Mayoral race – odds, sods and some stats
Last September, shortly after my last Files blog specifically about the parties’ and candidates’ prospects in May’s metro mayoral elections, bets on the newly adopted Conservative candidate, Andy Street, were available at odds of 2/1 – invest £1, win £2.
Today Ladbrokes again has Street at 2/1 – the big difference being that now it’s 2/1 on – invest £1, win ten bob. Were he to win in May, your £2 winnings would now cost you £4.
However … this is the same Ladbrokes that, as polls closed on last June’s EU referendum vote, was offering 4/1 on ‘out’, suggesting a ‘remain’ result was a 90% certainty.
So the pollsters lost that one? You’re joking! Got it wrong, yes; lost, never. Most betting was done by the better-off, who were largely Remainers, which brought the odds down and in the end gave the bookies their customary healthy profit. Because, as they’ll readily explain, that’s what they do – not forecast the outcome of unpredictable political events, but make profits.
This time, for ‘Remain’, read Street. I’ve not seen a recent report, but in January four bets out of five, or 84%, were apparently going on Street. Which means only a small minority have been on the other four, now five, candidates, and their odds too have been affected accordingly – most notably those on Labour candidate Siôn Simon, whose price has drifted from evens back in November to today’s 7/4 or 11/8.
As for the other candidates and staying with Ladbrokes, although marginally more generous odds are usually available from bet365, Beverley Nielsen (Lib Dem) is currently at 33/1, Pete Durnell (UKIP) 66/1, and James Burn (Green) 150/1.
All of which, I’d suggest, is about as useful, or useless, as my own previous prognostication, which was that, certainly as far as these mayoral elections are concerned, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) boroughs collectively are by no means the undentable Labour stronghold that some media reports had seemed to assume.
Yes, 21 out of 28 MPs are Labour, and currently six out of seven councils. But, as I noted, 13 of the 21 MPs were elected on minority votes – less than 50% of the votes cast and counted – while well over a quarter of councillors are Conservative and four councils have Conservative groups of 25 or more.
That represents quite a contrast with the two big northern mayoral regions. Only one of Greater Manchester’s 10 councils has a 25+ Conservative group, and Manchester’s 96 councillors include none at all. Ditto for Liverpool and Knowsley, and indeed the whole Liverpool City region can barely muster 25 Conservative members in total.
We saw a powerful illustration of the contrast just last week. Two of the West Midlands six Labour councils – Dudley and Walsall – are currently minority controlled and in Dudley that made the significant difference between a Labour administration being able to set the budget and the 4.99% council tax increase it planned and having to accept a package scissors-and-pasted together by Conservative and UKIP councillors.
This talk of minorities brings us directly to the Supplementary Vote (SV) electoral system by which these first metro mayors, like all English executive mayors, are elected.
Voters can cast a first choice and, if they wish, a second choice (supplementary) vote. A candidate receiving more than half of all first choice votes is elected.
If that doesn’t happen, just the top two candidates by first choice votes go through to a second count. Where applicable, the second choices of those who voted for the now eliminated candidates are added to the totals, the winner being the candidate with the highest total of first and second choice votes.
The potential importance of these second preference votes, therefore, is underestimated by candidates and their campaigners at their peril. Of the 64 English mayoral elections since Ken Livingstone was first elected London mayor in 2000, nearly three-quarters have gone to a second count, five resulting in the candidate in first place after the first count losing.
In Mansfield it’s happened twice, both times the Independent Tony Egginton defeating Labour opponents who had topped the poll after the first count, but then lost heavily the competition for second preference votes.
The lesson is obvious. These elections are different from the first-past-the-post votes that both electors and campaigners are most used to. The candidate is relatively more important, and party label relatively less.
And voters have more choice. Even if your first preference is likely to be, or is, eliminated, you can still have a say in the outcome through your second vote. And for campaigners, even if a voter is hell-bent on voting for another candidate, their second preference could still be crucial.
My two-part table (above), compiled with the help of a former BBC research colleague, David Cowling, tries to give some statistical grounding to the May elections by looking at the last time all voters in the respective Combined Authority areas had the chance the vote in local elections at the same time: in last year’s borough council elections, or, in the non-metropolitan areas, in local elections held alongside the 2015 General Election.
Yes, I’m well aware of all the comparability problems: not all parties contesting all seats, the 2015 local election turnouts being much higher than if there’d been no general election, etc. But yes too, I decided this was better than nothing.
The top part of the table illustrates, among other things, the massive disproportionality of our standard first-past-the-post electoral system: how in Greater Manchester, for instance, Labour’s comprehensive dominance – currently 73% of councillors and control of nine out of ten councils – rests on the votes of a minority of those who turned out in 2016 and under one-sixth of the total electorate.
However, notwithstanding that 2016 minority, the strong probability must be that both Greater Manchester and Liverpool City region will produce Labour mayors on a single count.
It seems likely too that all three non-metropolitan contests will go to second counts. In which case, the Conservative candidates would probably be favourites in Peterborough/Cambridgeshire and the West of England, due to the party’s strength outside, respectively, Cambridge City and Bristol. In Tees Valley Labour’s Sue Jeffrey would be favourite to be our first woman metro mayor.
Which brings us to the West Midlands as perhaps the least predictable contest and politically potentially the most important – certainly for the PM and the Government and possibly for the whole future of the visibly faltering devolution programme.
With Labour’s 2016 vote share only just behind its 48% in Greater Manchester, it’s easy to see why Siôn Simon was the early odds-on favourite. But, as we saw, those odds have changed, and the Conservatives’ lead over Labour in the national opinion polls is currently averaging some three times the 5% it was showing prior to last year’s elections.
Hence the party’s optimism of at least taking Labour to a second count – in which, as the saying goes, all bets are off.
Pic: Express & Star, Black Country Public Debate, Black Country Living Museum
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