Archive for the 'EU matters' Category


Remain’s long term problems

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Even if Remain wins in June, there may be future In/Out referendums and that should give Leave hope and worry Remain.

One of the most interesting aspects of this referendum campaign is David Cameron ignoring Harold Wilson’s precedent of sitting out an In/Out EC/EU referendum. The reason for the breaking this precedent might be that Remain doesn’t have anyone of the stature or relative popularity of David Cameron to front them. It is a less than a year since Cameron’s party received more votes than any other party in a general election this century, for which much of that is down to Cameron.

It maybe purely out of necessity that Cameron is having to lead the Remain campaign*, he knows if he loses, he ceases to be Prime Minister, despite his desire to continue it might not be up to him. If he tries to continue as Prime Minister after losing the referendum, I would hate to be Graham Brady’s postman, they would undoubtedly get a hernia delivering the post to Graham Brady in the days after the 23rd of June.

If Cameron had declared himself hors de combat for this campaign, you can imagine Remain struggling, there would have been no Obama/Cameron press conference on Friday that has so convinced the betting markets to swing behind Remain. Speaking from experience, it is a great advantage when you’re campaigning to have David Cameron as the figurehead for your campaign. I suspect some of the more passionate Tory Leavers’ frustration and anger is in part based on the regret David Cameron isn’t fronting the Leave side, deep down they know he would be using similar strategy and tactics for Leave.

Such strategy and tactics might well have been similarly effective for Leave, David Cameron is ruthless when it comes to winning elections and plebiscites. Leavers in the Tory Party are beginning to have some sympathy with Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, and The Scottish Independence movement, as Cameron is using the same tactics in the EU referendum that were used in the AV and Scottish Independence referenda, as well as the 2015 general election.

Another issue for Remain is that Tory leaders during the last fifty years are generally more Eurosceptic than their predecessor. There’s an inarguable case to be made that Cameron is the most Eurosceptic Leader in office the Tories have ever had. He’s giving the country an IN/OUT referendum, in contrast one of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher, signed The Single European Act. Even after her fiercely Eurosceptic speech in Bruges she took The UK into The Exchange Rate Mechanism, these two actions  have done more to integrate The UK into the European project than anything Cameron has ever done in office.

It is very likely  the next Tory leader is someone who is currently campaigning for Brexit. Within a few years of the 1975 referendum, Labour had elected as leader someone who made Labour fight the 1983 general election on a manifesto that would withdraw the UK from the European Community. Just like Scottish Independence, the will of the people might be superseded by a further election.

Even the most ardent Pro-EU supporter can see the European Union evolving in the short term not necessarily to the UK’s advantage, particularly the Eurozone and the countries therein. That may lead to another referendum in the near future, and it does appear that some Remainers are presenting Remain as the least worst option, which is not a tenable long term position. The closest comparison I can come up with is the 1992 general election, whilst dealing with a recession and its aftermath, the Tories effectively presented themselves as the least worst option, it worked in the short term, but helped contribute to their shellacking in 1997.

Just look at the picture in the tweet at the top of this piece,  whilst it might not be those two, it is plausible that a future UK In/Out referendum might take place with people similar to those two in power, lacking the relationship Cameron and Obama have, and that also might not be to Remain’s advantage. I can’t imagine Corbyn and Trump sharing a political strategist in the way Obama and Cameron used the talents of Jim Messina.

A future Tory leader might break the precedent of Thatcher and Cameron and campaign for Leave, after all it might be in their interests to campaign for Leave. Nor should Remainers assume a future Leave campaign will be as poor as this current one has been. 

Much like the IRA, Leave only have to be lucky once. Remain will have to be lucky always, Remain appear to have all the luck this time, but in a future referendum, they may not.


*Of course other plausible reasons are that Cameron genuinely believes his position and is campaigning as such or he wishes not to be labelled frit.


Why those opposed to the Tories should hope that June 23rd fails to resolve the blue team’s #EURef schism

Monday, April 18th, 2016

It’s in non-CON interests for the Tory battles to go on and on

A party at war is pretty sight if you are not a supporter. The way this first Monday of the official referendum campaign has gone isn’t doing the Tories any favours and it is going to go on and on.

It is an extraordinary spectacle. A Conservative Chancellor sets out projections of what BREXIT could cost and we see a huge effort from fellow Tories to both discredit the figures and the man itself.

Anyone who comes out with anything that’s vaguely supportive of REMAIN has to reckon on coming under a pile of aggressive abuse from LEAVE backers. Those wanting out are more than ready to play the ball as well as the man.

If the Scottish IndyRef on 2014 is anything to go by this will get louder and stronger the closer we get to the day.

I’m sure that Cameron and his team regard the next eight weeks of party in-fighting is a small price to pay to resolving an issue that has so divided the party since the summer of 1992. The worry must be that battles will l continue after the vote.

Cameron really needs a 10%+ victory.

Mike Smithson


This week’s PB Polling Matters TV Show on BREXIT turnout, Trump and how to spread bet on politics

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

This week Keiran Pedley is on holiday so I took the chair for the first time to host the programme which turned out to be quite lively.

Guests were Leo Barasi and Ed Fulton – the US specialist from Sporting Index. I was pleased with the outcome which is, I hope, a good watch.

There’s quite a focus on the betting angle with some interesting tips.

Thanks for all the position reactions to earlier episodes.

UPDATE: The audio podcast version is now available

Mike Smithson


Nick Palmer says both sides in the referendum have got to stop sounding so gloomy

Saturday, March 26th, 2016


Positive messages might swing votes

It’s been widely observed that the referendum campaign is a contest between negatives. Vote Remain because leaving would reduce the country to smouldering ashes, or Vote Leave because remaining would doom us to surrender to Brussels bureaucrats forever. The impression given is that we have a choice of extremely bearish scenarios, with little hope either way.

It is generally accepted by professionals that the outcome will be decided by people who have no strong prior views on the EU (or, in some cases, even a clear picture of what it does or how it does it). What will they decide as they eye the alternative slavering bears?

The risk for Leave is that they think “It all sounds scary, but my life today is sort of OK, so I’ll vote to stay where we are”. This presumed reaction is why the betting markets are shrugging off the toss-up polls. However, the risk for Remain is that they think “It all sounds confusing, so as I’ve no strong views I think I’ll sit it out.” Since people who really feel strongly are on balance pro-Leave, the danger is surely larger for Remain.

Why are the campaigns so negative? Several reasons:

Remain is being largely run by the Conservative leadership, who are not very keen on the EU in the first place and have spent years trying to persuade backbenchers that they will make it, er, less bad.

Leave has rival, contradictory visions (EEA and “fully out”), both of which have snags: it seems safer to focus on the perceived flaws of the status quo.

British politics is predominantly negative anyway. Every General Election is fought predominantly on the perceived horrors of the other side.

Nonetheless, Remain need to do something to counter this, or they will lose. In particular, they will lose the predominantly favourable Labour voters. At present, the argument seems a sordid squabble between rival right-wingers. Do we trust Cameron and Osborne, or Boris and Farage? The obvious answer: “neither”.

Remain needs two separate new threads to their campaign to add to Project Fear – and there isn’t any reason why they need to be in perfect harmony (if Leave can have mutually exclusive alternatives, so can Remain).

First, they need to give air time in the broadcasts and debates to someone who actually likes the EU. A positive theme is needed for a section of the population who will otherwise sit it out. The core theme of this should be “It’s the first project to work constructively together across our continent for a thousand years, and it would be mad for Britain not to want to play a part in shaping it.”

This means giving Alan Johnson a prominent role. He’s making plenty of speeches but they aren’t being reported. There is a major pro-Europe Corbyn speech in the pipeline, but Johnson is crucial too: he will reach voters beyond the party faithful. Put him in the broadcasts.

Second, Cameron needs to muster a positive case for sceptics. “Yes, there are things we find frustrating about the EU. But it isn’t going away, it’s on our doorstep. It already has many advantages for us, and we need to be in there making it better.”

Just stop sounding so damn gloomy – or you’ll lose.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010


Deal done – and combined with LEAVE’s Galloway error of judgment, it might be enough

Saturday, February 20th, 2016


The initiative swings back to Remain

But for Tony Marlow’s blazer, Michael Portillo might have ended up prime minister rather than a rail-hopping TV presenter. To have done so, he needed John Redwood to do sufficiently well in the first round of the Conservative Party leadership election against John Major. Redwood, however, never really recovered from his initial press conference when he “was lost in a mass of eccentric jackets and lime-green silk”, as Major put it. That one press conference “did more to send wavering backbenchers into my camp than several days’ hard campaigning”. In the end, Major received three votes more than the target he set himself. Had Major fallen short, the door would have opened to Portillo.

It’s a good example of the butterfly effect in action. It’s also a reminder of how important it is to get the tone right when the course of events is in a maximum state of flux. That’s why the Grassroots Out event for the Leaver campaign that chose to make George Galloway its star surprise speaker blundered so badly. Like those Tory MP in 1995, today’s wavering politicians must be wondering whether this is a crowd to cosy up to.

Chief among those undecideds is Boris, mayor of London, MP for Uxbridge & South Ruislip and man of ambition. Leave would love to draft him to their campaign which at the moment lacks star quality, charisma and heavyweights. Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and IDS are serious politicians but hardly popular or colourful ones. Which is why placing Galloway centre-stage was such an error: not only will it inhibit those who might not want to appear alongside him but it places a question mark against the judgement of the whole campaign.

It is of course true that most people won’t have noticed Galloway’s appearance tonight. It’s also true that Galloway can speak to a demographic that people like Farage, IDS or even Boris can’t. Both arguments miss the point.

In the first case, the election isn’t being fought now but the teams are being picked. Referendums are usually won by the side with the most popular leading figures. That wasn’t the case with the Scottish referendum but there Yes did make large gains during the campaign, consistent with the rule; they just weren’t large enough. With the EU vote starting off near enough level pegging, that exception doesn’t apply. Unless Leave can recruit a better team it will struggle to attract the centre and centre-left.

On the second point, Leave is already overloaded with marmite politicians such as Gove and IDS. Those two might help with the thinking centre-right but are anathema to many others. Galloway is even worse and could easily repel some of those that the cabinet ministers attract. The best they can do is try to hide him away, though as he intends to stand for London mayor in May, that may be easier said than done.

    As for the deal itself, the political question is whether there’s enough in it to enable politicians and activists to go out with conviction. On that score, I suspect it is.

Leave will no doubt try to pick holes in it, arguing that it’s not a treaty so isn’t legally binding and, minor benefit changes aside, is largely a statement of intent that the ECJ can and probably will overrule. There may be some truth to some of that but the statement of intent of itself should not be ignored: having reached agreement this week, it ought to be entirely possible to incorporate the clauses into treaty form at the next opportunity. Every state is signed up.

Again though, that’s detail for those who care about these things. The referendum will be won and lost far more on impressions and gut feeling. The quality of each side’s campaign will undoubtedly influence that but even more so, so will who is making it. On that score, for the first time in a while, not only did Remain had much the better of it yesterday but they can feel more confident about the campaign ahead.

David Herdson


Back at Westminster the wait continues

Friday, February 19th, 2016



As the crucial Brussels talks go into day 2 it’s far from clear that Cameron will get a deal

Friday, February 19th, 2016


Today should determine whether the referendum will be on June 23rd

Once again all eyes will be on Brussels as Cameron seeks to get an EU deal that he’s confident will be sellable in the referendum.

Judging by the reporting in some of the press he has some way to go and it might be that this ends today without agreement. In that situation there will have to be more talks at a later date and it is going to be very hard to meet the deadline for a June 23rd vote.

That might suit Cameron. He has to be seen to have pushed hard and to claim some sort of victory in order that the narrative of the campaign is positive for him

If June 23rd can’t be met then the next likely referendum date will be September.

Whatever happens there is little he can  do that is ever going to satisfy hardliners in the OUT camp. They want to leave and they want the current talks to fail. 

    That is a weakness in their position because Cameron will be able to claim that whatever he achieves was always going to be be rubbished by the BREXIT fundamentalists.

The pressure on the other EU member states is that they don’t want this to drag on. There are many other things they should be concentrating on.

Mike Smithson


Germany’s inherited war-shame is in danger of eating itself

Saturday, January 9th, 2016


But the consequences of Merkel’s madness will be felt Europe-wide

Germany paid a heavy price for the world wars. Only during Angela Merkel’s chancellorship were the loans for WWI reparations finally paid off. That cost, however, pales into insignificance compared with the legacy of the second War. The human and material losses were of course disastrous but perhaps the most lasting legacy was psychological: the national shame of the past and the consequent and reflexive determination – craving, even – to be a good global citizen and atone for the sins of the grandfathers.

That impulse is the only rational explanation for Angela Merkel’s mad decision to invite a million unscreened asylum seekers and migrants into the country last year (mostly in the last six months). It’s also presumably the reason why there’s been so little heated debate within the country about it – not something that would have happened in just about any other European country.

The lack of debate can be put down to an extreme sensitivity about the mix of politics and race or culture; again, a consequence of the post-war consensus. Hence the comment from Cologne’s mayor in the wake of what appears to have been mass criminality that any suggestions that the perpetrators might have been refugees were “absolutely impermissible”. Not inappropriate, not ugly, not wrong (in either sense), not misguided: impermissible; forbidden. Or, put another way, not breaking the taboo on commenting on race is seen by her as more important than freedom of speech, even if the comment is true.

Were it just a single overly sensitive local politician, one could write it off but the comments and actions or inactions of too many others involved, apparently including police and media cover-ups, suggests that the mind-set extends well across Germany’s ruling classes.

One cannot, however, accept a million immigrants, whether refugees or migrants, in a year without expecting consequences. Tensions will arise from simple pressures on local services at one end, to the kind of culture-related problems seen across various European cities on New Year’s Eve, at the other. There will be a backlash; all the more so if establishment figures pretend it isn’t happening or blame the victims, as Cologne’s hapless mayor also did. It’s all very well to argue, rightly, that those involved were a small minority of Germany’s refugees; the fact that the disturbances and assaults happened and are directly related to the migrant policy is all that matters.

And therein lie the political consequences. The Schengen Area, one of the EU’s greatest achievements, is practically comatose. The potential consequences for Britain and the referendum debate were discussed on politicalbetting last week (after the events in Cologne and elsewhere but before the news had broken), and the analysis there remains valid. On the wider question of how to deal with the migrant crisis, Cameron has a strong case to argue that in demanding more support for the refugees in the neighbouring Middle East countries, he called it right. All the same, the question now has to be whether the consequences will be more widespread.

The answer to that is contained within a whole series of known unknowns. Will there be more episodes of disorder, particularly criminal disorder, from migrant communities? Will there be any terrorism from individuals who entered as migrants (how easy would it have been for Daesh to have sent a couple of hundred fighters into Europe awaiting orders?). From Munich to Belgium, scares and warnings have come thick and fast these last few weeks. Less dramatically, but not necessarily less significantly, how many migrants from Africa and the Middle East will 2016 bring?

And then there’s France with its presidential election next year, where National Front leader Marine Le Pen was already generally leading the first-round polling with only veteran ex-PM Alain Juppé (who may or may not beat Sarkozy to the Republicans’ nomination) giving her a run for her money. Could she go one better than her father and actually win? To even ask the question is a measure of how far the new Europe has moved, as is the fact that she’s no better than 5/1 (Ladbrokes) to win outright with the bookies. The answer ought to be ‘no’, although it’s notable that in the head-to-head against the Socialist candidates she regularly polls 40%+: she is not a wholly marmite candidate and can attract transfer support from the centre-right. But the centre-right ought to have a candidate of their own in the second round and if so, as things stand, he will win.

To state that though is to ignore the 16 months of uncertainties between now and the election; uncertainties both political and economic. I certainly wouldn’t write off the chances of a National Front president of France. And that could be the bitterly ironic legacy of Merkel’s madness.

David Herdson

p.s. I’m in the job market. If anyone knows of a writing, analysis, comment, opinion, political strategy or other like job they think I might be good at and interested in, please drop me a line at . Cheers.