My 760/1 shot for WH2020 raises $12m in 5 days after her strong New Hampshire Showing

February 18th, 2020

Apart from Biden’s terrible performance and Elizabeth Warren only getting 9.7% of the vote the big surprise of last week’s New Hampshire primary was Amy Klobuchar’s strong third place which was well ahead of what the polls were showing. Her 19.8% vote share was well ahead of the 11.7% that she had in the RCP polling average of final polls for the state. That is some difference.

I’ve long been watching Klobuchar’s progress closely after putting £8 on her at a walloping 760/1 on Betfair for the presidency last November. At the time I saw this as a good trading bet and did, indeed, lay part of it at a big profit. But based on where we currently are I’m sticking with my position.

The news is that in the few days since New Hampshire Klobuchar has raised $12m+ which is greater than her entire fundraising haul in the final quarter of 2019. She’s now seen as a much more serious contender and I think she might do well in Nevada on Saturday. Fundraising is generally seen as a good metric.

She’s also got a big endorsement this morning from one of the biggest papers in Texas where the primary takes place on March 3rd.

Although she yet to turn 60 she’s two decades younger than Bernie Sanders, Jo Biden and Mike Bloomberg and 20 years older than Mayor Pete. I’m still far from convinced that the party will choose someone in their late 70s.

Be warned. If my bet comes good you’ll never stop hearing about it!

Mike Smithson


Sabisky decides to go of his own accord

February 17th, 2020

This saves Boris/Dom an ongoing embarrassment


The helter-skelter world of WH2020 Democratic nomination betting

February 17th, 2020

By far the biggest and most active currently political betting market is on who the Democrats will choose as their candidate for the November presidential election. We are currently at a critical stage after having the first two primaries and looking forward to Super Tuesday on March 3rd when more than a dozen states including the two largest, Texas and California, will be making their decisions.

By historical standards the size of the field at this stage is very long indeed and only one of the original main contenders, Kamala Harris, has pulled out. What the chart tries to show is the huge level of volatility that we have seen since the campaign formally got underway with the first TV debates last summer.

The former vice president Joe Biden has had several spells as betting favourite but has slipped sharply of late after very disappointing performances in Iowa and in New Hampshire. What’s worrying for him is that he seems to to do well in the polls but that is not translated into success when the actual voting takes place. My view throughout has been that his position has been down to higher name recognition rather than actual strong preferences.

Early favourite back in the summer was Kamala Harris who who managed to have a very effective first TV debate particularly with her attack on Biden. She then went into a period of decline in the polls and wisely decided to pull out in December.

Then came the rise and rise of a senator Elizabeth Warren who at one stage managed to get over 50% on Betfair. Since then she has gone into a serious decline in the betting accentuated by less than convincing performances in Iowa and in New Hampshire – the only states so far to have made their minds up about the nomination. Bloomberg is very interesting given that he is self-funding his campaign and seems absolutely determined to stop Trump at all costs. He has indicated that his huge campaign team of hundreds of people will be allocated to the winning nominee if it is not him who gets it. A good indication of how well he is perceived to be doing is the level of attacks that currently he gets from Donald Trump.

All those who occupied the favourites lot so far have been in their 70s with Bloomberg, Biden, and Sanders closer to 80 years old. The other main contender, Pete Buttigieg, has yet to reach his forties yet.

The next state up on Saturday is Nevada and and here anything could happen with its caucus. There’s been very little polling and the unions, who were expected to endorse Biden have said that they are keeping out.

Mike Smithson


New poll has Starmer dwarfing Nandy and RLB as the one most likely to win a general election

February 17th, 2020

After four successive general election defeats the one thing that the Labour movement wants more than anything else is a leader who can lead the party into a general election victory and back to power. Note this was from Opinium’s regular voting poll and is not of the party’s selectorate.

So this polling from Opinium hits the nail on the head – Labour wants a winner and Starmer is seen as the one most likely to achieve that.

What we know from membership postal ballots is that a large proportion of those voting do so within a couple of days of getting their ballot packs. So if these start landing on mats by the weekend voting could start pretty quickly.

Whatever we are going to have to wait until April 4th for the result.

Mike Smithson


Johnson coming under pressure to sack the Number 10 advisor who backs forced sterilisation

February 16th, 2020

The problem with this row it is was entirely predictable once Sabisky, who has a series of controversial social media comments to his name, was appointed by Cummings. These days it is so easy to find out these things and expect more in the next 24 hours.

The Mail on Sunday is also reporting that Sabisky has Tweeted “I am always straight up in saying that women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.”

Many of Sabisky’s controversial views relate to women and are hardly going to endear the PM and his team to many of the contingent of female Tory MPs who were elected on December 12th.

Mike Smithson


Who’ll be the Judge? Legitimately elected governments are not excused the obligation to comply with the law

February 16th, 2020

On 11 February, following a court ruling, some Jamaican nationals convicted of serious crimes were not put on their scheduled deportation flight because they had not received legal advice about their deportation. This ruling does not mean that this group will be entitled to stay in the UK. Nor does it mean that the government will not be able to proceed with the deportations. What it does mean is that there will be a pause to allow them to obtain legal advice. To judge by the fury of Ministers, one would have thought that the courts had ordered the government to provide these criminals free Xmas holidays in Mustique for the rest of their lives. What possible objection could there be to giving criminals the opportunity to obtain legal advice? Some might, in fact, be British nationals or have some other claim to prevent deportation. If that claim was well-founded under our laws, surely the government would not wish to risk breaking the law?  

Well, that’s what the PM said (“Obviously we don’t want to do anything that’s in contravention of the law”). But the reaction of Grant Shapps rather gave the game away: “We shouldn’t have the courts being used to overturn perfectly legitimate decisions” taken by the government. There speaks a Minister who does not understand the difference between “legitimacy” and “legality”, a misunderstanding seemingly shared by his new Cabinet colleague, the Attorney-General, and other Ministers.

A democratic election fairly held makes the government legitimate. This government, whether one supports it or not, has democratic legitimacy and the right to govern. But that is not the end of the matter, despite what Tory Ministers – with all their talk of the Will of the People and the election result – say. A legitimately elected government is not excused the obligation to comply with the law simply because it has been elected. It is not excused it even if the People (or only those People Ministers listen to) say this is what they want. A legitimately elected government may still act unlawfully. Indeed, it often does: in 2018 the government paid £8.2 million in compensation to people whom it had detained without lawful authority.  

And since it is under such an obligation, there needs to be some method whereby its compliance with the law is tested and remedies granted, if it is found wanting. Without the ability to challenge and obtain a remedy, the obligation to comply with the law is an empty one. Voters cannot be expected to rely simply on the good intentions of Ministers and public servants. 

That is what judicial review seeks to do. It allows those affected by a government decision (or by any body carrying out a public function) to test that the decision has been taken properly and lawfully.  So, for instance:- 

  • Did the public body have the legal power to make the decision (a particular issue with local authorities)?
  • Did it ignore relevant matters? Did it take into account irrelevant matters?
  • Did it give those affected the opportunity to make representations?
  • Did it show unfair bias?
  • Was the decision contrary to relevant laws (the Human Rights Act, for instance, which gives effect to the ECHR, an early example of taking back control from a European Court)? 
  • Was it so irrational that no reasonable body could properly take the decision?

Illegality, procedural unfairness and irrationality. Which legitimate government in a stable democracy would want to be accused of behaving in such a way?  

What the courts cannot do is impose a different decision simply because they disagree. They can make the government pause; they can require it to make the decision properly; they can stop a citizen from suffering a wrong as a result of a misuse of governmental powers. But they cannot make the decision themselves or overturn an Act of Parliament.

All the government needs to do is comply with the law when reaching its decision. This is not an onerous requirement, though it does require some thought and care.  And if – sometimes – it gets it wrong, this does not undermine the government. If anything, it should be seen as an opportunity to learn how to govern better. It can always change the law, after all.

If politics is really about power (who has it, who wants it) then it is little surprise that governments resent losing some power to individuals challenging what they want to do. It is all too easy for governments to forget that they are given power by the people in order to serve them – all of them – not just those who voted for them – not to boss them about. It is all too easy for governments to hate the fact that they too are subject to the law and, therefore, to hate those who rule on it and enforce it. It is all too easy for governments to want to mark their own homework. This government shows every indication of wishing to give in to these adolescent temptations.

Judicial review is, in short, a way of helping to ensure good governance, of levelling up – to a certain extent – the balance of power between the state (in its many guises) and the individual. It gives the individual a little bit of control over what government can do to him or her. It gives the individual certainty that the law will be applied, to all, and applied fairly and properly – an essential requirement if those living or investing in a country are to feel secure and safe from the exercise of arbitrary power. It restrains – a little – the state, which has overwhelming power and can, if unrestrained, cause great harm to individuals. It asks the state to think again. A pause – before some irretrievable action is taken – is generally sensible. Think of it as the governmental equivalent of being told to leave your tough, furiously drafted and oh so strongly felt email unsent while you reflect on it overnight. 

In the government’s desire to attack lawyers and judges and curb judicial review, there is an element of the government tilting at non-existent windmills. Other than revenge for the Miller decision and the prorogation case, what exactly is the mischief which needs curing?

In 2018, 3,597 judicial review claims were lodged. Only 184 cases reached a hearing, the rest refused permission, withdrawn or resolved. Of these 184, the government or public bodies won 50% and lost 40%; the rest are still unresolved. Those 73 lost cases are really bugging Ministers, though. Perhaps they might remember the saying: “De minimis non curat lex.”

Many such cases are in areas such as immigration, asylum, prisons – areas which have had little investment or worse, with complicated laws and, often, low quality decision-making. There is little public sympathy for such claimants. They are viewed as the Devil, unjustly getting benefit of law. 

But let’s take people with learning disabilities, some of whom have been locked up for years in appalling accommodation with poor care and have suffered or died as a result. Should they be denied a remedy because a Jamaican criminal wants to speak to a lawyer? When public services for the unloved are so poor, it is unsurprising that there are so many challenges, the latest by the EHRC on behalf of people unable to speak for themselves. 

Might some bright thinker with a long-term vision (surely there is at least one in government?) wonder that if there was proper investment in such areas, this would raise the quality of decision-making and lessen the need for challenge? Apparently not. The current strategy is – as it has been for years – to under-invest, tolerate the second-rate – or worse – then attack those who try to remedy the problems caused. Now it is also to hobble or shoot the referees.

No legal system is perfect. The right balance between competing rights, between freedom and security, between politics and the law is a difficult topic which needs careful thought and attention. What it does not need is an arrogant approach by ignorant politicians grandstanding and demanding that “I want” (or, more disingenuously, “I know what The People want”) should be the only test of legality, that victory at an election makes further challenge disloyal or illegitimate.  

Sometimes judicial review helps politicians. Take the WASPI women whose extravagant claims for public money were dismissed. Or the MP against whom a political opponent brought a criminal charge of misconduct in public office last year when that MP held no Ministerial office at all. The MP sought a judicial review of the decision to issue a summons. He won – the judges dismissing the summons being scathing about the attempt to misuse the criminal justice system in such a way. Perhaps this MP could explain to the Attorney-General just why judicial review matters. He will certainly get a hearing. He is the Prime Minister, after all.



Bernie back as favourite for the Dem nomination

February 15th, 2020

Washington Post article could be hurting Bloomberg

The White House contender who was born three months before Pearl Harbour, Bernie Sanders, is back as the betting favourite for the nomination following a brief period when multi-billionaire, Mike Bloomberg, edged him out.

The other big feature has been the collapse in the betting of ex-VP and failure in Iowa and New Hampshire, Jo Biden. This is despite the fact that in several current national polls the ex-VP is still up there.

One factor that could be behind the tailing off of the Bloomberg prices is an extensive article in today’s Washington Post headed “Mike Bloomberg has for years battled women’s allegations of profane sexist comments”. Clearly the more he looks like getting the nomination then the more this could become an issue.

Bloomberg is staying out of the remaining February state contests in Nevada and South Carolina – the latter where Biden is pining his hopes.

Mike Smithson


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

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