Can Labour really sleepwalk another 3 and a half years into disaster?

December 10th, 2016


Their position continues to get worse, gradually

Lincolnshire has a habit of producing earthquakes. One in 1185 was powerful enough to badly damage Lincoln Cathedral. A more recent example, centred near Market Rasen at about 1am on 27 Feb 2008, was strong enough to wake people across large parts of the North and Midlands. To go by the reporting, the Sleaford & North Hykeham by-election didn’t generate similar tremors. The reporting is wrong; politics’ tectonic plates continue to move.

The reason why the reporters have it wrong is simple enough: there was no great drama to the election result. The Conservatives held a safe seat with a comfortable margin. No euphoric insurgents; no distraught losers. After the close call of Witney and the loss of Richmond Park to the Lib Dems, there’d be no third Tories in Trouble story. Quite the reverse.

And it’s in that reverse that the true scale of how extraordinary the result was can be seen. It was the smallest loss of vote share in any Con defence while in government since 1991. More, it was the largest Con share of the vote in a by-election during a Tory government since 1982 and the largest majority and largest percentage lead in those circumstances since 1971. This wasn’t just a hold, it was an absolute monster.

At the same time, Labour dropped back from second to fourth, losing 7% in the process (a net swing of 2.2% from Lab to Con). In fact, it was the sixth consecutive by-election where Labour has lost vote share when the Conservatives have been defending. In five of the six, Labour started in second place.

To compound the bad news for the Red team yesterday, YouGov published a poll for The Times which gave the Conservatives a 17% lead and Labour a share of just 25%. By any objective reckoning, those are appalling figures for Labour. To be recording them with the Tories 19 months into their term in government, divided and appearing a little rudderless on Brexit, is nothing short of catastrophic. Not since 1983 has Labour scored so poorly in opposition (and those came either side of a landslide defeat, not in mid-term).

Yet it’s the nature of slow decline that we rapidly accept and normalise each occasion when the boundaries are pushed that little bit further. If it feels bad for Labour, it’s only that bit more so than it was last month. After all, Labour recorded three 26’s in September/October; what’s another 1%? That could simply be sampling or methodology couldn’t it?

It could, and to some extent sampling probably is a part of it. The extremes in any polling sequence may well be outliers and are highly likely to have some sampling error. Even so, now that one 25 has been published, the next one – should there be a next one – won’t be quite as shocking, and the next one will be less likely to be an outlier if there is still an overall downward trend. Psychologically, there are only so many times you can hear ‘another bad poll’ before they all start to sound the same.

That’s an attitude Labour can’t afford to develop. If it does, then apart from the shock of the loss of real elections – a by-election defeat, local election losses in May – there won’t be any action taken to remedy the problem and the party will continue to sleepwalk towards the cliff-edge while wishing for a Tory collapse (which isn’t entirely impossible given the strains of the Brexit debate and process but which would, nonetheless, disguise Labour’s failings). Without action, there’s little chance of recovery.

Then there’s the other side of the pincer. UKIP didn’t have a great Sleaford by-election considering the size of the Leave vote and the extent to which the Lib Dems’ attention was on Richmond Park. That, however, might simply be more evidence to Paul Nuttall as to why UKIP should primarily target the working class wavering- or ex-Labour Leave voters ahead of Tories. Nuttall himself is clearly lining himself up for the expected Leigh by-election next year. If UKIP can make serious inroads into Labour’s 34% lead over them there (or even win – a swing on the scale that they managed in nearby Heywood & Middleton in 2014 would deliver the seat), that might well determine UKIP’s strategic targeting decisions for 2020 in favour of Red over Blue. The Tories would be well-advised to soft-pedal that election, should it come.

Which returns us to the question, what will Labour do about it? It’s not inevitable that they’ll follow their Scottish colleagues into disaster. They themselves remain best-placed to do something about it in the 3½ years before May 2020. After the experience of this summer though, can they summon the willpower and the support that’ll be needed to provide leadership, a challenge to the Tories and a coherent and attractive policy platform? If they can, someone will be worthy of the prize that awaits at the end.

David Herdson


After the advocacy, what next for the Article 50 case in the Supreme Court?

December 9th, 2016


Picture credit: Twitter

Alastair Meeks: current odds on the Government winning are value

2016 has had many twists and turns, but from a lawyer’s viewpoint one of the treats has been the unfolding of the Article 50 case.  We have been given the opportunity to observe perhaps the most important case in constitutional law for nearly 200 years.

Let’s set to one side the disgraceful behaviour of the press and some extremist politicians in seeking to bludgeon the judiciary into submission regardless of what the law itself might require.  The case itself has so far been a fantastic advertisement for British justice.  We have seen the law move speedily – Jarndyce v Jarndyce is an out-of-date cliché that is going to be a lot easier to shrug off now.  It has captured the public’s imagination because of its potential impact on Brexit.  The Supreme Court has made full transcripts of its hearings available at the end of each session and anyone who wished to could follow its proceedings live, watching some of the cleverest people in the country tussle with legal precedent and practical principle, with the parties’ written arguments made freely available also.

The advocates had their arguments tossed and gored in public, with proceedings being live-tweeted by professional journalists and legal enthusiasts.  Judgment is now expected some time in January.

Off the back of this and after some feline testing by some of the Supreme Court judges of the Government’s position, the betting public has concluded that it is pretty likely that the first instance judgment will be upheld by the Supreme Court.  At the time of writing, “overrule” was last matched on Betfair at 5 (4/1 in fractional odds).  Is this right?

Before the case was heard at first instance, I ventured the opinion that the applicants’ case stood a good chance.  At the time, I was going out on a limb because the weight of the legal academic argument was very much tilting the other way.  This now seems to be completely forgotten about.  Yet the legal academic argument on the Government’s side is still all there and was made in great detail and with great skill for the Government by James Eadie QC.  This is not one of those cases where all the arguments point one way.

So what happens next?  There’s a latent assumption by many that at the end of the advocacy, the judges’ thinking stops.  This simply isn’t true.  It’s not true of the most routine case in front of one judge (I’ve seen a judge have further thoughts after he had issued a draft judgment) and it especially won’t be true of perhaps the most important constitutional judgment for nearly 200 years that’s been heard by 11 judges.

In fact, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, gave a speech as recently as three weeks ago when he explained the process:

“40. A rather different aspect of Supreme Court judgments is how they come to be written. I have been keen to encourage a more collegiate, even a collaborative, approach towards judgment-writing. Although the trend is somewhat variable, there has been a greater tendency towards decisions with single judgments, and a definite increase in the number of jointly authored judgments…

41. So far as mechanics are concerned, following the sending round of draft judgments, we often have email discussions and we not infrequently have meetings, sometimes to see whether we can agree on a single judgment, sometimes to reduce or eliminate differences, and sometimes for competing views to be discussed. These discussions often, but I must admit not always, result in some re-drafting and a greater measure of agreement than existed before.

42. I hope – and believe – that these practices not only help foster good relations, a good sense of collegiality, between the Justices, but also serve to produce judgments which are of a better quality than if we did not adopt them. These practices do however have two disadvantages. First, greater collaboration means that Justices have to give more time to each decision than they otherwise would have to give. In one or two cases, Justices have found themselves writing the eleventh version of a judgment in order to deal with different colleagues’ different concerns – or even the same colleague’s changing concerns. Secondly, for the same reason, it means that litigants may have to wait a bit longer for their judgments.”

Only Supreme Court judges themselves will know exactly how this works but it seems pretty clear from this detailed account that there can be a lot of additional debate.  The words of their judgments will be studied for generations to come. They will want to make sure they impress.  With eleven judges deliberating on a hugely controversial case, the advocacy in this case will be likely to prove only a springboard for the discussion to come.

So I have to say that I find the prices in this market quite absurd.  While I stick by my original view that the applicants’ case has much to commend it, this is a long way from a done deal and even taking the bleakest view I can of the Government’s case I can’t see it as worse than a 2/1 shot.  At 4/1 or thereabouts on Betfair, it’s clearly worth backing.  Do so.

Alastair Meeks



YouGov adds to Labour woes with the worst poll since 2009

December 9th, 2016


Half of GE2015 LAB voters now abandoned the party


And barely a third of GE2015 LAB voters rate Corbyn as best PM


Given that it is barely three months since Corbyn was re-elected with a huge majority it is hard to see what the party can do. They are stuck with a leader who appears to repel voters and with him in place there appears no obvious way back.

This is a story that will just go on with lucky Theresa the main beneficiary.

Labour is now seeing itself being squeezed by the revitalised LDs going for the 48.11% remainers and UKIP under its new leadership seeking to appeal to 51.89% Brexiters.

Mike Smithson


Positives for CON, UKIP and the LDs in Sleaford & Hykehem N but another bad by-election for LAB

December 9th, 2016


Westminster and Local By-Election Preview : December 8th 2016

December 8th, 2016


Sleaford and North Hykeham (Con defence) to Westminster Parliament
Result of Parliament at last election (2015): Conservatives 331, Labour 232, Scottish National Party 56, Northern Ireland Parties 18, Liberal Democrats 8, Plaid Cymru 3, Green Party 1, United Kingdom Independence Party 1 (Conservative majority of 12)
Result of constituency at last election (2015): Conservative 34,805 (56%), Labour 10,690 (17%), United Kingdom Independence Party 9,716 (16%), Liberal Democrat 3,500 (6%), Lincolnshire Independent 3,233 (5%)
EU Referendum Result (North and South Kesteven combined): REMAIN 58,617 (39%) LEAVE 91,607 (61%) on a turnout of 78%
Estimate vote in constituency: REMAIN 38% LEAVE 62%
Candidates duly nominated: The Iconic Arty Pole (Monster Raving Loony Party), Victoria Ayling (United Kingdom Independence Party), David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis), Jim Clarke (Labour), Paul Coyne (Independent), Caroline Johnson (Conservative), Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independent), Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat), Sarah Stock (Independent*), Mark Suffield (Non Party Independent)
* Sarah Stock has been supported by both the Greens and the National Health Action Party

University and Scotsforth Rural (Lab defence) on Lancaster
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 29, Conservatives 19, Green 9, Morecambe Independents 2, Independent 1 (No Overall Control, Laboour short by 2)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 605, 500, 480 (35%)
Green 555, 440, 417 (33%)
Conservative 405, 391, 339 (24%)
Liberal Democrats 143, 79, 66 (8%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 35,732 (49%) LEAVE 37,309 (51%) on a turnout of 73%
Candidates duly nominated: Xenia Aveyard (Green), Luke Brandon (Con), Nathan Burns (Lab), Pippa Hepworth (Lib Dem)

Maldon West (Con defence) on Maldon
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 28, Independents 2, United Kingdom Independence Party 1 (Conservative majority of 25)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Independent 1,303 (51%)
Conservatives 767, 692 (30%)
Green Party 498 (19%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 14,529 (37%) LEAVE 24,302 (63%) on a turnout 79%
Candidates duly nominated: Janet Carden (Green), Andrew Francis (UKIP), Martin Harvey (Con), Richard Perry (Fighting Unsustainable Housing Because We Care), Flo Shaughnessy (Independent), John Sweeney (Lab)

Madeley (Ind defence) on Newcastle under Lyme
Result of council at last election (2016): Labour 27, Conservatives 21, Independents 6, Liberal Democrats 3, United Kingdom Independence Party 2, Green Party 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 4)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Independent 1,115 (47%), Conservative 636 (27%), Labour 455 (19%), Liberal Democrat 87 (4%), Green Party 74 (3%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 25,477 (37%) LEAVE 43,457 (63%) on a turnout of 74%
Candidates duly nominated: Peter Andras (Lib Dem), Stephen French (Lab), Gary White (Ind), David Whitmore (Con)

Horsehay and Lightmoor (Con defence) on Telford and the Wrekin
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 27, Conservatives 23, Liberal Democrats 3, Independent 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 1)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,280, 950 (43%)
Labour 722, 661 (24%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 534, 498 (18%)
Liberal Democrat 221 (7%)
Green Party 193 (6%)
Libertarian Party 45 (2%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 32,954 (37%) LEAVE 56,649 (63%) on a turnout of 72%
Candidates duly nominated: Dennis Allen (UKIP), Robert Cadman (Con), Rajash Mehta (Lab)

Trench (Con defence) on Tonbridge and Malling
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 48, Liberal Democrats 4, Independents 2 (Conservative majority of 42)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,111, 1,009 (44%)
Labour 497, 451 (20%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 468 (18%)
Green Party 240 (10%)
Liberal Democrat 222 (9%)
EU Referendum Result: REMAIN 32,792 (44%) LEAVE 41,229 (56%) on a turnout of 80%)
Candidates duly nominated: David Allen (UKIP), Fred Long (Lab), Georgina Thomas (Con)


Boris can’t go on being overruled by Number 10 and remain as Foreign Secretary

December 8th, 2016

If it wasn’t for Labour TMay’s government would look shambolic

Ex BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson, hits the nail on the head with his Tweet this afternoon after another instance of the Foreign Secretary making a statement only for it to be countermanded by Number 10 shortly afterwards.

This latest one was about Saudi Arabia creating an ambivalent view which cannot, surely, be helping relations with the country.

Over a period when members of a government don’t speak as one an impression of incompetence starts to develop which is not good for any party reliant on people’s votes.

I’ve no idea who is at fault here – Mr. Johnson or his boss, Mrs. May. The former has a reputation for making striking statements while the latter is known, fairly or unfairly for her control-freakery. The impression from these ongoing incidents is that the semior members of the government don’t converse as much as you would expect them to.

At some stage Boris has got to find a way of working with the PM or he’ll have to go. Maybe the 6/1 that Ladbrokes is offering as him being the net cabinet exit is a good bet.

Ladbrokes Next Cabinet Exit betting


Mike Smithson


Guido says the Tories are bracing themselves for charges over Thanet South

December 8th, 2016


It could be the first where the Michael Crick C4 investigation has an impact

The big party expenses probe by the Electoral Commission that was triggered off by the series of C4 News reports by Michael Crick appears to be edging forward. Yesterday the Lib Dem were fined £20k by the Electoral Commission following a similar move some weeks back against Labour. The Crick investigation has looked mostly at the GE2015 expenses in crucial battlegrounds for the Tories. Guido writes:

“..The focus will be South Thanet where the Tories ran a highly professional “Stop Farage” effort deploying some of their top operatives… Guido sources say that Conservative HQ is bracing itself for the police investigation resulting in criminal charges.

South Thanet misspending a not an Electoral Commission matter. It is a police matter and potentially a criminal offence under sections 81, 82 and 84 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Back in June Craig Mackinlay, the Tory who beat Farage, failed to block police extending the time available for their investigation of his election expenses spending. The Tories – in a very rare move – tried to block the police from further investigating the campaign. Guido believes that the South Thanet campaign will prove to be the biggest overspend by any political party in any individual seat ever. Guido understands the Tories spent over £200,000 to stop Nigel Farage winning the seat…”

PB sources have also reported concern within the Tory HQ about other seats.

Quite where this would go electorally is hard to say but it looks set to be one of the big domestic political stories of 2017.

Mike Smithson


This might be reading it all wrong but the LAB vote share is the big interest tomorrow in Sleaford and Hykeham N

December 7th, 2016