Bet of the Day: Conservatives to lose heavily in European elections

14th September 2021

The UK goes to the polls today for an election that was never meant to take place. Had Brexit happened, as planned, on the 29th of March 2019, the need to vote in the European Parliament elections scheduled for this week would have disappeared along with the UK’s EU membership. However, parliamentary arithmetic put paid to Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of steering her Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the house of Commons three times, and so church halls and scout huts up and down the country have been pressed into emergency service as polling stations.

The plebiscite takes place against a backdrop of political turmoil – May has given her undertaking that she will resign as Prime Minister before too long, with an increasing number of her MPs stating that that moment has already passed. Labour, traditionally the likely beneficiaries of such an implosion in the Conservative party, are taking a buffeting in the polls due to a public perception that they are trying to face both ways on Brexit. The politician best positioned to take advantage of this is Nigel Farage, whose UK Independence Party polled highest in these elections in 2014. While UKIP has all but completely imploded, Farage’s return to the scene with the Brexit Party is set to be the story of this campaign.

Our Bet of the Day feature for today looks at what the bookmakers have to say about this potentially pivotal election – and where you can make the smartest bets ahead of the votes being counted this Sunday.

Conservatives set for a battering

The last time Britain voted in a European Parliament election, the Conservative party under Prime Minister David Cameron suffered a setback – losing seven seats and seeing their vote share trimmed from 27.4% to 23.1%. That, at the time, was the party’s lowest-ever vote in a UK-wide poll, and the underperformance – along with UKIP topping the poll – is believed to have buttressed Cameron’s decision to hold the fateful 2016 in-out referendum on EU membership.

The good news for Cameron is that his successor as Prime Minister is likely to rub his name out of the record books by securing a markedly lower share of the vote. May’s failure to deliver Brexit in a timely fashion has led to Tory voters – overwhelmingly a pro-Brexit electorate – deciding in huge numbers to back the Brexit party. Betway will currently give you 13/8 on the embattled governing party polling between 5-9.99% of the vote, and given that opinion polls have them wavering around the 7-9% mark, that seems like a decent price.

Brexit Party almost certain to top the vote

The Conservatives are hopelessly split on the way forward – their MPs are divided along lines of those wishing to retain a close relationship with the EU after Brexit (or even wishing to cancel the departure altogether), and those who wish to leave without an agreement (the No Deal Brexiteers. Pro-Brexit voters don’t trust the party to deliver, while Labour, trying to hold together an electoral coalition of Remain and Leave voters, have suffered at the hands of both sides. Many of the 48% of voters who backed Remain in the 2016 referendum now wish for a second, confirmatory vote – and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been reluctant to call for one. Therefore, in this election, seen by many as an ersatz referendum on Brexit, the two main parties are jointly polling less than 25% of likely voters.

The main beneficiaries of public disapproval for the “big” parties will be Farage’s insurgent party, who are set to cannibalise the majority of Tory backers and almost the entirety of UKIP’s 2014 vote. There is no point backing them to top the poll – their odds are 1/50 almost everywhere. Taking them out of the betting, Betfair are offering odds on who is likely to come second. Three weeks ago, Labour seemed sure to take that mantle, but a strong performance from the Liberal Democrats in recent local elections, alloyed to their unambiguous support for another referendum, has seen Vince Cable’s party poll strongly. Both the Lib Dems and Labour are at 10/11 to take second place. A strong Green party performance could eat into the Lib Dem vote – and the Greens have been polling well – but we’d take Cable’s lot to beat out Labour.

Beyond the vote: How long can May hold on?

Yesterday evening, rumours started to filter out of Westminster that the Prime Minister was barely hanging on to her position. Late in the day, Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom – a May skeptic who has, until now, largely remained loyal to the leader – resigned from her post saying she could not back May’s deal any longer. The inclusion in the Withdrawal Agreement Bill of a parliamentary vote on a second referendum, along with other (largely cosmetic) concessions to other parties, has caused a number of MPs previously loyal to May to indicate they feel it is time for her to go. It is expected that May will offer her resignation soon, perhaps in the aftermath of the likely terrible results of this election.

Attention will then turn to the Tories’ leadership contest, which could well be fought among a very packed field. As many as 20 contenders may put their names forward, with a series of votes among MPs needed to narrow the contest to a final two, who will then face a vote of the party membership. While that process takes place, May would remain Prime Minister even if not the leader of her party. Paddy Power are offering odds on when a new PM will take office, with 2/1 odds on it being this month. However, with signs pointing to a long, bloody struggle to narrow the field, June and July are both rated at 13/8 – and we’d back the latter if the field is anywhere near as congested as pundits are indicating.

Bets of the DayConservatives to poll between 5-9.99% (Betway, 13/8); Liberal Democrats to finish second in vote share (Betfair, 10/11); New PM to take office in July (Paddy Power, 13/8)

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