Archive for December, 2018


As 2018 comes to an end Marf’s Cartoon of the year

Monday, December 31st, 2018

We’ve not seen a Marf cartoon on PB for some time but this is her end of the year drawing for the Jewish Chronicle. Thanks Marf. It is fun.

Mike Smithson


Elizabeth Warren’s WH2020 annoucement is bad news for Bernie

Monday, December 31st, 2018

They both appeal to similar segments of the Dems base

The big WH2020 news today is the announcement from Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren, that she’s putting her hat into the ring for the 2020 Democratic nomination

She’s declared that she’s establishing an exploratory committee — the legal precursor to a run. This comes as other candidates, including several of her fellow senators, were reported to be making made final preparations for their own announcements.

The news follows speculation that the 77 year old 2016 contender who gave Hillary a good run for her money in 2016, Bernie Sanders, is also just about ready to make a similar announcement. In the past few days followers of Bernie were urging him and Warren to come sort to some sort of agreement to stand on a joint ticket, presumably with the older man being at the head.

Both Sanders and Warren appeal very much to the progressive wing of the party and unless there is an agreement you could see them fighting for the same section of the market. By preempting him on New Year’s Eve she is making it much more difficult for the socialist from Vermont to enter the race.

I have long felt that supporters of Bernie have been over stating his position and misinterpreting two sets of data. Firstly at the last election Bernie gained greatly by being the main opponent of Hillary for the nomination. He was the stop Clinton candidate because here were few other serious contenders. Secondly Bernie backers have been putting a lot of hopes on early polling showing that their man is doing quite well. The only problem here is that, the Iowa caucuses are not for another 13 months, and polls this far out tend to be more are more bout name recognition than actual voting intention.

Mike Smithson


Just because Corbyn’s LAB almost closed a massive poll gap at GE17 is no guarantee that it’ll happen again

Monday, December 31st, 2018

LAB’s got to stop looking at next time through the prism of 2017

The extraordinary performance at the last election of Labour continues to dominate thinking about the next one with an assumption in many quarters that because the party was able to come from a huge poll deficit to within 2.5% then the same will happen again.

Labour activists rightly point to the fact that during a general election the party gets more equal media coverage and that is one of the big reasons, they believe, why the 2017 happened.

Therefore, the argument goes, the same will happen at the next election so they can ignore current less than good ratings where they are just about level pegging with the Tories. There’s a danger that this creates a level of complacency.

Well the campaign might see a massive GE17 scale campaign switch to LAB favour but my guess is that it is more than likely that it won’t. The Tories will have a different and likely more popular leader and you can bet that the party won’t make the mistakes of 2017. The manifesto will not contain huge hostages to fortune, it will be much better prepared and there’ll be no leader boycott of the TV debates.

The Tories are working hard in their key targets already which I know from the level of consituency specific polling that they are doing where I live

    The threat of a Corbyn-led government is taken very seriously by the Tories and their lesson from GE2017 is that there’s no danger they’ll be complacent or take voters for granted.

Corbyn has three issues. Firstly retaining the estimated 8% of LAB GE17 vote that made Brexit the most important driver. Secondly it cannot be assumed that the damaging antisemitism row won’t reappear and thirdly, we need to see signs of recovery in Scotland where for decades it has been dominant.

Mike Smithson


A few general election constituency betting markets for your perusal

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Ladbrokes have put up what I think are the first constituency markets for the next general election, I’ve always looked fondly at these markets, especially after the 2015 general election where there was a lot of profit in backing the Tories in the English marginals, and the SNP everywhere in Scotland.

Chingford & Woodford Green and Richmond Park

I think it is worth looking at both Greater London seats together. Demographics and Brexit are working against the Tories in London and then you have factor in London seems like the heart of Corbynista land, heaving with activists.

In last year’s general election the Tory majority in Chingford & Woodford Green was slashed from just over 8,000 to just over 2,000, which was quite some achievement considering UKIP didn’t stand and they polled nearly 6,000 in 2015. To put that 2,000 majority into context in Tory annus horribilis of 1997 the Tory majority in this seat was nearly 6,000.

With Iain Duncan Smith being a unreconstructed Hard Brexiteer and the architect of Universal Credit those should both be a hindrance for IDS especially if the country experiences the negative impacts of a No Deal/Hard Brexit.

I’d want more than the 5/6 on Labour winning on this seat but I think the safest option is to not back the Tories winning Chingford & Woodford Green.

Bollywood’s greatest fan has already lost Richmond Park once, albeit in a by-election, so we know there’s a groundswell for ousting Zac Goldsmith. The Lib Dems have a majority of 45 to overturn and nearly 6,000 Labour voters to squeeze that 4/6 on the Lib Dems looks huge to me and well worth backing the Lib Dems here. Being a Hard Brexiteer in Richmond should be a real hindrance for Goldsmith in the event of No Deal.

Hastings & Rye

Amber Rudd’s majority in this seat is a mere 346 votes, as someone who was seen as the overseer of the Windrush fiasco and now in delivering the ticking time bomb that is Universal Credit, something that is worrying a lot of Tory MPs., you can see how Labour can make Amber Rudd as the embodiment of the Nasty Party. Coupled with the usual swing against a government entering its second decade and I think the 6/4 on Labour is huge.

Derby North

This is where I think backing the Tories is value. Chris Williamson, Derby North’s MP, is someone who if I were running the Tory campaign in Derby North would focus on that Williamson is someone who is too extreme for Corbyn. Williamson had to quit the shadow frontbench for wanting to double council tax, which is very electorally unappealing. Williamson is defending a majority of 2,015 but he did lose the seat in 2015, so he can be ousted.

You can access these constituency markets by clicking here. The bets shall be void in the event of boundary changes but I’m not expecting the boundary changes to go through, another consequence of Mrs May squandering David Cameron’s majority.



Matters of confidence. What to expect if the government loses a vote of no confidence

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Care to make it interesting? As if politics wasn’t already volatile enough, the government faces the persistent threat of a vote of no confidence. Jeremy Corbyn made a complete ass of himself and several of his most senior colleagues before the Christmas break with an on-off-on-again-off-again vote of no confidence, but he will have other opportunities.

The current government is a minority government, kept in power through the offices of the DUP. Right now, however, the DUP are not happy. They loathe the proposed deal and are making ominous noises. So far those fall short of agreeing to support a vote of no confidence but that might change. Some of the Conservative hardline Brexiters might not be unhappy at that prospect either.  

Equally, some of the more fervent Europhile Conservative MPs might consider their options if Britain looks definitively to be heading for no deal. The government is undeniably vulnerable.

What happens if the government loses such a vote? A clock starts ticking. Either another government succeeds in getting a vote of confidence past the House of Commons in 14 days or there will be a general election.

Yes that’s all well and good, but who gets to choose? The single most important thing to realise is that Theresa May does not necessarily need to step down immediately. Precedent isn’t much help – there have been just three votes of no confidence in the last 100 years and only one since the Second World War.

In the past, votes of no confidence have led to swift changes of government or dissolutions of Parliament. However, even then, the government did not need to step down immediately. In 1979, Parliament was not dissolved for another week, Now the matter is set out by statute, so Theresa May can argue that she can stay in situ and let everyone explore the alternatives in the time available.

With that in mind, Theresa May could seek to hold office in the very short term to allow effective exploration of the options. (She might even try herself. As leader of the party with the most seats and the incumbent, she would have the authority to do this. Ted Heath and Gordon Brown both exercised their right as incumbent to seek to form a government for some time despite being only the second party in Parliament. Theresa May’s claim to continue to seek to do so would be comparable to either of theirs.)

If she did, she would not be the only one trying.  If this kicked off in January, there could be at least six camps. As well as Theresa May, there would be Conservative loyalists seeking to establish whether the majority could be reconstructed simply by replacing her. There would be hardline Leavers looking to establish a no-deal government. Jeremy Corbyn would be looking to form a Labour minority government. There would be unreconciled Remainers looking to relitigate the 2016 referendum. And there would be some MPs who would simply want the general election straight away. Perhaps there would be other camps.

These groups would overlap and different MPs would have different second and third preferences. Institutionally the two main party leaders would have strong advantages because they are entitled to call on the loyalty of their nominal Parliamentary supporters. In practice both would struggle more than usual. Theresa May has already had a visible demonstration of the lack of confidence of over a third of her MPs. Jeremy Corbyn could only wish for such levels of loyalty.

Let’s return to the single most important thing. Theresa May does not need to step down. If no other candidate in her judgement looks likely to command a majority she could in theory try to see the clock tick down and proceed to a general election. Theresa May has always used time as a weapon. She might do so again.

In practice my assessment of Theresa May, a woman who appears to feel her duty keenly, is that if she could not form a government she would not stand in the way of a candidate who stood a fair chance. It would be her responsibility as Prime Minister to advise the Queen on who she should call for next. I expect she would do so according to her best assessment of the lay of the land. As an instinctive conservative, she would want to help the monarchy as best she could.

Theresa May could not be expected to hurry to that point though: she never has believed in hurrying. It would not help Jeremy Corbyn if the time established that he was not going to able to command a majority: as she is a Conservative as well as a conservative, this would be a welcome effect for her.

Conversely, extra time might help the unreconciled Remainers whose support spans four or more parties in identifying a potential candidate to lead them and a prospectus to sell to possible supporters. The experience of the 2016 Labour leadership challenge is that on the Labour side at least those MPs are poorly organised when time is of the essence. They chose a weak candidate by a shambolic process who was comfortably defeated – perhaps they have planned better this time around but candidly I doubt it.   

This is perhaps their biggest obstacle – if they are to persuade foot soldiers of the two main parties to work with them, they are going to need to offer someone who they will feel good about getting behind even on a limited prospectus. The problem is easier to identify than the solution.

The party hierarchies would have time to issue such threats as they thought would be effective. We would soon find out what was left of party discipline. With the stakes so high, my guess is that both parties would find their structures under severe strain.

A lot of briefing and disinformation would be done through the media during this period. For that reason, we should consider now what different groupings really want or would settle for. For example, what would the DUP like best? My guess is that they would be very happy to have another general election to see the clock tick down on a no-deal Brexit and will vote accordingly – some of the hardline Leave Conservative MPs might well try to do the same thing.  

What about the SNP?  They have a hard call to make – do they seek to support Jeremy Corbyn as the rope supports the hanged man, do they support a fresh referendum establishing the principle that generations can be very short indeed, or, like the DUP, do they also seek a general election with all the chaos that would produce? On balance I think they will look for a fresh referendum, but I might easily be wrong about that.

And what of the quiet pragmatic MPs in both main parties? Would they countenance an outcome that led to no deal Brexit? They would have a huge decision: would they throw in their lot with their party hierarchies and risk no-deal or would they seek a different outcome at the risk of their careers and their party loyalties?

Don’t forget the single most important thing, Theresa May’s role. She is not a chess piece, she has agency. If she is unable to form a government on her own terms, her own second or third preference might ultimately prove crucial. Might she ultimately offer herself as a temporary Prime Minister to effect a second referendum? It might solve several problems at once, while creating many more. What, ultimately, is her best alternative to a negotiated agreement in these circumstances?

It would be, I confess, utterly fascinating. The temptation to put pennies on the railway lines, just to see what would happen, must be enormous for deeply unhappy MPs. The risk of a train wreck would be huge. Buckle up.

Alastair Meeks


PB 2018 betting review: Brexit – whether it will happen on time and the chances of a second referendum

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

With brexit being just about the only political story in the UK during 2018 it is inevitable that there has been a lot of betting attention. In the charts above I feature two markets. First whether Britain will actually leave the EU as planned on March 29th and second on the chances of a second referendum.

As can be seen in the top chart punters saw Brexit not happening on the due date as favourite till the final week in March. We then had crossover with Yes it would happen being rated at at least a 50% chance right through until the start of December when TMay’s massive Commons challenges changed perceptions.

Given that if a deal is not agreed by MPs before March 29th that the Article 50 process lays down that we exit then anyway then my view is that punters have not go this right. There needs to be a new intervention agreed by the Commons to stop no deal coming about and that could be challenging.

    TMay’s strategy is to play for time. As the days run out and a no deal looks more likely then she hopes that MPs will back whatever is on the table then to avoid an automatic exit without an agreement. I think there’s a good chance she’ll succeed.

Corbyn faces the dilemma of not being seen to back the Tories and LAB not being held responsible for a no-deal Brexit. If, indeed, there is a 2019 election Labour’s going to struggle to hold those who voted for the party in 2017 because they saw it as the best way to impede Brexit.

The latter market on a second referendum was only put up in mid November when it became apparent that there was no chance of a second referendum in 2018 which was subject to an earlier market. The most the chances of the latter happening ever reached was 16.4% and it never really became active. Clearly the timings meant the chances of a referendum during the current year were very limited indeed.

The new market has seen as seen a fair amount of activity with a quarter of million pounds being wagered on Betfair since it went up. PB’s Alastair Meeks thinks it will happen while David Herdson thinks it won’t. I’m inclined to go with David.

Once again the charts tracking Betfair exchange movements are from

Mike Smithson


After Thursday’s Alastair Meeks 2019 predictions David Herdson takes a very different view of what the New Year will bring

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Get ready for the most dramatic year in UK politics for decades

2018 was boring, wasn’t it? No leadership change among the three main parties for the first time in four years, only the third year this decade without a general election or a major referendum, and not even the distraction of a big foreign election (the best on offer was the Italian election, which also produced the only change among the G7 leaders).

Except of course it wasn’t. True, we didn’t get the denouements to the main current political stories but they’ve all now been set up. 2018 felt very much like Act III of a four-Act drama: a few second-tier characters were bumped off along the way (we assume) but the momentum is inescapably towards several titanic collisions in the final Act, where nothing can be taken for granted.

This does make predicting the year’s events more tricky than normal. Both the level and the intensity of the uncertainty mean that small changes early on can change the whole complexion of how the year pans out. For that reason, my own predictions look very different to those that Alastair wrote about earlier in the week, despite me agreeing with much of what he says. But one early difference propels my thoughts down very different lines. So, what are they?

(Two quick disclaimers here: firstly, while I’m writing with the language of certainty – ‘X will happen’ – this is shorthand for ‘I believe is most likely to happen of the various possibilities’, which might well be a sub-50 per cent shot; and secondly, these are related contingencies, so something up the line failing will heaving impinge on the predictions that follow)

1. Britain will leave the EU on or shortly after March 29

Brexit will dominate 2019 and especially the first half of the year but as ever, with more noise than light. The PM will fail to get her Deal agreed in January as much the same coalition who were opposed to it in December regather. That will begin the first real panic outside of Westminster, as No Deal really does begin to loom, not least because at that point I expect the PM to make it the government’s central planning expectation. This will not please the many MPs who are adamantly opposed to a No Deal outcome but the advantage of legislative inertia rests with the government and the Hard Leavers (though not entirely – the government needs its own legislation through to implement Brexit). Logic also works against the anti-No Deal majority, in that it is difficult to legislate against a negative outcome other than through positive support for an alternative, and there is no consensus on that alternative and the government is determined to keep the only other option as its own deal.

2 The government will get its Brexit Deal approved

What will ultimately resolve the debate in the government’s favour is there is no alternative. There is no negotiating space for any other deal under current Commons maths and if the PM tried to revoke Article 50, her party would oust her either by mass cabinet resignations or by a Vote of No Confidence (ignore the 12-month ‘protection’: if there’s a majority to NC her, there’s a majority to change that rule). In any case, while the PM has performed plenty of U-turns in her time, she’s also proven stubbornly committed to other policies where she sees it as integral to her political persona. I believe she sees implementing the result of the referendum as one such policy.

So while the government will lose in January, the Deal will remain on the table and with sizable numbers implacably hostile to both No Deal and Remain, ultimately a grudging majority will develop around the only other option. It may be that it takes until after March 29 for that majority – which must inevitably include a substantial number of Labour MPs – to come about, but come about it will. (This final scenario assumes that the EU would be willing to still sign off on a deal that had technically lapsed, should Britain leave on March 29 with no deal agreed; I think it would, as it’s by far the easiest and quickest solution).

3.There will be no second referendum

The logic for a second referendum has always been flawed. The idea that because parliament can’t decide, the matter should be referred back to the people only makes sense if the people have a clear preference (which they don’t), if there is a simple binary choice to be made (there isn’t), and if parliament is determined to implement the public decision, which if it was it wouldn’t need to ask them in the first place. And that’s besides the substantial risk of the public endorsing a No Deal outcome, or the damage that an even more divisive campaign than the first referendum would do to the British body politic. Besides, it’s extremely hard to practically legislate for a referendum while the ratification process is still ongoing but once that process is over, the need for a public vote to ratify it vanishes.

4.There will be no Government of National Unity

One of the more fanciful staples of Brexit prediction is of a centrist National Government forming in order to see Brexit through (or reversed). For practical purposes, as mentioned above, I think May will achieve the effect without the need for the reality. However, it wouldn’t happen anyway for the simple reason that there is no national unity and there’s no consensus on what the problem is, never mind the solution (is the problem how to implement Brexit, or is it Brexit itself?). Nor does a GNU work on narrower partisan grounds, as it requires both main parties to split – yet as soon as one does, that gives a massive incentive to the other not to.

5.There will, however, be a general election

All prime ministers survive by retaining at all times the support of two essential groups: their Party (in whatever form that Party’s constitution mandates), and the House of Commons. Theresa May’s survival through 2018 depended on retaining the support of a majority of her own MPs, which she just managed, and also keeping the Dup onside, which she also only just managed – and that only because her Brexit Deal didn’t come to the crunch. If 2019 prompts a choice between the DUP and her Brexit Deal – and it probably will – I expect her to go for the latter. This will trigger the loss of DUP support, which will in turn produce at some point shortly afterwards a Vote of No Confidence, which the government will lose. It’s possible that Corbyn might try to form a government but in these circumstances, with Brexit effectively sealed, the DUP would have no interest in installing him, particularly with Corbyn’s own star waning within Labour.

6.A general election is so unpredictable as to be uncallable

Much as I would like to give a prediction for something that could happen within the next six months, the contingencies at this stage become simply too great. We don’t know what would happen within the two-week post-VoNC period – would the Tories try to replace their leader with a consensus candidate? If so, who? – we don’t know how a post-Brexit election would play out with both main parties having parted significantly from their core vote: the Tories delivering only a partial Brexit, which Labour MPs would have enabled and Corbyn would appear particularly culpable for, having given no practical succour to Continuity Remainers. We shouldn’t expect a re-run of 2017. On the other hand, nor should we expect anything like normal either.

7.At least one and perhaps all three main party leaders will go

In many ways, it’s remarkable that the May-Corbyn-Cable collective have survived this long. Corbyn should have been ousted in 2016 when the great majority of his MPs No Confidenced him, May should have gone after the bungled election last year, and Cable has proven utterly ineffective against two weak leaders and with the Remain field to himself. 2019 will leave no place to hide. Possibly the ructions of the year will enable one leader to ride the waves sufficiently effectively to survive but both the risks are such that the likelihood is that at least one, probably two and possibly all three won’t. Again, because so much depends on the circumstances in which they go, I’m not going to name names here as there’s not space to look at probabilities in the round.

8.There will be no major realignment of the parties

Despite all of what’s gone before, the rule that ‘things don’t happen as much as generally expected’ still applies. In this case, the party structure is resilient. Certainly, there is a divide within the public between Leavers and Remainers (or, as we go forward, between Stay-Outs and Back-Ins), and that divide doesn’t neatly fit the party structure which is still based largely on economic and social domestic policy. Even so, important though Brexit is, it’s not so defining as to break the party system. To the extent that the realignment that’s already begun will continue, it’ll happen using the existing parties (the exception might be UKIP, though that’s a fringe case).

One of the Christmas cards I received this year wished me a dull, dull 2019, alluding (I hope) to Brexit and the famed Chinese proverb. It will be, I fear, a wish in vain.

David Herdson


Bernie Sanders reported to be struggling to hang on to his WH2016 backers as he ponders WH2020

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Next year 2019 one of the big US events that will dominate political betting will be the fight for the WH2020 Democratic party nomination. The early polling here is really not that useful because it is mostly about name recognition and one of the big names is Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont.

He far exceeded expectations in the Democratic primary battle with Hillary Clinton and the question is whether the 77 year old will throw his hat into the ring. One of his initial problems according to the New York Times is hanging onto to all those who backed him last time. The paper notes:

“Mr. Sanders may have been the runner-up in the last Democratic primary, but instead of expanding his nucleus of support, in the fashion of most repeat candidates, the Vermont senator is struggling to retain even what he garnered two years ago, when he was far less of a political star than he is today.

“It’s not a given that I’m going to support Bernie just because I did before,” said Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman. “There are going to be plenty of people to look at and to listen to. I’m currently open at this point, and I think the majority of people are.”

As Mr. Sanders considers a second bid for the White House, he and his advisers are grappling with the political reality that he would face a far different electoral landscape than in 2016. Rather than being the only progressive opponent to an establishment-backed front-runner, the Vermont Independent would join what may be the most crowded, fractured and uncertain Democratic primary in the last quarter-century..”

A big driver is that the party desperately wants to win back the White House and get rid of Trump. The question is whether Bernie is seen as the man to do that.

An early battle is already going on with Sander’s people doing their best to undermine Beto O’Rourke who is currently joint favourite in the nomination betting. This is from Jonathan Chait in New York Intelligencer:

“The rise of Beto O’Rourke poses an obvious threat. The Texas congressman has replicated aspects of Sanders’s appeal — his positivity and refusal to accept PAC money — while exceeding it in some ways. Sanders is charismatic in an unconventional way, the slovenly and cranky but somewhat lovable old uncle, while O’Rourke projects a classic handsome, toothy, Kennedy-esque charm that reliably makes Democrats swoon. Hard-core loyalists find the contrast irksome…”

My guess is that Sanders would struggle against O’Rourke and I don’t think the former will succeed but I might be wrong.

I have four or five WH2020 bets all at longish ones my best being 66/1 on Kamala Harris.

Mike Smithson