Archive for January, 2019


The ERG, the new Militant tendency?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Last year I called Jeremy Corbyn the new Maggie.  I don’t suppose that will be appearing on the side of a Labour election battle bus any time soon. A pity.  The Twitterstorm that would have followed would have been such fun. So let’s see if I can be even more provoking this year.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Derek Hatton have a surprising amount in common: their Catholicism (Jacob modelling himself on Waugh’s Bridey, Derek coming from the cradle Irish Catholic strand, to be replaced in teenage years by a belief in another unattainable utopia – socialism), their large families and sharp suiting, as well as a fondness for making money and enjoying its fruits. And politically?  Well, there too they are more alike than either might like to admit.  Both like Mrs Thatcher, for instance. Hatton has gone on record to describe her as absolutely brilliant“.

But it is in their impact on their respective parties that they and the groups to which they belong and whose public face they are or were that they most resemble each other.

A party within a party: Militant was undoubtedly that and pretty open about its desire to replace what its adherents thought of as soggy Labour policies with a sharper-edged Trotskyist viewpoint and policies.  (Rees-Mogg berating a Tory PM for turning red lines pink echoed another toff, Tony Benn, castigating Labour leaders for not being socialist enough.) It successfully infiltrated Labour, got its representatives elected and had some sympathetic listeners within the party hierarchy – at least for a time.

The ERG describes itself as a research support group. But what’s in a name, eh?  In the way it has conducted itself it behaves like a party – with a leader, always willing to appear on television, to give a soundbite, however nonsensical (I am particularly fond of the “constitutional norms” Jacob invented last December to justify his claim that a party leader winning a party vote of confidence should resign), to present its programme and views and what it will or will not accept from the government (giving the impression that it is quite separate from the government and party to which it nominally belongs), a ruthless Whip-like figure (Baker) and lofty announcements about who its members will support for leader.  It often feels that the Europe the PM is really negotiating with is located in SW1 not Brussels.

Electoral success – up to a point.  In Liverpool for a time Hatton was king of all he surveyed.    And there were other councils where Militant made its mark – all within 20 years of its creation.  The goings on of loony-left Labour councils were a staple of newspapers in the 1980’s and not all of it was invented.  In the 25 years since the ERG was created the Tory party has been turned into a largely Eurosceptic party where membership of the EU is seen as a bizarre, unBritish and quasi-traitorous pursuit. And this has not dented – so far – its ability to win power, even if by the skin of its teeth.

A love for ideology; a disdain for practicalities. Not surprising for a Trotskyist groupuscule. Though it is worth noting that for a time Militant gave its voters – at least in Liverpool – some of what they wanted.  Until the money ran out. Or the evil Tory government denied an oppressed city the funds it needed.  (Take your pick.). But to see a nominal Tory place ideology over what works is a strange development.

It is a rather European stance, it has to be said – a fondness for the grand projet, complete with stirring music and sonorous words. Brexit presents a wonderful opportunity says Jacob, while ensuring his own fund is located within the entity he wishes others to escape from.  And even in that small – but telling – hypocrisy he mirrors Hatton’s own fondness for celebrity and opportunity while sacked Liverpudlian workers had to live on meagre rations.

A tendency to overreach. All good things come to an end.  Hatton and his gang were disqualified.  The money did run out. And the Labour leader excoriated the selfish, self-serving, harming and dishonest thinking behind it all in one of the finest and bravest post-war political speeches.

Too soon to say if the ERG has done the same. Brexit is on the statute book.  It does not need a withdrawal deal to happen. Perhaps the ERG has been cannier than all those MPs voting for it in the expectation that a deal would be done but without making that requirement explicit. Perhaps.

But if a No Deal Brexit is not the success the ERG expects; if it is – as others have suggested – chaotic or disastrous, if voters turn away from the reality of it, the ERG’s victory could quickly turn sour. If it doesn’t happen at all because the ERG wanted the perfect rather than the good enough or even the so-so or the “we can live with this”, well, all its efforts will have been wasted. Though the cost to the country will still be high.

Long-term damage to the party. The antics of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s cost Labour three, arguably, four elections.  Even now the Tories still hope to paint Labour as a party doomed to lead the country into chaos on the basis of events occurring long before many of today’s voters were born. After all, they say to themselves, Corbyn was rather more sympathetic to Militant than to the Labour leadership. This is true. But their hope that this will help them is a vain one.

The ERG’s stranglehold on the Tory party may be successful now but it comes at a cost. In its obsessive focus on one issue, to the exclusion of anything else, its almost religious fervour in pursuing its ideological hatred of the EU and in castigating opponents as lacking in decency or patriotism, as being somehow wicked rather than having a different opinion.

In its refusal to compromise, in its willingness to see conspiracies to do “the People” down, in its obliviousness to the consequences of its desired end on the real live individuals who make up “the People”, in its lack of understanding of complexities, its refusal to listen to those with actual knowledge, in its disdain for business, for those who earn the money that keeps the country afloat, in its assumption that others must be acting in bad faith when not agreeing with what it proposes, its almost Manichean division of the world into “us” and “them”, the ERG has turned the Tories into a party which has copied all the worst aspects of Labour but without any of its redeeming qualities. This is no basis for success, not long-term anyway. 

Labour did eventually get a leader brave enough to speak truth to power. Kinnock reminded them that voters want a party with a heart but they want some basic competence too. Militant was expelled. But it still took a decade for Labour to gain power. The Tories are running scared of their own fanatics. 

They seem to think that not only can they do without the heart but without the competence and sensible pragmatism as well. They seem to think that once Brexit is over (ha!) they can go back to governing and winning elections.  They badly need their own Kinnock to speak some hard truths to them. Well, while waiting for him or her to emerge, how about this: “You can’t play politics with peoples’ jobs and peoples’ services.”



Kamala Harris makes strong start to her WH2020 campaign and is already attracting endorsements

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

My 66/1 tip from January 2017 now the clear frontrunner

Even though we are a year off the first WH2020 primaries the former Attorney General for California and now Senator, Kamala Harris, is top slot in the betting and in pole position for the Democratic party nomination.

Her campaign was launched a week last Monday and on Sunday a crowd estimated at 20k turned up in her home city of Oakland for her first campaign rally. Last night she appeared at a CNN Town Hall in Iowa (see pic) – the state that, of course, is the first to decide in the nomination race.

Her campaign has also made key hirings of political professionals for Iowa and is starting to get endorsements.

    All of this puts her well ahead of the other likely contenders and might well be a factor in determining how many others want to run against her.

If she starts to look almost invincible then that will play a big part in the decisions of maybe two dozen potential other challengers. She is certainly being treated by the media as the clear frontrunner which means that what she does and says gets a lot more coverage.

A big danger of being in this position is that her opponents for both the nomination and the White House do deep opposition research to find things that could impede the campaign. That’s already started and she can expect her every action while Californian Attorney-General to be scrutinised.

I just wonder how 76 year old Joe Biden and 77 year old Bernie Sanders are viewing the rise of Harris. My guess is that the former, at least, might decide that its not worth the effort. Bernie, who played a big part in Trump’s victory at WH2016, will probably try again.

Exactly two years ago I tipped her here when Kamala was 66/1, I’m hoping to be able to refer to that post again!

Mike Smithson


The HealthSec announces that medicines will be prioritised over food in the event of no deal

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Putting the pressure on ahead of tomorrow’s votes?

Maybe this is all about getting MPs to face up to what no deal really means but the statement by Health Sec Hancock really brings home the potential crisis. That a choice might have to be made between food and medicines is decidedly scary.

This is from the Guardian report of how HealthSec Hancock responded when questioned:

Hancock replied: “Of course medicines will be prioritised. And we have been through detailed, line-by-line analysis of the 12,000 licensed medicines in the UK. In fact we had our latest meeting on it this morning, the three of us were there, in order to ensure there is a plan for the continuity for all medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Britain gets far more of its pharmaceuticals from or via the EU compared with its supply of food, said Hancock. About half of all the drugs that the NHS uses are imported from or “have some touchpoint with the EU”, he added.

As someone who has two acute medical conditions that are kept under control by medications I am concerned. No doubt there are many other PBers in similar positions.

Whatever this is ratcheting up the ante ahead of tomorrow’s votes and I don’t find this a coincidence. The more there’s panic over no deal the more individual MPs will focus on how they cast their votes.

Mike Smithson


“TMay exit” level-pegging with “UK leaving the EU” on the which’ll happen first betting market

Monday, January 28th, 2019

This Betfair exchange market is one of of my current favourites because it combines what is overwhelmingly the big UK political issue for many years, Brexit, with the future of TMay.

    On the face of it the UK actually leaving the EU appears a better bet to happen first than TMay stepping aside. For before Christmas she got immunity for a year after surviving the confidence vote amongst CON MPs.

    This compares with the UK’s EU exit date being enshrined in law as being March 29th. Maybe the Commons this week will make moves to change the law but that is far from certain.

Giving what we know of TMay is that she she is extremely resilient and it is hard to see her standing down in the short to medium term unless she is absolutely forced to.

Brexit, of course, is a unique matter because of the scale of the constitutional change and the struggle that the PM has had in getting anything through the Commons. Everything seems to get rejected and nothing appears to be able to command the support of a majority of the whole house.

The latter might just change if one of the amendments being voted on tomorrow night gets through.

There are two forces at work here: the LAB leadership which has been very reluctant to do anything that impedes Brexit in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Labour voters at the last election are opposed to it. The other factor is Moggsy’s ERG group of CON who seem to want a No Deal Brexit.

I think Brexit will happen before TMay goes.

Mike Smithson


With 60 days to go the uncertainty is greater than ever

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Ahead of the crunch parliamentary week punters don’t think the March 29 exit will happen

One of the good things about betting trend charts is that they are a way of seeing how opinions, at least of those who ready to risk money betting on politics, are developing over time.

We are today exactly 60 days before the Article 50 deadline expires when the UK is due to leave the EU. Yet it is still far from clear whether that is going to happen on that date, whether it will be deferred and what the terms will be. Will, for instance, the UK still be in the customs union?

    Thus on October 11th last year punters rated it a 71% chance that the country would be out on March 29th. That’s now moved to, as I write, a 21.3% chance which is a huge change.

The time is running out. Even if MPs now accept Mrs. May’s deal then there is almost certainly not the parliamentary time available to amend the relevant legislation for the new post EU relationship.

The PM’s strategy throughout has been to let the time pass by so it becomes much harder for MPs to allow Brexit to happen without a deal. Whether that will be affected by this week’s Commons votes is hard to say.

A massive vote tomorrow will be on the Yvette Cooper amendment which seeks to delay the exit date. The Times is reporting:

“MPs who are loyal at present to the prime minister will get behind alternative plans for leaving the European Union if a proposal by the former Labour cabinet minister Yvette Cooper results in a delay to the withdrawal date.

One MP who voted for the deal two weeks ago said that they could not afford to wait for Mrs May to try to secure more concessions on the Irish backstop before mobilising behind a softer Brexit. “How long do we have to wait? People on the moderate and centre wing of the party are not going to wait until mid-March,” they said. “We’re just not.”

Another market on the Betfair exchange has it as just a 15% chance that we’ll have a no-deal Brexit by March 30th.

Mike Smithson


Ten minisisters ready to tell TMay that they’ll resign unless there’s a deal within a fortnight

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

The pressure’s now coming from those who backed remain

The Telegraph is reporting details of at telephone conference call earlier this evening by about a dozen ministers who are pro-European. They include Amber Rudd and Greg Clark the Business Secretary.

Basically they want the PM to commit to securing her Brussels deal within just two weeks. If that doesn’t happen then they will resign.The paper’s Steven Swinford notes:

“Ms Rudd and other Cabinet ministers have previously warned that as many as 20 ministers could quit so they can support the amendment tabled on Tuesday by Yvette Cooper, a senior Labour MP.

However the ministers agreed that they were prepared to effectively delay their rebellion over the amendment if the Prime Minister commits to holding a second meaningful vote within two weeks.”

This all comes at a crucial time in the Commons with a series of votes this week.

It is hard to say how TMay will react though this isn’t by any means the first time she has had to face resignation threats.

Mike Smithson


Sherrod Brown, victor in Ohio last November, looks increasingly like a good bet for WH2020

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

I’ve had quite a few long shot bets on the next White House Race but the one I am becoming increasingly confident about is Sherrod Brown Who last November held his Ohio senate seat by a margin of 6%. What makes this striking is that at WH2016 Trump took the state with a margin of 8 points. If anyone can win the rust belt back for the Democrats then it’s Brown.

So far he’s not formally put his hat into the ring but he is making the usual tour of the first primary state and doing TV spots like the one last night on CNN shown above.

What I believe will be the dominant factor in the Democratic primaries, due to start almost exactly a year from now in Iowa, will be perceived electability. The party desperately wants somebody who can beat the current incumbent and few of the field that have so far declared have credentials on that score anything like as good as Brown’s.

For many years, Ohio was absolutely central to the Democrats in presidential campaigns but that changed with Trump. Brown is presenting himself as the answer and he maybe right.

His wife, Pulitzer-winning columnist, Connie Schultz, looks as though she could play a key part in a campaign.

I don’t attach much value to polls at this stage. The late-70s oldies, Sanders and Biden, rate highly at the moment because of name recognition.

Betfair currently have Brown at 35/1 to win WH2016 which I regard as value.

Can I add that me suggesting that a bet is good value is NOT me making a prediction. I am just looking at the odds available and assessing whether what's being offered is better than my assessment of the chances.

Mike Smithson


Disastrously successful. The EU’s Brexit negotiation

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

I’m going to go all Godwin on you. Sorry. When people talk about the causes of World War Two, they often mention how Hitler was emboldened by his early success remilitarising the Rhineland without any real consequence, showing that the Treaty of Versailles was violable. This was not, however, the first occasion on which the settlement of the First World War was set aside by the losers.

At 100 years’ distance, Germany was the loser of the First World War that looks to have got off by some way the lightest. Both the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Ottoman empire were dismembered. The Treaty of Trianon still rankles with many Hungarians to this day. The Treaty of Sèvres, which was the first attempt to deal with the position of Turkey, never got to be fully implemented.

The terms of Sèvres were brutal to the Turks. Not only was the Ottoman empire dismantled, Anatolia itself was carved up with the bulk of it put in Italian, French and British zones of influence. Armenia was handed a large chunk of modern north east Turkey. A new Kurdistan, borders to be confirmed, was mooted. The Straits were made into an international zone. Substantially all of Eastern Thrace, Turkey’s European possessions, were to be given to Greece, along with almost all the Aegean islands. Smyrna, the area of Anatolia around Izmir, was to be put in a Greek zone of influence with a referendum to be held as to whether to join Greece.

It was a triumph of negotiation for the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos. A triumph, and a disaster. For the Greeks simply did not have the might and main to hold what they had negotiated. The insurgent Turkish forces under Kemal Ataturk swept the old regime away and drove the Greeks from Anatolia, then forced the Allies to restore Eastern Thrace to them also. There followed massive population exchanges between Greece and Turkey, bringing to an end more than 2000 years worth of Greek presence on the Anatolian coast.

This was not just a matter of local interest. It directly led to the fall of Lloyd George and of the ending of a common foreign policy between Britain and the Dominions. Most importantly, it showed that the post-war settlement was not set in tablets of stone but very much mutable. Long before the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, the precedent had been set.

The EU in general and Ireland in particular seem to have made the same mistake in negotiating the terms of Brexit as Venizelos made. The best outcome is one that will actually stick, not the one with nominally the most favourable terms. It has been apparent for a very long time that Theresa May is not in secure control of Parliament and to proceed as if she is was reckless.

Parliament has rejected the negotiated deal by a massive majority. It will be asked to consider it again next week and all the signs are that it will reject it by a similarly massive majority next week too, or possibly passing it by tacking on a proviso that the EU has repeatedly ruled out as unacceptable.

What next? The EU is currently taking the line that it is for Britain to come up with a new position.  Certainly Britain needs to do that. This mess, however, is as much of the EU’s making as it is Britain’s and if Britain were to leave with no deal on 29 March 2019 that would be a disaster for the EU, creating a new alienated power on its west flank, acting as a surly bookend to match Russia. Never mind the economic fallout, the geopolitics would be grisly. It would be the most consequential new faultline in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The consequences for Ireland specifically look potentially even worse. Geographically cut off from the rest of the EU, and facing a new age with worse relations with its closest neighbour and second biggest trading partner than it has had in living memory, Brexit could turn out to be even worse than Ireland had feared as its worst case scenario.

Even if the deal is somehow resuscitated, which currently feels like an attempt to defibrillate a skeleton, it is apparent that British politicians share a consensus of loathing for it. It looks like the reverse of a lasting settlement, one to be picked apart over years and decades. It would suck time, energy and goodwill out of the relationship between Britain and the EU and cause lasting damage to both sides.

It takes two to disentangle and the EU needs to start rethinking and rethinking fast.  Unfortunately, neither the EU nor the UK protagonists are noted for their agility of thought and action.

There was a lot of criticism of David Cameron as being an essay crisis Prime Minister. Right now I for one would be fully in favour of having an essay crisis Prime Minister: it is exactly what the time requires. Is there any chance of luring him out from his shed?

Alastair Meeks