Archive for March, 2018


Get ready for the final Brexit battle: the Electoral Commission’s probe on Vote Leave’s spending

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Mike Smithson


The continuing strength of the SNP makes it is harder for Corbyn to become PM

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Scottish turbulence not good for the red team

Today’s YouGov LAB members has one finding that shows the extraordinary optimism of those who backed Corbyn in the last leadership election. 80% of them told the poster that they believed that Mr Corbyn would at sometime become Prime Minister.

Given his age and the current parliamentary situation that essentially means waiting till the next general election and requires two things to happen – Corbyn to retain the leadership and LAB to win most seats or be in position for form coalition. The latter is made much more difficult because of what happened in 2015 when the huge SNP surge in Scotland swept almost all before it and Labour’s seat total drop from 41, north of the border to a single MP.

For decades LAB had been top party north of the border one of the reasons why, alongside the collapse of the LDS, the electoral system appeared to favour them. Their Scottish dominance came was swept away in the general election which took place nine months after the IndyRef

Things changed a bit at the June 2017 election when LAB made a smallish recovery but still found themselves in 3rd place with 7 seats which was well behind the Conservatives in second and of course the SNP still there with 36 of the 59. The red team’s current Scottish total look paltry compared with the heady days of 2010

The most recent Scottish polls have double digit leads for the SNP with LAB still languishing in the 20s.

What sould encourage Labour, though, is that many of the SNP seats are held with very small majorities and a small recovery could bring bigger than expected rewards.

Without a substantial contingent Scottish MPs LAB will need to win more seats in England and Wales if it is to get near to power.

Mike Smithson


Playing the long game: what do Labour’s moderates do?

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

The danger is that the options might be complicity, futility and suicide

Keiran Pedley posed a good question on Twitter yesterday, when he asked “I keep seeing people say that Labour moderates should now ‘act’. What does that actually mean?”. The problem is that those demanding action are often demanding the impossible – namely that they remove Corbyn and return Labour to a centre-left social democratic party.

The truth that those demanding action won’t face up to is that Corbyn cannot be removed and the moderates in the Party and particularly those in parliament know it. They tried doing so in 2016, when Corbyn had just had (from the point of view of Labour Remainers – and that’s most Labour members), a shocking EU Referendum. Around four-fifths of MPs no confidence him; virtually his entire front bench resigned; the critics sponsored a leadership challenge. Apart from putting up a better candidate, it’s not clear what more they could have done. Yet it wasn’t close to being enough: Corbyn won with a majority of nearly 120,000 – or more than 23%. And that was before the 2017 general election hugely bolstered his position among the membership (of which the majority have joined since 2015, we should remember).

So if Corbyn is secure in post for the foreseeable future – meaning that he and his supporters will, almost inevitably, consolidate control over the Party’s machinery in that time – what options do those who are appalled at the direction of travel of their party have? There are only really three:

1. Wait

This is the simplest, easiest, safest and most likely option. Partly that’s because it’s the default. Doing nothing – or restricting criticism to words and gestures only – is not ideal but is the right option if the critics believe the situation is retrievable at some point. And it might well be. For all that the left now has control of the membership, the leadership and the Party’s central organisation, these things are not set in stone. The far left is notorious for falling out over perceived ideological impurities and while Corbyn’s supporters are unusually focussed on the man, he shouldn’t be thought immune. The many new members might drift off disillusioned if he ultimately trims – which is probably only likely if Labour find themselves in government. Other than that, the moderates must hope that the faddists simply get bored with the Corbyn project and move on, leaving enough scope to act when the opportunity arises.

There are two main problems with doing very little. The first is that it means being largely complicit in the policies, actions and inactions of the leadership. For all the criticism of Corbyn’s reaction to the Salisbury attack or the calls for more drastic action to drive out the anti-Semitic fringe, unless something changes, the MPs and candidates will again ask voters to put Corbyn in No 10 and MacDonnell in No 11. Perhaps that’s a price worth paying and the least-worst option (particularly if they think that they’ll lose anyway – though last June should temper any certainty on that score), but it will leave a legacy on their political history all the same.

The other problem is that the longer they wait, the harder it will be to reverse what’s already been done. Not impossible – only eight years separate Blair from Corbyn, after all – but harder all the same.

2. All-out attack

If waiting for an improvement in the political weather risks letting events drift out of control, one alternative is to relaunch the kind of operation carried out in the last parliament. There might be any number of jumping off points to do so, from the missed opportunities over Russia, to Corbyn’s continuing absence from the Brexit debate, to his double-standards on internal discipline (not that he’d be unique as a leader on that score).

The problem is that if it was hard in 2016, it’s much harder now. Not only has the membership moved in Corbyn’s favour since then but Labour continues to poll around 40% and at worst, within a few points of the Tories; perhaps several points ahead, depending on which pollster you use. Also, the mass-resignations can’t be repeated because one consequence of that action is that Corbyn’s front bench is now much more from his own wing. The local election results should be adequate and the London-based media coverage, favourable. Short of a catastrophic error by the leadership, the almost inevitable result of another challenge would be to strengthen Corbyn’s position. Less certain would be the consequences but it’s surely likely that were members of the PLP seen by Corbyn-supporters to be an existential threat to him, that wouldn’t do anything for their reselection chances.

3. Defect

We have of course been here before. The inevitable talk of an SDP2 is one ‘action’ that moderates could take. The centre is crying out for an effective political party and the Lib Dems are not it. Cable is all but invisible and the Lib Dems’ poll ratings haven’t recovered from the general election (they had been polling around 10% through 2017 prior to the election campaign). That said, when SDP1 launched, the Liberals were only polling in the low-teens; within a year, the Alliance hit 40%.

However, that brings its own question. Would an SDP2 seek an alliance with the Lib Dems, or even move straight to some new party? If not, wouldn’t FPTP see them off? If so, wouldn’t a risk be that the first, crucial, year would be spent navel-gazing on the merger?

But those are only two problems of a whole host that confront any new party – even one with a substantial parliamentary presence. Where does its money come from, shorn of the union link and Short money? How quickly can it build up a campaign database of canvass information given that defectors couldn’t take that with them? Who would lead the party, and where? What would be its attitude to Brexit?

Leave aside that any defectors would be instantly labelled splitters and traitors by those remaining in Labour: by leaving, they would certainly be entrenching the left’s control within Labour even more, meaning that their new party was the only chance social democracy would have in Britain for decades. It is a move to contemplate only when all other options are exhausted, with little prospect of success, either personally for those contemplating it or for their ideas.

We might label these options complicity, futility and suicide: not an attractive set of options – which is why those who’ve been calling for ‘action’ are invariably those who wouldn’t have to take it. For the time being, waiting on events remains the best bet: something might turn up. For all that things look difficult, Labour’s underlying strength remains good – much more so that it was in 1983 or the Tories’ was in 1997 and both those parties came back both to the centre and to government (though neither was truly captured by its extreme wing, as Labour has been now).

I still don’t expect a split – not soon anyway. All sorts of history and culture runs against it. Nor do I expect a new formal challenge that’s doomed to fail, which means that the only option for now is for them to wait for better political weather.

David Herdson


Analysis of the Q1 local by-elections finds CON struggling to benefit from the almost total collapse if the UKIP vote

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Vote changes from by-elections in previously CON held wards

Vote changes from by-elections in previously LAB held wards

Vote changes from by-elections in previously UKIP held wards

The real story of the local by-elections in the first quarter (and I suspect one that will be repeated in just five weeks time) is the collapse of UKIP losing 90% of it’s vote compared to last time and showing that it’s not just UKIP voters now voting Con, but UKIP candidates not even standing as UKIP but instead as “Name of local area” candidates.

Analysis and charts by Harry Hayfield


Right turn ahead. The Hungarian general election

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Hungary is the holding pen of Europe. Sat on the Great Hungarian Plain, which is effectively the most westward of the steppes, it is no coincidence that successive invasions over many eras have come through Hungary and stopped at Vienna, from the Mongols to the Turks to the waves of migrants in 2015 – it is the line of least resistance.

The last hundred years have not been good for Hungary. It lost two thirds of its territory at the Treaty of Trianon and it has seen a Communist government, an authoritarian right wing dictatorship, a fascist puppet state and USSR-dominated Communist government. In that time, Budapest has been occupied by three different armies in that time, those of Romania, Germany and the USSR.

Its democratic history effectively started in 1989. One man, Viktor Orbán, has been prominent in public life throughout that time. He has been Prime Minister for the last eight years and he is looking for re-election on 8 April. The election does not look like a cliffhanger. His ruling party Fidesz is set for a landslide if the polls are to be believed. Nevertheless, the election is likely to be of significance for Europe as a whole.

What of the electoral system? The Hungarian Parliament is elected using a method that’s a bit like the Italian system. It has 199 MPs. 106 are to be elected by first past the post. The other 93 MPs are elected by proportional representation, with a threshold of 5%. In 2014 Fidesz just managed a two thirds majority on 43% of the vote.

The election will be free but not fair. The votes will be counted correctly and parties are freely able to organise: if anything Hungary’s opposition parties are too numerous rather than too few. But Fidesz’s dominance of the media is unlike anything seen in western Europe. The cards are stacked in their favour. They are on track to take something like half the vote if the admittedly volatile Hungarian polls are to be believed.

Who are the other runners and riders? The socialists split into three after their 2010 defeat and remain divided. The far right Jobbik continue to thrive. A greeny-liberal party called LMP have some popularity among young leftish urban professionals. Young rightish urban professionals have the option of Momentum. Few are taking it.

Hungary’s economy is doing well. Its economy, admiittedly fuelled by a pre-election loosening of the purse strings, is growing at just under 4% a year at the moment. Unemployment has halved in the last five years. Those who have visited Budapest in the last few years will be aware that it is a modern European city.

Just as London is not Britain, however, Budapest is not Hungary. The east of the country remains poorer than the west. The jobs and wealth are largely created in the big cities and large parts of the countryside are being left behind. Outside the tourist areas and the wine-growing regions, opportunities in rural areas are few. Unsurprisingly, the young are leaving. It’s routine for smart young Hungarians to head for Germany, Britain, Canada or the USA. The rural decline in many areas is stark. You can rent or buy whole villages.

Viktor Orbán’s support is derived primarily not from Budapest but from the countryside. He has launched a succession of initiatives designed to appeal to older, less educated, culturally conservative voters. In Britain, earnest academics would be urging us to listen to the concerns of these Somewheres. At 1000 miles distance, it’s easier for outsiders to label their concerns as racist and backward. There are probably at least two lessons to be learned from that differential treatment.

So the current government introduced a Sunday trading ban – now repealed, campaigned against external influences personified in George Soros (who not coincidentally is a key figure in the Central European University which is one of the few Hungarian institutions outside Fidesz’s control and which the government also sought to dismantle, before holding fire in the face of international pressure) and has launched a national consultation about the EU (you will not be surprised to learn that the Hungarian government is unenthusiastic).

Meanwhile, the highest levels of government have become notable for their unexplained wealth. Hungarians do not live to Scandinavian standards of probity – locals will negotiate with the traffic police and it is socially compulsory to tip the doctor even though it is officially illegal. So a certain amount of feathering the nest is expected from all governments, if not exactly approved of.

The current government is perceived to have been taking this to a whole new level. An English word “strawman” has entered the Hungarian dictionary under the spelling “stroman” to refer to the front men who have been enabling the Orbán family to acquire businesses and land. Public cynicism about this spans the political spectrum.

The opportunity has been seized by Jobbik. For some time they have been campaigning with posters like the one at the top of the thread (which translates “You work. They steal.”). These are sentiments that hit home right across the political spectrum, with which impeccable liberals would firmly agree.

Jobbik clearly now have big money behind them because Budapest is festooned with Jobbik posters in a similar style that can be translated “We grow. You win.” with various simple campaign promises such as “European wages”. In my view, these latest posters miss the mark a little, drawing an implicit contrast between “We” and “You” (the point is rather stronger in Hungarian, where personal pronouns are used mainly for emphasis – verb endings normally do the work unassisted). Nevertheless, Jobbik are making all the running in opposition to Fidesz. They might well outperform their average polling and finish a clear second.

It is against this background that Viktor Orbán has been campaigning almost exclusively against migration. He is evidently determined not to be outflanked on the right and his rhetoric about George Soros would make even a Telegraph journalist blush. The Hungarian public, many of whom outside Budapest have next to no experience of immigration, lap it up. But Hungary’s population has been in decline for a generation, with no end in sight. It appears that immigration is unpopular, regardless of the fundamentals. That’s one lesson that one does not need to travel 1000 miles from Britain to learn.

Alastair Meeks


A year to go until Brexit day and punters think there’s a 57% chance of the UK leaving the EU on time

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

The chart shows the movement on the Betfair brexit betting market since March 29th last year when article 50 was invoked. As can be seen there has been quite a change particularly in the past few weeks and now the money is going on the UK leaving the EU on March 29th 2019.

This is all based on the Betfair betting exchange where different punters set the odds and not the bookmaker. For an exchange brings together those who want to bet on something happening and those who want to accept the bet or in betting parlance “lay” it.

This is not a market I have gone into because I think it’s too hard really to call even at this stage though I do agree with the current odds that it is probably a better than evens chance that Brexit will happen.

But an awful lot can happen in the meantime and the government has many challenges in the coming months getting its legislation through. The person who could be most influential is Labour’s Keir Starmer who is working on ensuring that it is MPs and not the executive that decides.

Mike Smithson


A year to go till Brexit and the latest YouGov tracker has Britain as divided as ever

Thursday, March 29th, 2018


The PB / Polling Matters podcast returns!

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

As a new YouGov poll shows the Tories 4 points ahead, Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi discuss the untold story of the recent Conservative resurgence in the polls and ask what is behind it and does it matter?

Catching up on recent events, Keiran and Leo also discuss the Salisbury attack and delve into recent polling around its aftermath and Russia. Keiran explains why he thinks this story might be cutting through politically beyond the usual Westminster bubble chatter. Keiran and Leo also discuss the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, whether people really care about how their personal data is used and what it tells us about the Trump and Brexit campaigns and the effectiveness of so-called ‘micro-targeting’.

Finally, the podcast looks at Labour’s antisemitism row and why it could matter in a way you might not expect.

For all this and more click the link below:

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