Archive for August, 2018


The Brexit Irish issue: Moggsy’s plan slammed by Ex-British Army officer who served there

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

The CON MP ” fundamentally misunderstands” Ireland’s history

There are several interesting elements of The Moggster’s latest contribution to the Brexit debate. First, he has shown that he understands that the land border in Northern Ireland is a critical issue in the Brexit negotiations. Secondly, he has shown, by harking back to the Troubles with such breezy insouciance, that he fundamentally misunderstands the history of the island of Ireland. And thirdly, in telling us that no checks on the border would leave the UK “in as bad a situation as we are already in”, he has shown that he believes that the existing system of travel between the UK and Ireland is awful, which is an extraordinary comment for a British politician to make.

At present, provisions of the Common Travel Area (CTA) allow an EU citizen to fly to Dublin, cross the land border into Northern Ireland and from there cross to the UK mainland with only a small chance of any passport checks. And this worries Jacob Rees-Mogg who calls it “a great loophole in the way people can get into the UK”.

The CTA, dating back nearly a century, and only formally enshrined in 2011, facilitates freedom of movement for British and Irish citizens between the UK, Ireland, and the Crown Dependences (Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man). While not legally binding, its various iterations have established a commitment to a joint approach on visa issues including towards third countries. Having withstood various challenges to its provisions, the CTA was and, following the more recent Anglo-Irish and Belfast Agreements, remains now an integral component of the peace process. Amongst other provisions, it removes the need for the type of border infrastructure in Northern Ireland, the absence of which, everyone with the exception it seems of Rees-Mogg, appreciates, is such an important element of modern life in Ireland.

So does the CTA mean there are no border controls between Ireland and the UK? Yes and no. If you travel to Ireland by air or sea as a UK citizen, you will be asked to produce identity documents when you get there. This need not be a passport, given CTA-mandated freedom of movement, but a document confirming eligibility to gain entry to the country. A passport, for example (there is in fact a choice of documents). The UK, meanwhile, carries out random checks on those arriving from Ireland in much the same way as they do for travellers coming off the Eurostar at St. Pancras.

The land border crossing, however, is a different matter. There are currently no controls on any of the many land border crossing points between the two countries Ireland and the UK. Rees-Mogg, in his speech, advocated the reintroduction of some kind of system in order, as he put it, to “keep an eye” on those using the land border. Quite what he believes this measure will be, short of a hard border yet sufficient to “have people inspected” goodness only knows. What the reintroduction of any kind of border infrastructure would have has been well-rehearsed on PB, not to say the subject of the odd thread header.

But more telling than his evident ignorance of or disregard for recent Irish history, is what his speech tells us about how he views British sovereignty. Never mind Brexit and trade deals, Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to think that the CTA, the system agreed between the UK and Ireland Governments nearly a hundred years ago which has been an integral part of the peace process since its inception, was and is a sovereignty concession too far.

A guest slot by Topping




PB Video Analysis: Will Donald Trump be Re-Elected in 2020?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

So, after many economics and finance related posts, I thought why not do a politics one?

It’s a simple question: will President Trump be re-elected in 2020? But while the answer will – Schrodinger’s cat-like – resolve itself when the box is opened in two years time, for now the answer is unknowable.

Which is the stronger force: an improving economy or the drip, drip of scandals? What matters more: who the Democrats choose or whether inflation returns?

And I suppose, as it’s obligatory, I’ll end the video with a prediction. Although – as Marvin said – I don’t suppose you’ll like it.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’


2019 now rated as a 44% chance as the year that TMay ceases to be PM

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Could she go all the way to 2022?

This is one of those betting markets that we return to time and time again. Because clearly there cannot be a leadership contest without a vacancy and at the moment Theresa May is sticking in there and looks reasonably certain to remain until Brexit.

I find it somewhat amusing when I get correspondence from bookmakers and Boris backer, Arron Banks, alerting me to a leadership fight within the next 3 months. Theresa May is not going to go of her own accord. She has a sense of duty to see Brexit through and that means no movement before March 29th next year.

While Mr Johnson is seen as the likely successor, at least by the betting markets, then not enough Tory MPs are going to support a move that would oust Mrs May. Stick with Nurse. She’s safe because the alternative is seen as far far worse. But will that pertain beyond March 29th?

I just wonder what is going to happen next year, So many Conservative MPs have said that there’s no chance that she will be allowed to lead the party into another general election campaign given how poorly she performed in the last one. But are they going to oust her and risk someone like publicity-seeking ex-mayor who is loathed by many of his colleagues?

This all reminds me of the 2007-2010 period when all sorts of plans to oust Gordon Brown were reported and none of them came to fruition.

She could even outlast Mr. Corbyn.

Mike Smithson


Just 19% of LAB voters believe Israel’s more to blame for the lack progress on Middle East peace than the Palestinians

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Sure the Deltapoll for Prospect finds that three times as many LAB voters than CON ones blame Israel but it is the huge “both equally” numbers that are a surprise. Here as the chart shows there’s really not that much difference between supporters of the two main parties and the whole sample.

This does suggest at the very minimum that this is far from the top of most people’s concerns.

Given the polling it is hard to disagree with Martin Boon of Deltapoll who is quoted in the latest edition of Prospect magazine as saying:

“The great irony about Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party being consumed by the Jewish question is not only that personal reputations are sinking as a result, but that infinite amounts of emotional and political energy is being drained on a subject that very few Britons know much about, and probably care even less. Exactly what Labour hope to get out constant introspection on Israel and Palestine is an absolute mystery”.

The damage for Labour is that for months the party has appeared to be totally split and we know that voters don’t like parties to be divided.

Of course what has put this on the agenda has been Corbyn’s history- things he said and did before he became leader. This has been driven by what’s available on the record and by the media. The result has been so much energy is being directed at the internal Labour battle and there is also the opportunity cost – the summer could have been better spent by the main opposition fighting the Tories.

The problem, of course, is that the leader himself is so much involved and this is all about him. In those circumstances the party machine has to back the boss. If there is indeed a split within Labour then antisemitism will have made a contribution.

Mike Smithson


What happens next if not much happens?

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Like the media, we are attracted to drama. What if Trump is impeached? What if No Deal Brexit leads to economic meltdown? What if both major parties split? What if the EU collapses?

But what if none of that happens? The instinct of people in power is to avoid chaos on their watch if possible. Cans are kicked down the road. Fudge is prepared in industrial quantities.

Suppose that rule applies here, specifically to Brexit. A deal is done in which everyday commerce continues under similar rules to now (there is not remotely a Commons majority for anything else), with a lengthy transition period and options for divergence at some time in the future which, like the Scottish option to vary income tax, may never be used. An attempt to get a second referendum fails. Intense controversy in Parliament is followed by reluctant consent. A few Tory and Labour MPs go independent. The economy ticks on, neither booming nor crashing.

What then? Few are really happy with the state of affairs. Remainers find we are out despite their best efforts. Brexiteers have their freedom, but a leadership unwilling to use it. The Tories are exhausted and out of ideas. Labour is in opposition and divided. The LibDems occasionally change from one obscure leader to another. 2022 comes round, and it’s an election. Who wins?

Some predictions:

  1. In the end, the Tories won’t replace May. The fact of Brexit will take the edge off for people who wanted more. There is no consensus on an alternative, and no polling pointing to a strong alternative. Replace May with Javid, say? Why bother? May delivered Brexit and remains indisputably calm under pressure – for Tory MPs, why not stick to nurse rather than risk Boris? The Tory appeal will once again be stability – we got you through those troubled times, why not stay with us?
  2. In the end, Labour will remain largely intact. There are clearly a few MPs who have had enough, but no sign of a critical mass that would actually achieve anything by defection. Equally the will of left-wingers to engage in a serious deselection drive is absent – and increasingly seats are already picking not especially radical candidates without much fuss. A few will drift into independent status; a couple may be deselected; some will retire. But if Labour wins, there will be no stomach in the PLP to go further left than the 2017 manifesto. The Labour appeal will be not be a socialist revolution but that 12 years of an exhausted Tory party is enough.
  3. Something like UKIP will resurface. The party itself may be irretrievably damaged by its descent into farce, but there is enough Brexiteer money to finance a new venture, and it’s hard to look past Farage as leading it. Their appeal will be “real Brexit” – “let’s turn those options for divergence into reality”. That will damage the Tories more than Labour if it is popular, and the success or failure of that enterprise will be what decides the election.

Who wins? We honestly don’t know, but the longer term future will only really be decided afterwards, because May doesn’t have a long-term vision and Corbyn doesn’t have a PLP majority to deliver radical socialism. I don’t see either of them fighting a 2027 election – for all the grit that they have both so amply demonstrated, common sense will dictate that it’s time to retire by 2025. At that point, both parties will face the challenge of choosing leaders with a viable, interesting project which can command a solid majority.

And most people have currently not even heard of the leaders who will emerge.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe


Allies of Boris worried that Tory MPs will practice safe X to avoid waking up with a dumb blonde

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

As long as MPs exclusively control who the final two candidates sent to the members are the leadership ambitions of Boris are set to be unfulfilled.

For me the most interesting political story this week from a British standpoint was the desire of some supporters of Boris wishing to change the Tory leadership rules.

What many of us have been saying for a long time, and has been guiding my betting position, the quasi-AV system the Tory party uses to elect their leader is very unfavourable for someone like Boris Johnson, has been realised by the supporters of Boris.

The Conservative Party leadership election rules should be changed to make it more likely a pro-Brexit candidate succeeds Theresa May, a prominent MP has said.

Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP for Morley and Outwood, said as a majority of party members backed Brexit “they should be fully represented in any future leadership elections”.

“So we should be considering reforming the rules to allow for a members’ choice on the ballot, or a third ‘people’s’ candidate to join the two put forward by the parliamentary party,” she wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

“No more betrayal of our supporters,” she added.

Jenkyns is a vocal critic of the prime minister’s Brexit plan and praised Boris Johnson for quitting as foreign secretary over it.

Currently only two leadership candidates chosen by MPs go to a final vote of the membership.

The system is seen as making it harder for Johnson to make it onto the ballot as he is thought to be more popular with the party’s members, than with its MPs.

If you’re wanting to change the voting system then that’s very ominous for your chances of winning under the current rules.

Whilst Boris Johnson as Prime Minister/Tory leader appals enough Tory MPs in the way the prospect of pineapple on pizza appals all right thinking people I’m not expecting him to be Theresa May’s successor under the current rules. We only have to look at his decision not to run in 2016 because he knew he’d be humiliated to see a precedent.

But supporters of Boris Johnson shouldn’t be disheartened if they can’t get the rules changed. Back in 2005 Michael Howard attempted and failed to change the Tory leadership rules. The changes were designed to favour his protégé David Cameron, but Cameron still won a thumping victory under the existing rules.


PS – Imagine you’re one of the Arron Banks entryists and you’re paying £25 a year to vote in the Tory leadership contest and the final two end up being two Remainers such as Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid. How annoyed are you going to be?


New polling analysis finds that enthusiasm for Brexit amongst working class voters is fading

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

Ammunition for those pressing for a change in LAB’s stance?

The data in this chart above has been extrapolated by the political scientist, Prof Matt Goodwin and shows a pretty clear picture about the view on Brexit amongst the C2DEs – working class voters.

It was this group, of course, that turned most strikingly against staying in the EU during the referendum campaign so any change here could have some political significance.

I congratulate Matt on picking up the trend which is something that I haven’t observed even though I follow the YouGov Brexit tracker very closely. This comes as Labour prepares for its conference next month when there is a big effort likely to take place to commit the party to backing a second referendum.

Maybe the easing off of support for Brexit is down to increasing worries about jobs and general economic security as we get nearer to the day. Those who’ve been able to afford overseas holidays this year will know that their pounds are worth a fair bit less than a few months ago and are down by quite some magnitude on what it was prior to the June 2016 referendum.

Whatever as we get closer to the day polling like this is going to be given much greater scrutiny.

Mike Smithson


A Labour split would have one chance to succeed – but succeed it could

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

FPTP is not an insuperable barrier in the right conditions

Anyone remember the Pro Euro Conservatives? The Party was formed by two former Tory MEPs opposed to the direction that William Hague was taking the party on Europe. After a good deal more media interest than was due for a tiny splinter party – mainly, presumably, because it allowed a new angle on the never-ending internal Tory conflict on Europe – they polled 1.3% at the 1999 European elections, lost their deposit at the Kensington & Chelsea by-election later that year and was disbanded two years later having failed to break the mould of British politics.

The reason for this trip down a justifiably neglected memory lane is to illustrate the usual fate of splinter parties: they form, they fail, they die or merge. There are several overlapping reasons for this but we can narrow it down to money and organisation, retail offer, and voting inertia. As a rule, the new party will lack a sufficiently distinctive policy stance to attract many voters, will not have the professionalism or campaign machine to take on the established parties, and struggle to overcome the ‘wasted vote’ argument under FPTP, which then proves a self-fulfilling prophesy – and even if they can overcome all those obstacles, the electoral system still provides such a high barrier as to be almost insurmountable, as the SDP found.

Such is received wisdom, except it’s not entirely true. There are examples of parties which have made that breakthrough, either as splinters or as rivals in the same part of the political spectrum, and displaced an incumbent as one of the two main government-forming parties (and under FPTP, there will generally only be two such parties). To take a few examples:

– Most obviously, Labour replaced the Liberals in the early part of the 20th century. This was only marginally down to the expanding franchise. In normal circumstances, the Liberals would have moved left to occupy the new ground and under Lloyd George, they’d have been ideally placed in 1918 to do so. After all, the Tories weren’t harmed by the influx of new working-class voters. Instead, the split in the Liberal ranks let Labour in.
– In Scotland, the SNP barged in to create a new settlement which is still working itself out but where they are without question the major party. True, Holyrood and PR played a part in their rise but it came about all the same.
– In Canada, the Progressive Conservatives never recovered from their disastrous election of 1993 and was supplanted on the right by Reform, before the two later merged.
– In the US, the newly-formed Republicans displaced the catastrophically-split Whigs in the 1850s within five years.

These are, of course, exceptions, and all come with special circumstances though the common theme is the exceptional weakness of the party (or parties) they replaced. Indeed, the oft-cited example of the SDP is not quite so firm as is often made out and their failure was a consequence of contingencies outside their control as much as the oppressive structure they operated in. During the winter of 1981-2, they were regularly polling in the forties; polls backed up by by-election gains. Although those ratings were already slightly on the decline by the time the Falklands War broke out, had Galtieri opted not to invade, the Conservative recovery would have been much slower; had Britain lost the war, the magnitude of that shock could have made anything possible. Alternatively, had Benn defeated Healey for Labour’s deputy leadership, that could have been the trigger to prompt a new wave of defections, which might have proven the tipping point on the left (Peter Mandelson identified Healey’s win as the point at which he and others decided it was worth sticking). Whatever, the meagre Alliance total of 22 MPs in 1983 could have been many more; potentially enough to.

These sort of calculations must now be going through Labour MPs’ minds. Stephen Bush has written for the New Statesman that he believes that a split within is now inevitable. That probably puts it too strongly: the pull of party, friends and history is formidable, and events can intervene to ensure that ‘now’ is always not the right time. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that some – not many perhaps but some – MPs feel strongly alienated by the current leadership and how the party has transformed in the last three years. That they haven’t already left Labour, despite some very vocal criticism, could possibly be indicative of future combined action rather than as of an intention to stay, hunker down and fight (though Bush identifies the ongoing Brexit debate as critical).

If there is to be a split, then realistically, the new party or alliance will only get one shot at breaking through. As history demonstrates, most challenger parties fail and those that succeed tend to break through quickly. Further, the unions will almost certainly stay loyal to Corbyn’s Labour for 2022, which leaves an unresolved tension. Ideally, the social democrats would like the unions back on their side – not least because it would symbolize them as the legitimate inheritor of Labour’s traditions. To get them would have to involve defeating Corbyn at the election and turning Labour into the sort of wreck that the Liberals were after 1918.

Some may say that those thinking of splitting are so determined that for them, it’s primarily about principle and policy, and electoral success is secondary. I very much doubt that. Politicians are rarely inclined to make heavy sacrifices (in reputation as much as in money and office – Labour abhors unsolidarity, however defined by the person abhorring it), unless there is at least some prospect of return on that sacrifice. To give it all up for a gesture is surely asking too much.

Which is why if a split does come, it will need to be sudden and sizable; big enough to regain third place in parliament from the SNP, I’d have thought. Bush puts their number at about a dozen. That, frankly, is nothing like enough. There is the possibility of a drip-drip strategy but I’m sceptical: a damp squib of a launch is more likely to put off those wavering than encourage them.

To all this though we also need to add deselections and the boundary review. So far, Labour’s left has made no organized effort to secure parliamentary nominations or to deselect errant MPs. If that looks like changing, the incentive to jump before being pushed (so that the act looks like one of principle rather than sour grapes), increases dramatically – and that is something which could produce dozens rather than a handful of splitters.

Will it happen? My guess would be not without a lot more provocation. As things stand, MPs opposed to Corbyn have already endured a great deal but each new defeat has tended to be incremental rather than seismic, and that’s not an adequate trigger on which to jump from a movement in which they’ve invested a great deal of time and emotion. You might think that opposition to Brexit and support for a second referendum would provide the opportunity but apparently not: were it so, they’d have already gone – the time to apply pressure to the government is now.

One last point. It’s the Tories who might be at risk as much as Labour from an SDP2. The Con share is almost certainly propped up by a fear of what a Corbyn government might do. If the opposition is from a rather less threatening left-of-centre figure, or if the split on the left makes a Corbyn government much less likely, that could well cause a meltdown in Con support as well as Lab’s as the ties keeping May’s coalition together unravel.

David Herdson