Archive for September, 2019


We shouldn’t look much past Lindsay Hoyle as next Speaker

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

But if there is to be another female Speaker, Eleanor Laing is the better bet

The last few weeks seem to have been filled with as many attempts to defy convention and accepted norms of rules and behaviour within Westminster as possible. There’s a certain irony, therefore, that in the election to replace John Bercow as Speaker, a convention many MPs may feel bound to respect a convention – that the Speakership should alternate between the main parties – which is of recent innovation and which came about primarily by happenstance, albeit a happenstance overlaid by a perceived fairness.

The much older convention was that the Speaker came from the governing party. Far from adhering to the ‘rotation’ principle, Betty Boothroyd was the first Speaker to be elected when his or her party was out of office since 1835 (and even then, Speaker Abercromby’s Whigs held a majority of seats in the Commons despite Peel having just formed a brief minority government). In fact, Abercromby would be the first of a sequence of six Whigs / Liberals who would, between them, occupy the chair for seven decades.

The change in accepted or understood principle presumably came about because the Speakership did alternate on four successive occasions between 1965 and 1983 as a result of each vacancy falling following a change of government. Even in 1992, Boothroyd’s election owed more to her being a much more widely acceptable candidate than Peter Brooke, who had been a serving cabinet minister less than three weeks earlier.

Still, despite Boothroyd being followed by Labour MP Michael Martin in 2000, a belief in rotation as a beneficial principle, if not an iron law, clearly exists. What are we to make of that in the upcoming election to replace John Bercow?

Clearly, Labour MPs start at an advantage and this is reflected in the betting odds with Lindsay Hoyle (evens, Betway) and Harriet Harman (5/2, Ladbrokes) leading the way. The first Tory on the list is another of the Deputy Speakers, Eleanor Laing, in fourth at 20/1 (bet365).

Quite why the odds are as close as they are is a mystery to me. Hoyle is by far the most capable of the field and has demonstrated himself to be a very good Deputy Speaker. I see no reason why he should struggle to gain cross-party support.

Harman, by contrast, is not only a former front-bencher of long standing and without experience in the chair, she remains wedded to gender politics, asserting as part of her campaign that parliament should elect a woman to show that it had ‘changed’. Presumably the election of Boothroyd didn’t do that. But I can’t help but feel that her Boris-like sense of entitlement is something of a hindrance. She assumes both that men – whatever their ability – should step aside because of their sex, and that once it’s agreed that the Speaker should be a woman, it should naturally be her. In fact, if it is to be a woman, Eleanor Laing would be a better choice.

However, the election rules will work against Harman, who I can’t see picking up much support at all among Tory MPs. The system used is similar to the method for the MPs’ rounds of the Tory leadership election: all candidates with less than 5% are eliminated in the first round (or the lowest-scoring, if all receive at least 5%), after which it’s a straight exhaustive ballot apart from that candidates can withdraw even if they win election to the next round.

Of the four Tory aspirants, Edward Leigh, Shailesh Vara and Henry Bellingham are not entirely absurd candidates but it’s hard to see from where they gain even modest support. If they do go out early, that would leave only one Tory – Laing – and several Labour ones. For both that reason and because she’s an experienced Deputy Speaker, she could poll very strongly in the middle rounds. To my mind, 20/1 is worth taking: dynamics within a race can transform the outcome but even if they don’t, there’s a trading bet to be had.

It’s true that Laing would break the ‘convention’ of rotation, although how many Tory MPs consider Bercow – who was largely elected by Labour MPs in the first place – as a legitimate Tory nomination is another matter.

However, for those of us with long memories, this all sounds a bit like the run-up to Labour’s 2007 leadership election, when the speculation was on who might challenge Gordon Brown, which ignored the plain fact that it really didn’t matter: Brown was going to steamroller any opposition. To me, the first question of the contest is ‘why wouldn’t you vote for Lindsay Hoyle?’, to which there are precious few good answers.

The fact that Harman is campaigning primarily on parliament making gestures at such a critical time for parliament and the country works strongly against her. In truth, by glaring omission, it emphasises the need for the person who takes on the role to actually understand it inside out, to have the ability to control the House, and to treat members fairly (and, ideally, respectfully).

It is possible, I suppose, that Hoyle could be caught between Tories backing their own, and Labour MPs making political gestures or falling prey to Rosie Winterton’s overtures (Winterton is both a Deputy Speaker, albeit the most junior one, and also a former Chief Whip with the skills and knowledge that brings). I doubt it though. Evens is a huge price in the circumatances and, in my opinion, anything better than 1/2 is value.

David Herdson


Europe and the Security Schism

Friday, September 27th, 2019

After several centuries of slowly drifting apart, the Eastern Roman Empire’s Orthodox Church and what became known as the Roman Catholic Church of Rome split. This difference, due to arguments about doctrine and pre-eminence of Pope and Patriarch, ended up having continental consequences.

The gulf widened over time, until the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century. Due to the persuasive brilliance (if strategic foolishness) of Venice’s doge, Enrico Dandolo, this holy war was diverted from Jerusalem to target Constantinople. A Christian city. But the wrong sort of Christianity, you see.

The Latins attacked and won, conquering the city and reducing the Empire so it became (more or less) a strip of land on the western coast of modern day Turkey. In time, the Latins were turfed out and the Empire regained its seat of power. But in the meantime the Turks had advanced very significantly, and the Roman Empire spiralled into inexorable decline. Fast forward a few centuries to the 15th, and the desperate pleas for help from the last emperor, Constantine Dragases. The assistance from Latin Europe was minimal. Constantinople was all but abandoned, and fell, this time permanently.

In the decades and centuries following, the Ottoman Turks took more territory and plunged deep into Europe. An internal disagreement within Christendom had been a glorious gift to the Turks.

With all the talk of the UK and EU’s relationship, there hasn’t been enough attention on the consequences of the formerly fictional formation of an EU Army.

Replicating much of NATO’s requirements, it will necessarily be directed by EU policies. And this is deeply concerning. There are some nations that vary from rogue pariahs to rather powerful and menacing states, and a democratic set of nations that can stand to benefit from mutual co-operation. Amongst these latter are European countries, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea (I’m aware the latter two are not the friendliest of neighbours for historical reasons).

But if the EU Army really gets going its concern will be focused almost entirely, as one might expect, on European matters. It may cause lasting, perhaps fatal, damage to NATO, and divide the USA and Canada from traditional European allies. In those circumstances, who benefits?

Nobody with an interest in free, democratic nations triumphing.

I do think the EU’s desire for empire-building and centralising power that belongs to nation states risks creating a security schism, the impact of which will only truly be seen once the divide is sufficiently deepened.

You might think I’m being a bit of a doom merchant. But consider the Scottish Parliament. Intended, as one daft sod said, to ‘kill nationalism stone dead’, it was established in 1999. In 2014 there was a referendum on Scotland leaving the UK.

When you create institutional divisions, the divides tend to widen as a natural consequence. Atomising the component parts of the natural security alliance of the West could be as intense an act of self-harm as the Fourth Crusade.

Historical note: the church of the Eastern Empire wasn’t called Orthodox at first. Ironically, the term ‘Catholic’ was first used by Constantinople’s Emperor Theodosius the Great. His sons, Arcadius and Honorius, were wretched incompetents who each had one half of the empire and mutual loathing, helping to split the empire apart politically.

Morris Dancer

Morris Dancer is a long standing contributor to PB


September 2019 Local By-Election Review

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Votes Cast, Share, Change (in votes and seats)
Conservatives 9,961 votes (34% unchanged on last time) winning 9 seats (unchanged on last time)
Liberal Democrats 8,000 votes (27% +12% on last time) winning 4 seats (+2 seats on last time)
Labour 7,914 votes (27% -7% on last time) winning 6 seats (+1 seat on last time)
Scottish National Party 1,202 votes (4% unchanged on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
Green Party 1,170 votes (4% -1% on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
Independent candidates 655 votes (2% unchanged on last time) winning 0 seats (-2 seats on last time)
Local Independent candidates 23 votes (0% unchanged on last time) winning 0 seats (unchanged on last time)
Other Parties 638 votes (2% -2% on last time) winning 0 seats (-1 seat on last time)
Conservative lead of 1,961 votes (7%) on a swing of 6% from Con to Lib Dem
United Kingdom Independence Party did not field any candidates (-1% on last time)

Conservatives GAIN Penrith South on Eden from Independent
Conservatives GAIN Ryhall and Casterton on Rutland from Independent
Liberal Democrats GAIN Middleton, Cheney on South Northamptonshire from Conservative (6.5% swing from Con to Lib Dem)
Liberal Democrats GAIN Vivary on Somerset West and Taunton from Conservative (11.5% swing from Con to Lib Dem)
Labour GAIN Icknfield on Luton from Conservative (1.5% swing from Conservative to Labour)
Conservatives GAIN Sweyne Park and Grange on Rochford from Residents

Harry Hayfield


Johnson’s “Surrender Bill” rhetoric – cutting through ?

Friday, September 27th, 2019

A guest slot by Egg

To call it the surrender bill, do you have to truly believe we can pressure the EU into an exit favourable to us by threatening EU with No Deal, or use it with ulterior motive? And is it really a differential, or does it preach to the perverted and those already on board? Let’s get to the bottom of these questions.

First lets analyse why its important to leave No Deal on table in the negotiation. Facing the break of four decades of shared sovereignty, in the space of a few weeks now the two sides will confront decisions that will frame relations for years to come, choices made may determine whether Brexit becomes hostile divorce or a more managed break that keeps a path to reconciliation open. So No Deal on table for negotiation is not intended as an end, but an end to achieve a means that is the best possible deal. With No Deal on the table it means the backstop and the financial settlement are still seriously on the table too to be definitely settled. And only if UK is serious about no deal can it additionally keep benefits to Britain through “mini-deals” on the table and in discussion. Contrary to EU spin, Mini Deals are alive and well, merely renamed as arrangements (such arrangements already put in place covering fish and flying rights with medicine and money to follow.) But is it clear to voters what we are actually agreeing in these mini deals? To what extent are opposition from Farage to Starmer probing them? How much do you know about the agreements already made? For example, EU are gagging for fishing access to UK waters, how much have we surrendered already in that mini deal?

If you logically move this forward, to get the best deal for UK you have to push the deal making to the very point EU membership still has irreplaceable benefits only available to members, and to reach there you need to seriously engage in negotiation. But are we? Because without a serious negotiation what actually is happening, the threat of no deal is forcing UK to surrender too, on financial payments, fishing rights, backstop, etc as we try to mitigate the decoupling.

Because however we approach negotiation we can’t escape the No Deal reality is EU managing implementation of rules that can cause huge disruption to UK trade, such as customs checks or providing authorisations. For example EU has particular sway in the area of agricultural trade. UK exports face 100 per cent checks under EU law after Brexit. But, for this point even to be reached, Brussels must first authorise the UK as “competent” to export to the EU, a decision that might take a day or “maybe a lot longer” depending on the state of relations; by holding back on this authorisation decision, the EU could completely halt Britain’s sales of beef, sheep meat and dairy to the bloc. The challenge EU are meeting well so far in negotiation is taking advantage of all that leverage without doing further harm to EU interests. This is the reality of keeping no deal on the table rather than admit it has to be a deal Brexit for UK: we are actually empowering the EU in the negotiation.

And it has been pointed out again and again, the original campaign in 2016 and the narrow win was not founded upon a No Deal Brexit. It was achieved promising a deal Brexit and all the security that comes with that.

If I were LOTO and asked Boris at PMQs if he truly believes we can pressure EU into a deal favourable to us by threatening them with no deal, and Boris said yes, I would be lost for words. Maybe laugh at the certainty repeating that will eventually destroy him. It’s not just factually preposterous, defying what is actually happening and will continue to happen in any real negotiation, with a bit of work I can also expose it as a lie. Leave no deal on table, you leave yourself open to suspicion you may go for a No Deal Brexit in order to save Brexit from undergoing a second ref, but take no deal off the table you are almost certainly surrendering to the certainty of second ref, where we leave with a deal or not leave at all. For a leaver to leave themselves in that position, a deal they can’t sell or even regard as Brexit, that would be the ultimate ‘surrender’. And that’s the truth why what takes it off the table is being called the Surrender Bill.

This is the anatomy of keeping No Deal on the table. Correct me where I’m wrong.

1. It’s a lie that it provides finality, a ‘clean break’, when it would do nothing of the sort.
2. It’s a lie No Deal on the table favours us, and not EU in negotiation.
3. Its a lie to claim no deal is viable option for UK, the actual truth is it’s said to avoid admitting the only choice is a deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.
4. And as Boris would say the real kicker, are those now calling others surrender monkeys themselves surrendering ground in negotiations, such as the mini deal on fisheries?



An overnight local election result that highlights how difficult it will be to call GE2019

Friday, September 27th, 2019

We’ve seen big movements in the polls in recent months with Farage’s and the LDs move forward very strongly the latter often near tripling their GE2017 GB vote share of 7.6%. The local by-election above shows how the LD resurgence is going to make general election predictions that much harder.

Swinson’s party will go into the election with the simplest of all positions on the big issue of the day and in seat after seat could take huge swathes of LAB and more particularly CON votes. The question that is hard to answer under FPTP is how this will impact on seats.

We often forget that between a fifth and a quarter of Tory votes were remainers while two thirds of LAB ones were. A Brexit-dominated general election is surely going to see the unambiguous pro-Remain party attract some of their votes.

The same goes on the other side with Farage’s party and the Leave vote. The latter’s challenge, however, is competing against the Tories given Johnson’s Brexit approach.

A BXP-CON deal is hampered by one very big factor – Dominic Cummings who, it will be recalled, is totally hostile to Farage. While he’s still working for the PM it is hard to see a CON-BXP deal being reached.

Another enormously complicating factor is what happens in the seats of the 21 CON MPs who were booted out of the party earlier in the month for not following the Johnson line on a crucial Commons vote. Some surely will stand again as independents and maybe in their seats the LDs, LAB and the Greens might either stand aside or not campaign hard giving them a clearer run. This has the potential to eat into CON seat totals.

Finally there are the Tory MPs in seats that were strongly for Remain. I plan to look at them in detail in a later post.

Mike Smithson


With Trump in trouble a look at the best betting markets

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

While we have been mostly focused on the high octane politics currently in the UK there’ve been big developments in the US which raise questions over whether Donald Trump will win a second term in November 2020.

Earlier in the week the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi started the impeachment process in the House of Representatives. As well as everything else what is driving this is what the President said to the PM of Ukraine in an effort to get what he saw as dirt, on Joe Biden – a possible Democratic opponent that he could be facing next year.

Biden’s son had been working in the Ukraine and the suggestion is that Trump sought to link the supply of aid to the country in exchange for information that could hurt Biden. This is getting into very dodgy territory and the transcripts of phone conversations are certainly not helpful to the current incumbent of the White House.

There are several betting markets two of which are in the charts above of movements on the Betfair exchange. The one I’ve gone for is to lay, betting against, Trump getting the 2020 nomination. This market will be settled on the candidate voted to be the Republican Party nominee as a result of the 2020 Republican National Convention which is eleven months off.

I think that this is a better bet and at similar odds to him leaving before the end of his first term.

Mike Smithson


These perceptions of Johnson could be critical in an election campaign

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

The above detailed data from today’s YouGov/Times poll should be of concern to the PM’s advisors as they wrench up the election rhetoric.

The worst figures, I’d suggest, are on his perceived competence and whether he’s regarded as honest. On the first measure just 33% think he is competent against 50% who don’t. The honesty split of 22% honest to 52% dishonest and the fact that barely half of CON voters were ready to say “honest” opens up possible lines of attack.

Also worrying are the views of him being in touch with ordinary people something that can be a good pointer, That half the sample think he’s putting on an act and is not authentic is striking and represents a real weakness in his position.

We are going through interesting times and Johnson tough response to the Supreme Court raises questions.

The full survey data can be found here.

Mike Smithson





First post-Supreme Court polling finds the LDs main beneficiary

Thursday, September 26th, 2019