Whatever the numbers today’s march will reinforce both CON and LAB anti-Brexit MPs

October 20th, 2018

This’ll ratchet up the pressure for a “People’s vote”

Inevitably there are massively different estimates of how many people have been marching in London today against Brexit but judging by the TV pictures it does seem to be very large. Whether it’s up to the anti Iraq war demonstrations of 2003 I don’t know but it’s still pretty substantial.

The organisers are lucky that it is commanding a lot of attention by the media and the pro-Brexiteers who have been interviewed for “balance” are simply showing the huge gulf in British society that exists and will continue for years whatever happens on March 29th.

Unlike the Iraq War fifteen years ago, when Tony Blair could rely for votes on both most LAB MPs and a large number of CON ones, Mrs. May’s position is far more precarious and there are some huge parliamentary hurdles in the days and weeks ahead.

    In a sense this also reinforces Mrs. May’s position which is to honour the result of the referendum but do it in a way that causes as little damage to the economy as possible. The description, BINO, Brexit in Name Only, is effectively what might end up with.

Tory Brexiteers are split between the hardliners and those like Michael Gove who see just getting out of the EU on whatever terms as being the right strategy. From that point on the shape of what it mean can be formed.

Anti-Brexiteers are split between those who want to go for another vote and those ready to accept BINO.

The LAB leadership just wants to use the situation for a general election and notably the man who goes on many demos, Corbyn, isn’t there today.

So the next six months could see BINO, a postponement of Article 50, a decision on a new referendum or Britain leaving without a deal. It could also see a new general election and a new CON leader.

Mike Smithson


Corbyn’s gift to the Tories and Mrs May – his boycott of the House of Lords

October 20th, 2018

The balance in the Upper House has silently trended towards the blues

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t like the House of Lords and as with many things he doesn’t like, he’s gone out of his way to avoid engaging with it. When he was first running for the Labour leadership, he promised that he wouldn’t nominate any new Labour peers. That was understandable for someone who has long opposed the nature of the undemocratic upper House, and for someone who’s always believed in the power of the boycott.

Three years on, he’s not quite kept to that promise. Three new Labour peers have been created since the beginning of 2016 (this is a better starting point than September 2015, when Corbyn was actually elected, as the post-2015GE peers were still being created through the autumn). A fourth, Martha Osamor – race equality campaigner, mother of Shadow cabinet member Kate Osamor, and defender of various Labour members accused of antisemitism – has been nominated but hasn’t yet received her title.

Boycotts, however, have a habit of being self-defeating (especially when only partially carried out, where they lose their moral weight too). Against the three new Labour peers to have entered the House since the beginning of 2016, seven have retired, two lost their place for non-attendance, and sixteen have died: a total loss of 25 Labour members leaving the party down by a net 22, or more than 10% of its strength.

By contrast, while the Conservatives have lost about the same number, 24 new Tory peers have been created on Theresa May’s watch (some of these may be Cameron’s resignation honours; I’ve not checked that closely – the effect and numbers are more important that who proposed them). Add in another one from 2016 before Cameron resigned, plus two other hereditaries elected in by-elections, and the Tories’ numbers in the Lords are up by a net 3 over the same period.

That slight increase also has to be set against a shrinking House elsewhere. Not a single new Lib Dem peer has been created since the beginning of 2016, leaving the Yellows down a net 7 in that time (though we should note that eleven Lib Dem peers were sent up to the Lords in October 2015). Crossbench numbers are also down with a net change of -20 (14 in and some 34 leaving, over half of them making use of the new retirement facility).

    What all this means is that Corbyn has chosen to put the government in a better position in the Lords by about 15-20 seats than it would have had, had he pressed for and made use of something much closer to a pro rata entitlement.

    Add in the changes elsewhere and the government is probably 30 seats or so better off against the other parties in net terms than it was nearly three years ago.

Of course, the Lords isn’t the Commons. Even after those changes, the Tories still have nothing like a majority, with fewer than a third of the members: 249 out of 791. All the same, if Corbyn continues his near-boycott and if the Lib Dems’ numbers continue to decline in the light of their last two election results (they currently have 17% of party-affiliated peers: more than double their vote shares in 2015 or 2017), then it won’t be long before the Conservatives do have more than half the members who take a whip. At the moment, against the Tories’ 249, there are exactly 300 from other parties (including four from the DUP), plus 215 cross-benchers or unaffiliated.

In terms of critical votes, the Lords isn’t that important. It cannot make or break governments. It cannot veto Budgets. It cannot reverse Brexit. What it can do, however, is substantially alter legislation against a government’s will – and do so in a way that can often be difficult to reverse. By refusing to taint himself with the brush of ermine (except when convenient), Corbyn will undoubtedly hand the government victories in the Lords it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

I wonder though whether he or his advisors are playing a longer game. We know that Corbyn and those around him want an early election, which is possible but unlikely. If it’s later – particularly, if it’s in 2022 – then the attrition of retirement and the great Returning Officer in the sky will likely deplete Labour’s numbers much further. Were they to then win, they’d find themselves heavily outnumbered in a hostile upper House. Never mind that it was their own (in)actions that led to that, it’d still provide a pretext to flood it with True Believers, or to reform it into an elected body (though that’s something that’s always a lot more attractive in opposition than in government), or to abolish it outright.

Before then though, the Tory PMs will find life a little easier up the corridor than they’ve a right to expect. Given the many challenges of the coming months and years, that might only be a slim silver lining – but in an otherwise dull lead sky, any sparkle will be welcomed.

David Herdson


NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast: Will May reach and deal and can she get it through parliament if she does?

October 19th, 2018

This week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast is split into two parts:

In part one, Keiran Pedley is joined by Peter McLeod (Vice President at pollster GQR) to explore what the public think of “Chequers” and what they expect from any Brexit deal May brings back. It turns out that Chequers is more popular than you might think in the right context – but is that the context the Prime Minister’s eventual deal will ultimately be seen in? Keiran and Peter discuss.

In part two, Keiran is joined by co-host Leo Barasi to discuss how May gets a deal through parliament, if indeed she reaches one. Keiran explains why he is much less positive than he once was and Leo explains why pollsters will have a big role to play in how some MPs vote.

You can listen to the show here:

Follow this week’s guests


It looks as though third favourite, Bernie, will struggle to get into the 2020 White House race

October 19th, 2018

Even though the next US presidential election is more than two years away potential contenders, particularly on the Democratic side, are already going through the machinations of preparing for a run – first for the party nomination then for the Presidency itself.

The big surprise of the 2016 race was how successful Vermont Senator and socialist, Bernie Sanders, was in the fight for the Democratic nomination giving Hillary Clinton much harder fight than perhaps she had been expecting.

The signs are that 77 year old Bernie has been thinking of the 2020 run. Today he starts a nine-state tour on Friday with stops in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and California.

But the chances of him trying again have taken a big blow in the past 24 hours with one of the key figures in his 2016 effort, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not ready to endorse him. She is expected to win a House race in New York in the midterms a fortnight on Tuesday.

One key organiser from last time is quoted as saying

“I think that if a younger candidate can pick up the mantle and have Bernie’s support, I think that would be a better option for 2020. I feel like 60 to 70 percent of former staffers are looking around for another Bernie-esque candidate this time around, even if it’s not him”.

On the Betfair exchange Sanders is currently third favourite for the nomination and fourth favourite for the presidency.

My reading of the 2020 nomination race is that beating Trump is by far and away the main priority in the choice of candidate. The party wants the White House back.

Mike Smithson


Brexit: The three key concessions

October 18th, 2018

I have been wary of writing on Brexit. The vast majority of the visitors to this site are clearly informed – and informedly clear – with respect to their opinions on the matter. However, with Mike’s indulgence, I would like to pose some questions for discussion.

The weakness of the British position now has little to do with the Parliamentary arithmetic. Indeed, as Alastair Meeks presciently wrote in July 2017, there can actually be negotiating strength in what he termed “parity of incoherence”.  But…

There’s always a catch.  On this occasion, it’s obvious.  By narrowing the eye of the needle that the negotiators need to thread, the risk that they will fail is increased.

Instead, our weakness comes partly from the asymmetric size of the two negotiating parties, but more fundamentally from the three key concessions we have already made in the process of Leaving. Each concession was driven by a perceived political need to show that the process was progressing. Was this true in each case? To take them in the reverse chronology, as each flows from the previous one:

3. Agreeing the backstop last December

It’s worth reading both key paragraphs of the Joint Report, since paragraph 50 – inserted at the request of the DUP – seems to preclude the EU’s preferred Irish Sea customs border just as clearly as paragraph 49 precludes a hard border on land.

49. The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the allisland economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

50. In the absence of agreed solutions, as set out in the previous paragraph, the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.

So – why did we agree to this at the time? The original text allowed the UK Government to effectively park Northern Ireland as an issue and move on to discussing future trading arrangements. Understandably the DUP objected, since one of their main objectives in supporting Brexit was to make Northern Ireland more British and more distinct from the Republic. Paragraph 49 implied the opposite.

The pressure to sign something was clear: there was a need to show progress in the negotiations to reassure businesses and citizens (the agreement actually mostly deals with citizens’ rights). There was also a political motivation to put to bed the drama and embarrassment of the DUP’s veto four days earlier.

But fundamentally the logical and legal contortions involved in declaring that there should be no border – on the border! – mean that this issue would have rolled over whatever we did, so I don’t see that withholding this concession – even though it has been used as a very effective wedge by the EU – would really have made much difference. We need to go back a further six months.

2. The climbdown on sequencing

It’s frankly ludicrous that we are debating the above without knowing the intended nature of the future trading arrangements. To quote David Davis, as he promised the “row of the summer”:

“How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is?” he told ITV’s Robert Peston. “It’s wholly illogical.” (FT, May 14 2017)

Well, quite. The Northern Irish problems largely disappear if a comprehensive free-trade arrangement can be agreed, as most people still eventually expect.

So – why did we agree to this at the time? The Government climbed down on the first day of the talks (June 19). One should note that Davis’s resignation letter makes clear that he disagreed with the decision.

I think this one is largely political and relates to the then very weak position of the Prime Minister: it was only 11 days after the election and the Conservative-DUP agreement had not yet been signed. Heading straight into an impasse would have suggested the Government was unable to deliver on its key agenda item – indeed the given reason for calling the election in the first place.

But of the three concessions, this is the one where I think we would have done better to stand firmer, and where we would have stood a chance of getting a better negotiating position. Yet Michel Barnier and the EU could simply have waited us out, because we had already entered into a time-limited process three months earlier.

1. Triggering Article 50

This is the big one. We should at least be grateful that David Cameron didn’t trigger it immediately, as Jeremy Corbyn had urged. The two-year timeline of Article 50 creates its own “backstop” i.e. an exit with No Deal. That is a lose-lose proposition, though the losses are heavier on our side which makes it difficult for us credibly to commit to it in negotiations.

Article 50 was written by the EU to favour the EU, and that is exactly how it has worked. It arguably creates a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations, contrary to the requirements of good faith. In another context, that would be seen as an unfair contract term. Good luck asking the ECJ to rule on that!

So – why did we agree to this at the time? Would it have been possible to seek to leave via treaty, or at the very least to get some commitments before triggering? The EU were very clear that there would be “no negotiation before notification”. If they had been determined to stick to this line, in private as well as public, we could perhaps have made a nuisance of ourselves with respect to budgets and anything that required unanimity. This would have been the Maggie-at-Fontainebleau approach and it might have worked, though it would also have risked undermining the trust required to later negotiate.

Regardless, was refusing to trigger Article 50 really viable, especially for a Prime Minister who had voted Remain? Whatever the negotiating merits of seeking an alternative approach, only by triggering it could she ensure we eventually left. Leavers would, not unreasonably, have feared that not triggering it was instead a precursor to a revised deal which kept us in the European Union.

What do you think?

Were any of these concessions avoidable? Or was the structural difficulty of leaving such that anyone seeking to do so would have to give a lot of ground?

Really – and perhaps this should have been the “fourth concession” – you have to go back to the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in the first place, though as far as I can see Article 50 was not discussed much at the time. It would certainly have been a good idea for us to have had a referendum on that.

Aaron Bell

Aaron works in the betting industry and is a long-standing contributor to politicalbetting.com, posting under the username Tissue_Price. He stood for the Conservatives in Don Valley at the General Election last year.


Whoever the Dems choose to fight Trump at WH2020 will have to cope with the incumbent’s devastating nick name strategy

October 18th, 2018

One of the things that the Elizabeth Warren DNA argument has highlighted is how successful Trump is at undermining anybody who is an opponent by the use of well thought out nicknames. These encapsulate the main negative and he uses the attack time and time again.

Just remember from the 2016 nomination and election when we had,”Little Marco” , “Low energy” Bush, “Lying Ted” , and, of course, “Crooked Hillary”. Those all in their own way contributed to Trump’s victory.

He seems to have a way when he does this of getting under an opponents skin in a manner that undermines the efforts to oppose him. Expect similar things in 2 years time during the next campaign.

His attacks on Senator Warren over her claims to have a Native American background a good illustration of how this approach can work. I’d argue that Warren, second favourite in the betting for the nomination, really has undermined her chances with her actions over the past week. You have to find another way of dealing with Trump.

Looking at the list of potential Democrat contenders the one I believe would be more impervious to this approach is John Hickenlooper the Governor of Colorado. He has a laid back self deprecating manner which I think Trump would have difficulty with.

There maybe other contender who are similarly equipped but you can’t out-Trump Trump.

Mike Smithson


However improbable. Looking at the next Prime Minister market

October 18th, 2018

It’s getting messy.  In truth, that was always on the cards after the general election result.  The public in their wisdom delivered a Parliament with no overall majority, with two main parties both formally committed to implementing Brexit and neither sharing any kind of consensus over what that meant in practice.  Theresa May has spent the last 16 months navigating between competing interest groups, endlessly deferring decisions, endlessly conceding ground whenever short term coalitions formed against her and evading final verdicts on her direction of progress in the negotiations.

Time is running out and she is exhausting the last levels of trust all round.  It is possible that she might finagle a deal through the House of Commons under the motto that is sure to be put on her coat of arms – faute de mieux – but it is also possible that the level of dissatisfaction from differing perspectives with the unappetising fare on offer will lead to a deal being voted down.  It is possible that Theresa May might be unable to salvage the position from there.

One way or another, British politics are lurching towards a resolving moment.  Either a deal will be done, and the terms on which Britain leaves the EU will set much of the political terms of reference in the medium term, or no deal will be attainable.  Never mind tectonic plates shifting, we are watching an active volcano prepare to erupt.  It is far from clear that the Prime Minister will survive the pyroclastic blast.

Betting discussion about the identity of the next Prime Minister has centred around two separate questions: can the Conservatives unite around a new leader if they ditch Theresa May and if not can Jeremy Corbyn pick up the reins?    Implicit to both questions is the idea that the next Prime Minister is going to be a leader of one of the two main parties.

This is likely, but not certain.  It’s time to have a look at this implicit assumption.

A Prime Minister is chosen by the Queen.  She does so on the basis that they can command the confidence of the House of Commons.  Where one party has an overall majority, the task is easy: the leader of that party gets the nod.

In a hung Parliament, it gets more difficult.  Larger parties need to court smaller parties and it is possible that the smaller party may make a replacement of leader the price of the deal.  For example, the Lib Dems vetoed Gordon Brown in 2010.  Nevertheless, smaller parties cannot dictate how larger parties choose their leader.  The DUP might depose Theresa May but they cannot tell the Conservatives who to put in her place.

If Brexit spews political lava all over everywhere, however, putting together a voting bloc that commands a majority in the House of Commons becomes highly problematic. If Theresa May were to be defeated in a Parliamentary vote of no confidence, a Parliamentary clock starts ticking and either a new Prime Minister is found within 14 days or there is a general election. 

But Theresa May might well be forced out without either of those things: she might lose a party vote of no confidence or the DUP may make the country ungovernable, vetoing every substantial bill but declining to vote against the government in a vote of no confidence (they have already indicated that is their plan if needs be). So Parliament may lurch on, with her as the only casualty.

Any Conservative replacement for Theresa May would need to bring the DUP or the ERG back on board in order to get a majority without losing anyone on the EU-friendly wing of the party. Alternatively, a new Conservative leader might seek to persuade the Lib Dems to compensate for the loss of the DUP’s support: good luck in that endeavour, given the Conservative party’s current centre of gravity and the Lib Dems’ general approach to Brexit.

So the Conservatives may select a replacement leader who could not command Parliament’s confidence. Would it then fall to Jeremy Corbyn to take over the reins? He would certainly be champing at the bit.He can, however, barely command his own party and it would be very questionable whether he could bring on board either of the Lib Dems and the SNP, never mind both. And he would still need the active support of the DUP (!) or the passive acquiescence of the Conservatives. If a Parliamentary vote of no confidence has taken place, he might get the latter to avoid the alternative of a general election.Without that ticking Parliamentary clock, this seems unlikely.

So if, as looks uncomfortably possible, the Conservative leader cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons and the Labour leader cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons and there is no general election scheduled, what happens? 

What indeed? Politics would no doubt be chaotic. Something would have to give, but what?It is unwise to try to predict the course of events in what would inevitably be turbulent times. At this point we really are at the point of the Pythia breathing in the vapours. 

There is one possible solution. A Prime Minister could be selected who was not one of the two main party leaders, someone who could reach the parts of Parliament that their party leader could not reach. This has precedent. Churchill was not leader of the Conservative party when he became Prime Minister in 1940 and did not take on that role until Neville Chamberlain was dying. Jeremy Corbyn could console himself knowing that Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Constantin Chernenko were never Prime Ministers of the USSR.

Any such candidate would need to be of great political seniority and command respect across Parliament. Given the maths, they would probably be nearer the centre of British politics than the figures the parties themselves would choose as leader but would still be acceptable to large parts of their own party. Possible names might include Yvette Cooper, Vince Cable and Philip Hammond. Or maybe someone else completely different.All parties would be in ferment. The possibility is distinct but how politics would play out in detail is almost unreadable, even though this might all begin as soon as the budget in two weeks’ time.

The main betting point is not really to identify specific candidates in these circumstances but to note that two markets that looked to have a heavy overlap – Next Prime Minister and Next Conservative Leader – might now be rather less linked than was previously appreciated.  For a long time I have worked on the basis that any Conservative party figure’s chances of becoming next Prime Minister were contained within their chances of becoming next Conservative party leader.  For some candidates at least, that might not be quite true.

Alastair Meeks


PB Video Analysis: Demographics – What We Can Do

October 17th, 2018

Demographics discussions can depress. The problems – ignored by most politicians – seem vast but distant. Better to let someone else, elected later, worry about them.

But we can diminish the demographic drag. We just need to do a few things. Admittedly, we need politicians to do politically unpopular things.

In this video, we look at what they are, and how they help.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’