Archive for the ' General Election' Category


Memo to Sir Keir Starmer: Unless LAB can start winning MPs in Scotland again the chances of you becoming PM are slim

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Your first big electoral test looks set to be the Scottish Assembly elections next year in a part of the UK where for decades your party was totally dominant. Recovering some of the ground lost there to the SNP might be an indicator that a general election victory could be in reach.

The charts above from the Commons Library analysis of the last general election set out in stark terms how Scotland’s Westminster MP party distribution changed dramatically less than five years ago. Labour went into GE2015 defending 41 of the 59 Scottish seas and ended up, like at GE2019,with a single MP.

So from a situation where LAB getting two thirds of Scotland’s MPs was almost a forgone conclusion you start from a base north of the border at the next general election as the fourth largest party. And without that hefty block of Scottish LAB MPs what will soon be your party has to make many more gains in England and Wales.

All this changed, of course, in the aftermath of the September 2014 Scottish IndyRef. Although the vote was to remain within the UK the referendum set off a dramatic rise in the SNP which in May 2015 won all but three Scottish seats.

The overall picture is very daunting for LAB. In September 2015 when Corbyn became leader he declared that Scotland was his first priority. Assuming you become leader you need to do the same but unlike Corbyn you need to make a success of it.

Mike Smithson


Number 10’s power-grab is sowing the seeds of its own failure

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Cummings cannot re-engineer government while ignoring the human aspect

Political power is notoriously nebulous. Like fairies, or the value of fiat money, if enough people belief in it, that in itself is enough to call it into being – just as the lack of belief is enough to destroy it.

What then gives Boris Johnson the ability to accrete to himself and his advisors in Number Ten powers that no other prime minister has enjoyed? It’s not the size of his majority, large though it is: there’ve been governments with much bigger ones. Is it his commanding personal authority? Well, it’s true that this isn’t a government of heavyweights and that having just won an election and delivered Brexit, the PM’s stock is high. But that can’t be all.

As much as anything, it’s because he dares to, and other dare not. Johnson’s life has been one of taking calculated and at times even reckless risks; usually he has come out the winner and when he hasn’t, he’s bounced back. He’s not going to change that style now.

A desire to centralise control within No 10 is hardly new; in fact, it goes right back to the start. When the title of Prime Minister was applied to Walpole, it was as a criticism that he was getting over-mighty. Many others since have innovated structures and processes to try to assert control throughout Whitehall and beyond. The centralised system of political advisors (which is in itself a contradiction), is simply the latest in this line.

For the moment, Johnson can do that because he can afford to lose those, like Javid, who object – and also because very few, like Javid, have objected. Perhaps ministers are genuinely willing to be treated in this way but much more likely is the knowledge that Johnson’s honeymoon protects him. He can win just about any argument because ultimately, his position is unassailable.

There’s a comparison with Trump here. We should be very careful equating the two men whose policies and political and personal characters are more different than many would have you believe. But on this point there is similarity: they are protected from bad decisions and behaviour by public support. Republican senators will not vote to convict a Republican president when that president’s net approval rating among Republicans is around +90: the Trump fan-base would have its revenge rapidly. Similarly, Tory MPs will have little enthusiasm to go against their leader when their party is polling 20 points ahead of Labour (as in yesterday’s YouGov poll).

There’s one other similarity we should note too: any attempt to exert excessive central control betrays a lack of trust in the leader’s colleagues and, implicitly, assumes that they have a lack of faith in the leader. Good leaders do not need to demand control or institutionalise it to the minutest degree: people will follow a leader naturally when they have confidence that they will be led where they want to go.

That, however, is more of a problem for Johnson than Trump. Johnson travels ideologically light. It is true that he said he would deliver Brexit and he has made good on that – though whether he can be similarly successful in the second round later this year remains to be seen. It’s one thing screwing over the DUP with their less than a dozen MPs; it’s another to finesse a second deal that ends transition without either crashing the economy or betraying those MPs and activists whose support you built your leadership campaign on.

Brexit aside, so many MPs and activists were willing to give their support to Johnson not because of his innate leadership skills or his ideological vision but because he was believed to be a winner. That judgement was vindicated in December. But it is also a very transactional, and hence conditional, support. When he ceases to be seen as a winner, that support will ebb away and with it, power – whatever organisational measures No 10 might have introduced.

And ebb away it will. Not just because Brexit still poses questions which would like defeat far more diligent and nuanced prime ministers (in truth, Johnson’s willingness to refuse to deal with detail may actually be an advantage here: if the rules of the game make it irresolvable, don’t abide by them), and not just because Johnson and Cummings cannot go on insulting and demeaning ministers, MPs and their assistants without creating a deep well of grievance and resentment that in time will find release, but because even now, at the point when he should be at the zenith of his popularity, he’s not all that well regarded.

The Mori leader ratings for January had him at a net +3. That’s historically low for any PM in Johnson’s position. Since 1983, on only three out of 13 occasions has a leader polled worse than Johnson in the month after either taking office or winning an election: Blair in 2005, May in 2017 and Johnson himself last July. Both Blair and May lost office two years later when their party had finally had enough of them.

The factor, beyond Brexit, reconciling that poor rating with the Tories’ 80 majority, 13.97m votes and 45% GB vote share at the election was the scale of the unpopularity of Labour and Corbyn. But Corbyn will be gone when Labour’s leadership election eventually concludes. Certainly, Labour’s new leader will face significant challenges him- or herself and may well fail them – the leadership election has proven Starmer, for one, more prone to (if adept at) tacking and more susceptible to be moved by the winds of the movement than I think the public will appreciate. All the same, the easy few years that the Tories have had from the Opposition is likely to end.

It is true of course that with an 80 majority, Labour cannot do now what it could in the autumn in terms of winning votes. That only matters on one level. On another, it’s not the numbers in the divisions that count but those in the opinion polls and by-elections. Margaret Thatcher wasn’t voted out in 1990 because she was losing in the Commons.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Johnson’s power exists only as long as people ask ‘how high?’ when he says ‘jump!’. As soon as there’s a critical mass that decides that’s not a game worth playing, it’s over. It may be that when that does happen, Johnson remains in office for months if not years ahead – but if he does, it will be on very different terms. My guess is that he’ll be replaced in 2022 or 2023.

David Herdson


Starmer gets the best ratings from both all voters and LAB members in new large sample Ashcroft poll

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020

He’s the only leader or deputy contender in positive territory

There’s a new large sample Lord Ashcroft poll that’s been published overnight that looks back at the general election particularly the reasons for the LAB defeat and looks forward to the coming LAB leadership ballot which starts later this month. The full report is well worth downloading.

The report also includes the findings of a series of focus groups which are worthy of a separate header in themself.

The part of the report that I’ve chosen to highlight here relates to the current Labour leadership contest which won’t be finalised until April 4th. As can be seen from the chart the ex-DPP, Keir Starmer comes out of this best and is the only one in positive territory amongst both all sampled and LAB members

The research also looked at the reasons for Labour’s fourth successive general election defeat. This is from Ashcroft’s summary:

It was reported that Labour’s official inquiry “exonerated” Jeremy Corbyn from any blame for the election result. I can only assume this was a compassionate gesture for an already-outgoing septuagenarian leader, because no serious reading of the evidence could reach such a verdict. “I did not want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister” topped the list for Labour defectors when we asked their reasons for switching, whether they went to the Tories or the Lib Dems, to another party, or stayed at home. Though a few saw good intentions, former Labour voters in our groups lamented what they saw as his weakness, indecision, lack of patriotism, apparent terrorist sympathies, failure to deal with antisemitism, outdated and excessively left-wing worldview, and obvious unsuitability to lead the country.

No doubt Corbyn loyalists will seek to discredit this because Ashcroft is a Tory but it should be noted that he carried out a similar process in 2005 after the party’s third successive general election defeat.

Mike Smithson


The Starmer juggernaut storms on and he’s now a 78% chance on Betfair

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Unless LAB members vote in a very different way in the postal ballot compared with what is happening at the constituency party level or else Keir Starmer makes some massive cock-up between now and April 2nd then he is an absolute certainty to succeed Corbyn.

One thing we are seeing is a marked increase in the numbers of local parties ready to give Thornberry their backing and she looks to have a better chance of making the postal ballot than appeared the case a week ago.

The ex-DPP is now almost the presumptive next Labour leader and no doubt will be giving thought to what he will actually do in the job particularly how he will deal with Johnson who doesn’t give the impression of being accountable to anybody.

In one sense the fact that there is unlikely to be an election before 2024 will give the time for Starmer to bed down.

The betting has seen a constant rise in Starmer’s position and that can grow.

Mike Smithson


Reflections from Cyclefree: Here We Go (Again)

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

There were not many dogs, hardy or otherwise, out this morning on the North West coast, understandably so in view of the overcast weather. Still, on a clear day from the top of Black Combe , a couple of miles away, it is possible to see Northern Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Beyond lies Ireland and the great big wide world beyond. All those opportunities! 

Just behind the spot where this photo was taken is Silecroft station, one of the few stations where you have to hail the two-carriage train to make it stop. The train travels from Barrow-in Furness up the coast to Carlisle via Sellafield, Whitehaven and Maryport, a town originally settled by the Romans and later turned from fishing village into a coal port.  

All three constituencies along this coast are now represented by Tory MPs, the first – Copeland – having fallen in February 2017, a precursor of Boris’s later breaches in the Red Wall. The clues were there in the EU referendum result where between 60 – 62% of those voting voted to Leave. In 4 years there have been 3 General Elections, 1 referendum, 1 EU Parliamentary election and, in Copeland, 1 by-election.  One part of GK Chesterton’s “people of England” has certainly spoken.

Have they felt forgotten? The referendum vote might suggest so, though South Lakeland, a mere 40 miles east voted to remain. The area has not been all that forgotten though. A sign on the beach edge proudly announces the arrival of Superfast Britain, funded in part by the European Regional Development Fund 2007-13, the EU flag logo next to this announcement having been carefully scratched in an attempt to obliterate it. 

Will voters here continue to feel forgotten by those now in charge? It will take more than having a Cabinet meeting outside London to impress or effect real long-lasting change, even after the Brexit desired by a majority.

One of the happy side-effects of being laid up with illness is having time to read, including Dominic Sandbrook’s “Who Dares Wins” about the early years following an equally disruptive break with a long-standing political and economic consensus. There are echoes with now:-

  • A PM winning unexpected voters and sneered at for being populist by those unable or unwilling to understand how voters could possibly bring themselves to vote for such a person.
  • Labour in the grip of in-fighting, leadership elections and the Left seeking to get control. Two of the minor players then became party leader and founder of Momentum, a reminder that when a party’s leadership cannot say what it is for there will be plenty willing and able to fill that vacuum. Oh and Ken Livingstone was, even then, embarrassing his party with offensive comments and ignorant historical analysis.
  • A Liberal leader having their grandiose ambitions squished by voters.
  • A fruitless attempt at creating a centrist party or, perhaps more accurately, a “party for the people who know what’s good for the people”. TIG might have saved itself a lot of grief had it realised that a promise of a return to a semi-mythical non-ideological consensus is rarely the change people want when they are fed up with what they have.
  • A nostalgic nationalism exemplified by the reaction to the Falklands War, seen by some as a welcome fight back against a sense of failure and of Britain as a nation in retreat. The need to see Britain as somehow oppressed, fighting for independence (its own or others) and regaining its pride and self-confidence through some dramatic act seems to have a long history.

There are perhaps two lessons from that time for now. Mrs Thatcher, faced with an unexpected and difficult war and the challenges it posed, rose to the occasion – and turned into a real leader – one who understood her limitations, listened to her expert advisors and backed those who did the work behind her triumphs. When she forgot those lessons to believe her own myths, the path to her downfall was set. Will today’s leaders rise to the occasion they say Brexit offers?

And the second? “A change has come about in Britain,” written – shortly after the Falklands war ended – by one politician driven mad by his obsession with sovereignty. “We are ourselves again.”  It is a sentiment which might be said by any one of the many pro-Brexit politicians now in charge.

But who is this “we”? Are “we” even one people anymore? And what kind of a people will “we” now be? We shall see.



Infrastructure: the Conservatives’ necessary but misplaced priority

Saturday, January 18th, 2020

The Custard Factory is one of Birmingham’s more striking developments.   Its current incarnation is as Birmingham’s answer to Shoreditch (a question that probably did not need asking).  Its history, however, stands as a warning to the government, a warning that it almost certainly will not heed.

The Custard Factory’s name is not, like so many new developments, the product of a random buzzword generator, but a simple statement of its origin.  Until 1964, Bird’s Custard was manufactured on that spot. And then as a direct result of government industrial policy, it desserted the site.

In the decades after the Second World War, Birmingham’s economy boomed.  In 1961, Birmingham household incomes exceeded those of London and the south east.  Successive governments fretted about how Birmingham and London were leaving the rest of the country behind.  Central government took direct measures to spread their success to more deprived regions. First they restricted industrial development, then they restricted office development.  The city of a thousand trades was booming and this was a crisis. Introducing the order placing restrictions on office development in 1965, the government minister saw this as a “threatening situation”.

In words that now seem prophetic, the MP for Sutton Coldfield at the time opposed the measure:

“This Order is a kind of penalty on the success of the West Midlands and Birmingham, imposed admittedly by the Government in order, as they believe, to help somewhere else. There is a growing anxiety in Birmingham that the Government may have carried too far this process of siphoning off the prosperity of the Midlands to other areas. I can give examples which are germane to this Order. In Birmingham on Monday I heard of firms, which provide employment similar to that affected by this Order, being forced to leave the city. These firms, to a considerable extent, are firms which are independent of cyclical fluctuations of trade.

The manufacturers of Bird’s Custard, a food product, who have been in the city for a great many years, were quoted as an example. The motor industry, on the other hand, is a cyclical industry and whilst Birmingham is very prosperous, it and the Midlands, to the extent of dependence on the motor industry, are living dangerously in their prosperity. Therefore, it hurts these areas the more when industrial and commercial employment of a non-cyclical kind leave the area. Such a movement can prove a great future potential loss to the city and surrounding area.”

The Order was highly effective, at least so far as Birmingham was concerned.  Birmingham no longer has the problems of success. It has a lower GVA per head than the national average – and lower than Liverpool, for example.  It was, however, much less effective at boosting the economy of struggling areas, many of which have remained in relative decline to this day.

55 years on, and Britain has another government looking to siphon off the prosperity of successful regions to struggling areas.  There isn’t much evidence that the government has any better idea how to do it this time than it did in the 1960s.

The government seems set to divert infrastructure spending away from the areas of the country that are prospering to the forgotten north.  This isn’t a new idea either. Nor did it prove a particularly successful idea either. At the same time as Birmingham’s business was being run off, the Humber Bridge was commissioned.  Hull and Grimsby are better connected to each other, but both still languish economically. A lot more than infrastructure is needed to breathe new life into depressed areas of the country.  Past experience has shown that if you only build a field, they won’t come.

The government doesn’t really have a choice.  Its newly-elected backbenchers made great play in their local campaigns of fighting for infrastructure investment.  If they don’t deliver, they’ll be up against it at the next election. If you’ve successfully won seats on the basis that your opponents have taken their voters for granted, you really can’t afford to take them for granted yourself.

This gives the government two big problems.  First, if it is going to invest in infrastructure in previously forgotten areas, it is going to come up with a clear rationale for how it is going to prioritise investment.  Previously, governments have worked on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis (which is why London has done so well – as by far the most prosperous and successful area of the country, projects can easily demonstrate bang for buck).  If that metric is to be abandoned, what is going to be put in its place? The government has as yet given no clear statement of principle but without one, the likelihood of pester power winning out is high, with projects allocated on the basis of influential backbenchers’ ability to buttonhole ministers.  Majestic herds of albino pachyderms can be sighted lumbering towards us on the horizon.

And second, if improving infrastructure is a necessary but not sufficient condition for reviving failing areas of the country, what else is the government going to do?  Shooing business away from London won’t work. Wooing it away might. Again, however, the government has so far shown no trace of having thought about how it might do this.  

The big risk is that the government will fail to provide the investment in infrastructure that the successful parts of the country need and instead provide investment in infrastructure in the declining parts of the country without providing the additional support to provide the economic turnaround that they urgently need.  The country has enough problems at the moment without massively misallocating resources at a time when the public finances are already under serious strain. The government needs to set out some very clear principles. And soon.

Alastair Meeks


The Blair Supremacy. Rating Corbyn as a politician

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Memo to Mr Corbyn and his supporters: This is what the winning the argument looks like. So no Miss Long-Bailey, Corbyn’s doesn’t deserve 10 out of 10 as a politician unless you’re a Tory.

I suspect once Labour come to terms that Blair is the only Labour politician to have won a majority in the 45 years then they will begin their road to recovery.



Will the Conservatives increase their majority at the next election?

Sunday, January 5th, 2020


Ladbrokes have a market up on the Conservatives increasing their majority at the next general election. I can understand why some will want to back the 4/1.

Boundary changes would see the Conservative majority increase to around 104 if the vote shares remained identical at the next election and if Labour choose electoral Ebola in the form of Ian Lavery then this bet looks like a winner.

I’m always wary of markets where the bookmaker doesn’t offer the other side of the bet add in that there so many unknowns, inter alia,

  • Who will be the Labour leader? Will they be a Corbyn clone or chose a leader who will move to centre ground where Labour have won majorities in the last forty six years?
  • Will Brexit turn out to be a success, a mistake, or just a bit middling?
  • How will the economy perform between now and the next election, I cannot see a cyclical recession (or a Brexit related recession) help the Conservatives increase their majority.
  • What kind of government will Boris Johnson deliver?
  • How much time will the Red Wall seats that switched to the Conservatives give Boris Johnson? 

There are a few other unknowns I could list but these are the main ones, so for me it is no bet at the moment, I am sure 2020 will bring a few 4/1 or better bets that will pay out a lot sooner than 2024.