Last week a journalist on a local paper asked me to provide some odds for next week’s elections for Richmond Council. We have priced up a few boroughs, but hadn’t bothered with Richmond because, on the face of it, it didn’t look very interesting. Con 30, LD 24, is the current make up of the council. Other than that, I don’t know anything very much about the political situation in the London Borough of Richmond. I couldn’t find any evidence of any particular scandals or huge local issues that were going to make voters there behave much differently to those elsewhere.
The Lib Dem national vote share, according to most polls, has basically halved since 2010. There’s good reason to believe that it can and will hold up much better in areas in which they are genuinely competitive; the Eastleigh By-election was a good example of that.
But a swing away from the Tories to the Lib Dems here? Surely Labour would pick up quite a few LD defectors and it didn’t look like the kind of place that UKIP will hit the Tories. Didn’t seem very plausible, so I made the Tories 1/50 favourites to maintain control. That implied they had a 98% chance of doing so.
Those odds were immediately rubbished by locals.
A few people took the 20/1 about the Liberal Democrats regaining control, so we quickly assumed we’d totally misjudged things and made some big changes.
The local Lib Dems still think 5/1 is too big and we’ve taken plenty of bets at that price as well. If they can hold on to the seats they currently have, that will be a superb campaigning performance. If they can pick up the extra four they need to take control, it could well be the party’s biggest success of the night.
Despite the confidence emanating from the troops on the ground, I am still sceptical. I think back to the dozens of Westminster seats that the Lib Dems were confidently predicting (and betting on) to win in 2010: Glasgow North, Worcestershire West, Streatham, etc.. They, along with many others, didn’t buck the national trend, and the local confidence proved unfounded. We’ll find out next week whether the same will happen in Richmond Upon Thames.