Archive for January, 2018


DefSec & ex-chief whip, Gavin Williamson, – a good bet at 7/1 for next cabinet exit?

Monday, January 29th, 2018

The PM doesn’t seem to have much luck with her favourites

After losing Nick Timothy after the election, then her close Oxford friend, Damian Green, in December it looks as though the latest of the prime minister’s favourites, Gavin Williamson, could be in trouble.

The front page Guardian story won’t make comfortable reading in Downing Street this morning.

The paper is reporting that Gavin Williamson went to the Daily Mail to avoid answering questions from Guardian and then set up the Russian threat headline in the Daily Telegraph to switch attention.

What the veracity of the report is I don’t know but it is another embarrassment for TMay at a time when she herself is under great pressure.

Williamson’s appointment to the Defence Sec job in November was highly controversial given his total lack of ministerial or defence experience and the rumblings over it continue.

It has been widely suggested that Williamson is Mrs May’s choice of preferred successor whenever she steps down or is pushed.

PaddyPower have Williamson at 7/1 for next Cabinet exit.

Mike Smithson


Why Tories are wrong to fear that Corbyn could become Prime Minister in the foreseeable future – part 1

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

There isn’t going to be an early general election

Labour came out of the last election 56 seats short of the Tories and the MP totals of other parties barely make up the gap particularly as Sinn Fein don’t take up their seats. This situation eas exacerbated by the Conservative-DUP no confidence vote agreement.

As the law stands at the moment there are only two ways that an election can take place before 2022. The first would require the Conservatives to do like Theresa May in last April and seek to secure the support of two thirds of all MPs. Given how badly wrong that went for the PM it’s hard to envisage her or her successor doing it again for a very long time indeed.

The other way of an early election can be triggered is if there are consecutive no confidence votes in the government within a period of a fortnight. The deal with the DUP is the first hurdle and the second one is that the SNP, with 35 MPs the third biggest party, surely won’t back any move that could trigger an early election. Their position in quite a large number of Scottish seats is quite precarious and the largest SNP vote share is just 46%.

The election system is now biased in favour of the Tories

Even with the current boundaries the Conservatives could expect to have a double digit lead on seats over Labour if both parties achieve the same national voucher.

This will be even more so if the new boundaries are brought in when the theoretical margin of victory for equal vote shares with Labour increases 20-30 seats

LAB has failed to establish election winning poll leads

Even though by any standards TMay’s Tories have been all over the place what is currently TMay’s party has managed to keep within a percentage point of Labour in almost all recent polls.

On current boundaries Corbyn’s party public needs a national vote lead of about 7% for a majority. On top of that the regional variation in Labour’s support has to be factored in. The party has not been doing anything like as well in the towns of midlands and the north as it had in the big conurbations. The former are places where there are the most marginal seats.

Part 2 of this analysis will be published tomorrow.

Mike Smithson


Winning where? The Lib Dem targets for 2022

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Alastair Meeks looks at the challenges facing Cable’s party

Three years ago, the Lib Dems were still in government. Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg comprised half of the quad, the inner circle that fixed the government’s direction. It feels like a lifetime ago now. The Lib Dems were reduced to 8 MPs in 2015 and recovered only to 12 MPs last year (with a slight decline in vote share nationally), despite being the only party to advocate remaining in the EU. Replacing Tim Farron with Vince Cable has not given them any more airtime or sense of relevance.

The Lib Dems are urgently in need of a strategy. That strategy needs to be founded on a basis that can produce an electoral recovery for them. In turn, that means understanding what they need to defend and where they are best placed to gain ground.

Defence first. Here’s the list of Lib Dem seats. It’s a short list, obviously. There are two points of interest. First, the Lib Dems are not immediately challenged by Labour in any seat that they hold. They have now lost every last Lib Dem / Labour marginal. Secondly, they aren’t particularly safe anywhere – a uniform 5% swing against them would see them lose all but four seats and a uniform 10% swing across these seats would see every last Lib Dem seat fall.

Oh, so you think a 10% swing is big? Let me introduce you to my next list, the list of Lib Dem prospects, organised by swing required. As you can see, a uniform 5% swing to the Lib Dems would increase their tally by just 9 seats. A 10% swing gathers a further 10 new seats for them. A 15% swing brings in just 18 more. And by this stage, the table is actively unhelpful in understanding what’s going on: many of the seats feature simply as a function of a distributed vote – the Lib Dems finished fourth and lost their deposit in Edinburgh North & Leith, for example. Anyone fancy the Lib Dems’ chances in Kensington? I have asterisked where the Lib Dems finished third (and added additional asterisks for each additional drop in the voting order). As you can see, even on this shortish list, asterisks proliferate.

For targeting, I suggest the Lib Dems would do better to concentrate on seats where they already have a substantial vote share, which to my mind gives a truer reflection of where the Lib Dems have potential strength and chances of real progress. Here are the 52 seats where the Lib Dems have more than 20% of the vote.

This to me is a particularly interesting table. First, there are only 52 seats on the list. The Lib Dems held more seats than this up to 2015. If you wanted an indication of just how badly the Lib Dems have been smashed, there’s as good a measure as any.

Secondly, the colour that dominates is blue. There are just five Labour-held seats on the list – the days of Lib Dem / Labour marginals are well and truly over. This is perhaps exemplified by Bristol West. Stephen Williams won this seat in 2010 with 48% of the vote – it was the Lib Dems’ 11th safest seat. He lost it in 2015. He fought it again last year and tallied just over 7% of the vote. The battle on the left of centre has been fought and the Lib Dems have been routed for now.

Thirdly, it shows that the vote has polarised in each constituency – the same effect that has harmed the Lib Dems nationally is making life harder for them in their target seats too. Outside Scotland the Lib Dems hold no seat with less than 40% of the vote. There are three seats in England where they beat that mark and failed to take the seat. This is in part a function of the Lib Dems losing the battle of the left. The English seats they once held on lower vote shares (like Norwich South and Bradford East) were usually Lib Dem / Labour marginals where a fair chunk of the Conservative support refused to vote tactically. Now those have gone, the Lib Dems’ chances of coming through the middle have correspondingly declined.

Fourthly, the seats cluster strongly geographically. The Lib Dems have husbanded their strength well in Scotland. The Lib Dems have considerable residual strength in south west England and in quite a few seats south and west of London. Conversely, they are almost non-existent in the Midlands (a longstanding weak area for them) – there’s a hole bounded by Cambridge, Witney, Montgomeryshire, Hazel Grove and Sheffield Hallam where not a single seat can be found where 1 in 5 voters plumped for the yellow team last time round.

The Lib Dems will need to fight the next election exclusively in target seats – anything else will be a waste. I strongly suggest that if the seat isn’t on this list of 52, it should essentially be ignored next time around. Candidly, 52 right now looks far too high a number to be aiming at.

Next, the Lib Dems need to build policies to help themselves in their target seats. That means taking on the Conservatives. There is no point in taking on Labour because there are next to no Labour seats that they can take. Fortunately, there’s a nice big space between a Labour party that has taken the next left turning after radical socialism and a Conservative party that has decided to major on implementing a nationalistic Brexit, where the Lib Dems could hunker down and turn their guns on the Conservatives. So the opportunity is potentially there. They just need to take it.

Alastair Meeks


The fight to succeed TMay – part 127

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Doesn’t look good for the DefSec – said to be TMay’s preferred successor

And BoJo steps up the ante

In the betting Amber Rudd moves to 3rd favourite


LAB/CON/LDs all see vote shares up, UKIP/GREEN down in January local by elections

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

Local By-Election Summary : January 2018

Votes Cast, Share, Vote Share Change and Seat Change
Conservatives 11,047 votes (47.75% +5.71% on last time) winning 7 seats (+1 seat on last time)
Labour 6,036 votes (26.09% +6.28% on last time) winning 1 seat (-1 seat on last time)
Liberal Democrats 3,538 votes (15.29% +5.62% on last time) winning 1 seat (unchanged on last time)
Independent candidates 1,070 votes (4.62% -3.29% on last time) winning 1 seat (unchanged on last time)
Green Party 727 votes (3.14% -4.25% on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
United Kingdom Independence Party 718 votes (3.10% -9.45% on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
Conservative lead of 5,011 votes (21.66%) on a swing of 0.29% from Con to Lab

Compiled by Harry Hayfield


Now isn’t the time to push May, whatever the temptation

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

But there’s a good chance Con MPs will do it anyway

Only one of the three traditional British parties currently has a leader – and that one by happenstance. To lead is by definition a dynamic thing. It is to set oneself at the head of something and take it somewhere in such a way that others follow. It is not a quality granted simply by virtue of holding a given office.

On those terms, Vince Cable is not a leader: he and his party are simply invisible. A leader of the Lib Dems would be going and grabbing publicity. Certainly, the losses sustained over the last two general elections left his party make that far harder than it was before 2015 but capable leaders of smaller parties – Caroline Lucas and Nigel Farage spring to mind – have managed it in the past. The Lib Dems’ impressively large membership has been garnered despite their leader, not because of him.

But Cable’s failings pale beside those of the prime minister. It was telling that she devoted her speech at Davos to the subjects of internet security and regulating artificial intelligence: important matters no doubt but not ones to grab the attention of either the national media or her international peers. She was in effect running back to the ground on which she felt comfortable as Home Secretary – a post that she’s never truly psychologically left. Even more importantly, she didn’t propose anything so there was nowhere for her to lead anyone nor for them to follow.

Her failure to become the leader she was elected to be is, inevitably, what’s at the heart of the renewed speculation over her future at the head of the Conservative Party. The newspaper stories this week might have been based on the alleged comments of the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, asking Tory MPs to be careful in submitting any more letters (a comment which by definition should always apply and which might be as likely to encourage some MPs to act as to put them off), but if more letters have been dropping into Graham Brady’s inbox recently, it’s because of the extent to which her standing has been damaged as much by the actions of others as by anything she’s done. But that in itself is only possible because the vacuum at the centre.

Politically, that’s a recipe for instability. Sooner or later, something will happen that will prompt MPs to act – possibly after a minister does so – or for May to quit of her own accord, though that’s much less likely: prime ministers are rarely short of self-confidence. If Tory MPs are thinking straight, it should be later.

There are all sorts of reasons not to call a Vote of No Confidence now. For one thing, while she’s not much of a leader, she’s not a bad head of government. There’s no great innovation and the intentions she spelt out on entering Number Ten will forever be unfulfilled by her, but as far as anyone else’s ambitions go, that failure to establish a direction is no bad thing: they have no need to engage in premature action to stave off an irreversible decision. In terms of the economy and public services, she’s doing a reasonable job of minding the shop. Sure, there are issues in the NHS at the moment and there are other challenges ranging from Universal Credit to Stormont but none that can’t be rectified with application and perhaps more cash.

Except of course for Brexit: that cannot be deferred. (Let’s leave aside unrealistic legal loopholes here – Britain will leave in Spring next year, probably on March 29, because that’s what nearly all Conservative MPs, plus a large enough number from other parties, are committed to). However, that very fact should of itself be a deterrent to action. To take another two months out of the timetable to indulge in a leadership election would not only be grossly irresponsible and look ridiculous to the public and to the EU27, it could only result in one of two possibilities: a new leader with much the same policy, in which case why bother, or one that wants to rip up 18 months’ work and replace it in a third of the time with something that the other EU members will almost certainly find harder to agree to (on the assumption that any change in policy would be to a harder Brexit) – which is probably not deliverable.

Either way, whatever the outcome, those who don’t like it will blame the leadership contest, certainly for it being a distraction and, depending on their view, because of the outcome.

Besides, if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that elections are inherently unpredictable, both in themselves and in what the person or party elected turns out to be like. An attempted coup from the Ultras could end up with the membership being given a choice of Amber Rudd and Jeremy Hunt if, say, Boris knocked out the other Leavers and then imploded in a badly misjudged remark. Is it worth the risk?

And of course, there’s the even bigger risk that the leadership election messes up the Conservatives’ relationship with the DUP – not at all impossible given the interrelated issues of Brexit and the N Irish border – and the country is plunged into another general election, taking a further six weeks or more out, riling the public and risking the very real possibility of a Labour win.

We should note, while we’re at it, that there is the risk that the MPs having called a Vote of No Confidence, May then wins. I doubt that she would – the disillusionment seems too deep and the very act of calling a vote would undermine her position further – but the possibility must be faced. In that case, if she won narrowly, it would do nothing to resolve the situation and would probably bring discontent further out into the open; if she won comfortably, with MPs taking the view that now is not the time, then May’s position could be strengthened sufficiently that it becomes hard to challenge her again later in the parliament. On that basis, my own view is that whatever damage a leadership contest would do, calling a vote is of itself the point of no return.

But this is a betting site. The question of what MPs should do (from their own perspective) is a rather different one from what they will do. Muddling through is not an attractive option when there is an alternative, even if that alternative is a leap in the dark.

Will May be forced out this year? Until this last week, I’d have said no based on the power of the logic (though that was also the reason why I didn’t think May would reshuffle this year either). But now? I think there’s a good chance and if it happens, it’ll probably be in response to some incident we cannot yet predict in detail. Everyone has a limit to their patience.

David Herdson


ICM finds the biggest backing yet for a referendum on the final deal

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Meanwhile Ipsos-MORI has CON 3% behind

YouGov has 4% remain lead


A worry for LAB? The gloss could be coming off Corbyn’s appeal to young voters

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Perhaps the great hope of Corbyn’s Labour is that when the next general election comes, whenever that is, comes that the party will be able to repeat the GE2017 feat and secure huge backing from the youth vote. It was this, of course, combined with a much reduced turnout by the over-65s, that resulted in Theresa May GE17 gamble failing and the Tories losing their majority.

Maybe young voters will central again but there’s some evidence now that support from the youngest age group is not quite as strong as it was. Indeed the trend seen in the chart above looks a tad worrying for LAB.

The chart is based on the proportion of those in the youngest age group in all the Opinium/Observer polls since the general election who faced with a best PM choice of May or Corbyn have chosen the latter.

Maybe his appeal is dropping off a bit because he’s getting old or because the views of him and top aide Seumus Milne on Brexit are somewhat different to what younger voters think.

Maybe, as well, this is simply because outside formal general election campaign period the opposition leader usually finds it harder to get his/her voice heard.

Mike Smithson