Putting Thursday into context – A look back at previous UK Euro elections

May 20th, 2019

From Sunil Prasannan

Well, just a few months ago, it seemed certain that, with a scheduled 29th March 2019 date for Brexit, the UK was done with EU elections for good. But, it looks like that we are in the EU for at least a few months more, so here we are! On the other hand, we are a political betting site, so what’s wrong with a full-blown nation-wide poll in 2019? The recent Local Elections (given that many cities and council areas didn’t vote in them) were but an appetiser for the coming battle!

Recent EU elections have actually been a poor guide to the winning party’s fortunes at the subsequent general election. In their regally purple heyday, UKIP under their ex-leader Nigel Farage won the largest share of the vote and the most seats at the most recent EU election in 2014, but their vote halved at the GE the following year, winning only one MP. By contrast, the Tories under David Cameron won the previous 2009 EU election, whilst they were in opposition, and then went on to become largest party at the 2010 GE, and the larger party in the ensuing Con-LibDem coalition. And in 2014, the Tories came a poor third, behind UKIP and Labour, but then went on to win an outright majority at GE 2015. However, Labour were the first governing party to come third in a EU election, in 2009, trailing the Tories and UKIP on vote-share, but equalling UKIP on seats.

The EU has only had a directly elected parliament since 1979, the inaugural election occurring just a few weeks after Margaret Thatcher’s Tories triumphed at the GE that year. In the EU election, the Tories won a record 48% of the vote, and then went on to win the 1983 general election, and a similar feat was achieved at the 1984 EU election, albeit on a reduced 39% vote-share, but they still won the 1987 election. Then in 1989, Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party obtained their first EU election victory, whilst in opposition, also on 39% vote-share, but fell below even their own expectations at the 1992 GE, losing to John Major’s Tories. Into the 1990s, with Labour still in opposition, but with Margaret Beckett as an interim leader in the wake of John Smith’s untimely death, they won the 1994 EU election, and then under Tony Blair’s leadership easily trounced Major’s Tories at GE1997.

But Labour to date have never won an EU election whilst in Government (unlike the Tories). In a rare moment of triumph for Major’s successor, William Hague, the Tories won the 1999 EU election, whilst in opposition, but in a near-repeat of 1997, lost heavily at the subsequent 2001 GE. 1999 was also the first year that proportional representation of the d’Hondt persuasion was used on mainland Great Britain. Two leaders on, under Michael Howard, the Tories also won the 2004 EU election, but then went on to lose to Tony Blair for the third GE in a row the following year.

So out of the eight EU elections we’ve had in the UK, the Tories have won five, two of those victories whilst in government, and three times whilst in opposition. Labour have won twice, both times in opposition, with UKIP winning the eighth, the first time ever for a party neither in government, nor the largest opposition party. Other fun facts include the Greens putting on their best show at an EU election in 1989, winning just under 15% of the vote (nearly double their 2014 score, for example), and on all eight occasions the LibDems scoring a lower vote-share than at each subsequent GE. Average UK turnout for Euro elections thus far is 33.8%, but there was a big blip in 1999, when turnout was only 24.0%, a record low for any EU member until 2009, when both Lithuania and Slovakia had lower participation (20.5% and 19.6% respectively).

As for 2019? Well, it seems from recent opinion polling that it’s nailed-on that Farage’s new Brexit Party will enable him to follow on from his victory leading his former party UKIP in 2014. It may well see the LibDems achieve their first ever runner’s up spot, as the electorate become ever more polarised. But it will be interesting to see how the big two (Labour and the Tories) will fare in Thursday’s battle, and all that augurs for future elections, and the future of their respective leaders.


Sunil Prasannan


Labour’s last-ditch bid to stop its Remain backing voters switching to the LDs and the Greens

May 20th, 2019

Maybe the problem’s that its seen a pro-Brexit party

Over the weekend, there has been a flurry of apparently panicky messages coming out of the Labour Party to try to stop the seepage of support to the unequivocally pro-remain parties of the Lib Dems and the Greens. The above Tweet is the latest example.

This is all in response to the latest Euros polling where the yellows and to a certain extent the Green have been advancing and picking up, apparently, a large slab of Labour remainers. One big poll has the LDs in top slot above Labour and the Brexit party in London.

Clearly there’s a big concern in Corbyn’s team about finishing up in third place in the Euro elections with the Lib Dems and, of course, the Brexit party on top. One or two polls are now pointing to this.

There’s little doubt that a key part of the LDs strategy for Thursday’s election has throughout been to portray Labour as a pro-Brexit party which has been an easy point to make. Hardly any material goes out from the yellows without this being highlighted.

The messaging in response from Corbyn’s team is really hard to follow. Trying to frame Thursday’s vote as a battle between Labour and Farage and the hard right is quite a hard one to make to those party supporters who see it as a battle for and against Brexit.

Until now Labour’s ambivalence has worked but the signs are that it might not carry it past Thursday.

It is generally said that the final two or three days before an election are absolutely key. Most voters don’t focus on the intricacies of a battle until almost the last moment and decisions, like tactical voting, are made quite late.

Mike Smithson


The big post Euro election question is whether the Westminster polls will revert to normal?

May 19th, 2019

Above is the latest YouGov polling with the most extraordinary Westminster voting figures that I can recall in recent times. For four parties to be within six points of each other is extraordinary and for the CON+LAB aggregate not to exceed 50% is completely unprecedented.

There is some historical precedents for Westminster voting polls to go slightly haywire before the Euro elections and in the past things have settled down quite quickly afterwards.

The Brexit party rise was largely predicted but what’s worrying both Labour and the Conservatives is that the Lib Dems have made a remarkable recovery with the highest poll share since the coalition was formed in May 2010.

There’s said to be a worry in LAB circles about the party’s defence of the London Mayoralty in eleven months time.

The voting data is the 9k+ sample YouGov poll that was mainly focus on the Euro elections that was published yesterday.

Mike Smithson


With a CON leadership contest in the offing a look at what makes a good leader

May 19th, 2019

So the race is on, with likely as many contenders as at your average Grand National. Will it be a dyed in the wool Leaver? A born again or a politically convenient one? Blessed by the ERG? A Remainer? Cabinet member or backbencher? And will it even matter given the government’s tiny majority, at the DUP’s pleasure?

Obsessed as they are by Brexit, Tory MPs and members have forgotten that a person’s stance on this perennially neuralgic issue is not necessarily a good guide to whether someone will make a good leader. Traumatised by May’s failings, they are thrashing round desperately looking for a Moses to lead them to the Promised Land. (Only 37 years to go to a final Brexit resolution!)

Perhaps a step back to understand what good leadership consists of might help them when marking their race card. Unlikely as this is to happen, let’s give them some pointers.

The quality of the “primus” is insufficient. Don’t forget the “pares”.

All the focus these days has been on the “primus”. Not surprising, really, given the dominance and longevity of Blair and Thatcher and, before them, Wilson, Attlee and Macmillan. By contrast, recent PMs have struggled: May spectacularly so, her personality utterly devoid of any leadership qualities, Brown – so exhausted by the fight to get what he believed he was entitled to after so long – that when he got there he had no idea what to do (paging Boris) and Major, struggling to control a party so consumed with guilt at its defenestration of Maggie, that it decided to torment her successor by way of expiation. But an individual, however talented, does not a leader make.

The ability to build, develop and lead a team

No one person has everything it takes. Good leaders understand this and surround themselves with strong people, people with skills and qualities they lack, people with more natural feeling for different groups of voters or party members, people with the willingness to challenge the leader. They understand that strong leaders have strong teams around them, other “big beasts”, pulling together, that this makes for strong government. Look at Blair and Prescott. Or the members of Wilson’s various Cabinets: Crossland, Healey, Callaghan, Castle. These were serious, strong, experienced and thoughtful politicians. The same could be said of many post-war Labour and Tory governments.

It is not something we have been blessed with recently. People have been dropped into government with all the care applied by a Project Manager appointing a junior to fill in Excel spreadsheets. Cabinet Ministers have been as interchangeable and bland as slabs of cheese displayed at hotel breakfast counters the world over – and about as effective. At the heart of any strong, competent government is a good relationship between a PM and their Chancellor and a Chancellor with political heft.  Blair and Brown had this, for all their difficulties. So did Thatcher and Howe, then Thatcher and Lawson. Indeed, Thatcher would never have been the political star she became or achieved as much as she did were it not for these relationships and the strength, depth and cohesion it gave to her governments. Cameron and Osborne too were an effective team for a period, if in the end fatally complacent.

May and Hammond, however, give the impression of scarcely knowing each other. At a time when Britain’s economic future is being decided on, the Chancellor is missing in action and sidelined. It is unpardonably negligent and a dangerously frivolous approach to one of the most serious decisions, outside of war, any government has ever had to take.

When choosing a leader, who they are likely to pick as their key advisors/colleagues, how they work with them, their ability and willingness to take responsibility, to have their team’s back, to engender respect, trust and loyalty, to be worthy of that trust (from both colleagues and staff) will be at least as important as the leader’s individual qualities. Arguably more so.

The vision thing

It was Helmut Schmidt who reportedly said: “If you have visions, see a doctor.” Wise words. Nonetheless, a leader needs to have some idea of what they are trying to achieve. And how. Particularly the how, now more than ever. They need to be able to say about themselves and their government: “This is who we are. This is how we behave.  This is where we are going.  And this is how we are going to get there.”  And then be able to follow through and deliver – at all levels of government, and not just on its main policies but in response to events. Any fool can say what it is they want. But being able to deliver this, being able to inspire others to deliver, to communicate and support and defend and fight for what you are trying to achieve, being able to persuade people to support you – or give you the benefit of the doubt – that’s hard.

“Why should I follow you?”

Anyone aspiring to be any sort of leader should be able to answer that in a convincing way. Not just to the small Tory party electorate. But voters too. They need a sense of a leader’s default instincts, their political compass, their judgment, what might be termed as their moral character, the grit and steel behind whatever ability to charm or make people laugh or to look concerned or to make barnstorming speeches they may have.

At this point, the opinion polls showing who is or is not most popular will be waved around. This person can win, can beat the Opposition, can bring all those Brexity sheep back into the fold, they will say. Ignore those polls. Leadership is not about popularity – or not just that. Any leader worth their salt, any leader trying to achieve something worthwhile, trying to effect change will at some point be unpopular, will need to speak truths, hard truths, to their party, to voters, will need to make tough decisions, will need to persuade and sell difficult compromises and bring people with them.  If an evanescent poll lead (that sound you hear is May moaning at the disappearance of her 20% poll leads) is all they bring, what do they fall back on when they are no longer the people’s darling?

Looking at the likely contenders, beautifully pinned and dissected by our political lepidopterist [1], which of them have any or some of these qualities?  Gove can be effective but is not trusted. Boris is entitled and crowd-pleasing though perhaps past his best. (More of an Archie Rice character rehashing old tunes to familiar elderly audiences; out of his depth when asked to perform on a bigger unfamiliar stage.) Raab ran away and has never provided any indication of what he would do or how. But probably has the Boden catalogue vote sewn up. Stewart and Morgan have shown unreciprocated loyalty and some level of thoughtfulness, which will do them no good at all.

And will the Tory electorate care anyway? Panic, a desire for magic, a wish to have their egos stroked and political views reinforced, a belief in ideological purity so intense it is practically Leninist seem to be the deciding factors.

It is surprising anyone wants the role, unlikely as it is to enhance one’s CV: ex-British Prime Ministers are practically two a penny these days and probably not high on international head-hunters’ lists. Whoever gets the job will likely be the fifth Tory Party leader to be tortured then destroyed by the European question.  And could also have the honour of losing to Corbyn, assuming they last until 2022. Or face a reverse takeover by Farage. The one quality they will need above all (and will have little control over) is luck. They’ll certainly need it.

[1] This is in honour of @AlastairMeeks who likes having unusual words by which to remember thread headers.




The latest Euro polls find BRX reinforcing its position with the LDs starting to nudge LAB out of second place

May 18th, 2019

In London the LDs have 3% lead


Oh the humiliation! CHUK not even listed as a runner on the Euros spread-betting markets

May 18th, 2019

So much is going on in UK politics at the moment that it is hard to recall that just a month ago the new Party formed by breakaway CON and LAB MPs, Change UK, was talking about it taking over the Lib Dems. From reports at the time it considered itself to be the powerful force and were treating Cable’s party as almost supplicants in any relationship.

The new grouping didn’t contest the local elections on May 2nd but their first big opportunity to show their electoral potency comes next Thursday in the Euro elections. The party is fielding a full slate of candidates across the country but if the polling is anything like on the mark then the chances are that it is going to be a struggle to win a single MEP.

Sporting Index has just opened a range of spread markets on Thursdays election and the main one, how many seats each party will win in the bottles Parliament, is shown above. As can be seen there is one big emission from the list of that is Change UK. It is extraordinary they they weren’t even regarded as being in the running.

You can understand this. It doesn’t have any MEP incumbents seeking re-election, it has yet to build up an activist network and it has seen poll ratings down to just 2 percent.

As PB regulars will know I love spread betting on the outcome of elections. The job is that the more you are right the more you win and the more you are wrong the more you lose. It is not for the faint-hearted. You “buy” and “sell” positions as though they were stocks and shares in this case with the final level being the number of MEPs that are elected.

At the last general election I “sold” CON seats at the 393 level. They ended up with 318 seats and my winnings were 75 times (the gap between the ell level and what happened) my stake. Be careful, though you can lose.

Mike Smithson


Why Revoke is now very much on the table

May 18th, 2019

May’s departure and a flight to the extremes aids stopping Brexit

A zombie government will bring a zombie Withdrawal Agreement back to parliament next month, and in true zombie style, it will get bashed and still not really die. Ever since the first Meaningful Vote in January, when the government lost by well over 200 votes, Theresa May has been locked in a political vice where she couldn’t countenance No Deal, couldn’t accept No Brexit but couldn’t deliver any Brexit deal either – yet one of those three outcomes must ultimately conclude this phase of the process.

First things first. As predicted, the Con-Lab Brexit talks had long since run their course and in the face of haemorrhaging support from the electorate, neither party was going to be willing to concede the necessary ground to enable a deal to be struck. The European Parliament elections next week will no doubt drive home this new reality much further, and the Peterborough by-election after that.

In truth, those conclusions – that the Tories should take a firmer line and that Labour should be more actively Remain – might well be wrong. Certainly, some voters are strongly exercised by Brexit but many are simply fed up with two divided parties who either can’t decide on what their policy is or can’t deliver it once they do decide. In the absence of competence, voters are looking for certainty and that’s unsurprisingly to be found at the extremes: No Deal , and Revoke.

Where Jeremy Corbyn was right was in stating that the government’s authority is draining by the day and that even if a deal had been done, it was highly unlikely to be one that the PM could carry her party on. Naturally, he didn’t say the same for himself but despite his stronger internal party position, he could well have done.

All this doesn’t necessarily mean that May will lose her Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Bill at the second reading. There are sound tactical grounds for letting it through at that stage, not least that the easiest way to deliver a confirmatory referendum is to attach one to that Bill’s enactment.

However, chances are that Labour will vote it down, as they’ve voted down the Withdrawal Agreement before. What then? Well, first there’ll be a Tory leadership contest and a change of prime minister in the summer: probably in early September, possibly in late July if the timetable can be shortened to that extent. Simultaneously, we’re very likely to see a parallel contest for the Lib Dem leadership. As a result, both parties’ policies will likely tilt towards their members’ views.

Following on, there’ll be the party conferences. For the Tories and Lib Dems, these will simply be echoes of their internal summer elections, albeit that they might force commitments or set policy.

More important will be Labour’s conference. Corbyn has so far stuck rigidly to the last conference composite which set as the party’s first priority to seek a general election – which has enabled him to avoid doing anything to set a clear Labour policy but has allowed Labour to frustrate the government in delivering anything either. That position cannot hold. With only a month to the current Brexit deadline, a general election would be of no use. The conference could try to endorse some kind of Cooper 2 procedure but Cooper 1 only worked because the EU was willing to play ball, because the PM felt obliged to ask for the extension anyway, and because the numbers added up in parliament. None of those can be guaranteed to fall into place a second time.

Instead, when faced with the very real possibility that the new Tory PM will make demands of Brussels that Brussels will not accept and that given that, a Cooper 2 might fail to deliver its objective even if it could be rammed through parliament against the government’s wishes, as Cooper 1 was, Labour might have to turn to the nuclear option of Revoke – the only means within the UK’s control of stopping (or pausing) Brexit. And of course, we know that the great majority of Labour members, MPs and voters believe that Brexit is a mistake. There has to be a good chance that a Revoke motion could carry against the leadership’s wishes.

Could Remainers in the Commons carry off the same trick it did before, grab control of the timetable and push a Bill through parliament? The advantage to this procedure – as opposed to trying to insert a referendum into the Implementation Bill – is that it’s simple. A Revocation Act might only need one meaningful clause whereas, for comparison, the 2015 Act that authorised the first referendum ran to well over a hundred sections, if you include those within the Schedules. Similarly, it’s far easier and quicker to implement.

But is there a majority for Revoke? In isolation, almost certainly not. The question, however, would be whether there’s a majority for Revoke when the near-assured alternative is No Deal. In that scenario, there might well be.

We could ask at that point what would happen after that but there we enter a whole new discussion deserving of its own article. As far as this one goes, I’ll simply note that the Betfair odds on Brexit not taking place before 2022 are 3.25, which is probably now a little generous (there are of course other routes to No Brexit before 2022 beyond the one laid out above).

As always, pushing for your own radical outcome both legitimises your opponents pushing for their own radical, opposite one – something they might well not have felt able to do without that legitimisation – and also makes them believe that there’s an imperative to push for it, to forestall the original initiative. When the stakes are so high, pressure so great and time so short, Revoke will undoubtedly move more and more into view as a very real possibility.

David Herdson


Boost for Johnson in the first CON membership poll since TMay announced her exit timetable

May 17th, 2019

His biggest hurdle’s still getting through the MPs round

Quick off the mark we now have the first YouGov poll of CON members following the news that TMay agreed her exit timetable.

The poll was slightly different from the standard. Members who formed the sample were not asked who they would vote for but rather were presented with a list of nine names and asked to rank them. The outcome is in the Times Tweet above.

Sure Johnson is at the top, no surprise there, but quite a significant part of the sample rated him bottom. If the outcome is Boris as CON leader and PM  he’ll be heading a divided party. We haven’t seen the full poll detail yet but I wonder how many would have rated him at the bottom if fellow Etonian, Rory Stewart, had not been on the list.

It does say something about the current party that the two names at the bottom both had the same educational background. 

The first challenge, though, for Mr. Johnson is getting though the MP rounds of voting and here we have little data though I’ve no doubt that will be forthcoming.

In the betting Johnson is still favourite but has edged down a touch.

Mike Smithson