Archive for December, 2016


In the other election in Copeland on GE2015 day voters rejected both LAB and CON. A by-election pointer?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


With the big Westminster by-election in 2017 set to be the Cumbrian seat of Copeland currently held by Labour it is worth looking at another recent election in the area to get a sense of the voting patterns in the area.

Back on general election day in the part of the constituency covered by Copeland non-metropolitan district council voters had for the first time a directly elected mayoral election. Copeland is just one of three such councils in England which as a result of the local referendum opted to have such a system of local government.

The voting system used is not first past the post but a form of AV known as the supplementary vote. With this voters get to choose both a first and a second choice the latter being distributed if no candidate secures 50% on the first round.

In Copeland, as the table above shows, the LAB contender came on top in the first round beating not the Tory but the independent Mike Starkie. The CON vote second preferences came into play and Starkie ended as the winner. There was no Lib Dem, UKIP or Green candidate. What is striking is how poorly Labour did on the second preferences.

The by-election, of course, is by FPTP but the mayoral outcome suggests that voters there can be swayed heaviliy by their view of candidates themselves.

So who the parties choose for the coming by election could be critical. This will be about personalities as well as party labels. Don’t rule out either an independent candidature.

Mike Smithson


Surely Douglas Carswell can’t remain in UKIP for much longer, can he?

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Just before Christmas, Douglas Carswell UKIP’s sole MP received an interesting present from former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who effectively told Carswell to begat off.

Douglas Carswell should not be in Ukip, Nigel Farage has said of the party’s only MP, despite vowing not to interfere in internal politics after stepping down as leader.

Relations between Farage and the Clacton MP have soured since Carswell’s high-profile defection from the Conservatives in 2014.

“He shouldn’t be in the party,” Farage told LBC radio on Friday. “He doesn’t believe in what we stand for, he never has done … Since the general election all he’s done is sought to undermine us and divide us. And I notice even since Paul [Nuttall] has become leader we’ve had some statement from Carswell saying that he thought Theresa May’s doing a fantastic job.”

Whilst he might no longer be UKIP leader, Nigel Farage often ends up playing the role of Banquo’s Ghost to his successors as UKIP leader, Farage’s view should have some impact, coupled with allegations made to the police earlier on this year by an Arron Banks owned company saying that Douglas Carswell helped the Tories defeat Nigel Farage in Thanet South at the last general election this appears to another reason to conclude Douglas Carswell long term future doesn’t lie within UKIP.

And the cherry on the parfait earlier on this year was when it was stated in Owen Bennett’s book The Brexit ClubDouglas Carswell infiltrated Ukip as part of a plot to “neutralise” Nigel Farage’s “toxic” leadership and stop him playing a key role in the EU Referendum.’  If that allegation is true, now that Leave has won the the referendum, like a good sleeper agent, Carswell can return home.

Around this time of the year bookies put up special bets for the forthcoming year, I’m hoping at least one will put a market on Douglas Carswell ceasing to be a UKIP MP in 2017, depending on the odds it might be worth a punt. Paddy Power are currently offering 8/1 on Douglas Carswell defecting back to the Tories by the end of 2018, that might make a good proxy bet depending on your viewpoint. Though with the precedent that Carswell set when he originally defected, if he defects backs to the Tories that means a by election, and the good people might not reward Carswell for yet another by election, if he becomes independent then that might negate the need for a by election.


PS – Were Carswell to cease to be a UKIP MP, that would mean nearly 4 million voters would be without an MP, indeed had Carswell not defected back in 2014, it is very likely that UKIP would not have won a single constituency at the last general election. That is not meant as a criticism of UKIP more a reflection that first past the post makes it very difficult for other parties than aren’t the Tories or Labour to win seats.

A little over 30 years ago the Alliance polled over 25% of the votes and ended up with fewer than 4% of the seats, and a 186 fewer seats than Labour, despite being a little over 2% behind Labour in the popular vote and The Alliance had a lot more defector-incumbents than UKIP had in 2015, something people should remember when making forecast of a major breakthrough for UKIP at the expense of Labour at the next general election.

If UKIP are looking for a role in the post Brexit world perhaps they should start championing fairer voting systems like AV.


The big one: Cyclefree announces her awards for 2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Based on NO polling, focus groups or other quasi-scientific methods

The Nicky Morgan Award for Lack of Self-Awareness

A difficult one, this, with so many contenders, not least Ms Morgan herself. But in the end this was jointly shared by the EU and Britain. Both displayed monumental self-regard and a total inability to understand that, perhaps, just perhaps, their own behaviour had a teensy bit to do with why they could not get on.

The Ken Livingstone Award for Trashing One’s Reputation

Old lizard Ken would run away with this award but he is quite self-important enough not to need his ego stroking anymore. A lot of runners for this one: Gove – not quite Machiavellian enough and perhaps his reputation was rather greater in his own living-room than outside it; Osborne – punishment budget, indeed! Where did he think he was? Northern Ireland?; David Cameron – who gambled and lost but, maybe, history will be kinder. And who could forget the spectacular immolation of Andrea Leadsom, pushed forward by a cabal of Brexiteers like some latter Lady Jane Grey, but fortunately now ensconced with farmers rather than in the Tower. Zac Goldsmith was seriously considered for this one: a sort of consolation prize for two inept and occasionally distasteful campaigns.

But, in the end, there could be only one winner. Arise Baroness Shabby Chakrabarti. Having carefully cultivated a reputation for being a fearless advocate of civil liberties (though perhaps rather more impressive as an advocate for herself), she managed to destroy her own reputation by siding with those who want to downplay the spread of anti-semitism in the party she conveniently joined just before applying her whitewash and from who she, even more conveniently, got her bit of fur. She ought at least to have held out for Wales.

The Nuclear Cockroach Award

It is said that cockroaches will survive nuclear armageddon. Whether true or not, Jeremy Corbyn richly deserves this award. Despite attacks by his own party which would have felled a lesser – or perhaps more sensitive – politician, he is still there as leader, busy remaking the party in his own image and repelling all attempts to oust him. His tribute to HMQ on her 90th birthday was gracious. And he’s not quite as awful at PMQs as he was. Maybe he will turn into the Tortoise of British politics.

The Low Bar Award

This is for the field of human activity where the left behind, the thick, the incompetent, the dull can shine. Awards are not just for the elite, you know! And the winner is English politics where the three party leaders consist of a woman being petulant over leather trousers, a malign tramp and a man with all the charisma of a cloakroom attendant. Well done! (Scotland was disqualified on the grounds that its politicians are able to string a series of coherent sentences together.)

The Total F**king Waste of Money Award

Not Jeb Bush and not Hilary Clinton. No, this award indubitably belongs to all those who paid money to the Clinton Foundation over the years. Oh dear. Never mind.

Best Cleavage in Politics

Mrs May wins this. 10 out of 10 for showing that older women still have breasts and can have style. But ditch the big boiled sweet necklaces, darling. Jewellery which looks as if it came from a fairground is not at all comme il faut.

Most Moving Sporting Moment

Nick Skelton trying not to blub – and failing – as he listened to the National Anthem after finally winning an Olympic Gold at the age of 58. Not a dry eye in the Cyclefree household.

And finally, The Best Political Website Award.

Well, doh! This one, of course. ? (Sorry, Tyson!) Where else can one come to be informed, entertained, advised and insulted and put in a position to make money.

Enjoy the festivities, one and all!


Pre-Christmas voodoo surveys might have had a big move against BREXIT but that’s not been picked in proper polls

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Express & Star Dec 24 2016

The YouGov view of BREXIT tracker


There was a flurry of activity just before Christmas prompted by the publication in the Wolverhampton & Shropshire Express and Star of the “poll” at the top contrasting views on BREXIT now with a similar “poll” carried out in the same manner in March last year. As can be seen it shows a dramatic change in opinion. There are said to have been three other local newspaper polls which have had the same pattern.

    But the problem with these surveys is that they are not and do not seek to be representative of opinion. Anybody can participate online and it does not take a computer genius to find ways of multi-voting.

Thus what we could be seeing is that those feeling most strongly about an issue tend to predominate. So maybe the anti-EU Express and Start readers were most motivated last March – now it is those that don’t want BREXIT.

The most regular proper polling tracker of BREXIT opinion is that from YouGov which features above. As can be seen the numbers haven’t changed very much since the polling started on August 1st. The public is very split and there has been little movement.

The last YouGov polling on this to be published had a fieldwork date of December 4th – so is three weeks old. If there has been any change since then we’ll see in the next YouGov poll most probably in the New Year.

Mike Smithson


A worrying Christmas present for TMay and the Brexiteers from Team Trump

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

The Trump administration planning to exploit BREXIT for the benefit of the US

Tomorrow’s Times front page


The St John PB Christmas Day Crossword

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Happy Christmas to everybody

For several years there has been a Christmas Day cross-word on PB pioneered by long-standing PBer StJohn. Here’s the 2016 version – enjoy.



1. Fly in two bloggers (6)
4. Peacekeepers retreated while hiding a blogger – it’s sickening (8)
10. Left annoyed (6,3)
11. Speak at the lowest level (5)
12. Bill introduced by former Prime Minister under duress (7)
13. Ike’s and Abe’s, say? (7)
14. Division in Conservative Socialist Union (5)
15. 5 tried to make these good sellers (3,5)
18. Across the channel where there’s time for loud transport (8)
20. News agency has nothing on poet (5)
23. Top marks repeatedly conceal understanding (7)
25. Castro kept on quietly as a libertarian (3,4)
26. Ted Dexter left home (5)
27. General stores like to keep rented land (9)
28. On Liberty say for building material (8)
29. Areas under jurisdiction of Bishops Palace (6)


1. Little change from US ticket where half is even missing (8)
2. 9 Brexiteers want to leave this way, expert concludes (7)
3. City fills edition of top arts magazine (9)
5. Hitchcock bird detailed in that historic incinerator (6,3,5)
6. Investigate political party wearing spectacles (5)
7. A rebel state in the world of study (7)
8. He believes it’s when April’s foolish (6)
9. Truss up with coil, not holding onto lady luck? (4,10)
16. Writer describing what MPs do as they divide and vote? (5,4)
17. Church holds together, one notes, after backing John Calvin (8)
19. Teachers long for a new leader (7)
21. They oppose dark areas (7)
22. Help out a mate when first Prime Minister (6)
24. Certainly not on reflection an incomplete politician (5)


Alastair Meeks on what we don’t know about Copeland

Saturday, December 24th, 2016


Early next year we have an intriguing by-election lined up.  The day after Parliament rose for its recess, Jamie Reed announced that he would be standing down as MP for Copeland to take up a role at Sellafield.  This sent commentators scrabbling for their atlases and constituency guides.  The following salient facts have been noted:

  1. Copeland and its predecessor seat Whitehaven have been Labour-held since 1935.
  2. The Labour majority is, however, just 7% over the Conservatives.
  3. No sitting government has won a by-election from the opposition since 1982 (and the last truly comparable case was in 1960).
  4. UKIP took 15% of the vote in 2015.
  5. The Lib Dems lost their deposit last time round.
  6. The Conservatives are doing better in the polls than they tallied at the last general election, while Labour are polling worse.
  7. The constituency favoured Leave by roughly 60:40.

Based on this, the betting public have initially installed the Conservatives as narrow favourites (evens or thereabouts) ahead of Labour (best price 6/4 with William Hill), with UKIP attracting interest at 10/1 or thereabouts too.  Does this make sense?

All betting at this stage is a leap in the dark, given that we don’t know when the election is going to be or who the candidates are.  On this occasion, however, the by-election is going to be still more of a leap in the dark because there’s a whole load of other stuff we don’t know either.

First, a few more things that we do know.  All parties are going to struggle with logistics.  Copeland is a remote rural constituency – it’s much quicker to walk from one end to the other of Islington South & Finsbury than it is to drive from one end to the other of Copeland.  And that’s once you’ve got there: Whitehaven is 2 hours drive from Newcastle, 3 hours drive from Manchester and Glasgow and over 6 hours’ drive from London.  Heck, it’s an hour’s drive from Carlisle.  “Welcome to Egremont, gateway to Oblivia”, mocked Mike Harding.

Canvassers will have their work cut out.  There will, however, be stunning views to enjoy.  Copeland contains England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike and a large part of the Lake District.

With all parties having just received raps on the knuckles from the Electoral Commission for their constituency expenses, we can expect them to be on their best behaviour.  This, coupled with the remoteness of Copeland, may well mean that the campaign may be rather less intense than usual, even though its importance for the morale of at least two parties is substantial.

So what don’t we know?  To date, Labour has mostly proved more resilient in actual elections than the low expectations set for it. Will that continue?  It’s an open question.

Before the referendum, Labour put in perfectly respectable by-election performances in Oldham West & Royton, Ogmore and Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough.  All three of these constituencies went on to Leave by roughly 60:40.  The mood music coming out of Oldham West & Royton in particular was terrible, but UKIP made no progress despite a lot of hype.

Since the referendum, the performance by Labour in Witney and Sleaford & North Hykeham was underwhelming (though better in each case than rumoured).  In Richmond Park the Labour vote was ruthlessly squeezed by the Lib Dems.  In none of these seats, however, was it remotely likely that Labour would win.

Copeland is the first seriously contested by-election since the referendum where a Labour vote can meaningfully affect the vote.  Will the pre-referendum pattern in Labour-held seats hold good or will the post-referendum decline that Labour have registered in Conservative-held seats be the continuing trend?

The Conservatives will hope that their performance is as strong as it was in Sleaford & North Hykeham and not as poor as it was in Witney or (treating Zac Goldsmith as a Conservative, which seems reasonable given how many Conservative MPs canvassed for him) Richmond Park.  It’s worth noting, however, that even in Sleaford & North Hykeham the Conservative share of the vote went backwards.  If the Conservatives are going to win here, they are either going to have to break with all recent by-election precedent and increase their vote share (something that they have not achieved at any by-election since they entered government after the 2010 general election) or they are going to need to secure victory on a third of the vote or less.

The Lib Dems will hope to build on their recent success built around their Last Ditch Remain USP.  It won them Richmond Park, got them a 20% swing in Witney and saw them gain strength in Sleaford & North Hykeham.  They are far too far back to have any realistic chance of taking this seat but they can reasonably hope to make a reasonable advance in vote share.

UKIP have done consistently poorly in by-elections in this Parliament.  Their supporters don’t care because the referendum was won.  There’s no particular reason at present to suppose that their supporters are going to start caring by the time of this by-election and even if they do they don’t seem to have the organisation to run a by-election campaign.

Much is going to depend on choice of candidates.  On current prices UKIP seem way too short and the Conservatives seem a bit too short.  By default, therefore, Labour look quite a bit too long.  Rarely has a value bet looked less appetising.  Backing a party that is in disarray and in the doldrums in the polls is rarely rewarding.  But you should probably hold your nose and do it.

Alastair Meeks


After a dramatic political year David Herdson looks at the big picture

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

David Herdson outside a famous front door

Globalisation is pushing democracy to breaking point. What will give first?

It started with a ship; the Belen Quezeda to be precise. Built in 1884 in Aberdeen, she led a colourful life. Originally named the Zafiro, she ploughed her trade as a collier before being bought by and commissioned into the US navy when it was short of a supply vessel during the Spanish-American War. After her naval service, she passed through further American, Mexican and French hands before being rebuilt in Canada during WWI and finding her way into the footnotes of history. Her rebuild caused her difficulty with the authorities and in 1919, her new owners decided to resolve that problem by renaming her and, more crucially, re-registering her in Panama under that country’s laxer maritime rules. As such, she was the first ship ever to fly a flag of convenience and in so doing, opened up a whole new competitive international market for regulation.

There’s an irony that the birth of that market, so essential to globalisation, should have occurred at a time when the vast inequalities of the 19th century were being eroded not only by the violent forces of war, revolution and recession (and the taxes necessary to pay for them) but also by concerted government action to improve living conditions for the poorest.

Indeed, for a long time, the two processes continued in parallel. Improvements in social conditions and in income were driven both by market mechanisms – companies competing for scarce labour – and by political pressure leading to government intervention. At the same time, the largest or the most mobile firms began to exploit the possibilities of physical or legal relocations.

For a while, the processes could. The number of companies who could act as the owners of the Belen Quezeda did was extremely limited. The great majority of even the large conglomerates were tied to a parent country and that country could regulate as it saw fit (and in any case, most countries that might have been practical alternatives were pursuing much the same policies as each other, so the incentives to relocate tended to be small).

No longer, and not for some time. Europe was the first breach in the construct of national regulation as it actively pushed for its single market in goods, people, services and capital. However, uniquely, Europe also developed a political structure to counter that risk of a race to the regulatory bottom, as Jacques Delors recognised when he pushed for social legislation at a European level to counterbalance the forces of capitalism.

In the world of the late-1980s, that might have worked but the world has moved on. The internet, cheaper international transport, globalised markets, lower trade barriers, a more mobile workforce at both the top and the bottom, the emergence of China as an economic superpower (plus other non-OECD rising powers), competition within OECD countries to attract inward investment and relocations, competitive tax regimes; all have tipped the balance towards the corporations and away from the regulators.

Two groups have benefitted above all from these immense structural changes: the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Extreme poverty has been cut by nearly three-quarters across the globe over the last 30 years, lifting well over a billion people out of that category. At the same time, the wealth of the richest has rocketed: one study found that while in 1978, the richest 0.1% of US families owned 7% of the country’s total wealth, by 2012, they owned 22% of it – their highest share since the early 1930s. The U-curve of that group’s wealth share from the early 1900s to today is far from unique to America.

Unsurprisingly, the group that has been squeezed in that pincer is the middle (although in global terms, the great majority of the populations in OECD countries form part of that ‘middle’). Again, America offers the best example: according to the same study, real household incomes for the bottom 90% have not increased at all on a like-for-like basis since 1986. That simple fact goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Donald Trump (despite his being a member of the 0.1%). It goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Bernie Sanders too, for that matter.

Equivalent facts in other countries go a long way to explaining the appeal of Le Pen, of Tsipras, of Grillo, of Farage, of Wilders and of AfD. Certainly, cultural factors played a big part in the rise of these populist candidates or parties but economic stagnation of specific classes of people plays harmony to the strident melody of the populists’ message of fear and blame. And because no matter how rich or poor you are, the votes all count the same (or at least, the same as someone next door), their voices for once do count.

The question for first-world leaders is what, if anything, can be done about it. Ultimately, where revolution was avoided, the great magnates of the late 19th century were tamed by national regulation and political action. When today’s companies operate on a global level and in a largely free-trade environment, that option doesn’t exist (and even if it did, it would only address one factor). Apple, for example, operates world-wide. If the tax regime in Ireland – its European headquarters – worsens sufficiently, it could up sticks and head elsewhere. HSBC publicly flirted with relocating its head office out of the UK (and out of the EU) before the last general election; by what was perhaps not a coincidence, George Osborne cut the Bank Levy at the first Budget after it.

Put together competitive tax and regulatory regimes, geographically mobile companies (and the billionaires who own them), globalised markets and rampant salary inflation for chief executives and star staff and it’s unsurprising that inequalities have increased. And inevitably, those same structural factors will see them increase further because all the pressure comes in one direction. Unless.

There has to come a breaking point. Politics in the widest sense always finds a solution, though not always through the democratic process. So far, it has done, broadly speaking. Events such as Brexit or Trump’s election (or Hofer’s near-election in Austria) might have been shocking to the mainstream, whose values have been so strongly challenged, but they are the natural consequence of the mainstream failing to deliver a fair share of growth for the majority.

The darker question is what happens when these populists fail to deliver either, as they no doubt will fail to. After all, if the mainstream professionals can’t arrange for the cake to be divided up more equitably, what chance do a bunch of rowdy amateurs have – particularly if their actions shrink the rate of the cake’s growth? The resentment that produced the peoples’ revolts so far would distil into, on the one hand, disillusionment and cynicism, and on the other, more violent and more extreme views; the former removing some of the natural brakes on the latter.

That outcome could be prevented by a global framework that enables innovation and growth but prevents that growth from being skimmed by a tiny elite – but that’s an incredibly tough ask when so many countries have no interest in signing up to such a framework.

Perhaps Marx had a point after all.

David Herdson