General Election

Next General Election Odds: Five takeaways from the local elections

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
The results could barely have been worse for Rishi Sunak

Paul Krishnamurty analyses the local election results, a very dramatic weekend of political betting and what lessons to take forward...

  • Nationwide disaster for Tories

  • Labour winning where it matters

  • To counter disinformation, trust psephologists

1: An unspinnable disaster for the Tories

Any round of local elections involves an information war between parties to sell the most positive spin on the results. Try as they are entitled to, that is a dead end on this occasion. The narrative couldn't be clearer.

The electorate is fed up with the Tories but enthusiasm for Labour remains limited to the voters they need, leaving the rest very open to looking around for alternatives. The results and signals from by-elections and previous rounds of council elections were confirmed. The Tories lost. Everyone else won.

So far as the general election is concerned, all signs point to a Labour Majority, rated 86% likely by Betfair markets at odds of 1.152/13. The Tories are rated around 35% likely to lose 200 or fewer seats, but around 11% likely to end end up with fewer than 50 (a net loss of 316).

2: A timely lesson for in-play bettors

Pre-match betting trends were pretty reliable. Labour landed the 1.011/100 odds in Blackpool South. Sadiq Khan won the London mayoralty like a 1.041/25 chance should by a comfortable 11.5%. The favourite band won his vote share market.

Tees Valley - the one race for which the Tories were clear favourites - went to form. The West Midlands mayoral election, for which favouritism switched several times, went to a recount. In our Conservative Losses market, following my article tipping it at clear odds against, 'Less than 500' landed a monster gamble from around 3.0 to 1.8.

All very predictable yet this became one of the most dramatic weekends of political betting. A 1.021/50 chance was turned over and Khan drifted to 1.434/9.

I observed my golden rule of in-play politics - to take zero notice of baseless rumours. Those who asked my advice were told the speculation was all nonsense, but I stayed away from the in-play betting, focusing on other things. What a mistake!

The point about both of those dramatic mayoral contests, is that the betting was driven by nothing of substance. 'Rumours', soon seen to be from within the Susan Hall camp, that London was surprisingly close. No vetting of the source was done. It could have been an over-excited activist. Or cunning news management, to deflect from Tory disasters elsewhere. Or somebody trying to start a 'rigged election' conspiracy theory.

None of this deterred the Westminster commentariat. For 24 hours, the speculation was fanned by excitable X (formerly Twitter) accounts, led by the anchor of the state broadcaster's coverage. Many pundits who pushed identically wrong information about the previous London mayoral contests repeated the mistake.

It is understandable for a trader to use assume BBC reporting is a useful tool to inform their betting strategy. Sadly, however, an essential part of successful betting on politics nowadays is learning which voices to trust. Listen to Laura Kuennsberg at your peril when she hosts the live general election coverage.

Never stop learning. All media outlets reported that Labour had conceded the West Midlands Mayoral race. The Tories crashed to 1.021/50. I was on at 3.55/2. Despite a life urging others to question information, I assumed the race was done and didn't think to lay my position back. With hindsight, the results were so bad for the Tories on Friday, there was a real possibility they might underperform even their own managed expectations. Lesson learned. Again.

3: Current polling looks reliable

Learn to filter good sources from bad. Psephology is a serious social science. Its leading practitioners were right all along and refused to get drawn into the nonsense about Khan losing. None were surprised by results. Follow the likes of Rob Ford (@robfordmancs), Phil Cowley (@philipjcowley), Will Jennings (@drjennings), Lewis Baston (@lewis_baston) and their peers.

Indeed, the attacks on polling need to be countered. Between 2014 and 2019, we did see some extreme outlier results across the Western world. The 2015 and 2017 elections, the two referenda, were volatile, unpredictable races because of the context. A historic realignment of the electorate based on demographics.

During that time, polling firms have devised MRP surveys to inform their forecasts and the results have been highly accurate. Once we understood that demographic change, the profile and location of Boris Johnson's 2019 coalition became easy to identify, just as the unwind of that coalition has been since 2021.

4: Labour are on for a huge majority

One respected academic to counter that prevailing wisdom is Professor Michael Thrasher, who has been analysing local election results for decades. I don't doubt Thrasher's sincerity or pedigree, or his right to do ENV analysis, but he is wrong to conclude these results imply Labour falling short of a majority.

The inflated share of LD, Green and independent voters will fall and, unless there is a dramatic change in public opinion, most defectors will go to Labour. Reform aim to run in every seat, and the evidence clearly shows the effect will further decimate the Tory vote.

Local elections are never exceptionally good for Labour for structural reasons. Their voter base is less likely to be registered or turn out than the Tory base. Why? They are younger, less likely to have long term residency at the same address.

They have every reason to be delighted in their performance in areas they need to win, or where they will extend their majority. Yes, the 'Gaza protest vote' is a real threat to Labour's internal stability, but its electoral effect is limited to a few constituencies and in any case, is far from certain to repeated at a general election.

5: Anti-Tory Tactical voting is escalating

Furthermore, there is real evidence of anti-Tory tactical voting. This will be more efficient and organised than ever before at the general election, with Carol Vorderman leading the effort. The results in seats like West Dorset should terrify them.

Under our first past the post voting system, unpopular parties can potentially be obliterated. With tactical voting organized against you, winning any seat with less than 40% is difficult.

Take this simplistic equation. If the Tories lose half of their national share from 2019 and that is fairly evenly distributed across the country, in how many will they hit 40%? This is broadly happening now and the swing is actually worse for them in the Leave-voting places where they won by the biggest margins last time.

Well, Christchurch in Dorset is arguably their safest seat. In 2019, they won it with 65% and there has never been a serious tactical challenge. Losing half would leave them on just 33%. Probably not enough.

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