The catch. Why Boris Johnson probably won’t be going for an early general election

July 16th, 2019

Bet against an early general election. Boris Johnson has ruled it out. As he is Britain’s presumed Prime Minister, we can take him at his word. And here’s why.

Let’s look at the counter-argument first. You will not lack for Leavers arguing that Boris Johnson should force an election as soon as possible. Parliament, they argue, is blocking Brexit. So Boris Johnson should call an election to obtain a mandate for leaving, deal or no deal, by 31 October 2019. The opposition could not sensibly oppose one. By this means, Nigel Farage would be put back in his crypt and with the opposition divided, the Conservatives could sweep to power.

You can see the appeal of the idea. There’s only one problem. It doesn’t work.

There are two ways in which a general election can be called under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011. First, two thirds of the House of Commons can vote for one. Or secondly, if the government loses a vote of no confidence and 14 day elapses without a new government having a vote of confidence passed in it, a general election is automatically held.

Let’s look at the direct vote first. To get to two thirds, Boris Johnson needs to get Jeremy Corbyn on board (there is no route to a two thirds majority that does not have both Labour and the Conservatives voting for the proposition).  On the face of it, that shouldn’t be too difficult: Jeremy Corbyn has been calling for an election and after the 2017 campaign no doubt fancies his chances of recreating Corbynmania.  

But Jeremy Corbyn has no reason to play on Boris Johnson’s terms, not when he can hamstring his opponent. Boris Johnson has tied his credibility to securing Brexit by 31 October 2019. This is not a deadline that Labour recognise and nor do they need to agree to it now. The clock is ticking and Labour can reasonably argue that they do not want a general election to eat into the very limited negotiating time.

In short, they can properly insist, before agreeing to an early election, on the government negotiating an extension of the Article 50 deadline to, say, 31 December 2019 so that when they come to power they have sufficient time to reach their own terms with the EU.

This is not just reasonable as a matter of principle, it’s also superb politics.  For if the Article 50 deadline is extended beyond 31 October 2019, that part of the Conservative party that has Boris Johnson on probation will decamp en masse to the Brexit party. The new Prime Minister’s credibility on his central policy would be destroyed. As Leader of the Opposition, that makes for an appealing backdrop to a general election.

Of course, once you’ve announced that you want a general election, if your opponent agrees to the principle but sets a preliminary condition that is not obviously absurd, you’re a bit stuck. So Boris Johnson would be taking a huge risk that he would be walking into a fiasco.

Whenever a politician puts a sign on his back saying “kick me”, his opponents will queue up to oblige. Seeking to call an election on your flagship policy while giving your opponents the opportunity to destroy it would risk getting the Johnson posterior booted so hard that he would clear the crossbar at Twickenham. There’s the chance that Labour might take a different approach, but would you draw up your strategy on the basis that your opponents will be as accommodating as possible?

This problem also potentially applies to arranging an election by a vote of no confidence, but there is a further problem with a vote of no confidence that should also concern Boris Johnson. In the 14 day countdown, someone else may be able to put together a majority. Given that the whole basis of seeking an election is that the government does not reliably control the House of Commons, that is quite conceivable.  

So a general election brought about by intentional acts before 31 October 2019 looks unlikely. While an election could be called immediately after that date, no one is going to thank the Government for a Christmas general election.  All this means that betting against a general election in 2019 at the current odds on Betfair of 2.36 (11/8) looks like a smart move. I’m on.

Alastair Meeks


Just 8 days after he enters Number 10 PM Johnson will face his first CON by-election defence

July 16th, 2019

A loss in his first week would be a big blow

In the week after Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister he will face his first by-election defence in the Welsh constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. Looking through the records this appears to be unprecedented. There hasn’t in modern times been a by-election scheduled to take place so soon after a new PM takes office and, inevitably it is going to be seen as something of a verdict on him.

This will also be the first Westminster by-election for the new LD leader and both contenders, Jo Swinson and Ed Davey, have campaigned there.

A CON loss would add enormously to the party’s difficulties at Westminster because the opposition parties would see their total increase by one with the government ones reduce by one thus.

Postal votes are due to be going out towards by end of the week and electors will be able to start voting. As can be seen in the panel above this was held comfortably by the Tories two years ago in the general election. The party has the same candidate, even though he was been convicted of expenses fraud. He certainly is well-known in the constituency.

The recall petition that triggered the vacancy was signed by more than 19% of the electorate and the assumption must be that they will participate in the election vote but not vote for Davies. On a 50% turnout that would equate to 38% of the vote.

The main opposition comes from the LDs which desperately wants to win back a seat first gained by the old Liberal Party in 1985 and held until GE2015. They are throwing everything at the fight with the by-election campaign itself being simply an extension of the party’s active recall petition effort.

The Tories are also trying to fend off Farage’s Brexit party which came very close to winning Peterborough from LAB last month. Team Farage needs a good performance here to maintain momentum ideally coming ahead of the Tories.

The seat itself is the largest in terms of land area in England and Wales which adds to the logistical challenge of the fight.

In the betting the LDs are 1/6 favourites.

Mike Smithson



Punters continue to rate Trump as having a near 50% chance of winning a second term

July 15th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of Betfair exchange

The polls, though, have the top 4 Democrats beating him

We’ve not looked at the main WH2020 market for some time – who’ll win the next hear’s White House race and as the chart shows what movement there’s been on the Betfair exchange has been towards the controversial incumbent.

At the moment, of course, the Democrats are maybe a year away from deciding who their nominee shall be and it is only when that becomes clear that we will get a greater take.

New NBC/WSJ polling has the following match ups:

Biden 51, Trump 42
Warren 48, Trump 43
Sanders 50, Trump 43
Harris 45, Trump 44

The interesting thing in the polling is the continued rise of Senator Elizabeth Warren who raised nearly $20m in the past quarter. It feels that there’s real momentum with her campaign.

In two weeks we’ll see the next TV debate where Biden has got to do substantially better than last time when he really did look his age.

I remain convinced that the 76 and 77 old Biden and Sanders won’t get the nomination and that their current polling positions are based on higher name recognition. Sanders has been hurt most by the rise of Warren.

In all of this the Democrats desperately want to stop a second Trump term and who is seen best able to achieve that will likely get the nomination.

Mike Smithson


What does the UK’s next PM have to say about Trump’s latest racist Tweets?

July 15th, 2019

No doubt he’ll be pressed at his first PMQs

One of the current big political issues in Washington at the moment is a series of Trump Tweets yesterday attacking elected female Democratic members of Congress for their criticism of him particularly over the regime he’s imposed on immigrants in border camps.

The Tweets above are part of his response and are probably the most overtly racist public comments that he’s made. The fact that his focus is on elected prominent female members of the House of Representatives has made the matter more explosive. They have the same democratic legitimacy as he does.

If Boris, as the Times is reporting, is planning an early visit to the US  capital then he’s likely to be pressed both before he goes and while he’s there on these comments as well as similar attacks of Sadiq Khan, his successor as Mayor of London. Where does Boris stand and will he raise it if he gets a meeting.

Clearly if Brexit goes ahead as planned, and that’s still very dependent on the parliamentary numbers, then the UK will need a trading relationship with the US and will be very much the supplicant.

Mike Smithson


This unique feel good moment has the potential to change our politics. The questions are will it and how

July 15th, 2019

Probably the most significant decision by a media organisation in decades was that by Sky to allow yesterday’s Lords final of the cricket World Cup to be broadcast on free to air television. This meant that many more people were sitting gripped to their TVs as Stokes faced that “Super over” that clinched it. This made it a truly national England and Wales event.

In Scotland things will be looked at very differently but that’s another story and and likely next LD leader, the Scottish Jo Swinson, will have to be careful with her words on this.

I’m old enough to remember the Football World Cup victory at Wembley in July 1966. Even many of those who weren’t even alive at the time can recite Kenneth Wolstenhome’s final commentary line as extra time came to an end “They think its all over – it is now”. In many ways yesterday was even more dramatic.

Already some politicians have tried to seize the extraordinary victory to make political capital. Moggsy put out a Tweet saying “We don’t need Europe to win” something which he is already under fire for. Coming as it does at a time of incredible political change we can expect a lot more of this.  There is a danger in the Rees-Mogg approach because it looks too exploitative – just the sort of thing you would expect a Brexit obsessed politician to do. The Guardian reported:

Rees-Mogg’s fellow Conservative MP Ed Vaizey said that his colleague was guilty of “slightly misjudging the mood”, before adding that “while you’re on, the English captain is Irish”. Alastair Campbell suggested that “perhaps instead of making a silly Brextremist point, offer congratulations to the Irish captain, the NZ-born man of the match, and the Barbadian bowler who got it over the line”.

It was good that Theresa May was there at Lords to enjoy something in the final ten days of her troubled Premiership. At least her presence was genuine. She is a long-standing cricket fan. This wasn’t like Cameron’s shallow claims to be a West Ham or was it an Aston Villa supporter.

Whatever as we move to a new, uncertain and potentially dangerous political era there is something to feel good about.

Mike Smithson


What is there to say after a sporting day like this one?

July 14th, 2019

I’d focused on the tennis and have just watched the final hour of the cricket on C4+1.

Totally amazing.

Mike Smithson


The next Home Secretary betting

July 14th, 2019

Within a fortnight we should have a new Home Secretary.

When Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister it is widely expected that his Chancellor will be Sajid Javid which creates a vacancy at the Home Office. So who will succeed Javid?

I’m also working on assumption that Jeremy Hunt will remain Foreign Secretary under Boris Johnson, he views any other cabinet job, other than Chancellor of the Exchequer as a demotion so he’d retire to the backbenches.

Boris Johnson will not want more members of the Gaukeward squad on the backbenches to join the likes of Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart, David Lidington, Greg Clark, and of course, primus inter pares, Theresa May who I suspect are implacably intent on delivering on Vote Leave’s campaign pledge of not leaving without a deal. When you have a notional majority of three thanks to the DUP Prime Minister Johnson cannot annoy anyone further.

I’m tempted by the 20/1 on Tracy Crouch. I think Boris Johnson would like to fight back against the nasty party meme and who better than the woman who resigned over the government’s initial vacillation on reducing the stake for fixed odds betting terminals.  It would send a great message for those who would like the Tory party to focus on non Brexit related topics.

As sports minister, and in other roles, she’s always been a good media performer which would help the government sell its policies to the country. As someone who read law she’d be eminently qualified to take on the challenging role of Home Secretary. It would also reassure the Boris sceptic wing of the party that he had appointed a self confessed ‘compassionate, One-Nation Conservative’ to such a senior role. Having eventually backed Boris Johnson in the leadership contest should her get a decent role in government.

I’m fond of this market after tipping Sajid Javid at 33/1 to succeed Amber Rudd just hours before he became Home Secretary but this I’m not quite as confident so will be betting at lower stakes than I did in April 2018. It is entirely possible Javid remains Home Secretary but I do expect Boris Johnson to make comprehensive changes to the cabinet upon his election, this will not be like the relatively minor changes when John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher.



Sounding the alarm. Britain’s democracy is under direct threat

July 14th, 2019

In two weeks’ time, Britain will have a Prime Minister whose commitment to democracy is contingent. Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to rule out proroguing Parliament in order to secure a no deal Brexit by 31 October 2019.

Let us call proroguing Parliament by its proper name: suspending democracy. The United Kingdom operates with an executive that is supervised by the legislature. If the executive suspends the legislature (which is what proroguing is), it is suspending the democratic control of itself.

The government would not be able to pass legislation – but governments do a lot of things other than legislate. The Government does not need Parliament to be sitting to pass some delegated legislation. It can exercise its administrative and prerogative powers. It would be doing so without oversight from the MPs elected to perform that role. It prevents MPs from directing the government to change course or from bringing it down.

For that reason, proroguing Parliament is normally only done for a short period. Parliament has not been prorogued for longer than three weeks for 40 years. Parliament’s oversight is not impaired. It has been a largely ceremonial process for transitioning between Parliamentary sessions for at least 150 years.

The most notable political use of this effect was in 1948, when the government used its power to prorogue Parliament not to suspend Parliament’s oversight of it but to fast-forward through Parliamentary sessions in order to override the House of Lords’ veto power under the Parliament Act 1911. Far from frustrating the democratic process, the government of the time was looking to augment the elected House’s power through the use of prorogation.

So what is being mooted by the hardcore Leavers – the use of prorogation to frustrate democratic supervision – is unprecedented in Britain’s modern democratic history. They moot it in order to impose an irrevocable decision (no deal Brexit) on a House of Commons that shows every sign of wanting to prevent that.

Leavers claim to want to prorogue in order to implement the democratic vote to leave the EU. There are a few problems with that claim. First, there is no magic about the date of 31 October 2019. If Leavers have been unable to come up with a plan that persuades a majority of the House of Commons by that date, it is not for them to impose their will.

Secondly, the vote to leave the EU was not a vote to leave the EU without a deal. Vote Leave, as noted above, campaigned on the basis that “we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave”.

And thirdly, democracy did not stop on 23 June 2016. The current MPs were elected a year later. They have their own mandate to represent their constituents. The government and Leave supporters have no right to trample on Britain’s representative democracy.

So it boils down to this: hardline Leavers are willing to take a hammer to Britain’s democratic protections to secure a policy that they want. This is no longer about Remain or Leave, but about whether you have any respect for the democratic process that operates in Britain.

Unfortunately, polls show that the great majority of Conservative party members do not. 67% were recorded in a recent YouGov poll as believing that it would be acceptable to prorogue Parliament in order to prevent Parliament voting against no deal.  The anti-democratic impulse has reached the mainstream.

Now it might very well be in practice that the Prime Minister could not prorogue Parliament in this way even if he wanted to. The decision is for the monarch, not the Prime Minister, and she would be entitled to, and in such a controversial case presumably would, take counsel from other members of the Privy Council first. Few Privy Council members are likely to be supportive of a Prime Minister’s wish to game the system in this way. A decision to prorogue would certainly be judicially reviewed (Sir John Major announced this week that he would do so). The courts might well intervene. So as a plan, it is not even particularly likely to succeed.

But even if Parliamentary democracy could be suspended in this way, proroguing would not just be a crime, it would be an error. Imagine that no deal Brexit was achieved against the will of Parliament by breaking democratic norms. Britain would be a pariah state. The government would almost certainly be immediately toppled and a general election would ensue with government ministers (fresh in their roles, remember, so unfamiliar with their remits) having to alternate between campaigning and dealing with the inevitable snarl-ups that would have come from such a disorderly exit. 

Polling consistently shows that the public already on balance thinks that Brexit was a mistake and if Britain has been forced into the most extreme version of it by anti-democratic means, the Conservatives would be lucky if they were merely electorally eviscerated. It might also prove to be the swiftest route to Britain rejoining the EU.

It would also represent the most awful precedent. Governments of all stripes could then use it as a cue to take time out whenever Parliament was proving too exacting. Why go to the trouble of passing laws if you can achieve most of what you want by executive fiat most of the time? Jeremy Corbyn also does not have a great affinity with his fellow MPs. Do Conservatives really want to establish a precedent for him to be allowed to act without Parliamentary scrutiny or control should it all get too tough for him?

Alastair Meeks

PS – Interesting fact, if the Queen dies then if Parliament has been prorogued it must immediately be reconvened.