Archive for November, 2010


Could Nick Clegg stand aside before 2015?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

It’s 2/1 that he’ll step down before the election?

The Politicalbetting All Pollsters Average (PAPA) – has moved overnight to CON 37.2: LAB 38.5: LD 12.5 .

The changes have been caused by the latest YouGov daily poll putting the parties on 40/40/9 and an old poll dropping out of the calculation because it is now one month old. The Lib Dem share is by far the worst since the creation of the coalition and is just over half the 23.6% GB share that the party achieved at the general election.

All this puts into context a new betting market launched by Ladbrokes on whether Nick Clegg will step down before general election. It’s 2/1 that he won’t compared with 5/2 that’s being offered against Ed Miliband with Labour.

For Clegg a lot could depend on three elections in the next six months – the Old & Sad by election, the English locals and the Scottish and Welsh votes on May 5th and, of course, the AV referendum on the same day.

If the yellows beat expectations in just one of those then I think that he’s safe.

A big question would be how? What would insulate him from a coup is that almost all the major figures in the party are in government with him and he went to great lengths last May to ensure that there was party backing for the momentous decision. If there was a move then I think it would be his own decision.

So is it a good bet? I never cease to be amazed at how resilient leading politicians are – the 2/1 is just too tight. I would be looking for a price longer than 3/1 to tempt me.

If it did happen who would take over and, presumably, become deputy prime minister? The favourite in the next leader betting is Tim Farron who has just been elected party president. I don’t think the party would see him as deputy PM. and it would almost certainly be down to two cabinet ministers – Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander. My guess is that the latter would not put his name forward.

Mike Smithson


James Kelly on the chances of Scottish independence

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Is it worth a long-term bet?

I should make clear from the start that I’m not a betting man, but a couple of years ago I caught sight of the absurdly long odds on Scotland becoming independent by 2012, and my jaw dropped to the floor. If ever there was an example of a ‘value bet’, that surely had to be it. Scotland had just elected a nationalist government that was committed to holding an independence referendum within its term of office – a vote that would have been a highly volatile two-horse race, with one of those two ‘runners’ being an eventuality that the bookies seemingly deemed a near-impossibility. And it’s worth reflecting on just how close that referendum came to happening – had it not been for the freakish events that brought down Wendy Alexander as Scottish Labour leader in 2008, it’s likely an independence vote would have been scheduled for St Andrew’s Day of this year, in line with the SNP’s plans.

But perhaps the bookies can be forgiven for quoting such unrealistic odds, given that ‘expert opinion’ has always varied so wildly on how probable independence is, even in the longer-term. Proponents point to the vast number of countries, including many in Europe, that have gained statehood over the last 25 years. But some academics such as Anthony King have pointed out that nearly all of those countries were breaking free from dictatorships (eg. Namibia) or emerged from nascent democracies that were in a state of flux (eg. Slovakia). It remains the case, King has emphasised, that no region of an established western democracy has yet become independent in modern times. The conclusion he draws is that the national aspirations of a country like Scotland are always much more likely to be accommodated within the existing democratic state. However, I tend to think this theory glosses over a few important points –

1) There are actually relatively few ‘established western democracies’ out there, ie. ones that predate the end of the Cold War. And the fact that so many post-communist regions were chomping at the bit to become independent as soon as they were able to do so scarcely supports the notion that democracy makes it easier to accommodate national aspirations within existing states – rather the reverse.

2) There are also surprisingly few regions in established western European democracies that have strong pro-independence movements. In some of the regions that are occasionally cited (such as Corsica) support for independence is considerably lower than in Scotland. Thus, the fact that no western European secessionist movement has achieved its goal in recent decades is of limited help in predicting what might happen in Scotland.

3) In 1995, Quebec came within a whisker of voting for “sovereignty”, in a referendum that came about in much the same circumstances that a Scottish independence vote would be likely to. Had it gone the other way, this clearly would have driven a coach-and-horses through King’s theory. As it is, the least that can be said is that it demonstrates that a very significant minority of the Quebec population were not prepared to accept that high levels of regional autonomy within a democratic state – going way beyond what currently exists in Scotland – constituted a sufficient answer to their aspirations.

So, for these reasons, there is in my view no reason to suppose that there is some ‘magic inhibiting factor’ that will automatically prevent Scotland from voting for independence. But how likely is that to happen in the next 10-15 years, and has the return to power of the Conservative Party – traditionally so distrusted north of the border – made it more or less probable?

There’s a paradox here. There can be little doubt that a Tory-led government at Westminster has made it much tougher for the SNP to secure re-election in May next year, simply because for many Scottish voters, Labour remains the default ‘anti-Tory’ option. On the other hand, a recent YouGov poll showed a marked increase in support for independence itself, reversing much of the trend in the opposite direction that has been observed over the last few years. While no-one can be sure of the cause, it seems thoroughly improbable that it was wholly unrelated to the recent change of government in London.

So is support for the SNP or for independence the relevant factor in pondering a bet on this topic? Both are significant, but my guess is that the latter is ultimately more important. Mrs Thatcher’s hugely unpopular period in office essentially doubled support for outright independence, and considerably consolidated support for a devolved parliament with far more extensive powers than those on offer in 1979. The end result? Within seven years of the Iron Lady leaving office, an overwhelming vote in favour of Home Rule. With every polling indication that the current London government is attracting similar levels of antipathy in Scotland, I’d suggest any odds of more than 3-1 that the country will become independent within 10-15 years would be well worth considering.

James Kelly is a regular commenter on PB – this is his first guest slot


Could Yvette replace EdM before the next general election?

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Is there any way that he can get the media on his side?

After his media hammering over the past 24 hours I’m beginning to wonder whether Ed Miliband will last the course and be replaced, probably by Yvette Cooper, before the general election.

Since yesterday morning there’s been one story after another bringing bad news for the Labour leadership. Even Nick Robinson at the officially impartial BBC got into the act by mocking Ed’s term “the squeezed middle” as “the squeezed muddle“.

The Speccie’s James Forsyth reckons that the media “is in hunting mode” observing acutely that EdM “.. must be the only leader who has been attacked on the front page of a newspaper for not linking peerages to donations.”

On that subject the Times is reporting that “Labour’s biggest benefactor is refusing to give another penny until he receives assurances about the direction in which Ed Miliband is taking the party….Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who has donated more than £12 million over the past five years, was alienated by Mr Miliband’s leadership campaign and subsequent comments apparently intended to draw a line under new Labour..”

Even the Guardian’s sketch writer, Simon Hoggart, has got into the act this morning adding to his criticism of Ed being a wuss for taking such a long paternity leave.

He writes: “I have since learned that during his two weeks off he popped into the Commons “once or twice” for meetings. In other words, he did skip part of his paternity leave, only in private. I think that’s even more wussy.”

There’s a sense that this is like Iain Duncan Smith’s ill-fated period as Tory leader from 2001 until the party booted him out in October 2003. What did for IDS then was the view that the Tories ought to be doing much better against Blair/NuLab in the aftermath of the Iraq War. I wonder whether the same might happen to Labour’s leader as the cuts bite deeper.

One betting market that we don’t have is on who will be leading the main parties at the general election. Ladbrokes, the only traditional bookie that now accepts bets from me, make Yvette a 4/1 shot to replace Ed. A more interesting bet might be the 18/1 from PaddyPower on Yvette as “next PM”.

Mike Smithson


Harry Hayfield’s November council by election round-up

Friday, November 26th, 2010
Party Votes Cast % Votes Cast Seats Won Change
Labour 11,541 32.56% 7 +3
Conservatives 10,367 29.25% 9 -3
Liberal Democrats 4,827 13.62% 1 -1
Independents 2,902 8.19% 3 Unchanged
Green Party 2,849 8.04% 0 Unchanged
Plaid Cymru 1,006 2.84% 2 +1
SNP 773 2.18% 0 Unchanged
UKIP 420 1.19% 0 0
Others 756 2.13% 0 Unchanged

Conservative GAINS: Lyth Valley on South Lakeland from Lib Dem
Labour GAINS: Moredon on Swindon from Con, Coleridge on Cambridge from Con, Wednesbury North on Walsall from Con
Plaid Cymru GAINS: Cenarth on Carmarthenshire from Ind
Independent GAINS: Forres on Moray from Con

Today (Friday) is traditionally termed “Black Friday” across the United States as it’s the day when shops start to turn into profit. For any Liberal Democrats looking at the local by-election results since the coalition was formed, they might be also calling it black but for wholly different reasons.

Since the formation of the coalition, there have been 134 local by-elections across all parts of Britain and the general reaction of the British electorate in these wards is “We don’t like the government!”. In May, the votes cast across the by-elections was Con 37% Lab 27% Lib Dem 22%, but in November the tally was Lab 33% Con 29% Lib Dem 14% reflecting recent opinion polls that suggest the Liberal Democrats are having their worst post general election performance since the Second World War.

But is this reaction is being felt all over the country? At the general election, the Liberal Democrats polled best in the South West (Con 43% Lib Dem 35% Lab 15%), however in the by-elections held in the South West since the Lib Dems are polling 43% (+8%), the Conservatives 30% (-13%) and Labour are on 19% (+4%). The worst area for the Lib Dems in the election was Scotland (Lab 42% SNP 20% Lib Dems 19% Con 17%) and in the by-elections since the tallies are Lab 35% (-7%) SNP 24% (+4%) Con 16% (-1%) Lib Dems 7% (-12%).

With attention now beginning to focus on next year’s set of local elections, Labour must be thinking it could be in for one of it’s best nights ever in opposition. So far, there is a 3% swing in these local by-elections to Labour from the Conservatives as well as a 1% swing from the Liberal Democrats to Labour (suggesting that Newcastle and Pendle could fall to Labour from the Liberal Democrats and that the likes of Bolton, Leeds, North Tyneside, Sheffield, Blackburn, Redcar and Stoke could be gained from No Overall Control).

Harry Hayfield


Will Angela Merkel decide Britain’s next government?

Friday, November 26th, 2010

A guest slot from Richard Nabavi

Any government can be rocked by external events. The MPs’ expenses scandal and the banking crisis dominated much of Gordon Brown’s time in No 10. Whilst we don’t yet know what surprises lie in store for the present government, there is already one crisis which could be a big factor in determining the next election. That is the unfolding financial turmoil in the Eurozone.

For the coalition, the big danger is that a recession, or worse, in Europe will damage the recovery here, through direct effects on our exports, contagion to our banks, and by the effect on business and consumer confidence. A background of rising unemployment and little or no growth would clearly not be good for the electoral prospects of either coalition partner. Voters don’t tend to be very forgiving if the economy does badly, even if the underlying causes are external. George Osborne’s measures for cutting the deficit will be blamed if the economy falters. In addition, UK participation in bail-outs of our European partners will not be popular.

But Labour also has much to fear from troubles in the Eurozone. The Ipsos-MORI opinion trackers show that the British public is more and more aware that excessive debt levels, and governments running large deficits, are not sustainable. Labour is in grave danger of being increasingly seen as being on the wrong side of this argument, as people see on the TV screens the eventual catastrophic effects of debt problems in other countries.

For the LibDems, though, there is one potential upside. They have said that the crisis in Greece caused them to change their minds about the need for early measures to address the deficit. So far, that excuse hasn’t been well received by many of those who voted for them, but it is looking increasingly plausible as the crisis in other countries unfolds.

Meanwhile, the real action is taking place in Germany, Brussels, and the ECB. It is decisions made there which will determine whether the Eurozone muddles through this crisis intact. There is certainly huge political pressure to avoid any countries leaving the Euro, but itís not clear that that is realistic. The key player here is Germany, which will have to foot much of the bill whatever happens. Angela Merkel is caught between the perceived political necessity to protect the Eurozone, the increasing opposition in Germany to bailing out what are seen as irresponsible European governments, the legal constraints of the German constitution, and the brute economic facts.

It looks highly likely that Germany will insist on major changes to the structure of the European Union, perhaps moving more towards a two-speed Europe and a more tightly-integrated core Eurozone. And that, in the medium term, may be the biggest effect of all on UK politics. It is a threat to Cameron, because the last thing he wants is a revival of Tory civil war on Europe. But it is also an opportunity for him to reshape Britainís relationship with the EU; he could, for example, use the crisis as a lever to grab back a veto on regulatory measures which might damage the City, by far our most important industry.

So forget gaffes by Tory grandees or froth about Andy Coulson. Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schauble, Jean-Claude Juncker and Jean-Claude Trichet will have a much bigger influence on the next UK general election.

Richard Nabavi was the 2009 PB Poster of the Year


Are these five the clincher in the AV referendum?

Friday, November 26th, 2010

What’ll be the impact of Labour’s “old guard” saying NO?

With less than six months to go before the referendum on electoral reform No to AV campaign has announced the backing of five of Labour’s old guard. All of them were cabinet ministers and all are familiar figures.

Those opposed to change will be particularly pleased that former deputy Labour leader, Margaret Beckett, has agreed to become the president of the campaign and, no doubt, will a key public role as we got closer to the day.

The NO campaign has also announced the backing of former deputy PM, John Prescott, as well as David Blunkett, John Reid and ex-Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer.

With support for AV support for an AV referendum being a Labour manifesto commitment at the general election and Ed Miliband saying that he’s backing the YES effort the Labour vote is going to be crucial.

In the betting Smarkets make NO a 75% chance.

  • Poll news After the overnight YouGov showing CON 42/LAB 39/LD 10 the latest PAPA is 37.6% CON: 38.2% LAB:13.4% LD.
  • Mike Smithson


    Are the police right to use kettling?

    Thursday, November 25th, 2010

    Could it just increase the anger and violence?

    There’s been a strong defence by the Metropolitan police of their tactic of using what’s known as “kettling” yesterday in containing the fees protests in central London.

    The plan is simple – the demonstrators are trapped for many hours in order to prevent the possibility of mass attacks that could lead to violence and criminal damage on specific targets. Yesterday it was said that they were aiming for the Lib Dem offices in Cowley street just round the corner from the palace of Westminster. Instead they were held a few hundred yards and a only a few were allowed to get out at a time.

    This led to student activists describing the police approach as “heavy handed brutality”.

    The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, says “the game has changed” in policing protests in a clear message that “kettling” will continue.

    This is a fine balance – the last thing that the police want is for their approach to be exacerbating the situation.

    I just wonder whether there would be the same level of student activity and anger if Labour had won the election and implemented the recommendations of the Browne committee which they set up. My guess is that there wouldn’t.

    Mike Smithson


    What do you do when your time is up?

    Thursday, November 25th, 2010

    Plato reflects on the ending of political careers

    Falling on your sword for the good of the Party has never been a popular career choice for an aspiring politician, but are our MPs any less honourable than their predecessors?

    Most careers ending in ignoble resignation fall into four categories – a tabloid sex scandal, money and favours, a massive gaffe or a visit from the boys in blue. Simple incompetence barely registers, as the cross party praise for Estelle Morris demonstrates.

    The last minister credited with doing ‘the honourable thing’ was Lord Carrington in 1982. Being asleep at the wheel as the Argies invaded made this almost inevitable – yet the swift resignations of Carrington and his Foreign Office ministers marked them out as men of integrity.

    By way of contrast, only a year later – Jim Prior hung on as SoS for NI when over 30 IRA prisoners escaped from the Maze. Would Ken survive today if they’d been Islamic extremists?

    As John Major knows well, when a government gets on a scandal roll, it is impossible to stop. He lost more front-benchers than any other PM, and even today we still recall Aitken, Hamilton and Mellor. Fortunately for the PM, his affair with Edwina remained a secret until he was out of office.

    When it comes to philandering, Tories are expected to resign promptly when caught, whilst Labour ministers simply carry on [unless badgers are involved]. Liberal Democrats are of course in a league of their own when it comes to dogs, rent boys or running off with former lesbians.

    Cecil Parkinson resigned when caught with his secretary – Robin Cook unceremoniously dumped his wife from the airport instead. Prescott’s antics covered acres of newprint, yet he remained as DPM. Would Clegg get away with something similar?

    Why is there such a difference in attitude by the parties and do their supporters agree with them? Have Labour voters forgiven or forgotten the sleaze under both Blair and Gordon?

    And finally, the fall from grace of Lord Young over a gaffe shows how important public perceptions are when it comes to policies and party attitude, even for an unpaid advisor.

    Will the Coalition herald a ‘new politics’ when it comes to resignations? The departures of David Laws and Lord Young seem to indicate so. And how will Labour’s new leader respond?