Finding the right frontrunner. Mixed messages from the Lib Dems

July 5th, 2020

It’s easy to forget, but there’s a leadership election going on. The Liberal Democrats misplaced their last leader during another disappointing election night and now needs a new one. There are two candidates, over 100,000 eligible voters (yes, really), eight weeks to go, and virtually no media coverage. Perfect time for a look at the betting options.

Where we came from

Leadership elections are often a reaction to the perceived failures of the previous leader. Corbyn promised radicalism when Miliband was hesitant. Johnson promised uncompromising optimism against May’s Brexit triangulation. So let’s spend a moment remembering Jo Swinson’s leadership.

Swinson was the Deputy Leader to Vince Cable, a rare example of a leader not seen by the party to have failed and thus not subject to a backlash. Swinson was notable for being very young for a leader (39 at the time), the party’s first female leader (which given the woke-ness of the party was seen as an asset by the members), and was meant to bring energy and a break from the bad association with coalition (Swinson had been a junior minister, and was much less associated than most Lib Dem MPs).

Often forgotten is the fact that Jo Swinson got off to a decent start, winning the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election and picking up a string of defections to the party from former Change UK MPs. She appeared to be bringing the momentum the party had lacked since 2010, and making the Lib Dems a serious force again. However, this was overshadowed by a disastrous general election campaign in which the party was heavily squeezed, her personal ratings faltered, and the party lost seats. There is little nostalgia for her in the party right now.

So what replaces that? It depends what you consider the fundamental error to be.

The Candidates

In keeping with party tradition of failing to end FPTP, this will be the fifth successive leadership election with at most two candidates (thus making the AV system moot). While nominations are still open, all MPs have declared their hand and two are putting their name forward.

Ed Davey is the establishment candidate. The beaten challenger last year to Jo Swinson, Sir Ed Davey has been an MP since 1997 (barring a gap from 2015-17) and was a prominent minister in the coalition. He is currently the acting leader, and is running on a policy-strong platform of having the experience and gravitas for the role.

Layla Moran is the change candidate. An MP since 2017 and consequently with no ministerial experience, her platform is one of turning the page on coalition for good and broadly moving the party to the left. Reading her campaign statement on the party website you’d have to say she is less policy-focused than Davey.

So if the change candidate usually wins, as the conventional wisdom holds, then Moran should be the frontrunner? Perhaps, and that is what the betting suggested until a few days ago. But establishment backing has its benefits.

The change candidate wins – but which change?

Clearly Jo Swinson failed, and a new approach is needed. The big question now is who to target, One Nation Tories or more left-wing voters? Or both, if that’s possible?

Moran would say tack left, and that’s probably where the membership’s comfort zone is. But the party saw huge swings in southern, liberal Tory seats in 2019, and the membership also misses the party being seen as serious and important again. The question in 2020 seems to be whether Moran’s political positioning beats Davey’s projection of competence, and Moran has scored some self-inflicted wounds on this point with recent statements showing some confusion of messaging. Davey also has name recognition, which can carry more weight than we’d like to admit.

Moran offers an obvious change from a failed strategy, but Davey has won support of more MPs and membership nominations to date – including the support of Daisy Cooper MP, a rising star in the party and perceived ally of Moran. Why? My reading is that Moran has simply failed to present herself as sufficiently credible to make the election about politics and it has shifted to personality, ground where Davey has the advantage.

The only poll on this election had Ed Davey ahead 52% to 24% against Layla Moran, but that was in January. The conventional wisdom was that Moran had become the frontrunner and Davey was boxed in as the coalition candidate. I think this is a misreading – the membership is still queasy about coalition but Davey’s role as acting leader hasn’t been dogged by it (perhaps because he simply hasn’t been very visible, but even so). I think they’ll choose the leader they know, and not the one who is raising as many doubts as hopes. Even at 1.8 or so (best odds) at the time of writing Davey is probably value, though the lack of polling makes the uncertainty high.

Pip Moss

Pip Moss has been a member of the Lib Dems since 2010 and his overall position is green on Ed Davey at slightly over evens. He posts on Political Betting as Quincel. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts


YouGov’s Chris Curtis has this right on Farage

July 4th, 2020

Earlier in the day Farage published a pic of himself on Twitter drinking a pint. This led to claims on Twitter that he shouldn’t have been in the pub at all. He should still be in quarantine following his trip to the US to be part of Trump Tulsa rally.

This led acting LD leader, Ed Davey, to call on Kent police to investigate what is a breach of the lockdown rules.

The Curtis response above looks correct to me. All the polling, as we saw after the Cummings road trip, is that the public takes a very negative view of those who think they can disobey the rules.

Mike Smithson


Biden (77yo) just beating Trump (74yo) as having the mental and physical stamina to be President

July 4th, 2020

This polling question is really one of the biggest of the campaign given how old both the presumptive nominees are.

What we see in the poll finding here is that Biden just edges it over Trump but not by very much.

There have been instances over the past few months when both men have appeared past it and it will be critical for both their chances that there should be no repetition which is widely picked up by the media.

As someone who was born within three weeks of Trump I believe strongly that both are just too old for the demanding job that is required of them. In the weeks ahead their stamina will be taxed more and more as first we have the party conventions, then the TV debates and final campaign until the election itself on November 2nd.

What their ages do matter is that the VP choices could be more critical than usual. We don’t know yet whether Trump will stick with Pence while Biden is expected to make his choice in the next few weeks.

Mike Smithson


The end of the honeymoon

July 4th, 2020
Wikipedia polling chart since GE2019

At some point LAB will take the lead

Labour has not led in any GB poll since 28 July 2019, four days after Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May as Prime Minister. They did so with a share of just 30%: one more than the Tories and one less than the combined Lib Dem and Brexit Party shares. It seems a lot more than eleven months ago.

Clearly, a huge amount has changed since then but the Tory position at the top of the polls has not. This isn’t all that unusual. Prime ministers usually give their parties a boost on taking office, and parties winning election – especially when they’ve gained seats in doing so – will tend to extend their lead in the aftermath too, which is what happened.

Following the December election, every poll through to late May gave the Tories a double-digit lead, with all bar one of them in excess of the 11.8% advantage at the election. At the peak, in late-March through to mid-April, in the period immediately after the Coronavirus lockdown, the Conservatives routinely led by more than 20% and four times hit 26%.

We should note in passing that Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader on April 4 didn’t make any great impact on those numbers. Labour’s problems clearly ran well beyond Jeremy Corbyn as an individual and the previous five years have deeply tainted their brand as a party.

From there though, the decline in the Con lead has been marked, falling around 15% in May: from about 20 down to five per cent. There are of course multiple causes of that; Cummings’ bolt to Durham, the Covid-19 death figures, Starmer demonstrably getting a grip on Labour, to name but three. The question now ought to be how long it will be before Labour secure a poll lead?

In truth, it oughtn’t be that long, for three reasons. Firstly, history. We’re approaching seven months since the election. That’s usually around the timespan by which the government falls behind in the polls. Clearly, each parliament is different, faces unique challenges and opts to take different policy choices, and this one has been more unusual than most. Even so, a glance at the record shows a good degree of consistency. These are the periods before the opposition first recorded a lead since 1979:

1979: 7 weeks (first poll of the parliament)
1983: 8 months
1987: 10 months
1992: 3½ months
1997: 3 years, 4 months
2001: 2 years
2005: 7 months
2010: 4½ months
2015: 10 months
2017: 2 days

Obviously, there’s quite a spread there but of those 10 occurrences, four land in the 7-10 month frame, with four below that and two above it. Notably, the four shortest honeymoons were for four of the five smallest majorities (including minority / coalition governments) – 2015 being the exception, another example of Corbyn underperformance. Similarly, the two longest honeymoons were for the government that won the two biggest landslides. On that basis, Johnson ought to be looking at getting on for a year.

However, he might not get there, not least for the second reason: margin of error. The average poll lead is now small enough that it might well only take one outlier to eliminate it entirely. Outliers are, by their nature, rare – and twice as rare for them to be in a particular direction i.e. in this case, pro-Lab. Still, there’s no saying when chance might throw one in.

However, it’s the third factor which is the most potent: political fundamentals. Keir Starmer has a considerable lead over Boris Johnson in terms of favourability, and is more-or-less level in ‘Best PM’ rating. Labour, as mentioned earlier, still has some way to go to win back the public’s trust but against that, the Conservatives have overseen a response to Covid-19 that’s been poor by international standards, and the economic effects of the lockdown are beginning to be felt on a wide spectrum, with job losses being announced regularly. With Covid-19 cases still in the mid-hundreds per day and local lockdowns still a risk, the chances of a V-shaped recovery seem low as even those businesses and other organisations which are in a position to begin recruiting again are likely to be wary in doing so.

The government does still have things going for it politically. The coalition it put together on Brexit isn’t likely to fracture too much while Brexit remains a live issue, as it will through to the end of the year at least. Also, there’s no obvious challenger on the right. The Conservatives retain a much higher floor to their support than they did in 2019.

All the same, I reckon that chances are that Labour will score its first poll lead in around a year before the beginning of September.

David Herdson


Tonight’s Keiran Pedley Ipsos-MORI podcast: Assessing the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson

July 3rd, 2020

This week Kieran Pedley is joined by former Deputy Chief of Staff to David Cameron, Baroness Kate Fall and by Asa Bennett, Brexit Editor at the Daily Telegraph.

Interspersed with insights from Ipsos MORI polling, they look at the state the Conservative Party finds itself in now; how it might differ from the party led by David Cameron; and the challenge posed to the future of the Conservatives in government by the election of Keir Starmer as leader of the Labour Party.

Listen to the episode below:


WH2020 looks set to be the biggest political betting event of all time

July 3rd, 2020

With less than 4 months to go until the presidential election the signs are that this will be the biggest political betting event of all time. Probably because of the way that Trump is viewed with extremes on both sides this contest is getting more attention from punters than previous reces.

So far on the Betfair exchange alone getting on for more than £90m has been matched. Heaven knows what this will be by November 2nd.

The biggest market is, of course, Next President where at 1300 GMT today the total of matched bets was valued at £42,511,877. No too far behind is the betting on the Democratic nomination where the current total is £33,012,743.

Getting a lot of focus at the moment is the £1m+ market on who Biden will choose as his running mate.

On top of that we have had at least £10m wagered in the Democratic Primary races and there are a wide range of more minor markets which are growing day by day. One that’s becoming increasingly popular is on the Republican nomination with quite a lot of punters wanting to gamble on Trump not making it.

This is just from the Betfair exchange where live totals for each market are available on line. On top of that we have the conventional bookies like Ladbrokes and William Hill as well as the spread betting firms which will have a wide range of markets by the time we get to polling day.

Mike Smithson


The Strange Rebirth of Liberal Unionism

July 2nd, 2020

What is Liberal Unionism? Is the current CON Government, actually a Liberal Unionist one? 

Wikipedia has a history of the Liberal Unionist Party:. The most well-known Liberal Unionist arguably was Joseph Chamberlain, father of Neville, and for 19 days leader of the Opposition in 1906 after Balfour lost his seat in Manchester as part of the disastrous Conservative election defeat.

Conservatives have called themselves Unionist for a long period and indeed it was the official name until the 1970s but conservative Unionism (which backed the status quo) and liberal unionism (which saw the need to improve the Union by reform and intervention) are not the same.

Unionists came from outside the Conservative Party and one such was Winston Spencer Churchill, perhaps the greatest of all Liberal Unionists. He left the Liberals over policy toward India. Churchill was the epitome of the Imperialist – he would have formed a King’s Party to support Edward VIII but the Abdication stopped that. Indeed, so far was Churchill from being a Conservative the Party tried to de-select him as an MP and candidate.

Yet there are two words making up Liberal Unionism and while the emphasis may be on the second, the first is no less important or significant when considering the current Government. Joseph Chamberlain was a Birmingham MP as indeed were many of those who broke from the Liberals in the 1880s and 1890s. 

Joseph Chamberlain was a Radical in the 1880s, he authored The Radical Programme in 1885 and was described as a modern day “Jack Cade” by Stafford Northcote. He fiercely opposed the traditional landowning Conservatives and supported the Third Reform Bill which aimed to give rural labourers the vote.

Another figure at the time who, while never joining the Liberal Unionists, was supportive of their Imperial policies and who championed democracy within the Conservative Party was Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father.

Winston Churchill was a Liberal Unionist through his love of Empire which was basically the Union in his day but Liberal Unionism wasn’t just the last vestige of the die-hard Imperialist but also a radical movement which prioritised reform at home especially in the lot of the working class.

For Boris Johnson, an admirer and biographer of Churchill. I’ve argued that for all he may call himself a Conservative, his policies are more akin to that of the Liberal Unionist.

There is a crucial difference (or seems to be) between the contemporary incarnation of Liberal Unionism and its early 20th Century predecessor. Joseph Chamberlain supported tariff reform and wanted taxes on imports. His opposition to the prevailing policy of free trade and no tariffs caused his resignation from the Cabinet in 1903.

Chamberlain did support a form of free trade within the Empire and especially between the primarily Anglo-Saxon components – he was a proponent of CANZUK more than a hundred years before some of the current Brexiteers. While the talk remains of Free Trade Agreements and the like with the EU, the main free trade agreements seem likely to be with the former Dominions. 

The modern Conservative Party stands foursquare behind the Union but recognises that Union has to evolve to the demands of the 21st Century – it has come to support a degree of devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. 

Yet the biggest change with the coming of Boris Johnson has been the resurgence of the Liberal aspect of Liberal Unionism. As I hear notions of “levelling up”, I hear a distant echo of Joseph Chamberlain’s Radical programme which perhaps resonated in the industrial West Midlands then as it does in the North and Midlands today.

The December 2019 election win wasn’t just a win for the policy of Brexit but also a victory for a programme aimed at radical reform especially for areas of England which have felt themselves neglected by Westminster and a London-centric political elite.

I make no apology for calling the current Government Liberal Unionist for I believe that is the heart of Johnson’s vision, not a diluted form of one nation conservatism but a radical programme for change rooted in the Liberal Unionist past. The respect for and desire to rebuild relations with former Dominions is one aspect of that Liberal Unionist agenda but the domestic agenda is no different.

Perhaps the greatest Radical of them all is one Dominic Cummings – it may be the Liberal Unionist and the Radical will seek to transform Britain in a way not seen since the Thatcher second term more than thirty years ago.


Former Liberal Democrat member and long-suffering contributor to PB


The latest powerful ad from the Republican organisation that is trying to stop Trump

July 2nd, 2020

One of the really interesting features of the White House election that takes place four months from today is the series of ads from the Lincoln Project – a Republican body that is seeking to do everything it can to undermine the Republican incumbent, Donald Trump.

As well as the cost of paid for ads being screened in key states they are getting a huge free distribution via YouTube where so far today this latest one has had nearly 0.75m views.

How effective they are in shaping opinion is hard to measure but the awful polling numbers for Trump keep coming unabated.

What I like about this latest is that it amplifies the issue that has some dominated the Trump presidency – the Russian connection. It keeps it in the news.

In the UK, of course, there’ve been strong suggestions about about the Russian influence in the Referendum. This has been examined a a report produced by a Commons Committee but Johnson has so far controversially blocked its publication.

Mike Smithson