Buttigieg’s powerful new argument two weeks before Iowa : When the Dems choose an old insider they lose

January 19th, 2020

Their White House winners in recent times have been with young outsiders

I’ve just had an email from an old acquaintance who has recently visited Iowa where he attended a packed Pete Buttigieg meeting, asked questions of the young contender and got himself a selfie. This is from his email.

He said one thing that interested me: The Dems always do better when they have someone who is new to the National Stage – Obama, Clinton, even Carter, for example, were not from Washington. JFK was “next gen”. Whereas they never do well with older or more experienced Washington candidates. The Dems surely did well to choose JFK over Stevenson, who wanted to run for the third time, for example.  Hilary Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Mondale, Humphrey – all lost. Of course, having a non-Washington candidate doesn’t guarantee success (Dukakis, McGovern). But the claim that (older) insiders never win for the Dems is interesting. If he can get traction with that, then maybe people will wonder whether Biden is another Humphrey. 

Another thing that could hinder Sanders and Warren is that they are both Senators who in the two weeks between now and the Iowa caucuses will find it difficult to leave Washington because they’ll be tied up with the impeachment process.

Buttigieg has bet the farm on Iowa and there’s a good chance he’ll succeed.

Mike Smithson


Johnson/Cummings propose moving the House of Lords to York

January 19th, 2020

If not London then York is as good as it gets

There’s a single column story on the front page of the Sunday Times that reads like one of those spoofs you see on April Fools day suggesting that Johnson wants to move the Lords permanently to York. The paper’s Tim Shipman reports:

The prime minister last week ordered work to begin on the practicalities of a move, in further evidence that the Conservatives are serious about cementing their gains in what were once Labour’s heartlands. Disused government-owned land close to York railway station has already been identified as a prime site to build a new second chamber.

If York is chosen as the Lords’ new home, it will be the first time the city has been a centre of political power since the English Civil War, when it played host to the Council of the North.

As a former resident I think that it’s a good idea. If you’re going to move anywhere then York with it’s historical significance seems on the right tracks. After all the Synod of the Church of England meets in the city once a year. The Anglican church has managed to operate with twin centres of governance for centuries so why who not the UK parliament.

York played a big part in the early days of the creation of PB. I was appointed Director of Development at the University of York at the start of 2005 a few months after PB was created and bought an apartment backing onto the magnificent city walls. I left in the middle of 2007 the year that I retired to work full time on the site. This was the period when the site was establishing itself.

Where York stands out is that the transport links are so good with a fast and frequent rail service to London. Some services do it in two hours and there are good links throughout the whole of the north of England and, of course, Scotland.

York has a great sense of its own importance and sees itself as the natural second city. We don’t know how serious this proposal is but it could work.

York voted 62% Remain.

Mike Smithson


Infrastructure: the Conservatives’ necessary but misplaced priority

January 18th, 2020

The Custard Factory is one of Birmingham’s more striking developments.   Its current incarnation is as Birmingham’s answer to Shoreditch (a question that probably did not need asking).  Its history, however, stands as a warning to the government, a warning that it almost certainly will not heed.

The Custard Factory’s name is not, like so many new developments, the product of a random buzzword generator, but a simple statement of its origin.  Until 1964, Bird’s Custard was manufactured on that spot. And then as a direct result of government industrial policy, it desserted the site.

In the decades after the Second World War, Birmingham’s economy boomed.  In 1961, Birmingham household incomes exceeded those of London and the south east.  Successive governments fretted about how Birmingham and London were leaving the rest of the country behind.  Central government took direct measures to spread their success to more deprived regions. First they restricted industrial development, then they restricted office development.  The city of a thousand trades was booming and this was a crisis. Introducing the order placing restrictions on office development in 1965, the government minister saw this as a “threatening situation”.

In words that now seem prophetic, the MP for Sutton Coldfield at the time opposed the measure:

“This Order is a kind of penalty on the success of the West Midlands and Birmingham, imposed admittedly by the Government in order, as they believe, to help somewhere else. There is a growing anxiety in Birmingham that the Government may have carried too far this process of siphoning off the prosperity of the Midlands to other areas. I can give examples which are germane to this Order. In Birmingham on Monday I heard of firms, which provide employment similar to that affected by this Order, being forced to leave the city. These firms, to a considerable extent, are firms which are independent of cyclical fluctuations of trade.

The manufacturers of Bird’s Custard, a food product, who have been in the city for a great many years, were quoted as an example. The motor industry, on the other hand, is a cyclical industry and whilst Birmingham is very prosperous, it and the Midlands, to the extent of dependence on the motor industry, are living dangerously in their prosperity. Therefore, it hurts these areas the more when industrial and commercial employment of a non-cyclical kind leave the area. Such a movement can prove a great future potential loss to the city and surrounding area.”

The Order was highly effective, at least so far as Birmingham was concerned.  Birmingham no longer has the problems of success. It has a lower GVA per head than the national average – and lower than Liverpool, for example.  It was, however, much less effective at boosting the economy of struggling areas, many of which have remained in relative decline to this day.

55 years on, and Britain has another government looking to siphon off the prosperity of successful regions to struggling areas.  There isn’t much evidence that the government has any better idea how to do it this time than it did in the 1960s.

The government seems set to divert infrastructure spending away from the areas of the country that are prospering to the forgotten north.  This isn’t a new idea either. Nor did it prove a particularly successful idea either. At the same time as Birmingham’s business was being run off, the Humber Bridge was commissioned.  Hull and Grimsby are better connected to each other, but both still languish economically. A lot more than infrastructure is needed to breathe new life into depressed areas of the country.  Past experience has shown that if you only build a field, they won’t come.

The government doesn’t really have a choice.  Its newly-elected backbenchers made great play in their local campaigns of fighting for infrastructure investment.  If they don’t deliver, they’ll be up against it at the next election. If you’ve successfully won seats on the basis that your opponents have taken their voters for granted, you really can’t afford to take them for granted yourself.

This gives the government two big problems.  First, if it is going to invest in infrastructure in previously forgotten areas, it is going to come up with a clear rationale for how it is going to prioritise investment.  Previously, governments have worked on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis (which is why London has done so well – as by far the most prosperous and successful area of the country, projects can easily demonstrate bang for buck).  If that metric is to be abandoned, what is going to be put in its place? The government has as yet given no clear statement of principle but without one, the likelihood of pester power winning out is high, with projects allocated on the basis of influential backbenchers’ ability to buttonhole ministers.  Majestic herds of albino pachyderms can be sighted lumbering towards us on the horizon.

And second, if improving infrastructure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reviving failing areas of the country, what else is the government going to do?  Shooing business away from London won’t work. Wooing it away might. Again, however, the government has so far shown no trace of having thought about how it might do this.  

The big risk is that the government will fail to provide the investment in infrastructure that the successful parts of the country need and instead provide investment in infrastructure in the declining parts of the country without providing the additional support to provide the economic turnaround that they urgently need.  The country has enough problems at the moment without massively misallocating resources at a time when the public finances are already under serious strain. The government needs to set out some very clear principles. And soon.

Alastair Meeks


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