Trump critic Mitt Romney could prove problematical for Trump if, as likely, he’s elected senator

February 20th, 2018

The Republican White House nominee in 2012 and Trump critic, Mitt Romney is running to become the next Senator for Utah – a GOP stronghold. Given the tightness of the current split in the Senate, 51 Republican to 49 Democratic, the former nominee has the potential to cause problems for the White House.

During the 2016 campaign Romney was a persistent Trump critic describing the man who was to become President as a “fraud” who was “playing the American public for suckers.

It has been reported that Trump sought to try to persuade the incumbent Senator for Utah to stay after he’d announced his plan to retire in order to stop Romney.

Romney shas said he generally approved of Trump’s agenda, but would not hesitate to call out the president if needed.

“I‘m with the president’s domestic policy agenda of low taxes, low regulation, smaller government, pushing back against the bureaucrats,” Romney said. “I‘m not always with the president on what he might say or do, and if that happens I’ll call‘em like I see‘em, the way I have in the past.”

Trump said on Twitter that Romney “will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!”

I wonder whether Romney might also be thinking of running for the nomination at WH2020

Mike Smithson


UKIP as a political party – one of the big casualties of Brexit

February 20th, 2018

How Brussels created the electoral system for UKIP to prosper

One of the ongoing political developments that has amused many since the referendum has been the UKIP leadership and the problems the party has in ensuring that whoever is gets the job lasts the course.

    An of the success of UKIP over the years is that it owes so much to Brussels for seeking to impose similar voting systems for MEPs across the whole EU. If that had not happened then it is hard to see how it could have emerged as an electoral force rather than a fringe pressure group.

For the 1999 MEP elections the EU resolved that all countries should elect their MEPs using a form of proportional representation. What played a key part, and probably crucial, in the UK was the decision of the Labour government ahead of the 1999 elections to have it operated on the basis of the closed party list.

This meant that voters simply chose a party and not individual candidates to be the Euro MPs and reduces the needs for individual MEPs to build up a presence with voters. Amongst most other EU countries the PR system operates but an open list exists and voters choose the order in which candidates by name they want to represent them.

It was that 1999 election that first saw UKIP MEP going to Brussels and in each succeeding euro elections the party increased it’s representation significantly to 2014 when it topped the poll in the UK.

If all goes to plan UKIP will lose all its MEPs on March 29th next year and its only elected politicians will be a few remaining local councillors and members of the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies, elected by the regional list, whose terms end in 2021.

Unless UKIP can miraculously find a way of winning first past the post elections it will be electorally dead.

Mike Smithson


There’s greater than a 1.25% chance that Emily Thornberry will be next PM

February 19th, 2018

My little punt this afternoon

One of the things about running a site about political betting and being a punter myself is that I like to spend a few minutes each day casting my eye over the markets to see if anything interesting is happening.

I’m usually on the lookout for long odds bets where my assessment of the chances of it coming off is better than how the market is pricing it.

One such one I took this afternoon. It was at the place of 80 on Betfair that Emily Thornberry will be the next prime minister.

We’ve discussed at length how before how difficult it is going to be for a LAB PM to come directly after Mrs. May. That would require the incumbent to continue until after she has lost another general election and the widespread perception is CON MPs are not going to let her do that.

The general view is probably right but, as we saw with Gordon Brown in the years before GE2010 there was a great reluctance to oust an incumbent PM with a general election not that too far away. The same could happen with Mrs. May.

Although Corbyn is the strong second favourite to be next PM you’ve got to go down a long way, in my case to odds of 80, to find another LAB MP as a contender and that person is Thornberry – the clear favourite to succeed JC.

Given the massive ambivalence that Corbyn and his inner circle has on Brexit we cannot assume that he’ll stay in post all the way to the general election. He’s also getting old.

Mike Smithson


Tick tock. Betting on the date of the UK’s exit from the EU

February 19th, 2018

Is it going to be March 29 next year?

Can you hear it? That is the sound of inevitability. Shambolic though the government’s preparations have been for Brexit, failing to explain its proposals to the public, the EU or even itself, the time to exit continues to approach. When the government gave notice under Article 50, a two year timetable was set in motion. That will expire at 11pm (GMT) on Friday 29 March 2019. Nothing the government has done or not done since then has altered that timetable.

Legally, there are only four ways in which that date and time could be altered. First, the government could withdraw its notification under Article 50. That may or may not be accepted as lawful in practice by the EU and other member states, though I expect it would if were done with a genuine change of heart.

Secondly, all parties could reach agreement before that date on choose a different date for the coming into force of the withdrawal agreement. That could be earlier or later. To do this, however, agreement would need to be reached before the two year deadline was up, or the two year deadline would kick in by default. The EU does not have much of a track record of concluding negotiations early, nor does this one look likely at present to be the exception to the rule.

Thirdly, the council and all member states could agree to extend the period. This would be far from straightforward to secure and if the extension were to go beyond a few weeks, this would mean that the UK would be entitled to continuing representation in the European Parliament, which the other member states emphatically would not accept. This therefore looks unlikely. Better to devote everyone’s energies to concluding the deal on time instead.

Fourthly, the government could change the time or the date in the UK. This is not without precedent – in 1752, eleven days were dropped from the calendar to move Britain from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (it is why the tax year ends on 5 April rather than 25 March, Lady Day). This isn’t the happiest of precedents, since it provoked riots at the time. In case you’re wondering, clocks are scheduled to go forward at 1am on 31 March 2019, so Britain will still be on GMT on 29 March.

Enough of legalities, what about practicality? Britain doesn’t look set to have a change of heart. While the public seems to be leaning, with the benefit of hindsight in the direction of thinking that leaving the EU is the wrong decision, there is no real impetus to rethink the whole idea – the change is largely being driven by non-voters at the referendum breaking firmly for Remain.

Most voters have stuck with their original decision. A fresh referendum looks firmly odds against, never mind actually a volte face. Leavers should be fretting about the long term implications of making no converts (their own voter base, being far older on average, will die off quite rapidly, potentially leaving a Remainer-skewed residue), but that’s a five to ten year crisis, not a problem for next year.

You can bet on whether Britain will leave the EU by 29/03/2019. It’s worth citing the rules in full:

“Will the United Kingdom officially leave the European Union before the 29/03/2019 – 23:59:59?

    For the purposes of this market leaving the EU is defined as the date when the treaties of the EU cease to apply to the UK. Examples of when this might occur include, but are not limited, to: the date specified in a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU; the end of the two year negotiating period (29/03/2019) as set out by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (or any extension to this time period); or the date of the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act.

If more than one of these events were to occur, this market will be settled on the first of these events to occur. In the case of the two year time period in Article 50 being extended, via a unanimous vote by all EU Member States, we will settle this market on the extended date. This market will settle when the UK leaves the EU even if parts of the UK (e.g. Scotland, Northern Ireland) leave the UK or receive special status within the EU.

In the event of any ambiguity over an announcement, Betfair may determine, using its reasonable discretion, how to settle the market based on all the information available to it at the relevant time. Betfair reserves the right to wait for further official announcements before the market is settled.

Betfair will not be responsible for suspending the market when an official announcement is made. However, Betfair will suspend the market as soon as it becomes aware of an official announcement. Betfair expressly reserves the right to suspend and/or void any and all bets on this market at any time in the event that Betfair is not satisfied (in its absolute discretion) with the certainty of the outcome.”

You will note that the end of the two year period (including any extensions) is one of the defined triggers and the market will be settled on the first event to occur.

So I cannot for the life of me understand why you can back “Yes” in this market (and the sister market on Brexit Date by quarter periods) at 6/4. To my eyes, this would probably be value at 1/4. I’ve backed this one heavily. Clearly others feel very differently. So, what am I missing?

Alastair Meeks


Quantifying the great cultural divide: those wanting blunt leaders versus those who think you shouldn’t cause offence

February 19th, 2018

There’s some new polling just out by YouGov for the latest Prospect Magazine which appears to identify and quantify a divide amongst voters based on a series of questions that I don’t recall being asked in this form before.

The one that is most telling is where voters were asked what they preferred in a leader. Overall 45% preferred “politicians who spoke bluntly, without worrying about who they offend,” against 38% who opted for a leader who “spoke carefully” to avoid “unnecessarily offending people.

Tom Clarke, Prospect’s editor, observes:

..In an age when the news is punctuated by outrage at Trumpian swipes at women, Mexicans and Muslims, this is a sobering reminder that for a very large proportion of voters— much larger than those who ever backed Nigel Farage’s Ukip— “speaking before you think” is politically preferable to being more considerate and cautious. Populist leaders will be encour- aged by that.

More striking even than this overall result on the question of unvarnished leadership is the split between different parts of the population. The preference for the “plain speaker” leader is far higher among Conservative voters (62 per cent) than Labour supporters (33 per cent). And indeed, whereas there is a 20-point lead for the leader who avoids unnecessary offence among EU Remainers (53-33), among Leavers, there is, by 38 points (62-24), a preference for a leader more in the Trumpian
mould on this count…

Although not unexpected the Leave-Remain splits amongst respondees is striking and indicative of the success of the appeal of Trump and Farage and Rees-Mogg. You may not agree with them but they are not mealy-mouthed and have clear positions.

My hesitancy about the polling is the way that the choices were expressed to the sample. The plain speaker notion sounds much more attractive than the alternative offered and even voters who are clearly aware of the necessary nuances of political life might have opted for it.

Having a plain speaking leaders winning an election is no guarantee that they’ll be able to repeat the process. Trump might survive his first term but could find that his approach is a turnout driver for the opposition and an inhibitor to the more marginal groups of his own party’s base.

We’ll get a clearer indicator of that following the US midterms in November. Also the possible arrival of Mitt Romney in the Senate could be a real threat to the President within the GOP.

Tom Clarke’s full article is well worth reading.

Mike Smithson


The day of the husky?

February 18th, 2018

Picture credit : WWF

One of David Cameron’s early and later much-derided moves was to go to the Arctic to be seen hugging a husky: I hope it won’t be seen as partisan to say that few of us felt that Cameron had a deep-seated love of huskies: we were all clear that it was symbolic. He was detoxifying the Tories – not just about harsh efficiency, but caring about the environment too.

Ultimately, though, the environment was seen as a second-order issue. Sure, if you asked people if they cared about climate change and pollution, they’d express an opinion, but they generally wouldn’t switch their votes over it. What mattered was the economy, the NHS, immigration and a general impression of competence – and we can now add Brexit.

So why are the parties suddenly working so hard on environment and animal welfare issues? Michael Gove has frankly astonished most people on the green side of politics with a series of speeches and commitments which go beyond lip-service and show a genuine understanding of the way that apparently disparate issues like climate change, pollution and factory farming interact. I know lifelong environmentalists who were blown away by this speech.

Meanwhile, the Labour animal welfare manifesto last week was Christmas come early for the animal movement, and had a media reach (defined as everyone reading/viewing media that reported it, obviously with duplication) of a mind-boggling 230 million. (Disclosure of interest: in my cross-partisan job I’ve had a lot of direct contact with both parties over these initiatives.)

There’s a reason, and it’s not only a sudden rush of green idealism. The parties have fought each other to a standstill on the big issues. The economy? The deficit has gone from urgent crisis to “Is that still a thing?” in public consciousness. Brexit? Clearly difficult and not really under British control. The NHS? In crisis for so long that many people have lost confidence that it will be fixed. Immigration? The Tories aren’t doing much, Labour doesn’t want to do much, UKIP has imploded. Competence? Much of the public doesn’t rate anyone on that score. So the parties are locked at about 40% each with no sign of movement.

Consequently, they’re starting to look at traditionally second-order issues as a way of shifting the dial. Housing, the environment, animals, student fee reforms: perhaps undecided voters will feel that there’s not much to choose on the big issues, so let’s go for the party that seems to have some new ideas on other things.

Like Cameron’s huskies, these ideas aren’t just about the subject, though unlike the husky stunt they have some genuine content. They’re also about shifting the image of parties to be seen as movements that take an interest in a wide range of subjects. And, not least, they’re a way for Ministers and Shadow Ministers in traditionally less-reported areas to gain real attention with innovative thinking.

That’s not a bad thing in our fast-changing world. Expect more of it.

Nick Palmer

(Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe 1997-2010. He now works on animal welfare issues on a cross-party basis.)


Betting on who will be Philip Hammond’s successor

February 18th, 2018

Why Mrs May might replace her Chancellor with someone who appeals to the hardline Leavers in her party.

It is well known that many hardline Leavers want Philip Hammond sacked as Chancellor, I can see certainly envisage a scenario where Mrs May sacks Mr Hammond to save her own skin. To paraphrase Jeremy Thorpe, greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her friends for her life.

Plus Mrs May appears not to be very keen on Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd was going to be replace him as Chancellor after the 2017 general election until Mrs May soiled the bed and lost David Cameron’s majority.

With all of that it is worth looking at Paddy Power’s market on the next Chancellor, but who to back?

I can see why Gove is 6/1 but I think he’s just too divisive, Jeremy Hunt being the favourite is a reflection that his career is in the ascendancy. David Gauke spent six years at the Treasury working for the finest Chancellor of this century/since Ken Clarke, makes him probably the most qualified for the role, however my money is going on Liam Fox, my logic is as follows.

If Mrs May needs a Chancellor that appeals to the hardline Leavers in the party then Liam Fox fits that bill, she might also like the fact he’s been personally loyal to her and shored up her position when it was under attack a few weeks ago. 

Having had to previously resign in disgrace as Defence Secretary might be bar to high office but if someone with such a colourful back story as Jeremy Corbyn can come within a few hundred votes of becoming Prime Minister then Liam Fox’s past shouldn’t be a hindrance to him becoming Chancellor.

At 40/1 might be worth a flutter, I’m staking a few quid on it.



Amber Rudd now clear third favourite in the CON leader betting

February 17th, 2018

JRM 18%..Bojo 10%..Rudd 8%..Gove 6%..Hunt & Raab 5%..Davidson & Williamson 3%

However you look at the next Conservative leadership betting there’s one thing that is probably not going to happen – that the two men heading the betting at the moment, old Etonians Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, are going to be fighting each other in the membership ballot which, of course, is of the two who top the secret ballot of party MPs.

BoJo and Moggsy, I’d suggest will appeal to the same broad audience within the parliamentary party that the chances are that one of them will not make it. My view at the moment is that the former mayor is probably more popular amongst Conservative MPs than Rees-Mogg but that could change.

The interesting Befair movement in recent days has been more support from punters for the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, the woman, who of course, stood in for Theresa May in the TV debate against Corbyn at the general election.

She comes over as very much a safe pair of hands. The only question mark about her is that she has a minuscule majority in her home seat of Hastings and Rye.

Generally, party leaders do better in their own constituencies than the party as a whole particularly at their first general election after their elevation. A big exception to this was last June when Theresa May saw decline in her seat which was very much against the run of what was happening to the party in the country as a whole.

Rudd, of course, was a remainer and a lot would depend on the timing of the election. She’d probably do better after Brexit has happened than before.

Mike Smithson