Archive for August, 2017


TMay’s GE17 campaign was the first to see net CON seat losses since the Blair landslide 20 years ago

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

The extraordinary thing is that she’s still there

One of the consequences of her statement that she’d like to fight the next general election is that people will recall what happened in June when nearly two decades of recovery for the party came to an abrupt end.

As can be seen in the chart at every election after the 1997 Blair drubbing there had been quite a lot of progress in terms of seats. It is no wonder that the reaction of many Tory MPs and members was that GE17 should be the first and last for her as CON leader.

William Hill have 7/2 against her not surviving as leader this year and, no doubt, other markets will emerge.

I wasn’t planing to go to the Tory conference in Manchester at the start of October. Maybe there’s a case for now doing so.

Mike Smithson



TMay’s desire to fight the next election makes a challenge this autumn more likely

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Maybe the plan is to bring things to a head

By announcing overnight her desire to carry on as CON leader and Prime Minister until the next general election Mrs May has effectively changed the terms of trade with her party following the disappointing outcome to the general election.

The widespread view that she would depart after Brexit sometime in 2019 had been broadly bought by the parliamentary party and had made a challenge this year less likely.

Now she has upset that balance and we could see some sort of move in the period after the Party Conference in the first week of October.

For a challenge to take place at least 15% of Tory MPs (48) have to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee requesting such a move. It was reported during the summer that the Committee chair, Graham Brady has had about 15 such letters already.

TMay’s major problem is that she called an unnecessary election which saw the end of the small majority that her predecessor, David Cameron, had managed to achieve. The campaign which focused very much on herself exposed her personally even more when things did not quite work out as was planned.

All this was not helped by the expectations of a big majority fueled by many of the pollsters overstating the Conservative position in relation to Labour.

When pressed on her ambitions in the interview yesterday Theresa May could easily have by-passed the point by saying that the big thing for her and the government at the moment was focusing on successful outcome to the Brexit negotiations.

    I just wonder whether all this was pre-planned and that the Prime Minister would rather like to bring this to a head earlier rather than later.

Certainly if there was a move against her in the next few weeks which she was able to survive then her position would undoubtedly be much stronger. Clearly this is a gamble but one, perhaps, that is worth taking.

Ladbrokes has been offering 5/1 that she’ll still be PM in 2020 which seems a good bet. I’ve had a punt.

Mike Smithson


NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast: Discussing the Brexit talks with Jonathan Portes

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

The PB/Polling Matters podcast returns with a review of the summer and in-depth interview on the Brexit talks and where Britain goes from here with Jonathan Portes.

Jonathan is a Professor of Economics at King’s College London and a Senior Fellow for UK in a Changing Europe. An expert in matters of immigration and labour markets, Jonathan was Chief Economist at the DWP from 2002 to 2008 and at the Cabinet Office from 2008 to 2011. He was also Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research between 2011 and 2015.

On this week’s episode Keiran and Jonathan discuss the progress made in the Brexit talks, what immigration could look like after Brexit and the significance or otherwise of Labour’s recent policy pronouncements on the single market.

Listen to the podcast below



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Towards a rational immigration policy

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Turkey has mandatory conscription for men between 20 and 41.  Gay men, however, are exempt.  According to the official commentary to the army’s health regulation, to be exempted from service, “documentary evidence must prove that the defects in sexual behaviour are obvious and would create problems when revealed in a military context.”  Many gay men have to endure pseudo-scientific tests designed to appraise both their homosexuality and the extent to which it might render them “unfit” for service.

Some are asked to produce photographs showing them as participants in anal intercourse. According to the military, and Turkish society at large, penetrating another man does not necessarily qualify as a homosexual act; only being penetrated is undisputedly homosexual. Hence the unwritten rule when it comes to such photos: “The man should be in the passive position, receiving from behind,” a psychiatrist explains, “and looking at the camera. Preferably while smiling…”

Britain is equally buggered when it comes to setting a sensible migration policy.  Like the Turkish military, it is trapped between two conflicting ambitions to be prescriptive (in Britain’s case, to reject the immigrants it doesn’t want and to secure the immigrants it does want).  The immigration debate in Britain suffers from a hopeless confusion of these two aims and a lack of understanding that the world has moved on in the last few years.

Here are just some of the points that routinely get missed.

Migrants are a ring species

International executive jobseekers don’t have much in common with the type of asylum seeker who has fled his homeland for fear of having his fingernails extracted by the secret police, but in between there are many shades of nuance, the one blending into the next.  The young gay man who wants to live and work in a country without police harassment isn’t exactly a refugee but he isn’t just an economic migrant either.

Migrants of all types have more agency than ever before

Migrants of all types are richer than before, so they will try to select a destination rather than just flop in the nearest place available.  Every country would like to be able to choose the profile of the immigrants that it accepts. Popular destinations, including Britain, risk finding that their immigrant profile is defined more by the migrants themselves.

There is no easy answer to this question.  Migrants are not going to stop wanting to come to popular rich countries, or trying.

We won’t be going back to 1972 border controls after leaving the EU

Migration patterns have changed out of all recognition since Britain joined the EEC.  The fond memories that some Leavers have of dancing across the continent with flowers in their hair unhindered by flinty border police will not be repeated, any more than their flower-decked hair will grow back.  In a world of mass migration, border controls for those outside the circle of trust are going to be steelier.

Industry needs immigrants

To read the tabloids, you would think that the stout men and women of Britain were being ousted from jobs by nefarious foreigners.  Yet employment is at an all time high, unemployment is at a 40 year low and job vacancies are at an all time high.  Even if you believe that some of these jobs can and should be automated (disclosure: I do), immediately removing migrants would be highly disruptive.  Fruit needs picking.  Tables need waiting.  Robbie the Robot isn’t going to come to our rescue tomorrow.  Since there just aren’t the British workers available to do the work in the meantime, Robbie the Romanian will have to do for a while.

Like it or not, Britain is likely to need large numbers of immigrants for the next few years.  If it doesn’t, that means that Britain will have suffered a crash.  So even the most unwelcoming of Leavers should be prepared to see immigrants for many years to come.

Some consequential problems of immigration can be dealt with differently (eg by putting more money into necessary infrastructure)

There are frequent complaints that migrants put strains on local infrastructure, whether the NHS or education system or housing.  Nigel Farage blamed his late arrival at a UKIP conference on an immigrant-fuelled traffic jam.  Some of these complaints are clearly overstated: most of the costs of the NHS are expended on the elderly who are disproportionately unlikely to be migrants.  Others clearly have some validity.  If large numbers of migrants move into an area, housing is likely to become scarcer.

This can be tackled by reducing the number of migrants.  Alternatively, it can be tackled by improving the infrastructure – building more homes, for example.  There are always options.

A tightly-controlled immigration policy implies very centralised economic planning

Post-Brexit Britain will have control of its immigration policy.  During the referendum campaign, Leave were touting an Australian points-style system, by which the government would set the criteria for admission.  (Since Australia has a much higher rate of immigration than Britain, this might be slightly puzzling to the naive.)  Oddly, this is advocated most strongly by free-marketeers who normally regard with scorn the idea that the government is best placed to judge industry’s needs.

Yet the logical consequence of following such an approach is to let the government decide how many workers in each industry are needed.  In some online industries, the industry is barely defined and the fluidity of categories is a feature not a bug.  I guess that means that Britain is opting out of such sectors from now on.

The official statistics are pretty rubbish

We found out this last week that previous estimates of overstaying students were wrong, with the updated number just 4% of the previous estimate.  The ONS is very defensive of its numbers.  As with other nets of two very large numbers, the immigration statistics are likely to be out by quite some way.  We don’t really know which way though.  That doesn’t help us in drawing up sensible policies.

Leaving the EU will not really make solving these problems any easier

Many migrants to Britain come from the EU.  Many come from outside the EU.  Britain has already got more or less full control over migration from outside the EU.  It doesn’t seem to be able to use it.  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that migration policy is going to be just as messy and controversial after Britain leaves the EU as before.

Alastair Meeks


McCluskey’s comments on Corbyn’s successor help move Emily Thornberry to 2nd favourite

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

The Unite boss’s backing could be crucial

While all the focus has been on the Tory leadership there’s been a shake up in the Next LAB leader market after a report from Paul Waugh at HuffPost. He wrote:

“Emily Thornberry is being backed by Unite boss Len McCluskey to become Labour’s first woman leader, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The general secretary of the UK’s biggest trade union has told friends that he thinks Thornberry is a unifying figure who can carry on Jeremy Corbyn’s work when he eventually decides to step aside.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary already stands in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Question Time and has built up a fanbase within the rank and file membership for her loyal defence of the leader over the past year.”

Certainly her PMQ appearances have been impressive and there is a growing view within the Labour movement that the next leader should be a woman.

Emily attracted a lot of publicity during the 2014 Rochester by election when she Tweeted a picture of a house with a white van outside and 3 Flags of St George draping from a window. Her comment “Image from Rochester” was deemed to be elitist. The outcome was that she quit as shadow Attorney General.

The big issue with Labour leadership betting is that we have no idea when there will be a vacancy. Corbyn has looked as though he has been enjoying himself since the general election and looks set, possibly, to continue in the role until the next general election. In that time a lot can happen and someone who looks promising now might not be in such a position when the battle actually commences.

For me as a punter this has become a nightmare market having shared the assumption that the general election result would be so bad for Labour that Corbyn would resign or forced out in the immediate aftermath. My money has been on Yvette Cooper at what looks like ridiculously tight odds now.

A big question over Thornbury is weather McCluskey will have as much influence when the contest takes place.

Mike Smithson


Once again Britain is split down the middle on Brexit while YouGov has the Tories within one point

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

The last YouGov voting intention poll a month ago had with CON 3% behind so changes all within the margin of error.

The regular Brexit tracker from the firm sees those saying it was wrong with a 2% lead. Last month those saying it was right were 2% ahead. Again this is all margin of error stuff and there is no indication of any BrexRegrets.

UPDATE ICM also sees narrowing of gap

Mike Smithson


New study finds that in the key general election marginals candidates with local links are likely to have an edge

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

There’s a fascinating report in the Times this morning linked to in the Tweets above about a study by the Think Tank, Demos, on the local links of the 650 MPs elected to the House of Commons on June 8th.

By local Demos defined it as being born, educated or living within 20km of the constituency and the results on the seats that changed handed are striking.

    Of the 28 seats that LAB gained all but two were won by candidates with local links. Of the six seats that went from LAB to CON all of them were won by locals.

Looking at the main two party headcount fewer than a third (32.7%) of Tory MPs are local compared with 64.8% of LAB ones.

The numbers do not surprise me because at the very margin in key battlegrounds just a few hundred votes which might come from local links can make all the difference. The last election was characterised by many more extremely tight races than we have seen at previous elections.

What this does suggest, however, is that in heartland seats with big majorities then there is less need to choose a local.

I live in the ultra marginal of Bedford which has changed hands at two of the past three general elections and all main parties have been careful to choose contenders who meet the local test.

Mike Smithson


It is a mistake to assume that LAB leave voters feel as strongly about Brexit as CON ones

Monday, August 28th, 2017

If it comes to the crunch LAB leavers see jobs as more important

With Labour apparently shifting its position on Brexit a notch or two there’s been a lot of interest about what Labour voters think particularly those who supported Leave at the referendum.

There is not that much polling about where we can see specifically how LAB Leavers view an issue compared with CON ones and those of other parties. One of surveys that had this split and is publicly available is from YouGov last month and is featured in the chart. Those who had voted for Leave were asked if they or one of their family losing their was a price worth paying for leaving the EU.

As can be seen by 47% to 31% CON leave voters told the pollster that this was a price worth paying. LAB voters, meanwhile, split 52% to 23% that it was not a price worth paying. This was the precise question wording:-

“Regardless of whether you think such an occurrence is likely, would you consider Brexit causing you or members of your family to lose their job to be a price worth paying for bringing Britain out of the European Union?”

The CON voter figure is quite striking. That getting on for half feel so strongly about leaving the EU that they are prepared to countenance they or members of their family losing their jobs says a lot about their strength of feeling.

All this is important because in the weeks ahead TMay’s government is going to face the huge challenge of getting the “Great” Repeal Act through the Commons and the Lords and will require very skilled party management. Labour appears to be preparing the ground for a tough parliamentary battle.

Mike Smithson