Milwaukee mayhem: the Dems could well be heading for a contested convention

January 18th, 2020

Why the usual rules don’t apply in 2020

Fictional America political dramas love a contested convention, where two or more candidates turn up still in hope of gaining the nomination, with all the trading, arguing and general politicking (and, in fictionland, often rather more than politicking) that implies. In reality, it doesn’t happen like that.

Presidential primaries have an inherent instability about them which in recent decades has generally ensured that both parties’ candidates are secure in their place months before being formally nominated. Once a candidate establishes a firm lead in both national polls and in state victories, he or she becomes hard to displace as other candidates struggle for funding, endorsements and media attention.

Granted, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes two candidates become so closely matched that both have sufficient strength to ride out defeats, which they then reverse in a later round. Clinton-Sanders and Clinton-Obama both were notionally in the balance – though the endorsements of superdelegates meant that in reality no surprises would be sprung. In earlier years, Reagan pushed Gerald Ford all the way in 1976 before losing out.

However, we have to go right back to the Democrat convention of 1952 for the last case of delegates having to vote more than once: Stevenson won on the third ballot (a mixed blessing: he would be steamrollered by Eisenhower in November). Notably, this was before the primary season as we now know it was established – fewer than a third of states held primaries then as opposed to nearly all now – and momentum built in even a strong run of victories wasn’t necessarily sufficient to propel a candidate to the nomination. Those days are gone.

So why do I think it could well be different this time? Three things: the candidates, the schedule and the rules.

The Democrats have a crowded field. True, well over a dozen candidates have already dropped out, including sometime serious contenders like Beto O’Rourke and Kamela Harris, but there’s still a double-digit field and while Joe Biden has held a healthy (at times commanding) national lead for most of the last year, matters are much closer in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states to vote, where he, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren are in something close to a four-way tie. If the actual results look something like those polls then all four are all-but certain to head into Super Tuesday at the beginning of March not just in the race but in contention. On top of which, someone may come through from the pack.

This matters because the schedule’s had a bit of a shake-up compared with 2016. In particular, California’s 415 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday at the beginning of March rather than in June. All told, over 60% of delegates will be awarded by 17 March – only six weeks after Iowa kicks everything off. This, combined with the closeness of the race, means that delegates are likely to be sprinkled round much more diversely than usual.

Even if the early contests do produce a clearer pecking order, history still suggests a race that’ll last well past the St Patrick’s Day primaries. The 2016 Republican race, where Trump held a clear lead throughout, five candidates contested Super Tuesday and two kept fighting for a month and half beyond; likewise, Gingrich and Santorum didn’t throw the towel in in 2012 until the beginning of May. Not only did the Democrat contest go the distance in 2008 but the Republicans took well past Super Tuesday to settle on John McCain.

Where the Republicans differ from the Democrats though is in the allocation of delegates. The final primaries in the GOP race are mostly winner-take-all. As there is usually just one serious candidate left at this stage, that provides a massive boost to whoever it is, sufficient to gain an absolute majority.

By contrast, all the Democrat primaries are approximately proportional (subject to a high 15% qualifying share, though this operates individually at both district and state level – so a candidate who wins 11% statewide won’t receive any of the at-large delegates but will still gain some in any districts where he or she tops 15%). So even in a much narrowed field, it’ll be difficult for anyone to poll heavily enough to scoop up the delegates needed to put them over the top, if there are two or three lingering in.

And the very fact that there might well be a contested convention is good reason to stay in, before we even think about the nature of people like Sanders and his supporters, who are not natural quitters. If the primary contest isn’t a matter of first past the post but a preliminary stage to a convention contest then why quit if you think you can attract crossover support – and all the candidates might feel able to do that.

All of which makes it far more likely than normal that the Democrats will get to Milwaukee without a confirmed candidate. Chances are, that still favours whoever has most delegates, who can not only claim a moral victory but who inevitably starts closer to the winning line. But it’s no certainty. If there’s a mood to stop someone for whatever reason, or if there’s a deal done between two of the candidates, or if some other dynamic takes off, having most delegates might not be decisive.

Of the candidates, I only really see Biden, Sanders and Warren going the distance. They’re the heavyweights and it’ll take a lot to break into that company. But three is enough to force a deadlock.

David Herdson


Starmer edges up further in new YouGov leadership poll

January 17th, 2020

Punters move back to Starmer who’s heading for a 70% chance once again

This from the Times shows how the poll has it going round by round.

Mike Smithson


A Toxic Culture?

January 17th, 2020

In March 2017 PC Keith Palmer was killed while defending Parliament from a terrorist. In August 2019 PC Andrew Harper was killed while investigating a suspected burglary. These are only 2 of the 50 police officers killed between 1990-2010. Few of us face the risks ordinary police officers run. This does not excuse what is set out below. It does explain why it is so necessary, if their work and sacrifices are to be worthwhile and the public gets the policing it is entitled to, that the issues raised below be properly addressed. 

What follows is not a comprehensive list of every scandal affecting the police. But it is an overview of their range over five decades.

  1. 1972-1977: Sir Robert Mark’s campaign to root out corrupt officers within the Flying Squad and CID, resulting in more than 500 officers being dismissed or “resigned”. He memorably stated: “a good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs”.
  2. 1974-1989: The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad – eventually wound up after allegations of incompetence, malpractice and abuse of power, leading to over 100 cases collapsing or being overturned on appeal. An investigation into its activities led to some disciplinary action but no prosecutions, a decision for which the DPP (Barbara Mills) was severely criticised.
  3. 1970’s: The activities of various police forces in the Irish miscarriage of justice cases – the Guildford Four (1974), the Birmingham Six (1975), the Maguire Seven (1976).
  4. 1978-1982: Operation Countryman – an investigation into corruption within the Met and City of London Police in the late 1970’s. Information was released in 2018 about efforts made by the Met and the DPP (Sir Thomas Hetherington) to cover up the scale of wrongdoing and obstruct the investigation by the Hampshire and Dorset police.
  5. 1979: The death of Blair Peach during an Anti-Nazi League demonstration against the National Front in Southall. In 2010 a police report stated it was likely that a Metropolitan Police officer “struck the fatal blow” and attributed “grave suspicion” to one unnamed officer, who may also have been involved in a cover-up with two colleagues.
  6. 1981: Operation Swamp, the subsequent Brixton riots and the Scarman report into how the police used their “stop and search” and other powers.  Numerous recommendations were made.
  7. 1980’s – 2010: South Yorkshire Police’s failures in the Rotherham child exploitation scandal. The Jay Report described how the police failed to investigate adequately or at all the reports they were receiving over at least a decade of child sexual grooming.
  8. 1989: The Hillsborough stadium tragedy. Two reports – the 1990 Taylor Report and the 2012 report by the Independent Panel – described the extent of South Yorkshire Police’s negligence, attempts to shift blame on others and pervert the course of justice.
  9. 1993: The investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the resulting 1999 Macpherson Inquiry which found that many Scarman recommendations had not been implemented. Macpherson, unlike Scarman,  described the police as “institutionally racist”. Subsequently it was revealed the police had spied on the Lawrence family.
  10. 2003-2020: The failures of the Greater Manchester Police in relation to Operation Augusta and child sexual exploitation, described in the Newsam report published this week. The report’s statement that: “The authorities knew many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators. This is a depressingly familiar picture and has been seen in many other towns and cities across the country.” could apply to a number of places and police forces round the country.
  11. 2006-2011: Allegations were made during the News International inquiry that the police were selling confidential information to journalists. This was to be looked at in the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry which never went ahead.
  12. 2009: The death of newspaper seller, Ian Tomlinson, as a result of police assault during G-20 summit  protests. 
  13. 2011:  It’s revealed that various undercover policemen had infiltrated environmental groups for a number of years, entering into deceitful relationships with activists and fathering children. In 2015 the Met apologized to women “tricked into relationships” over 25 years, closed the units and made financial settlements of circa £3 million. An “Undercover Policing Inquiry” into “appalling practices” in undercover policing was set up. It has yet to report.
  14. 2012 onwards: Cleveland Police has 5 Chief Constables in 6 years, the first in this list being dismissed for deceit and misconduct. In 2019 it is put into special measures following an independent report describing it as “inadequate” in all fields, “directionless, rudderless and clueless”, “putting the public at risk” with some officers “not acting with honesty, integrity and competence“. 
  15. 2014: Operation Midland into child abuse allegations made by Carl Beech against politicians and others is launched. In 2019 following his conviction on multiple counts of perverting the course of justice, the Henriques Report identifies extensive failings in the original investigation.
  16. 2015: Police Scotland are criticised by a judge for breaching data privacy laws and the ECHR when spying on journalists and their communications with their sources. Similar breaches were committed by Cleveland Police.
  17. 2018: The Met’s anti-corruption unit is under investigation for corruption in relation to allegations of assault, racism, child abuse and child grooming.
  18. 2018: Cliff Richard is paid £400,000 by the South Yorkshire Police for its behaviour over the raid on his home in relation to historic child sex abuse allegations, including informing the BBC about the raid.
  19. 2005 to date: there have been 4 Metropolitan Police Commissioners. Ian Blair resigned after falling out with the London Mayor; his successor resigned because of his links with one of the journalists implicated in phone hacking; Hogan-Howe lasted 6 years. Under his leadership Operation Midland is set up and people arrested under Operation Yewtree and bailed for lengthy periods without charge, a practice later banned. His replacement in 2017 is Cressida Dick, the senior policewoman in charge when a blameless electrician was killed in 2005 following terror attacks.
  20. 2020: The Met refers itself to the police watchdog for its failure to act on recommendations made by Sir Richard Henriques to investigate two others for perverting the course of justice in relation to abuse allegations arising from Operation Midland.

It is a dismal list. It could be twice as long.

To a financial investigator, this picture is very familiar. Despite innumerable inquiries, changes in the law, disciplinary proceedings, recommendations, new procedures, training, apologies, compensation paid, some prosecutions and that perennial favourite – “lessons have been learnt” – bad, criminal behaviour (which all the people doing it would clearly have known was wrong) and incompetence have repeatedly occurred in forces all over the country over decades. Not one or two “rotten apples”; whole orchards of them. There has been a culture of poor leadership, cover-up or the truth only coming out many years later and of other key agencies turning a blind eye, aiding and abetting or failing to set or demand high standards of probity and professionalism.

Above all, there has been a failure to ask why such problems keep on happening, despite all the remedial steps taken and all the apparent learning of all those lessons. 

It is irrelevant that there are many policemen, possibly even the majority, who don’t behave in this way. The same could be said of banking. The professionalism, hard work and good name of the honest good guys are tarnished by the bad, useless ones. The bad drive out – and demoralise – the good.

Policing depends on consent. Trust is essential to that consent. Scandals erode that trust. How can our cherished system of policing work then?

Perhaps – like banking – it is time to realise that there is something systemic and deep-rooted and toxic in police culture which allows or encourages or does not stop officers from behaving badly. Perhaps – like banking – it is time to make the hard cultural changes needed if training and rules are to work. Perhaps – unlike banking – it is time for senior leaders to take real responsibility not merely talk about it. Perhaps – like banking – it is time to realise that even successful or vital sectors or professions can in reality be really rather more second-rate than we like to pretend. Perhaps we should stop deluding ourselves that our key institutions are as good as we sometimes rather vaingloriously claim. The police are not the only body of which this could be said, of course.

Law and order are the most basic functions of the state. But the police should not be treated as a sacred cow. A comprehensive, dispassionate and ruthless look at how the police operate and real tough action to change it for the better are needed.

What are the chances?



My 123/1 LD leadership bet

January 17th, 2020

Bath LD MP Wera Hobhouse indicates that she might run for Swinson’s old job

One of the key things about political betting is that when you see an opportunity you have to seize it fast. As we all know the Lib Dems were reduced by one seat to 11 at the general election and are without a leader following Swinson’s defeat at the hands of the SNP.

My understanding is that the party’s executive will be meeting at the weekend to decide on the process of the election to find her successor. At the moment Ed Davey, who competed against Jo Swinson last time, is the temporary leader.

The assumption is Davey will go again with Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran and Daisy Cooper of St Albans as other possible runners. The latter only entered the Commons last month. Yesterday the above Tweet on a possible Hobhouse bid was the first we had heard that any of the others were contemplating putting their hat into the ring.

On seeing the news my immediate reaction was to go onto Betfair to find out what her odds were and there was £6 available at 123/1 which I took.

At the general election Hobhouse , a former Tory councillor, retained Bath with a majority of of 12,300 and so looks pretty safe however things might be for the party at the next election whenever that comes. Given what happened on December 12th I guess that having a substantial majority in your own constituency is going to be a factor that the Lib Dems will be looking for in their next leader. A problem with Swinson, of course, was she was defending a relatively small majority.

Mike Smithson


The Conservative intake of 2019 (Part 2 of 2) – the new MPs to keep an eye on

January 16th, 2020

Last time we looked at the new Conservative intake in aggregate.  This time we’re picking out a few who look set to make an impact, some for the right reasons and some for the wrong reasons. Many new MPs have scrubbed their social media squeaky clean. This might well be smart when looking to get elected. It is going to make it harder for them to stand out from the crowd.  As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Even so, quite a few have already found themselves in hot water for their pronouncements. Anthony Browne, a former journalist colleague and aide of Boris Johnson, may well excite sympathy for the way that some of his more adventurous articles have caused outrage. In 2003, Browne allegedly wrote for the Spectator, accusing immigrants of spreading HIV and bringing germs to the country. The half-baked musings of Sally-Ann Hart, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith are less likely to have tugged at the heartstrings of their colleagues.

Several of the new intake have controversy in their pasts. The Ministry of Justice intervened in Jamie Wallis’s claims management company (he also seems to have part-owned a sugar daddy website) and Stuart Anderson has faced questions over a dividend he received from a company that subsequently went insolvent.  And one has been wrongly accused of sexual molestation while another has already felt obliged to clarify his sexuality.

Who are the potential stars? Boris Johnson would only be human if he favoured those he already knows well. So Anthony Browne, despite his past indiscretions, Andrew Griffith and Danny Kruger are all well-placed.

Of the relative outsiders, we’re going to be keeping an eye on the following:

  • James Sunderland, Bracknell. A former army officer with strong views on global Britain post-Brexit, he is likely to have a distinctive take on next steps.
  • Natalie Elphicke, Dover and Deal. Not just her husband’s wife, she has long-standing experience of developing policy in housing and infrastructure. In a government that makes great play of housing and infrastructure, she has talents that should be exploited.
  • Gareth Davies, Grantham and Stanford. An economic policy specialist who is well plugged into the party machinery.
  • Aaron Bell, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Pb.com’s own TissuePrice, he has already managed both to have a distinctive backstory without offering up any notable hostages to fortune. That obvious intelligence is going to have to find an outlet somewhere.  As a serial quiz show contestant, he is clearly more than comfortable with the limelight.
  • Laura Trott, Sevenoaks. Unlikely to find favour in this government given her incautiously-expressed views about Boris Johnson. Clearly able and if an awkward squad forms, she may well be in it.
  • Dr James Davies, Vale of Clwyd. Former doctor, very strong on health issues, where the Conservatives have traditionally struggled. Could come to the fore if an NHS crisis materialises, and is an obvious candidate for ministerial posts in the Department of Health.
  • Sarah Atherton, Wrexham. Former intelligence officer and passionate Brexiteer. One of a new breed of Welsh Tories.

And, of course, we can’t leave without coming back to Danny Kruger, who would be one to watch even if he hadn’t already worked with Boris Johnson. Unusually among MPs, he is a real political thinker and has a fully worked-out communitarian ideology of his own. He is a former speechwriter to David Cameron so he understands and can control the power of words. He is likely to have a glittering career or cause future leaders major problems. Or both.

Alastair Meeks and Fishing


The Shock Of The Blue – The new Conservative intake of 2019 (Part 1 of 2)

January 16th, 2020

The Conservatives secured a thumping mandate at the general election, getting 365 MPs in the new Parliament, up from the 317 that Theresa May managed in 2017. This increase of 48, however, actually masks a much greater turnover. 109 of those 365 MPs were not in the last Parliament. More than one sixth of the new Parliament is comprised of new Conservative MPs.

Most of these MPs are relatively unknown.  They will, however, play a critical role in this and future Parliaments. So who exactly are they?

The sheer number of these MPs makes answering this question a substantial logistical challenge. Your dynamic duo have teamed up, looking at local newspapers, Facebook and wikipedia pages, constituency websites and twitter accounts, to be exposed to the words “Get Brexit Done” at a rate that far exceeds the annual recommended dosage. Here is a table with the background data to these two articles.

What have we found? 

  • Gender: 35, just under one third, are women. Though a long way short of parity, this is a significant increase on the 21% of Conservative MPs who were female in the 2017 Parliament.  
  • Sexuality: It has been widely reported that 20 of these MPs are LGBT – we have not checked their bedroom activities or looked under their clothing to confirm, but if so the 6% of LGBT Tory MPs in the 2017 Parliament will increase significantly
  • Former MPs: 10 are former MPs who have made a reappearance (some, but not all, in their previous constituencies). At least three have become candidates partly through family connections: two are spouses of the previous MP and one is the daughter of a previous candidate. One MP is the son of Patrick Mayhew and another is the niece of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
  • Former SPADs: As always, it is hard to count exactly how many former spads have shinned one knee length further up the greasy pole – many candidates are reluctant to advertise their previous political experience. There are at least 10 former advisers to ministers and five former MPs’ assistants. The true numbers are likely to be higher. So this intake has its share of political insiders.
  • Other previous occupations: What of the rest? The sandwich shop owner, the musician and the bricklayer may catch the eye, but as usual we find plenty of bankers and lawyers. Any move by the Parliamentary Conservative party away from the professional classes is incremental rather than seismic.
  • THAT issue: There is, however, one major sea change. Previous intakes of Conservative MPs, up to and including the 2017 intake, had been dominated by MPs who voted Remain. Not so this time: there are fewer than a dozen new MPs who admit to voting Remain and most of those are retread MPs. The 2019 cohort is chock-a-block with enthusiastic Leavers. Many campaigned energetically for Leave in the referendum campaign. Even Kensington has an MP who wants a tough Brexit (though she neglected to advertise this to her constituents). Perhaps most indicative of the mood, Kate Griffiths claims to have voted Leave though she participated in a photo-opportunity with her husband as he went to cast his Remain vote. Many have already joined the ERG. Given the expulsion of retirement of almost all its prominent Remainers, the Conservative party’s capture by Leavers is now complete.  But we need to qualify this statement slightly: a few of the new intake, e.g. Anthony Browne (South Cambs), have recorded reservations at the prospect of No Deal. Some more may have reservations in private. This could become significant if the negotiations with Brussels get into trouble later in the year.
  • Non-Brexit opinions: Beyond Brexit, the new MPs have been strikingly coy about policy commitments. Most have thrown themselves into a very localist agenda, perhaps at the instigation of CCHQ. Reviving local high streets is a common position, though none are so rash as to say how this might be accomplished.  At least two new MPs, not content with Brexit, are campaigning for their constituencies to secede from their current local council. There are many MPs vowing to get their share of funds for their local NHS and infrastructure. With so many MPs making these two elements central to their personal campaign, the government is going to need to keep on top of them. NHS funding needs outstrip inflation as the population grows, ages and expects more expensive treatments. This could be a major flashpoint for the government.

The localist agendas could lead to conflict in different ways. For example, southern MPs are campaigning against HS2 and northern MPs are campaigning for it. They can’t both win, though some fudge or can-kicking might be the result.

What is also interesting is what is NOT there.  In their statements of priorities, very few MPs other than those with a military background, mentioned defence, or Britain’s place in the world (other than Brexit) and few discuss deregulation, privatisation or any of the other issues that motivated the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s.  

In the next article we move from the overall picture to look at some of the individual MPs who are worth keeping an eye on – for good reasons and bad.

Alastair Meeks and Fishing


New Survation LAB leadership poll has RLB ahead and shakes up the betting

January 15th, 2020


Remember Starmer only got 31% of first choices in the YouGov LAB members’ poll

January 15th, 2020

How valid are the findings now?

A fair amount has happened in the LAB leadership race since the YouGov members’ poll which was carried out over Christmas. The big number that people recall is that after six rounds of lower preference distribution Starmer was beating RLB by 61% to 39%. The first preferences were:

  • Stamer 31%
  • Long-Bailey 20%
  • Phillips 11%
  • Cooper 7%
  • Lewis 7%
  • Thornberry 6%
  • Nandy 5%

Since then Cooper has not entered the race and Lewis failed to make the cut amongst MPs. We are now in the constituency and affiliates nomination stage and it is clear that not all the five survivors will make it to the postal ballot in March. If it comes down to three then second preferences will be key and I’d suggest that the Christmas holiday lower preference polling when there were six choices will be far less relevant. What has happened since and is yet to happen will have an impact.

There’s been the surprising trade union support for Nandy with the possibility that she could meet the threshold on this round without having to worry about the branches. Another factor is that the electorate is changing. The Sun is reporting that 60k new members have been added since the general election.

At the moment I’d rate Starmer as a 50% chance somewhat lower than current betting odds and Nandy at least level-pegging with RLB.

Mike Smithson