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Six Impossible Things Before Brexit

September 23rd, 2018

With six months to go, the ultimate denouement of Brexit looks as murky as ever.  That hasn’t stopped plenty of people trying to peer through the vapours.  If you are going to speculate, go right ahead, but it’s probably best not base your speculations on things that are downright wrong.  So let’s take a stroll past some of the more common misconceptions.

1) If Britain proposes something different (whether a recantation or a hardening of stance), the EU won’t necessarily accept it

Perhaps Salzburg will have despatched this particular misconception once and for all.  I doubt it though.  British political junkies of all stripes have for years put forward preferred plans on the basis that the moment they are espoused, they will be achieved.  Leavers seem to have mislaid the easiest deal in human history, yet still keep coming up with new ideas that they assume would glide past the EU side.  The optimism is commendable, if of murky origins. 

The latest variant is that Britain would go for no deal Brexit, and then magically negotiate lots of mini-deals with the EU to keep the show on the road in most practical aspects.  It’s far from clear whether there is time for those mini-deals or whether there is real agreement between the two sides on what the mini-deals should contain.

Remain supporters have been at least as guilty of this misconception as Leave supporters, assuming that they would automatically get a fairer hearing.  The EU has indicated that if Britain were to repent, it would take it back.  I’m far from convinced in practice that it would.  Britain looks set to be a nation divided roughly equally between Leavers and Remainers for some time to come. 

Why would the EU wish to keep on a country that is going through a collective and extended nervous breakdown where it is the subject of controversy?  Looking at the matter dispassionately from the EU perspective, you’d want to have some form of holding pen while Britain sorted itself out.

You probably didn’t notice in all the excitement, but a Scottish case has been referred to the CJEU to determine whether the Article 50 notice can be unilaterally withdrawn (my view is that it cannot).  The decision is going to be intensely political.  It’s hard to imagine the CJEU taking power from the other 27 countries and giving it to Britain in present circumstances.

This, incidentally, is a big problem with any hypothetical referendum.  Are the public going to be given an option that the politicians can’t deliver? (Again?)

2) Theresa May does not have to leave just because the men in grey suits ask her to

This is one of many misconceptions relating to the Conservative leadership process.  Absent actuarial considerations, Theresa May will step down as Conservative leader only if she resigns or if she is replaced by the due party process.  With the debatable exception of Iain Duncan Smith, the men in grey suits haven’t claimed a Conservative leadership scalp in generations. 

Theresa May might be induced to resign if she were persuaded that she had lost the dressing room sufficiently to make a defeat in a vote of confidence inevitable, but she has no track record of being easy to persuade.  If she resigns, it will be because she feels she has nothing more to offer the country.

What of the process?  No doubt we will read many more times of a stalking horse.  There is no such concept in the current version of the Conservative leadership process.  If 15% of the Parliamentary party lodge a letter with the chair of the 1922 committee calling for a vote of no confidence in the leader (that number being currently 48 MPs), a vote is held the next day.  A simple majority in that vote determines the matter.  So until a majority of Conservative MPs conclude that it’s time for a change, there won’t be a change in Conservative leader.

3) The government won’t fall just because its proposals on Brexit are defeated

One misconception, usually emanating from the left, is that if the government is defeated on its Brexit proposals the government will fall.  Following the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, a government falls between general elections only if there is a vote of no confidence (or if the Prime Minister voluntarily resigns).  A vote on the Brexit proposals by itself doesn’t count.  The government would have some hard thinking to do having lost its main policy plank but it wouldn’t automatically fall.

The converse is also true.  The government could get its Brexit proposals through the House of Commons then be defeated in a vote of confidence.  Depending on what the Brexit proposals are, that’s a distinct possibility.  Keep an eye on that.

4) A general election won’t magically just happen because there is chaos

This is a variant of the same misconception.  There’s a process for replacing governments.  Mere chaos doesn’t qualify.  So even if the government has no policy at all on Brexit capable of being defeated in Parliament, the government won’t automatically fall.  There needs to be a vote of confidence to do this.

The consequence of this is that government could effectively cease to function, but the nominal government could remain in office, if not in power, for a considerable period of time indeed.

5) If the government is defeated in a vote of no confidence, the Conservatives won’t be in control of events

If, however, the government loses a vote of no confidence in accordance with the prescribed process under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, politics goes into fast forward.  Just because she’s lost a vote of confidence in Parliament doesn’t mean that Theresa May ceases to be leader of the Conservative party (see 2 above).  But it does mean that she will cease to be Prime Minister and a general election will be called unless a new government is approved by a vote of confidence within 14 days.

Pandora’s box would then be opened.  Would Theresa May be able to keep her leadership of the Conservative party?  This could be decided within 24 hours, see 2 above.  If not, would the Conservatives be able to find a replacement for her in time?  This might very well not be capable of being decided within 14 days, given the many MPs who look in the mirror and see the noble prospect of a First Lord of the Treasury and the time it would take to puncture all of their pretensions. 

If not, could the Conservatives nominate a caretaker who could serve as acting Prime Minister while they chose their new leader and get a vote of confidence passed?  Bear in mind that if a vote of no confidence had been lost, the government must have lost part of its coalition.  It would need to find a way of putting that back together.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn would be insisting on the opportunity to form a government, just as he did in June last year.  He might well seek to put it to the vote.  If the alternative is a general election at a time when the Conservatives are in chaos, might they simply abstain in the short term until they had sorted themselves out?  They might.

In short, if the government loses a vote of no confidence, events become very unpredictable.

6) You won’t hear the end of Brexit on 29 March 2019

You’re probably sick of hearing about Brexit.  You probably want someone to make it go away.  But all that’s being discussed now are the transitional arrangements to apply while the main trade deal is to be negotiated.  The main event hasn’t started yet and won’t start until after 29 March 2019 (assuming some kind of deal gets hatched).  We have years more of these brouhahas and battles to look forward to.  Aren’t we lucky?

Alastair Meeks





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New ComRes poll finds LAB catching up with the Tories as the one best described as “The Nasty Party”

September 22nd, 2018

A new ComRes poll commissioned by Jewish News has found the CON lead over the label ‘the nasty party’, memorably coined by TMay at the Party’s 2002 Conference, is now being challenged by Corbyn’s LAB. The poll found that while 34% said they thought the Conservatives are ‘the nasty party’, almost as many – 31% – said the same of LAB.

The poll also found that fully twice as many British voters – 48% – think Labour was a more decent party when Gordon Brown led it than it has become under Corbyn’s leadership (24%).

Voters were asked whether Labour is doing enough to tackle antisemitism within its own ranks. In March 2017, 18% thought the Party was doing enough, while today’s poll has that at just 19% – suggesting that despite Jeremy Corbyn’s claimed determination to root out the problem, the public see no difference over the past 18 months.

When asked whether, as some of his supporters suggest, Jeremy Corbyn is the target of a concerted smear campaign, or whether he is unwilling or unable to act decisively against antisemitism in his Party, voters split by a ratio of 2:1 (45% to 27%) in favour of his being unwilling or unable to stamp out the problem.

Mike Smithson




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The biggest US midterms battle: Beto O’Rourke’s Texas effort to unseat Ted Cruz

September 22nd, 2018

The Senate race that could deprive the Republicans of their majority

Of all the elections that are taking place across the US in November the one that’s attracting the most attention is the effort by Beto O’Rourke to take the Texas Senate seat held by Ted Cruz. Overnight there was the first TC debate as featured in the video clip above.

What looked like a certain hold by the Republican is now being rated as a toss-up following an energetic and focused campaign by the Democrat who is raising a huge amount of money. The outcome could be crucial to US politics during the second half of Trump’s tenancy at the White House. Currently 51 of the 100 US Senators are Republicans and Texas could well be the state that determines the outcome.

The polls are now sending out mixed messages and while Cruz still remains the strong odd-on favourite it’s not going to be as simple for him as it first appeared.

Like in all elections the critical factor is going to be turnout and the excellent fundraising figures are a guide to the broad support that the Democratic contender is getting.

Because of the way the Betfair Senate majority market is defined the best bet, I’d argue,is to “lay” (bet that it won’t happen) a Republican hold.

Mike Smithson

Follow @MSmithsonPB



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TMay hasn’t had front pages like this since she made the fateful decision to call GE2017

September 22nd, 2018


Mike Smithson




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TMay ends the week extending her satisfaction margin over Corbyn

September 21st, 2018

The latest numbers in what is by far the longest series of leader ratings in British politics, the satisfied/dissatisfied figures from Ipsos-MORI, are out and show TMay just about holding steady but with a sizeable drop for Corbyn. Fieldwork took place before yesterday’s EU summit in Salzburg.

As can be seen both are in negative territory but Corbyn’s on net minus 42% while TMay is at minus 33%. To put that into context – in July 2017 Corbyn was on a net minus 1 while TMay was on minus 25.

What’s really good about these numbers is that the pollster has been asking the same questions in the same manner for nearly five decades so we can make historical comparisons.

    Amongst LAB voters fewer than half, 48%, say they are satisfied with Corbyn compared with 44% saying dissatisfied. This might not fit with the narrative that his supporters try to generate.

By comparison the beleaguered Mrs. May has 56% of CON voters giving her a positive rating with 35% negative.

In all likelihood Corbyn will still be there at the next general election whilst TMay probably won’t.

Mike Smithson




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NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast: Chequers is dead, so should Labour offer a ‘people’s vote’?

September 21st, 2018

As Labour heads to Liverpool, Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi look at the polling and ask whether it is in Labour’s interests to offer another vote on Brexit. They lay out the case for and against and debate what happens next.

Follow this week’s guests:





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While the nation faces huge and historic issues over Brexit Labour gathers in Liverpool to talk about itself

September 21st, 2018

Today’s Times column by Phillip Collins hits the nail on the head about Labour and its current state.

“..The issues of the hour are historic. Are any of the half-formed answers to the Irish border question at all practicable? Will the strong desire of the European Union 27 to agree a deal quieten the opposition to Mrs May’s besieged plans? Is it really worth risking exit without a deal for the distant and unlikely prize of winning a second referendum? Is there not a danger that thwarting the first referendum would result in civil disobedience? Is that not a democratic outrage? Never mind all of that. Let’s talk about the contemporary criterion for conference motions.

The Labour Party has decided it need not pay attention to the historic turn of events…The Labour leadership isn’t interested in Europe. All it has ever wanted is to take back control of the Labour Party. Which is what the Labour conference will essentially be about. All conversations in the party since Tony Blair left office have been, in one way or another, about which faction is the rightful owner of the party heritage…”

Meanwhile this from the latest polling ought to be worrying the red team.

Mike Smithson




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Salzburg: Betting across a range of relevant political markets has hardly moved

September 20th, 2018

Punters are hanging on to their cash

Given the enormity of what’s happened at the EU Salzburg summit I though it useful to look at reaction across a range of market on the Betfair exchange:

Next UK General Election most seats

It was CON 50% chance to LAB 45% on Betfair 24 hours ago and the position hasn’t moved

UK to leave the EU by 29/03/2019

This was a 63.5% chance 24 hours ago and is now a 62.5% one.

Year of next UK General Election

2019 was a 31% chance 24 hours ago and still is. Favourite remains 2022 at 36%

Theresa May Exit Date

2019 still the 52% favourite and hasn’t moved.

Prime Minister after Theresa May

Johnson remains joint 14% favourite with a Mr. Corbyn.

Mike Smithson