Archive for May, 2019


The Tories wiped out in London as Mike Smithson wins his bet on the Lib Dems winning London

Sunday, May 26th, 2019


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Two party politics is still with us, except this time the two parties are the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

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Maastricht Redux

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Once upon a time there was a stubborn female PM annoying the hell out of her colleagues. A junior Minister was even overheard calling her “a cow” and wishing she would resign. She was determinedly pursuing and arguing for an initially popular pledge – abolition of the rates – by means of a ferociously unpopular policy: the poll tax. No-one was convinced. Tory MPs looked nervously at their majorities, their annoyed constituents and wondered why she would not listen.

A feeble attempt to unseat her had recently failed. She ignored the warning signs. Then an argument about European policy (ERM membership and the EU’s plans for Economic and Monetary Union) combined with her brutal treatment of loyal colleagues and a recession, led to her departure. Tears were shed. The long-standing blond favourite – self-promoting, prone to flamboyant gestures, nakedly ambitious, a darling of the members for his theatrical speeches and with a flouncy resignation out of Cabinet to his name – was waiting in the wings. He was beaten by a less flashy, largely unknown successor who promised to unite the country and make it feel at ease with itself.

There was, alas, no happy ending – for the successor, the party or the country.  The successor stuck with ERM membership, despite the economic pain it was inflicting. He became hubristic – especially after his election victory – even suggesting in a TV interview that summer of 1992 that the pound would one day be as strong as the Deutschmark and might replace it as the ERM’s anchor currency. Oh dear.

Much as happened to other British Ministers since, this delusion about Britain’s importance was brutally dispatched by the German Foreign Minister in his TV interview shortly after. Nemesis followed: humiliation in Europe, billions spent pointlessly, a reputation for economic competence (already wearing thin) thrown away, hand to hand combat in Parliament over the Maastricht Treaty with a vociferous group of his own MPs, convinced that the EU was the source of all the country’s problems.

No matter that ERM membership had been supported by a majority, including opposition parties. Its consequences (high interest rates, lost jobs, homeowners with negative equity) were not at all what voters wanted or expected.  The government was blamed.  It limped on – in office but not in power – until finally put out of its misery by a toothy, grinning newcomer with a gift for the pithy phrase and making people feel good about themselves. It was 23 years before it won a majority again.

Surely things are different now?  But no.  Mrs May – a bloody difficult woman, determined yet unpersuasive, only at her departure finally understanding that politics is the art of the possible – has, like the first female PM before her, been felled by her party’s inability to handle yet another European issue.  So what now?

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In 1990 MPs decided on the leader; this at least had the virtue that they knew close up the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and would have to live with the consequences of their decision. Now it has been delegated to circa 150,000 members, mostly at or near pensionable age, a significant proportion of whom may not even have voted Tory in the Euro elections, unrepresentative of the wider electorate, and who will not have to live with the consequences in Parliament.

An odd way to choose a leader who, as PM, needs to command a majority in the House but who may not have commanded a majority of their MPs.  There may not be much difference in practice.  Members gave the Tories Ian Duncan-Smith; MPs chose May.  In both cases, the electorate gave scant thought to the country’s needs. They seem intent on repeating that mistake. It is not enough to be different to one’s predecessor.

May has no charisma, Boris plenty.  May lost a majority, Boris won London twice.  May never believed in Brexit, Boris does (we hope). Tory voters have deserted the party for Farage so we must offer what Farage is offering. So Boris it must be. This seems to be the thinking (to be kind) of those Tories desperate for a way out. Boris has cut his hair and promised to be more disciplined.  This is leadership Just William-style.

Perhaps other candidates could outbid him by promising to have regular baths and say their prayers before bedtime.  Little thought is given to how to resolve the problem which confronted Mrs May and will confront any new leader – how to leave the EU on good terms and get support for this in the EU and Parliament.

May’s failure is put down to her character and lack of belief not the complexity of the task.  JFDI [1] seems to be all that is required.  If leaving on bad terms is what that means, too bad. It is a quite extraordinary approach for a party with “conservative” in its name.

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Black Wednesday and the Maastricht Treaty are often seen as when Euroscepticism gained a hold in British politics.  But something more insidious also developed: the art of knowing what you are against but not knowing what you are for.

So busy was Major fighting for an opt-out from the euro and the Social Chapter, so exhausted was he coming up with a compromise which would keep the party together and dampen down any discussion about the EU’s trajectory, so focused on the process of winning Parliamentary approval, that he utterly failed to explain or make the case for what Maastricht did change: the start of the creation of a European identity for its citizens and their ability to move, live and work freely in all its member states.

The case for Freedom of Movement, for a European identity, for the EU which was being created was never made until it was far too late, a point which scuppered Remainers long before the referendum campaign’s start. They too adopted the tactics of the Eurosceptics: only they were against those who wanted to leave the EU.  Hard not to make that look like contempt for voters and their choices.  It has been the rocket fuel for Farage’s comeback.

Now they are at it again. Everyone hates the Withdrawal Agreement, the Irish backstop.  Not a proper Brexit.  Nor what the people wanted, apparently.  Some even now hate the Good Friday Agreement (a major diplomatic triumph whose foundations were built by poor doomed Mr Major).  Others simply hate the idea of having any sort of agreement at all with the EU because it would involve compromise. The Brexiteers have adopted Maggie’s “No. No. No.” and turned into a manifesto. Others hate a No Deal Brexit or Brexit at all and plot to get it stopped.

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How does one leave the EU?  You’d have thought that those agitating for it so vociferously and for such a long time would know by now.  But no. It’s as if departure from the EU is the end state, now seemingly without even a transition to ease the passing from the status quo to, well, what? All the focus is on the exit door, not what’s on the other side.

How a country built around EU membership for 46 years can suddenly go from that to non-membership literally overnight is never explained. We are meant to take it on trust that there is an economic Eden there just waiting. There may be some disruption says Theresa Villiers but, when asked on The Week in Westminster how much disruption was acceptable, she declined to answer.  It cannot be long now before we get a fresh airing of “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working.”

It is not even clear whether a deal of any type with the EU will be acceptable or even sought. We are meant to believe that the EU, having been snubbed over the transition, will bother to start the tortuous process of negotiating an FTA.  It’s assumed that Brexit will be done once Britain departs when surely it will be the start of something new and unprecedented. None of its proponents seem to have given the slightest thought to or, if they have, bothered to communicate to voters what this new beginning will mean.

The most important lesson is perhaps this: any significant change in the country’s course needs more than Parliamentary approval or passage as the legal default to gain support.  It needs it from as many of those who are initially opposed or indifferent or sceptical as possible.  Without it, any change will be vulnerable to its first difficulties. Without it, it will not last.

If it is so hard to gain acceptance for departure with a transition deal, might some reflection be advisable?  Apparently not – at least for ardent Tory Brexiteers. There can be only one answer to that question. No. They now seem close to their No Deal Brexit but have little to say about what happens next.  They think the voters will reward them even if it turns out not to be a success.  Or as bad as some fear.  It’s a brave assumption to make.  And a shaky basis on which to build a lasting consensus.

[1]Just F*cking Do It



Remembering the time Boris Johnson implied Tory defectors to Farage’s party are the kind of people who have sex with vacuum cleaners

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

If as anticipated the Brexit party wins the European elections well ahead of the Conservatives then I expect the discussion will move towards who will be best placed to win the support of the Brexit Party’s voters and many will say Boris Johnson but that will be a mistake, here’s why.

Nigel Farage would ruthlessly exploit the past comments of Boris, for example the pre referendum comments by Boris Johnson about ‘support[ing] a second referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU even if the UK voted to leave.’

Then there’s Boris Johnson’s support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants which someone like Nigel Farage and his vast history of inflammatory rhetoric on immigration would ruthlessly exploit to portray Boris Johnson as another member of the liberal metropolitan elite.

Then there’s the comments in the video atop this thread about switchers to UKIP are the kind of people who have sex with vacuum cleaners. Whether fair or unfair that these defectors to Farage’s party are the sort of people who have sex with vacuum cleaners it has the potential to cause grief in the way David Cameron’s prescient comment about UKIP members being “a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” did.

In mitigation of Boris Johnson when he made these comments it was days after Mark Reckless defected from the Conservatives to UKIP at the start of the 2014 Conservative party conference.

Many Conservatives were very angry at Reckless, the normally mild mannered David Cameron said some very uncomplimentary things about Mark Reckless, another Tory MP said Mark Reckless is ‘a f**king c**t who deserves a hot poker up his arse’, my own views on the treachery of Mark Reckless were unfit to publish on a family friendly website like politicalbetting.

But the argument about Boris Johnson as Conservative leader being the panacea to getting back Conservative to Brexit party switchers doesn’t survive slight scrutiny, Nigel Farage will ensure that, Boris Johnson’s past gives Farage so much material.



Tory MP declarations of leadership contest support should be treated with a huge pinch of salt

Saturday, May 25th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

In 2005 DDavis had more public MPs supporters than actual voters

Just a day after Theresa May’s announcement that she is stepping down as CON leader and prime minister and even though it is a bank holiday weekend the fight for the succession has begun.

The first stage is the MP ballots to decide which two names will actually go to the membership in the postal election. Ahead of these we get the headcounts of CON MPs ready to declare publicly who they will be supporting and here Raab is currently leading Johnson by having one more public MP backer.

From past experience treat these numbers with great skepticism. Back in the 2005 contest David Davis had at the first stage 66 CON MPs publically backing him yet when the first round of the secret ballot took place just 62 had actually given him their votes. MPs fibbing – How can that be?

Tramadol Online Rx It is very easy for MPs with eyes to their future career to declare their public support for the contender they think is going to win even though privately they might be backing somebody else.

As can be seen from the chart Johnson is still the strong betting favourite but the market has moved away from him a touch.

It should be noted as well in party leadership contests that there can be efforts to manipulate the betting to suggest that one contender has more support than might be the case.

Mike Smithson


You think things are bad now?

Saturday, May 25th, 2019

A glimpse into the next four years (maybe)

Jess Philips had been to Number Ten before but not like this. Not in front of the microphones. Not at the centre of attention. Not as Prime Minister. Yet Prime Minister she was, newly returned from the Palace where the king had asked her to form a government and she’d said yes. Of course she had: for the first time in over a decade, Britain had a clear majority government. For the first time ever, that government would be led by the Democratic Alliance. For the fourth time in succession, and within three years, it would be led by a different party. It had been an amazing few years to witness, if not to live through.

Where did it all start to go wrong? That was a question academics and commentators would ask for decades. Iraq? The Poll Tax? The financial crash? Brexit? Maybe some; maybe all. What was certain was that by the summer of 2019, a very great many people were disillusioned with and disengaged from mainstream politics.

Indeed, some were – briefly at this point – disengaged from politics altogether, which was the least noticed but as it turned out most important of the three extraordinary features of the European elections that year. That the newly-formed Brexit Party won it was anticipated: they’d shot up from nowhere to poll ahead of their rivals about a month before polling day and then remained there. In fact, their 31% was slightly underwhelming after some polls had them well above that, even if it was the biggest share for any party at the EP elections in Britain this century. That the Lib Dems finished second was a bigger shock, albeit one flagged up as possible both in the polls and the local elections three weeks earlier. However the point no-one noticed but which they should have, was just what a tiny fraction of the 2016 Leave vote had backed any of the mainstream parties. Whether lost to abstentions or the Eurosceptic right, it was an ominous sign.

The Tories reacted to the deadlock in Brexit and the collapse in polling by picking Boris Johnson, marking it as unusual in actually endorsing the long-time favourite (in both senses). The defining incident came when he was knocked off his bike by a London bus, after exiting a one-way street the wrong way, which might have finished the chances of a lesser man but in this case both his own reaction to it, and also the cackhanded response of some of his principle rivals convinced Tory members that he was the ideal person to make the best of it. In retrospect, the metaphor was glaringly obvious.

Johnson made clear on taking office that No Deal was very much on the table if Britain couldn’t renegotiate the backstop, and that October really was the deadline: he wouldn’t be asking for any more extensions. The EU, via the polite but firm person of Michel Barnier, said ‘non’, well aware that Theresa May had been forced to request an extension (although she hadn’t been forced to accept the EU’s amended offer).

Summer came and went and though civil servants tried to impress on the PM that No Deal wasn’t just a concept but something that needed legislating for, the concerns were breezily brushed aside as the wifflings of defeatists. Instead, Johnson wrapped himself up in the Union Jack at the party conference and made an entertaining and rousing speech to the hall but one which was fatally incapable of winning support in either Europe or the Commons. It seemed as if No Deal was not just a regrettable possibility but the prime objective.

Corbyn, under pressure from Labour activists and MPs still unhappy with their own poor poll ratings and the loss of the Peterborough by-election by finally conceding the argument on a second EU referendum, a month before the UK was due to leave and one week after the buoyant Lib Dems formally switched their own policy to Revoke. It was too little too late.

Johnson, however, had overplayed his hand. Whereas Cameron and May could answer questions in the House for hour after hour – and Speaker Bercow ensured they did – Johnson’s assertions and lack of detail became weaker as he went on trying to respond to Keir Starmer’s Emergency Debate on No Deal preparations, eventually becoming flustered, irritated and blurting out that No Deal was a bloody good thing, while implicitly insulting the character and patriotism of those opposing it. That was too much for eight Tory MPs, most of whom were already under threat of deselection, who resigned the whip in protest.

That had tipped the balance. Parliament again responded by seizing control of the Commons’ business but this time, not trusting that the Prime Minister would be as biddable as Theresa May had been and well aware that a referendum Bill would be too complex to pass or implement in time, Dominic Grieve introduced the European Union (Revocation of Withdrawal Notice) Bill. Spooked by their haemorrhaging of support to the Lib Dems, Labour backed it, with the result that it passed the Commons by 3 votes, the Lords by substantially more and entered into law. Britain would stay, for now.

Corbyn (or, more accurately, Tom Watson) had, however, extracted a quid pro quo from the smaller parties in return for delivering the Revocation vote: their backing for a new Vote of No Confidence. Those votes were delivered and on November 5, Boris Johnson’s government fell. The Labour leader had argued that he should try to form a government and that even if he failed, there was a good chance that Labour could hold office during the subsequent election campaign. His advisors, however, felt that was too big a risk and that Johnson should be left to take the flak for his failure.

The advice was sound and the election that followed produced some of the most jaw-dropping results in British political history. Corbyn again campaigned hard but wasn’t able to quite capture the mood as in 2017. The country had moved on and the momentum was with the Lib Dems on the one hand, and the Brexit Party – appalled and angry at the betrayal of their 2016 vote – on the other. In between, the Tory vote fell to 14%, the Lib Dems 18%, the Brexit Party 25% and Labour 28%. Labour’s vote, however, was sufficiently lumpy to deliver 291 seats: enough with either the Lib Dems or SNP to form a majority.

The history of Corbyn’s government need not take long in the telling. Not unlike the previous Tory ones, it tried to be far too ambitious for the parliament it was accountable to and failed. It did increase taxes and spending. Unfortunately, it also took office just as the US-China trade war got nasty. Combined with its own crackdown on ‘dirty City money’, it inadvertently triggered a house price crash in London, which spread to the rest of the country and spawned a recession.

Not that that was what caused the government to fall: that was Corbyn’s increasing interest in solving the Middle East Crisis. As the economy at home worsened, pushing McDonnell to make increasingly confiscatory moves, Corbyn interested himself more and more abroad. His Middle East envoy George Galloway (“a man with a unique knowledge of the region”), worked tirelessly across the region’s five-star hotels to bring about reconciliation in Palestine. Remarkably, he achieved it too, persuading both Hamas and Fatah elements to engage in a co-operative process in return for British recognition of the Palestinian state and £2bn a year ‘compensation’ payments for 30 years (the same as the duration of the mandate). Unfortunately, the speeches at the state visit of the Palestinian president got a little out of hand, with the final straw being Corbyn’s refusal to criticise the Palestinian claim to the whole of Israeli land.

The Prime Minister was of course roundly attacked by Farage and the new Tory leader, Dominic Raab (Boris having become the first PM since Balfour to lose his seat), but it was the final unleashing of years of pent-up criticism from his own side that was fiercest. Vitriolic anger poured out, not so much about Corbyn’s (in)action itself but more as a final recognition that the Party was lost to the far left and was never coming back. That weekend, 78 Labour MPs resigned the whip and formed themselves into the Democratic party. The following Wednesday, the Labour government fell.

Whether the defectors would have made their move had they known what the new election would bring must be a moot point. Against the failure to deliver Brexit, the challenging of Britain’s history and values, and the declining economy, Farage’s Brexit Party was going from strength to strength. Sure, it had lost half a dozen MPs to one reason or another but that was to be expected of a new party. By contrast, the Tories, short on cash and on confidence, couldn’t decide whether to ape him or steer for the vacant centre-right. In the end, they tried to do both and confused everybody.

here As with Rachmaninov piano concertos or Indiana Jones films, Corbyn’s fourth effort at an election campaign was by far his weakest. With his own record to defend, it was far harder to pass the blame on. Worse, not only had Brexit not gone away, Farage was still making hay on the issue. The official Leader of the Opposition might have been Jo Swinson but it was Farage cutting through the media, appalling some, fascinating others, but getting his blame in time and again for ‘system’ politicians.

It worked, after a fashion. The Conservative Party vote had dwindled into single figures, splitting mostly between Farage as the force on the right, and the two allied centre-left parties, but that was enough, against four parties including the Greens on the left-of-centre to propel the Brexit Party into government.

Unsurprisingly, it failed too – though not after unilaterally triggering Article 50 again. It never had a stable majority and never got beyond slogans. Cutting taxes made little difference to their popularity and within six months, Farage was just another loud-mouthed failure.

They’d been hard years. Big issues had gone unresolved; small issues unaddressed. The economy was a wreck, after two aborted Brexit processes sandwiching a left-wing government. However, the populist storm had finally blown itself out and the Lib Dems and Democrats had united under the DA banner and Jess Philips’ leadership, come through the middle and won the third election in swift succession (the fifth if those of 2015 and 2017 were included). The people were finally ready for something a bit calmer: jobs, education, crime, the NHS. Politics like it used to be.

David Herdson

p.s. These are not predictions as such but I do think everything I’ve written could happen.
p.p.s. Shadsy quoted me an indicative 100/1 on the next four PMs being from different parties. If he were to firm that up, I think there’s some value there.


The Euro elections – what we know about turnout local authority by local authority

Friday, May 24th, 2019

This is a very useful piece of work and will be invaluable on Sunday night when the results come in.

Mike Smithson


Johnson now evens to succeed TMay as PM

Friday, May 24th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

But will he suffer the Tory front-runner curse?

This morning’s announcement by Mrs May that she is Stepping down did not come as a surprise and indeed there has been a lot of activity over her replacement over the past few weeks. On Betfair, the betting exchange where it is punters exchanging bets between themselves not the bookmakers who fix the odds, the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London is now evens favourite to be Britain’s next PM after a period when his odds have tightened rapidly.

The only problem he faces, of course, is what has become the curse that afflicts the front runners in Tory leadership races. Apart from Michael Howard in 2003 who was given a coronation the front runner in period leading up to the vacancy has never got it in modern times.

The first Tory leadership election after PB had been founded in 2004 was the one that succeeded Michael Howard’s failure to prevent a third Tony Blair workable majority in 2005. All the long-term money had been on David Davis yet suddenly part, apparently out of nowhere, David Cameron emerged as a serious contender then made a big speech at his Party Conference and thereafter the prospects of DDavis declined.

Johnson has of course being the frontrunner before and was very much expected to succeed David Cameron following his resignation immediately after the referendum in June 2016. For whatever reason, and there have been interesting TV dramatisations, Johnson pull himself out of the race after Michael Gove entered it on that amazing Thursday morning three years ago.

The process, as we are all no doubt very familiar, is that there is a series of ballots amongst CON MPs to draw up a shortlist of 2 to go to the membership. It is here that it is thought that Johnson might struggle and his main worry, I’d suggest, is if another prominent pro brexit here emerges and there are several who who you can see moving into the frame. Johnson’s reputation is based on the untested notion that he reaches voters that other potential leaders are unable to do. But he’s a bit older now and a reputation for playing the fool might not be the best recommendation for his parliamentary colleagues. He’s also known to be not that clubbable with fellow MPs a characteristic that might prove problematical once the voting starts.

This is, I believe, the first time ever that a prime minister will be chosen by the membership of a party. Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair in 2007 without being troubled by a contest and of course 3 years ago Theresa May got the job when Andrea leadsom, who had also made the final two, pulled out following her controversial comments about being a mother.

Mike Smithson