Archive for December, 2007


A double blow for Brown from the Indy

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

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    Defeat threatened on terror limits and John Rentoul says “it’s all over”

On what must be the first “conventional” front page in a long time the Independent, the normally left-leaning paper, reports a ComRes survey of Labour MPs which suggests that the government is heading for a commons defeat if it presses ahead with plans to extend the limit on detention without trial to 42 days

The survey found at least 38 Labour MPs would rebel against – four more than are necessary to defeat the measure. The paper notes that: “Potential rebels include a string of former ministers and senior backbenchers that goes beyond the “usual suspects” of Labour refuseniks.”

Inside the paper, under the heading “We can dabble in parallel universes, but in the real one it’s all over for Gordon Brown” the political editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul, looks at prospect for the PM and questions whether a recovery is possible at all.

    As far as I can recall this is the first general election prediction by a major commentator in the mainstream media that Brown cannot win.

Rentoul, a Blair biographer and a long-standing critic of Brown, argues that the most damaging story before Christmas was the reported comment by Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, that Brown and Alistair Darling were “unable to focus because morale throughout the government is so low”.

On the polls Rentoul refers to Andy Cooke’s guest slot here on Politicalbetting on Monday on one of “the myths that might comfort Brown’s demoralised troops: that the Government tends to recover in the opinion polls as an election approaches.” He suggests that even if there is a Brown recovery in the polls then the PM still faces “an impossible task”.

General election betting is here.

Mike Smithson


Was the the 1976 fight even dirtier than Huhne-Clegg?

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

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    When David Steel played the toupee card

Lots has been written about the nastiness of this year’s battle for the Lib Dem leadership. Certainly the “Calamity Clegg” revelation appears to have been a pivotal moment. But was it as dirty as when David Steel beat John Pardoe for the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1976?

In that battle it was thought that Pardoe was the choice of party activists while Steel had the “establishment” and the “armchair members” on his side. As things got hotter Steel made a remarkable intervention. This is how Simon Hoggart recalled it in the Guardian last year.

Back in 1976 David Steel, a tough political knife-fighter, knew that his opponent, John Pardoe, was easily riled and that his ill-temper could end any chance he had. So he mused in front of two reporters (me and the man from the Daily Mail, as it happens) about Pardoe’s missing bald patch. Where had it gone? When the articles appeared, Pardoe duly went berserk, talking about “descending into the sewer” and the “drip drip drip of the total lie.” Steel won easily.

Mike Smithson


…and for Boxing Day the PBC Crossword

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

    Keeping you entertained throughout the holiday

Thanks to Rod Crosby for all he did yesterday providing the constant stream of political trivia questions which kept us amused on Christmas Day. This worked brilliantly – there were 275 comments which compares with the paltry 16 contributions that the site got on Xmas Day 2006.

For Boxing Day we have StJohn’s PB Cross-word. I have no idea how hard this is going to and I think that keen cross-word experts are going to have to print the page off – but it does look very interesting.



1. Mystery poster conceals most of thong from minister (4,5).
6. Lady was a strange sort (5).
9. Allowance given to President (5).
10. Speaker portrayed as a hot and broody mixture (9).
11. Politician let Comrade Blair run amok (7,8).
13. 3/1 Balls is reprimanded (8).
14. Smear on oil wrecked nation (6).
16. Country in drug and alcohol issue (6).
18. NuLabour activists? (3,5).
21. America need forty; one less could result in a defeated force (11,4).
23. He protected club teams (9).
25. Stupid book on despot (5).
26. Party loses nothing down under (5).
27. Appears again to join in stuffing former Home Secretary (9).


1. Yokel! Toby’s with a gangster (5).
2. State room first in ceremonial office (11).
3. This puzzle was liberated (3,4).
4. Film director covered The Man in the White Suit and was opposed to the establishment (8).
5. Garment worn to court by Hutton (6).
6. Former Royal Marine and show off (7).
7. In addition to nothing (3).
8. Bush territories make for extremist conditions (3,6).
12. Relating once more to a drawback for Campbell (11).
13. Confused lurch off to the left by Cold War leader (9).
15. Highly spoken of ruler and religious leader. (8).
17. Theatre assistant (7).
19. 21 sheltered here (3,4).
20. First editorial (6).
22. Reportedly poetic justice seeker (5).
24. Second rate movie awarded Golden Globe (3).

Thanks StJohn for doing such a great job for our amusement. If you want to talk to him directly StJohn has indicated that he will be at this year’s PBC party. This will once again be held at that excellent venue, The National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HE, on Friday 25th January 2008, from 6pm until about 9.30pm, or when thrown out if sooner.

There will be a cash bar and a £5 entry charge, payable on the door, as a contribution towards sandwiches and nibbles. Ladbrokes have generously donated £150 towards the event, thanks to the influence of regular poster Matthew Shaddick (Shadsy) of The Magic Sign.

Happy Boxing Day to everybody. Normal service from Thursday.

Mike Smithson


Happy Christmas from PBC

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

westminster xmas.JPG wishes for the New Year

There was going to be a cross-word this Christmas Day which has been produced by StJohn – one of our most regular contributors. Alas I have found it impossible to format it for the site and this will have to wait.

This is our fourth Christmas since the site was started and can I thank all who have made it possible. These include my son Robert and his wife Lucille for the technical infrastructure and the design, Paul Maggs for acting as the regular stand-in editor and for running our competitions, Peter the Punter (Peter Smith) for developing and managing many associated activities and his contributions, Sean Fear for his weekly slots and to the hundreds people who contribute daily to our discussions. Also thank you to the thousands of other other visitors.

I am hoping that RodCrosby will contribute to the thread later in the day with some of his political brain-teasers. Rod – if you are able to do this can you post a time below so we know when you will start.

Mike Smithson


Countdown to the primaries – the Monday selection

Monday, December 24th, 2007

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Leading New Hampshire paper says “No” to Romney
Given the overwhelming requirement for GOP second favourite, Mitt Romney, to get a good result in New Hampshire on January 8th the view of one of the state’s leading newspapers has to be taken seriously.

In an editorial on Romney the Concord Monitor declares: “When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidates up close, ask tough questions and see through the baloney. If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we’ll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicans and independents must vote no.”

Ouch! Romney was governor of then neighbouring state of Massachusetts and a good clean victory in NH was seen as crucial. If he comes second in Iowa and fails in New Hampshire then his big might run into the ground.

What’s behind the favourite’s health scare?

One of the big stories in the past few days has been the admission to hospital overnight by the GOP favourite and former cancer patient, Rudy Giuliani. The ex-mayor of New York is under pressure anyway because of his decision not to campaign in Iowa – the first state to decide.

Many strategists are saying that his approach has been a huge strategic mistake because early band-wagons might start to roll which could be unstoppable. Click on the picture below to hear Rudi’s thoughts on how it is going.

With Giuliani appearing to struggle and the problems facing Romney I remain a Huckerbee and McCain backer.

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How’s Obama going to get students to caucus?
The Obama campaign has done well appealing to young people, particularly the young in Iowa – but this doesn’t mean anything unless this support can be marshalled and enough of them flock to the caucus meetings on January 3rd. Generally these events are not successful in attracting younger votes an element that could be worse this year because many students are back home with their families – not at the place where they are registered.

A big issue in the final few days is going to be how the different campaigns can mobilise this vote. CNN had the following interesting feature – just click on the picture.

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Latest betting
Hillary continues to remain a firm favourite on Betfair for the Democratic nomination although she has moved out a touch. It’s now Hillary at 0.56/1 with Obama at 2.35/1 and John Edwards on 18/1.

In the GOP race it’s Giuliani on 2.35/1; Romney 3/1, McCain at 5.2/1 and Huckabee at 5.6/1

The next US round-up will be on December 27th.

Mike Smithson


ComRes has 48% saying it is “Time for Change”

Monday, December 24th, 2007

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    But why has the Indy been sitting on the survey for a week?

What is almost certainly the final poll of 2007, ComRes for the Independent, is published this morning and the most surprising element is that the field-work took place during the weekend before last and so pre-dates the latest YouGov and ICM surveys.

Quite why the paper has been holding on to this for so long is not clear but it does mean that the poll takes no account of the change in Lib Dem leadership or what was probably a better week for Gordon.

The figures with changes on last month are CON 41% (+1): LAB 30%(+3): LD 16%. (-2) So the Tory lead was down a couple of points although Cameron’s party’s vote share was up a notch.

Of the non-voting questions the one that could be most significant is that is that 48% agreed with the statement that “it’s time for change and the next government should be a Conservative one”, while only 36 per cent would prefer a Labour. Lib Dem supporters split 41%-44% on this forced choice.

    Andrew Grice, the paper’s political editor notes: “Privately, ministers are worried that “time for change” will become a potent weapon for Mr Cameron, just as it was for Tony Blair in 1997’s election. Previous surveys have suggested a narrower gap when similar questions were asked, raising Labour hopes that there is no great clamour for a Tory government. The ComRes findings will raise Tory expectations that a sea change may now be under way.”

I think that we are going to have to wait until we have seen the January polls before coming to firm conclusions. What’s going to be the impact of Clegg’s leadership of the Lib Dems? His challenge is to enable his party to recover some of the voters lost to the Tories since 2005 whilst retaining ex-Labour voters.

Mike Smithson

News of the 2008 Party – Sponsored by Ladbrokes! (by Peter Smith). This year’s PB Party will once again be held at that excellent venue, The National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2HE, on Friday 25th January 2008, from 6pm until about 9.30pm, or when thrown out if sooner.

There will be a cash bar and a £5 entry charge, payable on the door, as a contribution towards sandwiches and nibbles. Ladbrokes have generously donated £150 towards the event, thanks to the influence of regular poster Matthew Shaddick (Shadsy) of The Magic Sign.

Since it is pay on the door, no firm commitments are necessary but it would be helpful if you could give an indication if you are intending to come. We have worked on the basis of about 50 attendees, but if it looks like being much more or less, we may want to alter arrangements. Name tags showing stage names will be available but are strictly optional.

Last year’s Party was an unqualified success. Let’s hope this year’s will be the same and will provide a suitable launch pad for another brilliant year for

I look forward to renewing some old acquaintances and making some new ones.

Seasons greetings to everybody – Peter Smith (Peter the Punter)


Countdown to the primaries – My Sunday selection

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Is Romney “stretching the truth”?
With just a week and a half to go before real voters have their chance to have their say on who should be the candidates in the 2008 White House Race there’s an enormous amount of fabulous material that gives a real flavour of the race and is unlike almost anything that we experience here.

So as the build up continues I plan to do a daily round-up of some of the articles and videos that I’ve been impressed with – the first one a super-charged TV clash with Romney spokesman Kevin Madden over whether his man is stretching the truth.

To me this looks pretty serious for Romney and has prompted me to put more on rivals John McCain and Mick Huckabee.

How “third party groups” are influencing the campaign
ABC News has been putting a lot of focus on the so-called third party groups which are not attached officially to any of the campaign teams but are spending millions of dollars trying to influence the outcome.

One that shows the complexity is a campaign by a trade union attempting to undermine Obama while at the same time appearing to support John Edwards. It is in fact pro-Hillary.

Check the story and the video.

How the Christmas ads look
The former Clinton advisor in the early years and the man who helped UKIP to their 2004 successes in the Euro Elections here, Dick Morris was involved in this interesting review of the candidates special messages for Christmas. I find the lighting in Huckabee commercial that apparently shows a cross behind him quite spooky.

A taste of Obama’s stump speech

There’s a great article on the Real Clear Politics site describing the evolution of Obama’s stump speech – his standard performance that he makes many time a day as he moves from one location to another. It’s quite powerful and is one reason why my main money in the Democratic race stays on him.

This is well worth reading.

The latest betting prices (Sunday 1740)

Hillary continues to remain a firm favourite on Betfair for the Democratic nomination. She’s on 0.54/1 with Obama at 2.35/1 and John Edwards on 16.5/1.

In the GOP race it’s Giuliani on 2.3/1; Romney 2.9/1 and both McCain and Huckabee at 5.8/1

Have you seen or read anything that’s interesting – please put a link in the thread below.

Mike Smithson


Guest slot: Do governments always recover in the polls?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

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    Andy Cooke challenges the received wisdom

One of the most widely held items of received wisdom is “The opinion polls always swing back towards the Government as the Election approaches”. That mid-term blues will always overemphasise an Opposition’s performance in the polls and these will wear off as the Parliament winds down towards the next election.

Received wisdom can well be right – there is always a reason somewhere along the line that any given fact ends up as received wisdom. But sometimes it can be wrong. Usually when this happens it was a truth that has worn off, that has gradually ceased to be so, leaving only the story of its presence behind.

The thing is – in cases such as these, many people still end up betting on defunct received wisdom, which leaves a whopping great opportunity for the more questioning among us. The trick is, of course, to identify which items in the pantheon of received wisdom remain valid and which are now dead. Whether you agree with the thrust of this article or you don’t, at least it should cause you to question this belief – so if you remain a believer, at least you will now be more confident in your belief.

So – let’s have a look at “The opinion polls always swing back to the Government.” The main reason that this popped up a bit of a flag for me is that when I noticed this argument, I thought – hang on. I don’t thing that they did last time. The long period of Tory rule meant that a swing towards the Government was exactly equivalent to a swing towards the Tories. If the rule was valid, there should have been such a swing towards Labour in the last two elections – which doesn’t appear to be so.

Let’s look at the facts. As is frequently pointed out, it’s very difficult these days to compare polls from before the “great methodology change” of 1992-1997. However, MORI have pretty much sustained their “all adults naming a party” methodology and to their great credit have made available their archives back to 1983. This provides a decent baseline for the traditional methodology (the one under which the “rule” was coined).

ICM were the pioneers of the new weighting methodologies, with “spiral of silence” adjustments, first applied in 1994. They have made available their archives since 1990 and they have retrospectively adjusted their 1992-1994 figures to meet the new methodology (Thanks to Anthony Wells at ukpollingreport for making all of these figures available in a very convenient form). Accordingly, we can compare equivalent polls from a Tory Government to the last two Labour Governments in order to see correlations in swingback between midterm and polling day.

For each, what we’d expect to see is the Government (after a short honeymoon period) losing support until the mid-term and then turning it around and steadily recovering until the polls. Individual polls should vary about this tendency, but comparing the average score for the middle year of the Parliament with the following election should provide the data that we’re after.


1979-1983 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 1981) average: Con 29.5, Lab 36.5, Lab lead 7%

1983 Result: Con 44, Lab 28, Con Lead 16%

So a swingback to the Government (or the Tories) of 11.5% as against the mid-term polls

Note: The “Falklands Effect” must have had some level of influence upon this result – so at least some of the swing to the Conservatives would be over and above the “underlying” recovery

1983-1987 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 1985) average: Con 35.5, Lab 35.5, Lab lead 0%

1987 result: Con 43, Lab 32, Con lead 11%

A swingback to the Government (or the Tories) of 5.5% as against the mid-term polls

1987-1992 Parliament

Mid-term (June 1989-June 1990): Con 36.5, Lab 48, Lab lead 11.5%

1992 result: Con 43, Lab 35, Con lead 8%

A swingback to the Government (or the Tories) of 9.75% as against the mid-term polls

Note: The near death of the third Party and its recovery as the Parliament wound on has to have had some effect. Again, I suggest that the recovery of the Tories was enhanced by this

1992-1997 Parliament

Mid-term (June 1994-June 1995): Con 24.5, Lab 56, Lab lead 31.5%

1997 result: Con 31, Lab 44, Lab lead 13%

A swingback to the Government (or the Tories) of 9.25% as against the mid-term polls

So far … so what? The rule seems to be working fine. Strong correlation between the rule and reality – at least 5% swingback for the Governing Party, enhanced by winning wars or events such as near-demise of the third Party mid-term. However – we’ve only explored the situation for a Tory Government. We could equally argue that a rule stating “there is aways a swingback to the Tories from mid-term to polling day would be equally valid. To seperate the two conditions, we need to explore what happens with a change of Government. And now we have a change of Government and we can “press to test”

1997-2001 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 1999) average: Con 27, Lab 53, Lab lead 26%

2001 Result: Con 33, Lab 42, Lab Lead 9%

So a swing away from the Government (or towards the Tories) of 8.5% as against the mid-term polls. Hmm.

2001-2005 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 2003) average: Con 29, Lab 43, Lab lead 14%

2005 result: Con 33, Lab 36, Lab lead 3%

So a swing away from the Government (or towards the Tories) of 5.5% as against the mid-term polls. Again.

Maybe it’s isolated to MORI. Let’s look at the ICM results.


1992-1997 Parliament

Mid-term (June 1994-June 1995): Con 29.5, Lab 49, Lab lead 19.5

1997 result: Con 31, Lab 44, Lab lead 13%

A swingback to the Government (or the Tories) of 3.25% as against the mid-term polls

Okay – still a swingback to the Government – if not as strong as the MORI polls showed.

1997-2001 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 1999) average: Con 30, Lab 48, Lab lead 18%

2001 Result: Con 33, Lab 42, Lab Lead 9%

So a swing away from the Government (or towards the Tories) of 4.5% as against the mid-term polls. Again – a swing away from the Labour Government – less pronounced than the MORI figures show, but definitely not the 5%+ swingback to the Government that we’d expect and that those that cite the rule tend to imply.

2001-2005 Parliament

Mid-term (calendar year 2003) average: Con 32, Lab 38, Lab lead 6%

2005 result: Con 33, Lab 36, Lab lead 3%

So a swing away from the Government (or towards the Tories) of 1.5% as against the mid-term polls. Again a swing away. Again, noticeabley less in magnitude than under the traditional polling system (so we could assume that the “new methodology” acts to dampen large swings in public opinion). But that swingback that we expected is once again absent – any swing here is away


Getting data from further back is very difficult. It appears that the 1974-1979 Parliament had very variable poll scores – to the point where Labour was level in the polls with the Tories in 1978 – but 7 points behind by the election in 1979. This doesn’t really fit with the rule – which tends to be quoted as implying an inexorable pendulum, shifting opinion away from the Government until it bottoms out in mid-term and then swinging steadily back towards the incumbents. Of course, there would be some variation around this central pattern – but the fluctuations between 1978 and 1979 would seem too large to be a variation around a trend of swingback to the Labour Government.

The Feb-Oct 1974 Parliament was rather abbreviated – the “mid-term” would have been May/June 1974. The only data that I’ve got is that before the campaign (end of August/start of September) “Opinion polls showed Labour running 10 points clear of the Tories” (from the BBC website). Their 3.5 point lead in the actual election shows a swing away from the Labour Government from that point of 3.25%.

The last time that I can say with confidence that the “rule” worked for a Labour Government was the 1966-1970 one. And even that one had a surprise swing away from Labour at the end.


My conclusion? The rule came about because it was true – at least until 1970. Maybe even to 1979 – with some exceptions that tested it somewhat. It has broken since then. Every election since Maggie Thatcher walked in to Downing Street has seen a stronger showing by the Tories at the ballot box than their mid-term polling levels. And a weaker performance for Labour. Under “traditional” polling methods, swings to the Tories of 5.5%-12.5% have been recorded – averaging over 8% swing in the Tories favour (9% when in Government, 7.5% when out of Government). Under the “new” polling methods, the size of these swings is less – but the direction is the same.

Why has it changed? I don’t know. That’s the realm of speculation. It would be very nice to know why, however. These figures have shown the death of the “Swing to the Government” rule and its regeneration (like a wounded Time Lord) into a “Swing to the Tories” rule. It would be nice to know if this rule also comes with a sell-by date as well.

There may yet be a swingback. But I wouldn’t put my faith in the rule that “Governments always recover from mid-terms”. They don’t – especially, it seems, if the rosettes worn are red. Bet with your head on the trends you see, and don’t assume that there is a pendulum acting for the Government (or even, despite the apparent trend that we’ve seen above, for the Tories).

1 – The swingback rule has not worked for recent Labour Governments; instead there has been a “swingaway” effect.

2 – Even if this has been an aberration, the “new polling methodology” tends to dampen such swings; a swingback to the Tories under MORI of 9.25% (1992-1997) was only 3.25% under ICM.

Andy Cooke