Archive for the 'General' Category


Searching for a parallel to 2015

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Westminster twlight

Parallels from the past can never be as neat as those proposing them might like to hope. For starters, any modern comparison for 2015 could never do justice to the SNP’s triumph, and what happens in Scotland over the next five years could dramatically change the Parliamentary arithmetic in 2020. Regardless, let’s see what we can come up with, focussing on the two main parties.

1992 is a very tempting parallel, and probably the one that offers Labour the most hope. The failure of polling (check!) led Labour to think that victory was within its grasp, yet doubts about their leader combined with an economy on the mend ended up delivering the Tories a thin majority. Within five years a New Labour dawn had broken. But to focus on the Tories’ narrow win as a comparator is to miss the significantly worse scale of Labour’s defeat.

So perhaps 1983 is better? A third party (for UKIP, read the Alliance) took chunks out of both major parties’ vote but the net beneficiary was the Conservatives. Once again, an unelectably left-wing leader meant the middle classes deserted Labour. If this is the right parallel then there are another 3 parliaments of Opposition to look forward to. 1979 is even a contender – a return to Conservative majority government forced the underlying left-right tensions within Labour out into the open with disastrous electoral effects. Neither parallel can be written off but the Tories’ position today is nowhere near as strong as it was then.

Less apocalyptically, there’s 1955. After a term of steady-as-she-goes government the Tories improved their position by 23 seats, though in that case it was enough to convert a slim majority into a comfortable one. Happily for the Tories they were able to survive a foreign policy adventure and a change of leader – both of which are definitely on the cards today – to do even better next time.

But all of these examples have assumed that the best parallel must be a Conservative victory. Yet a reverse of 2001 seems the neatest comparison – a first-term opposition retreating to its own comfort zone after years in government, willing the electorate to come to them rather than putting in the hard yards required to persuade them to return. The pro-Tory swing in their own marginal defences this year echoes that achieved by first-time Blairite incumbents 14 years ago.

Choosing 2001 also allows me to tentatively present these leadership parallels:

Thatcher : Blair
Major : Brown
Hague : Miliband
Duncan Smith : Burnham
Howard : Cooper or Balls
Cameron : Jarvis or Kendall

History is not destiny, and all the more so when it’s another party’s history interpreted with plenty of licence, but it might give those intending to install Andy Burnham as Labour leader some reason to pause for thought. “Ed Miliband with a Scouse accent,” according to one unnamed MP – well what was IDS but Hague with posher pronunciation?

If Burnham does win the leadership and subsequently turns into something akin to The Quiet Man mk II, then Labour will have to rethink their policy on regicide. As Nick Bent, defeated Labour candidate in marginal Warrington South, puts it:

Some in our party think that getting rid of a failing leader is a Tory thing to do, and typical of the ‘nasty party’. This sort of irrational hippy nonsense has no place in the Labour party – if we are serious about the values we represent, if we care about the people we represent and we if really think Britain is better off with a Labour government, then we have a moral duty to be a serious contender for victory at every general election. And that requires a winner as a leader.

There’s been much discussion regarding the possibility of establishing a 3 year “break clause” for Labour’s new leader – i.e. requiring them to submit themselves for revalidation in 2018. I think that this would be a mistake as it would inevitably weaken the new leader from the off and take the focus off the policy work required. But the very fact that it has been suggested indicates that many in Labour are worried that they’re about to elect the wrong person, again.

Tissue Price


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.