Archive for April, 2006

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Is Ming right to get rid of his Jaguar?

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

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    Will there be votes in selling the gas-guzzler?

Whatever your politics you cannot but feel a touch of sympathy for new Lib Dem leader, Ming Campbell, who has felt it necessary to put his five litre 20 year old Jaguar XJS onto the market.

With green issues suddenly accelerating up the political agenda it must have been quite a hard call for Campbell to know what to do about what was clearly his pride and joy. But why should he have to give up the car?

There’s a danger that such a gesture just looks artificial and contrived. It also could make him look weak as he appears to be bowing to public opinion – a sharp contrast with the multi-Jaguared John Prescott.

    Clearly the ex-international sprinter is not going to follow David Cameron and get a bike and clearly he is is still going to have to travel – presumably not in a carbon neutral fashion. So what is the point?

The strength of the imagery of Cameron’s cycling is that he has used his bike to get to work for years. It is not something that has just been done for publicity which is where Labour’s “Dave the chameleon” approach lose some of its potency.

An issue that must be worrying for Campbell is the low personal poll ratings he is getting. The latest YouGov poll had him rated at 29-24 to the question of whether he was doing well or badly. This five point lead compared with the eight points that Charles Kennedy had in December and the 34% margin that he enjoyed ahead of the General Election.

Meanwhile punters are rating his chances of survival in the job a little better. The Sporting Index off-shoot, BetHilo, has a market on how many months Ming will serve. It opened at 23-25 months – that’s now moved up to 25-27.

Mike Smithson



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Swapping Tony for David

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

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    Ben’s journey from Labour to the Tories

Long-standing PB.C regulars who followed the end of the Donald Rumsfeld thread on Sunday evening will have been shocked to read the exchanges about Ben’s move from Labour to the Tories.

For Ben was one of the earliest, and at times most prolific, contributors to the site. For a long period ahead of the May 2005 General Election his regular and lucid postings added to many people’s understanding of how the contest was being seen by Labour campaigners.

In fact he seemed to know so much and post so often that a joke developed that he was not an individual it all – Ben, it was suggested, was a composite name for a whole group of people on the Labour campaign team. No one person could have such a detailed awareness of not just individual parliamentary constituencies but council wards as well – and this extended right across the country!

Since then we have only really heard from Ben when US politics have been discussed and here he has provided extraordinary insights. My bet on Mark Warner for the White House when the price was 40/1 was as a direct result of his expert view.

Changing parties is never easy, not the least because you feel you are letting your close friends down. We get a flavour of that on the thread.

Thanks for sharing this with us Ben and I hope you don’t mind me highlighting it here. You are so well known on the site that I am sure there is great interest in your new journey.

In the meantime I am delighted that Ben has accepted an invitation to write regular guest slots on US politics.

Mike Smithson



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Is this the right way for Labour to attack Cameron?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

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    What do people think of tonight’s PPB?

This evening saw the much launch of Labour’s much hyped vehicle to attack David Cameron. If you did not see the party political broadcast you can download it here.

I’ve played it several times now and I just cannot work out whether it’s very clever and is going to have an impact or whether it’s just boring.

The central message seems to be – don’t trust this guy because he’ll say whatever those he’s speaking to want him to hear. Now who does that remind me of?

    Effective political propaganda has to resonate with its target audience if it is to be effective. It has to pick up a truth that people will recognise and then magnify it in a form that will start to affect the way the target is perceived.

Does Dave the Chameleon do that? I’m not so sure. Whatever we are going to see a lot more of him in the coming weeks.

Mike Smithson



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Did Tony really mean it when he said he’d go?

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006
    Was it just a tactic to deal with the pressure of the moment

Cast your mind back to the events leading up to to Tony Blair’s dramatic announcement on September 30thblair private eye sept 2004.JPG 2004 that he would serve a full third term but would stand aside before the next election.

For what Blair said in that short statement on the eve of him going into hospital totally dominates the current political environment.

But was his commitment to step aside before the end of his third term for real or was it a short-term tactic to deal with the mounting pressure in that difficult week?

And if it wasn’t for real what does that mean now? Is Tony trying to find a mechanism to go back on his undertaking so he can lead Labour into a fourth General Election?

On the final Sunday in September 2004 delegates were gathering in Brighton for the party conference, with the issue of Iraq, the failure to find WMDs and Tony Blair’s leadership the dominant issues.

Pressed by David Frost in a BBC interview Blair emphatically rejected any suggestion he had ever considered quitting, or ever done any deals with Mr Brown, or was thinking about standing down. In characteristic style he said: “I am restless to do more and to do better. There is a massive amount still to do and I want to do it”.

That morning there had been a devastating Populus poll in the New of the World which put Labour on just 28% behind the Lib Dems on 29% with the Tories on 32%.

A couple of days later Gordon Brown’s conference speech received rave reviews reinforcing the speculation that the only way that Labour could hold on would be with a change of leader.

All the time Blair knew that shortly he would have to go into hospital for a procedure on his heart and he could easily have foreseen the headlines.

    His statement was timed to perfection – just an hour or so before polls closed in the Hartlepool by-election where the Lib Dems were giving Labour a run for their money. If Labour had lost the result would have been partly over-shadowed by the Prime Minister’s news.

Interestingly Gordon Brown was on a flight to Washington and had not been told.

Looking back the declaration deflated the Iraq issue – certainly within the party. The next Populus poll saw Labour back at 35% with the Tories on 28% and the Lib Dems on 25%. Blair’s personal ratings were at their highest since the immediate aftermath of the Iraq war.

So if Blair did not mean it could he possibly get out of his commitment? It is hard to see how he could. There would have to be a plausible reason – a particular issue, say, that only he was able to deal with that was of such importance to the nation and Labour that he was deferring his premature retirement.

Remember – nobody ever got rich betting against Tony Blair. You can get 13/2 on Blair outlasting Mrs. Thatcher with William Hill. Might be worth a small punt – the cash for peerages investigation notwithstanding.

Mike Smithson



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The Monday Guest Slot – Andrew Saywell

Monday, April 17th, 2006

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    Is Tory progress inevitably bad news for the Lib Dems?

The primary focus of any general election prediction or analysis is on the fortunes of the two main parties. However an often overlooked aspect of a general election result is that of the electoral relationship between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

Since the 1950s it can be argued that the performance of these two parties have been intertwined to such an extent that their electoral performance is greatly dependent upon how the other party has performed.

    If we look back at past historical results, then we can argue that the Liberal Democrats have performed well, or at least been perceived to have done well, whenever the Conservatives have suffered a poor set of results.

For example the Liberals were judged to have performed relatively well during the two 1974 elections, and in terms of seats the Lib Dems made spectacular progress against the Tories in 1997. On the other hand however, when the Conservatives have staged a national recovery, it has often seen the Liberals/Lib Dems put on the back foot instead, with the party turning in poor performances in both the 1970 and 1979 elections.

Even in 2005, it is possible to argue that the Conservatives modest national recovery in that election resulted in the Lib Dems suffering a net loss of seats against the Tories.

This electoral cycle is perhaps demonstrated most vividly in the South West of England. The region, which has essentially always been a Lib-Con battleground, has, in the past, swung widely between the two parties; the 1997 results were dreadful for the Conservatives, whilst in 1979 the results were equally appalling for the then Liberal Party, with only the immense popularity of David Penhaligon saving the Liberals from a complete wipe out in the South West.

Although in 2005 the Tories did succeed in making net gains from the Lib Dems, the election result was still a relatively poor performance for the Conservatives, who succeeded in increasing their share of the vote by just 0.6%.

If in 2009/10 David Cameron leads the Tories to a genuine recovery – i.e. a greatly increased share of the vote – where will this leave Ming Campbell’s Liberal Democrats? Although a 1979 type result is unlikely, a substantial national swing to the Conservatives could be devastating for the party both in the South West and across the country generally, for if the previous electoral patterns are to be repeated, then the Lib Dems would suffer a string of losses, whilst seeing their target seats slip away.

On the other hand, if Cameron falls flat and fails in his attempt to broaden the Tories appeal, then the Lib Dems could be reasonably optimistic about their chances in Conservative marginals.

Throughout most of the Post-War era the fluctuations between Conservative and Liberal/Liberal Democrat support have gone mostly unnoticed. However with the Lib Dems now holding 63 seats in Parliament, it is essential that the Conservatives make gains from the Liberal Democrats, or else rely on the rather unlikely outcome of gaining over 140 seats from Labour alone.

On a purely simplistic level, I have argued that a good Tory year equals a poor Liberal Democrat one, whilst on the other hand a bad Tory result, generally equals a good Lib Dem year. If Cameron does lead the Tories out of the wilderness, then according to history, the Lib Dems have a great deal to be apprehensive about.

Andrew Saywell

Andrew posts here as “Voice from the South West” – and is a Tory activist from Devon. He is currently studying at Lancaster University.

Note from Mike Smithson. PB.C welcomes guest contributions and at least two are published on the site each week. If you have an idea please email here.



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Can Rumsfeld hold on?

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

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    It’s 3-1 that he’ll be out by the end of the year

There’s a lively market developing on the US-focused Tradesports betting exchange on whether Donald Rumsfeld will hold onto his job beyond the end of the year.

With six retired US generals calling for him to go because of the way he has handled Iraq the issue of the Defence Secretary’s future has now been taken up by Democratic Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson.

The Pentagon PR machine is fighting back and this is being reflected in the betting.

    As a general rule George Bush is loyal to his team even in the face of fierce criticism the individuals usually involved hold on. Karl Rove and Dick Cheney are two people who have had Tradesports resignation markets opened on their future and who have survived.

Unless something new and dramatic emerges Rumsfeld will surely hold on.

Mike Smithson



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2nd favourite named by “honours for cash” fundraiser

Sunday, April 16th, 2006
    Could covert recordings rule Miliband out of the race?

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The Sunday Times has published further transcripts of the conversations between the city academies fundraiser, Des Smith and its reporter who was posing as an intermediary.

The paper, which back in January first broke the “cash for honours” scandal, reveals that Smith recommended that the second favourite to become the next Labour leader, David Miliband, should be should be tagetted. At the time the Miliband price was 7/1. It’s now eased to 13/1.

This is from the report this morning “…Des Smith, who is also a London headmaster, told an undercover reporter posing as the businessman’s adviser that he would line up Miliband, a former schools minister, to ask for his backing for an honour.

“I’ll introduce him [the businessman] to David Miliband and say, ‘Knighthood? This is the man’,” said Smith in a meeting with the reporter. He added that he would recommend to the businessman: “Let’s go for Miliband.” The minister’s relationship with Smith will be of interest to police officers investigating allegations that honours were offered in exchange for the funding of city academies. The inquiry is already probing secret loans made to Labour by businessmen who were also nominated for peerages.

In another previously unreported recording, Smith talked of “some of the people we deal with” who have sought to sponsor academies: “I say . . . ‘Do we need these people’? . . . ‘Do we need their money?’ . . . Because what they’re looking for (is a) knighthood or some kind of preference. They think, ‘I’ll get an OBE or a CBE’.”

Quite whether Smith had any linkage with Miliband is not clear but at the time the young cabinet minister was being strongly tipped as the person best placed to take on Brown for the Labour leadership. Reading the report an explanation might be that Smith was just trying to impress the person he thought was the representative of the donor.

Aside from this the sentiment amongst punters has been moving away from Miliband in the last few weeks. Gordon Brown’s position, now at 0.36/1, just looks impregnable – the only issue being when the hand-over will take place.

On a personal note my day job is as an educational fundraiser and for six years I was Director of Development at Oxford – where a number of colleges were targeted by the Sunday Times using similar covert techniques to see if it was possible to “buy” a place. The job involves entering into dialogues all the time about prospective donations and I have been shocked at the naivety of Smith’s approach – even though he was the victim of entrapment.

Smith could have made the point in a safe way by saying something like “what is really pleasing for all of us who want to see the academies develop and succeed is how a number of benefactors have been recognised in the honours list”.

As a general rule, too, conversations like the one that Smith got into where an apparent donation appeared out of the blue rarely lead to gifts being forthcoming. Usually the big danger is not about set-ups but impostors who like the idea of talking big numbers and are looking for attention. On one occasion someone got a good dinner out of me by suggesting that he could solve all that university’s problems with $3bn. In another case I was offered more than a million pounds over the phone and while the caller talking a net search of his post-code revealed that the value of houses in his street averaged just £75,000.

Mike Smithson



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Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Saturday, April 15th, 2006

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    HOW RELIABLE IS THE NEWSNIGHT PREDICTION ?

A week ago, Newsnight produced an analysis of local by-election results by Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, which received considerable publicity. Studying this year’s local by-election results, they suggested that the national equivalent vote shares which the parties would win on May 4th would be CON 33: LD 29%: LAB 28 (compared to 34%, 27%, and 33% respectively in 2002).

On that basis, Labour could expect to lose about 100 seats nationally, the Conservatives about 75, and the Lib Dems would gain over 100.

    While it would be embarrassing for Labour to slip to third place, a result on these lines would be truly appalling for the Conservatives. If they were actually to lose seats and votes, compared to the start of Iain Duncan-Smith’s leadership, it is hard to see how David Cameron’s position as party leader would be tenable.

Fortunately, for David Cameron and the Conservatives, there is good reason to believe that their performance, based on this year’s by-elections, will be rather better than this.

So far this year, there have been 40 by-elections involving all three main parties. 28 of these contests took place in seats last contested in 2003; 7 in seats last contested in 2004, and 5 in seats last contested in 2005.

In 23 of these, the three parties contested the seat on both occasions, making a direct comparison between both elections very easy. However, the absence of by-elections in seats last contested in 2002, (which includes all the seats in London) means any prediction must be treated with considerable caution.

My analysis produces the following results for all seats with the year last contested
2003 CON -1.2%: LAB -3.5%: LD + 4.0%
2004 CON -1.4%: LAB +4.2%: LD -5.2%
2005 CON +6.3%: LAB -7.2%: LD -0.9%
These are the shares for seats where there was an all-party contest on both occasions
2003 CON +3.5%: LAB -3.5%: LD +6.9%
2004 CON -1.9%: LAB +11.2%: LD -5.2%
2005 CON +5.8%: LAB -5.5%: LD -2.2%

The first set of figures implies the following vote shares on May 4th:- CON 35%, LD 29%, LAB 27%. The second set of figures implies CON 38%, LD 31%, LAB 27% (but the Conservative and Lib Dem vote shares are both flattered by a number of rural independents not contesting the seats for a second time).

While this is a small sample, which must be treated with extreme caution, it is nonetheless very hard to work out what Newsnight were basing their prediction on.

There were no by-elections yesterday as it was Maundy Thursday.

Sean Fear

Sean is a Tory activist in London and writes a weekly article for the site.