Archive for March, 2006


Sean Fear’s local council election commentary

Friday, March 31st, 2006


The modern Liberal revival began in local government, with the capture of Finchley in the late 1950s. Decade by decade, Liberal (and then Alliance) support on local councils grew steadily, until by the mid 1990s, the Liberal Democrats had 50 local councils under their control, and more local councillors than the Conservatives. Typically, Liberal Democrats gains came in areas of long-standing Conservative support (although there were exceptions like Liverpool, Tower Hamlets and Southwark).

Recently, the nature of Liberal Democrat representation has changed. Many seats have now reverted to the Conservatives, but the Liberal Democrats have made serious inroads into Labour’s urban heartlands. They have captured councils like Newcastle, Durham, and Islington, and are the only serious opposition to Labour in many urban areas.

    How will the Liberal Democrats do on May 4th? Outside London, the scope for large headline gains is limited, due to the small number of seats being contested. Within London, most of the really tight contests will be between Labour and the Conservatives

Nonetheless, there is scope for the Liberal Democrats to make progress. Outside London, they should be able to gain Rochdale, and deprive the Conservatives of overall control in Solihull. They should be looking for gains (although not outright control) in Kirklees, Calderdale and Manchester. Despite their strength in Oldham and Sheffield, it is unlikely that they can win control of either borough, due to the nature of the seats being contested this year. They are vulnerable to losing their minority control of Norwich, but ought to retain Newcastle.

Among the smaller authorities, they ought to be able to win outright control of St. Alban’s, and possibly take Hart and Eastbourne from the Conservatives.

Within London, they would have had high hopes of winning Richmond, where they have performed very well in by-elections. However, David Cameron’s brand of politics should go down particularly well here, and they may well fall short. They will almost certainly lose seats (but not outright control) in Sutton. Despite Tony Travers’ prediction, I see little prospect of their losing Kingston.

As elsewhere, their best chance of making important gains will be against Labour. Haringey must be at the head of their target list, although it will be hard for them to win outright control without gaining seats in Tottenham. They must be hopeful of winning outright in Southwark, and of making big inroads into Labour’s support in Waltham Forest, Lewisham, the South of Camden, and in the Brent East wards of Brent. On the other hand, they may well lose ground to Labour in Lambeth, where that party has performed well in recent by-elections. There is no longer any realistic prospect of their winning control of Tower Hamlets.

Last Night’s Results give little indication of the outcome on May 4th, as three were in Scotland, and the other two involved an Independent and a Resident.

Epsom and Ewell BC – Town
: Lib Dem 438, Residents 373, Con 205, Lab 102. Lib Dem hold.
Glasgow CC – King’s Park: Lib Dem 572, Lab 472, SNP 431, C 222, Scottish Socialist party 44, Green 38, Ind 23. Lib Dem gain from Lab. This was an excellent result for the Lib Dems who won the seat on a 19% swing.
Mansfield DC – Forest Town West: Lab 365, Lib Dem 197, Green 187, Con 175, Ind 43. Lab gain from People’s Councillor. The People’s Councillor was originally elected as Labour.
South Lanarkshire Council – Avondale South: Con 775, Lab 315, SNP 221, Ind 79, Green 71, Lib Dem 59. Con hold. A very solid win for the Conservatives.
Stirling Council – Borestone: SNP 374, Lab 335, Lib Dem 165, Con 57. SNP gain from Lab. Another poor result for Labour North of the Border. The SNP win means that Labour have now lost control of Stirling.

Sean Fear

Sean is a Tory activist and a regular contributor.


Tories 2 points down with YouGov

Friday, March 31st, 2006
    But the attacks on Gordon Brown appear to be hitting home

In the first voting intention survey by any pollster since Gordon Brown’s budget nine days ago YouGov’s March survey for the Daily Telegraph has Cameron’s Conservatives and Labour level pegging with the Lib Dems down one point. dc strip with border.JPG

The shares are with changes on the last YouGov poll twelve days ago are CON 36 (-2): LAB 36 (+1): LD 18 (-1). Note that the comparisons are with the last YouGov survey not the February poll in the Daily Telegraph.

These figures are exactly the same as those found by the internet pollster on the day of David Cameron’ election as Tory leader on December 6th 2005.

Tory disappointment at the declining poll share will be partly tempered by the fact that the Cameron-Osborne strategy of focusing their attacks on Gordon Brown appears to be bearing fruit.

In a commentary on the poll under the heading “The Iron Chancellor is starting to look a little rusty” Professor Anthony King notes that Gordon Brown’s ratings are on the decline. “…a year ago, three times as many people thought Mr Brown was doing a better job as Chancellor than Mr Blair was doing as Prime Minister. That gap has now closed from 35 points in Mr Brown’s favour to only 15…In March of last year, 63 per cent of YouGov’s respondents regarded the Chancellor as one of Labour’s assets. The corresponding figure today is only 50 per cent.”

We are now able to start making an assessment of the impact the new leader has had on all three parties since the Tory changeover.

The average of all YouGov polls from September – November 2005 – the three months before Cameron was elected was CON 33%: LAB 38.5%: LD 20%. So compared with the pre-Cameron period the Tories have seen a three point improvement with Labour and the Lib Dems dropping back a couple of points each.

    The change is significant and starts to look quite permanent but is certainly not as great as many Tories had hoped for. It is nowhere nearly enough for the party to win most seats at the next election – never mind having a majority.

If it had not have been for the loans crisis then Labour, surely, could have expected a budget bounce. That has not happened and there must be relief that support is being more than sustained in spite of all the bad publicity.

The problem for David Cameron, of course, is that he’s not been able to capitalise on the issue because his party has operated in a similar manner.

Mike Smithson


Is my 40-1 long-shot going to make it?

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

warner white house2.jpg

    Mark Warner 2nd favourite for the Democratic nomination

Last November I placed as much money as the bookies would allow me on the ex-Governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, to win the 2008 Presidential Election at the then price of 40/1.

At the time I wrote here that I had been very much influenced by the comments on the site by Ben – one of PB.C most long-standing contributors who follows the American scene very closely. While there’s been a lot of talk about Hilary Clinton she attracts an enormous level of animosity and although a strong favourite I’m not convinced that she will get the nomination from a party that is hungry to re-take the White House.

In the latest polls comparing the New York Senator with the possible Republican nominees, John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, Hilary has been at least ten points behind – this in spite of the general decline in popularity of George Bush’s party in the last few months. Somehow Hilary is not cutting the mustard.

In the latest betting for the nomination Clinton is at 1.24/1, Warner 3.2/1, Russ Feingold 4.4/1, John Edwards 8.4/1 and Evan Bayh 11/1. The prices of the top group are broadly shared by the US-focused Tradesports betting exchange so market sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic is pointing in the same direction.

In the Deomcrat polls you get a totally different view of the race. Warner is only rating at 4% with the better-known names of Edwards, Gore and Kerry all in double figures. At this stage, though, the polls amount to little more than a name recognition indicator.

    A big element in Warner’s appeal is the belief that he could help his party pick up vital states in the South.

Last November, when state rules prevented him for running again for the Governorship, his successor did brilliantly well in Virginia – a victory for which Warner has been given a lot of credit.

My bet is on Warner going through to win the Presidency itself – a market where the 40/1 has now tightened to 10/1.

Clearly there is a long way to go althougth in less than two years we’ll have a pretty clear idea about who will get the nomination.

Mike Smithson


The favourites to succeed Ming?

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

lib dem 4.jpg

    Betting opens on the NEXT Lib Dem leader…really!

Less than four weeks after Sir Menzies Campbell was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats betting has opened on who will replace him.

The four in the picture – Chris Huhne (5/1), Nick Clegg (4/6) , David Laws (4/1) and Ed Davey (5/1) are heading the early prices. Next in line are Mike Moore and Sarah Teather on 14/1. Julia Goldsworthy is 20/1, Mark Oaten 25/1, while Simon Hughes and Vince Cable are at 33/1. The not-publicity shy Lembit Opik is priced at 50/1.

    For a real long-shot Charles Kennedy is priced at 100/1 – which looks like a great value bet. If he could show that he has really conquered his problems he would have a good chance with the membership ballot if he stood.

Like Tony Blair and David Cameron the top four in the betting have a lot in common:-

  • They are all male
  • They are all white
  • They all went to public school
  • They all went to either Oxford or Cambridge
  • An interesting aspect of the next race will be whether Clegg, Laws and Davey will benefit from having stood aside for Ming. Huhne did not and certainly increased his profile within the party.

    Barring ill-health or accidents it is hard to see another Lib Dem contest taking place this side of the General Election and I cannot see why anybody would want to bet apart from, maybe, having a small flutter on Kennedy. The 4/6 on Nick Clegg is just ridiculous given the uncertainties over the time-scale and I have yet to be convinced by him.

    It is worth recalling that betting on the last Lib Dem leader did not start until December 2005.

    Mike Smithson


    Has Tony outsmarted them again?

    Tuesday, March 28th, 2006
      No apologies – it’s back to the Blair non-departure

    With Tony Blair’s departure date comments in Australia continuing to cause ructions and Labour MPs calling for in that well-worn cliche a “smooth transition” I’ve returned to the political betting markets with a few hundred pounds to bet on the Prime Minister surviving. The 3/1 that’s available on him staying beyond the end of next year looks great value. There are several reasons:-

    Labour party rules make a challenge to the leader much more difficult than those in the Tory or even Lib Dem parties where MPs alone have the power to force a vote of confidence. With Labour a conference decision is required and we are miles away from a situation where opponents could mount an effective move.

    The loans affair seems to have peaked
    and Labour is successfully turning the spotlight on the Tories who continue to refuse to disclose who their secret backers were.

    The polls are looking good for Blair compared with the “crisis” in September 2004 which preceded his famous statement on the evening of the Hartlepool by-election about not going beyond a third term. Then YouGov had Labour getting a six-point boost if Brown took over. Most recent polls have had Brown doing worse although the last YouGov survey showed a one point gain if the Chancellor was in charge.

    Blair still looks driven giving the appearance, at least, of wanting to complete his policy agenda. The latest talk on an elected House of Lords show the breath-taking speed that he is able to frame the debate and set the agenda – taking attention away from the loans issue at the same time.

    Brown is reluctant to initiate a coup as we have seen time and time again. If the Chancellor resigned taking several cabinet minsters with him that could bring down Blair. But Brown is ultra-cautious and is not going to risk his plan to be Prime Minister by being seen to be the assassin.

    Finally Tony Blair is just plain lucky. This was the sole reason why, last July, I put my money on the London Olympic bid being successful when Paris was the tight odds-on favourite. I made money then and I think I’ll make money on the latest bets.

    The main worry must be Blair’s health and the overwhelming pressure of the job.

    William Hill, meanwhile have tightened “Blair out lasting Thatcher” price from 9/1 at the weekend to 6/1. This is not online although I am assured you can place a bet by phone. November 2008 would be when he would have served longer than the Baroness. Looks like a nice punt.

    Mike Smithson


    The Monday Guest Slot – Stephen Tall

    Monday, March 27th, 2006

    rennies dunfermline.jpg

      Dealing with the new politics – will Labour be third on May 4th?

    It’s 80 days since Charles Kennedy quit as Liberal Democrat leader, plunging the party into its January mensis horribilis.

    Opinion poll ratings dipped as low as 13%, the Daily Telegraph splashed its front page with a report that the party was in ‘freefall’, and several over-hyped and under-sourced rumours alleged three Lib Dem MPs were poised to defect to David Cameron’s shiny new Tories.

      Then came the party’s shock by-election victory in Dunfermline (see picture) and in one bound the Lib Dems were free. The emphatic leadership contest result, a canny front-bench reshuffle, and healthier poll ratings, has ushered in a Menzies mirabilis.

    How long will this fresh sense of optimism last? Ming Campbell’s first electoral test as leader will come with this May’s local elections, and the party’s expectations – which just a couple of months ago might have extended no further than bare survival – are once again fixed firmly on reaching dizzier heights. To work out if this is the triumph of hope over experience, let’s have a look at the form-book.

    The figures below show the projected national share of the parties’ votes in that year’s local elections compared with the ICM poll rating (in brackets) immediately prior to those elections:

    1998: Con 33% (31%), Lab 37% (48%), Lib Dem 25% (16%)
    2000: Con 38% (32%), Lab 30% (45%), Lib Dem 26% (15%)
    2002: Con 34% (29%), Lab 33% (45%), Lib Dem 25% (18%)
    2004: Con 38% (33%), Lab 26% (38%), Lib Dem 29% (22%)

    The Tories have added between 2-6% to their ICM national rating in recent local elections; Labour have dropped 9-15%; and the Lib Dems have increased 4-11%.

    If this pattern were to repeat itself in 2006 – using the most recent ICM poll (18th March), with the Tories on 34%, Labour 37% and the Lib Dems 21%, as our bench-mark – we might extrapolate the following shares of the vote this May:Con 39%, Lab 25%, Lib Dem 29%.

    The Tories would be content, though perhaps not ecstatic, with such a performance. It would certainly represent progress on 2002, when most of these seats were last fought, but would indicate that Mr Cameron’s pyrotechnics have yet to set alight the world outside the Westminster village.

      Such a dire performance from Labour would create huge pressure on Mr Blair to announce his departure from Downing Street, so hastening Mr Brown’s translation from the Last Word of the Treasury to its First Lord.

    For Sir Menzies and the Lib Dems, beating Labour and recording a high-20s percentage, would seem like an Olympic gold, Ashes triumph and World Cup glory rolled into one after what has been a truly torrid time. But, then, you have to go back to 1990, the Lib Dems’ nadir, to find a local election result (not combined with a general election) in which the party scored less than 20%.

    The stubborn refusal of the third party to lie down and quietly die points to a wider trend: what has been termed the de-alignment of British politics.

    If we look at the combined, average general election vote shares of the two big beasts of post-1945 politics, the Tories and Labour, and compare them with the combined, average vote shares of the Lib Dems and other parties for each of the last five decades, the fragmentation of voter loyalties is clear:

    1950s: Con/Lab 92%, Lib Dem/Other 8%
    1960s: Con/Lab 89%, Lib Dem/Other 11%
    1970s: Con/Lab 80%, Lib Dem/Other 20%
    1980s: Con/Lab 72%, Lib Dem/Other 28%
    1990s: Con/Lab 75%, Lib Dem/Other 25%
    2000s: Con/Lab 70%, Lib Dem/Other 30%

    Voters no longer identify tribally with one political party based on their self-perception of class or religious interest (or their parents’ views). In 1964, according to the British Election Study, 48% of Tory voters identified strongly with their chosen party, compared with 51% for Labour. By 2001, the figures were 14% and 16% respectively.

    As voter turn-out has declined, transforming the electorate into a selectorate, the remorseless march of the de-alignment process has continued apace. The cosy Tory/Labour duopoly is coming to an end.

    And, however much Messrs Brown and Cameron might prefer to ignore such a reality, this is the new politics with which all parties are going to have to deal.

  • Stephen Tall is a Liberal Democrat activist and councillor in Oxford. His website is

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    Two years of

    Sunday, March 26th, 2006

    Mike hat small.jpg
    Tomorrow marks the second birthday of PB.C. Thanks to everybody for their support and for making the site what it is.

    Thanks to my son Robert for handling and maintaining the technical side and his fiance, Lucille for the design. Thanks to Philip Grant (Book Value and one of the first people ever to comment here) for being the stand-in editor and thanks to those who are helping keep PB.C a seven day operation by providing articles and commentaries. Thanks also to Paul Maggs for handling our competitions.

    The first post, on March 27th 2004, was on the future of Charles Kennedy and attracted just three comments.

    For those who, like me, bet on political outcomes I hope that the site has helped you make some money. For everybody this has become a place where, for most of the time, people of all allegiances can discuss outsomes in a reasonably civilised way.

    Mike Smithson


    Why the reluctance to burst the Blair bubble?

    Sunday, March 26th, 2006

    blair bubble.jpg

      Are Labour MPs fearful about Gordon?

    The Tory party, as in the poster above, might have called on the electorate to “burst Blair’s bubble” in the 2001 General Election campaign but they lost and lost again. Now in spite of the appalling headlines there does not seem much Labour pressure for him to go.

    From this distance the Tory strategy behind the poster looks questionable. For all it did was to highlight what has proved to be one of Labour’s greatest electoral assets – Tony Blair.

    So after a week which has seen the continuing “loans for peerages” row and Gordon Brown’s tenth budget Blair is still at number 10 Downing Street apparently with the intention of doing what he said he would – serving a full third term.

      After sitting on the fence on the issue of Blair’s departure I’ve now started putting money on him hanging on until the end of next year. The current prices have this at about 3/1.

    Amongst all the political coverage in the Sunday papers the best piece on this is by Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer. In it he argues that the reasons Cabinet and Parliamentary colleagues have not moved against Blair are because of real fears about “…the temperament and style of a Brown premiership.”

    Rawnsley goes on “….. He has run the Treasury as a very tight regime. If he has rarely deigned to tell the Prime Minister what was going to be in his budgets, the cabinet is understandably terrified about how it might be treated by a Brown-led Downing Street..There has been a lot of personal rule from Tony Blair’s sofa under the present incumbent. But there has at least been one contesting pole of power to Number 10. That has been the Treasury. There would be no check and balance to Prime Minister Brown because there would no longer be a Chancellor Brown..You can run the Treasury by concentrating on one big project at a time. You can also disappear from view when it is politically convenient. Tax credits go wrong and Gordon Brown pushes his subordinates towards the sound of gunfire. His response to the spending crisis in the health service is simply not to talk about it..A Prime Minister cannot go into denial. He has to be ever-visible as he has to have the capacity to juggle a multitude of balls at the same time. ‘Can Gordon learn to delegate?’ asks one of his colleagues. You have to doubt that after listening to another budget speech which treated the rest of the cabinet as if they were his satraps.”

    Things could get worse in the weeks ahead. The May local elections could go badly wrong for Labour but as Sean Fear pointed out on Friday expectations are so low for the party that they could shrug off almost any outcome.

    The loans issue continues to rumble and the effort to divert attention to the Tory loans is having only a limited effect. Labour’s problem is that it is the party of power and all the patronage is with the Prime Minister. Thus it’s much harder to smear the motivation of Tory lenders and donors.

    William Hill have emailed me about bets on Blair outlasting Margaret Thatcher – which he’ll do if he’s still there in November 2008. You can get 8/1 on this possibility although I cannot find this price online. If it was I’d put a bit on.

    Mike Smithson