Archive for February, 2020

h1

And so to South Carolina where anything other than a big Biden win would be a sensation

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

His Obama link seems to be working well.

Just about ever since Betfair opened its South Carolina betting market former vice-president, 77 year old Joe Biden, has been the favourite. There was a moment a weak or so ago when when everything seems to be going on Bernie’s way and he had a day as favourite. Since then things have changed and now Biden is a 93%+chance.

The thing to remember about the state is that the majority of Democratic party voters are African Americans and this is a group which Joe Biden has been counting on throughout. He was the one who was appointed Vice President by the first African-American president, Barack Obama and that has been a key part of his appeal. This is from the CNN Exit poll:

  • 55% black
  • 40% moderate
  • 20% very liberal
  • 9%conservative (!)

The polls have Sanders in second place but not that far ahead of other contenders and it might be that the surprise overnight could be for the lower places. A smart move by Biden has been to indicate that his VP choice if he got the nomination was Kamala Harris – the black senator from California and former contender,

What a Biden victory should do is allow him to go into Super Tuesday in 3 days time with a clear victory under his belt.

The other thing we could get overnight is the official certified Iowa outcome with Buttigieg having the narrowest of margins over Sanders.

Mike Smithson



h1

Flying into trouble – the government’s position on Heathrow?

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

With one bound Boris was free! That seems to have been the government’s reaction to the Court of Appeal’s decision in relation to Heathrow, at least judging by the Transport Secretary’s somewhat disingenuous statement that as this was a private sector project the government would not be appealing the decision. Given how quickly the statement was made and how long the 2 related judgments were (143 pages) one wonders whether they were even read, let alone considered. 

But in all the excitable commentary about judges making Heathrow expansion unlawful, what has been overlooked is that the victory for green campaigners is much narrower than it seems. The key points are:-

  • It was none of the court’s business whether Heathrow should be expanded or not. Its ruling was not about that nor about whether expansion was compatible with the government’s climate change obligations. The merits or otherwise of aviation expansion “are the Government’s responsibility and the Government’s alone.” Similarly, it was perfectly possible for there to be an aviation expansion policy compatible with Britain’s legally binding climate change obligations. Nothing in this judgment forces the government towards any one particular view on this topic. Rather than interfere in such a highly charged political decision, the courts lobbed the ball straight back at the government.
  • All the challenges to Heathrow expansion were lost, save for one. Importantly, all but one of the challenges on environmental grounds by a range of groups were dismissed.
  • The challenge which won was on a technical planning point relating to the “Airports National Policy Statement: new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the south east of England” (“the ANPS”). This had failed to set out how the Government had taken account of its commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. 
  • The point is a narrow one under planning law. The updated 2008 Planning Act requires the Transport Secretary to take account of the government’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and give an explanation of how this has been done. The ANPS did not contain such an explanation and since this was a legal requirement, the ANPS had not been done properly and was, therefore, unlawful. (In this case, Grayling (yes, Britain’s very own reverse Midas strikes again!) appears to have been given the wrong legal advice, apparently being told that he was obliged to ignore the Paris Agreement). At any event, like most of his other decisions, it will be left to someone else to sort out the consequences.
  • Until the defect is remedied, the decision to go ahead has to be paused.
  • Paused. Not stopped. The onus is now on the Transport Secretary either to amend the ANPS to take climate change matters into consideration, withdraw it as a national policy statement or leave it as it is. The decision not to appeal does not remove this obligation.
  • So it is perfectly possible for Grant Shapps to set out how the government is taking the Paris Agreement into account in the ANPS, thus making it lawful and permitting Heathrow expansion to go ahead. Indeed, it would be odd for him not to consider these obligations and leave an unlawful policy statement out there. 

The Supreme Court may yet overturn this decision, of course. But enough of law. What of the politics? 

If the policy decision is reissued with a clear statement about how the government has considered its climate change responsibilities and determined that aviation expansion is compatible with these, runway 3 can still go ahead. (Expect green groups to challenge again though a challenge on the substance of a decision is very much harder to win.) Would a Minister wish to embarrass his PM? Or would he assume that the voters who care about Heathrow are largely lost to the Tories anyway? It’s not as if Boris is particularly anti-a large London airport. He just wanted one in a different place. 

Shapps could withdraw the statement and not issue another one. That would kill Heathrow expansion certainly. More importantly, it would send out a very important message about the government’s approach to one of its key priorities. This government is very keen on infrastructure projects of all types. “An Infrastructure Revolution” as the manifesto put it. (The manifesto’s environmental section was very much shorter and largely focused on trees, national parks, fly-tipping and reducing the use of plastics.) Pretty much every infrastructure project will need to comply with planning law and will have carbon and other environmental consequences. Even without legal challenge, getting them built takes time. The Tories will want voters, especially new Northern Tory voters, to see tangible rewards for their votes well before the next election. There is not much time. Infrastructure spending is also key to preventing or mitigating any Brexit and/or virus-induced recession. 

So the government will surely want to avoid giving the impression that it will cave in to “green” challenges, if this risks slowing down or stopping infrastructure projects closer to the government’s heart. It will want to show that it can do it more infrastructure, building, transport links, roads, railways, hospitals etc and still achieve its climate change targets. Expect a revised ANPS in due course. 

How easy will it be in practice to build, build, build and still reduce carbon emissions? Technical ingenuity can achieve much. But it is not a panacea. Or not yet anyway. The Climate Change Act 2008, as amended in 2019, is vaulting in ambition but vague with the details. It provides a very large stick with which to beat incompetent Ministers with, a high bar for the government’s lawyers to meet to make a government decision challenge-proof but few practical steps to achieve its goals. It does not set out any way of assessing how to measure the costs of this necessary development here versus those carbon reductions over there. Nor does it make clear whether a project can be assessed on its own merits or has to take into account externalities (the “green” terminal becomes less green if all those extra journeys are added back in). It is the equivalent of a New Year’s resolution to “get fit” turned into a legally binding contract with penalties, but without a plan for how or when. 

This is where individual detailed national policies matter, where the trade-offs between this road or that necessary hospital and the associated carbon emissions/reductions/costs come sharply into focus. This is where the politicians’ desire to make much admired gestures on the world stage come up against voters’ wish for practical improvements to their lives. The government may well be able to reconcile both. But if it can’t, might it sacrifice the vaulting ambition?  Might it seek to modify the Climate Change Act to give itself more room for manoeuvre to achieve what it believes its voters will care about in 4 years time?

Cyclefree



h1

Labour must get over its myth of 2017 if it is to win again

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

A well-timed aberration is still an aberration

Keir Starmer looks well set to win Labour’s leadership election in April. After securing comfortable leads among MPs, CLPs and affiliate organisations in the previous rounds, YouGov reported this week that he holds a 22% lead over Rebecca Long-Bailey, and is more likely than not to win on the first round.

If he does, it will be in no small part down to the last set of rule changes which at the time were thought to favour the left. YouGov puts him on 53%; under the old rules, Jess Philips and Emily Thornberry would probably have taken enough to deny him a symbolic outright win.

Quite where he will lead Labour is a different matter. Starmer has been remarkably adept at remaining a blankish sheet of paper; appearing at once to be both a continuity and change candidate. While that duality is possible to pull off – you can maintain many of the policies while clothing the party in a quite different style – in reality there will come a point where the Corbyn legacy must be appeased or confronted.

Some of that is about dropping Corbyn’s more ridiculous policies: the free broadband or what might as well be a Kremlin-approved foreign policy. Some of it is also about renewing and refreshing both the personnel and the culture of Labour’s HQ. But before winning the future, first Starmer must win the past.

Even now, many Labour activists will cite 2017 as something akin to a great victory. If it’s not the great recovery in the campaign (leave aside who dug the hole Corbyn climbed out of, and who supplied the opportunity for him to do so), then it’s that Labour won a tremendous number of votes – over 2m more than Labour won in any other election this century.

Such arguments have the tremendous advantage of being true. They might well ignore the important point that Labour still lost but for many Corbyn-supporters, that doesn’t matter: they show that his policies were popular or at least, that they can’t have been all that unpopular if they outpolled Blair, Brown and Miliband.

The trap here is that it’s easy to try to critique that analysis – to point out the other reasons Labour did relatively well and recovered during the campaign which didn’t happen because of Corbyn and sometimes despite him – but that to do so would be a mistake.

The right argument is that even if 2017 was a glorious defeat, it was also the one ray of false dawn in what was otherwise a four-year long record of failure, and that the consistency of the rest of the record represents the public’s genuine verdict on the out-going leader.

To remind ourselves of just how badly Corbyn did, here are a few of the low-lights:

  • A net loss in Westminster by-elections during 2015-20, including the first loss by an opposition party to the government in over 30 years
  • Finished third, losing to the Lib Dems, in the 2019 European Parliament elections
  • Lost a third of Labour’s MSPs in the 2016 Holyrood election, to finish behind the Tories
  • Lost around 400 councillors and 13 councils in net terms across the 2016-19 May rounds of local government elections
  • Worst ever net satisfaction rating by a Leader of the opposition
  • Failed to prevent Brexit, either at the referendum or afterwards
  • The smallest Labour PLP since 1935 (2019GE)

No opposition has ever endured such a lengthy and wide-ranging record of failure. Even the likes of Hague and Duncan Smith racked up decent local government gains and an EP election win. Put simply, the 2017 general election was not representative of some underlying truth; it was the aberration outside a truth that was all too obvious everywhere else.

And that is the point Labour needs to accept if it is going to move on and up. Certainly, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater – but there is a need to throw out the bathwater.

Can Starmer do that? Can he change the culture and tone of the party, and perhaps the policy direction, while also staying true to his desire to unify Labour and not pick internal fights? I don’t think so; it’s one or the other – or if he plays it right, it’s one after the other, with a necessary fight and then unity around a new consensus. But to get there, first the Myth of 2017 must be debunked.

David Herdson

p.s. Last week I tipped Bernie Sanders at 10/11 for the Democrat nomination and 7/2 for the White House. Those odds have barely shifted (he’s now 100/30 for the presidency but still 10/11 for the nomination). These odds are nuts and huge value.

Sanders has built up a big national lead, and an even bigger one in California with its huge number of delegates. Even if he loses badly in South Carolina (which is possible), I don’t see that doing anything other than trimming his Super Tuesday lead, not least because of so much early voting in the bag. I think he’s now about an 80% shot for the nomination and, given Trump’s typically self-centred and quite possibly grossly inadequate reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, should now be favourite in a head-to-head with Trump, the president’s skill at negative campaigning notwithstanding. The polls already give Sanders a healthy lead and while they gave Hillary a healthy lead much later in 2016, I think it’s different this time. It will be a lot harder to campaign negatively effectively if Trump’s own ratings tank, which is now entirely possible if the economy takes a downturn, never mind if he’s perceived to have seriously mismanaged the health crisis – both of which are now big risks.



h1

Another day when when the virus totally dominates the front pages

Saturday, February 29th, 2020


h1

Can anyone stop Sanders – looking at the contenders one by one?

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Bernie Sanders is rightly the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. RIght now he leads in national polling, delegates, popular votes cast and has gone 3 out of 3 (Including a blowout delegate win in broadly representative Nevada) for states that have thus far cast their votes.

Who can challenge him though ?

Examining the candidates officially still in the race and those with odds of less than 1000.0 on Betfair. So in broad order of plausibility…

Tom Steyer – He might have a good night in South Carolina, but his other heavily worked state, Nevada bombed with a poor vote share. He seems invisible in all states past South Carolina too. Likely never a viable candidate, it won’t (Sadly for the big green number I have next to him) be Steyer.

Tulsi Gabbard – There are the has beens, the also rans and the never weres in this nomination process. Tulsi has been barely above the Deval Patrick, John Delaneys and Marianne Williamsons in this process, Tulsi is firmly in the “never were” category.

Amy Klobuchar – Seems to have got embroiled in rows with Pete Buttigieg. There are bigger fish to fry than Buttigieg in this process and despite her having some niche midwestern appeal, her polling is nowhere outside of her home state of Minnesota right now. There looks to be absolubtely no plausible way forward for her.

Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton – I’ll deal with these together. At a contested convention, Clinton (Or Mrs Obama if you prefer longer odds fantasies) will take to the stage to make a speech about how the party needs to unite; and suddenly chants of “I’m with her, I’m with her” erupt all over the arena. She’s ruled out running, but the adulation is too great and extremely reluctantly Hillary Clinton with a click of her Lucite heels accepts the Democratic nomination. It’s the stuff of nightmares for Betfair layers, Ladbrokes, hilarious for everyone else and would probably burn twitter’s servers down. Trump would find it hilarious, but really how likely is this ?

Not going to happen, we’ve moved on from the 1952 Democrat convention – they are much wider affairs now. Delegate horse trading would be between existing candidates.

Buttigieg – A very competent candidate with a good start, but the road ahead looks extremely challenging for him. He’s had his best states, and has never connected at all with black voters. He is forecast to attain 197 delegates and his odds of winning a plurality of delegates are 0.4% according to Nate Silver’s model. Almost uniquely suited for the demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire I feel his best days in the nomination process were those first early days.

Warren – Warren has had something of a polling uplift in recent days with some strong debate performances. Her problem is that she is likely many voters second choice particularly Sanders voters. With Sanders in such a strong position fighting off the other Bs in the contest (Bloomberg, Buttigieg, Biden) can the aware liberal voter afford to potentially waste a vote on Warren if it might be better off spent on Sanders to secure him more delegates ? It is a rhetorical problem (No).

Nevertheless she might just have enough delegates (And be sufficiently Sanders friendly) to negotiate concessions at a contested convention to “get him over the line” if he is just short. She may well stay in for this reason, as she can attract a more moderate voter than Sanders too. On a personal level she seems disgusted by Bloomberg trying to literally buy the nomination – and quite right too.

Bloomberg – I for a whole heap of reasons one never believed his candidacy could have achieved the polling numbers it seems to have generated; however it seems hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising (Orange man bad) does seemingly make people want to buy anything you’re selling – particularly Florida voters that are even older than he is (The one state I think he could win). 

But here’s the problem – he could well be heading into Super Tuesday with Sanders as the presumptive frontrunner, and Joe Biden coming off a bounce from South Carolina (It’s not completely inconcievable Biden might be in the delegate lead heading into ST). He’s going to split the potential Biden vote far more than any effect on Sanders, indeed if you wanted a poster child that represents everything Sanders stands against – well you couldn’t do much better than Mike Bloomberg. He’s a lousy debater, is tone deaf on issues particularly of sexism has #Metoo issues.. and his head to head polling against Sanders is poor. 

Perhaps more than any other candidate he has created the conditions to flip the Sanders-Biden dynamic since the start of the process in favour of Sanders.

Onto JO ‘No malarkey’ BIDEN

Biden has had a poor campaign thus far. It should probably be no surprise given he is a man who plagiarised Kinnock speeches. Trump’s impeachment likely hasn’t helped either highlighting the murky world of jobs for the well connected boys (Jo’s son Hunter) in this case. The calendar has definitely been unhelpful, if South Carolina or Nevada had gone first he’d be in a much stronger position.

Though with a strong debate in Carolina, and the strongest part of his electoral coalition (Black moderate voters who really like Obama’s legacy) about to have their voice heard in SC he is probably the best placed candidate of the 3 (Moderate) Bs to challenge Sanders for the nomination.

He’s still behind in theoretical H2H polling but the gap is nowhere near as big as Bloomberg, and Buttigieg simply doesn’t have the electoral coalition. Will the others realise enough that Biden is likely their only shot at stopping Sanders ? Probably. Will they realise quickly enough ? Probably not.

Pulpstar



h1

For election junkies a great new resource from the House of Commons Library

Friday, February 28th, 2020

One hundred years of UK elections

I suspect many PBers are like me always wanting to check details of past elections usually in order to make a point about a current situation. Well there is a great downloadable resource just out from the Commons library which has data on UK elections going back a whole century and presenting it in an attractive way.

This 96 page document is available free from here and I am sure that many of those who come to PB regularly will find it interesting. This is a definitive reference source enhanced by its many excellent charts and tables,

I find I’m generally pretty good with a reasonably good idea of what’s happened over the past half century but even with this it is good to have the real data available.

The Commons Library produces excellent briefing papers after each election and there’s a good list at the back with links to all of them.

Mike Smithson



h1

In the South Carolina betting Bernie moves from a 57.5% chance to a 14% one in less than 5 days

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

Biden looks set to be heading for victory in the state that was his firewall

With the South Carolina primary taking place on Saturday there have been three new polls today all of them showing ex-VP Joe Biden with a clear lead. One poll has him 20% ahead of Bernie Sanders, another one 16% while a final one has the gap just at 4%

Whatever there is no good poll for Sanders and and the signs are that the state Joe Biden said was his firewall will actually end up as that.

A big question is how this will look as we head for Super Tuesday on March 3rd when about 34% of all the delegates are at stake. Will failing to win South Carolina take the edge off Bernie?

We are also still waiting for news of the Iowa recount where Buttigieg was ahead on delegates and Sanders ahead on votes. That surely will come this week given the caucuses were nearly a month ago.

Mike Smithson



h1

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown – now being talked about as a compromise Dem candidate at a brokered convention

Thursday, February 27th, 2020

My 250/1 bet today

In recent weeks, Democrats have placed a steady stream of calls to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who opted against running for president nearly a year ago, suggesting that he can emerge as a white knight nominee at a brokered convention — in part on the theory that he may carry his home state in a general election. (Today’s New York Times)

A year ago, when the race for the White House in this year’s presidential election was still a long way off, I Began looking to the list of possible contenders and the one who stood out was senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He’s in his early 60s, has a superb gravelly voice and comes over very well on television. He’s also in a key swing state that he could carry for the Democrats if he was the contender.

Brown also did well in Ohio in November 2018 holding his senate seat with a 7% margin.

At the time I bet on him at what looks now a ridiculous 25/1 on Betfair because to me he seemed to be one of the best of the possibles that were then being talked about. But it was not to be. Senator Brown decided that he would not put his hat into the ring.

Now he is back into the frame again following the above piece in today’s New York Times. I don’t think Brown would want to enter the race at this stage but it is possible that if there is a brokered convention anything could happen because the Democrats obviously need to have a candidate in the presidential election

So an hour ago I managed to put £5 on him at about 250/1 Betfair. Will it succeed? I don’t know but at long odds like that and given the state of the race then there is just a possibility.

The problem the party faces at the moment is that the one leading after the first three primaries is 78 year old Bernie Sanders who for most of his career has not been a Democrat but has always described himself as a Socialist. The worry is that he will be easy meat for the Trump campaign to attack. Sherrod Brown would be much more difficult.

Mike Smithson