Going down to the wire…

Perhaps the only thing more exciting than the general election is the battle for promotion out of the Vanarama conference. Like the election, this is going down to the wire. With two games left to go, there is just one point between the top two teams fighting it out for the only automatic promotion place, followed by a chasing pack either in, or just outside, the play off zone.

As it happens, the top five clubs are also an interesting guide to the sort of electoral competition we’ll see on 7 May.

We start with Barnet, currently top of the Conference, by just one point. Barnet’s ground is located in Harrow East, which is a Conservative seat. But it is a Conservative seat taken from Labour at the last election, and where the Conservative MP has a majority of 7%, and is the sort of seat Labour need to take back if they are to win the election. (Underhill stadium, where Barnet played from 1907 to 2013, is in the nearby constituency of Chipping Barnet, which is also a Conservative seat, but much more safe).

Currently second in the Conference is Bristol Rovers. The Memorial Ground is in Bristol West (albeit right on the border with Bristol North West). Bristol West is a Lib Dem-held seat, but as well as being a target for Labour (who held it until 2005) it is also one of the Greens’ key target seats. It therefore looks like being a very interesting three-way contest. Bristol North West, where I suspect more Bristol Rovers fans actually live, is a Conservative-held seat, but as with Harrow East, one that Labour lost in 2010 and which they are challenging to retake this time.

In third place, and only recently out of the race for the top spot, we have Grimsby. Just to confuse us Grimsby Town FC’s ground isn’t in the constituency of Great Grimsby – but is in Cleethorpes. Cleethorpes is yet another seat taken by the Conservatives in 2010, and which Labour are looking to win back.  Grimsby itself is even more interesting, because it’s one of the seats where Labour are facing a serious challenge from UKIP. A former safe Labour seat, the latest poll by Lord Ashcroft put UKIP just one point behind Labour.

Eastleigh FC, currently fourth in the conference, also isn’t in the most obvious constituency (Eastleigh), but is in Romsey and Southampton North.  This was a marginal seat at the last election, held by the Lib Dems between 2001 and 2010, but now looks like a fairly safe Conservative seat. Eastleigh itself (where, presumably, most Eastleigh fans actually live?) has been held by the Lib Dems since a by-election in 1994. They even held it at a by-election in 2013, despite their poll ratings falling nationally after going into government in 2010. The by-election in 2013 was caused by the resignation of Chris Huhne, en route to prison for perverting the course of justice.  The Lib Dems initially gained the seat in 1994 at another by-election, after the Conservative MP died as a result of euto-erotic asphyxiation. You can’t say that of many constituencies.

And in fifth place comes Forest Green Rovers, whose ground is in the constituency of Stroud. This is an ultra-marginal seat, with a Conservative majority of just 1299 votes, another seat lost by Labour in 2010 and which they are hoping to get back. The contest in Stroud is complicated by the fact that the previous Labour MP, David Drew, is fighting the seat again. Drew is a Vice-Chairman of Forest Green Rovers,

Given that more than half of constituencies in Britain are basically safe, and are not going to change hands, this is a much more interesting bunch than a representative sample. Apart from Chipping Barnet (where the odds on the Conservatives winning are 1/200) not one can be considered really safe. The safest of the others is Romsey and Southampton North, but even that changed hands at the last election. Of the others, we have several Con-Lab close fights, of the sort that will determine the election, a three-way marginal involving the Greens, and a seat where UKIP are serious contenders.

And just outside of the top five, we have Macclesfield, still in with a chance of making it into the play offs. This is a safe Tory seat, with the incumbent having a majority of almost 12000 votes. Even safe Macclesfield is interesting, though, as it was a seat where in 2010, the Lib Dems came second, but which has probably now reverted to being a Labour-Conservative fight. There will be a lot of seats like Macclesfield in May.

This isn’t quite every type of contest going – the lack of Scottish or Welsh seats is an obvious omission, as is the lack of a safe Labour seat – but it’s not far off.

For those who like gambling and politics and football and gambling (who doesn’t), there are some options here. If you’re a Labour-supporting Barnet fan, you can get combined odds of 2.6 on Labour to win Harrow East and Barnet to win the Conference. A Conservative-supporting Barnet fan can get odds of 3.0 for both of their ships to come in.

The combined odds are even better for Bristol Rovers fans. The Lib Dems to win Bristol West and Bristol Rovers to top the Conference gives you odds of 4.8. Labour to win Bristol West and Bristol Rovers to win the conference gives you 7.5. If you’re a Green-voting Bristol Rovers fan, there are odds of 10.0 for both to come in for you in Bristol West.  If you’re a UKIP-voting Barnet fan there are odds of 76.5 for you in Harrow East – although in this case I’d probably advise you to save your money.

Philip Cowley