Archive for August, 2010


While you are going to be facing the Blair barrage…..

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

…I’m off to France for a few days

First thing in the morning we are taking the Eurostar to Paris and then the TGV to Bordeaux for a short break. As I think I mentioned I had a small operation in July and this took a lot out of me.

I won’t won’t be posting very much but there are a number of guest slots lined up as well as the PB AV debate with arguments for and against.

Also the site’s guest editors, MORUS, Paul Maggs and David Herdson will be making their own contributions.

Mike Smithson


How long will the TB-GB psycho-drama plague Labour?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Daily Mail

Is everything still being defined by the ex-leaders ?

The big news for Labour as we move into September should be the start of voting in the first contested election for a leader since 1994.

Instead the media remain obsessed with the Blair-Brown years and “what really went on”. Just look at this week. A couple of days ago the Mail on Sunday had the second part of the serialisation of the Chris Mullin diaries. Yesterday a short series began on Radio 4 with an abridged spoken word version of the same book.

And on top of that the big one – the publication on Thursday of Tony Blair’s book “The Journey” and the associated media hype.

It is Labour Past rather than Labour Future that the media is interested in.

Look at the the scheduling tomorrow evening in prime time by the BBC of a special programme devoted to an interview with Tony Blair. That’s already been recorded and, as the above piece from the Mail shows, a spin war has broken out over what Blair might or might not have said.

The report goes: “Mr Blair will defend his role in the Iraq War and pass judgment on Mr Brown’s handling of the financial crisis and the election campaign, and the performance of the coalition Government. Mr Brown’s allies are preparing a counterblast amid reports that Mr Blair will blame his successor for losing the election by turning away from his New Labour reforms.

He is likely to stress that his Chancellor and successor was solely responsible for the regulatory free-for-all that led to the economic crisis…”

My reading of Tim Shipman’s story is that this has come from the Brown camp and they are seeking to get their retaliation in early – a classic spin tactic from the whole Blair-Brown period.

The problem for Labour is that the Brown-Blair war gets more fascinating the more detail that comes out. The result – lots and lots of coverage.

In terms of the current leadership battle I wonder whether this might hurt David Miliband a bit – he’s the one contender who is most associated with Tony Blair. In the betting Betfair have DM at 1.39 with EdM having moved out to 4.

Mike Smithson


Could Britain and France really share their carrier fleets?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The Sun

Is this taking defence cuts too far?

The main news on the front page of the Times which is covered at length in its sister paper the Sun, is about a plan for Britain and France to “share” their aircraft carriers as part of massive economy measure.

The idea is that Britain would scrap or downgrade one of the two replacement carriers which are already under construction at a cost of more than £5bn and that that one of three ships – one French, two British – was always on duty patrolling the seas. The implications for shipyard jobs are enormous as well as the strategic issues.

No doubt in the coming months we’ll hear a lot about the Falklands war in 1982 and the role of the Royal Navy then. Would the French have sanctioned such an invasion if it was “their” aircraft carrier that was “on duty”?

Apparently Cameron and Sarkozy are expected to outline the proposal in a November summit and the arrangement is expected to come into force soon after.

This is getting into very dangerous political territory for the coalition. The Royal Navy has had such an important role in the history of Britain and is deep in the national psyche. That we cannot afford to maintain its role without doing a deal with our traditional “enemy” across the channel will to many people appear shocking.

It does send out a message about the seriousness of the government in its attempt to curtail spending and could become hugely symbolic. Maybe that’s the idea.

One thing that strikes me – only a Tory Defence Secretary could ever propose such a plan. Imagine the reaction from the blue team if it had come from Labour?

Mike Smithson


So should Dave call Boris’s 800m pound bluff?

Monday, August 30th, 2010


Who’ll win the old-Etonian stand-off over Cross-Rail?

The big development over Boris that Morus only touched on briefly in the last post was the huge row that’s apparently developing between Johnson (Eton and Balliol College Oxford) and Cameron (Eton and Brasenose College Oxford) over plans by Osborne (St. Paul’s and Magdalen College Oxford) to force a 5% cut to the £16bn London CrossRail project.

According to the Guardian, though denied by the Mayor’s office, Johnson has let it be known has let it be known that if all the money is not forthcoming then he will stand for parliament at the next available Westminster by-election. This, of course, raises the possibility of mayoral by election in London involving the capital’s 6m voters.

What the veracity of this is we do not know but Boris is a wily political operator who could be a big threat to Cameron’s leadership if he returned to the commons as an MP.

This could have an impact on a range of betting markets. Even though he is not an MP Boris is the betting favourite to be the next Tory leader. Ladbrokes have him at 5/1 the same as Michael Gove but tighter than the 8/1 against William Hague who has seen an easing.

Boris is also the 4/5 favourite to win the 2012 London Mayoral race – though Bet365’s 13/8 against Ken winning starts to look quite tempting. He has, of course, to be selected as Labour’s candidate – a party election that is taking place in September.

The problem with the “Boris returning to Westminster at a by election” theory is that safe Tory seats don’t come up very often. In the past decade only one sitting Tory MPs has died causing a by election – the total of Labour MP deaths in the same period was ten.

If Boris was to try to get back then the best route would be if a current Tory MP decided to stand down to make way for him – and that is fraught with danger. Voters have a history of punishing parties that cause unnecessary by elections. The Tories also have a miserable record defending by election seats while they are in government.

Mike Smithson


Why would Boris run for re-election?

Monday, August 30th, 2010

And who else could be the Tory candidate?

NB This necessarily-long article was written before this story broke this evening. How better to avoid running again than to resign over a fight with Cameron about cuts?

When I last wrote about the 2010 London Mayoral election in May 2009 (smugly noting my bet on Oona King at 100/1 with Ladbrokes), I suggested that the main value in the market was likely to be found in the Conservative options. Other than Boris, almost no serious Conservatives were listed, which seemed interesting to me for two reasons: firstly, because the Tories have struggled to find a candidate on all three occasions (thus Stephen Norris chosen twice, and Sir John Major refusing before Boris rescued them in 2008), but secondly because I don’t think Boris will necessarily run.

I have read the news stories about him committing to run again (though what sitting politician with half a term left wouldn’t claim to be running again, just to avoid lame duck paralysis?), but I’m not sold. Not only because he didn’t really seem to want the job the first time around, but also because I can’t see how running in 2012 helps him become Prime Minister (which he is rumoured to desperately want). In fact, I think a second term as Mayor seriously hobbles him.

I’m not talking about political cost of being in office. You could offset “being the face of Tory cuts in London” against “being the global face of the 2012 Olympic Games” and call it 6/5-and-pick’em, but I still don’t see how being Mayor doesn’t scupper Boris’ vaunted ambitions from a much more practical perspective: Timing and Opportunity.

There are four possible things that can happen here, helpfully named after 4 US Presidents:

LYNDON JOHNSON OPTION Boris chooses not to run for a second term as Mayor

RICHARD NIXON OPTION Boris runs and wins, but doesn’t finish his second term

JIMMY CARTER OPTION Boris runs, but loses to Ken/Oona/other

RONALD REAGAN OPTION Boris runs and wins, and serves the full second term

Let’s assume the following: that Boris wants to become PM, that General Elections will take place approximately every 4/5 years (as they have done since 1974), and that leaders defeated in General Elections don’t get to stay as leader. How do these four options play out for Boris?

LYNDON JOHNSON OPTION – Boris retires as Mayor undefeated in 2012. He would likely be elected as an MP, at the very latest, by the General Election expected 2015. If the election is earlier, or a handy by-election is called, he could be back on the green benches before then. Even if a ‘new’ MP in 2015, he would be expected to be at least a Whip/Minister, if not full front bench.

If the Conservatives are in Government still (having win the 2015 GE) then, he could expect to be well-positioned (front bench or just short) by Cameron’s expected exit date (probably 2018/19, unless he wants to go on as long as Blair and Thatcher). This would be an election of the PM by the Conservative Party. Boris’ best chance to be PM would be within the decade, with him still in his mid-fifties.

If the Conservatives are in Opposition after the 2015 GE, then he would probably benefit in getting a big front bench job (plenty of room, as there’s no Coalition in Opposition!) in the absence of David Cameron (deposed as leader for never winning an overall majority). Indeed, Boris could even run for leader immediately upon being elected – his previous service as an MP and Shadow Minister, and as the holder of a significant executive office to match even Osborne or Hague. If Leader of the Opposition in 2015, he could realistically be PM by 2020 – again, within the decade.

What is true for the JOHNSON option is actually no less true in the CARTER and NIXON options. Both of these eventualities (Boris losing in 2012 or winning but not completing his second term) would allow him to enter the Commons by 2015, but under different circumstances.

As a CARTER, he would carry the burden of a personalised defeat from the UK’s biggest electorate, and would be much less likely to appeal to the national party as a major election winner. I think losing London would kill his chances of ever becoming PM. Under the NIXON model, he would have to succeed where Sarah Palin has not – giving a justifiable reason for resigning from elected office before the end of term. Leaving for a Parliamentary by-election (which is what it would be) would not sit well, especially as it would leave London in the hands of an unelected Deputy Mayor for at least a year. It would suggest the abandoning of responsibility, even fecklessness, and again probably rule out him taking over the leadership of the national Conservative Party from Cameron.

The fourth option plays out very differently. The REAGAN option would see Boris re-elected as Mayor, and serving until May 2016. He would miss the next General Election in 2015, and would either need a convenient by-election (in, say, 2018) or would have to wait until the General Election in about 2020 to become an MP again.

Various permutations affect his REAGAN path to Downing Street:

  1. Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories are still in power, Cameron still PM (but going soon)
  2. Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories are still in power, but new PM
  3. Boris wins 2018 by-election, Tories in Opposition, new leader served since 2015
  4. Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) win with Cameron
  5. Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) win with new PM
  6. Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (government) lose
  7. Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (opposition) win with new PM
  8. Boris re-enters Parliament at 2020 General Election, Tories (opposition) lose

(Scenarios 3, 7, & 8 presume Tories lost the 2015 General Election. Again, assuming GE every 4 or 5 years, losing leaders always resign, PMs serve about 8 years on average.)

Of these various scenarios, which lend themselves to Boris attaining the leadership of his party, and then the Premiership in a reasonable time frame? They can be grouped:

PERMUTATIONS 1& 4 Cameron is PM, but about to go. Boris becomes senior Cabinet minister and challenges when Cameron chooses to step down. Boris could be PM by 2022, at the end of a Conservative 3rd term.
PERMUTATION 2 If New PM wins 3rd Conservative term in 2020, Boris might get to snatch a year or so as PM before the 2025 General Election, or if new PM goes during 4th term. If the New PM loses in 2020, leadership election and Boris seeks to be PM at 2025 General Election, facing first term Labour PM.
PERMUTATIONS 3 & 8 Tories led by post-Cameron Leader of the Opposition. 2020 General Election is lost, so Boris stands for leadership, and runs in 2025 GE – becoming PM if he beats first term Labour PM.
PERMUTATIONS 5 & 7 New Conservative PM would mean no leadership election until after 2025 GE. If the new PM won that, Boris would be looking to inherit by around 2029 at the earliest (end of 4th term). If the new PM lost in 2025, Boris would be seeking leadership in 2025 in Opposition, so could become PM by 2029 at the earliest again


The REAGAN option (running, winning, serving as Mayor until 2016) suggests that he would not be able to become PM until 2025 at the very earliest (by beating a first term Labour PM), and more likely around 2030. Even the earlier possibilities imply that he takes over the Premiership (as did Brown and Major) at the tail end of a 3rd or 4th term Tory government. Is this really what he wants? Pending ignominious defeat at a General Election?

The CARTER, NIXON and JOHNSON options all suggest he could be PM before 2020 – although the CARTER and NIXON options mean he is handicapped by having either lost a Mayoral election, or having abandoned his elected post before finishing his term. This is 10-15 years earlier than under the REAGAN model. Is Boris a patient man?

Two other factors: Boris is in his mid-forties at present. We haven’t had a Prime Minister elected in their 60s since Thatcher in 1987. I don’t think he has more than 15 years to get the top job, and (with respect to the present Cabinet) he stands a much better chance now – Hague has already been leader, and I could only see him being so again if Cameron were to depart suddenly. Osborne, Gove, and May are not obvious leadership material. Clarke won’t lose a fifth time, and Fox is too right-wing. This is an open field, with potential contenders blocked from top jobs by the LibDems. The new Tory cohort are overwhelmingly first time MPs, but they will have matured in 15 years’ time. If Boris wants to win the leadership easily, the sooner the better.

Then consider that winning re-election, with all the risk of the CARTER option if he loses, will not be easy. Boris won the Mayoralty when the Tories were 20-points ahead in national polls. He won by 6-points. If the government’s cuts start to bite by 2012, I wouldn’t want to be facing re-election as Mayor of London, when I don’t even want the job that is delaying my return to Parliament.

Nothing I’m saying here is radical, and I’m sure these debates have been played out in Boris’ head many times before. He may feel committed to running again, in which case he will either be a CARTER, a NIXON, or a REAGAN – but if I were him, and wanted to be PM, I’d be a JOHNSON.


PS If not Boris, then who runs for Mayor on the Tory ticket in 2012? I have James Cleverly at very long odds, but there is one obvious choice again Ken/Oona.

In 2008, before Boris was chosen to take on Ken, and before Brian Paddick had been selected for the Lib Dems, a rumour broke that the Tories had approached Greg Dyke – a former Labour donor who had lost his job as Director General of the BBC over the Hutton Report. He was prepared to run against Ken (it was reported), but only if the Lib Dems would also endorse him as a joint candidate. Ming Campbell apparently flat-out refused. A Tory-LibDem joint candidate? Madness!

Now Ming has gone, there is a Tory-LibDem coalition seated around the Cabinet Table, and Greg Dyke’s last appearance in the political news was agreeing to act as an advisor for the Conservative Party. Former-leftwinger, businessman and millionaire, good public speaker, beloved-of-the-BBC: I’d give him a good chance against Ken, and if it were Oona King, do you think the legality of the Iraq War might come up as a wedge issue?


How do general election LD voters view things now?

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

The ICM approval ratings break-down

Coalition – overall? Good job Bad Job Don’t know
All sampled 46 36 18
Current CON voters 83 5 11
Current LAB voters 21 62 16
Current LD voters 59 25 16
May 6 LD voters 48 37 15
David Cameron Good job Bad Job Don’t know
All sampled 57 31 12
Current CON voters 91 5 3
Current LAB voters 33 55 12
Current LD voters 68 26 7
May 6 LD voters 58 34 9
Nick Clegg Good job Bad Job Don’t know
All sampled 50 31 20
Current CON voters 76 12 12
Current LAB voters 28 53 19
Current LD voters 78 14 8
May 6 LD voters 61 28 12

The above tables are from the detailed data in the latest ICM poll and show the three main approval findings breaking down the answers on current voting intention and, for the Lib Dems, an extra row on how those who supported the party at the general election are thinking.

It’s that gap that’s interesting showing quite a different response from current LD supporters and those who voted for the party on May 6th.

So less than half of general election Lib Dem voters now think the coalition is doing a good job – yet 61% give a positive rating Clegg rising to 78% amongst those who are sticking with the party.

The general election LD voters are also quite happy with Cameron – with a 58-38 “good job/bad job” split for the prime minister. With current party supporters that rises to 68-26.

Given they’ve lost a fair bit of support since May it’s not surprising that there’s a marked difference between general election LD voters and current ones – but the gap is not as wide as the current media and political narrative is suggesting.

This is, of course, the data from just one poll with all the usual caveats.

Mike Smithson


Will the MiliD-MiliE outcome be a verdict on NuLab?

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

…are these headlines helpful to the younger brother?

With voting in Labour’s election due to start on Wednesday two papers at the “quality” end of the market have front pages that are dominated by the relations between the US and the UK during the Iraq War and its aftermath.

The Telegraph says that it has been told that Tony Blair sought to hang on to office for longer than he did after hearing concerns from President Bush about the suitability of Gordon Brown to succeed him as Prime Minister.

It reports: “..Senior officials in the US administration sounded the alert after a meeting between Mr Brown and Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush’s secretary of state, in which Mr Brown “harangued” her over American policy on aid, development and Africa. After the uncomfortable session, sources said she reported her misgivings to the White House, and they were sent on in turn to Mr Blair” who then sought to remain in office until 2008.

The front page of the Indy on Sunday looks at the suggestions that leadership favourite, David Miliband, was complicit in the torture of US “war on terror” suspects in the period when he was Foreign Secretary. This is something that has his dogged his campaign though I’m not convinced that it will be that important

On top of this there’s a perceptive feature in the Observer by Toby Helm in which he suggests that the contest gives the Labour movement its chances to give its verdict on the whole New Labour project. And if it turns into that then maybe it could hurt DM who is seen, perhaps unfairly, to be the “Blairite” contender.

But is this election about ideology at all? Labour, surely, will choose the Miliband who is seen to offer the best prospect of returning the party to power.

This long bank holiday weekend was always going to be crucial in this contest. The postal ballot packs go out on Wednesday and all the evidence is that many voters like to fill them in quickly and return them. By next weekend the election could be over for a significant segment of voters.

Meanwhile the betting on the brothers remains very much the same with DM’s Betfair price being 1.44 and EM’s being 3.55.

Mike Smithson


How should Labour’s electors regard this?

Saturday, August 28th, 2010


Is this a Number 10 bluff – or a double bluff?

Just four days to go before voting starts in Labour’s election the Guardian is reporting that the contender that David Cameron fears most is David Miliband.

Now how should we treat this? Is it on the level; is it a bluff or is it a double bluff? Could Number 10 be trying to impede DM’s chances by letting it be know that they fear him most?

We all remember Alistair Campbell playing games like this during the 2001 Tory leadership contest. It was put about that Ken Clarke was the man Number 10 wanted when in fact he was the one they most feared. What happened? The Tories made their most disastrous leadership choice ever with the hapless IDS.

Now could it be that the Cameron team really does fear Mili-Major the most and that it’s been concluded that the best way of blighting his chances is to let this story slip out? In this scenario they hope that the Labour movement will think it’s a trick and back the younger brother.

Who knows? The best thing with reports like this is to treat them with a very large pinch of salt.

Mike Smithson