Archive for the 'General' Category


The general election now the UK’s number one story

Friday, April 10th, 2015

I do like this weekly Tweet from Populus which can put a lot of things into context. Too often those deeply immersed in politics tend to overstate importance of what seem to them to be major developments to the outside world. This brings it down to earth.

At the moment the reference to the election is non-specific – but will we start to see specific issues on the Populus table?

The problem with non-doms is that virtually nobody understands what is being talked about apart from the idea that a group of people are, it is alleged, not paying enough tax.

Good to see the debates in the list.

Next week we have the manifestos and soon the postal voting packs will arrive on electors’ doormats.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


At this stage in 2010 bullish punters pushed the betting to a CON majority of 36 completely in defiance of the polling

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Are CON punters being grossly optimistic yet again?

Last night John Rentoul asked me what had happened in the betting at this stage of the 2010 campaign and I dug up the above – an index that I created and reported regularly on here based on the spread betting and Betfair line prices.

At this stage in the last campaign the Tories had begun to falter in the polls and the established firms had them with leads of 5-7% which pointed to them winning most seats but some way back from an overall majority. This was indeed what happened.

    Yet the polling did not arrest the what turned out to be the grossly over-confident blue mood on the betting markets as the above PB Index shows. The money was piling on an overall majority in spite of the ample polling evidence that this wasn’t going to happen.

I think that that is repeating itself now. The betting is strongly suggesting that the Tories will win most seats even though the polls are showing small but consistent LAB leads

Apart from the Ashcroft weekly poll, which hasn’t had Miliband’s party ahead this year, there’s a pretty consistent pattern from the others. Even with LAB’s Scottish problems they’ve got at least a 50-50 chance of beating the Tories on seats.

It appears that the mood is driven by a rock solid conviction that when voters are presented with the possibility of Ed Miliband becoming PM they will shy away.

Maybe they will but there’s nothing in the polling to support that at the moment. I was struck by yesterday’s ComRes finding that just 12% said that the key factor in voting choice is which party leader will make best PM.

Mike Smithson

For 11 years viewing politics from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Betfair punters rate Tory chances of an overall majority as being higher than a LAB but think that Labour will win more seats

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

But LAB to win most seats still marginal favourite

The big conclusion is that it’s going to be very tight


Extraordinary and moving pictures from Paris

Sunday, January 11th, 2015


Forget PMQ reactions – the big story this afternoon is the killing in Paris

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015


For your Christmas Day entertainment – Guess the Constituency

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

Right then folks, as there are no local by-elections today and by the end of today you are all liable to be dozing off not in the middle of Her Majesty’s speech I hope (after all those betting markets were suspended earlier in the month thanks to some unusual betting patterns) it’s time to get those old grey cells into working order ready for the torrent of polls that will flood us from the first week in January onwards.

Here are ten constituency maps (taken from Google Earth using the maps created by the Tally Room website in Australia) which are a combination of 1997 – 2010 and 2010 boundaries. All you have to do is to guess the name of the constituency and which party won that seat at the last election at which it was contested and the MP who won that seat.

To see the maps in greater detail click here.

Harry Hayfield


Austria, Serbia and George W Bush

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

first world war posters   Google Search (2)

The descent into WWI is a 21st Century story

Sepia-toned silent images of black-coated or feather-hatted diplomats lend a reassuring distance to the events that plunged the world into war a hundred years ago this week.  It looks like a world long since vanished and in one sense, it is.  However, like much of that story, it is an illusion; all the more dangerous for the complacency that false reassurance breeds.

    Far from being a different age, the threats posed by rogue governments, state-sponsored (or at least, state-cloaked) terrorism and extremist violence are more relevant now than at just about any time since 1914. 

Indeed, when George W Bush had to respond to the Twin Towers attacks, he was placed in a very similar position to the Austrians after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

Both outrages were direct attacks against not just the soil and people of the respective great power but represented a symbolic attack too.  Equally, both were carried out by terrorist organisations that enjoyed the tacit patronage of their host governments to the extent that the line dividing them was distinctly porous: they shared objectives and beliefs, and not infrequently, personnel.

Understanding that is crucial to understanding both why the Austrian government sent such a harsh ultimatum, demanding that Serbia allow Austria to conduct its own inquiry.  Quite simply, there was no way a Serbian inquiry could be trusted to investigate properly as if it did, it would implicate itself.  Refusing the Austrian demand that Sebia cede its sovereignty might have given the Serbs a little cover under international law but as the initial act could easily be regarded as a casus belli of itself, only a little.

Here, the parallel switches to Iraq.  Most would now agree that the Iraq War was a monumental blunder on any number of levels.  Many thought it would be at the time, though we should distinguish between those who believed in managing the risk Saddam presented and the views of those who would bury their heads in the sand and try to wish the situation away.  Bush’s problem, like the Austrians’, was that the weapons inspectors were being given the run around in exactly the same way that Pasic’s Serbian government would have given the Austrians had they allowed them in.  Just as Saddam was trying to strike a balance between providing no evidence to the West that he had WMD’s and retaining the belief among his local opponents that he had, so Pasic could not afford to give an outright no to Austria but nor could he allow them to find anything incriminating.  Both countries could sustain the contradictory policies only until the terrorism of 1914 and 2001 changed the game.  A that point, both the Austrian and American administrations decided that a government that couldn’t be trusted on such matters was by definition a sufficient threat to justify war.

Of course, one principal difference between Serbia in 1914 and either Iraq or Afghanistan this century is that neither of those two had any meaningful international support whereas Serbia could rely on Russia, and by extension, France and probably Britain.  That, however, is more a distinction of detail than consequence given the breadth of international sympathy and strength of US feeling in the days following 11 September 2001.  Unlike Nicholas II (or more accurately, his ministers), no modern leader is likely to commit to the suicide of their regime and country on behalf of a bunch of fanatics (not that the tsar meant to either, but foresight of the consequences of a major war is clearer now than then).

Where do these lessons leave policy today?  That’s a much more difficult question.  It’s worth noting that after all the slaughter, it was the Serb nationalists who achieved their aim in 1918-9, not the Austrians; that after years of occupation, Afghanistan is by no means free of extremists even if Al Qaida is much reduced; that the downfall of Saddam has merely replaced one uncertainty with others in the Middle East; that Israel’s policy towards Hamas veers between scratching the sore and sticking a plaster on it but that the sore remains all the same.

Even so, it’s only when the fanaticism of terrorists is allied with the resources and prerogatives of a state that there develops a really serious threat.  The ideal solution is to prevent that alliance in the first place but even that asks difficult questions about external interference in sovereign states, ones that can only really be answered if there’s agreement on both principles and practices among the major powers.  If that fails, it follows that regime change should be a legitimate reason for military action in certain circumstance, even before a threat is made real.  Yet that too is dangerous: many initially extreme governments mellow with power, while war brings the chaos and pain in which extremism thrives.

It’s said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.  The problem is knowing which lessons to learn and heed.

David Herdson

David will not be able to respond to comments today as he’s getting married.


David Herdson says: “Time for Britain’s greatest county to stand up”

Saturday, July 5th, 2014


Whatever it is that makes a nation, Yorkshire has it

The folk of God’s Own County tend to be a reticent bunch, not much given to singing their own praises (or indeed, anyone else’s), but as cycling’s greatest race speeds spectacularly over the Broad Acres this weekend – an event the locals have greeted with characteristic enthusiasm and humour – it’s a good occasion to ask whether it should be the next nation within the UK to gain devolved powers.

I write ‘nation’ deliberately.  While recognising that few would regard it as their primary nationality, never mind their sole one, we’re not talking about some simple fondness for a mere administrative division but that genuine sense of identity, otherness and shared cultural inheritance that makes a nation.  And while size is not everything – Cornwall could make equivalent claims of self-identity – Yorkshire’s population is well within the range of the other areas of the UK that have devolved powers: less than London, about the same as Scotland, but more than Wales or Northern Ireland.

Does any of that imply a need or demand for a Yorkshire parliament or government?  Not exactly, but if England suffers a democratic deficit via the West Lothian Question, then the areas outside London suffer twice over: to take one example, the government’s national infrastructure plan (for England), allocates sixteen[1] pounds per person for transport spending in London for every one pound per person spent in Yorkshire.  London may have special needs but sixteen times as much?  Wales and Scotland protect their fair share via devolution.  Does Yorkshire deserve any less?  More relevantly, will Yorkshire folk start demanding no less?

As yet, no.  At the European elections, the Yorkshire First party – campaigning for devolved parliament – secured just 1.5% of the vote.  That was its first election and so voter recognition was probably just about nil, particularly as they didn’t distribute their free mail post and they weren’t entitled to a party political broadcast.  That said, the very fact that the party exists is itself telling, though whether it should be a political party, having to work against the existing parties, rather than a campaign group seeking support including from those already active in the system, is a different question.

Critics will argue that we’ve been here before.  John Prescott was keen on assemblies for Yorkshire, the North East and other regions; plans that were dropped after a referendum in the North East kicked the idea out with a 78% No vote.  Those proposals, however, were a pig in a poke.  There was no suggestion as to what the bodies would do, just what they would cost.  It’s unsurprising that they weren’t a hit.  Had they been accompanied by real powers, it might have been a different story.

I do wonder whether the Tour de France Grand Depart this year, and the proposed future Tour of Yorkshire for future ones, might do for England’s largest county what the London marathon did for its largest city, namely to demonstrate what can be achieved by a high profile sporting event when component boroughs work together.  There is a political mirror to that; one that ultimately led to the recreation of a high profile voice for London in its mayor (though rather like the marathon route, it was hardly a direct path).  A well-conducted campaign, building on the experience in Scotland, London and Wales, could deliver a Yorkshire parliament in far less time than it took there.

David Herdson

p.s. A quick note on the Tour itself.  Stage One today shouldn’t present too many difficulties for the riders, except for the narrow, weaving roads and tight turns.  If all goes smoothly, the sprinters should dominate the race to the line and Cavendish has made no secret of how much he wants to win in his mother’s home town, though Peter Sagan stands an excellent chance too.  Stage Two, by contrast, is a real test; a stage that could easily be a Spring Classic in its own right.  The 3000m of climbing is not far off a big mountain stage but rather than three or four huge ascents as in the Alps or Pyrenees, here there’ll be a relentless series of twenty or so climbs (only nine of which are categorised), constantly forcing a change of rhythm.  They’re steep too, passing 10% frequently and the final climb within Sheffield itself hitting in excess of 30% at one point.  This is a stage that could shake up the field and while the race can’t be won on Sunday, it could easily be lost, particularly given the dicey weather forecast.  The stage winner is far harder to predict and is unlikely to be any of the favourites for any jersey.