Archive for the 'EU matters' Category


An interim government would need more than just a PM

Monday, September 30th, 2019

There has been much speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of the opposition parties and ex-Tory refuseniks coming together to oust this government and install an interim government, tasked with a very limited role of negotiating an Article 50 extension, promptly followed by a GE. (A variant of this proposal would have the interim government stay in office long enough to call a second EU referendum, but that seems vanishingly unlikely).

Like many suggestions for resolving the impasse, this one immediately runs into difficulties. The first problem is who would be the interim Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn thinks it should be him, but hardly anyone outside Labour agrees. To have any chance of getting the necessary cross-party support, including the support of ex-Tories and those who left Labour precisely because of Corbyn, a far less divisive and extreme figure would be required. Ideally this should be someone with experience of government, and who has no political ambition for the future. Margaret Beckett has been tipped as one possibility, or perhaps Ken Clarke or Harriet Harman. Whether Jeremy Corbyn would support an ex-Tory PM, or ex-Tories support a Labour PM backed by Corbyn, is a problem which itself might scupper the idea.

Let’s assume, though, that that difficulty can be overcome and a potential PM agreed. In all the speculation about possible choices for PM, hardly anyone seems to have noticed that a government is more than a PM. It needs ministers as well. Admittedly, this short-lived interim government would not be developing policy, or introducing legislation, or making long-term decisions, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t need a skeleton ministerial team. Just as in the ‘purdah’ period after an election has been called, sometimes ministerial direction or the formal legal authorisation of ministers is indispensable. Although many minor ministerial posts and even some important Cabinet posts could be left vacant for the few weeks of the interim government’s existence, it would still need a Chancellor to sign off financial measures and to deal with any market or banking crises, as Alastair Darling had to in 2010. It would need a Home Secretary to be available to take action if there were a sudden terrorist atrocity or other emergency. It would need a Defence Secretary for similar reasons, and a Foreign Secretary to provide continuity in our relations with other countries. It would need a Lord Chancellor, and an Attorney General. In the current circumstances with Stormont suspended it would definitely need a Northern Ireland Secretary.

One can easily play Fantasy Cabinet Formation and put some names to these posts from those who supported the Benn Act. Phil Hammond or Ken Clarke could easily step up as temporary Chancellor, as could David Gauke, Yvette Cooper, or Vince Cable. The problem, though, is that the parties setting up this interim government would need to agree on dozens of such ministerial appointments, each one highly charged politically.

How likely is that, and how would the posts be divvied out? If Jeremy Corbyn were to agree on, say, Ken Clarke as PM, would he in return demand that John McDonnell becomes interim Chancellor? Or if the PM is a Labour figure, would Corbyn really be prepared to give his support to an ex-Tory Chancellor? Would the LibDems insist on Jo Swinson being in cabinet? Each appointment would become a complex multi-party negotiation amongst politicians who don’t trust each other.

This looks like one of those ideas – like Brexit itself – which looks more and more impractical the more you look at the details.

Richard Nabavi


The three post Euros polls have had three different parties in the lead

Sunday, June 2nd, 2019


The Tories wiped out in London as Mike Smithson wins his bet on the Lib Dems winning London

Sunday, May 26th, 2019



Two party politics is still with us, except this time the two parties are the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems

Sunday, May 26th, 2019



Maastricht Redux

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Once upon a time there was a stubborn female PM annoying the hell out of her colleagues. A junior Minister was even overheard calling her “a cow” and wishing she would resign. She was determinedly pursuing and arguing for an initially popular pledge – abolition of the rates – by means of a ferociously unpopular policy: the poll tax. No-one was convinced. Tory MPs looked nervously at their majorities, their annoyed constituents and wondered why she would not listen.

A feeble attempt to unseat her had recently failed. She ignored the warning signs. Then an argument about European policy (ERM membership and the EU’s plans for Economic and Monetary Union) combined with her brutal treatment of loyal colleagues and a recession, led to her departure. Tears were shed. The long-standing blond favourite – self-promoting, prone to flamboyant gestures, nakedly ambitious, a darling of the members for his theatrical speeches and with a flouncy resignation out of Cabinet to his name – was waiting in the wings. He was beaten by a less flashy, largely unknown successor who promised to unite the country and make it feel at ease with itself.

There was, alas, no happy ending – for the successor, the party or the country.  The successor stuck with ERM membership, despite the economic pain it was inflicting. He became hubristic – especially after his election victory – even suggesting in a TV interview that summer of 1992 that the pound would one day be as strong as the Deutschmark and might replace it as the ERM’s anchor currency. Oh dear.

Much as happened to other British Ministers since, this delusion about Britain’s importance was brutally dispatched by the German Foreign Minister in his TV interview shortly after. Nemesis followed: humiliation in Europe, billions spent pointlessly, a reputation for economic competence (already wearing thin) thrown away, hand to hand combat in Parliament over the Maastricht Treaty with a vociferous group of his own MPs, convinced that the EU was the source of all the country’s problems.

No matter that ERM membership had been supported by a majority, including opposition parties. Its consequences (high interest rates, lost jobs, homeowners with negative equity) were not at all what voters wanted or expected.  The government was blamed.  It limped on – in office but not in power – until finally put out of its misery by a toothy, grinning newcomer with a gift for the pithy phrase and making people feel good about themselves. It was 23 years before it won a majority again.

Surely things are different now?  But no.  Mrs May – a bloody difficult woman, determined yet unpersuasive, only at her departure finally understanding that politics is the art of the possible – has, like the first female PM before her, been felled by her party’s inability to handle yet another European issue.  So what now?

Party vs country.

In 1990 MPs decided on the leader; this at least had the virtue that they knew close up the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and would have to live with the consequences of their decision. Now it has been delegated to circa 150,000 members, mostly at or near pensionable age, a significant proportion of whom may not even have voted Tory in the Euro elections, unrepresentative of the wider electorate, and who will not have to live with the consequences in Parliament.

An odd way to choose a leader who, as PM, needs to command a majority in the House but who may not have commanded a majority of their MPs.  There may not be much difference in practice.  Members gave the Tories Ian Duncan-Smith; MPs chose May.  In both cases, the electorate gave scant thought to the country’s needs. They seem intent on repeating that mistake.

It is not enough to be different to one’s predecessor.

May has no charisma, Boris plenty.  May lost a majority, Boris won London twice.  May never believed in Brexit, Boris does (we hope). Tory voters have deserted the party for Farage so we must offer what Farage is offering. So Boris it must be. This seems to be the thinking (to be kind) of those Tories desperate for a way out. Boris has cut his hair and promised to be more disciplined.  This is leadership Just William-style.

Perhaps other candidates could outbid him by promising to have regular baths and say their prayers before bedtime.  Little thought is given to how to resolve the problem which confronted Mrs May and will confront any new leader – how to leave the EU on good terms and get support for this in the EU and Parliament.

May’s failure is put down to her character and lack of belief not the complexity of the task.  JFDI [1] seems to be all that is required.  If leaving on bad terms is what that means, too bad. It is a quite extraordinary approach for a party with “conservative” in its name.

Politics is about more than reacting to what you don’t like.

Black Wednesday and the Maastricht Treaty are often seen as when Euroscepticism gained a hold in British politics.  But something more insidious also developed: the art of knowing what you are against but not knowing what you are for.

So busy was Major fighting for an opt-out from the euro and the Social Chapter, so exhausted was he coming up with a compromise which would keep the party together and dampen down any discussion about the EU’s trajectory, so focused on the process of winning Parliamentary approval, that he utterly failed to explain or make the case for what Maastricht did change: the start of the creation of a European identity for its citizens and their ability to move, live and work freely in all its member states.

The case for Freedom of Movement, for a European identity, for the EU which was being created was never made until it was far too late, a point which scuppered Remainers long before the referendum campaign’s start. They too adopted the tactics of the Eurosceptics: only they were against those who wanted to leave the EU.  Hard not to make that look like contempt for voters and their choices.  It has been the rocket fuel for Farage’s comeback.

Now they are at it again. Everyone hates the Withdrawal Agreement, the Irish backstop.  Not a proper Brexit.  Nor what the people wanted, apparently.  Some even now hate the Good Friday Agreement (a major diplomatic triumph whose foundations were built by poor doomed Mr Major).  Others simply hate the idea of having any sort of agreement at all with the EU because it would involve compromise. The Brexiteers have adopted Maggie’s “No. No. No.” and turned into a manifesto. Others hate a No Deal Brexit or Brexit at all and plot to get it stopped.

Have a plan for the future.

How does one leave the EU?  You’d have thought that those agitating for it so vociferously and for such a long time would know by now.  But no. It’s as if departure from the EU is the end state, now seemingly without even a transition to ease the passing from the status quo to, well, what? All the focus is on the exit door, not what’s on the other side.

How a country built around EU membership for 46 years can suddenly go from that to non-membership literally overnight is never explained. We are meant to take it on trust that there is an economic Eden there just waiting. There may be some disruption says Theresa Villiers but, when asked on The Week in Westminster how much disruption was acceptable, she declined to answer.  It cannot be long now before we get a fresh airing of “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working.”

It is not even clear whether a deal of any type with the EU will be acceptable or even sought. We are meant to believe that the EU, having been snubbed over the transition, will bother to start the tortuous process of negotiating an FTA.  It’s assumed that Brexit will be done once Britain departs when surely it will be the start of something new and unprecedented. None of its proponents seem to have given the slightest thought to or, if they have, bothered to communicate to voters what this new beginning will mean.

The most important lesson is perhaps this: any significant change in the country’s course needs more than Parliamentary approval or passage as the legal default to gain support.  It needs it from as many of those who are initially opposed or indifferent or sceptical as possible.  Without it, any change will be vulnerable to its first difficulties. Without it, it will not last.

If it is so hard to gain acceptance for departure with a transition deal, might some reflection be advisable?  Apparently not – at least for ardent Tory Brexiteers. There can be only one answer to that question. No. They now seem close to their No Deal Brexit but have little to say about what happens next.  They think the voters will reward them even if it turns out not to be a success.  Or as bad as some fear.  It’s a brave assumption to make.  And a shaky basis on which to build a lasting consensus.

[1]Just F*cking Do It



Frustratingly there’ll be no results or even on the day polls until Sunday at 10pm

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Those used to general elections in the UK and the drama of the exit poll coming out they might get a bit deflated to have reached 10 this evening to find the polls have closed and nothing is happening.

We will have to wait until 10 p.m. on Sunday evening for the first results to come out. This is because of the strict rules about EU elections that no information on voting can be revealed until such time as as until voting in all countries is over.

There’s obviously a lot of anecdotal evidence of what’s been happening today and we could get some harder data about turnout trends from the verification process that is taking this evening of all the ballot papers that were cast. This procedure is monitored by party observers and information can come out.

If turnout is not as high as some had been predicting then which parties will be the beneficiaries and which the losers? My current view, an this might be overtaken by events, is that BRX will benefit most from a highish turnout.

Please share any info you have on the thread below.

Mike Smithson


Remember that at the 2014 Euro elections YouGov, by some margin, was the most accurate pollster

Monday, May 20th, 2019

2014 Euros polling – Wikipedia

The others overstated UKIP lead by upto 7%

With polls coming thick and fast at the moment the one big trend is that YouGov has been showing markedly better numbers for TBP and the LDs than just about all the others. At times like this it is useful to look at the record and what happened last time.

The table above shows how well YouGov did in 2014 compared with the other firms and overstated Farage’s then party the least.

Clearly that was all five years ago but it is worth highlighting. The key to polling low turnout elections is to ensure that as far as possible your numbers are based on the views of those who have or will actually vote. It is here that YouGov, who first got into online polling nearly 20 years ago, has probably got an edge if only because of the data it has on its polling panel.

But who knows? GE2015 was a shock followed by the Brexit referendum in 2016 and of course GE2017. Might we see something like that when the Euro results start coming out a 1opm on Sunday night?

Mike Smithson


Labour’s last-ditch bid to stop its Remain backing voters switching to the LDs and the Greens

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Maybe the problem’s that its seen a pro-Brexit party

Over the weekend, there has been a flurry of apparently panicky messages coming out of the Labour Party to try to stop the seepage of support to the unequivocally pro-remain parties of the Lib Dems and the Greens. The above Tweet is the latest example.

This is all in response to the latest Euros polling where the yellows and to a certain extent the Green have been advancing and picking up, apparently, a large slab of Labour remainers. One big poll has the LDs in top slot above Labour and the Brexit party in London.

Clearly there’s a big concern in Corbyn’s team about finishing up in third place in the Euro elections with the Lib Dems and, of course, the Brexit party on top. One or two polls are now pointing to this.

There’s little doubt that a key part of the LDs strategy for Thursday’s election has throughout been to portray Labour as a pro-Brexit party which has been an easy point to make. Hardly any material goes out from the yellows without this being highlighted.

The messaging in response from Corbyn’s team is really hard to follow. Trying to frame Thursday’s vote as a battle between Labour and Farage and the hard right is quite a hard one to make to those party supporters who see it as a battle for and against Brexit.

Until now Labour’s ambivalence has worked but the signs are that it might not carry it past Thursday.

It is generally said that the final two or three days before an election are absolutely key. Most voters don’t focus on the intricacies of a battle until almost the last moment and decisions, like tactical voting, are made quite late.

Mike Smithson