Jewish vote is turning sharply anti-Corbyn. Or not. We will know soon enough.

Turnout of 60 to 65 per cent
2pts 6-4 bet365, Coral
Lib Dems to win over 11.5 seats
2pts Evens bet365, BoyleSports, Sky Bet
Labour to win Hove 
1pt 5-6 BoyleSports, Ladbrokes
Lib Dems to win Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross 
1pt Evens Betfred, Hills
Conservatives to win Bury South
1pt Evens Betfair, Hills, Paddy Power
Labour to win Wakefield 
1pt 11-4 bet365

The pollsters no longer have the betting market's confidence. Indeed they don't even trust themselves
E.W. Terms
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