We’re now just hours away from the opening of polling stations. With the polls still showing Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck as they race towards the finish line, many have turned to the political betting markets as a better indicator of what to expect as the results start to come in tomorrow night.
Today’s YouGov poll puts both parties on 34 per cent; the TNS poll has the Tories one point ahead, well within the margin of error. With Britain’s first past the post system relying on seats won and not votes cast, the national polling gives too broad a picture to make any sort of prediction about what the outcome may be.
Mike Smithson of the Political Betting blog has brought this point home by highlighting that, with so much tactical voting going on, the overall vote share is likely to be relatively meaningless anyway. “A very large slab of electors on Thursday will not be voting for the party of their choice but seeking to ensure a specific outcome in their seats,” he says.
Not so for the betting markets; Betfair has calculated that there is an 81 percent chance that the Conservatives will come out holding the most seats – they’ve calculated that the Tories will be in possession of 278 constituencies once the results are in – but still think the most likely outcome is a minority Labour government (30.2 percent chance), with Ed Miliband as leader (51 percent chance).
Alternatively, there is a 28.1 percent change of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition continuing on, despite both parties seemingly ruling out that possibility during their campaigns.
Betfair believe that UKIP will win three seats: Clacton, where Douglas Carswell was the first candidate to win a Parliamentary seat under the UKIP banner last year, Thurrock, and South Thanet where UKIP leader Nigel Farage is standing.
Iain Dale has predicted that UKIP will win five seats, at least one of which “will be a complete surprise”. Possible contenders include the Essex seat Castle Point, which Betfair reckons UKIP has a 20.7 percent chance of winning. UKIP activists in the area are feeling very buoyant about their prospects here, as they are in nearby Dagenham and Rainham for similar reasons.
Also worth watching is Barrow in Furness, where the Vanguard class submarines used in the Trident program were built. Fears over a Labour government held to ransom by the SNP, who oppose Trident, may prompt tactical voting in enough numbers to give Ukip a win here.
UKIP came within just a few hundred votes of taking Hayward and Middleton off Labour in last year’s by-election, which may persuade enough Conservative voters to vote tactically for the insurgent party.
Moving away from UKIP and into Northern Ireland, Unionist parties have done deals in two seats.
In Belfast East, the UUP (formerly Conservatives and Ulster Unionists in 2010, when they were in alliance with the Northern Irish branch of the mainland Conservative Party) have dropped out to give the DUP a clear run. The DUP lost by about 1,500 votes last time, but other Unionist parties accounted for over 9,000 votes between them. The Belfast Telegraph is now predicting this to be a DUP win, taking the seat from Alliance.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone is also worth watching. Last time around an independent Unionist “Unity” candidate was backed by the DUP and UUP and only lost by four votes. It is thought to be more UUP territory than DUP (has previously returned UUP MPs) so the deal here is the UUP get a clean shot to defeat Sinn Fein.
Some of the big names widely expected to fall tomorrow night are the two Alexanders: Danny (Liberal Democrat, Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and Douglas (Labour, Shadow Foreign Secretary). Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg may also be defenestrated by his former supporters.