Archive for July, 2019


On what’s currently the biggest UK political betting market punters make it a 35% chance that there’ll be an no deal Brexit this year

Monday, July 29th, 2019 chart of Betfair price movements

The above market was put up a few weeks ago by Betfair and has yet to be discussed on PB. In terms of the level of betting it is by far the current biggest market and one where it is quite hard to judge.

On the face of it the Johnson regime appears determined to leave by October 31st and it is hard to square his position with what is a big red line from Brussels – having an acceptable solution to the Irish border issue.

A key factor here that hasn’t been given much attention is Nancy Pelosi – Speaker of the house of Representative and arguably as powerful in the US as Trump. She has stated emphatically that anything that undermines the Northern Ireland peace agreement would mean that Congress would not approve a trade deal with the UK. She said: “We made it clear in our conversations with senior members of the Conservative Party earlier this year that there should be no return to a hard border on the island.”

Members of the US congress played a key part in the 1998 deal that ended the decades of troubles in Ireland and feel a sense of ownership.

I’m not confident backing either side in this market. I cannot see the Johnson government wanting to be remembered as the one that caused the economic disruption of no deal but it is hard to square this with current rhetoric.

Mike Smithson


(UPDATED) Could Welsh Labour be about to experience a near wipe-out similar to that which Scottish Labour saw at GE2015?

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

It is not often that all eyes are on Welsh politics but yesterday’s Tweet from the respected Professor Roger Scully of Cardiff University has really set things going.

We don’t get very much Wales only polling but what there is generally associated with Professor Scully. And for him to be trailing his survey for ITV in this way suggests a sensation.

His tweet reminds me of a similar one from Ben Page of Ipsos-MORI in late 2014 relating to a poll that his firm had produced for STV. There was a similar big build up and then the numbers can and which point pointed to the total collapse of Labour in Scotland. This is, of course, what happened six months later at GE2015. LAB moved from holding 41 of Scotland’s 59 seats to just a single MP.

We know from Wales only polling over the past nine months that Labour’s once invincible position in the Principality is on the decline. Last December Survation had Corbyn’s party in 47% with Scully’s YouGov poll at 43%. In May that was down 25% with the Brexit party just two behind.

At GE2017 Labour won 28 of the 40 Welsh seats. If that number is substantially reduced and there is still no recovery for the party in Scotland then it is very difficult to see how LAB can win most seats overall in a UK general election.

We wait in anticipation for Professor Scully’s new poll. Hopefully it will be out by late morning.

Updated – the poll is now out

Thus LAB drops to its lowest ever level in Wales with the Tories up 7 to take the lead and the LDs up 4. The Brexit party’s down 5 Plaid up 2

Mike Smithson


Johnson’s first net approval ratings are 33 points lower than TMay when she entered Number 10 in 2016

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

As well as the voting intention surveys this weekend we have had the first approval ratings from Opinium on Johnson in polling carried out since he entered Number 10. A total of 28% said they approved of the way he was handling his job compared with 31% saying the disapproved. This gives a net figure of minus three.

Opinium carry ask such question every two weeks and have been doing so for at least a decade.

Looking back to July 2016 when TMay was declared CON winner her first Opinium rating had her on a net plus 30%. This declined over time but even by the time she reached GE2017 she was still in positive territory.

Boris starts with negative numbers a factor that doesn’t bode well if there was to be an early general election.

Opinium has also issued the first PM Johnson best PM ratings with Swinson and Farage as option as well as Corbyn.

Mike Smithson


Plus ça change …..Boris’s first few days have followed TMay’s 2016 footsteps

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

Less than a week is, of course, far too short a time to make a comparison, especially one which will infuriate Boris fans. Who cares? They have their man as PM. They can take a bit of teasing.

So here goes. Our new PM seems to be following in the precise footsteps of the old PM.

  • On ascending to No 10, speeches about unity in the country and party.
  • A brutal and wholesale clear-out of the old guard to create a Cabinet in their image. (Take that, party unity!  You all have to agree with me!!) An element of petty and personal revenge: what did Boris have against Penny Mordaunt, for instance, a Brexiteer whose main fault seems to have been to have supported his opponent? (Yes – the question has answered itself.)
  • Some surprising appointments: May appointing Boris (she must be rueing the day) and Boris picking Priti and Raab. (What is it with PMs appointing plainly unsuitable Foreign Secretaries? Even Blair did it with Mrs Beckett. Mind you, in comparison to some of her successors, she seems in retrospect to be a fountain of calm common-sense.)
  • The Svengali-like ferocious adviser, there to provide the brains and steel and protection: Cummings now. Timothy and Hill for May.
  • The barn-storming first appearance in Parliament as PM. Remember how Mrs May compared herself to Mrs T, with her somewhat lamely delivered “Remind you of anyone?” quip. But it got the cheers, much as Boris’s well-worn attack on Corbyn (itself little more than a rehash of what Gove has said before) did.
  • The “Stand Up to the EU” speech – a mish-mash of well-worn tunes: “We Will Not Be Moved” / “No Pasaran”* / “Believe in Britain” etc lightly sprinkled with optimism and determination and belief, like so many Smarties on a cake. If this can be accompanied by suitably ferocious newspaper headlines, ideally with the White Cliffs of Dover somewhere in the picture, so much the better.
  • The promises to the poorer / left-behind bits of Britain: a speech from Mrs May about the JAMS and getting rid of “burning injustices” then. Boris now promising to spend money on the poor towns of the North and their transport and social care and so many wonderful things. It is positively Shakespearian in its vaulting ambition: “I will do such things – What they are yet I know not, but they shall be the wonders of the earth.” (I know. They should be the terrors of the earth but that is to be so negative about Brexit and Project Fear-y that a little rewriting of the Bard is surely allowed.)
  • The absolute 100% determination – no ifs, buts or doubts – to leave on a specified date. Do or die.
  • The visits to adoring fans. Surely not in the case of Mrs May. Well, yes. She was, remarkably it must now seem, very popular when she first became PM. She seemed to have the common touch and be liked by people who were not obvious Tory voters. Her polls were stratospheric. If truth be told, her polls were rather better than Boris’s are now. But give the boy time. It has only been a few days.
  • The cast-iron promise not to have a General Election.
  • The reaching out to the US. Remember how keen Mrs May was to visit Trump, to hold his hand even and her pathetic wish at the next EU leaders’ meeting to tell fellow European leaders what she had learnt from him, as his new best friend. It was unkind of them not to indulge her. Surely she had learnt so much more than what their own ambassadors were telling them? And now Boris and Trump are, apparently, already negotiating their new trade deal which, Donald assures us, will be 3 times better than what there is now. Boris is fond of his classics. Could someone please play the part of the Roman slave whispering in his master’s ear to remind Boris that with Trump it is “America First“? If a trade deal will be 3 times better it will be 3 times better for the US. That’s the country Trump cares about.
  • They even have the same desire to fulfil a childhood ambition: to be “world King” for Boris. And for May? Well, she was reportedly annoyed that Mrs T got to be the first woman PM. Might Britain be better governed if public life was not seen as a form of therapy for childhood slights?

Will this new blond character follow the same story arc as the last one?  It will be so exciting, won’t it, waiting to find out?

(*Yeah: I made that bit up. No filthy foreign Commie songs for global Britain. Still, the wartime meme will insist on breaking out and La Pasionaria’s cry that it is better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knees should surely be appropriate for a country free at last and not a Vassal State, no sirree.)




Jared O’Mara’s likely resignation should prompt another look at extending proxy voting in the Commons

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

The current restrictions help neither the public nor MPs

Parliament is – and is meant to be – a tough arena. MPs and ministers take critically-important decisions and need to be accountable for them. Ideas and arguments need to tested and pitted against one another. Failures (and perceived failures) will be pounced on, often ruthlessly. Unfortunate ministers and shadow ministers who make the wrong mistake at the wrong time find themselves at the centre of a political storm often out of all proportion to the event itself, and often resulting in an unjust resignation – a storm made all the more intense these days by social media and 24-hour news reporting.

As such, it was clearly a high-risk decision from Labour to nominate Jared O’Mara for a very winnable seat – and one that was only ever going to end in disaster once he didn’t receive the proper support his autism necessitated to transition into, and survive in, such an environment. Clearly, he has to take his own share of responsibility for his failings but they are not his alone.

One question that the Commons should be asking itself is what more can be done to support MPs who are suffering from mental health disorders (indeed, what more can be done to help them acknowledge that they are suffering from these disorders in the first place)? Even more than many other jobs, the incentives are to keep their heads down and get on with it.

Instead, parliament should looks to extend the scheme it introduced last year, when it voted without opposition to allow MPs who are new parents to nominate a colleague to cast proxy votes on their behalf, meaning that they can more meaningfully take maternity or paternity leave without having to worry too much about the effect that doing so would have on the government’s majority.

Some might argue that MPs occupy an unusual position that’s not comparable to normal jobs; that they are elected by their public and have not only a mandate but also a duty to represent their constituents. As such, giving their vote to a colleague abdicates that responsibility and undermines democracy.

There is a little in that argument but surely the stronger point is that parliament should ideally represent the country at large. Two very under-represented groups are women and the under-35s and making Westminster more family-friendly might address some of the structural reasons that produce those imbalances.

However, if parliament is going to consider the principle that someone who wasn’t elected to represent a given constituency can cast votes on behalf of the MP who was, why limit it just to sitting MPs? After all, much of an MP’s job is done outside the voting lobbies – receiving and responding to constituency mail; tabling questions, amendments, EDMs and so on; speaking in the Chamber; serving on Select and other Committees. These jobs still need doing just as much when the MP is on leave. Some of those roles could be filled by either the MP’s office acting on an understanding of what the member would want, and for the larger parties, many points that a given MP might make could likely be made by a colleague but that needn’t be true for smaller parties, for example.

More relevantly, given the O’Mara situation, why limit the proxy system to just parental leave? Why not introduce it for MPs on long-term sick (which also would mean that they’d be less stressed about letting constituents down by their absence)? It’s far from unknown for MPs to function at far below the normal capacity due to illness, particularly where it’s a terminal one but also when the MP might be recovering from a serious accident, illness or other medical event. In these cases, their constituents still need and deserve representation.

Some might argue that MPs in such positions should resign and let someone who can do the work take over but that ignores both a basic humanity and also practical politics. MPs are unlikely to resign where they think their party might lose the seat – especially when the numbers in parliament are poised as the currently are. Also, where the MP recovers, or expects to, it’s both unrealistic and unreasonable to expect him or her to resign.

It’s not unreasonable, however, for the voters to expect their voice to be heard in Westminster. How to square the circle? I’d suggest that it ought to be possible for an MP to nominate a substitute to act as a proxy, with full powers and for up to 12 months between elections, and with the nominated substitute subject to a confirmatory vote in the Commons. During that time, the MP on leave would be barred from acting in any formal capacity as the MP to avoid conflicts.

The limited introduction of parental leave is a good baby step in the right direction but the principle could, and should, go a lot further.

David Herdson


Another Westminster by-election possibility opens up for the LDs

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

Ex-Tory, Heidi Allen campaigning for the LDs in Brecon and Radnorshire 

With Brecon & Radnorshire voting on Thursday there’s a possibility that Sheffield Hallam could follow soon after

If the betting markets have this right then the Lib Dems look set to gain the Brecon and Radnorshire seat from the Conservatives in the by-election that takes place next Thursday. Some bookies rate their chances at 1/12 so to win £1 you would have to risk £12.

Although the consistency voted Leave at the referendum PC and the Greens have stood aside so the LDs are the only remain contender.

A notable development which might point to something more serious on this final weekend of campaigning is that amongst those campaigning for the LDs was Heidi Allen, the MP for South Cambridgeshire. She, of course was amongst those who quit the Tories earlier in the year and was for a while leader of CHUK.

Meanwhile another by-election possibility for the Lib Dems could be opening up in a seat they held until the last general election. This is Sheffield Hallam  where ex leader, Nick Clegg, was MP until he lost it to O’Mara at the last general election. This is a Tweet from the Yorkshire Post.

O’Mara won the seat for LAB at GE17 although O’Mara is no longer in the party. My guess is that the LDs would fancy their chances here if O’Mara does as the paper is reporting.

Mike Smithson



Three paths to instability

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

We now have the archetypal scenario of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Boris Johnson has now made so many “October 31 unless the backstop gets it” speeches that it’s time to believe him: if he rowed back from it now, Farage would eat him alive, and the ERG would consume the remains. The EU has said so often that they will not alter, let alone remove, the backstop that it is inconceivable that they will even contemplate it. 

The much-trailed main consequence is that we attempt to leave on October 31 without a deal and the majority in Parliament attempts to block it. While it is conceivable that Boris will then circumvent Parliament by proroguing, what would he do for afters, with an infuriated Commons majority itching to take revenge? No, as many have said, the consequence is then an election. “The Europeans are impossible, Parliament is weak-willed, give me a proper majority”. 

Scenario 1 is a Boris triumph. Swept back with a majority of 100 fervent Brexiteers, he leads us out of the EU with minimal arrangements to prevent total chaos. People muddle through – we don’t run out of food and medicine, but trade struggles to adapt, the pound slides, investment slumps and the trade talks inch forward over years. After years of fire-fighting, some sort of stability is achieved, but we are in recession and the Tories lose the following election to whoever has emerged standing from the Opposition bunfight.

Scenario 2 is the opposite. It goes horribly wrong. Remain voters fairly successfully work out how to vote tactically, and we end up with a Lab/LD/SNP majority. On anything remotely like current polling, nobody will have an overall majority. A weak minority government surviving on confidence and supply will then be formed – probably under Corbyn, possibly under Swinson.

An actual coalition will not happen – Swinson has ruled it out, saving Labour the trouble. The Parliamentary majority will only be able to agree on one major thing: a second referendum. Possibly an attempt will be made at new negotiations with a customs union and something like free trade – in effect an EFTA deal – but it’s hard to see a path to a Parliamentary majority for it. But even then, a referendum is certain.

Scenario 2A is that Remain wins. The majority then falls apart and a new election called. What will have the Tories been doing? Probably Boris will retire to concentrate on entertaining articles and the new leader will be somewhat more ambiguous on Brexit – after a Remain vote, it will attract general derision if the Conservatives seek election on the basis that they’ll immediately start with Article 50 all over again. So after a fashion, grumpily, Britain will then move on from Brexit, with unpredictable results on the body politic.

Scenario 2B is that Leave wins – either with No Deal or the EFTA-style fix. Again it’s hard to see the weak coalition surviving for long, so a new election follows, which the Tories would probably win convincingly – the Remainers will be in total disarray and it will look logical for the Tories to govern the outcome they’ve campaigned for.

Scenario 3 is 2017 redux. Boris sort of wins, but without a majority. What then? He might resign, but I think his innate flexibility will then kick in. “I wanted to leave without fuss, but the voters disagreed, dammit.” He will then try to get a May-style deal, counting on general exasperation to get it through. If he succeeds, he carries on in Government and we all stumble into the future. If he fails, he will be replaced by an ERG ultra – Baker is the obvious choice and, once again, we see another election, which I think leads to Scenario 2, as there isn’t really a majority in the public for Bakerism.

An interesting thing is that it’s not clear what anyone should hope for. A Remainer will fancy 2A or, nervously, 3, but could easily find they get 1 or 2B. A Leaver will fancy 1 or especially 2B, but could easily get 2A or 3. But all the scenarios have one common factor: a prolonged period of instability. 

It is hard to see any of the scenarios as being in the national interest, but we are where we are. With the best will in the world, serious investment in Britain will be sparse for the next few years. Which may, strategically, mean that whatever government emerges from the smoke in 2020 discovers another classic scenario. 

The poisoned chalice.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010.


Lazy Summers but politics can go on

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

In An Italian Education, Tim Parks describes the wonderfully languorous routine of an Italian summer: the shutting down of all but essential services in hot, humid cities leaving them to tourists, the departure for the coast, the gathering of the extended family, the early mornings to enjoy an espresso outside when the day is cool, the encampment at the same spot on the beach amongst the ombrelloni, neatly and beautifully laid out, la bella figura being quite as important when little is worn as at every other time, lunch followed by siesta, the late afternoon passeggiata before evening entertainment.  Day in, day out, the rythym is much the same, punctuated by religious festivals: Sant’ Andrea in Amalfi in late June, for instance, or Ferragosto everywhere.  Then the gentle return home in September, with weekend visits to the coast for those lucky enough to live nearby.  It is a time to breathe, relax, close off the pressing problems of life, which can – for now – wait.

Yet summer has often been when horrible crises and unexpected events have impolitely intruded into this idyll.  Consider:-

  1. 1980: Solidarity’s emergency in Poland – at the end of August following weeks of unrest at the Gdansk shipyard and the Pope’s undermining of the regime’s credibility with his “Do not be afraid” message during his visit the previous year.  It was also possibly one of the first times when right-wingers in the West, normally allergic to collective action and solidarity when practised by workers in their countries, unreservedly welcomed the creation of a trade union not enamoured of socialism, communism or the Soviet Union.  For precisely the opposite reasons, some on the Left in the West were wary of these particular workers.  The butterfly wings flapped in Gdansk that summer led – eventually – to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  Few in the West (beyond obscure bearded backbenchers and over-privileged Guardian columnists) mourned its loss  But it took another summer event finally to set the wheels in motion.
  2. 1989: East German holiday makers in Hungary – over that summer East Germans holidaying there, noticing that the border fence with its Western neighbours had been removed, refused to go home.  They sprinted past border guards, slipped across the border in woods, slowly at first in small numbers and then more boldly, more and more of them until camps had to be created to house them and the West German Embassy in Budapest found itself the holiday home of choice of hundreds of East Germans desperate to escape.  Eventually, the pressure became too much.  They were allowed to leave, the delighted refugees contemptuously throwing their East German papers out of the windows of the trains as they fled.  It was only a matter of time before the chants in Dresden of protesters: “Wir sind das Volk.” (a reminder to their masters of who the People really were) became a cry of: “Wir sind ein Volk”.  The reunification of Germany, the release of Eastern Europe from its grim oppression, Europe becoming whole again was an event of geopolitical importance, yes, but above all an expression of hope and freedom and longing for a better world, of people taking back control of their lives in the most meaningful way possible.  An Ode to Joy to celebrate.
  3. 1990: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August – possibly the last time when – in relation to the Middle East anyway – the world agreed who the aggressor was, who the victim, what had to be done and then did it.  The expulsion of Iraq from its ill-gotten gains was executed with masterly precision.  Its aftermath (Saddam staying in power, his crushing of the revolt against him, the horrors inflicted on the Marsh Arabs) led, in part, to another less well-executed, less justified invasion 13 years later, whose consequences reverberate today and likely for decades more.
  4. 1991: The failed coup against Gorbachev – the trembling heads of the plotters as they announced their coup that August betrayed their nerves.  Yeltsin seized the moment, stood on tanks outside the Russian Parliament and dared them to do their worst.  The Soviet Union crumbled, bringing down with it Gorbachev who had, whether intending to or not, done so much to show up its failing and rotten core.  It was a moment when the world held its breath and a US President, not known for his linguistic fluency, musing about whether the coup would succeed, gave encouragement to those resisting it.
  5. 1997: the Asian financial crisis – starting in July with capital flight as the Thai currency was floated, spreading to other Asian countries and Japan and resulting in IMF support to the troubled region.  A portent of trouble ahead.
  6. 1998: a Russian financial crisis  – in August when Russia devalued its currency and defaulted on its debt.  One of the high-profile victims was Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund set up by ex-Salomon Brothers traders and boasting two Economics Nobel Prize winners on its Board.  Their claim to fame was having devised a brilliant new way of valuing derivatives.  Despite such brainpower, LCTM managed to lose $4.6 billion in less than 4 months that summer, was bailed out by the Federal Reserve and closed 18 months later.  Alas, the two obvious lessons to be learnt: (1) when clever people talk about “a new paradigm” in finance, it is time to put your money under the mattress; (2) there is a sort of stupidity that only clever people are capable of – was not learnt by anyone important at the time.  Hence …..
  7. 2007: The financial crisis – starting with a French bank, in August, blocking withdrawals from two of its funds because it no longer knew what they were worth (a sign they were probably worthless) and leading, via increasing worries amongst policymakers, central banks, regulators about the state of the financial system, to the UK’s first bank run as Northern Rock depositors decided the mattress was indeed safer.  The signs had been there for some time but had been ignored.  In July, Citigroup’s CEO, a lawyer-turned-banker, gave his own inimitable account of the Greater Fool theory – not realising the fool was him – when he said: “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated.  But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.  We’re still dancing.”  Whoever thought that putting lawyers in charge of a bank would be a good idea?  They turned out to be every bit as bad as bankers at running them.  The crisis went on and on and on.  We are now in the pause between that one and the next.
  8. 2008: Civil unrest in South Ossetia, Georgia – the Georgian President’s decision to send in troops into the rebellious province that August gave Putin the excuse he needed to send in his troops.  The West huffed and puffed but did nothing.  What could it do?  Those hopeful days of 1991 had given way to a defensively proud and aggressive Russia, one easily recognisable to 19th century leaders.  Was the Soviet Union’s fall an opportunity missed?  Dutch holidaymakers in flight MH17 shot down in July 2014, Ukrainians and Crimeans would like to know.
  9. June – August 2016: Greece and the Euro – A charismatic politician comes to power vowing to renegotiate terms with the EU, to end his country’s humiliation and even gets his electorate to support his showdown.  It is all of no avail.  He is forced to back down.  His party is split.  Terms are agreed – or rather – dictated by the powerful neighbour.  There is no more talk of boldness.  The politician hangs onto power being finally ejected three years later by someone promising boring economic competence.  Perhaps Greece, having provided a template for democracy, is providing another one.
  10. Summer 2019: Britain – our PM tells the EU, which has said for months that negotiations are at an end, that he will not negotiate with them unless they give him what he asks for first.  The EU is now trying to understand what sort of a threat it is to say that you will not do something which the other party has also said they are not doing.

Perhaps it will take until October for all this to come to a crisis.  Perhaps.  But MPs heading off for their holidays might just pack an emergency bag for returning at short notice.  Just in case.  You never know what summer might bring.