Archive for January, 2017


Corbyn the rebel has made the wrong call on the Article 50 vote and his party will suffer ever more

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

So here we are. The Article 50 bill starts in the Commons with Mr. Corbyn ordering his MPs to back the Tories – something that is going to be remembered.

The dilemma was obvious – the majority of LAB voters voted REMAIN but the majority of LAB MPs are in areas that voted LEAVE. This is only problematical if there’s evidence that it would lead to voters switching on the issue and there isn’t.

It is also based on the fallacy that in local and national election those turning out would split precisely in accordance with the way their area voted.

Another factor that undermines the strategy is that the Lib Dem revival in local elections that we are seeing is more marked in areas that voted LEAVE than voted REMAIN.

So you can’t simply apply the template of the referendum to other elections.

Remember this from earlier in the month – what happened in LEAVE friendly Sunderland.

Mike Smithson


The Tories are looking to Copeland for endorsement of Mrs. May’s plan for BREXIT

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

But what happens of the blues don’t take the LAB seat on February 23rd?

Last night a Copeland voter emailed the above copy of a personalised letter that had come to him from Theresa May. The contents are very revealing about what message the Tories are hoping will come from them taking the seat from LAB in 23 days time.

The Tories are looking to the result as a vindication of the strategy outlined in the PM’s speech earlier in the month. Notice how in the letter the PM doesn’t move into any other policy area this is all about BREXIT and getting some mandate for her approach.

If the betting markets have got this right the Tories are in with a 58% chance of what would be an unprecedented outcome in recent times for a ruling party – to take a seat from the opposition.

    But the strategy has its risks. What happens if the Tories fail to take Copeland? What would that say about about public backing for the BREXIT plan.

We now live in an era when we don’t have by-election polls. There was one in Richmond Park with 4 weeks to go that had Zac 27% ahead but that’s been the only published one this parliament.

So at the moment there’s little to base any Copeland forecasts on apart from the Tories dominant national polling position. Only problem with that is that it isn’t being reflected in council by-elections.

Mike Smithson


The lack of options for Brexit Britain

Monday, January 30th, 2017


Since the Brexit vote, British politics has been curiously alternativeless.  The government rules without any effective opposition.  The Prime Minister was installed by her party as the only imaginable choice once the other would-be contenders had been properly scrutinised.  Theresa May was not particularly inspiring.  But what else could the Conservative party have done?

The Prime Minister has spent some months reviewing her options, only to find that she has none.  She has rightly concluded that controls on immigration are a non-negotiable feature of any Brexit deal, given the basis of the referendum campaign.  So, making a virtue out of necessity, Theresa May has announced that Britain will not be seeking continued membership of the single market (knowing that it was not on offer if Britain insisted on controlling immigration from the EU).  She is looking for a swift agreement on limited terms, accepting that a more comprehensive agreement is in practice impossible.  But what else could she have done?

Having burned its bridges with the rest of the EU, Britain must find new friends – or rely more heavily on existing ones.  And as Thucydides said over 2000 years ago, “It is the habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire”.  So Theresa May concluded that despite disagreeing strongly with Donald Trump on many matters, including the importance of NATO, the appropriate response to Russia and tariff-free trade, she needed to get as close to the incoming administration in Washington as possible.  There were obvious risks given the new president’s apparent waywardness, his loose relationship with the truth, his past boorishness towards many women and a smorgasbord of troubling policy positions.  Britain had to proceed on the basis that those could be contained or sidestepped.  From that point, the British government’s foreign policy in relation to the USA was founded on hope.  But what else could she have done?

The Foreign Office secured the undoubted coup of getting Theresa May to meet Donald Trump first of all the world leaders.  And she gave a serious and thoughtful speech to assembled Republicans in which she announced that “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”.  Once again, the Prime Minister made a virtue of necessity, given the new president’s own clearly-expressed views on the subject.  This marks a sharp break from the liberal interventionist consensus of the last two decades.  But what else could she have done?

No one can accuse Theresa May have being underprepared for her meeting with Donald Trump.  She seems to have taken to heart Thucydides’ words that “It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions.”  With firmness she publicly declared on his behalf that he was fully committed to NATO.  He was charmed sufficiently to guide her through a colonnade.  From that point on the two of them will be forever inextricably associated in the public’s eyes as being hand in hand.  That was a hostage to fortune that Theresa May must have regretted from the very moment that she felt his paw grasp her.  But what else could she have done?

When the Prime Minister left the USA, the consensus was that she had added to her stature.  It unravelled all too quickly as Donald Trump signed an executive order on Holocaust Memorial Day to ban those born in seven countries from entering the USA.  (The president seems unaware that the approved way of interpreting his words was seriously but not literally and seems dead set on being taken seriously and literally.)  This caused outrage in Britain well beyond the usual sources, with a series of Conservative MPs queuing up to condemn it.  A petition to deny Donald Trump the state visit that Theresa May had promised him has accumulated signatures at a record-breaking pace, soaring far past the million mark in a day.  As I write, she seems trapped between wanting to recognise the undoubtedly real disgust that many Britons feel about this policy that affects prominent Brits, including Sir Mo Farah, and not wanting to offend Donald Trump, whose goodwill she so desperately needs.  She looks simultaneously venal and feeble.  But what else can she do?

The contrast is starkly made with other European leaders.  Angela Merkel, for example, has felt no need to rush to Donald Trump’s side.  She has been able to set her own course and has felt uninhibited in condemning this policy.  She is able to do this because she has more options, options that are derived in large part from Germany being in the EU.  Britain, it is becoming painfully clear, is out of options.

Does this mean that Britain should backtrack on Brexit?  No, that ship has sailed.  But the limits of the control taken back are becoming painfully apparent.  That man Thucydides first recorded the view that “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”  Britain is getting a crash course in the truth of this dictum right now.  Ancient history has never seemed more modern.  Expect Britain to have to suffer much more in the coming years.

Alastair Meeks


This year’s German election: Angela Merkel’s re-election might not be as certain as the betting markets think

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Latest German polls

Nick Palmer on the other big European contest in 2017

The general assumption that Merkel is certain to be re-elected as Chancellor after the elections later this year is reflected in the betting odds. At the time of writing, her Betfair odds are 1.73. However, it’s always a good idea for punters to check that assumptions remain valid.

The surprise selection of Martin Schulz as her Social Democrat (SPD) challenger has produced an immediate bump in SPD ratings – every poll taken since the decision has seen them up by 1-3 points, and they are now close to the last election level. Schulz differs from the expected alternative (Gabriel) in several ways: he is not a member of the Government so can criticise Merkel more easily; he is a sharp-edged speaker with a knack of getting in the headlines; he is more obviously pro-European at a time when many Germans think it important to rally round the EU. Most importantly, he is a bit harder to see as part of the traditional establishment which is struggling in every country.

But is there a path to victory for him? Yes, but not an easy one. Above are the current polls:

Leaving aside INSA, which always shows Merkel’s CDU lower (and the AfD higher), the CDU is on a stable 36% or so, which would be a drop of over 5% from last time. It looks as though the free-market centre-right FDP will get back in, on 6-7%. Against that, Schulz would have the SPD on say 24%, and the Greens and Left on 9-10% each. The old assumption that the SPD would not govern with the help of the ex-communist Left has been eroding. There have been fairly harmonious partnerships at state level, the communist GDR-era leaders have mostly retired, replaced by more generic leftists, and the Cold War is starting to seem yesterday’s issue. Schulz, unlike his predecessors, has not quite ruled it out. So on current polling he could potentially have a slim lead.

This leaves out the AfD, who are down from their peak as the refugee crisis is perceived to have eased slightly, but still on 11-14%. However, they are deeply divided internally and seen as dangerous rivals by the CDU, who would not govern in 2017 on the basis of their support (perhaps, like the Left, they will one day be seen as “salonfaehig” – suitable to be welcomed into the living room – but they’re some way off). If the only basis for a Merkel majority was AfD support, she would step down, like her Swedish Conservative counterpart, who preferred to yield power to the Social Democreats rather than carry on with far-right Sweden Democrat support.

Nonetheless, an SPD/Left/Green government would be well short of a majority on these figures, so unless they pick up a further 6% or so from the centre or right, it isn’t going to happen. What, though, if the FDP drop by just a single point and fall under the 5% threshold again? At that point, a CDU-led government with 35% against 43% for the centre-left will start to look less of a slam-dunk. A CDU-SPD coalition still looks likely – but might it be under a new leader? Or could one imagine an SPD-FDP-Green minority government?

Possibly – but in my view probably not. The answer to the question is, perhaps surprisingly, that this is one occasion when the markets are probably underestimating the favourite: she is, under most likely circumstances, likely to survive with a reduced majority, and anything above 1.4 is probably a bet worth considering. But laying Schulz may be the better strategy, as it covers the possibility of a really bad CDU result leading to a new CDU leader.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe 1997-2010, and works as a translator from German, giving him longstanding daily contact with the German media.


Polling Matters / Opinium survey: Public backs Brexit as the right decision by 52% to 39%

Monday, January 30th, 2017

New polling this week shows Leave voters are convinced they made the right decision as Remainers stumble on leaderless writes Keiran Pedley

With Trump and May very much making the headlines this week you may have missed the second Polling Matters / Opinium survey (full data here). This survey sought to measure public perceptions of the Brexit vote seven months on and also the strength of feeling on either side. The overarching message is that the public backs Brexit as the ‘right decision’ by 52% to 39% with 40% saying the decision was ‘definitely right’ and 23% saying the decision was ‘definitely wrong’. Some of the key data can be found below.

Do you think the United Kingdom made the right decision or the wrong decision in deciding to leave the European Union? (Fieldwork Jan 10/12 2017)

The results are relatively easy to explain. 93% of Leave voters remain committed to Leave being the ‘right decision’ whereas only 77% of Remain voters think Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’. Similarly 75% of Leave voters think Brexit was ‘definitely right’ versus 48% of Remainers that think it was ‘definitely wrong’. Perhaps some Remainers simply accept the referendum result or perhaps they weren’t that committed to EU membership in the first place.  Whatever the case, with Theresa May’s Conservatives as many as 16 points ahead in the polls, Leavers have little to worry about. Brexit is happening.

Who leads Remainers?

Perhaps a more interesting question is ‘who leads Remainers now?’ We appear to be witnessing something of a political realignment around the referendum result as Theresa May rebrands the Conservatives as ‘the Brexit Party’ (with some success in the polls it should be said). However, on the other side, Remainers look divided and leaderless as Jeremy Corbyn demands Labour MPs back the Article 50 vote when it comes to parliament. The Lib Dems have had some electoral success opposing Brexit but a significant breakthrough looks unlikely. Right now, the most significant opposition to Brexit looks like coming from the SNP. Significant not because it threatens Brexit but because it threatens the breakup of the UK.

Maybe the political realignment point is overdone. Whilst it is true that 25% of Conservative voters think Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’ and 33% of Labour voters think it was the ‘right decision’ old habits, it seems, still die hard.  Without the Labour Party offering full throated opposition to Brexit a genuine realignment around the referendum result appears unlikely. What will be interesting in the short term is how Labour’s grassroots react to Corbyn’s commitment to Brexit. With 60% of Labour voters saying that Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’ and that number likely bigger among members Corbyn may be about the face the biggest crisis of his leadership so far. It is clear that many on the left are losing faith. The question is will they go as far as to abandon him altogether?

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is a regular contributor to PB and editor of the Polling Matters podcast.  He tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley

Check out the latest PB/Polling Matters episode below.

Note on the podcast: This week’s episode was somewhat controversial as guests Jade Azim and Suzy Dean traded blows on feminism and Brexit. Some people loved it but others found it too combative. Rest assured, this episode does not represent a change in the podcasts direction. We should be back to normal next week.


Why I’ve taken the 5/1 on Trump not to visit the UK in 2017 and the latest PB cartoon

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Ladbrokes have put up a market on Donald Trump no to visit the UK before the end of 2017. I took the 5/1 which I thought was a good price, especially in the light of William Hill offering 4/6 on Trump not to make a state visit in 2017, William Hill are offering 11/10 that a state visit will take place. Whilst the terms aren’t quite the same, I’m prepared to stake money on the 5/1 for the following reasons.

The Sunday Times are reporting the state visit will take place in either June or October*

Donald Trump is engaged in an extraordinary diplomatic row with the Prince of Wales over climate change that threatens to disrupt his state visit to the UK.

The new president is reluctant to meet the prince when he comes to Britain in June because of their violently divergent views on global warming.

Members of Trump’s inner circle have warned officials and ministers that it would be counterproductive for Charles to “lecture” Trump on green issues and that he will “erupt” if pushed. They want the younger princes, William and Harry, to greet the president instead. Royal aides insist that he should meet Trump.

Senior government officials now believe Charles is one of the most serious “risk factors” for the visit.

Then there’s this where shortly after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Trump talked about having coitus with her in crude terms and when topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge were published Trump tweeted this

Whilst Her Majesty has hosted many unsavoury people for the good of the country, what makes me think the visit won’t take place is the expected protests against Trump. If there’s one thing the inauguration proved is that Trump is very sensitive to public protests which leads to him and his team to deny the scale of the protests with bullshit alternative facts. He might decided to delay or cancel his visit to avoid a major public relations disaster, with The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh in their 90s and scaling back their commitments there’s an obvious way to postpone the visit when Trump is less polarising.


*A Downing Street source suggested that if that was the case, Trump could also be invited to address the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, after May spoke to the Republican congressional leadership last week. If that’s the case, I’ll definitely be missing this year’s Tory conference this year, assuming Trump wont issue an Executive Order banning people who are Muslims from attending the Tory conference, my experiences of dealing with the protesters at the Tory conference in 2015 doesn’t fill me to the brim with girlish glee, but does Mrs May really want to be so deeply associated with Mr Trump?


Angels and Fools. Cyclefree on Trump’s latest Executive Order

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  Well, to judge by the commentary over the last 48 hours Trump is a fool – and a chaotic and illiberal one to boot.  Whatever the many issues with his latest Executive Order, it could just as easily be said that only a fool would rush in to opine.  But at the risk of looking foolish, one criticism of the Trump approach is that it looks at the issue from the wrong end.  The risk of terrorism is not the primary problem and, paradoxically, a policy which appears rather crudely to discriminate on the basis of religion / birth place lacks effective discrimination, if its stated purpose really were to minimise the risk of terror (why no ban on Saudi nationals, for instance?  Saudis were, after all, rather more prominent in the most deadly act of terror in the US than Syrians.)

So here are three factors worth thinking about.

i) Credal cultures sit uneasily with secular democracies.  If you think that a polity, that your right to be a citizen, should be determined by membership of a particular creed, it is hard to square this with a democracy.  Even harder if you believe that a country’s laws should be determined by the rules of a particular God.  How can laws be democratically changed as a result of peoples’s votes if laws enact the will of God?  Surely only God (or His earthly representatives) can do so?

And where is your one person-one vote democracy then?  And why should members of a minority religion obey laws based on a religion they don’t share, may even think profoundly mistaken or, at worst, abhor?  Note that this is not just an issue associated with Islam.  A look at our own history: (both European and American) provides countless examples of such conflicts (Becket and Henry II, the Puritans fleeing to the American colonies, Britain’s treatment of Catholics, the Huguenots and the Treaty of Nantes) and the varying solutions adopted, some of them very bloody indeed.

Our current solution has been the adoption of secularism and a belief that religion is for the private rather than the public sphere.  But that solution does not work easily – or indeed at all – if the religion does not wish to be confined to the private sphere, indeed does not recognise the difference.  And that is a problem which the presence of significant Islamic communities has brought Europe: the demand for sharia law (a legal system which it is worth saying was declared as long ago as 2003 to be incompatible with the principles of the ECHR) is one such example of this conflict.

ii) Much has been made of the principle of toleration. But toleration of the different, the eccentric, the unusual, the minority comes from self-confidence.  And it requires an implicit understanding by all, not just the majority, that all are fundamentally part of the same wider group, share at some level similar or, at least, compatible, basic values and that toleration is reciprocal.

If those are missing, then toleration of those who are actively hostile to those values (and we need to accept that some groups do despise Western liberalism) is not so much toleration as feeble-minded and dangerous appeasement.  The different stranger is not seen as a threat to a group confident in its own values and strength, willing to be open to the outsider and clear about the implicit terms of its hospitality.  But sometimes the outsider is a threat and tolerating those who are or may be a threat is a weakness, a dangerous one.  Fundamentalist Islam does pose a threat to Western liberal democracies.  Pretending that this is not so is foolish.

iii) Secular societies find it hard to understand how important religion is to believers and to those for whom religion is part of their culture, even if they are not believers or only intermittent ones. At a time when identities of all types are given an elevated importance in political debate, it is curious how religious identity is so often dismissed.  It is dismissed because, having largely abandoned religion (other than as a ritual for ceremonies) we have little understanding of why it matters to others and little language in common.

It seen as an archaic curiosity, a historical remnant from less enlightened times, something which people will grow out of and, if they don’t, fundamentally the same as our own rather etiolated national religion.  But Islam is not just some exotic version of the CoE.  To think of it thus, to assume that Muslims in Western societies will somehow abandon their religion over time as they realise how silly it is, is condescending and insulting to those for whom their faith matters.  Nor is it inevitable that Islam will go through the same challenge and development as happened over centuries to Christianity.

Some consequences of this:-

  1. We have no effective language for debating sensibly these issues and thinking about possible solutions. The challenges which religious extremism pose to liberal secular societies cannot be addressed by ritual chanting of “diversity”  and similar mantras.  If we do not find such a language it will be the extremists who will set the terms of debate.  A society confident in its own values should not – would not – permit this.
  2. It has led to a focus on visible symbols – burqas, burkinis, halal meat, minarets in Switzerland etc – as a substitute for a real debate about how whether societies should welcome large groups of people from very different, strongly credal cultures and, if so, in what numbers and what the expectations/requirements of them (and the host society) should be.
  3. Terrorism is seen as the threat. But the solutions to terrorism are not necessarily the same as those needed for successful integration of minority cultures/religions.  And the risk is that the debate can get sidelined wrongly into a “Muslims are/are not terrorists” meme, both offensive and pointless.  Furthermore, this ignores the challenges we would still face even if there were no terrorism e.g to our concept of freedom of speech from those who think that limits should be placed on how one discusses their God.
  4. It results in ad hominem policy-making: bans on Syrians or Iranians, failing to discriminate between those who are a risk (ISIS sleeper agents vs Iranian refugees from the Ayatollahs) or, more shamefully, attacks on individual Muslims.

Critically, a policy such as Trump’s latest provides so much basis for criticism – that it may be unconstitutional, that it may well be ineffective, that it is illiberal, that it is immoral, that it will dismay America’s friends and embolden her enemies, that it could be counter-productive by providing another reason for the young to be recruited to violence, that it stands in sharp contrast to the best of American values – that what risks being lost is any chance to have a thoughtful and intelligent discussion about this most sensitive of topics.  The challenges which the growth of Islamic communities in the West pose to Western societies, particularly a time when Islam is and has been since at least 1979 subject to extreme and fundamentalist winds of change, will still be there long after Trump’s Executive Order has been modified or overturned. 



Betting on whether or not we’ll have another EU referendum before 2019

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Paddy Power have a market up on whether we’ll have a referendum on a UK-wide referendum on in/out EU membership or on acceptance of new membership terms. Must offer option of membership terms. I’m backing the No side of this bet.

I just cannot see Theresa May realistically offering a referendum on these terms, unless she was interested in her tenure as PM rivalling Neville Chamberlain’s or Alec Douglas-Home’s tenure for brevity.

The more realistic way I can see a second referendum on these terms is if Mrs May calls an early election on Brexit if Parliament delays Brexit and she manages to loses to a party or parties who promise a second referendum, but you can get better odds on an early election (such as 10/1 on a 2018 general election or the 9/2 or 33/1 on Labour or the Lib Dems winning the most seats.)

But backing the 1/5 seems the better option to me, we’re leaving the EU, we might rejoin the EU in the future, but the wishes of the electorate as expressed on June 23rd need to be honoured and delivered upon and the polling indicates even those that voted Remain wish to see the vote honoured, so there’s no real net vote gain in offering a second referendum.

With interest rates at 0.25% and the best interest rate on saving/current accounts around 3%, a 20% return in less than two years seems like a good deal.