Archive for January, 2020


The big political betting developments this weekend will not about Brexit – but Iowa

Friday, January 31st, 2020
Chart of Betfair exchange from

We are almost there. Just 3 days to go before Iowa – the first State to decide on its Democratic party nomination holds its unique selection processes. What makes this important is that the outcome has, historically, had an impact on the other states that follow.

Getting a good outcome here can produce a huge lift off in the rest of the race and the main contenders know it. Although only perhaps 16% of Iowans will actually participate on Monday evening I’m told that just about 100-percent of TV advertising at the moment in the state is all about promoting those runners who think they are in with a shout.

The contender who survived a heart attack late last year, 78 year old Bernie Sanders, is the current polling leader but the way this operates might not necessarily be to his advantage. Although he picks up a lot of first places in our you need to be there with lower choices.

What is not clear is how the bookmakers will settle the market after Monday and when. This is not like a normal election when it is the official election apparatus in the State that handles the voting process and we get an aggregated state count. In Iowa it is is local party officials, the bulk of them volunteers, who are responsible for ensuring the meetings operate properly, then get accurate numbers communicated to the state HQ.

This can cause problems with the potential for errors. Back in the 2012 Republican caucus Mitt Romney was declared the winner on the night by a margin of just a couple of dozen or so. The result however changed to a Santorum victory when the the precincts sent in their outcomes by post and the official result was declared. Many bookies paid out on the overnight declared provisional result rather than the actual one and I know there were a lot of protests and punters complaining.

Another area of complication is how the winner in the state is defined. For one purpose of the caucuses is selecting delegates who then go on to a state convention in the next couple of months at which the delegates for the national Democratic convention are finally decided. So it could be argued that what matters is how many delegates candidates had managed to win rather than the overall state vote share. My guess is that the bookies will stick with what they did last time and place it on vote count.

Mike Smithson


The front pages on this historic day

Friday, January 31st, 2020

As can be seen the Daily Mirror is the only one which does not have reference to Brexit on its front page. Of course it might be that this is the best call from a news point of view given the potential threat that the flu represents.

None of the Brexit related front pages is really very surprising and I doubt if many of them will be referred to much again as we enter into the new relationship with the EU and and have to deal with a real issues that this creates.

The Daily Star, not a paper that gets referred much on PB, tries, unsuccessfully, to make a joke of it by making the historic bit the end dry January.

The Daily Express seems to be trying to take the credit for itself which is perhaps a bit of a overstatement but there’s no doubt that the national newspapers as a whole have had a big impact on the decision.

For those who bet that brexit would not take place until 2020 will have a payday.

Mike Smithson


The seemingly endless LAB leadership race trudges on and there’s been nothing to shift Starmer

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

This contest is going on far too long

We are now 2 months and one week away from the special labour conference when the new leader will be announced. This will follow, of course, the membership ballot which won’t go out for weeks and won’t be counted until early April.

This evening a total of 40 different constituency LAB parties have been meeting and results have been coming in. They haven’t been aggregated yet and we don’t have a total for the night. From Twitter it does look as though Starmer’s huge lead over RLB is being retained.

What I find inexplicable is so that long has been allowed for this contest to happen. The amount of time allocated to the nomination phase seems ridiculous as does the length of time for the postal ballots to be returned and counted. It really shouldn’t take that long even if the party has half a million members.

Politically, I’d argue, it was wrong of the Labour NEC to allow Corbyn to carry on when clearly he is a total lame duck and the shorter the contest would have produced a new opposition leader much sooner and been able to hold Johnson more to account during this very big period in UK politics.

Mike Smithson


Irish General Election 2020 : Predictions & Review, Part 2

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

With the Irish general election taking place a week on Saturday the pressure is mounting on Leo Varadkar & the Fine Gael members.

Michael Martin looks more certain to become the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) but it’s not over yet. Can Sinn Fein pull off the almighty, unbelievable upset, find out below!
My predictions will be submitted in alphabetical order.

Galway East (Three Seats)

Galway East looks set to be a very interesting constituency and nobody is safe here, The current TD’s are Sean Canney (Independent), Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fáil) & Ciaran Cannon (Fine Gael). This constituency is mainly rural including areas like Tuam (Galway North), Kinvara, Gort (Galway South) and Loughrea, Portumna (Galway East).

Sean Canney will be feeling the heat, although he’s a very hard community worker, I think he will just lose it this time.

Prediction: Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fail).

Other Runners: Sean Canney (Ind), Ciaran Cannon (Fine Gael), Pete Roche (Fine Gael), Donagh Killilea (Fianna Fail).

Galway West (Five Seats)

Galway West was a constituency where Fianna Fáil got a higher percentage of first preferences than Fine Gael yet achieved only one seat, while Fine Gael got Two. This is definitely going to be one of the most, if not the most exciting come election day (8th February 2020). Although Noel Grealish is somewhat controversial, He looks to be re-elected. Green Party look to do rather well this time around. Sean Kyne (Fine Gael) could be under serious pressure,

Prediction: Eamon O’Cuiv (Fianna Fáil), Noel Grealish (Ind) & Pauline O Reilly (Green Party).

Other Runners: Hildegrade Naughten (Fine Gael), Sean Kyne (Fine Gael), Niall O’Tuathail (Social Democrats), Catherine Connolly (Ind), Ollie Crowe (Fianna Fail), Mairéad Farrell (Sinn Fein), Mike Cubbard (Ind).

Kerry (Five Seats)

Kerry is home to just over 100,000 citizens and the independents are very popular in this part of Ireland. The Healy-Rae’s (Michael & Danny) are both nailed on to get re-elected. The pair are both Independents. Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael) & John Brassil (Fianna Fáil) should do enough to win a seat, although it probably won’t be on the first count.

Prediction: Michael Healy-Rae (Ind), Danny Healy-Rae (Ind), Brendan Griffin (Fine Gael) & John Brassil (Fianna Fail).

Other Runners: Norma Foley (Fianna Fail), Pa Daly (Sinn Fein), Mike Kennelly (Fine Gael), Norma Moriarty (Fianna Fail).

Kildare North (Four Seats)

This sets to be a terrific constituency with the fourth seat being on a knife edge. Excluding Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats), This constituency is fairly balanced between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I’m not entirely sure if the Greens will get the fourth seat but I wouldn’t rule out Emmet Stagg (Labour).

Prediction: Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats), James Lawless (Fianna Fail) & Frank O’Rourke (Fianna Fail).

Other Runners: Bernard Durkan (Fine Gael), Anthony Lawlor (Fine Gael), Vincent P.Martin (Green Party), Reada Cronin (Sinn Fein), Emmet Stagg (Labour Party).

Kildare South (Three Seats)

There are only three seats here and Fianna Fáil hold two of them, with Martin Heydon (Fine Gael) holding the other. It won’t be straight forward but I can’t see any or much change here this time around. Mark Wall (Labour) is probably most likely of the rest to challenge for third place.

Prediction: Fiona O’Loughlin (Fianna Fail) & Martin Heydon (Fine Gael).

Other Runners: Mark Wall (Labour), Suzanne Doyle (Fianna Fail), Cathal Berry (Ind), Patricia Ryan (Sinn Fein), Fiona McLoughlin Healy (Independent).

Laois – Offaly (Five Seats)

Prediction: Barry Cowen (Fianna Fail), Charlie Flanagan (Fine Gael), Sean Fleming (Fianna Fail) & Brian Stanley (Sinn Fein).

Other Runners: Peter Ormond (Fianna Fail), Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy (Fine Gael), Carol Nolan (Ind), John Leahy (Ind), Pippa Hackett (Green Party), Pauline Flanagan (Fianna Fail).

Limerick City (Four Seats)

Prediction: Willie O’Dea (Fianna Fail) & Maurice Quinlivan (Sinn Fein).

Other Runners: Kieran O’Donnell (Fine Gael), James Collins (Fianna Fail), Frankie Daly (Ind), Jan O Sullivan (Labour Party), Brian Leddin (Green Party), Maria Byrne (Fine Gael).

Limerick County (Three Seats)
Prediction: Niall Collins (Fianna Fail) & Patrick O Donovan (Fine Gael).

Other Runners: Tom Neville (Fine Gael), Michael Collins (Fianna Fail), Richard O’Donoghue (Ind), Claire Keating (Green Party).

Longford – Westmeath (Four Seats)
Prediction: Robert Troy (Fianna Fail), Kevin “Boxer” Moran (Ind) & Peter Burke (Fine Gael).

Other Runners: Joe Flaherty (Fianna Fail), Michael Carrigy (Fine Gael), Alan Mangan (Labour Party), James Reynolds (National Party), Gabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael), Louise Heavin (Green Party).

Louth (Five Seats)

Prediction: Imelda Munster (Sinn Fein) & Declan Breathnach (Fianna Fail).

Other Runners: Ruairi O’Murchu (Sinn Fein), Ged Nash (Labour Party), Fergus O’Dowd (Fine Gael), Peter Fitzpatrick (Ind), John McGahon (Fine Gael), James Byrne (Fianna Fail), Mark Dearey (Green Party).

That’s the end of part two, I will submit part three in the next few days. Thank you.



The SNP’s Brexit conundrum

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

Drink, says the Porter in the ‘Scottish Play’, is an equivocator with lechery: “it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance…. it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him”.  So it may prove with Brexit and Scottish Independence.

Nicola Sturgeon loses no opportunity to remind Scots that Brexit is taking them out of the EU ‘against their will’, citing this as justification for holding another independence referendum so soon after the last one.

It’s a good political argument, as far as the provocation of desire is concerned; Brexit does indeed seem to be acting as a lever prising Scottish self-identity further away from the Union.  For now, Boris Johnson has ruled out authorising another independence referendum, but that does not look sustainable for very long; no doubt it will be another of his promises which he can’t keep

You can expect Brexit to continue to figure very strongly in the SNP’s case both for another referendum, and for a Yes vote when they eventually hold one. Yet the objective effect of Brexit will be to make Scottish independence much more difficult than was envisaged when Scots voted in the 2014 referendum.  The Scottish government at the time claimed that Scotland could ‘remain in the EU’ and that therefore there would be very little disruption to trade not only with the Continent, but much more importantly with the rest of the UK. 

Of course there was a lot of hand-waving here: it was never clear how the transition from being part of the UK to becoming a member state of the EU was going to happen, and the then EU President Jose Barroso emphasised how difficult it would be, requiring a full accession process and the formal consent of all member states. This is disputed by some experts, but, whatever the exact legal position, the SNP’s broad point was surely correct: it was inconceivable that Scotland would be excluded from the EU for very long, and in practice some transitional mechanism would have been agreed to avoid disruption to trade and the economy.

EU membership is not only central to the emotional and identity-based case for Scottish independence, in 2014 it was central to the economic case.  There would have been no need for a ‘hard border’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK; closely-integrated trading relationships across the border, accounting for 60% of Scottish external trade (the EU accounts for just 18%), would have continued undisturbed.

Not any more.  Although the Scottish border thankfully doesn’t have the violent history of the Irish border, in other respects the same problems of creating an external EU border within the British Isles, as would happen if Scotland left the UK and then joined the EU, would apply.  Brexit makes Scottish independence more difficult, and more economically damaging, with the damage being more severe the more the UK detaches from the Single Market.  The SNP’s siding with Corbyn and the ERG to torpedo Theresa May’s softish Brexit, which would have produced a much more frictionless border than Boris Johnson is aiming at, looks short-sighted. 

Further, the political argument that Scotland would be ‘remaining’ in the EU can no longer be deployed.  There will be no status quo of Scotland being part of the EU, with the UK’s opt-outs, to build from.  That in turn makes accession to the EU more problematic: adopting the Euro, and perhaps even joining Schengen, would be harder to resist.

To make things worse, the North Sea oilfields, once seen as the primary economic opportunity of independence, now look much less attractive, with the oil price much lower and climate change concerns mounting.  The SNP’s economic case, already thin in 2014, has been severely damaged by all these ‘changes in circumstances’. Enough to scare Scottish voters off independence in a second referendum?  Maybe not; we should know by now that identity politics often trumps economics, and perhaps Brexit will, as many believe, lead to Scotland breaking up the Union, in an act of self-harm ironically similar to Brexit.  But it doesn’t look a slam dunk: desire may have been boosted by Brexit, but performance would be even more difficult than looked to be the case in 2014.  Project Fear v2 will have plenty of material to work with.

Richard Nabavi


Northern Rail to be nationalised and it looks like HS2 is going to be approved

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

HS2 will be the most controversial

One thing about having an ample majority is that Johnson’s government is able to take decisive action without worry about getting things through the Commons and HS2 looks like being, after Brexit, the first big contentious issue to be resolved.

The juxtaposition of the Northern Rail news helps with sending a strong message to those voters in the north and midlands who gave Johnson his majority . Now there maybe a lot of detail to be resolved but we are now into an era when governments can do things.

I think HS2 is absolutely right. Its big problem is that it looked like a vanity project when in fact it was about providing additional capacity on what is the most crowded part of Britain’s rail infrastructure.

The regional messages here are important especially as so much public transport capital spending of recent times has been for London and the South East.

Mike Smithson


How the Iowa Democratic caucuses at WH2004 were the trigger for the establishment of PB

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

In January 2004 the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, looked as though he might make it right through to the nomination. He had been a big pioneer of utilising the internet for online donations and mobilising volunteers something that was quite new at the time. In the polls ahead of Iowa, then like now the first state to decide, he looked strong and was tight favourite, at one stage odds-on in the betting, for the nomination.

At the time my day job for Oxford University meant I was travelling to his state, Vermont, a fair bit and I got to know the head of a college there who who knew Dean and was as fascinated by the political process as I was. Whenever we met we always talked about US politics and in 2004 George W Bush was seeking re-election for the Republicans.

About 10 days before the caucuses I was with my college head contact and asked how he rated Howard Dean. His response surprised me when he said emphatically that Dean would “at some stage blow himself up”.

In those days Betfair used to have forums on its site where people could discuss betting markets and I made something of a reputation for myself by predicting very boldly that Dean wouldn’t win the nomination quoting my Vermont contact’s assessment.

Then came the caucases and as the results were coming in it was clear that Howard Dean was not going to to win. He came third and his response was in the clip above which effectively killed any chances he had.

Shortly afterwards my son Robert suggested I set up my own blog and was formed in March 2004. What helped get a sizable audience within a few days was going to promote the site on the Betfair forum where I had built up a good record thanks to Howard Dean tanking in Iowa.

Mike Smithson


Which way will the Brexit trackers go after Friday?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

With “Brexit wrong” retaining its lead Johnson’s got to be careful about his tone on Friday

Today’s YouGov poll will probably be the last one before Britain leaves the EU on Friday evening. I do hope that the firm will continue its regular Brexit tracker question which has been put in the same way since the referendum in June 2016 .

As can be seen those thinking that Brexit is wrong are leading a situation that has existed for nearly 3 years. The big question is what is going to happen after it has actually happened? Are we going to see an acceptance of the move or are we going to see an increase in those thinking it was a mistake?

A lot depends on perceptions about the economy and the scale of benefits that are seen from being out of the EU. Whatever this will have a big impact on whether the Tories can win again. They are unequivocally the party of Brexit.

Mike Smithson