Last rights? Are UKIP set to revive?

August 18th, 2018

It is a regular feature of horror films that, just when you think it has been destroyed, the monster lurches back into life one last time to terrorise the valiant hero.  Right now the corpse of UKIP is lying slouched in the corner but with its poll ratings a quantum level higher than they were two months ago its body is twitching as if an electrical stimulus is being pumped through it.  Can it return from the dead?

Following the Brexit vote, UKIP became a bit of a joke.  It had a succession of increasingly-unsuitable leaders chosen through farcical leadership contests.  For a surprisingly long time it held up well in the polls until seeing its rating disintegrate in the run-up to the 2017 election.  In the end, it tallied just 1.8% of the UK vote, as the Conservatives absorbed all but the most hardcore supporters.

On the surface, things have not improved.  The current UKIP leader, Gerald Batten, could not be picked out of an identity parade by most voters.  Its general secretary compared UKIP to the Black Death.  It nearly went bust following a court order that it had to underwrite legal costs following a libel case before a donor intervened.  Former luminaries such as Nigel Farage and Arron Banks are currently engaged on other projects.  At least three previous leading figures of the kipperati have set up their own parties. 

Membership has seemingly collapsed.  Precise numbers are not available but we got a good indication earlier this month when the UKIP Welsh leadership election was announced.  The winner, Gareth Bennett, won with 269 votes and the whole electorate, in other words all of UKIP Wales’s members, was 876.  A small village has just chosen its new idiot.

Yet the UKIP brand evidently remains strong.  Despite everything, it is now tallying 5% or more in the polls.  This has coincided, probably not by chance, with an apparent dip in Conservative poll ratings.  This cohort of voters could prove significant for the chances of the two main parties next time.

There are good reasons to suspect that UKIP’s current polling would not be replicated at a general election in the short term.  For a start, it would have difficulty even putting up a full slate of candidates.  It is open to question whether they could afford to fund the deposits.  Many voters would have no UKIP option to protest with.

If UKIP did field a full slate, many of them could be expected to add to the gaiety of the nation.  Remember, one past UKIP leadership candidate claimed that a gay donkey tried to rape his horse and another advocated the mining of asteroids.  Just imagine the quality of the next tier down.  The candidates are likely to ensure that the UKIP vote is a very principles-driven vote.

So even if the UKIP vote were not squeezed by the major parties in the election campaign, as happened last time, there is every chance that their vote share would be no higher than last time if the election were held any time soon.  The corpse may be twitching but these look, for now at least, like cadaveric spasms.

That isn’t as good news for the Conservatives as it sounds.  For a start, just because disgruntled voters can’t vote for UKIP doesn’t mean they will vote for the Conservatives.  Even if they don’t want to vote Labour (and some will), they can stay at home and not vote at all.  Many might.

So the Conservatives will need to keep an eye on their right flank.  The support of some of those 2017 voters is highly contingent. 

Moreover, the obvious fragility of the Conservatives’ hard Brexit support means that the prospect of a new hard right party emerging cannot be ruled out.  Arron Banks seems to be enjoying his self-image as a bad boy of Brexit and as controller of Leave.EU, with 181,000 twitter followers, has the numbers to set up a new vehicle.

The hard right still have one star player, Nigel Farage, and if he could be persuaded to rejoin the fray (whether under UKIP’s banner or elsewhere) he would immediately draw a large number of committed followers to his side. Perhaps the film that we are watching is not Terminator, but Terminator 2.

Or perhaps the film is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Instead of starting a new party to take on the Conservatives, the hard right can try to take it over instead. Leave.EU have tweeted to encourage like-minded Leavers to join the Conservative party in order to be able to vote in the next leadership election.

Entryism would be a shortcut to political contention.Conservative Leavers already seem pretty focused on the topic of Brexit reliability and the more intense ones aren’t paying much regard to party boundaries. 

Some at least of Leave.EU’s twitter followers have answered the call, and within three months these entryists will have a vote in the final round of any future Conservative leadership election campaign.

If they succeed, we might rapidly see both main parties as the territory of hardline activists with the MPs who are not true believers struggling to maintain their heads above the waves. If you think that politics has become too partisan in recent years, it might well get far worse. That really should give you the shivers and keep you awake at night.

Alastair Meeks


Labour’s antisemitism problem will always bedevil Corbyn as long as Palestine remains a cause célèbre

August 18th, 2018

At the heart of modern anti-Zionism is the traditional envy of Jewish success

If Jeremy Corbyn had been politically active seventy years ago, there’s no doubt that he would have been a vocal champion of Zionism. Few things animate him like support for a people he regards as oppressed, who are fighting against a state like Britain or the US. If that struggle involves terrorism, no big deal for him. The creation of a Jewish Israel out of Britain’s League of Nations mandate in Palestine, aided by the Irgun and Stern Gang ticks every box, in red ink and at least twice over.

So what’s changed in those seventy years? What’s changed is the perception of Israel. No longer are the Jews there an oppressed minority but the majority community in an expansionist, wealthy and nuclear weapon-equipped country. It’s Israel which is oppressing Palestinians in the West Bank and particularly Gaza – ‘the world’s largest open prison’ – and Israel which has raided and occupied neighbouring countries.

Or so the Corbynite left would have it. Indeed, other, more sober, commentators would no doubt flag up Israel’s tendency to resort rapidly to force and to use it disproportionately and perhaps excessively. This doesn’t help Israel’s PR and does enable the far left to get a hearing on the issue because their critique is not superficially implausible. But it’s wrong, all the same.

It’s wrong because it fails to understand both what Israel is and also the world within which it sits.

    Forgive me for going a bit Godwin but it’s necessary. Israel is a Jewish state. It was explicitly designed as such in the late 1940s out of a belief that only a Jewish state could protect Jews, and out of the experience of the earlier 1940s.

The history of Jews is one of two thousand years of oppression since the First Roman-Jewish War destroyed the Jewish state, resulting in the population being scattered. Again and again, the cycle repeated: immigration as an alien presence within a guest country, marginalisation, restricted rights, success despite these oppressions, envy, violence, and finally expulsion or exile through intimidation. Such was the consequence of being a nation-religion without a nation-state. Until it got worse. We should never forget that the greatest catastrophe to visit the Jews – a people with a history of three thousand years – occurred within living memory. When critics of Israel cite international law, the retort might well be “what has international law ever done for us?”.

Because here we have to look at Israel’s geographic context. Having decided on creating a new state, yes, it could in theory have been created in somewhere less religiously complex – Kenya or Madagascar or wherever – but the Balfour Declaration and the pull of history meant that Palestine was the only realistic option. What that meant however was firstly overwhelming or forcing out the existing population, and then living among a host of Arab neighbours. As of course it still does.

Both legacies remain with us today. Highly unusually, Palestinian refugee status can be handed down the generations, with the result that the original population of 720,000 refugees from 1948 now numbers around 5 million. Inevitably, those ‘refugees’ cannot return to Israel without rendering the state as constructed unviable and throwing it into civil war – so it won’t ever happen. (As an aside, the fact that refugee status can be inherited is a measure of the extent to which Israel is still not seen as an equal state within the region).

Likewise, while most of its neighbours accept, to some extent or another, Israel’s legal right to exist, this is not universal: in the last ten years alone, Iran refuses to recognise Israel’s legitimacy, Egypt went through a brief period of Muslim Brotherhood government, Hamas won elections in Gaza, and large areas of Syria and Iraq fell to the Islamic State. Each of these is, or could be fatally hostile to a country of 9m people surrounded by 400m others across the Middle East. If Israel seems quick to resort to violence, it is because it exists in a hostile environment where the costs of overreacting are disapproving looks at international conferences, while the costs of underreacting could be the annihilation of the state and its inhabitants. Not difficult to see why Israel tends to err the way it does.

Which is the point at which we need to swing to British politics because that analysis isn’t how Corbyn or his acolytes see it. They don’t accept the relevance of the 1948 war, or the 1967 one, or the 1973 one, or of Iran’s nuclear program, or that detail of history: the Holocaust. They see instead, a rich, American-backed bully.

    The fact of that wealth should not be underestimated in the hostility the left have towards Israel, which ties in with historical antisemitism towards Jewish bankers and businessmen. How dare they succeed and grow a country out of the barren rocks of Palestine?

Sure, Israel benefits from US aid and benefitted early on from German reparations but its indigenous economy is highly advanced; much more so than their Arab neighbours, oil notwithstanding. That wasn’t the case in 1948.

Their obsession with this one country – a democracy in a region of dictatorship and far from the worst in terms of human rights abuses – is of itself telling. After all, Gaza’s border is closed at the Egyptian end too: why no criticism of the role of Cairo (which administered Gaza until 1967) in the ‘open prison’? It is as if Israel’s very existence is an affront to them.

And intentionally or otherwise, their policy prescriptions would ensure that Israel didn’t exist. Demanding Israel respect all international law while not holding Syria, Iran or the Palestinians to the same measure would seriously limit its capacity to defend itself. Given the number of enemies Israel has, that attack would come. And of course, even if the anti-Israeli activists did demand Iran did follow international law, it would make no difference anyway: Tehran would still do what Tehran wanted to do. Demanding an end to the security measures and a return to the 1967 borders and a return of the refugees would destabilise Israel to the point where it would be unviable as a Jewish state.

Indeed, even the two-state solution is unworkable because two states means two armies, two sets of security forces and a full international border. For diplomatic reasons, this fact isn’t currently be acknowledged but it’s true all the same, and is the reason why Israel does not treat the Palestinian Authority as a foreign power. Ultimately, the only permanent option for Palestine-Israel is a one-state solution: the question mark is over the extent of devolved powers to Arab autonomous regions.

That, of course, will never be acceptable to the Corbynite left. Israel’s power and, against all odds – though not against the grain of Jewish history – its success in turning adversity into wealth and power through hard work and good judgement mean it will always be seen as something to be opposed, in its actions if not in its concept (though sadly, sometimes in that too). Instead, Corbyn has proven repeatedly that he would rather associate with those who would, if possible, bring about Israel’s destruction than those who govern it.

Fortunately, it’s almost certain that his opinions – even as prime minister – wouldn’t matter. Still, if they did, they’d likely give him another opportunity to stand silently, head bowed and then quietly intone “never again”. And he’d no doubt feel better for the gesture.

David Herdson


The first forecast for the midterms gives the Democrats a 75% chance of winning back the House

August 17th, 2018

On Betfair punters make it a 61% punt

In spite of all that is going on in UK politics at the betting markets here continue to make the US midterms in November the most popular betting event. This is not surprising. There’s a high UK interest in US and the White House races can be almost as big in betting terms as UK elections. Also punters tend to be attracted to risking cash when they have a definable end date.

So the latest forecast from the famed 538 website is worth taking notice of even if its main impact is to move the betting.

I should say that I have two big caveats which have so far led me not to bet. Firstly the US economy is currently pretty strong and this is acknowledged in the polls by the voters. That should normally be enough to secure Trumps Republicans a victory.

Secondly the polls are not painting as convincing a picture as 538. Because of gerrymandered congrsssional District boundaries it’s reckoned that the Democrats need a lead of about 8% in the national vote share in order to ensure that they take the house. The current RealClearPolitics average has it at 6.8%.

We do know that in primaries at the moment there is a very high turn out both of Democratic party supporters and Republican ones. Both sides are very engaged and we can expect to see the same on polling day on the first Tuesday in November.

Mike Smithson


Scotland and the electoral system: Why winning the next GE is huge ask of LAB

August 17th, 2018

The system bias is now strongly pro-CON

We all recall that at the 2005 general election Tony Blair’s Labour won the GB vote by a margin of just 3% but that was enough to give them an overall majority of 64. There was little doubt that the electoral system then favoured the red team.

Things have changed dramatically with the collapse of the LDs and the post-IndyRef rise of the SNP.

Even without the proposed new boundaries the electoral system is biased towards the Tories in that for the same vote share the blue team wins most seats. Thus feeding the recent CON 38% LAB 38% poll numbers into the Electoral Calculus seat calculator and find CON with 21 more MPs than LAB.

That is on the existing boundaries. If the latest Boundaries Commission plan goes through this autumn then the gap would by 40 seats. To put these numbers into context Corbyn’s LAB was seen to have had an extremely good GE2017 making overall net gains of 30 seats but still finished 56 seats behind the Tories.

    Perhaps the biggest reason the system no longer works for LAB is the failure of the party to recover in Scotland where it used to be so dominant as can be seen in the chart above showing the percentage of Scottish Westminster seats by party for each election since GE2001.

    Just imagine how GE2017 would have turned out if LAB had taken 41 of the 59 Scottish seats as it did at GE2005 and GE2010.

At GE2015 the SNP surge saw LAB reduced from 41 Scottish MPs to just one. Last year Corbyn’s party won 7 but the first past the post system meant that the SNP took the bulk of the seats north of the border with barely 37% of the Scottish vote. Scots LAB became the third party in Scotland behind the Tories.

Whatever national polls might be showing the Scotland’s only ones since the general election have had Corbyn’s party in an even worse position than the last election. Current projections based on the latest Scottish polls have Labour once again being reduced to a single Scottish MP.

Without a Scottish recovery the prospect of a Labour majority is very remote indeed.

Mike Smithson


Johnson now has clear lead in the betting for next CON leader

August 16th, 2018


Outsiders have rarely become PM – but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done

August 16th, 2018

By Photo: Sergeant Tom Robinson

Besides, the ‘rules’ might be changing

TSE wrote last week that “on all seven occasions since World War II when parties have changed PM mid-term, the new PM has always been an incumbent of a great office of state”. He might have gone further. Other than in war-time, with two exceptions, every prime minister between Palmerston and May who succeeded a member of their own party or coalition, had either been Chancellor or Foreign Secretary immediately before.

The exceptions – Balfour in 1902 and Baldwin in 1935 – were both men who were not just de facto Deputy PMs but almost joint-PMs: Balfour was the leader of the government in the Commons, while Baldwin led the Tories who made up almost 90% of the MPs supporting the National Government. Obviously, there is no current equivalent politician.

So, clear then? Assuming that May steps down or is forced out before 2022, the next PM will be Hammond or Hunt, or a successor to them in their role? Not necessarily, for two reasons.

Firstly, the rules are changing. May is herself just about an example of that – the first Home Secretary to become PM since 1855 – though she was still the holder of a Great Office of State, so it’s only a fractional extension. More meaningfully, both in the UK and beyond, parties and movements seem much more prepared to look beyond their charmed inner-circles for new leaders. The prominence of Jacob Rees-Mogg in the betting, while overdone to my mind, is nonetheless testimony to people’s perceptions of his chances.

But secondly, the ‘rule’ was never all that strong in the first place.

To test that, we should look not just at the politicians who actually became PM but also those who might credibly have done so had events taken a different turn. The natural objection to this counterfactualising is “yes, but they didn’t become PM”, which is of course true but to test the rule we need to understand why they failed.

Most recently, in 2016, Theresa May’s final opponent was Andrea Leadsom, from outside the cabinet. Could Leadsom have won? I’d say not: she made consistent errors and didn’t (doesn’t) have the political nous to recover from them. All May had to do, had Leadsom not withdrawn, was sit tight and play it safe. However, a much more serious challenger – Boris Johnson – withdrew before the contest began. He undoubtedly could have won had he properly engaged a campaign team, which is not an unreasonable assumption. Boris had never held government office at all at that time; his most senior post had been mayor of London.

We can skip over 2007, when Gordon Brown really did have the nomination sewn up and head back to 1995. While it might seem implausible that the Tories could have ended up with John Redwood, given his 218-89 defeat to John Major, the fact is that Major said he would have resigned had he won fewer than 215 votes. In an open contest, Redwood might have had the momentum to capture the votes from the centre of the Party as well as the right, against his probable opponents Heseltine and Portillo (none of whom were Chancellor or Foreign Secretary). Heseltine was, of course, a contender in the 1990 contest and would almost certainly have won had Thatcher not withdrawn. At the time, he’d only held middle-ranking cabinet office – and that not for four years.

The only other instance of a leadership election while in government – Labour in 1976 – saw Callaghan defeat Michael Foot, then Secretary of State for Employment. Though the margin was fairly comfortable (176-137), that was perhaps in part due to Foot having recently gone through a bad patch politically. Had Wilson resigned at a different time, or had Foot not made those unforced errors, the result might have been different.

    The reality is that in none of the elections, bar that of 2007, was there anything like certainty that a holder of one of the most senior offices would win. The involvement of party members, with their different priorities to MPs, makes that even less likely for future contests.

None of which is to say that the next PM won’t hold a Great Office. People tend to get appointed to those positions because they are either perceived by the PM as capable, or because the PM needs to appease a powerful rival – though that independent power base can only come about because of the belief of others in that individual. Those twin reasons of ability and/or support place the holders at a great advantage – and of course, doing well in such a senior role reinforces their standing.

However, these reasons are Westminster-centric in a world that’s becoming less so. I agree with TSE’s assessment that Gove stands a very realistic chance, despite the hostility with which Boris-backers view him, though the dynamics of the Brexiteer vote among Con MPs needs to be gamed carefully: there aren’t all that many out-and-out Con leavers and with, say, Gove, Boris and JRM all in the contest, votes would be needed from well beyond for a candidate to survive and prosper. But Gove’s record at Justice and Environment should help him there.

Unfortunately, such rules-of-thumb as we once had were never all that valuable and are even less so. Still, that uncertainty does make for more betting opportunities.

David Herdson


NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast: Silly season. What conspiracy theories do Brits believe? Plus Boris makes tea and “wreath-gate”

August 15th, 2018

On this week’s PB / Polling Matters show Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi take a different approach to the podcast and look at public opinion on conspiracy theories using some exclusive polling from Opinium.

How many Brits think the earth is flat? Is Elvis alive? Were the mood landings faked? Is Paul dead? Is Nessie real? Our podcasters find out the answers, plus which conspiracy theory has less than half thinking it is false…you can listen to the conspiracy theory segment 20 minutes into the podcast

Also on the show, Keiran and Leo discuss how Corbyn’s latest troubles might impact the polls and what the public think about Boris Johnson’s recent comments on the Burka.

Follow this week’s podcast guests:


Comedy Central’s answer to the Vote Leave Brexit bus

August 15th, 2018

The worry for leavers is if this meme catches on

A key part in Leave’s narrow victory at the referendum was its success in portraying negative comments about leaving the EU as “Project Fear”. That was two and a quarter years ago and now the Brexit date of March 29 2019 is not that far off.

Nobody appears to know what is going to happen and many are fearful of uncertainty. The political situation at Westminster, how the EU might respond and the worries about jobs might just be the right context for the Comedy Central piece to resonate.

Describing and powerful illustrating Brexit as being like the Titanic could touch some raw nerves. It will certainly annoy the hardliners like Jacob Rees-Mogg.

These days, of course, you don’t have to rely so much on the mainstream media. Social media will get this a lot of views.

Will it make a difference? Maybe. Maybe not.

I still think that TMay’s BINO will be what happens but who knows.

Mike Smithson