Archive for February, 2017


Betfair moves sharply back to Macron for French President following a run of good polls

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Over the past week there has been a strong move on the betting markets to the 39 year old independent, Emmanuel Macron, for next French president following a series of polls that have him clearly in the top two for a runoff place.

Just over a week ago Macron wasn’t barely managing 20% shares across the board and was being beaten in some surveys by the French Republican Party candidate, Fillon. That changed sharply and the latest batch of polls has Macron averaging 24 to 25% for the first round of voting.

That is still below Le Pen in most surveys but as we all know it is being in the top 2 in the first round that really matters in order through to the runoff a fortnight later in early May.

In all of this the National Front’s Le Pen is staying fairly constant on 26 to 27 percent in the polls.

It is the second round polling that is most significant and here Macron is above 60% with Le Pen on less than 40%

The betting in the UK has been very high with more money being matched on Betfair than I have ever known for a non-US, non-UK election seven weeks out.

I was on Macron early at 7/1 but made the mistake last week of cashing out. Still a profit is always a profit.

This is still very early days and a lot can happen. The Macron bubble could still burst.

Mike Smithson


For a party with less than one MP UKIP sure knows how to hog the headlines

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

The big difference between Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell, and just about anybody else who has run for parliament for UKIP is that he’s shown that he can succeed under first past the post – the electoral area where UKIP has been an almost total failure.

If it comes to a fight between Banks and Carswell in what becomes of the Clacton constituency after the boundary changes then Carswell should do it even if a CON candidate is on the list. He’s got the name recognition and FPTP campaigning expertise as his performance in the 2014 by-election and GE2015 showed. The Tories threw an awful lot to try to regain the seat at GE2015 but fell quite a long way short.

Carswell understands data and my guess is that he and his team have a pretty good idea of his support base – the basic requirement in an FPTP election where it could be tight. The provisional boundaries plan has Clacton being linked to Harwich where Carswell was first elected an MP.

It might, of course, be that Carswell rejoins the Tories before the next election or maybe just stands as an independent.

Mike Smithson


Why Corbyn should stay

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

In 1981 when Tony Benn stood for the Deputy Leadership against Healey and lost by a 0.9% margin , he got 30% of the Parliamentary Labour MPs’ votes but 19 members of Tribune abstained, including one Neil Kinnock.  Margaret Beckett denounced him furiously as a Judas, allegedly prompting another MP to say: “So Benn is Jesus now, is he?”.  Following the 1983 defeat, it took Kinnock two elections and hand-to-hand combat with Militant and others before Labour once again became electable.  Mrs Beckett however remained an old Labour Bourbon, learning nothing, and 24 years later she famously nominated one of Benn’s acolytes for the leadership.

Still, cries of betrayal by the Left were common in the 1970’s and 1980’s: betrayal by Labour governments which did not implement Conference resolutions or watered them down, betrayal by union leaders conspiring with the leadership, betrayal by Labour toffs who paid more attention to the urgings of the IMF.  And the theme of betrayal has recurred since: to hear some now, the whole of the 1997-2010 period was a betrayal of real Labour values.

Underpinning all this was a sense that if only the people were offered red-blooded socialism, they would seize it with both hands.  No-one encapsulated this view better than Tony Benn himself.  It was Alan Bennett who said: “You only have to survive in England and all is forgiven you….If you can eat a boiled egg at 90 in England they think you deserve a Nobel prize.”  Only such an approach can explain the sentimental gushing about Benn, a man with flawed judgment, who did not practise what he preached and who did so much to render Labour unelectable in the 1980’s.

Now some 18 months after Corbyn was first elected, there are, once again, mutterings about Labour’s unelectability under his leadership.

The list of reasons why Corbyn is not up to being Labour leader writes itself:-

  • He is not an election winner.
  • He seems incapable of providing effective leadership of the Parliamentary party, being neither feared nor admired. Nor is competence one of his strengths.
  • His personal ratings are dire.
  • Labour is behind in all the polls and seems to be making no progress. Quite the opposite.
  • Labour is not providing effective opposition and this matters hugely: for our Parliamentary system of government, for our government which needs a strong opposition to keep it honest and stop it becoming complacent, hubristic even, for Labour voters and for all those others who are entitled to have the possibility of a realistic alternative to the Tories.
  • Under his leadership Labour has been tainted by the stain of anti-Semitism and by Corbyn’s past and present associations with persons and groups with, at best, an ambiguous relationship with and view of violence. That this should happen to a party which, at its best, has always had at its core a basic decency and a desire to make things better for the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable is shameful.
  • His policies are no more than reheated versions of old policies which have rarely worked and have immiserated those countries that have tried them.
  • He has no or little strategic or tactical sense, as Labour’s recent votes over the Article 50 Bill show.
  • Whatever his personal qualities may be, he seems incapable of reaching out to people beyond those with whom he is instinctively comfortable.

So why should he stay?  Well, bad ideas get defeated in one of two ways: by better ideas or by electoral defeat.  For all the criticisms made of Corbyn and for all the attempts to force him out, there has been a remarkable absence of alternative thinking by those opposed to him.  Not one of the possible candidates has been able to articulate what the point of the Labour Party is, what it is for and how it wants to get to whatever destination it has in mind.

No-one has come close to doing so in a way which is attractive to the membership let alone the wider country.  If Corbyn’s 1960’s socialism is not the answer, what is the social democratic vision for the 21st century?  Answer comes there none.  For the moment, it does not look as if Corbyn is going to be defeated by better ideas from elsewhere within Labour.

But even if someone were to come up with such a vision, is another leadership challenge the answer?  Corbyn has been elected twice by the membership.  Twice more than Mrs May, for instance.  Arguably, he has a better mandate than many  of his predecessors.  Labour members have decided they want him and what he has to offer.  Why shouldn’t that offering be put before the wider electorate so that they too get to have their say?  Imagine the cries of betrayal if he is forced out, not by the electorate, but by the unions or the PLP or manoeuvrings by past leaders and “over the water” would-be leaders.

The usual objection to leaving him in place until the next General Election is that this would destroy the Labour party.  Well, yes.  But maybe this is necessary if a real, worthwhile Labour is going to survive and prosper.  If the result is in line with recent polls it would be Corbynite Labour that would be destroyed.  It would be his offering which would be rejected and be seen to be rejected by the electorate.  

The Left could not shout betrayal.  They could not complain that the people had not had a chance to vote for it.  They could not mutter about stitch ups by union leaders behind closed doors.  They could not moan about coups by the MPs.  They could not blame defeat on breakaway parties (there is no Gang of Four and SDP to undermine them) or on a divided party or the dreaded Blairites.  They could try and no doubt would.  But such cries would not have much force.  The Left would have had their chance.  They would have failed.

And their defeat would have been inflicted by the people, the very people on whose behalf the Left often claims to speak.   They would own the defeat.  And that defeat, that failure would free up a new leader to do the hard thinking needed, to be ruthless rather than sentimental about the Left’s rubbish ideas and nauseating tolerance of illiberal violent groups, to build a Labour party that reaches out and listens to those whose votes it seeks.  It would allow a leadership candidate to speak some hard truths to the membership.  If a decent Labour is to survive, it has to be built in the wake of a clear message from the electorate.

So let Corbyn stay.  Let him lead Labour to a crushing defeat.  Let the Left he represents fold up its tents and disappear into the night.  And let’s hope that there are enough decent people left with the courage and determination necessary to build a left of centre party fit for the 21st century. 



Unless LAB make a disastrous candidate choice then it’s hard to see them losing Gorton

Monday, February 27th, 2017

A seat where 62.1% voted REMAIN should in theory be challenging for Corbyn’s LAB

Yesterday I Tweeted expressing the wish that the next by-election along would be somewhere that voted to stay in the EU last June 23rd. Sadly that has come about following the death of the long-standing Labour MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, at the age of 86.

As can been seen by the map the seat is rather odd shaped covering an area to the south of Manchester city centre and the university area. Thousands and thousands of students live there as well as many who work at the city large universities. Between GE1997 and GE2010 the LDs were in a strong second place at every general election.

At one stage after the Iraq War in 2004 the yellows held 19 of the 21 council seats in the constituency and in the following two general elections had vote shares of 30% plus.

The seat is just to the north of Manchester Withington and close to Hazel Grove which until GE2015 were held by the LDs. There is a largish activist base close by.

If it wasn’t for their disastrous GE2015 performance the LDs would fancy their chances in Manchester Gorton.

Unfortunately for them it was the Green who came second at GE2015 which makes it very much harder for the LDs to establish themselves as the tactical anti-LAB choice.

We could see a debate between the Greens and the LDs over who should fly the Ant-BREXIT flag.

The Tory vote could be interesting.

A lot depends on who gets selected by Labour. They need an unequivocal remainer who is prepared to disagree with Corbyn’s parliamentary BREXIT strategy.

Mike Smithson


Don Brind explores the intriguing silence of Len McCluskey in the post Copeland debate

Monday, February 27th, 2017


Has he started to worry about the Corbyn effect on working class voters?

Some time ago I went up to introduce myself to Angela Rayner. I wanted to congratulate her on her debut speech to the Labour conference as Shadow Education Secretary.

“You don’t need to introduce yourself, she said. “ I know who you are. You helped get me here” She went on to remind me that she had taken part in a training scheme for potential parliamentary candidates organised by Unite. The aim was to make sure that working class candidates who hadn’t been to university and didn’t have working for an MP or a front benchers on their CV had the skills to shine at selection conferences.

It was the brainchild of Unite general gecretary Len McCluskey and senior Unite MP Jon Trickett. I was an enthusiastic (pro bono) trainer because I shared their belief that the Labour party needed more working class MPs.  Angela Rayner is a celebrated product of the scheme and it was because of McCluskey’s role in setting it up that gave him her backing for re-election as general secretary of the country’s biggest union. Nominations have now closed in the contest, which I argued here few weeks ago is a potential game changer for Labour.

Following last week’s two by elections one of Jeremy Corbyn’s union backers, Unison leader, Dave Prentis was quick to come out and declare that Copeland was “disastrous” adding “The blame for these results does not lie solely with Jeremy Corbyn, but he must take responsibility for what happens next.”

By contrast, there was an intriguing silence from Corbyn’s other big union backer Len McCluskey. Was it a sign that he fears the connection could be damaging him? Certainly his challenger Gerard Coyne is making McCluskey’s “obsession with Westminster politics” a key point of attack. He accused him of putting “thousands of pounds of Unite’s money into helping Jeremy Corbyn gain and retain the Labour leadership, knowing that he is a lifelong opponent of nuclear power. What sort of message does that convey to the nearly 3,000 Unite members employed at the Sellafield plant, in Copeland?”

McCluskey is probably still favourite but does his silence suggest he is having doubts about the Corbyn leadership?

I think he should be having a rethink because of the evidence that he is driving away working class voters from Labour

An analysis of polling over the 18 months since Corbyn was elected shows that the drop in Labour’s working class support has been “catastrophic”, according to Theo Bertram, who worked for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He says: “Labour’s core vote is in crisis. It is collapsing on a scale that is worse than any point in history.”

He says “Jeremy Corbyn may claim to represent the working class but they do not agree. Under his leadership, working class support for Labour is down to 23 points the lowest it has ever been. Since September 2015, Labour has gone from 5 points ahead to 15 points behind the Tories among C2DEs.

Bertram’s killer fact is that “the big change came in the first two months of Corbyn’s leadership.” That collapse was masked by the fact that “David Cameron put off working class voters, Theresa May does not.”

In April 2016, he shows, Cameron had a net satisfaction rating among working class voters of minus 35%. 62% of them thought he was doing a bad job (nearly as many as Corbyn). In July 2016, in her first month as Prime Minister, Theresa May’s net satisfaction rating among working class voters was +16%.

“So while Labour flat-lined under Corbyn, the Tories changed their leader and their working class approval leaped by 51 points.”

Bertram argues: “Changing leader won’t in itself solve Labour’s core vote problem. But sticking with Corbyn is making things worse. Never has the Tory party had such a big lead among the working class. The longer Corbyn chooses to stay, the more damage he is doing to Labour’s claim to be the party of the working class.”

Frankly, that terrifies me. I hope it’s worrying Len McCluskey.


POLL ALERT: Labour has a ‘Corbyn problem’ and it’s not going away

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Two-thirds of voters think he’s the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election

A new Polling Matters / Opinium survey, taken before the Copeland and Stoke by-elections, shows that voters think Corbyn is the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election, with those considering voting Labour more likely to do so if he is replaced. Keiran Pedley explains.

In the latest of a series of surveys for the Polling Matters podcast, Opinium asked three questions of a nationally representative sample of 2,019 UK adults. The survey asked if people would consider voting Labour, if Jeremy Corbyn was the right person to lead Labour into a General Election and what impact replacing him might have on their likelihood to vote Labour.

The results make clear that voters have made their minds up about Jeremy Corbyn and it isn’t good news for Labour if he plans on leading them into the next General Election.

Our first question asked whether people would consider voting Labour and the results were filtered by likely voters. Political parties will often ask questions like this in their private polling as they seek to understand how they can appeal to voters beyond those currently committed to supporting them. This question serves two purposes in our analysis. Firstly, it gives us an indication of what Labour’s ‘floor’ might be and secondly it enables us to cut our subsequent questions not just by Labour voters but by degrees of support too. (Incidentally, I appreciate the idea that Labour’s ‘floor’ is 25% will be subject to debate but it feels credible. However, that’s for another day).

Our second question asked whether a range of party leaders were the right people to lead their respective parties into a General Election. Before we get into the analysis a few housekeeping things here. The above numbers are a slight variation on a tweet I posted a few days ago related to the same question. That tweet related to the total sample of 2,019 whereas the above focuses on voters only. There is little significant difference in the numbers but I am focusing on voters only here for consistency in this post.

Returning to the numbers themselves they are clearly dreadful for Labour. Two-thirds of likely voters say that Jeremy Corbyn is the wrong person to lead Labour into a General Election. The numbers for Theresa May are almost the opposite with 61% saying that she is the right person (including some 91% of Conservative voters). Perhaps most worrying for Labour on Corbyn’s numbers is that only 9% of voters indicate that they ‘don’t know’. This suggests, unlike for Paul Nuttall and Tim Farron, that voters have made their mind up about Corbyn and they are not impressed.

So these numbers are pretty dire overall but it’s when we cut them further that things get interesting. Here is the same question broken out by Labour voters overall, those definitely voting Labour and those considering doing so regardless of their current voting intention.

These numbers neatly summarise Labour’s problem. Those committed to voting Labour are broadly supportive of Corbyn (though hardly universally so) whereas those that would otherwise consider voting Labour think he is the wrong man for the job. These numbers suggest that Corbyn is a drag on the Labour ticket and that Labour will struggle to grow its voter base from where it is with Corbyn at the helm. Meanwhile, those that would consider voting Labour think that Theresa May is the right person to lead the Conservatives into a General Election by 58% to 35%.

Our final question asks voters to consider the potential impact of Corbyn being replaced on their likelihood to vote Labour. This is never an exact science and should very much be treated as a hypothetical. We shouldn’t start trying to extrapolate what sort of poll boost Labour might get by replacing Corbyn. Several variables would be at play there, not least who actually replaces him.

Nevertheless, there are two important lessons we can learn here. One is that 55% of voters say that Corbyn being replaced would make no difference to whether or not they would vote Labour. To an extent this shows how much trouble Labour is in and backs up Corbyn supporters that say Labour’s problems are bigger than one man. However, the key lesson here is the second one.  Those that would consider voting Labour say that Corbyn being placed would make them more likely to vote Labour by approximately a 3:1 margin. 43% say it would make them more likely and just 37% say no difference. This suggests that there is a body of centre-left opinion in the UK that would look again at Labour under new leadership. It is possibly this finding, more than any other in this post, that Labour supporters should consider most carefully of all when thinking about the party’s future.

Conclusion: Corbyn isn’t Labour’s only problem, but he is a problem

In post Brexit Britain Labour’s problems are bigger than simply who leads the party. It needs to hold together an increasingly fractured electoral coalition whilst dramatically increasing its current levels of support, all versus a popular incumbent Prime Minister. However, following the loss of Copeland last Thursday, it is clear that the party is going in the wrong direction. It is losing support rather than gaining it. Labour is going backwards.

The above numbers clearly show that Jeremy Corbyn is part of the problem. Two-thirds of voters think he is the wrong man to lead Labour into a General Election. Whilst support for Corbyn among committed Labour voters is reasonable (if hardly spectacular) it is clear that he is a liability among those that need to be won over. ‘Labour considerers’ think he is the wrong person for the job and indicate that they would be more likely to vote Labour if he was replaced by quite a margin. The solution is obvious. Labour needs new leadership. Whether it will get it (and when) is anybody’s guess.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran is the presenter of the PB/Polling Matters podcast and tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley.

ICYMI Listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast below where Keiran interviews Margaret Thatcher’s authorised biographer Charles Moore about her legacy, whether she would have voted for Brexit and how Theresa May compares.


LAB’s loss to the SDP in the Greenwich by-election exactly 30 years ago has lessons for the party today

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

A guest slot by Stodge

30 years ago today (roughly), I was pounding the wet streets of Greenwich on a miserable cold Thursday evening. I was doing knock-up for this woman:

   This was a by election in what was supposedly a safe Labour seat which had survived the 1983 Conservative landslide but the 1987 by-election was a disaster for the Party of Opposition. The third party vote (in this case the Conservatives) collapsed and Rosie Barnes swept home by over 6,600 votes.

Yet the abiding significance was not Alliance strength but Labour weakness. Greenwich showed how far Labour was from power and even though the 1987 Labour campaign had the imprint of Peter Mandelson, Greenwich showed that however many people wanted to vote Labour to help it win, many others wanted it to lose and would vote for the Party most able to make it happen.

It’s bad enough when people don’t want your party to win but worse when they actively vote tactically to ensure your party’s defeat.

As a Sheffield man had said a few years earlier, that was then but this is now.

The main message from Greenwich 30 years ago is one that resonates now following the Conservative win in Copeland last Thursday.

Labour are not only struggling to hold on to their current support levels but are also facing the prospect of people (including former supporters) determined to vote for opposing candidates to stop Labour winning.

I’m not a Conservative but nor do I support Labour. Unlike some, I don’t wish Labour ill nor do I wish to see its destruction and nor would such an event be desirable.

Government needs to be held to proper account and scrutiny – that requires a proper Opposition which could function as a credible alternative Government whether it follows similar policies to the existing administration or a completely different programme.

We clearly don’t have that now – Labour has two problems.

The first and lesser problem is Jeremy Corbyn – now, I have to confess I don’t share the visceral contempt for the man some have. He has however proved himself quite incapable and unsuitable to be Party leader yet alone a prospective Prime Minister.

His cardinal error is simple – there’s no problem talking to political groups whose aims are diametrically opposed to yours, indeed that’s how plural politics operates. If, as a political group, you wish to campaign within the boundaries of politics and the law for a United Ireland or for a Palestinia State, that’s fine. I’ve no problem with British politicians engaging with such groups.

However, the line is crossed when such groups seek to achieve their political objectives through violence and especially when that violence is directed at British people and British military personnel. At that point we cannot and must not engage politically with such groups.

For an MP to not only engage with groups advocating violence but then to stand up and support those acts of violence including the targeted assault of British civilians and soldiers is understandably well beyond the pale for most British people and yet that’s what Corbyn and McDonnell have done.

To call these “misjudgements” would be generous in extremis, others might use words like treason. If credibility and integrity are key measures for a prospective Prime Minister, Corbyn fails miserably.

Yet Labour’s biggest problem isn’t Corbyn – the much more serious problem is that Labour has nothing to offer in way of a credible alternative prospectus for Government.

If there is an economic policy at present, it seems to be to spend more money whatever the problem. In truth, the centre-left has failed to come up with a coherent economic response to the events of 2008. That doesn’t mean the muddled Conservative response of half-hearted austerity which has now become half-hearted reflation has helped much – for many people, living standards are stagnating as wage rises struggle to keep up with growing inflation and the public finances remain in a parlous state.

What then can Labour do?

There are three years until the next election – given the seismic shifts of recent times, it’s too early to call it lost but it’s hard to see where and how any recovery will manifest. It won’t while Corbyn is in charge but even if he is replaced by someone more telegenic and agreeable to the British public (clearly any new Labour leader will be pilloried by Conservative activists but they can be ignored), the absence of a viable and coherent programme will count.

Then there’s the small matter of Brexit . It shouldn’t be forgotten that for all the talk of Conservative division on Europe, Labour too has had its differences and while the Conservatives have for now rallied round Theresa May (even though between a third and two fifths of the party’s voters supported REMAIN), Labour’s divisions have been brutally exposed. Corbyn was always part of that anti-EU tradition (the “longest suicide note in history” contained a commitment to withdraw from the then EEC) and dates right back to the 1950s.

Labour should be trying to construct a blueprint for Britain in the 2020s and that could be quite socialist or social democratic in nature. May is not afraid to be an interventionist so we could be entering a renewed period of Butskellism. It could be argued Blair won in 1997 not by being different but by being the same as the Conservatives but simply managing things better.

BY 2025, with the Conservatives having been in Government for 15 years, a revived re-dedicated Labour Party could be a highly attractive proposition to an electorate tired of a Conservative party which will inevitably fall into the traditional trap of believing in its own invincibility and will start becoming gaffe-prone, insincere and out of touch.



Are we seeing the Tony Blair effect on BREXIT? Those saying LEAVE vote “wrong” now same as those saying “right”

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

The party splits show Corbyn out of line with party voters

I love trackers because the same question is asked in exactly the same way each time the question is put so and as PBers will know I’ve regularly report the above BREXIT finding from YouGov.

The latest movement is all within the margin of error and we need to see further polling before any conclusions can be drawn but it does come out at a key moment politically with the Article 50 Bill going through the Lords.

I just wonder, and I know people will howl at me, if we are seeing the Tony Blair effect. Labour’s most successful leader ever might have a bit of a reputational problem at the moment but he is lucid in a way that none of the current party leaders are.

This was the first time the tracker question has been asked since he made his speech. To another question:

Government managing BREXIT well or badly? (YouGov)
WELL 33% -3
BADLY 46% +3

Mike Smithson