Iowa shock for Hillary Clinton as the state’s most accurate pollster has her caucus lead down to just 7%

August 30th, 2015

If she looks vulnerable it could open up the whole race

In the next five months we are going to hear an awful lot from Iowa which traditionally, with its caucuses, is the first state to decide on choosing a contender for the White House race.

Because this is not a normal primary where people just turn up and vote finding accurate poll samples has proved very challenging in the past. What happens in Iowa is that electors attending attend evening meetings on a cold January/February evening and only those who arrive on time and stay to the end can cast a vote.

The vast majority of people in the state simply don’t attend these events so standard polling techniques do not always work. But the poll in the states’s leading newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has over the years built up a formidable reputation in surveying both the Republican and Democratic party caucuses. In 2012 it identified the huge momentum behind Rick Santorum in the GOP race and he, nor Romney, was eventually declared the winner.

The early states to decide can have an enormous impact and there’s a massive focus on what’s going. The contenders are spending huge amounts of time and effort in them. It was Obama’s success in Iowa in 2008 that provided the springboard for his successful White House bid.

    It had been thought that Hillary would take Iowa easily but would struggle against the 73 year old socialist, Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. That thinking has changed dramatically overnight with the Des Moines Register poll which shows him closing the gap.

My reading is that Sanders is doing well because he’s the most established non-Hillary contender.

Clinton’s price has been weakening but she’s still a strong odds-on favourite for the nomination. If a serious other contender emerges she could be in trouble.

Mike Smithson


In a strange land

August 29th, 2015

UK Border

Antifrank looks at The politics of immigration and asylum

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  These are words which find absolutely no purchase in Britain in 2015.  Fully 50% this month see immigration as one of the three most important issues facing Britain in Ipsos MORI’s regular poll for the Economist and it’s a safe bet that few of them are concerned that Britain isn’t getting enough foreigners.

Proving anything with statistics

If one were just to look at statistics, it isn’t immediately obvious why this should be such a high concern right now.  From the most recent figures available, net immigration appears to have risen (for the year to March 2015 it was estimated at 330,000).  This is a record high, but not out of all proportion with previous years:


It certainly doesn’t account for the recent jumps in the level of concern currently being expressed (only 34% named immigration as one of the three most important issues facing Britain as recently as January).  And it doesn’t seem to be a matter of personal experience.  For example, 47% of the Welsh named immigration as the single most important issue facing Britain today but barely one in twenty Welsh residents are not British citizens.

Asylum seekers are broadly static according to the latest figures, just under 26,000 for the year to June 2015, up 10% on the previous year but far lower than the 84,000 in 2012.  Decisions on these applications are speeding up, running at three times the rate of a year ago.  Nor are they being waved through – the refusal rate for initial decisions for the first quarter of this year (64%) is almost exactly the same as it was in the first quarter of 2014.  Only applications from Eritrea, Iran, Syria and Sudan are normally succeeding.  Appeals are also running at a steady 66% dismissal rate.


Migrating anxiety

So why are the public so worked up about the subject?  In short, the media.  This year we have been treated to many pictures of boatloads of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the Aegean and to blood-curdling accounts of throngs of migrants at Calais (and consequent disruption to Channel Tunnel services).  News has percolated back of the wall that the Hungarians are erecting on their Serbian border.  More recently, we have seen chaos on the Greek/Macedonian border.  The British public are concluding, correctly, that Europe is seeing an unprecedented wave of asylum-seeking and believe, incorrectly, that Britain is in the frontline of this.  With this conclusion floating on top of a general sense that Britain does not have a grip on more general types of immigration, the public fear the worst.

This sense is remarkably pervasive in some groups.  47% of over 65 year olds and 47% of red top readers named immigration as the single most important issue facing Britain today.  66% of Conservative voters and 82% of UKIP voters named it as one of the top three most important issues facing Britain today.  Make no mistake, having a clear policy on immigration that commands public confidence is going to be vital for all political parties in this Parliament.  So far none of the parties seem to have come anywhere near giving the public confidence in their policies.

In this respect, the British public are remarkably European (though with far less justification than much of their fellow EU citizens).  Britain is mid-table in the EU in terms of the percentage of residents who are citizens of other countries and Britain is now accepting around just 4% of new asylum applications in the EU.  Hungary detained as many migrants in a day this week as Britain this year has been averaging for asylum applications in a month.  50,000 arrived in Greece in July alone.  Germany is expecting 800,000 asylum applications this year.  These numbers give some context to the British immigration figures cited above.

This pressure on the EU is not likely to subside any time soon and the UN is urging EU member states to share the burden equitably.  Jean-Claude Juncker is also looking for an EU-wide solution (he might have better luck if he didn’t gratuitously insult the Prime Minister of one of the countries whose co-operation he is now seeking).

So Britain is going to come under renewed pressure from the rest of the EU to take more asylum seekers.  This is unlikely to go down well at home, to put it mildly.

Staying a step ahead

The Prime Minister has a short term problem of calming public fears, which are mostly unjustified.  He has a medium term problem that the EU is going to be pressuring Britain to take far more asylum seekers, which most British people see no justification for.  And he has a long term problem that he has no clear public message to give about the level of immigration that Britain can expect and deal with, nor of how to stem the influx into Europe of refugees.  Right now, he does not obviously have a plan to deal with any of these.

Against this background, you would expect the Conservatives to be suffering in the polls.  Far from it.  Labour take a more pro-immigration approach than the Conservatives, so are poorly placed to benefit (Jeremy Corbyn believes that migration is a “global phenomenon” and that non-EU immigration into the UK “is mainly family reunion issues”).  Despite UKIP having majored heavily on immigration control, UKIP’s poll ratings haven’t flickered in the last few weeks: perhaps Nigel Farage’s post-election antics have put some off; more likely, UKIP’s absence from the airwaves has left voters not making the connection between their concern about immigration and UKIP.

In the absence of any meaningful opposition, the Conservatives’ poll ratings are buoyant.  This will not last if the public conclude that they are out of their depth on what they regard as the number one issue confronting Britain.  Anti-immigrant parties of different degrees of nativism have been polling well in countries as diverse as France, Sweden, Hungary and Denmark.  With UKIP angling to fill that space in Britain, the Conservatives probably only have a short breathing space.

How should they use it?  Their great difficulty is that the Prime Minister’s past commitments on immigration have been comprehensively broken so his word is going to be disbelieved by many on this subject.  So they need to concentrate on actions rather than words.  The increased urgency at an EU level could assist the Prime Minister.  If he can get substantive movement on intra-EU migration, he may well be inclined to agree to take more asylum-seekers (he could triple the annual number and still Britain would have fewer asylum seekers than it had in 2012).  But the progress would need to be in that order to make it saleable to the British public.  And it assumes that David Cameron is looking for substantive change of the EU rather than something cosmetic.

That would probably see David Cameron’s term as Prime Minister out.  If he does not achieve something on this front, he could rapidly find his second term unravelling.  He tends to get tripped up by subjects that he’d not been focussing on.  This could be his downfall.

In the long term, the EU is certain to continue to face a continual trail of huddled masses.  This is not a function of the world becoming more disordered (the opposite is true) but of increased mobility, enabling wealthier asylum seekers and economic migrants to seek out their preferred destination to make a new life.  They cannot be blamed on an individual level – we would probably do the same ourselves in their shoes – but the social consequences and the levels of asylum seekers and migration that we and our European neighbours can live with as a society will need to be addressed and readdressed for many years.  This is a discussion that has barely started in Britain.



Opposition Leader Corbyn would be playing a dangerous game if he refused Privy Council status

August 29th, 2015


He really hasn’t thought this one through

The reports earlier this week that Jeremy Corbyn would refuse membership of the Privy Council if he’s elected leader of the Labour Party would be more than a symbolic gesture against a seemingly anachronistic body; it would be a serious strike against the country’s unwritten constitution.

Westminster is governed by rules evolved by gentlemen for gentlemen and the fact that the Commons is populated by professional politicians rather than the gentlemen amateurs of the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century sense has done little to change that. It is one of the principle reasons why much of the constitution remains uncodified: those applying it understand the limits of what’s acceptable without needing to write it down.

The relationship between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition is a good case in point. While they are publicly obliged to disagree on most policy, and while one is after the other’s job, the PM should be able to brief his opposite number (or authorise such briefings) on sensitive questions. It is what lies behind the whole concept of a loyal opposition.

    In reportedly rejecting the vehicle through which such briefings are made – and are made legal – Corbyn would deliberately be placing himself outside that framework and refusing to be bound by its rules. In essence, he would be rejecting the idea that his is a loyal opposition.

There may be some who might be relieved that an individual who’s gone out of his way to cultivate connections with some questionable individuals couldn’t expect the sort of access a Leader of the Opposition would normally receive. That would be to miss the point. Once you reject the unwritten rules of the game, what rules is the game being played by? To reject the self-restraint implicit in the unwritten code (and explicit in the Privy Council oath), invites the government to assume the worst: that the opposition wishes to do more than defeat it, it wishes to destroy it – which in turn legitimises the government doing whatever may be necessary to prevent that. The Privy Council may be an anachronism on one level but on another it’s the Westminster club which by bringing together members of all mainstream parties prevents the descent down the slippery slope of equating opposition with treason that’s all too common in immature democracies.

Historians may argue that the situation isn’t so bad; that there’s precedent, which indeed there is. Ramsay MacDonald had to be sworn in as a Privy Councillor immediately before being appointed prime minister in 1924. However, that was several decades before it became standard practice for leaders of all the main opposition parties to be automatically appointed to the Council. Indeed, it was only just about the time that the concept of a single permanent Leader of the Opposition was becoming established. There’s also a substantial difference between not being offered membership and not accepting it.

Not that he could necessarily reject an appointment for ever. Chances are that Corbyn is unelectable, that even if he’s elected next month he may well not see it through to the election and if he does then he’ll lose. Let’s assume the alternative though. The Promissory Oaths Act 1868 requires the prime minister (and other cabinet ministers) to be Privy Councillors. If Corbyn is serious about wanting to be PM, he’d have to take the Oath then, so why not take it now? Alternatively, would he really precipitate a constitutional crisis by refusing and so being literally unappointable?

My guess is that he hasn’t thought it through that far and that if it came down to it, he’d do what was needed. Nonetheless, these kind of gestures carry far more weight when they come from the Shadow Prime Minister than from a backbench MP. As games go, it’s a dangerous one for all concerned.

David Herdson


Ex LAB voters in Newsnight Ipsos MORI focus groups rate Cooper top and Corbyn bottom

August 28th, 2015

Could the party be making a terrible mistake?

Two sessions were held in Nuneaton and Croydon. These were both top targets for Labour on May 7th which they failed to win.

The sessions will be shown on Newsnight this evening and be available on BBC IPlayer later.

Mike Smithson


Why it is not smart making non-voters your main priority

August 28th, 2015

If you couldn’t be arsed last May then the chances are that it will be the same next time

It’s a seductive strategy that all parties try from time to time – make going for non-voters the main strategy but it is a wrong one. I’d argue that it is easier to persuade interested election participants to change than it is to get those who never turnout to alter their habits.

Just look at how well the Tories did on May 7th keeping the UKIP vote down in key marginals while not worrying about the purples making progress where it didn’t matter.

We underestimate how big a thing it is to vote for the first time and all the evidence is that the more you skip elections the chance of you voting the next time decline.

Boothroyd’s Tweet is spot on.

Mike Smithson


Message to Andy, Yvette and Liz: Jeremy is a man you can do business with

August 28th, 2015

LAB4 looking right

Don Brind on how Labour should react to Corbyn’s likely victory

It’s a pretty boring picture – two men and a woman standing in front of a model train. What made it newsworthy for the Metro, the London free sheet, in October 2007 was that the two men were Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Flanked by the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly they are gazing at a Crossrail train as the £16 billion project was given the green light.

Such moments of amity have been rare in the rollercoaster relations between the Livingstone and Labour leaders going back to Neil Kinnock. In recent days Brown and Livingstone have been at odds over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership credentials.

But that eight-year-old newspaper picture prompts two reflections relevant to the current contest in the Labour party.

The first is a message for Team Corbyn. Labour Londoners are rightly proud of the legacy of the Livingstone-led GLC in fighting racism and homophobia. It laid the groundwork for the diversity and tolerance which we now take for granted in the capital.

    But the GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher. We had to wait for her municipal vandalism to be undone by a Labour government – with an electable leader. Ken Livingstone’s opportunity to resume his leadership of London was created by Tony Blair.

The second message is for Teams Burnham, Cooper and Kendall. The Crossrail project which Livingstone worked tirelessly to bring about – winning massive cash commitments from the government and private business – was emblematic of something broader.

The Livingstone mayoralty was a business-friendly administration.

“At the heart of the Mayor’s job” says a report by his top adviser John Ross, “is making sure that London’s success as a city economy continues. This requires more than just taking account of account of business issues in making decisions. It means forging an effective partnership with business.”

With that in mind Jeremy Corbyn’s rivals should all look positively at his his “Better Business” plan and seek to find common ground.
This means engaging with Corbyn not signing up to his plan in its entirety. As the Guardian’s Economic Editor Larry Elliott observes:  “He didn’t expect to be Labour leader and it shows from his economic prospectus, which looks like something hastily put together … most of the eye-grabbing policies are merely “options”.

Elliott says Corbyn will not get the kind of honeymoon Tony Blair enjoyed in 1994 when the Major government’s economic credibility trashed by Black Wednesday. The Tories will try to deliver an early knockout by questioning the economic competence of the new leader. “Corbyn needs to be ready for this, because unless the details of his economic policy stack up, he won’t get a hearing for his big-picture analysis.”

The party as a whole should be thinking about how to counter the inevitable Tory assault when the results is announced on September 12th. Corbyn should not be left to fend for himself, especially as his leadership is likely to be short-lived. Paul Flynn MP whose opposition to his friend Jeremy’s candidature I highlighted in a previous post has tweeted a call to all the candidates to agree to a new vote in two years time “if new leader flops and is less popular than the party.”

The case for a constructive response Corbyn is made by the brilliant Mary Riddell who tells her Telegraph readers he is “no monster. He might even be the saviour of the Labour party”

She says the party should try to harness the mood he has created by inspiring you people. “He is likely to be out well before 2020 having, with luck, bequeathed to a more moderate successor a party reshaped to the demands of modern democracy.”

Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have had their ups and downs but, in my view, all have grown during the protracted campaign. They have spent many long hours in the same room as Jeremy Corbyn. Enlightened self-interest suggests they should keep in talking to him after September 12th.

Don Brind writes a weekly column for PB


Just one local by-election tonight – what looks like an interesting LAB defence in Barnsley against UKIP

August 27th, 2015

Dearne North on Barnsley (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 55, Conservatives 4, Independents 4 (Labour majority of 47)
Result of ward at last election (2014): Labour 1,179 (58%), United Kingdom Independence Party 752 (37%), Conservatives 103 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: Tony Devoy (Yorkshire First), Karen Fletcher (Trade Unionist and Socialist), Annette Gollick (Labour), Jim Johnson (UKIP), Lee Ogden (Con)

Whilst it is true to say that Labour have Barnsley sewn up, it is not fair to say that no one can challenge them. Barnsley has a total of 63 councillors, therefore whilst getting 32 councillors gets you a majority, the real benchmark is 42 councillors (two thirds of the total membership) and between 1990 and 2003 that is precisely what Labour clocked up, but then from 2003 to 2010 Labour experienced a problem. And what was the problem? Well, it wasn’t the Liberal Democrats and it wasn’t the Conservatives, it was the local independents and in 2008 they managed to win 24 seats on the council and caused Labour to come within one seat of losing Barnsley to No Overall Control, but then came the coalition, then came Labour’s recovery in local government and then Barnsley became a Labour heartland again.

So if Labour were to suffer a rebellion against the perceived one party state on the council, who might benefit? Well, the obvious answer would be UKIP, as in the four constituencies that make up Barnsley UKIP polled 23% of the vote (up 18% on the 2010 general election) clocking a very impressive 24% in the Wentworth and Dearne constituency but as we have seen UKIP have their own problems, namely being unable to hold on to their vote. So what about Yorkshire First? They fielded 14 candidates in the general election polling 1.04% in those constituencies (the best performance being Hemsworth where they polled 2.4% of the vote), sadly this meant that they lost every deposit in those seats and in Barnsley only managed to poll 647 votes in Barnsley East and despite all of their bluster the Trade Unionists and Socialists have yet to win a council seat anywhere, so with no Lib Dem candidate to demonstrate the fightback against Labour, Labour seem almost certain to win this seat with an increased vote and majority.

Harry Hayfield


How backers of the LAB contenders differ from each other and the country as a whole

August 27th, 2015

18% of Corbyn voters were 2010 LDs while for 57% their main news source is social media.