Archive for January, 2020


YouGov’s first post GE2019 poll has the Tories 20% ahead

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
From the Times

Something like this could provide the starting numbers for Starmer’s leadership

Clearly these are really excellent numbers for Johnson but partly this is explained by the almost total lack of opposition. The biggest battle that Johnson’s had to fight has been with his on party on his plans for Huawei.

For a party to extend its polling lead in the aftermath of a stonking general election victory has been seen before and will be seen again. It will take time for new leaders to be elected for LAB and the LDs for things to change.

What’s going to be worth watching will be the Best PM and leader ratings once, as seems likely, Starmer succeeds Corbyn on April 4th. My guess is that the new man will gain a big polling benefit by simply not being Corbyn.

Another question from YouGov is below on whether people will be doing anything special to mark Brexit on Friday.

As can be seen just 6% that say that they will be doing something to mark the event with 7% saying they probably will which seem to be low.

Mike Smithson


Huawei is a massive personal gamble by Boris

Monday, January 27th, 2020

This is very much his decision


Another week starts and Thornberry continues to struggle finding CLPs to back her

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Keir Starmer: 44 Rebecca Long-Bailey: 18 Lisa Nandy: 10 Emily Thornberry: 3

As can be seen the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, continues to find the going tough in her effort to get on the members’ ballot. She needs 33 constituency parties but following her early rush she remains stuck on three. .

It had been thought that following the success of Nandy, Long-Bailey and Starmer in getting over the line then constituency parties might look at her position more positively. That might still happened but so far there’s very little indication of that .

The problem is that the rigid time scale means means that every batch of local party meetings that goes by without her getting nominations makes her task even greater and the chances are that she isn’t going to make it.

I cannot work out who benefits most from her absence on the ballot. I don’t think it will be Long-Bailey whose team has been pushing very hard over the past week with UNITE throwing its weight behind her campaign.

Meanwhile the money continues to go on Starmer who is now at a record high of a 76% chance in the betting on Betfair.

Mike Smithson


Warren and Klobuchar get key newspaper endorsements Iowa and New Hampshire

Monday, January 27th, 2020

But Bernie and Biden still top the polling and betting

The weekend has seen the leading papers in first two states to decide give their backing to Senators Warren and Klobuchar. In Iowa its the Des Moines Register that is going for Warren while in New Hampshire the Union Leader goes for Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Historically this does matter and according to Fivethirtyeight the DMR’s backing has been worth an average boost of 4% in previous races.

My guess is that the biggest beneficiary with these moves is Klobuchar who has been really struggling in the polls and has yet to have a breakthrough moment. I don’t think she has ever been higher than fifth. Her great strength are that she is a centrist and is just 59 years old. The four ahead of her – Bernie, Biden Bloomberg and Warren – are all in their 70s. The Union Leader says:

“If there is to be any realistic challenge to Trump in November, the Democratic nominee needs to have a proven and substantial record of accomplishment across party lines, an ability to unite rather than divide, and the strength and stamina to go toe-to-toe with the Tweeter-in-Chief. That would be U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is sharp and witty, with a commanding understanding of both history and the inner workings of Capitol Hill.”

Multi-billionaire Bloomberg is not really competing in these early states and is focussing on Super Tuesday on March 3rd. I am planning to be in California for its primary on that day.

Mike Smithson


Irish General Election 2020 : Predictions & Review, Part One

Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Last week, Leo Varadkar called an early Dáil Election. Will his choice backfire or will he get another term? Find out below.

Michael Martin (Fianna Fáil) has been putting the pressure on few quite some time, Fine Gael only won by a handful of seats last time (2016 election) and Leo is now starting to feel the heat.

Leo has made a handful of school boy errors and according to the recent polls, Michael Martin should be elected as the new Taoiseach on 8th February 2020.

Politics is of course very interesting and exciting, the general public have the control to elect anyone from their constituency. So far, Eighteen (18) former TD’s have announced that they won’t be running including Gerry Adams (Sinn Féin) & Edna Kenny (Fine Gael).

Ireland is a country that in my opinion has more than enough Independent TD’s. There are only a few places up for grabs, but who’s going to get them?

I will be submitting my predictions in alphabetical order.

Carlow / Kilkenny (5 TD’s)

Bobby Aylward (Fianna Fail), John McGuinness (Fianna Fail), John Paul Phelan (Fine Gael) High, Pat Deering (Fine Gael) will be elected.

Jennifer Murnane-O’Connor (Fianna Fail), Kathleen Funchion (Sinn Fein), Malcolm Noonan (Green Party) & Patrick O’Neill (Fine Gael) will fight it out for the 5th spot.

Prediction: Kathleen Funchion (Sinn Fein) will get the 5th seat.

Cavan / Monaghan (5 TD’s).

Matt Carthy (Sinn Fein), Heather Humphries (Fine Gael), Brendan Smith (Fianna Fail) & Niamh Smyth (Fianna Fáil) are the front runners here.

T.P. O’Reilly (Fine Gael), Pauline Tully (Sinn Fein) & Robbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail) will be trying their best to get the last seat.

Prediction: T.P O’Reilly (Fine Gael).

Clare (4 TD’s)

Timmy Dooley (Fianna Fail), Cathal Crowe (Fianna Fail) & Pat Breen (Fine Gael) will be elected.

Joe Carey (Fine Gael), Michael McNamara (Ind), Martin Conway (Fine Gael) & Roisin Garvey (Green Party) are the front runners for the 4th and final seat.

Prediction: Roll a dice.

Cork East (4 TD’s)

Kevin O’Keeffe (Fianna Fail), David Stanton (Fine Gael) & Sean Sherlock (Labour Party) should be elected in Cork East.

Pat Buckley (Sinn Fein), James O’Connor (Fianna Fail), Pa O’Driscoll (Fine Gael) & Mary Linehan-Foley (Independent) are all hoping to gain the fourth seat.

Prediction: Pat Buckley (Sinn Fein).

Cork North Central (4 TD’s)

Colm Burke (Fine Gael), Padraig O Sullivan (Fianna Fail) & Thomas Gould (Sinn Fein) will win a seat.

The final seat will be between Mick Barry (Solidarity), Tony Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail), John Maher (Labour Party), Oliver Moran (Green Party) & Kenneth O Flynn (Ind).

Prediction: This is one of the toughest to select. One to watch.

Cork North West (3 TD’s)

Michael Creed (Fine Gael), Aindrias Moynihan (Fianna Fail) & Michael Moynihan (Fianna Fail) shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

Prediction: John Paul O’Shea (Fine Gael) has a very slim chance.

Cork South-Central (4 TD’s)

Micheal Martin (Fianna Fail), Michael McGrath (Fianna Fail) & Simon Coveney (Fine Gael) are foregone conclusions.

The final seat should be between Donnchadh O’Laoghaire (Sinn Fein) & Lorna Bogue (Green Party).

Prediction: Lorna Bogue (Green Party).

Cork South-West (3 TD’s)

This is one of the most open constituencies, All five of Michael Collins (Independent), Christopher O Sullivan (Fianna Fail), Tim Lombard (Fine Gael), Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (Fianna Fail) & Karen Coakley (Fine Gael) have a pretty good chance.

Prediction: Michael Collins (Independent) & Christopher O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil).

Donegal (5 TD’s)

Pearse Doherty (Sinn Fein), Charlie McConologue (Fianna Fail) & Joe McHugh (Fine Gael) will be elected in Donegal.

we’ll have a great contest here, it’ll be between Pat the Cope Gallagher (Fianna Fail), Thomas Pringle (IND), Padraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein), Peter Casey (Ind) & John O Donnell (Ind). I think Pat “The Cope” Gallagher can squeeze through.

Prediction: Pat “The Cope” Gallagher & Thomas Pringle.

Dublin Bay North (5 TD’s)

Sean Haughey (Fianna Fail), Richard Bruton (Fine Gael), Aodhan O’Riordain (Labour) & David Healy (Green Party) should be elected bar miracles.

The 5th and final seat will be between Denise Mitchell (Sinn Fein), Cian O Callaghan (Social Democrats), Catherine Noone (Fine Gael), Deirdre Heney (Fianna Fail)

Prediction: Denise Mitchell (Sinn Fein) could take this by a low margin but I wouldn’t play at 4-11.

Dublin Bay South (4 TD’s)

These three should become a T.D in the election: Eamonn Ryan (Green Party), Jim O Callaghan (Fianna Fail) & Eoghan Murphy (Fine Gael).

Kate O’Connell (Fine Gael), Kevin Humphries (Labour Party) & Chris Andrews (Sinn Fein) will go head to head for the final place.

Prediction: Kevin Humphries (Labour).

Dublin Central (4 TD’s)

Mary Lou McDonald (Sinn Fein), Paschal Donohoe (Fine Gael) & Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail) will be elected here bar accidents.

The fourth and final seat will see Neasa Hourigan (Green Party) go up against Garry Gannon (Social Democrats) and Neasa should do enough to get over the line.

Prediction: Neasa Hourigan (Greens).

Dublin Fingal (5 TD’s)

These three people will get over the line: Darragh O’Brien (Fianna Fáil), Joe O’Brien (Green Party) & Duncan Smith (Labour Party).

The fourth and fifth seat will see two from Louise O Reilly (Sinn Féin), Alan Farrell (Fine Gael), Lorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fáil), James Reilly (Fine Gael) & Dean Mulligan (Ind) get elected.

Prediction: Alan Farrell (Fine Gael) & James Reilly (Fine Gael).

Dublin Mid-West (4 TD’s)

Eoin O’Broin (Sinn Fein) & John Curran (Fianna Fail) will get elected with plenty in hand.

The remaining seats will be between: Emer Higgins (Fine Gael), Mark Ward (Sinn Fein), Gino Kenny (SBP), Paul Gogarty (Independent) & Catriona McClean (Fianna Fail).

Prediction: Gino Kenny (SBP) & Paul Gogarty (Independent).

Dublin North-West (3 TD’s)

Roisin Shortall (Social Democrats) & Paul McAuliffe (Fianna Fail) will be the first two over the line.

Seat Three: Dessie Ellis (Sinn Fein) vs Noel Rock (Fine Gael), Dessie should do enough to get elected.
Prediction: Dessie Ellis (Sinn Fein).

Dublin Rathdown (3 TD’s)

It’ll be unbelievable if Catherine Martin (Green Party) doesn’t get in.

Four way contest between Josepha Madigan (Fine Gael), Shane Ross (Independent), Shay Brennan (Fianna Fail) & Neale Richmond (Fine Gael) for the second and final seat.

Prediction: Josepha Madigan (Fine Gael) & Neale Richmond (Fine Gael). I can see Fine Gael getting two TD’s here.

Dublin South-Central (4 TD’s)

Aengus O’Snodaigh (Sinn Fein) should get a seat.

This one will be very close and is basically a lottery between Catherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail), Patrick Costello (Green Party), Joan Collins (Independents 4 Change), Catherine Byrne (Fine Gael), Brid Smith (Solidarity Before Profit) & Rebecca Moynihan (Labour)

Prediction: Catherine Ardagh (Fianna Fáil) & Patrick Costello (Greens).

Dublin South-West (5 TD’s)

Sean Crowe (Sinn Fein), Colm Brophy (Fine Gael) & John Lahart (Fianna Fail) will be elected in this one.

Francis Noel Duffy (Green Party), Katherine Zappone (Ind), Paul Murphy (RISE), Ciaran Ahern (Labour Party), Charlie O’Connor (Fianna Fail), Deirdre O Donovan (Fianna Fail) & Ellen O’Malley Dunlop (Fine Gael) will go toe to toe for the remaining two seats.

Prediction: None for this really close constituency.

Dublin West (4 TD’s)

Leo Varadkar (Fine Gael) & Jack Chambers (Fianna Fail) will enjoy a nice wage packet for at least another few years after this election.

Roderic O’Gorman (Green Party), Ruth Coppinger (Solidarity Before Profit), Paul Donnelly (Sinn Fein), Joan Burton (Labour) & Emer Currie (Fine Gael) are the other runners & with only two seats left, it’s going to be a mouth watering showdown. 

Prediction: Roderic O’Gorman (Greens).

Dun Laoghaire (4 TD’s)

Richard Boyd Barrett (SBP), Ossian Smyth (Green Party) & Mary Mitchell O’Connor (Fine Gael) should get elected.

Cormac Devlin (Fianna Fail), Jennifer Carroll MacNeill (Fine Gael), Mary Hanafin (Fianna Fail) & Barry Ward (Fine Gael) will battle is out for the last seat but this could come down to only a few votes.

Prediction: This will be very close.

That’s the end of part one, part two will be completed next weekend.



Covered market: the politics of towns

Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Since the election, talk of towns has been the talk of the political town.  Labour politicians and Conservative politicians alike have concluded that is the key to political success right now.

This apparent unity conceals a string of latent ambiguities and confusions.  What are towns? The Conservatives were mocked when they recently launched their Town Of The Year competition in Wolverhampton, which has been a city for nearly 20 years.  The optics could certainly have been better.

Lisa Nandy has made the problems of towns one of the main planks of her campaign for the Labour leadership.  She is a leading light in Centre For Towns, a think tank “dedicated to providing research and analysis of our towns”. That organisation lists 894 settlements in Britain that it considers towns, It reserves the word “city” for Britain’s 12 biggest cities.  (Wolverhampton is a town on their classification.) When most people are talking about towns, I doubt they are thinking of Kingston-upon-Hull, Salford, Southampton or Plymouth.  But all of these are “towns” on the Centre For Towns definition.

Next, what are the problems of towns?  And here we see a confusion between three entirely separate crises.  These three crises have come simultaneously to produce a sense of despondency and decline.

The first aspect of this is the impact of austerity.  Following cuts by central government, councils have pared back their services.  Libraries are being closed, potholes are not being filled, subsidised bus services are becoming skeletal.  The public didn’t notice much for quite a while but they are noticing now.  This is a common problem up and down the country.

Separately, right now we are seeing a crisis in retail as spending moves from the shop floor to online services.  This also is affecting every part of the country. It is particularly visible in the high streets of our urban centres and has a big effect on community life.  Some famous names, like BHS, have gone bust (we can expect more to follow). Others, like Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, have closed down their less profitable shops as they scramble to fight off the challenge of Amazon.  The effects are felt disproportionately outside the very largest centres because smaller places have smaller markets.

Thirdly, some towns are suffering from a crisis of identity.  Towns were founded for a purpose. If a mill town doesn’t have a mill any more or a seaside town no longer has tourists, they urgently need to find a new one.  Some have managed it, some have not. The ones that have not are in deep deep trouble.

The first problem is actually quite easy to solve for the government.  It simply needs to reverse the cuts to local government spending. If the government is serious about improving local infrastructure, there are few measures that it could take that could have as speedy and useful effects.  It might seek to ensure that the money is not moved elsewhere by hypothecating grants to local government, but if the government is going to hose money around on infrastructure projects, this is a good place to start. Where the money is going to come from is a separate problem but since no political party is now the least bit concerned about fiscal responsibility, let’s not be worrywarts.

The second problem is probably a problem that the government should not try to solve directly.  The public lament the sad state of their local high streets even as they speed in their cars to the out of town shopping centres and order their goods online.  The retail sector will reach a new equilibrium in due course between online and bricks-and-mortar spending. This is not a problem requiring government regulation.  

There is an opportunity here.  Britain suffers from having far too many identitikit towns and cities, dominated at ground level by the fascias of retail chains.  As the retail chains withdraw from the high streets, local character can be restored. Government should be looking to encourage new uses of town centre buildings (whether as offices, as private residences or something quite different).  In thriving towns, this evolution will be accepted as stoically as every past evolution of town centres. They could look far more interesting than they do now.

The third problem, that of failing towns, is not a general problem, it is highly specific.  It is also the hardest of the three to deal with. To be cynical, the success or failure of government is unlikely to hinge on it.  Too few Parliamentary seats depend on this problem being resolved. It is, however, what many people subconsciously have in mind when they think of the problems of towns, so the government needs to have some form of plan.  I’m sure it will have some fine words. I’m less sure that they will amount to all that much.

The opposition, however, would probably be ill-advised to place too much emphasis on towns. If the government gives proper attention to it, it has a good chance of making a difference to towns’ prospects that the public gives it credit for.  Labour could easily see a focus on towns backfire on them.

The problems of the large cities outside London look much more intractable and in the long term are much more important for Britain’s future.  Much of Britain’s underperformance can be attributed to their underperformance. Perhaps more attention should be given to them.

Alastair Meeks


Nine days before Iowa and the top 5 contenders are within 12 points of each other

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Chart from

A week on Monday we have the very first event in the 2020 White House Race. This is of course the caucases in the midwest state of Iowa which has a reputation of pulling off some surprises and having a big impact on the nomination races overall.

This involves voters doing much much more than turning out at a polling station to cast a vote. At 1600+ events starting at 7:30 in the evening local time Democratic voters attend a meeting in their precinct. Initially there is a headcount of backers each of the contenders and only those that are able to get 15% at each meeting stay in. For those supporters of candidates getting below 15% at their meeting they have to to choose another candidate. This is all within the meeting itself and experience tells us that having a good local organisers at each event is part of the recipe for success.

The chart above from Fivethirty-eight shows weighted average of the recent state polls taking into account each pollsters’ record and approach.

Next weekend we should get the final polls with the one by Anne Seltzer for the Des Moines Register having the strongest reputation for getting this right. I’ll be waiting for that before making my final bets.

Mike Smithson


Global Heating: great crises are difficult and complex. Activists need to recognise that

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

David Attenborough, like the Queen, is immortal and infallible and therefore the closest thing we have to a living god. Unfortunately, gods have little interest in the practical business of politics (or at least, only among themselves), which is where the problem lies with Attenborough’s call for action on global heating.

While it has become popular recently to refer to the problem as the Climate Crisis, this is a poor choice of wording. Presumably the previous preferred terms – ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ – are now less favoured because the one sounds like quite a welcome development while the other is far too vague. ‘Crisis’, by contrast, strikes a note of urgency.

That urgency, however, isn’t really shared among the public. It wasn’t a prominent issue in the recent general election, where the party committed to the most cautious policy on decarbonisation won a clear majority (albeit that hitting net-zero in 30 years is still committing to revolutionary change in transport and infrastructure). In the most recent Mori Issues Index, 18% mentioned the environment, pollution and climate change as one of the most important issues with only 5% putting it top.

What’s true of Britain is even more true of the rest of the world. Attenborough made the wildly naïve and misguided statement that China needed to announce it would curb carbon output and the rest of the world would fall into line and that one could hope it would happen. One can’t and it won’t.

In reality, China is committed to massive increases in carbon emissions. It plans to build 216 new airports by 2035, by which point it would have greater air traffic that the US. It produces more steel every two years than Britain has produced in its history. It burns as much coal as the rest of the world combined and is planning on opening so many new coal-fired power stations that even if every coal-fired plant in the EU was decommissioned, these new Chinese ones alone would more than offset the closed European ones.

But that’s only half of the naivety. Even if China was to plan to commit to start to cut its carbon output, it’s fanciful to believe that the US administration (for example) would feel any compunction to follow suit.

Besides, there’s an uncomfortable undertone to the preachings of old white men (or the almost religious denunciations coming from rich white teenagers). “What right”, representatives of developing countries might ask, “have white people to enjoy a high standard of living, based on already-high levels of energy consumption, not to mention all the damage done during their own industrialisation during the last 200 years, including the occupation and often misuse of the rest of the world, if the right to develop is to be denied to black, brown and yellow people?”

(These racial terms are of course not generally considered polite these days. In this context however, I think they rather highlight the hypocrisy and double-standards).

And it’s a good question. China might be on the ‘bad boys’ list now, with 29% of global CO2 emissions – much more than its 18.4% population share – but the USA, with only 4.2% of the world’s population puts out 16% of its CO2: a greater ratio still. By contrast, India, almost as populous as China, emits only a quarter as much carbon dioxide. (Interestingly, the UK is only a little above its ‘fair share’, with around 1% on both scores).

In any case, analysis is only scratching the surface of the problem. Even if there’s consensus that the world must ‘do something’ (which was about as specific as Attenborough got), and even if there were agreement on what the objective should be, there still comes the politically tricky aspect of getting there.

It’s in that policy detail that the devil lies. If it were easy, it would have happened already. No-one willingly puts the future of the planet and civilization at risk. Equally though, economies and societies are complex and delicate things and change can only be achieved if it isn’t so disruptive as to produce a political backlash against both the policies and the people implementing them large enough to displace both – and that goes for dictatorships as much as democracies.

Steve Mnuchin might have been unusually stupid in his language towards Greta Thunberg – his “study economics” comment not only sneered at, patronised and dismissed the entire environmental movement but also demonstrated a lack of understanding of the economics of externalities (one might also note that a Treasury Secretary running a $1trn/yr deficit during full employment having claimed his administration’s tax cuts would pay for themselves is not well-placed to tell others to study economics) – but beneath the media and technical ineptness is a valid point: decarbonisation comes with short- and medium-term costs and the faster the change, the greater the costs. Which someone must pay. Thunberg might complain about her childhood having been stolen (it wasn’t, though her old age might be), but radical change risks ‘stealing’ the lives of many millions of others: at best through unemployment or bankruptcies; at worst due to early deaths.

(That final point touches on the elephant in the room, namely that one major reason for the huge increase in emissions is the huge increase in population. One of John Rentoul’s top 10 zombie facts is the claim that the world’s population could fit on the Isle of Wight. That might have been true in 1950 but at the same, cosy, six-people-per-square-metre density, you’d now need an island the size of the Isle of Skye – there are three times as many people on the planet today as 70 years ago).

The business of politics is in managing differences but in order to be able to do so there first has to be some consensus of the terms of the discussion. As yet, on Global Heating, we’re not even close to being there, either on a global or a national level. Governments can, and should, keep educating the public and acting where there’s scope to do so but the reality is that large-scale carbon reduction is likely to mean making food, petrol, flights and heating more expensive (or rationed). This is why, to Attenborough’s apparent incomprehension, governments “refuse to take steps that we know have to be taken”.

Is there hope? Maybe. But it will not follow the more extreme policies (or targets, which imply policies) that Global Heating activists want, and that must mean that adaptation is a part of the solution as well as behaviour change. But unless there is realism on both sides – about what is politically possible as well as about the nature of the crisis – then the likelihood is future governments will have to impose dramatic controls after the event. But as in wartime, at least at that point the public would understand and accept the necessity.

David Herdson