Archive for June, 2009


New YouGov poll has Dave slightly further ahead

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

CON 40 (+2) LAB 24 (-1) LD 17 (-1)

But the changes are all within the margin of error

There was a new poll out overnight after all and we are just picking up the details. It was in the People which carried a similar YouGov poll only a few weeks ago. No fieldwork dates are mentioned but I assume that this took place after the Telegraph’s YouGov survey which we featured here on Thursday evening.

Let’s hope that the People will be featuring regular polls like this in the run-up to the election. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong but I recall reading somewhere that the paper has decided to give up its long-standing support for Labour.

Given the close proximity of the surveys you would not expect that much change and that’s what happened. The big thing for the Tories is that they are back in the 40s again – which will give them some heart.

But two and one point changes are not really significant and well within the margin of error. That’s what I said on Thursday evening when Labour deficit appeared to be narrowing and the same applies this morning.

There isn’t much extra detail in the People’s story which uses the poll as a sort of scene-setter for tomorrow Brown relaunch (mark 37!!).

It is hard given to see what Brown can do to pull things back and Labour supporters are probably not resting too many hopes on tomorrow’s announcements. The fact that we’ve seen all this before seriously undermines its importance.

I’m maintaining my spread-betting moratorium on LAB-CON seats on the spread markets. A new leader could change Labour’s fortunes.

Mike Smithson


Does Brown have too many deputies?

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Can he cope with Harriet, Mandy and Ed at the same time?

Just as every Prime Minister needs a Willie, as Margaret Thatcher famously noted, so the present incumbent believes he needs Balls. She was right; he may not be.

While Balls isn’t Brown’s deputy, he is almost certainly his closest political confidante within the cabinet, his position unassailable and his views taken very seriously by Brown. Alongside him, Peter Mandelson having returned to government and risen to the lofty ranks of First Secretary of State is Deputy Prime Minister in all but name.

However, even though Brown clearly recognises that he needs Mandy, I find it difficult to believe that he is sufficiently trusted inside Number Ten to fulfil that role as effectively as a PM really needs it done. He was out of the game a long time in Brussels and before that, his closeness to Blair means he’ll never have the proven loyalty that someone like Balls can point to.

Then there’s Harriet Harman, elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. She’s not even been given the honorific title of Deputy PM but her position within Labour, bolstered by having fought and won a genuine election, gives her a latitude that no other minister can enjoy and enables her to deputise for him officially, at things like PMQ’s.

Three deputies is to my mind too many. It creates conflict, delay and factionalism, especially if at least two of them still have the ambition to become leader themselves and so are positioning for a future election.

In a review of a biography of William Whitelaw, John Campbell gave this explanation of why Margaret Thatcher was so appreciative of Whitelaw:

    “..every PM needs an authoritative deputy to chair committees, resolve disputes and ward off trouble. Also, that a PM needs one senior colleague with no ambition of his own to guard his (or her) back against the plots of jealous rivals”.

Mandelson comes close to fulfilling both objectives – but not close enough. He doesn’t have the mandate of a Harman or the trust of a Balls. He performed sterling work for Brown in keeping things calm after the European elections but only because those two were working to the same end. In short, he lacks the necessary authority.

John Prescott, for all his many failings as a minister, was an effective deputy leader for most of his time because he was largely unchallenged in that role, able to keep the peace between Blair and Brown and proved his worth to Blair in his instinctive understanding of the traditional Labour movement. It’s notable how once Prescott’s authority waned, the relationship between Blair and Brown broke down to new depths. Likewise, Thatcher’s train came off the rails after she lost the balancing influence of Whitelaw whereas Major survived through to 1997 in no small part because Heseltine genuinely played the role of a loyal deputy – and no-one else did.

With no effective deputy, a leader can become erratic, authoritarian and mistake-prone; with too many, they get pulled in different directions and the government or party loses cohesion, especially when trying to regain the initiative.

It seems to me that the government has a structural weakness here which is likely to impede any recovery. Brown might not be alone though: the Conservatives have not fully sorted out their own deputy leadership issue, with both Hague and Osborne playing aspects of the role. However, ahead and in opposition, the matter is less pressing.

David Herdson


Why do part-time MPs get full-time pay?

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

John Redwood’s blog

Why do they have seventeen weeks annual holiday?

Somewhat to my surprise I find myself in total agreement with today’s blog entry by former Tory minister, John Redwood.

In it he sets out just how little time MPs actually have to spend at Westminster because of the elongated holidays and the truncated working week.

He writes: “My main job is to hold the government to account. It is to cross examine them over their policies, to request they put things right that government has got wrong, to seek improvements to public services, to expose waste and maladministration, to criticise, amend and improve their laws, to approve or vote against their budgets..I am not allowed to hold the government to account in Parliament on Saturday or Sunday, as we do not meet, or on Fridays when only meet to consider private members business. Parliament is closed completely for 17 weeks of the year. In July we will be told we have to stay away until the second week of October!

That means, in total, we can only do our prime jobs for 140 days of the year. It is a part time Parliament…”

Of course unlike countries which have proper legislatures the commons itself is almost a farce. It’s barely more than an assembly ground for an electoral college that hands all power to the prime minister. The role of MPs is just to do what the whips tell them. If they fall out of line then the whips will see that their roles becomes even more limited and their chance of preferment is blocked.

The government completely controls parliamentary business and, as we saw in May, the confidence motion on the then speaker could not get aired without the agreement of ministers.

Of course there is so-called case week constituents but so much of that should not be handled by MPs at all but by councillors. All they do in the majority of instances is just pass it on to the local authority.

Given the new purge on MPs having second jobs you wonder what they are going to do with their time.

Surely this has got to change.

Mike Smithson


Has Cameron found the election dividing line – honesty?

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Indy online

Is this going to be the core Tory theme?

Usually one of the most consistent Saturday morning political “reads” is Andrew Grice’s column in the Independent and today he speculates on what he think what the Tories are planning to make the election all about.

He suggests that Tory riposte to Brown’s “investment versus cuts” will be “to invite voters to choose between “Honest Dave and Dodgy Gordon”.

Grice goes on: “When Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, unwisely blabbed on Radio 4 about 10 per cent cuts in other budgets, the Tory machine went into panic mode. But Mr Cameron and George Osborne, while privately livid with Mr Lansley, decided not to treat his remarks as a “gaffe” but to go on the offensive about the need to curb state spending. They have been helped by Mr Brown’s stubborn refusal to admit budgets will have to be cut whoever wins the election, an outdated line that I would expect to change soon.

In adversity, the Tories suspect they have stumbled over a core theme – honesty. No, Mr Cameron is not going to repeat Mr Blair’s mistake of promising to be “whiter than white,” which would only invite ridicule in the current climate. But the Tories may be on to something. In the last two sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron has chided Mr Brown for not being “straight” with the public about Labour’s spending plans. That will ring true with many voters.”

For to my mind Brown loses so much credibility when he seeks to deny the glaringly obvious – a character trait that could cost him dear. Who can forget the unconvincing Brown response after Tom Watson’s visit to his Fife home in September 2006 just before what amounted to the start of the coup to oust Labour most successful election winner, Tony Blair. Had they talked about Watson’s planned wave of resignations? Brown: “No”.

Then there was the infamous Andrew Marr interview in October 2007 on the general election U-turn. Had it anything to do with the opinion polls? Brown: “No”.

Then only this month there was the response to questions about the widely briefed plan to replace Darling as chancellor. Was such a change on the cards? Brown: “No”.

The great thing for Cameron about the approach is that it keeps the focus off Tory policy and makes the election about the incumbent. The only down-side is that it could add further to the pressure on Brown’s position and do the Tories want to be facing someone new and fresh?

  • Today, of course, marks the anniversary of Gordon Brown “coronation” as Labour leader and PM.
  • Mike Smithson


    Does this blow apart Gord’s “10% cuts” rhetoric?

    Friday, June 26th, 2009


    What does he do now in the face of these numbers?

    Thanks to Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian for spotting the above numbers in the latest YouGov poll for they seem to blow a big hole in Brown’s core general election strategy – to reduce the argument down to a choice between “Labour investment” and “Tory cuts”.

    The key premise of the Brown approach is that voters will believe that by curtailing budgets to key services then inevitably those services will suffer. But what if voters don’t believe it – where does Brown’s plan stand then?

    So in the poll a remarkable 77% thought it was “possible to cut spending by 10% by running public services more efficiently, without reducing their quality or cutting the level of welfare spending..” against just `14% who said it wasn’t.

    That seems a remarkable split and I just wonder whether this is another manifestation of public reaction to the MPs expenses scandal. Having looked at the approach those who govern us to spending public money on themselves there is even more scepticism about their ability to use our taxes efficiently.

    All this seems to suggest that Brown’s approach, already under fire from many of his colleagues, is far from being the election saver that he was hoping for.

    Has he got the imagination and/or flexibility to come up with something else? You wouldn’t bet on it for once he’s got an argument in his head it’s very difficult to shift it.

    Mike Smithson


    ICM – Tories heading for solid victory in Norwich North

    Friday, June 26th, 2009

    CON 34 (+1) LAB 30 (-15) LD 15 (-1) GRN 14 (+11)

    Is the first poll just in line with expectations?

    The above ICM poll with variations on what happened at the last election was commissioned by Norwich’s University & College Union and has just been published. The sample was just 500 which means a much higher margin of error must be applied.

    As can be seen the figures are broadly in line with current national polling and, indeed, it would be a huge surprise if the Tories failed to take the seat from Labour with a thumping majority.

    The Tory margin in the survey would have been double the 4% but for ICM’s standard practice of realloctating half of those who say they will vote but don’t know which way in accordance with what they did at the last general election.

    Clearly the campaign has not started and there is not that much awareness in the seat that a by election will soon by happening. A total of 18% of local voters had no idea that there was an election coming up.

    No doubt the main contenders are working on the postal votes right now. Let us hope that afterwards the marked register for this election is not “lost” – something that happened after the last by election at Glenrothes last November.

    Mike Smithson


    Will this be the election’s most interesting battle-ground?

    Friday, June 26th, 2009

    What if an “independent” Tory fought Bercow?

    One feature of the week that I’ve found shocking and unexpected has been the venom from many parts of the Tory party over the man who was elected speaker of the commons on Monday, John Bercow.

    I was no fan of the Buckingham MP but I made damn sure in my betting that I was covered on a Bercow victory even getting 4/1 on him while the first round votes were being counted.

    But the reaction of people like Nadine, Quentin Letts, Iain Dale, and contributors to Tory blogs has been far more antagonistic than anything I could have predicted. It’s almost been on a par with the bile that came out over Edward Heath when the former Tory PM died.

    Enter therefore the ever enterprising Shadsy of Ladbrokes who never misses an opportunity to tempt punters into placing bets with the firm. Within minutes of the Bercow victory Ladbrokes was offering 4/1 that Bercow will be out as speaker before the end of 2010.

    This has been followed up with a new market – on who’ll win Bercow’s Buckingham seat at the general election. The prices are John Bercow 1/8, anybody else 9/2.

    I thought that the idea of a Tory response could be dismissed until I read the following by Fraser Nelson in the print edition of the Spectator.

    “….on the issue of the Speaker, at least, the Conservatives are ill-inclined to accept defeat. Anger on the Conservative benches has hardly dissipated, and the initial mutterings about deposing Mr Bercow in due course are already taking shape into a more organised, discreet plan of action. Traditionally, no party fields a candidate against the Speaker in his or her seat. But now that Mr Bercow has offered himself to Labour as a willing agent to irritate his own party, might an ‘independent Conservative’ stand against him in Buckingham? ‘Don’t think we wouldn’t try to arrange something like that,’ says a shadow cabinet member…”

    And if that did happen what would be the outcome. Could the sitting speaker really be ousted? I don’t think that in the grand scheme of things this would be good for the Tories.

    The Tory reaction so far has been over-the-top, class-ridden and with a touch of anti-semitism – a possible reminder of how the “nasty party” used to be seen.

    My guess is that the fuss will blow over and I for one am not tempted by the bet. But others might be.

    For the record the notional 2005 Buckingham result was CON 58%: LAB 20%: LD 19%: OTH 3%

    Mike Smithson


    Labour get three points closer with YouGov

    Thursday, June 25th, 2009

    CON 38 (-2) LAB 25(+1) LD 18 (nc)

    But “others” continue to impact on the numbers

    The Telegraph’s YouGov poll for June is out and shows modest changes on the last survey from the firm a fortnight ago.

    Labour will be pleased to have clawed back the deficit to what appears a modest 13 points. The Tories will be disappointed to be down in the 30s again while it’s no change for the Lib Dems.

    The changes are modest and all within the margin of error.

    There’s not really a lot else to say apart from the fact support for “other” parties continues to have a big impact on the overall figures. This is down to the continued ripples from the Euro elections at the start of the month and it could take until October before the polling gets back to normal.

    Mike Smithson