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

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


Expect Warren to get the biggest boost from last night – and that could be at the expense of Sanders

February 20th, 2020

And Buttigieg could gain from Bloomberg tailing off

One of the reasons why Sanders has soared in the polling in recent weeks has been that his main opponent on the progressive wing, Elizabeth Warren, has been falling like a lead balloon. This followed her less than convincing performances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But there’s little doubt that she is being seen as the winner of the Las Vegas debate with her highly effective attacks on Bloomberg which set the tone for the whole debate. This has led to a post debate fundraising haul of $2.8m. If her improved position results in a better than expected outcome in Nevada on Saturday then a lot of that could be at the expense of Sanders.

We cannot now discount a Warren recovery which could impact on the whole race.

Another factor that could hurt Sanders is the revelation that he was planning to run against Obama in 2012.

Bloomberg’s terrible debate is surely going to undermine his position as the centrist front runner and he is likely going to see his poll numbers drop. Also Klobuchar, after last night, might not do as well as she hoped in Nevada. With Biden continuing to flounder Buttigieg looks set to be the beneficiary and this is how the betting markets have been moving

Mike Smithson


Bloomberg slumps sharply in the nomination betting after coming under fierce attacks in the Las Vegas debate

February 20th, 2020

It was Bernie’s toughest night as well

As everybody was expecting the first appearance on a debate stage by Mike Bloomberg was going to see him as the main target by the other leading contenders in the race. This is how the New York Times is reporting it:

 The Democratic presidential candidates turned on one another in scorching and personal terms in a debate on Wednesday night, with two of the leading candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders and Michael R. Bloomberg, forced onto the defensive repeatedly throughout the evening. In his first appearance in a presidential debate, Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, struggled from the start to address his past support for stop-and-frisk policing and the allegations he has faced over the years of crude and disrespectful behavior toward women. Time and again, Mr. Bloomberg had obvious difficulty countering criticism that could threaten him in a Democratic Party that counts women and African-Americans among its most important constituencies.

Sanders was pressured strongly on his medical history and the virulence of many of his online supporters. If Bloomberg hadn’t been there this, likely would have been the story of the night. All the other contenders with the exception of Klobuchar and Biden should feel happy with their performances.

On Saturday the Nevada caucuses taken place and next week we have yet another debate ahead of the South Carolina primary,

Mike Smithson


It is crunch time tonight for Mike Bloomberg as he faces his first WH2020 debate

February 19th, 2020

No doubt he’ll be the target of all the contenders

Until now multi billionaire Mike Bloomberg has taken an unusual approach to his bid for the Democratic nomination. For starters he has skipped the tedious business of fundraising paying for his hugely expensive campaign himself. Secondly he has bypassed the first four primaries focusing all his efforts and money on the Super Tuesday states which vote on March 3. Also until now he has avoided the regular TV debates between the contenders and has yet to face up to the scrutiny of his fellow contenders.

His absence from the previous events has been down to the rules set by the party for participation which until now have involved fundraising thresholds. That’s now been changed by the Democratic National Committee which has made polling the only qualification requirement.

In the mean time Bloomberg has spent nearly $400m out spending all the other contenders put together and has built up a massive campaign team. This has led to him moving up in both the national and state primary polls which has been reflected in the betting. He’s currently the 26% second favourite on Betfair behind only Bernie who could soon be at evens.

One of his big vulnerabilities, which I’d expect Amy Klobuchar to exploit, are the widespread reports of his profanities and sexist comments with female staff many of whom have left with a big payoffs after signing non disclosure agreements.

Another weakness is his age. He celebrated his 78th birthday at the weekend.

What he’s got going for him is that of all the contenders he’s the one who gets most under Trump’s skin. The President knows the power of money and that in wealth terms he’s a dwarf while Bloomberg is a giant.

The two hour debate starts of 0200 GMT and should be available live on YouTube.

I wonder whether this Tweet from Bloomberg’s campaign chief alludes to an explosive revelation about Bernie in the debate

Mike Smithson


Some Corbyn backers still not persuaded that GE2019 was the total disaster for their party that it was

February 19th, 2020

Many LAB votes on December 12th were in spite of Corbyn not for him

After GE2017 many within the Labour movement chose not to regard the outcome as a defeat but as a victory because the Tory margin was not as large as the polls had predicted. Now, two and a bit months on from GE2019 some supporters of Corbyn are Tweeting to try to show that what was the party’s worst election outcome since 1935 was not as bad s it appears.

Firstly they look for comparison to the GE2015 election defeat when EdM was leader. The disaster then was the post IndyRef surge of the SNP which saw the party taking all but three of the 59 Scottish seats. Miliband’s LAB was reduced from 41 Scottish seats to just a single MP north of the border which was the same as Corbyn’s party in December.

The big difference between GE2015 and GE2019 though was that EdM’s party had net GAINS in England & Wales of 14 seats. This compares with Corbyn’s LAB LOSING 56 English and Welsh seats

Another reason why vote share comparisons are misleading is that non-big two parties did so far worse at GE2015 because of Farage’ UKIP taking 12.9% of the vote. Last December the combined BREXIT/UKIP vote was just 2.1%.

The Corbyn fans like to attribute every single Labour vote as being backing for their man. That is nonsense of course. Many LAB voters on December 12th were like me – using my vote tactically to stop the Tories in the tightest LAB-CON marginal in the country. This was not a vote for Corbyn.

The other fact, as no doubt Jo Swinson would attest, is that increased vote shares are not an indicator of success. Her party saw a massive 57% in creased on its GE2017 GB vote share but a net loss of one seat.

Mike Smithson


A Journal Of The Plague Year. The politics of Covid-19

February 19th, 2020

If you aren’t worried, you haven’t been paying attention.  Recent outbreaks of contagious illnesses – SARS, Ebola, bird flu – have been contained fairly efficiently.  So, many have assumed that the same will apply to the coronavirus Covid-19. That’s not inevitable.  

On such occasions, everyone becomes an instant expert in epidemiology.  Let’s try to avoid that and concentrate on what we do, and more importantly, don’t know.  We don’t know with any reliability how many cases there are now (China seems overwhelmed by the epidemic), we don’t know with any reliability how the numbers of cases grew over time, so we don’t know how infectious the disease is, nor how lethal it is.  We do know that it has now repeatedly spilled over the Chinese borders and we do have anecdotal evidence that it can be easily transmitted. Both Japan and Singapore are currently struggling to stop Covid-19 going wild. On a cruise ship, 454 out of 3,700 passengers have been infected so far.  That does not augur well for the hopes of wrapping this up quickly.

So we should prepare ourselves for the likelihood that this epidemic will become a pandemic.  Others will look at the public health implications. There are political implications too.

Best case

Covid-19 is brought under early control as before without spreading much further.  Even in this best case, China’s economy is going to have been seriously disrupted for a period of months and a series of other countries are going to have taken stringent precautions that will have had a substantial impact on them culturally and economically.  

On this outcome, Britain gets off quite lightly, though it may suffer a bit of collateral economic damage.  China seems to have taken extreme measures to control the spread of the virus and this is likely to have had major social and economic effects.  Those are likely to ripple out to Britain at some point. 

The disruption may lead to less enthusiasm for “just in time” models of commerce, as the risks of it not being alright on the night become more obvious.  This might lead to a repatriation of some business activities over time. As a whole, however, the impact on this scenario is essentially temporary or second order for Britain.

From a non-expert viewpoint, this looks possible, but it is far from a done deal.

Medium case

If Covid-19 has reached escape velocity internationally, as seems very possible, things get a lot hairier.  Even if it proves to be capable of being contained and at the milder end of current expectations, health services are going to be put under strain across the world and social orders are going to change, at least temporarily.

The economic disruption is likely to be substantial if this happens.  Supply lines would be seriously disrupted. Goods would become unpredictably unavailable.  Globalisation would, at least temporarily, be thrown into reverse.

The public is already – rightly – concerned.  It may start to panic. The effects of any panic are hard to predict.  

The trend to remote working and travelling less would be given a powerful push.  That in turn might make big transport infrastructure projects look like extravagant luxuries.

Culture will be seriously affected even if Covid-19 is at the mild end of expectations, if it spreads widely.  One Grand Prix has already been postponed and a second looks at risk. Right now, even the Olympics look in serious jeopardy.  They were last cancelled in 1944, at the height of the Second World War. Concerts, festivals and theatres look very vulnerable to a concerted outbreak – even if they still take place, who is going to want to go out to catch an unpleasant and perhaps lethal disease?

Covid-19 may well be temporary but its impact may be permanent.  Many cultural organisations are run on a hand-to-mouth basis already.  A sudden shock to cashflows may be terminal.

Politically, it would be difficult for the government.  The NHS has been creaking for years and the government has put protecting it at the heart of its policy.  This kind of strain would be likely to lead to serious disruption of it. In the short term at least, the public would probably be unforgiving of major lapses.

Set against that, it would be a first post-Brexit event that would allow the country to move on.  How it would move on, however, would remain to be seen.

Worst case

It’s not yet at all clear that Covid-19 is going to be particularly mild.  We have yet to establish reliably how dangerous it is. If it started to kill people in the millions, and that remains possible, it would become one of those cultural discontinuities like the fall of the Berlin Wall or 9/11, a before-and-after event.  Even those who had not been infected would be mentally scarred.

Right now we are at a crisis in the true sense of the word, a moment when we do not know which course a disease is going to take.  The stakes are very high indeed. Those of us who are not experts must hope that those who are find a way to keep Covid-19 tamed. The alternatives are just awful.

Alastair Meeks


Punters rate Bernie as an 84% chance in Nevada but level pegging with Biden in S Carolina

February 18th, 2020

These are the latest charts from Betdata.io on the next two Democratic primaries in WH2020. Essentially they show how punters who are risking their cash are rating these two races.

My own view is that both Biden and Sanders are far too old to be rated as candidates for the presidency and that sooner or later a younger centrist will emerge.

At the moment Biden, based on the first two states to decide appears in a stronger position than Biden whose performance to date really gives little support to the notion that he’s trying to sell that he’s the best one to take on Trump.

All eyes are looking ahead to Super Tuesday on March 3rd when states representing nearly 40% of the US population will decide.

Mike Smithson


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