Archive for December, 2005

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The Telegraph should believe its own pollster

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

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    Gordon Brown is no longer the “grass is greener” alternative

In its main editorial at the end of 2005 the Daily Telegraph speculates this morning about the possibility that next year could be a General Election year.

It argues: “..Suppose that, at some stage in the coming 12 months, Tony Blair were to decide that he had had enough of the pettiness and contumely of domestic politics. Imagine that he were to seek a grander stage…that his place were to be taken by Gordon Brown and that – as opinion polls presently suggest – Mr Brown’s succession were to boost Labour’s standing. In such circumstances, might not the new Prime Minister be tempted to ask the Queen for an immediate dissolution?…A snap election would have huge attractions for Labour. For one thing, we would not yet have grown sick of our new premier. Mr Brown’s demerits as a party leader – his sullenness, his sourness, his dullness – are assets in a Chancellor, suggesting, as they do, competence. Mr Brown therefore enjoys high approval ratings, which might evaporate once we had to put up with him on the news every night..A 2006 election would preempt the boundary review, saving Labour around 15 seats. It would also catch the Opposition parties unprepared..”

The only problem with this thesis is that its central premise is wrong. Every opinion poll that has tested Brown against Cameron since the new Tory leader was elected has had Labour doing considerably worse under the Chancellor than under Blair.

    Probably the most important initial impact of the Cameron leadership is that he has taken over from Gordon Brown the mantle as the “grass is greener” candidate.

That the Telegraph can publish a main editorial in ignorance of this central fact is amazing. This is particularly so because YouGov, the paper’s pollster that got Cameron’s leadership vote to within one per cent, was the first to identify the changed climate and ICM, in a survey for its sister paper, the Sunday Telegraph, came up with similar results a few days later.

The notion that a Brown premiership would be much more popular than a Blair one is so seeped into the media consciousness that the fact that this is no longer the case is going to take time to sink in. But we expect better of a Daily Telegraph leader.

Punters ready to risk money have been a bit more savvy. In the past month the betting price on Brown taking over from Blair has eased from 0.35/1 to 0.47/1. Unless the polls change we cannot see how Labour would choose a new leader who the evidence showed was an electoral liability. A big current bet of mine is that Brown will not make it.

Put faces to the names of those who have contributed some of the 108,708 comments on the site during 2005. The second PB.C party will be on Saturday January 14, at the “Star Tavern” Belgrave Mews West, London SW1. Time – from 6 o’clock onwards. Please contact Innocent Abroad if you want to attend.

Mike Smithson



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Is Charles really running out of time?

Friday, December 30th, 2005

    Kennedy’s secret critics fail to impress punters

The Lib Dem leader’s firm post-Christmas response to those private critics who say, amongst other things, that he does not have the charisma of a Cameron or a Blair has reinforced the doubts of reluctant punters in the Next Lib Dem leader market.

For in spite of all the coverage there has been very little betting on his replacement. Betfair’s market has seen just £5,302 in matched bets with barely £800 going on the ambitious Home Affair spokesman, Mark Oaten. Menzies Campbell is involved in half the matched bets while Simon Hughes is at less than £500.

Gamblers are keeping their money firmly in their wallets because until something happens in relation to Kennedy there is no race. It could be four or five years before punters get a return.

    What’s going for Kennedy is that none of his critics are prepared to go public. By his re-statement that he’s staying the only option for those wanting him out is a formal challenge – something for which so far they have not had the stomach.

Things could change quickly, of course, but with the Lib Dem’s still polling at 20% or more it is hard to make the case that Kennedy is an electoral liability. The surveys in next couple of months, particularly ICM and YouGov, could be crucial, particularly if party support drops to 16% or below.

In the meantime it is hard not to admire Kennedy’s resilience.

Mike Smithson



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Punters bet on an early change-over

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

    But are things really so bleak for “Teflon Tony” ?

The chances of Tony Blair surviving until New Year’s Day 2008, as rated by gamblers on the “When will Blair go” markets, have again plummeted to the low 20s. They are not quite at the low they reached after November’s Commons defeat on the terror bill but they are getting quite near.

But have gamblers got this one right? Given Blair’s stated intention of serving a full third term the 100/30 that’s available on him going within the next two years looks a reasonable bet.

Sure the arrival of Cameron and the prospect of a series of Labour back-bench rebellions in the New Year do not make 2006 look promising. But Blair always seems to be at his best when his back is to the wall. He does not appear to have any self-doubt about the positions he is taking. And who is going to cast the first stone?

The real problem for those opposed to Blair is that the polls are consistently rating the Prime Minister at a higher level than Gordon Brown when set against David Cameron. How can you press for a change-over when the evidence suggests that the party’s chances would be reduced?

    Tony Blair has weathered several years of polls showing that Labour would perform better if Brown was in charge. Now the numbers have turned round the anti-Blairites have got an even harder case to make.

Whatever 2006 is going to be an interesting year.

REMEMBER to enter our prize 2006 Prediction Competition.

Mike Smithson



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Miliband now 7.2/1 second favourite to be leader

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

    Will Labour elect Brown even if the opinion polls are against him?

From the way punters are reacting on the betting exchanges Labour’s big beneficiary from the emergence of David Cameron is that other Oxford-educated 2001 Commons’ entrant, David Miliband – the Minister of State for Communities and Local Government.

The chart showing the implied probability of success based on the best betting exchange price and illustrates the move to Miliiband in the past month. He’s now at 7.2/1 and is well ahead of the third favourite, Alan Milburn, at 17/1.

Gordon Brown, of course, is the very solid favourite to replace Tony Blair and the current best price is 0.45/1. This has tightened a bit in the past few days but is nowhere near the 0.35/1 that was the best you could have got at the end of last month.

Some of the confidence in the Brown camp has eroded because four opinion polls since Cameron’s election have shown Labour doing worse under the Chancellor’s leadership than under Blair. If this polling trend continues then we might see greater interest in possible alternatives to Brown.

This is a hard market because we do not know when there will be a contest. For all the pressures he is under Tony Blair does not look like a man about to leave office.

JUST OVER TWO WEEKS UNTIL THE PB.C PARTY. This will be on Saturday January 14, at the “Star Tavern” Belgrave Mews West, London SW1. Time – from 6 o’clock onwards. Please contact Innocent Abroad if you want to attend.

Mike Smithson



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Predicting the most unpredictable year

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

    Who’ll be PB.C’s top forecaster of 2006?

With so many question marks hanging over the UK domestic political scene it’s is going to be quite a challenge working out what is going to happen in the next twelve months. cam bookWill Blair and Kennedy go? Who will be the new leaders? Is the poll boost for Cameron’s Conservatives just a temporary thing or will it be sustained.

All these issues and more are covered in our competition for the year which has been designed so we can see how entrants are doing as the year progresses. There will be a prize for the winner. Please post your answers in the thread below by 2359 GMT on January 3rd 2006. Include a valid email address on the comment form – this will not be published.

    Please do not use this thread to post comments on the competition. This is for entries only.

As in all PB.C competitions the final decision on all matters relating to the competition is mine and I am right even when I am wrong.

1. For how many weeks of 2006 will Tony Blair continue to be Labour leader? One hundred points for a correct answer losing ten points for each complete week out.

2. For how many weeks of 2006 will Charles Kennedy continue to be Lib Dem leader? Fifty points for a correct answer losing five points for each complete week out.

3. Who will be Labour leader on Christmas Day 2006? One hundred points for a correct answer.

4. Who will be Lib Dem leader on Christmas Day 2006? Fifty points for a correct answer.

5. According to the BBC website on the Sunday after the May local elections what will be Labour’s net losses or gains of council seats? Indicate plus or minus. One hundred points for a correct answer losing one point for each three seats out.

6. According to the BBC website on the Sunday after the May local elections what will be the Liberal Democrats’ net losses or gains of council seats? Indicate plus or minus. One hundred points for a correct answer losing one point for each three seats out.

7. What will be Cameron’s Conservatives’ best position in relation to Labour in a Guardian ICM poll during 2006? Fifty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

8. What will be the Lib Dems’ best share in a Guardian ICM poll during 2006? Thirty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

9. By how many points will the Conservatives be below or above Labour in the February 2006 Guardian ICM poll? Indicate plus or minus. Fifty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

10. By how many points will the Conservatives be below or above Labour in the June 2006 Guardian ICM poll? Indicate plus or minus. Fifty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

11. By how many points will the Conservatives be below or above Labour in the September 2006 Guardian ICM poll? Indicate plus or minus. Fifty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

12. By how many points will the Conservatives be below or above Labour in the December 2006 Guardian ICM poll? Indicate plus or minus. Fifty for a correct answer losing 10 for each percentage point out.

Mike Smithson



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Should Charles ask Santa for a bike?

Saturday, December 24th, 2005
    Maybe riding to work will get his leadership back on track?

After his skirmishes with leading party MPs over the the past two weeks Charles Kennedy knows that when he returns to Westminster in the New Year he will be under the most intense scrutiny. Can he save his leadership?

With the less than ringing endorsements from the top two in the betting to replace him, Menzies Campbell (11/8) and Mark Oaten (3/1), Kennedy has to establish quickly that he’s capable of carrying on with the job. As a senior party official told me a few days ago, “It comes to something when the only MP speaking unequivocally for you is Lembit Opik“.

As well as his political capabilities there are also the question marks about his life-style and Kennedy needs to do something about those perceptions. But how can he show that he has turned over a new leaf?

    An answer we suggest, and it is Christmas Eve, is that Kennedy should get a bike and start riding to work Cameron-style. He should look at the way that Cameron has used his cycling to make one political point after another.

The bike says that he’s fit and healthy whatever he might have done in his youth. It says that this guy is confident enough of himself that he does not need the trappings of office like a car to work. It also says that while others might be talking about global warming and the environment that he, in his own personal way, is doing something about it.

For a day or so Kennedy cycling to work would attract a huge amount of publicity and no doubt detractors would be saying that he was just copying Cameron. But after he got into it he would feel the real physical benefits as well as finding that a bike is probably the fastest and most stress-free way of getting about Central London.

    Go on Charles – be daring – get on a bike.

After all if any party leader is to travel like this it should be the Lib Dem one.

Mike Smithson



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Ousting Blair – the unlikely partnership

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

    Can the Prime Minister survive 2006?

It was Peter Oborne in the Spectator earlier in the month who observed that David Cameron and Gordon Brown had an extraordinary shared strategic purpose – they both want Tony Blair out as soon as possible.

Brown’s desire to take what he regards as rightly his is probably the most documented political drama of modern times – and the longer he has to wait the greater the chance of something going wrong. Cameron’s desire to get Blair out of the way as soon as possible so he is facing Brown is only now becoming apparent.

Martin Kettle describes it like this is today’s Guardian: “Cameron has twin tactics for making the Conservatives electable. The first is to move the Tory party from the right to the centre. This week’s Guardian poll shows just how well that is going. ..the second tactic is equally simple. It is to get Blair out as soon as possible. Early days these may be, but those Cameronian embraces of Blair have a cold logic. The aim – aided and abetted by the Daily Telegraph’s rediscovered bias – is to divide Blair from his party in the hope that a Labour revolt will clear the Tories’ most formidable foe from their path. If Blair is forced out, Cameron will paint Labour as the enemy of change and reform. He will say that the Tories are the party that can achieve what Blair failed to do. And he may very well succeed. Because important parts of that message would be true.”

The Education Bill is the current big issue and the public expressions of unease by John Prescott show the challenge facing Blair. If he waters down the Bill he gets attacked by Cameron while if he doesn’t there’s the prospect of a big Labour rebellion.

Even if the Prime Minister skirts his way round this problem then other issues will emerge and he will face the same challenge again.

    But nobody ever got rich underestimating Tony Blair’s ability to survive.

Time and time again the betting markets have been indicating an early departure but each time Blair has bounced back. We’ve had going into the Iraq War without UN sanction, the Hutton Inquiry and the rebellion earlier in the year on tuition fees and in each case Blair came out on top.

For those, like me, who get pleasure in viewing politics as a spectator sport 2006 looks very promising. Will Blair survive? The form books indicates that he will but there’s a new Opposition Leader to deal with.

For betting on when Blair will go click here.

Mike Smithson



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Osborne 5/1 to be next Chancellor

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005
    Brown succession worries cause Balls price to ease

One market we have not looked at for some time is “who will succeed Gordon Brown as Chancellor?” In one of those quirks that sometimes happen on betting markets the close Tory colleague of David Cameron, George Osborne is now 5/1.

    For Osborne to be Brown’s successor Tony Blair has to continue right up to the General Election, the Tories have to win, and David Cameron has to decide to leave Osborne with the Treasury brief. You would also be locking up your money for, perhaps, four years. Just 5/1 for all of that seems ungenerous to say the least.

This seems to have been caused by a very light market and a change in sentiment about Ed Balls – former close adviser to Gordon Brown who became an MP in May. A month ago Balls had tightened to evens but he’s now moved out to 2.75/1 – probably because his future is very much linked to Brown securing the leadership and this is not quite as certain as it looked.

Balls is always popping up to give interviews when Gordon is not available which would normally seem odd for a rookie back-bencher. But Balls is no normal MP after being Brown’s closest adviser for a decade. Negatives are his hectoring style which seems stuck in the 1990s and his powers as an orator that make David Davis’s infamous Blackpool speech sound good.

Just after the General Election we suggested that the then 4.2/1 Balls price might be a better way of profiting from Brown succeeding than the odds-on price then being quoted on the Chancellor. The argument being, of course, that Brown would choose Balls to take over at Number 11. Given Gordon’s less than certain position now and Balls’s underwhelming performances anything tighter now should be avoided.

REMEMBER TO BOOK FOR THE PB.C PARTY. Saturday January 14, “Star Tavern” Belgrave Mews West, London SW1 (nearest tube Hyde Park Corner but also 10 minutes walk or an affordable taxi ride from Victoria – for those who attended the last one, it’s the same venue). Time – from 6 o’clock onwards. Please contact Innocent Abroad if you want to attend.

Mike Smithson