So what happened to the long-term plan, George?

November 28th, 2015


Labour’s current travails have hidden the Chancellor’s own problems

George Osborne is fond of saying that he’s fixing the roof while the sun is shining. Well, this week he decided to knock off early and catch some rays. After all, what’s the rush? It’s not going to rain overnight. Mañana.

Nor will it rain economically tomorrow, next week, next month and in all probability, next year. The economy is growing healthily, employment and wages are rising, inflation remains subdued, consumer borrowing is modest by historic standards and while there’s a house price boom in London, that’s largely down to local factors. There doesn’t seem much risk of either imminent overheating or a credit crunch.

Which is probably why when the OBR found £23bn down the back of George Osborne’s sofa, the Chancellor decided to spend pretty much all of it rather reduce the deficit faster. That spending – on tax credits amongst other things – has bought off plenty of political opposition, though at the cost of conceding the point.

All this is now easily forgotten. To be fair, it did happen nearly half a week ago and much has taken place since then. Above all, Labour has once again indulged in directing their fire at their own feet; something they’ve done so frequently since May that their lower extremities probably resemble Swiss cheese.

However, neither Osborne nor the wider government can assume that Labour will continue to be so self-absorbed and fractious for the whole of the parliament – or that if they are, some other party won’t find themselves capable of providing a decent opposition. Had one such existed now, Osborne would be under a fair bit of pressure and not only because of his U-turn.

Recessions do not run to timetables. We cannot predict the next one simply on the basis of when the last was; events play too large a role. Some of these events we can predict with a degree of accuracy: it’s possible to model for labour market tightness, private sector borrowing, house prices and so on. Other events, particularly those from overseas, can come out of the blue. Which is a problem for forecasters and tends to result in forecasts being projections rather than predictions (not least because even if you know that a bubble is going to burst, it’s almost impossible to work out when: in October 2007, just after Northern Rock had gone bust, the government was still predicting steady annual growth of around 2.5% and borrowing of about £40bn a year for the next three years).

And against that uncertainty, Osborne has kicked the can a little further down the road at a time when Britain’s deficit is still worse than it was before the last recession, public debt is vastly worse and interest rates remain at ‘emergency’ lows. In the big scheme of things the £23bn doesn’t matter much: over the parliament, it’s less than a penny per pound of expenditure. What’s more significant is the signal it gives as well as reducing future options.

Labour’s vacation of the centre ground (and indeed, the centre-left), combined with the Lib Dems’ near-annihilation has provided Osborne with an historic political opportunity to enable the Tories to dominate for years, as New Labour did and in like manner. The danger, as with Blair and Brown, is that the dominance in the centre comes at the cost of office-holding for its own sake which not only has a tendency to develop unhealthy relationships with client voting groups but also leaves a party lacking in ideological direction. Playing against sub-par opposition also allows laziness to creep into your own game.

The Conservatives have few excuses now: they’ll have run the economy for ten years by the next election, for five years by themselves. With Labour wracked by division, dissent and all-round incompetence, now should be the moment for Osborne to take the tough but necessary action to bear down further on the deficit. It won’t last forever.

David Herdson


If as is likely the Tories can’t win in Oldham then the best outcome for the blues is a LAB hold

November 27th, 2015


The last things CON want are UKIP gaining traction or Corbyn being ousted

A week today I’ll be at a wedding of a friend who’s been associated and helped PB for years so probably won’t be that much focused on the outcome, due overnight, of the Oldham West and Royton by-election.

One thing that strikes me strongly is that it is not in the Tory interest for UKIP to win – even if that means a LAB hold.

As we see day after day Cameron & Osborne need Corbyn to stay there running the LAB party as long as possible.

    The damage that Corbyn and his sidekick McDonnell are doing is the gift to the blues that keeps on giving

Just look at the shambolic McDonnell response to Osborne Wednesday statement and what should have been the humiliation of the U-turn on tax credits. Arguably that was a huge LAB victory. Instead the coverage was about his silly antic with Chairman Mao’s little red book.

As for UKIP the craziness on the Labour side has totally overshadowed politics since September and the purples have struggled to get a look in. A victory for Farage’s party would provide a huge stepping stone to both getting Westminster credibility and media attention.

There’s also the referendum to think of and a buoyant UKIP would make Dave’s time during this difficult renegotiation period that much harder. It would give ammunition to the sizeable Eurosceptic wing of the Parliamentary party.

Mike Smithson


The Syria decision: Doubters make the best persuaders

November 27th, 2015


Donald Brind on Friday – from a Labour pespective

“‘Oh gosh, yes,’ said the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby when asked if the terror attacks in Paris had caused him to doubt God. They had, he said, put a ‘chink in his armour’ of faith. But he warned against a knee-jerk military response, saying: ‘Two injustices do not make justice … If we start randomly killing those who have not done wrong, that is not going to provide solutions.”

There are a significant number of doubters amongst Tory MPs about the wisdom of air strikes in Syria. Julian Lewis defence committee chairman reacted with incredulity when the Prime Minister’s put his case for military in the Commons.

“Air strikes alone will not be effective, they have to be in co-ordination with credible ground forces.” said Lewis. He disputed David Cameron’s assertion that such a credible force existed. “The suggestion there are 70,000 non-Islamist, moderate, credible ground forces, I have to say, is a revelation to me and I suspect most other MPs in this House.”

Former minister Peter Lilley challenged Cameron “to convince me that what you refer to as the Free Syrian Army actually exists rather than is a label we apply to a rag-bag group of clans and tribal forces with no coherent force.” And John Baron said: “Having just returned from the Middle East, regional powers and allies believe that in the absence of a realistic long-term strategy and proper local knowledge, we risk repeating the errors we made in Iraq, Afghanistan post-2006 and Libya.

He said key questions remain unanswered and without these answers, air strikes will only reinforce the west’s failure in the region generally at a time when already there are too many aircraft chasing too few targets.”

It’s the existence of these Tory doubters which means that Cameron – at the head of a nominally majority government – needs support from Labour MPs to get his way.

And the issue been slotted quickly into the ongoing narrative about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

One of the Corbyn’s problems, I believe, he is not a doubter. He is a conviction politician, which is central to his appeal. It is barely conceivable that he would ever vote for the kind of action being proposed.

The effect of that is that people wrestling with doubts are likely to discount what he says. They are more likely to be influenced by the shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who had rejected air strikes because of the lack of a coherent strategy from the government, now says the case made by the Prime Minister is compelling.

For what it’s worth I am personally unconvinced. I share the misgivings of the Independent’s Steve Richards who says “Labour MPs who despair of Corbyn must think very carefully whether they have heard enough from the PM to justify air strikes.”

One thing I am sure of is that the campaign of pressure on MPs being organised by Momentum , the pressure group based on the Corbyn leadership campaign will be counterproductive. It will increase not diminish the number of Labour MPs who support David Cameron.

Once again – Jeremy Corbyn needs saving from his friends.

Donald Brind


All this week’s local by-election results

November 27th, 2015

Carnforth and Millhead (Con defence) on Lancaster
Result: Conservative 545 (55% +7%), Labour 320 (32% -3%), Green Party 52 (5% -12%), Liberal Democrat 38 (4%, no candidate in 2015), United Kingdom Indepdendence Party 37 (4%, no candidate in 2015)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 225 (23%) on a swing of 5% from Labour to Conservative

Rochford (Con defence) on Rochford
Result: Labour 332 (32% -16%), Conservative 328 (32% -20%), United Kingdom Independence Party 250 (24%), Liberal Democrat 114 (11%)
Labour GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 4 (0%) on a swing of 2% from Conservative to Labour

Salisbury, St. Edmund and Milford (Lib Dem defence) on Wiltshire
Result: Conservative 425 (36% +13%), Liberal Democrat 262 (22% -21%), Labour 232 (20% +6%), Green Party 215 (18% +10%), Independent 45 (4%, no candidate in 2013)
Conservative GAIN from Liberal Democrat with a majority of 163 (14%) on a swing of 17% from Liberal Democrat to Conservative

Selston (Selston Parish Independent defence) on Nottinghamshire
Result: Selston Parish Independent 2,054 (59% -13%), Independent 794 (23%, not a candidate in 2013), Labour 355 (10% -13%), United Kingdom Independence Party 161 (5%, no candidate in 2013)
Selston Parish Independent HOLD with a majority of 1,260 (36%) on a notional swing of 15.5% from Selston Parish Independent to Independent

Selston (Selston Parish Independent defence) on Ashfield
Result: Selston Parish Independent 1,180 (66% +21%), Independent 294 (17%, not a candidate in 2015), Labour 172 (10% -4%), United Kingdom Independence Party 77 (4%, no candidate in 2015), Conservative 52 (3%, not a candidate in 2015)
Selston Parish Independent HOLD with a majority of 886 (49%) on a notional swing of 2% from Independent to Selston Parish Independent

Dunfermline North (SNP defence) and Rosyth (SNP defence) on Fife
Dunfermline North
Result: Scottish National Party 1,056 (43% +12%), Labour 719 (30% -18%), Conservative 304 (13% +6%), Liberal Democrat 230 (9% -5%), Green Party 63 (3%, no candidate in 2012), United Kingdom Independence Party 58 (2%, no candidate in 2012)
Scottish National Party HOLD on the second count, majority on first count of 337 (13%) on a swing of 15% from Labour to Scottish National Party

Result: Scottish National Party 1,214 (45% +9%), Labour 926 (34% -14%), Conservative 245 (9% +3%), Liberal Democrat 97 (4%, no candidate in 2012), United Kingdom Independence Party 88 (3% +1%), Independent 66 (2%, no candidate in 2012), Green Party 51 (2%, no candidate in 2012)
Scottish National Party HOLD on the fifth count, majority on first count of 288 (11%) on a swing of 11.5% from Labour to Scottish National Party

Pwllheli South (Llais Gwynedd defence) on Gwynedd
Result: Underwood (Non Party Independent) 269 (45%, no candidate in 2012), Plaid Cymru 168 (28% -12%), Parry (Independent) 106 (18%, no candidate in 2012), Llais Gwynedd 49 (8% -52%)
Non Party Independent GAIN from Llais Gwynedd, majority 101 (17%), no swing calculable

Bettws (Ind defence) on Newport
Result: Cleverly (Independent) 336 (32%, not a candidate in 2012), Labour 294 (28% -16%), Jordan (Independent) 275 (26%, not a candidate in 2012), Conservative 114 (11%, no candidate in 2012), Green Party 29 (3%, no candidate in 2012), Liberal Democrat 7 (1%, no candidate in 2012)
Independent WIN with a majority of 42 (4%), no swing calculable

Compiled by Harry Hayfield


It’s Black Friday and another less than optimal day for Labour and its new leader

November 27th, 2015


Tonight’s Local By-Election Preview with ten separate contests

November 26th, 2015

Carnforth and Millhead (Con defence) on Lancaster
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 29, Conservatives 19, Green Party 9, Independents 3 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 2)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Conservatives 1,405, 1,238, 1,184 (48%)
Labour 1,027, 981, 921 (35%)
Green Party 495 (17%)
Candidates duly nominated: George Askew (Con), Christopher Coats (Green), Phillip Dunster (Lib Dem), Paul Gardner (Lab), Michelle Ogden (UKIP)

Morecambe and Lunesdale was a key Labour target at the general election. At the 2010 general election the Conservatives only had a majority of 866 votes (meaning that Labour only needed a swing of 1% to gain the seat) and what happened? A 4% swing to the Conservatives creating a Conservative majority of just over 4,500 and taking the seat deep into the new Labour battleground for the next election. The reason I mention this? Carnforth and Millhead ward is in the heart of this constituency and therefore it stands to reason that if Labour cannot achieve a swing of 6.5% to win this by-election in a seat that absolutely has to go to Labour for Labour to win the next election, then to be perfectly honest Labour might as well give up now on the next election and ensure that they get as many seats as possible at the next election and treat this Parliament like the Conservatives treated the Parliaments of 1997 – 2005 (just sit there and smile)

Rochford (Con defence) on Rochford
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 29, United Kingdom Independence Party 3, Liberal Democrats 2, Independents 2, Green Party 2 (Conservative majority of 20)
Result of ward at last election (2012): Conservative 735 (52%), Labour 690 (48%)
Candidates duly nominated: Nicholas Cooper (UKIP), Daniel Irlam (Lib Dem), Michael Lucas-Gill (Con), Matthew Softly (Lab)

Rochford may look as if it’s a Conservative fiedom and indeed since 2003 the Conservative majority has only dropped by one seat, however that masks a serious shift in the politics of this part of Essex. The changes between 2003 and 2015 speaks volumes. The Conservatives have lost one seat, the Liberal Democrats have lost two seats, Labour have lost three seats (and been wiped off the map), the Independents haven’t changed, the Greens have gained two seats (and appeared in the council chamber) and UKIP have won (gaining) three seats. So whilst in seats where UKIP have stood before, their vote falls, in seats where there has not been a UKIP candidate before they can make all the difference, but where those votes come from will determine the result? From Con, Lab GAIN. From Lab, Con HOLD.

Salisbury, St. Edmund and Milford (Lib Dem defence) on Wiltshire
Result of council at last election (2013): Conservatives 59, Liberal Democrats 27, Independents 8, Labour 4, United Kingdom Independence Party 1 (Conservative majority of 19)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Liberal Democrat 526 (43%), Conservative 281 (23%), Labour 177 (14%), United Kingdom Independence Party 148 (12%), Green Party 92 (8%)
Candidates duly nominated: Greg Condliffe (Lib Dem), Diana Dallimore (Ind), Atiqul Hoque (Con), Michael Pope (Green), Mark Timbrell (Lab)

Wiltshire’s been a very interesting county for the Lib Dems over the years. In 1993, thanks to the Conservative collapse in the local elections, the Liberal Democrats became the largest party on the council and although that position was taken back by the Conservatives in 1997 the Liberal Democrats could still be trusted to be the leaders of the opposition on the council. The biggest change however came in 2009 when Wiltshire County became Wiltshire Unitary and in those first elections won twenty four seats on the new council polling 31% of the vote however by the time of the next elections in 2013, UKIP and the effects of government reduced their vote share to just 20% but despite that they still managed to make two net gains suggesting that there is a core of Liberal Democrat voters who will vote for the party no matter what happens.

Selston (Selston Parish Independent defence) on Nottinghamshire
Result of council at last election (2013): Labour 34, Conservatives 21, Liberal Democrats 8, Mansfield Independents 2, Independent 1, Selston Parish Independent 1 (Labour majority of 1)
Result of ward at last election (2013): Selston Parish Independent 2,427 (72%), Labour 794 (23%), Independent 161 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Mike Hollis (Lab), David Martin (Selston Parish Independent), Paul Saxelby (Con), Sam Wilson (Ind), Ray Young (UKIP)

Selston (Selston Parish Independent defence) on Ashfield
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 22, Liberal Democrats 5, Conservatives 4, Independents 2, Selston Parish Independents 2 (Labour overall majority of 9)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Emboldened denotes elected
Selston Parish Independents 1,977, 738 (45%)
Independent 1,427 (32%)
Labour 617, 564 (14%)
Liberal Democrat 306 (7%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist 95 (2%)
Candidates duly nominated: Donna Gilbert (Lab), Christine Quinn-Wilcox (Selston Parish Independent), Michelle Sims (Con), Anna Wilson (Ind), Ray Young (UKIP)

Local Independents are quite a new situtation in local government (and just occasionally in national as well). Although there have been a couple elected to Westminster over the years (S O Davies in Merthyr Tydfil in 1970, Peter Law in Blaenau Gwent in 2005, Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest in 2005, Dai Davies in Blaenau Gwent in 2006) and just as many to the devolved institutions (Trish Law in 2006 to the Welsh Assembly in Blaenau Gwent, ennis Canavan in Falkirk West in 1999 and Jean Turner in Strathkelvin and Bearsden in 2003 in the Scottish Parliament along with Kieran Deeney in Tyrone West in 2003 in the Northern Ireland Assembly) it’s in local government that local Independents really come to the fore. At the elections held in May across the UK the following Local Independents stood:

Ashford, Ashstead, Billingham, Barnsley, Bournemouth, Bollington, Canvey Island, Castle Point, East Cleveland, Eston, Epsom and Ewell, Farnham, Fylde, Guildford, Hanworth, Henley, Holland on Sea, Halstead, Hucknall, Hinchley Wood, Hykeham, Kidderminster, Bristol, Lincolnshire, Staffordshire Moorelands, Morecambe Bay, Morley, Middlewich, Mansfield, Molesley, North East Cheshire, Nantwich, Nork, North Somerset, It’s Our County (Herefordshire), Our West Lancashire, Old Windsor, Cuddington, Ramsgate, Uttlesford, Richmondshire, Rochdale, Swanscombe, Selston, Spelthorne, Stafford, Stoneleigh, Staffordshire, Stamford, St. George’s Hill, Suffolk, South Woodham, Tendring, Tattenhams, Thames Ditton, Tewkesbury, Thornaby, West Suffolk, Wigan, Whitnash, Whitwell, Wythall, Yorkshire and Yarm.

As as we can see in the last elections, those local Independents had a very high personal vote suggesting that if the major parties want to win the seat, they would do best to ditch their national labels and call themselves “(Party) for (location)”.

Dunfermline North (SNP defence) and Rosyth (SNP defence) on Fife
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 35, Scottish National Party 26, Liberal Democrats 10, Conservatives 3, Independents 3, Non Party Independent 1 (No Overall Control, Labour short by 5)

Dunfermline North ward result (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 997, 844 (48%)
Scottish National Party 1,204 (31%)
Liberal Democrats 518 (14%)
Conservatives 253 (7%)
Candidates duly nominated: James Calder (Lib Dem), Lewis Campbell (Green), Chloanne Dodds (UKIP), Ian Ferguson (SNP), Joe Long (Lab), James Reekie (Con)

Rosyth ward result (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 794, 1,049 (48%)
Scottish National Party 1,076, 306 (36%)
Liberal Democrats 275 (7%)
Conservatives 223 (6%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 101 (2%)
Non Party Independent 41 (1%)
Candidates duly nominated: Vikki Fairweather (Lab), Matthew Hall (Lib Dem), Cairinne MacDonald (Green), Alastair MacIntyre (Ind), Colin Mitchelson (UKIP), David Ross (Con), Sharon Wilson (SNP)

So far, since the general election, the SNP have clocked up 46% of the popular vote in all the Scottish by-elections held and with only a couple of exceptions (Aird and Loch Ness in Highland, and Huntly in Aberdeenshire) come out on top gaining two seats overall in the process. Therefore I think it is fair to say that we are looking at another two SNP holds here and with attention now focusing on the Scottish Parliament next year, it is fair to say that those elections are for the SNP to lose.

Pwllheli South (Llais Gwynedd defence) on Gwynedd
Result of council at last election (2012): Plaid Cymru 37, Independents 19, Llais Gwynedd 13, Labour 4, Liberal Democrats 2 (No Overall Control, Plaid short by 1)
Result of ward at last election (2012): Llais Gwynedd 374 (60%), Plaid Cymru 252 (40%)
Candidates duly nominated: Michael Parry (Ind), Peta Pollitt (Llais Gwynedd), Hefin Underwood (Non Party Independent), Alan Williams (Plaid Cymru)

If the collection of English local Independents is enough to confuse anyone, then the Welsh Independents (as I mentioned last week) would be the end of it but when you add varying degrees of Welsh nationalism to the equation then you can see why most people just give up. Take Llais Gwynedd for instance, established in 2007 with the avowed intent to oppose the closing of Welsh medium schools in Gwynedd they burst onto the scene in 2008 when they won 13 seats on Gwynedd (including the seat of the then Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Iwan) and although on the face of it nothing changed in 2012, that wasn’t the case. Plaid retook Dafydd Iwan’s seat (along with three others seats from Llais) but Llais managed to gain two seats from Plaid and three seats from the Independents. However as we saw last week, their power may be starting to wane, but could the introduction of two Independents into the equation help Llais this evening? We shall just have to wait and see.

Bettws (Ind defence) on Newport
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 37, Conservatives 10, Independent 2, Liberal Democrat 1 (Labour overall majority of 24)
Result of ward at last election (2012): Emboldened denotes elected
Independents 840, 779, 534 (52%)
Labour 616, 594, 584 (44%)
Christian People’s Alliance 158 (4%)
Candidates duly nominated: Janet Cleverly (Ind), Glyn Jarvis (Lab), Jason Jordan (Ind), Paul L’Allier (Lib Dem), Peter Varley (Green), Lewis Williams (Con)

And on the subject of Independents, let us not forget the other type of Independent that exists. The disgruntled party Independent. Back in 2004, Bettws was a Labour heartland (Lab 63%, Ind 25%, Con 4%, Lib Dem 4%, Plaid 4%) and in 2008 as well (although Lab did slip a bit and the Lib Dems came into second), but before the 2012 elections something interesting happened. Cllr. Trigg (who topped the poll in 2004 and 2008) switched to be an Independent and knowing how fractious Labour can be on occasions over local issues it would not surprise me at all if it was the same reasons that Peter Law stood as an Independent in 2005 but whatever the cause he still topped the poll in 2012 and managed to bring another Independent councillor on board (inflicting two Labour losses in the ward and bringing their vote share to below 50% for the first time in the ward’s history as part of Newport). But now, with two Independents standing (along with the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Conservatives) will those Labour leaning Independents split or return to Labour?

Compiled by Harry Hayfield


11 weeks of EURef polling and all but two of the surveys online

November 26th, 2015


We urgently need more mode variation

Above is my latest spreadsheet of all the recent EURef polls. As can be seen the battle is quite tight with, by a smidgeon, the edge at the moment being to REMAIN.

In the period covered by the table there have been nine different GE2020 phone polls yet just two of them have included the EURef voting question.

    Why do they go to all the cost and expense of phone polling and don’t seek to test opinion on what looks set to be the defining political event of this parliament?

As can be seen from the table there’s been a huge difference in the numbers coming from the phone polls compared with the online ones. This is not just a feature of the past 11 weeks. It goes back all the way to GE2015.

  • Note that on ORB the DK figures are down as 0%. This is because this isn’t included in their data which looks as though the option of saying don’t know wasn’t included. To me a forced choice like that seems crazy.
  • Mike Smithson


    Corbyn might have to face another tricky electoral test in the New Year

    November 26th, 2015


    A by-election in another LAB stronghold could be in the offing

    Word has reached me from a reliable source that another safe LAB seat where the party might have to fight a by-election. It would take place during the first half of 2016.

    Apparently the sitting MP might have to stand down for an innocuous personal reason. It’s suggested that the contest would take place on the same day in May as next year’s Welsh/Scottish/London elections.

    I don’t know the seat or the MP but my understanding is that, unlike Oldham West and Royton, this is not natural UKIP territory.

    If by any chance LAB does fail a week today then there’d be much extra focus on the new contest and pressure of the red team.

    Mike Smithson