Archive for August, 2019


How the papers reporting Johnson’s big gamble

Thursday, August 29th, 2019


After an eventful day three Questions from CycleFree

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

  1. Why is the current Tory government so unwilling to ask voters  – in a General Election (or via a referendum) or their representatives in Parliament – whether they want to leave the EU on the basis of no withdrawal agreement and with no transitional stage?
  2. How does the government think that such a decision (a No Deal exit) – and the means by which it is effected – will gain and maintain any consensus, and for how long?
  3. What arguments would the Tory party use if, in future, another government – perhaps one advised by Stalinists and people with 40 years’ membership of the Communist party to their name – were to use similar tactics to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny of – and accountability to Parliament – for a controversial policy or executive action?

Answers on one side of the paper only, please, to the UK electorate



Brexit, the proroguing of parliament and the legal battle ahead

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Me – I’m off on holiday on Friday leaving PB in the capable hands of TSE

Mike Smithson


The betting markets respond to Johnson’s Charles the First Move

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

A no deal brexit seen as more likely

UK seen as more likely to leave by Oct 31st

My view is that this is Downing Street’s response to the agreement yesterday between all the opposition parties on the best way of stopping no deal. Number 10 can see the challenges ahead so why not use what power it has to curtail parliamentary time?

The question is now how will opposition parties and Speaker Bercow react to what is clearly a wheeze from the PM. My guess is that they will try to find some way of trying to stop the normal three week party conference break.

It might be that the only way is to go for a vote of no confidence in a form that would trigger a new general election. Only a simple majority is required and the only way to stop it would be for another vote within two weeks.

  • Charts as ever from

    Mike Smithson

  • h1

    The change in the parliamentary arithmetic since he became PM makes Johnson’s task harder

    Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

    More ex-ministers expected to join the Tory rebels

    It is worth reminding ourselves that for all but two days of its life the Johnson government has been able to operate without the need to face parliamentary scrutiny.  It has been able to control the media narrative and dominate the headlines. That all changes next Tuesday when MPs return after the summer recess.

    One thing that will be different is that the parliamentary arithmetic, already very tight, will be even less favourable to the Johnson government than it was to TMay’s.

    This is because, of course, the Tories lost the Brecon by-election and also because several of the former ministers like Rory Stewart and Phillip Hammond can no longer be relied on to back a government apparently hell bent on a no-deal Brexit.

    Each additional rebel makes the government’s situation worse by two. For while ministers the could always being relied on to back the government they, on many key issues, could now be voting against.

    This looks set to be significant because of the tightness of the parliamentary situation. We all remember the Commons rebellions in the spring when MPs were able to take control of the parliamentary agenda which is normally set by the government. Most of the really big votes were very tight with what became known as Cooper-Letwin passing by a majority of just one. That was the move to delay Brexit.

    The first priority for the new grouping of opposition parties, aided by Tory rebels, will be to use the same formula to try to seize control of the Commons agenda in order to introduce a bill to make the PM seek a further extension of the Article 50 process.

    On Betfair in the past 24 hours the odds on a no deal Brexit in 2019 have edged down from 43.3% to 38.9%.


    Mike Smithson






    Just because TMay found it easy getting MPs to the vote for GE2017 doesn’t mean that it will be the same for Johnson

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

    There is a widespread assumption, based on what happened with Theresa May two and a half years ago, that prime ministers still have the power to the name election date in spite of the FTPA. This is because it is said that the main opposition party will always have to back holding an election or else it will look weak.

    But given today’s “anti-no deal” agreement between the opposition parties I wonder if that still holds particularly if Johnson/Cummings want to do it before October 31st with the object of taking away MPs chance to scupper the government’s plans.

    The FTPA requires a motion to be supported by two thirds of the entire complement of MPs, 433+, in order for an election to be called. A maneuver like the one being speculated on would be seen as being counter to what the opposition MPs want and my guess is that all the opposition parties, including LAB, would not back it.

    Even if Corbyn was inclined to support it, after all he keeps on calling for a general election,how many of his MPs would give it their backing? Stopping a no deal Brexit is the imperative of the day not using up the short time available on an election campaign.

    I could see all the other opposition parties not supporting the move as well as a fair number of LAB MPs.

    Remember in this vote it doesn’t matter for if MPs abstain because that will effectively be a vote against an early election.

    This could lead Johnson to try the route of having a vote of no confidence in his government which Tory MPs back. Sure that might get round the the act but it would look contrived and that Tory MPs had voted not to have confidence in their own government would be a key campaigning point.

    Mike Smithson


    Before we can make judgements about the outcome of an early general election we need new Scotland only polling

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

    The last one was in June

    There’s been a lot of GB voting intention polling since Mr Johnson became the new Tory leader and Prime Minister but none of it has been Scotland specific. One thing we do know is that is can be highly misleading keying the latest GB poll shares into Baxter and getting anything that is relevant to Scotland.

    North of the border, as we all know, is the part of the UK which has seen the most turbulence in recent general elections. In 2010 Scots LAB won 41 of the 59 seats only to lose all but one of them in the SNP landslide 5 years later.

    Then 2017 the Tories made something of a recovery and picked up 12 gains to add to the single seat making them the second party in Scotland .

    What is hugely interesting for election watchers is that the largest majority that the SNP secured in any of its 36 Scottish seats at the last election was 47%. A large proportion of what they hold is vulnerable something that applies to almost all the parties there.

    As the Wikipedia panel above shows the Tories were in something of a mess in the most recent surveys. The numbers suggest that Ruth Davidson’s party could be on the point of losing all but one of the hard won gains from 2 years ago. But is that really going to happen?

    So much has happened politically since the last Scottish poll and we have no real sense yet of how the new PM is going down for of the border. Will having Johnson in charge help or hinder the blue team?

    Hopefully we should be seeing some new Scotland polling in September. There is tendency for these to come out just before the SNP conference.

    Mike Smithson


    How special is special? The US-UK relationship

    Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

    Be honest. How many G7 summits do you remember? How many are little more than talking shops with the same old photos of largely the same old characters? Last year’s summit, for instance, was mostly memorable for that photo of a defensive obstinate Trump surrounded by an exasperated Merkel and others. And this year? We have the sight of Trump showing off his latest pet, our very own Prime Minister, laughing a little too keenly  at the President’s bon mots (or possibly at the fact that Trump was able to utter a coherent mot at all). Trump is backing our PM. Hurrah! The special relationship is alive and well.

    Oh no! Not that hoary old chestnut. Every time a British PM comes within orbit of a US President this old dependable is wheeled out for another bout of worship.  There is something a little pathetic in the way the British political class utters this incantation, as if merely by saying it the clock could be turned back to a time when British and American leaders drafted charters for how the world should be run, as if they were equals in importance. Clearly, there has been a close military and intelligence alliance since WW2, of immense value to both parties on various occasions, most obviously during WW2 itself. If this was all that is meant, why the need to keep on mentioning it? Time perhaps for a closer look at what this oh-so-special relationship has consisted of over the years.

    Churchill and WW2: It was he who first uttered the phrase in a speech in 1946, though his whole behaviour towards Roosevelt since 1940 made it obvious that he felt the Anglo-American alliance was the motor which saved the world from a new Dark Age. And, significantly, it was first said in the Fulton speech where Churchill warned of an Iron Curtain falling across Europe. Even then, there was an element of British self-delusion about how, despite how much they had in common, the US viewed the world very differently to Britain. It was “a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” But the US did not have then (or earlier) any interest at all in preserving or helping Britain preserve its Empire. Indeed, it viewed it with some distaste.  If there was to be any Empire at all it would be a US one (à la Monroe doctrine) and in the US image. Not in the image of a romantic Victorian who imagined that having a US mother gave him a special insight or a particular entitlement. This much should, frankly, have been obvious since Woodrow Wilson. The brutal reality was shown by Roosevelt’s somewhat dismissive attitude towards Churchill by the end of the war, most notably at the Yalta and Teheran summits. Perhaps Churchill’s decision not to attend Roosevelt’s funeral in 1945 was a sign that he realised its one-sided nature.

    A personal relationship?  Despite this and despite the hard-nosed calculations made by the US when extending credit to a bankrupt Britain at the end of the war, those few years and Churchill’s description of them have had a disproportionate influence on British politicians since. Not just in the assumption that, in Mrs Thatcher’s words in 1982: “The Anglo-American relationship has done more for the defence and future of freedom than any other alliance in the world.” but in the belief that a personal relationship with the US President is critical to Britain’s standing in the world. And yet in the post-war world there have only really been two UK leaders of whom that could properly be said: Thatcher and Blair. (Macmillan might also be included, if only to wonder what the Americans thought of Macmillan’s lofty and somewhat patronising claim that Britain would be Greece to America’s Rome.)

    Thatcher’s relationship with Reagan was a factor (though much less important than the spin would have you believe) in the geopolitical changes which occurred while Reagan was President. And the reliance on it led Thatcher to underestimate the consequences for Britain and for the US of the changes which the Maggie/Ronnie partnership had unleashed. US focus on Europe was a result of its prolonged civil war in the 20th century and the threat which Soviet Communism posed to the US. Once those two ghosts had been laid to rest with victory in the Cold War, both Britain and Europe would be less important to the US than before.

    As for Blair: well his relationship with Clinton and then Bush was certainly close but its consequences for Britain have been less happy. The neediness shown by others (Brown, May, Cameron) has on occasion been embarrassing. Only wily old Wilson managed to avoid entangling Britain in the US’s ill-fated Vietnam venture, one originally embarked on because the US’s oldest ally, France, persuaded the US that the Cold War was no time to be telling France that the time for its Empire had passed (as Ken Burn’s magisterial documentary makes clear). (The French then ignored their colossal mishandling of their colony and grandly proceeded to lecture the US about its mishandling of the war. It has not done the US-France relationship much harm.)

    A mutual relationship?  How much help has the US really provided Britain? The Suez adventure was undermined by the withdrawal of US financial support, about as brutal a power play as one could imagine. There was no forgiveness of British war debts to the US, not even when British blood was being shed in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. US help to Britain in the Falklands was was not a foregone conclusion. There were plenty of voices arguing against or for a more conciliatory approach than Thatcher’s wish for total victory. The US invaded a British territory – Grenada – in 1983 with barely so much as a “please” beforehand. What did Britain’s help to the US in Iraq and Afghanistan do for Britain? When the IRA were bombing Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, Gerry Adams got the oxygen of publicity with his meetings with US Congressmen. Meanwhile the US extradited to its closest ally precisely zero alleged terrorists. Contrast this with the US determination to get an Extradition Treaty which enabled it to extradite British citizens to the US in controversial circumstances and to a criminal justice and penal system considerably more brutal than anything which would be tolerated here, even under the current Home Secretary.

    None of this is exceptional. Powerful countries will use their power to extract the maximum benefit they can, even from their allies. Sentimentality is good for speeches but a poor guide to how countries will behave behind closed doors. The US has new interests – China and Asia, above all. It has an increasingly large Spanish-speaking population. It currently has a President with scant regard for existing international organisations. That President will be gone in a maximum of 5 years, maybe sooner, one reason why it would be wise to remember that a friendship with one leader is not the same as an enduring relationship with a country.  It would be foolish to assume that after Trump the US will revert to its previous geopolitical stance, even if the language may be politer.

    In Brian Moore’s “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne”, Judith, a lonely alcoholic spinster visits a local family, the O’Neills, regularly, fondly imagining that they welcome her visits. They don’t. They have become a habit, one they endure for old times’ sake. She has some money put by. Perhaps they will benefit when she dies. The story does not end well. Poor Judith deluded herself that she was loved.

    Sometimes the US seems to indulge Britain in the way the O’Neills indulged Judith. We so want to be America’s bestest friend; we so want that FTA; we so want to sell those pork pies and British sparkling wine; we don’t mention one of our biggest sectors – finance – which could do with better access to the US market; we so want to prove to the world, to ourselves, that there will be wonderful trade deals outside the EU; we are so grateful when the US omits to mention agriculture and the NHS when the UK press are paying attention. But when US trade negotiators have made it clear that both will be on the table during negotiations, when it is the US’s National Security Advisor who talks about trade, what do we think the US will really demand and get from Britain? The US can smell desperation, much as stale spirits can be smelt on an alcoholic’s breath.

    By all means let’s treat the US as an important friendly ally. But isn’t it about time that we stopped deluding ourselves about our importance? Isn’t it about time we stopped assuming that the US will do us any favours that are not also in their own interests? Isn’t it about time for Britain to be realistic about its place in the world? Surely, only on this basis will it have a chance of being successful in the choice it is about to make?