Archive for the 'International' Category


Ukraine: how far will Putin go?

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

The ripple effects of the Syria vote continue to be felt

There are two sorts of country in the world: superpowers and everyone else.  Superpowers can – and often do – act as they see fit, constrained only by domestic factors or the opposition of other superpowers.  The rest exist only to the extent that the superpowers allow, a fact that this week’s events have brought into stark focus.

The issues in question over the Ukraine are not clear-cut.  The ousted (but at the time, still de jure) president may have called for aid from Putin, Crimea had more than twice as many ethnic Russians as Ukrainians at the last census, and the peninsula itself only transferred from Russia to the Ukraine in the 1950s when both were internal divisions of the Soviet Union.  It may well be that there was and is local popular support for a return to Russia, something that could be demonstrated in the referendum now planned for 16 March.

That, however, is to an extent beside the point.  The crisis has not been sparked because some citizens of one country would rather be citizens of another.  Rather, it is about how that transfer is coming about: Putin’s decision to deploy Russia’s forces into a sovereign state against the wishes of the current government.  The similarities to the German-Austrian Anschluss in 1938 are striking, where the Austrians voted for union but not without Nazi Germany taking the precaution of being on hand to ensure the point.  (As an aside, we should always be a little wary of historic parallels: they’re never exact and can be poor guides to the future if both the historic and current contexts aren’t properly understood).

As then though, Putin must have been reasonably confident that the Western powers would not take meaningful action before he ordered the deployment, just as Hitler was sure that his potential enemies wouldn’t react too strongly over Austria or, later, over the Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia (another then recently-born and arguably artificial country).  Why can we be reasonably sure of Putin’s certainty in this instance?  In a word, Syria.

The absence of a rival superpower to the US after the fall of the Iron Curtain was unsurprisingly accompanied by a marked increase in military interventionism from NATO powers, led by the US, directly into other countries, peaking between the actions in Kosovo in 1999 and Libya in 2011.  That era is over.  The Syrian government crossed Obama’s red line when it used chemical weapons but Western guns stayed silent – the reason for which lies in no small part in the vote at Westminster which the government lost.

As it happens, that was probably the right decision, though reaching it for the wrong reasons has had the consequences we’re witnessing now.  There is no point intervening unless you intend to change the outcome, which means first determining what you want that outcome to be and, in turn, committing sufficient force and willpower into achieving it.  That was never done and it seemed more like the western leaders were intent on behaving like a sports referee, handing out penalties for foul behaviour but with no intrinsic interest in the result, which is no way to conduct foreign policy.

That failure of strategic thinking, combined with a decline in willingness to get involved, is what has given Putin the space to act with near enough impunity in the Ukraine.  It’s not as if he doesn’t have a record in these things: Russia invaded Georgia to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians in 2008 (Putin was PM at the time but in reality since 2008 Russia has been a dual monarchy, with Putin playing the Augustus to Medvedev’s Caesar, whatever the actual offices held).  At that time, mission fatigue hadn’t reached the extent it has now but the military overstretch in Iraq and Afghanistan was worse, and the Bush presidency was approaching lame-duck status.

The pressing question now is how to respond because the events of the last few weeks will not be the end of the process.  The Crimea is almost certainly lost to the Ukraine and non-recognition of its annexation is unlikely to cause many sleepless nights in the Kremlin.  Nor would Russia’s suspension from the G8, a body which is in any case increasingly overshadowed by the G20 on which Russia is guaranteed a seat.

We should remember what kicked all this off: Kiev’s desire to look to Brussels rather than Moscow.  Brussels is of course not just the capital of the EU but also the headquarters of NATO, and that the expansion of the two has gone hand-in-hand: a very threatening development from Russia’s point of view.  One can well understand a chain of thought in the Kremlin that directly linked Ukraine’s desire for closer EU links (and vice versa) to severe doubts as to the security of Russia’s Black Sea fleet’s base.

Yet the nature of Putin’s Anschluss and the unresolved fate of Ukraine’s Russian-inclined eastern districts means hard questions must be faced and answered.  Putin is behaving as the leaders of superpowers can when not opposed by their peers, and as long as that opposition doesn’t exist, the chances are he will continue to do so.  Even excluding Crimea, Ukraine’s integrity is far from assured.  Are Europe and the US willing to let further divisions happen?  A treaty with Kiev would answer that question.  As would the lack of one.

David Herdson


Will “Angie’s” third term be with the reds or the yellows?

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Unless the polls have been very wrong, Angela Merkel is heading for a third term as German Chancellor, a feat that only Adenauer and Kohl have managed since 1949 (and they both went on to win four elections). The great theme of stability in German politics will thus continue, with only four changes in governing party, and only eight Chancellors, since 1949 (Japan has had that many PMs in the last 8 years).

    The key question today is who Merkel will govern with – will it be continuing with the “yellows” (the centre-right FDP) or a grand coalition with the “reds” (the centre-left SPD), as per the 2005-9 government? Parties essentially need to clear 5% of the vote to enter the Bundestag, and the final week polls have been on a knife-edge, giving the FDP 5.5, 5, 6, 5.5, and 6. If they don’t clear 5%, then we’re looking at a grand coalition.

A wild-card to keep an eye on is the new anti-Euro (but not anti-EU) AfD party, averaging about 4% in final polling – if they can clear 5%, this will take seats away from other parties, again leaving the grand coalition as the likely outcome. Some have speculated about a possible Merkel + Greens coalition, but this is rightly a longer shot with the bookies.

It’s been described as a dull campaign (as seems to be the norm for Germany post-Schröder) and hands seem to have been the defining images of the election – Merkel’s safe-pair-of-hands “rhombus” on the huge poster in Berlin, while SPD candidate Steinbrück was pictured “giving the finger” on a magazine cover.

As the pivotal country in Europe, there’s a lot riding on the result – Merkel alongside the FDP will be able to take a tougher line with the likes of Spain, Greece, and Portugal, while the SPD may well want to take a softer approach. Traditionally, the junior coalition partner provides the foreign minister (eg the FDP’s Genscher for 18 years) – so an SPD foreign minister may be keener on leaning slightly closer to France, and slightly more away from the UK, than might be the case with the FDP in government. Thus whether the FDP scores 4.9% or 5.1% could potentially make quite a difference to Europe in the months ahead – as sometimes happens in politics, quite a lot could depend on very little.

Exit polls will be at 5pm UK time, and like most countries counting is done at polling stations. Most counting should be done by 11pm-midnight – although if the result is on a knife-edge it might take most of the evening to determine the final outcome.

ARD livestream

Official results

Double Carpet

DC is an occasional contributor to PB, mainly covering international politics.

He also runs the Election Game site, and the Austria game is available here.


Why Ed Miliband can take some comfort from Tony Abbott’s victory in Australia

Monday, September 9th, 2013

In July he was 14% behind as “preferred Prime Minister”

One footnote from the last week’s Austrailian general election and the change of government is that the new prime minister trailed Kevin Rudd in the approval and “preferred Prime Minister” ratings.

Only a few weeks ago the eventual winner was 14% behind in some of the polls while the man who was to lose, Kevin Rudd, became the only Australian party leader in two and a half years to have positive ratings.

So the lesson, as we saw here in 1979 and 1970 is that general elections can be won by parties led by those who appear on these measures to be a long way behind.

Mike Smithson

For the latest polling and political betting news


Dramatic events in Australian politics

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

The country’s first woman PM deposed

Watch the live ABC stream here.


TSE on Making Your Mind Up on who to back at Eurovision.

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Whilst the polls show Brits remain cynical about Eurovision and think it is all about politics, some of us enjoy Eurovision for that reason, for the music and the betting opportunities.

With the elimination of the Former Yugoslavian states of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia in the semi finals, and Bosnia and Herzegovina withdrawing from the contest, due to financial reasons, there’s a potential for less Balkan bloc voting this time around which could make the final result more open.

There are many opportunities available to bet on the song contest.

The Danish entry, is the overwhelming favourite, and has been for quite some time.

Fortunately there are betting markets for a winner without Denmark or going for an each way bet with Ladbrokes and Paddy Power.

My tips, apart from the Danes, are The Germans, who are represented by Cascada, a band that has enjoyed pop success in the UK, in the past.

I’ve also backed  The Ukrainian, Norwegian and  Irish entries.

I’m quite impressed by the Irish entry, for the last couple of years by sending Jedward, I’ve wondered if the Irish really wanted to win Eurovision. Short of sending Johnny Logan, I can’t see a clearer statement from the Irish that they want to win Eurovision this year.

It wouldn’t be Eurovision, without an entry that looks like something Borat has produced, and the Romanian entry meets that category.

What of the UK’s entry, this year?

I have to confess whilst being a fan of Bonnie Tyler, like Engelbert Humperdinck, I don’t expect her to do well, I suspect some of her 80s material would have done very well in Eurovision.

I have the expectation that she’ll finish 21st or lower, and have availed myself of Paddy Power, who offer evens on such an occurrence (Englerbert finished 25th last year)

Hopefully next year the BBC will allow the viewers to choose the artist/band who represents the UK in Eurovision 2014, and maybe some of the UK’s best artists and bands decide to be shortlisted for the honour, musical giants, such as The Rolling Stones, New Order, Emeli Sandé, The Stone Roses, Depeche Mode, Steps or Radiohead, and we can go back to the halcyon days when the likes of Bucks Fizz won.

For true fans of Eurovision, the main focus of attraction of the evening is not on the artists performing, or the voting, but that the news that Abba’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have teamed up with Swedish DJ and producer Avicii to produce the anthem for this year’s ceremony.

The Eurovision Song Contest starts at 8pm BST and will be on BBC 1 and BBC1 HD.



(Whose interest in and enjoyment of all things Eurovision has disturbed his friends for many years)


Next weekend’s Italian Election by Andrea Parma

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Can Silvio prevent a left majority?

Italy is set to hold parliamentary elections on February 24-25th. In 2008 Silvio Berlusconi comfortably won, leading the centre-left coalition of Walter Veltroni by around 9%. As is often the case on the Italian political scene, his government couldn’t finish its 5 year term and Mario Monti took over as a “technocrat” PM in late 2011. 47 lists or coalitions of lists are contesting this election but just five coalitions are likely to poll over 4% (the threshold required to get seats in the House).

After announcing his retirement 2-3 times, Berlusconi is back at the helm of the centre-right coalition. At the last minute, his PdL managed to re-establish its alliance with the Northern League (Lega Nord) once again. On the centre-left, the PD is proposing Pier Luigi Bersani for PM, a former minister under the centre-left governments during 1996-2001 and 2006-08 periods, coming from the old Eurocommunist tradition. His coalition also includes SEL (Greens + former Communists) led by Apulia governor Nichi Vendola.

After his stint as PM, Monti decided that he would like to be a politician after all and he created his movement, called Civic Choice. He’s joined by Casini’s UdC (Christian Democrats) and Fini’s FLI in the “With Monti for Italy” coalition (Con Monti per l’Italia). Former TV entertainer Beppe Grillo created the Movimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement) to ride the populist “anti all parties” wave, which is quite big because of all the scandals Italian politicians are usually involved in. Finally, former prosecutor and political newcomer Ingroia leads Civic Revolution (which is basically a coalition of former prosecutor Di Pietro, Naples mayor De Magistris, former communists, and former Greens who didn’t follow Vendola).

The campaign started with Bersani’s centre-left coalition comfortably leading. However, Berlusconi has been hyperactive with an intensive TV presence (even attending political chat shows hosted by hostile journalists). At the same time, the PD have run a lackluster campaign (and they were marginally hit by a scandal involving a bank close to them). The gap started to tighten and now Bersani is just 5-6% ahead. Those who remember the nail-biting election night in 2006, with punters on the edge of their seats, may recall that the centre-left Prodi coalition held off Berlusconi’s coalition by just 0.1% in the Chamber of Deputies – but the final opinion polls two weeks earlier had given the centre-left a similar lead to their 2013 final poll lead…

Latest polls (note – no new polls published after 8th February)

IPR: Bersani 34.2%. Berlusconi 28.0%. Grillo 16.5%. Monti 14.1% Ingroia 4.2%
TECNE’: Bersani 33.2% Berlusconi 29.2% Grillo 16.3% Monti 12.9% Ingroia 5%
SWG: Bersani 33.8% Berlusconi 27.8% Grillo 18.8%. Monti 13.4% Ingroia 4.1%
QUORUM: Bersani 34.5% Berlusconi 29.5% Grillo 14.7%. Monti 13.9% Ingroia 3.9%
IPSOS: Bersani 34.9% Berlusconi 28.3% Grillo 15.8%. Monti 15.3% Ingroia 3.7%
PIEPOLI: Bersani 37% Berlusconi 32% Grillo 13 Monti 13% Ingroia 3.5%
EUROMEDIA: Bersani 34.4% Berlusconi 32.7% Grillo 14.5%. Monti 12.3% Ingroia 3.8%
ISPO: Bersani 37.2% Berlusconi 29.7% Grillo 14.3%. Monti 12.9% Ingroia 4.2%
EMG: Bersani 35% Berlusconi 28.5% Grillo 16%. Monti 14.1% Ingroia 3.5%

The electoral system used is quite complicated. In the Chamber of Deputies, the coalition coming out on top in Italy (exlcuding Valle d’Aosta) will get 55% of the seats available (340 seats). There are 630 seats up for grabs, 12 are elected by Italians voting overseas, one from the small region of Valle d’Aosta, while Italy excluding Aosta elects 617. However, the Senate (we have a perfect bicameral system with both houses having the same powers) is elected at regional level. This makes the political composition of the Senate more complex to predict and the absolute majority more difficult to reach.

Bersani will win more regions, but Berlusconi is strongest in big regions where more seats are at stake. The key regions are Lombardy, Veneto, Sicily, Campania and Apulia. Veneto looks to be held comfortably by Berlusconi. In Apulia and Campania, Bersani seems ahead but they are still too close to call. To get a majority, Bersani needs them and at least one between Sicily and Lombardy.

Andrea is a regular poster on Politicalbetting

(Double Carpet adds:) With the two-house system, a new government will need to win a confidence vote in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, so even if the centre-left win the majority in the Chamber, Bersani as PM might well need the support of Monti in the Senate – could “Super Mario” leave the premiership but return as Finance Minister? As the experience of 2006 shows, love him or loathe him, Berlusconi can not be underestimated as a political operator, especially with all his media and financial firepower, and it looks as though there may be a leaders’ debate on Thursday which might be to his advantage too. The 2013 election has long seemed in the bag for Bersani and the centre-left, but might Berlusconi (with the tacit support of Grillo?) yet have them snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? And if that’s the case, will they bitterly regret not voting for the younger, and more charismatic (but less popular with the rank and file membership) Matteo Renzi to be the centre-left’s standard-bearer at the election?

Unusually, Italy has two days for the general election, Sunday and Monday (the Czechs are another example with Friday/Saturday) so the exit polls should be available at the close of voting at 2pm GMT on Monday 25th February. If the result is a comfortable win, as in 2008, the result should be very clear by 6-7pm UK time, but if it’s wafer-thin and we’re waiting on close results in Senate regions, it could be getting on for midnight. A final thought – should the centre-right win and (as Silvio has said will happen) Angelo Alfano becomes the new PM (despite Berlusconi being the coalition leader for the election), I haven’t seen him mentioned in many betting markets.

If anyone would like to play the Italy election game, it’s available below – entries close 7am GMT next Sunday, and the Eastleigh and then Mid-Ulster games will be out next.

Double Carpet (@electiongame)


Greece: The punters had Samaras’s victory right all along

Monday, June 18th, 2012

The biggest betting night since the UK general election

The tight victory by Antonis Samaras’s ND party ended what was almost certainly the biggest night of political betting since the UK general election in May 2010.

Overall on Betfair’s various markets more than £1.6m was traded a large part of that in the final 24 hours. Interestingly, in view of the way the election was being reported, the ND was always favourite.

The longest price on ND that you could have got in the final week was 0.7/1. So a bet of £10 would have netted a profit of just £7. That compares with Syriza when, apart from one bet at 0.98/1 was above evens throughout.

On the most votes market a total of £1,227,123 was traded on ND. The Syriza total, by comparison was just £162,804.

The scale of the betting, which was seen across all the bookmakers that had markets, reflects the massive global interest in the race and that the outcome was presented all the time as being very tight.

Mike Smithson @MSmithsonPB


Greece – What next?

Sunday, June 17th, 2012