Has the Conservative lead peaked?

Ever since Theresa May stunned us all by announcing this snap election, political bettors have broadly fallen into two camps. Those of us who regard the Conservatives – especially for Most Seats – as a stone-cold certainty. The best chance to earn 5% or so interest on your money over a few weeks. As my tweet from that day shows, I am firmly in that camp.

On the other, contrarians legitimately point to the massive shocks of 2016. Almost the entire commentariat gave Donald Trump no chance of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. Brexit blew away the longstanding record of Betfair favourites winning every major election. If those two could land bigger than ten to one upsets on polling day, surely it is too early to dismiss Jeremy Corbyn?

These contrarians may, briefly at least, have had a spring in their step after some much improved polls for Labour over the weekend. Sure, four surveys showing Tory leads between 11 and 17% can hardly be said to place the result in doubt. But equally, any double-digit swing in the space of a week is worthy of comment. It has profound implications for our range of side markets – whether that be the betting in marginal constituencies, seat totals or Size Of Conservative Majority. If their lead fell to six or seven, even winning an Overall Majority at all would be in doubt.

Such an extreme turnaround is not on my radar. The fundamentals are too strong. In the two years since Labour lost by 7%, just about every dynamic has worked against them. Post Brexit, UKIP are collapsing, to the Tories’ overwhelming benefit. On the big question – who do you trust to lead the Brexit negotiations? – there is no contest. Jeremy Corbyn is historically unpopular, compared to the most popular Tory leader in living memory.

Nevertheless, they provide a timely reminder that polls are merely snapshots of opinion, which can change fast. Much can happen over the next five weeks during a fevered campaign. Even if Labour winning never even becomes realistic, there is much to play for, particularly in 100 or so marginal constituencies.

Right now, it feels like the calm before the storm. Neither Tory or Labour manifesto has been released yet, making for tedious TV as interviewers deliberately ask questions to which they already know an answer will not be forthcoming. May and her team’s relentless repetition of the ‘strong, stable leadership’ mantra is already being widely mocked.

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