Election 2015: Midlands snapshots and predictions

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Image caption Who will be the next occupant of 10 Downing Street?

No Parliament. No MPs. Just candidates.

Today's dissolution marks the formal start of a five-and-a-half week election campaign. That's long by the standards of recent elections, even though for most of us it seems to have been full-on for an age already.

My earlier posts catalogue the famous Midlands marginals which have acted like a vicious two-party see-saw - while some clamber-on, others are unceremoniously thrown off.

In 2010, the Conservatives won 15 seats here and Labour lost 14 bringing their respective share of our 63 constituencies to 36 Conservatives, 24 Labour and 3 Liberal Democrats in the now-defunct Parliament.

How the numbers will stack up in May is anybody's guess.

The opinion polls, still pointing towards a "hung" Parliament, remain as inconclusive and contradictory as ever: one or two percentage points here and there between the two biggest parties, UKIP in the early teens and the Liberal Democrats often languishing in single figures.

Party "see-saw"

Last weekend's YouGov poll, suggesting a four-point Labour lead, a bounce after Ed Milband's appearance on the first of the TV election specials, has been followed by today's ComRes poll indicating a four-point Conservative advantage.

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And in any event this election is less than ever about those headline national poll ratings. This time it is more like a series of local by-elections each with its own very distinct interplay not just among the three main Parliamentary parties but also with their principal challengers, UKIP and the Greens.

They are threatening to wrench that old party see-saw off its hinges.

UKIP could have a big bearing on the bigger parties' chances especially in constituencies around the edge of the conurbation from Redditch through Dudley and Walsall to Cannock and Tamworth.

The Greens find their biggest support not just in the shire counties but also in the generally affluent town of Solihull. They are already the official opposition on the local council and will be fighting hard for the left-of-centre protest vote.

The "none of the above" parties vote saw the Liberal Democrat Lorely Burt returned to Westminster in the last two general elections. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to Danny Alexander she has definitely been "one of the above".

Political weather vane

So the seat-by-seat analysis by the Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft is likely to be much more use to us here than the headline ratings. His latest findings include some of our own key local marginals.

Labour are apparently on course to capture Nuneaton as well as Halesowen and Rowley Regis from the Conservatives.

No less significantly, he suggests they are also set to miss out in Worcester. That cathedral city has so often been depicted as a political weather vane, "Worcester Woman" and all. And this time it is exactly the sort of place Ed Miliband's party needs to capture if he is to be in serious contention to be our next prime minister.

Image copyright Google
Image caption The Liberal Democrats are defending a majority of only 175 in Solihull

The message is clear for Labour in Worcester as it is for all the main parties elsewhere - they need to find the game-changer, the moment that will galvanise public opinion and give them the decisive surge they have all been hinting at for so long.

And that's what opinion polls are unable to account for. They are snapshots not predictions. So this is where we head for the bookies. Suspend your disbelief: this could be where we find out where the clever money is going.

The Stoke-based bookmakers Bet 365 report a frenzy of betting on the outcome in May. The latest odds suggest a narrow Labour win in Wolverhampton South West. The seat once captured by Enoch Powell with a majority of 691 has had exactly that same precarious Conservative majority in the outgoing Parliament.

But if you fancy a more adventurous flutter, how about a 50-to-1 shot on White Dee, the undisputed star of the Channel Four documentary series Benefits Street, to become the next MP for Birmingham Ladywood?

There is just one catch: she has yet to announce whether or not she is standing at all!

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