Archive for June, 2007

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Is this man Labour’s secret Tory mole?

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

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    Can Leigh force his party off the middle-ground?

This is Edward Leigh – the anti-abortion, anti contraception, anti-genetic research and anti-gay rights campaigner who is calling for his party to shift the policy focus away from the centre ground back to traditional “Tory values”.

Perhaps he ought to read this piece by the usually well-informed writer, who also uses the term “Mole” in the First Post. Earlier in the week he wrote on the Davies defection: “..What is becoming increasingly clear is that the defection of Quentin Davies and the appointment of non Labour ministers is part of a much wider and more sophisticated strategy by Gordon Brown to pull the rug from under David Cameron…Brown aims to relentlessly undermine Cameron’s leadership of his party to encourage a rebellion by the Tory right against the Leader of the Opposition…Brown wants the Tory right to flex its muscles to force Cameron back from the centre ground. Davies’ defection will fuel the pressure on the leadership to return to traditional Conservative values.

Clearly that makes absolute sense for Brown knows more than anybody that the heart of New Labour’s appeal in the past three elections was that it had abandoned much of the policy platform that had made it unelectable. Cameron knows that too and the support the Tories have picked picked up since he became leader has been mostly from the centre.

    Quite simply traditional Tories don’t matter any more. Their views are as irrelevant as they are quaint. The only small hope they have got is to force the party leadership to abandon its appeal the centre voters thus continuing the party’s long-drawn out suicide.

What Gordon can do to cause this dissent will be the battleground for the next election. He’s a great strategist but will he succeed?

I don’t know and cannot call the next election.

Mike Smithson



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Could the by elections halt the Brown honeymoon?

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

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    Is July a good by election month for the LDs?

One of the big bets of the Gordon Brown era has been that “Labour losing a by election” might be the first to happen from a range of options listed by William Hill. Given that almost all the other items in the market – “Raith Rovers winning promotion”, “A full UK withdrawal from Iraq”, “Gordon and Sarah having another child” etc – seem far more remote the 10/1 that was available on Wednesday looked great value.

This was one of those bets you just had to go for quickly and punters stormed in. Within hours the price tightened to 5/1. It’s now at 3/1. What makes it attractive is that even if the party holds Southall and Sedgefield on July 19th the bets will still be valid until one of the other options comes about.

    So could those who got money on, including me, be looking forward to a nice profit in less than three weeks? How vulnerable is Labour in Sedgefield and Southall?

A site regular, pobedonoscev, has sent me the above table showing how the support for the main parties changed, compared with the previous general election, in all the by elections that have been held in July over the past quarter of a century.

So of the 13 seats that have had July by elections the Lib Dems have picked up four and safely defended another one. The chart also shows how even in those places that it failed to win the party saw biggish increases in its vote share.

Quite why July is special is hard to explain – but the hours of daylight are much longer, the summer holidays are starting, and many more volunteers are available to flood into the constituencies.

    Where the Lib Dems out-gun the other parties is in the literature that they produce and the ability to deliver it, sometimes almost daily, to nearly every household. They have also got great expertise in knowing what messages to put over when.

On June 29th last year, almost in July, the party nearly pulled off a sensational result in Bromley even though the national polls were all going for Cameron’s Tories. From third place at the general election they overtook Labour and got to within 633 votes of victory.

A challenge for Labour is that it finds it harder to get its vote out when the government of the country is not at stake.

On a personal note I was due to host a Lib Dem quiz night in Bedford this weekend. It got cancelled on Friday because all the key players are off in Southall 70 miles away.

Mike Smithson



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“Labour 4% ahead with ICM” – reports

Friday, June 29th, 2007

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    Gordon gets his predicted bounce at last

There are reports of two polls for tomorrow’s papers showing Labour leads with the ICM survey for the Guardian having a the party at 39% against the Tories on 35%.

I’ll report more as soon as there is news.

UPDATE 2130: The actual shares in the polls are changes on the previous poll from the pollster are:

  • ICM (in the Guardian) CON 35% (-2): LAB 39% (+7): LD 18% (-3)
  • YouGov (in the Telegraph) CON 35% (-2): LAB 38% (+3): LD 15% (+1)
  • There can be no doubt that these are very good figures for Labour but it would have been surprising if they had been anything else. The way the transition has been so orderly without any problems and the huge, largely positive, media attention over the past weeks should have given Labour this massive shot in the arm.

    Will it be sustained? Who knows? But this evening I entered the “length of Gordon’s first term” spread market and sold at 85.5 weeks. The better Labour poll the more people will start talking about an earlier election and the lower this number will go.


    Mike Smithson



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    Sean Fear’s Friday slot

    Friday, June 29th, 2007

      Do Local Elections Point to Parliamentary Results?

    Very often, the answer to this question is No. Good sets of local election results for the Conservatives in 2000 and 2004 were followed by big defeats in general elections the following year. More specifically, seats where a party has a big lead in local elections one year, may produce an equally big lead for another party at Parliamentary level. To take one example, the Liberal Democrats have been a strong force in Liverpool local government since 1973, yet have largely failed to transform that into success at Parliamentary level (David Alton’s success notwithstanding).

    There are several obvious reason for this. Firstly, people split their votes in different types of election. The same voter might vote Liberal Democrat at local level, Labour at Parliamentary level, and UKIP at European level, for example. It is clear, likewise, that lots of people who vote Conservative in Wandsworth’s local elections, will have voted Labour in the last three general elections. Secondly, an incumbent MP can build up a level of popularity that outweighs that of their party locally. Gisela Stuart, for example, is popular in Edgbaston, and held her seat in 2001 and 2005, notwithstanding that the Conservatives generally lead by 20-25% in local elections in her constituency. Thirdly, local elections are usually held at different points in the electoral cycle to general elections. A proportion of voters will use local elections as a means of protesting against the government of the day, or will stay at home, before going out to vote for that government in a general election.

      However, local elections cannot be dismissed as entirely irrelevant to Parliamentary contests. Sometimes, they do point to long-term shifts in political allegiance at every level.

    One example of this is the London overspill towns and estates, which were, for many years strongly supportive of Labour. In recent years, however, towns like Hatfield, Borehamwood, Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, and Harlow, have shown marked shifts away from Labour, which were backed up by big swings to the Conservatives at the 2005 general election. Such towns had shown considerable support for the Conservatives at Parliamentary level, in the 1980s, while continually voting solidly for Labour at local level. In the future, they can probably be regarded as Conservative in anything other than a bad year. Likewise, the collapse in Conservative support in the 1994 local elections, in places like Streatham, Hornsey and Wood Green, and Croydon North, pointed to a permanent shift in outlook among the voters in those places.

    All parties depend on local councillors to keep going in many places. A local party can probably survive the occasional heavy defeat at local level, and keep its organisation going, but when it is beaten year in and year out in local elections, its activists will tend to drift away. At the same time, the voters will have got into the habit of voting for its opponents. There are quite a few parts of the country where one party was dominant for many years, and where there now seems to be no way back for it.

    Last night’s by-election results were generally quite good for Labour, although there were some unusual local circumstances.

    Sandwell MBC, Charlemont/Grove Vale. Conservatives 870, Labour 801, BNP 544, Liberal Democrats 238,Greens 71. Conservative hold. On the face of it, this shows a strong swing to Labour, compared with May. However, the outgoing Conservative councillor had been found guilty of a serious criminal offence, and the Conservatives actually did rather well to hold this.

    Nuneaton & Bedworth DC, Slough. Labour 862, BNP 582, Conservative 499, English Democrat 102, Liberal Democrat 83. Labour gain from Conservative. The Conservatives won this ward in 2004, but Labour won it in 2006. This was still a very good result for Labour, and a very good result for the BNP also.

    Milton Keynes UA, Whaddon. Labour 1108, Conservative 914, England First Party, 221, Liberal Democrat 129, UKIP 109, IND 49. Labour hold. The respective positions of Labour and the Conservatives are almost unchanged, compared to 2004.

    Wigan MBC, Tydesley. Liberal Democrat 784, Labour 619, Independent 377, Conservative 170. Liberal Democrat hold. This showed a huge swing to Labour, compared with May. However, it must be pointed out that the outgoing Liberal Democrat councillor had been disqualified, and the victorious Liberal Democrat had just finished a period of disqualification. In the circumstances, the Liberal Democrats probably did well to retain the seat.

    Pendle BC, Craven. Liberal Democrat, 632, Conservative 260, Independent 241, BNP 237, Labour 76. A solid Liberal Democrat hold.

    Sean Fear, a London Tory, writes a weekly column here.



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    Is it worth betting on an early general election?

    Friday, June 29th, 2007

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      New spread market: How many weeks to go?

    Spread-betting works best when it is linked to a specific numerical outcome such as “how many seats will Labour get?” or “how many states will the Democrats take in the 2008 White House Race?”. You look at the prices and decide whether the total will be lower, in which case you sell, or higher in which case you buy.

    You choose how much you want to bet and that becomes your stake level. So if you think in this new market that Gordon will go to the country earlier than the May 2009 suggested by the prices you sell at the current 84.5 level. Should the polls continue to be good for Labour and Brown decides to risk it in, say, October this year the outcome might be 13 weeks. In that case your profit would be 84.5 minus the 13 multiplied by your stake.

      The seductive principle being that the more you are right the more you win and the more you are wrong the more you lose.

    What can make this form of betting so tantalising to some gamblers is that you can close down your position earlier and pocket your profit or curtail a potential loss. So you are not betting on what will actually happen but your assessment of what other punters will do.

    Thus over the past few months I’ve been trading the number of seats that Labour will get at the election buying and selling when I think that sentiment might change and the market will move.

    So what about the new “Gordon Brown weeks” market that is featured? Is there value in the buy price 88.75 weeks or the sell price of 84.5?

    What’s going to drive this, surely, is Labour’s poll position and punters’ assessment of whether Gord would take a gamble by going earlier. So if the Brown honeymoon continues and poll ratings look good then the spread will drop and there might be profits to be had.

      But if the Brown honeymoon is brought to a stop by, say, poor Labour by election performances in three weeks then the chances of the parliament going to its full five year term will be seen as being greater and the spread will rise.

    At these prices the outcome is finely balanced and I don’t have much conviction either way at the moment – so I am going to pass. But I will be watching the Lib Dems in both Ealing Southall and Sedgefield. If there are signs of a sensation then I might buy in this market – if not then I could sell.

    Mike Smithson

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    PBC chosen to be part of the National Web Archive

    Thursday, June 28th, 2007

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      Site seen as being of “potential historical importance”

    Politicalbetting has been chosen by the British Library as one of very few blogs that will form part of the UK National Web Archive.

    A number of institutions are involved and the British Library is handling “sites of research value reflecting national culture and events of historical importance. These could include web pages focusing on key events in national life, museum web pages, e-theses, selected blogs to support research material and web-based literary and creative projects by British subjects.”

    This means that our archives will be copied and preserved by the BL so they are available to both current and future generations of researchers.

    The archiving will not affect the day-to-day operation of the site and users will continue to be able to access all our records going back to March 2004 from our existing server. But it could be that something could happen to that and the BL archiving will ensure that everything that has been written on here will be available for posterity.

    I’ve often been amazed at the information that’s contained in some of our threads which give a real flavour, sometimes minute by minute, of how political happenings are being seen.

    The BL archiving will, hopefully, mean that we can slim down the records that we make available here – a factor that is now causing our server to operate less efficiently.

    To give an idea of the scale of what’s involved an average of 30,000 words is written on the site each and every day.

    All of those who have participated in the discussions can feel a little pride that what’s contained here has been recognised in this way.

    Mike Smithson



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    Has Jack Straw been sold short?

    Thursday, June 28th, 2007

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      Should he have got a better job for fixing Gord’s coronation?

    In the immediate aftermath of Jack Straw’s appointment as Brown’s campaign manager there was a widespread assumption that the man who has been both Home secretary and Foreign Secretary would be in line a top ministerial post.

    Following his hugely effective operation that closed off other potential contenders and then stopped any challenge being mounted the chances of Straw getting something really big appeared to be a near certainty. Surely, it appeared, Gordon would show his gratitude when he drew up the cabinet list. There was even talk for a while of him being made Deputy PM?

    So what are we to make of his new job in charge of the new Ministry of Justice. This looks like scant reward for all that he has given his leader.

    In the new cabinet list that has just been issued Straw ranks in seventh position after Darling, David Miliband, Jacqui Smith, Alan Johnson, Ed Balls and John Denham. That looks like a demotion to me.

    Maybe Gord doesn’t do gratitude?

    UPDATE: Since writing the post the Cabinet website has “Jack Straw has also been appointed to First Secretary of State, the most senior Secretary of State in Cabinet.” So maybe I have done Gordon an injustice.

    Mike Smithson



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    Is Labour ready to forgive the gang of four split?

    Thursday, June 28th, 2007

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      Will Shirley Williams be able to “re-rat”?

    Winston Churchill famously coined the phrase “Anyone could “rat” but it took a certain ingenuity to “re-rat” after being elected as a Conservative MP, switching to the Liberal four years later, and then re-joining the Tories.

    With the news that Gordon Brown has been in conversation with Shirley Williams the question arises – will she be able to pull off what Churchill did and “re-rat”.

    For in 1981 Shirley, along with Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rogers famously split the Labour party by leaving in order to set up the SDP. They cited major differences over European and defence policies and were uncomfortable with what they saw as a sharp turn to the left under leader Michael Foot.

      To bring Shirl into the government, even if only in the advisory role being suggested, is a risk. What those four did in 1981 is still remembered by many within the Labour movement who might not be so ready to forgive.

    Could reconciling Labour with the SDP split of 1981 be Gordon’s Clause 4 moment?

    Mike Smithson