While I was making the long journey home from the Edinburgh Hogmanay street party (an experience I paid a heavy price for - I got caught in several crushes, and later came down with a bad cold!) I was pleasantly surprised to spot on my mobile that I'd finished third in the 2012 Political Betting prediction competition. I haven't gone through the figures in detail, but I'm guessing the reason might be the gut feeling I had twelve months ago that the Tories were long overdue for a sustained spell of midterm unpopularity.
OK, lightning never strikes twice, but I thought I might as well try my luck again in this year's contest. This time, my feeling is that unless there's a general election (a very big 'if'), 2013 is likely to be a year of minimal change at UK level. Given the uninspiring personalities at the top of the Labour party, it's hard to see how they're going to build a more emphatic lead, but equally there's no particular reason to anticipate a Tory recovery. So in my predictions for what the ICM polls will show, I have all the parties in a relatively narrow range of support, with Labour, the Lib Dems and UKIP ranging fractionally higher than their average over recent months, and the Tories ranging fractionally lower.
Labour high - 42%
Labour low - 39%
Conservative high - 34%
Conservative low - 30%
Liberal Democrat high - 16%
Liberal Democrat low - 13%
UKIP high - 8%
UKIP low - 5%
Labour's biggest lead - 12%
Labour's smallest lead - 5%
As soon as I pressed 'submit', I felt sure that I had been over-generous to the Lib Dems, but I suppose it's possible they may have bottomed out somewhat. I don't expect a significant recovery for them until they bite the bullet and ditch Clegg, though.
Entrants were also asked to predict who will be Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Shadow Chancellor and Culture Secretary on Christmas Day. Assuming there's no general election between now and then, it seems a fairly safe bet that Cameron and Balls will still be in harness (Miliband has even explicitly stated that Balls will remain in his current position until the election). Clegg is much less secure, but the balance of probability is that he will last at least one more year. Maria Miller isn't secure at all as Culture Secretary, but given that it's anyone's guess who would replace her if she was sacked, the 'percentage guess' is that she will still be there as well.
Prime Minister - David Cameron
Deputy Prime Minister - Nick Clegg
Shadow Chancellor - Ed Balls
Culture Secretary - Maria Miller
Now we come to three international predictions - for the post-election leaders of Australia, Italy and Germany. None of these are certainties by any means, but two of them are a bit easier to guess than the other. Pier Luigi Bersani is currently the strong favourite to become the new centre-left Prime Minister of Italy, with just a few weeks to go until polling day. If by any chance Silvio Berlusconi confounds the odds to achieve yet another comeback, I will...well, I was going to say I will emigrate, but as I don't actually live in Italy that probably wouldn't help much.
Angela Merkel is likely, but not certain, to remain Chancellor of Germany, albeit probably with a new coalition partner that is far more palatable to those of us of a left-wing persuasion (either SPD or Greens). However, an SPD/Green majority still remains a genuine possibility, and if only the SPD could overcome their aversion to cooperating with the Left Party at federal level, then Merkel would be in all sorts of trouble, because the polls currently point to a combined parliamentary majority for the SPD, Greens and Left Party.
To my surprise, the toughest prediction turned out to be Australia. I had lazily assumed that Julia Gillard and Labor were toast, but it turns out that they've made a significant recovery in recent months, and are now only a few points behind the Liberal/National coalition. Even more intriguingly, Gillard seems to have built up a clear personal lead over her opponent Tony Abbott. Looking at the dates, the turning-point may well have been Gillard's now-legendary speech in which she branded Abbott a sexist hypocrite. In the end, I still plumped for Abbott as the winner, but without any great confidence, and it goes without saying that I hope I'm wrong (even though Gillard was stupid enough to employ John McTernan).
Italian Prime Minister - Pier Luigi Bersani
German Chancellor - Angela Merkel
Australian Prime Minister - Tony Abbott
The most murderously difficult part of the prediction contest is always estimating the net gains and losses for each party in the May local elections. I had a look at the 2009 seat totals to see if I could make a rough guess as to what might happen if the projected vote shares this year were roughly the same as in May 2012, and this is what I came up with -
Conservatives down 414
Labour up 605
Liberal Democrats down 196
UKIP up 5
Labour's gains look far too high, but the Lib Dems are surely going to take a pounding, and those lost seats have to go somewhere. In all honesty, though, to make anything more than a wild guess you'd need a mathematics PhD, detailed ward-by-ward statistics that aren't easily traceable on the internet, and seven months of peace and quiet in a spacious office, with soothing whale noises playing in the background.