Why Johnson’s TV debate strategy could be a mistake

November 18th, 2019

Great thread from the New Stateman’s Stephen Bush


LAB and the LDs slipping on the Commons seats spread markets – Tories powering upwards

November 18th, 2019


And on Betfair CON Majority reaches record high


A 14% CON lead would give Johnson the margin to stuff the ERG

November 18th, 2019

Survation adds to the LDs misery

A new poll was published by Survation overnight and as can be seen the Lib Dems are the worst hit down 4 points. This means that the last two polls to be published, Deltapoll is the other one, have had very poor news for Jo swinson’s party.

Interestingly these two polls have been from firms which have been leading the way with constituency only surveys the majority of which have been very encouraging for the Lib Dems. The latest round for three London seats from Deltapoll, published in yesterday’s Observer, had them within striking distance in Wimbledon and Kensington.

Maybe what we are seeing is opinion hardening up in both leave and remain areas of the country.

What CON poll leads on the Survation scale do is make the prospect of a Corbyn premiership more remote with LAB facing its fourth successive general election defeat.

If indeed the Tories do romp home with a double digit lead on votes then that would give Johnson a very clear majority in terms of seats which could make him more immune from the ERG faction within his party. There’d be much less risk of ERG rebellions which made the final days of TMay’s tenure at Number 10 such a misery.

There is a wide view that Johnson is not a true believer in Brexit but that he used its cause to help him win the leadership and become PM.

Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. It used to be that general election campaigns only last last three weeks. The last one in a winter, February 28th 1974, was actually called on February 7th. What is now the legal standard of a minimum of five weeks gives plenty of time for moods to change.

Mike Smithson


Buttigieg now nine points clear in Iowa

November 17th, 2019


The big WH2020 news over the weekend was a CNN/Des Moines Register poll showing the 37 year old Mayor Pete surge to take a substantial lead over Biden. Warren and Sanders. What’s significant here is that the pollster Ann Selzer has built up a formidable reputation over the years over the accuracy of her Iowa Caucuses polling.

This is a very difficult to poll because it is hard to get a representative sample of the 200k+ Iowans who will turn out on a cold February Monday night to participate in the candidate selection process. Selzer seems to have an approach that has worked in the past.

But Buttigieg might be riding high now but his victory is in no way a certainty. There’s a long way to go before the Caucuses on February 3rd and like other emerging frontrunners, he’s going to face the most intense scrutiny. This week we have the November TV debate and no doubt other contenders are preparing their attacks to undermine the young Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

The big message coming from the state is that Democrats there are looking for someone of the centre and don’t think a risk should be taken with a nominee articulating the radical policy ideas that we’ve heard from Warren and Sanders. Biden appears to old and for the moment at least Pete appears to be the gainer

What all the contenders who have thrown everything into the first state to decide have gambled on is that the winner on February 3rd will get a boost that could take them a long way towards the nomination.

Whether that’s true or not we will have to see but there is increasing questioning about the hugely powerful role the state plays in the nomination process.

Buttigieg is favourite to win Iowa and third favourite for the nomination.

Mike Smithson


The number of Tory MPs elected on December 12th will determine what type of Brexit we get, if we get Brexit

November 17th, 2019

As the late United States President, LBJ once said “Politics is the ability to count”. Currently the polls and the betting markets have a Conservative Majority as the most likely outcome, but these are fallible; the manifestoes are not out yet and the nation may not be comfortable with the idea of a large Tory Majority Gov’t.

In this thread I will examine the numerology of the next election working through various scenarios:

First up 326 + CON MPs – If the Conservatives gain any sort of majority, they are into power and Johnson’s agreement is getting passed. There is a difference between this parliament and the last when May also took over with a small majority – all the rebellion on the anti-europe side is gone, Steve Baker, Owen Patterson, Rees Mogg and Priti Patel are all completely onboard the Johnson project in a way they never were with May. On the other side, the Soubries and even Grieves and Letwins are gone. The most europhile Tories present will likely be Stephen Brine, Stephen Hammond and Greg Clark, possibly fewer than those three if the Lib Dems have a particularly good night and Labour a very poor one.

There still may be no majority for “No Deal” in the house, and that could affect things later in the parliament as we move toward the internal deadlines of the transition period but that is tomorrow’s problem. For now it looks rosy aboard the Tory express.

323 – 325 CON MPs – The exact numbers depend on the number of Sinn Fein MPs re-elected. At present this looks likely to be six but might be another number, seven or five depending on F&ST and Foyle. Each Sinn Fein MP is effectively worth 1/2 to the party closest to a majority as they do not take their seats. Let us assume for the sake of argument it is six Sinn Fein MPs. This sets the effective majority bar for the Tories (Or anyone else) at precisely 323 MPs and the maths then works as above.

322 CON MPs (Or possibly 321) – This is where the numbers start to get “interesting”, and this is the lowest possible number of Tories I make it that can pass the Johnson deal. It is true that though they are not the Tories greatest fans at present, neither the DUP nor the Lib Dems are particularly keen on Corbyn getting into Number 10 Downing Street. In the end a Johnson Queens Speech would probably get through though.

Just as Conservative remainers have been purged, so too have Brexiteers amiable to any Johnson deal on the other side of the house. Barron, Campbell, Mann, Fitzpatrick all gone. The Lisa Nandys of the parliament would quickly fall into line with the Labour whip, secure in another five years of tenure and assured by the fact Labour voters in northern towns would evidently have put other issues largely ahead of Brexit. There are left two possible ‘rebels’ on the opposition benches, Caroline Flint and possibly Jason Zadrozny. I make it these two would be allies to Johnson in terms of Brexit though he could not rely on Flint for confidence or anything else. The numbers might work with 321 if both Flint and Zadrozny are elected but that is the absolute de minimis.

313 – 320 CON MPs (Possibly 321) – A similar number to May you may say. The electoral dynamics this time round are different though. The Letwins and Gaukes are vanquished and the Tories old friends the DUP are likely back and able to influence events. At 320 MPs I don’t believe Johnson’s deal will get through, but the likelihood of ‘No deal’ is also probably at it’s highest. A ‘No deal’ Brexit works for the DUP and the tangible need to deliver some, any form of Brexit is palpable for the Tories. As we drop below 320 MPs, the likes of Greg Clark may again pop their head above the parapet to prevent “No Deal”, and for each number below there is another opposition MP to add. The danger is very much there though in the above range.

295 – 312 CON MPs – The chances of a “No deal” exit are lower beyond this point, but Labour are still well well short. Sturgeon’s demand of a Scottish referendum for Labour support being something the Lib Dems are strongly against and also the idea of putting Corbyn into No 10. The Lib Dems hold the whip hand in this scenario and they can now demand a confirmatory referendum on any deal.

Fundamentally there is a rum choice for Johnson to take – either have case by case support from the Lib Dems, no Brexit and a weak administration for five years with the possibility of it collapsing at the most inopportune moment or face a 2020 election against a new fresh faced Labour leader that the Tories will likely lose. His party may baulk at the idea of doing any sort of deal with the Lib Dems, but it is likely also in this scenario that Labour won’t have done particularly well and might be looking for another leader. There always needs to be a PM, quite who it is in this scenario I’m not sure.

294 or less – The numbers for any sort of functioning Labour minority Government are very tricky and don’t become any easier till Labour + SNP start to approach 325. Nevertheless I think someone from the opposition benches (Probably Corbyn, maybe someone else) will be put in place at least long enough for a second referendum to be put through. The key point is below this level there is surely no way Johnson can carry on, he doesn’t really have any choice but to resign and send for Corbyn and one of the weakest Labour Governments in history.

Labour’s ability to affect the sort of change Corbyn is looking for will be minimal, but Johnson at this point surely has to send for the Leader of the Opposition having been soundly defeated on his platform for the election.

So in short

322+ = Tory Gov’t + Deal
313 – 322 = Tory Gov’t + No deal danger zone
295 – 312 = Second referendum on Johnson or Corbyn’s deal
294 or below, Second referendum on Corbyn’s deal



Looking at the Welsh constituency betting

November 17th, 2019

This looks like being a volatile election in many areas, but nowhere is that truer than in Wales. Five different parties are currently polling in double digits and none is yet polling above 30%. Current polls suggest that the current distribution of constituencies could be upended. Polling, of course, could still change dramatically before the election actually arrives.

Historically, Wales has been dominated by Labour. They have won the most seats in every election since December 1918. At the last election, Labour won 28 out of the 40 seats and 49% of the vote.

Perhaps Labour will recover to that vote share but right now that looks unlikely. They last polled at 29%, having mislaid fully 40% of their support since 2017. When parties suffer such dramatic falls, uniform national swing becomes a very dangerous rule of thumb to be using.  In all likelihood the distribution of that loss of support will vary considerably between constituencies.

In 2015 in Scotland, Labour lost 42% of their support from the previous election. But that loss of support differed dramatically between constituencies. In Edinburgh South, Labour actually gained vote share. In Glasgow North East, Labour lost over 50% of its vote share. In some seats in which Labour were not in contention, the loss of vote share was still higher as Labour got squeezed (they lost more than two thirds of their vote share in Ross Skye & Lochaber, for example). 

So those betting on Welsh constituencies need to consider not just what the parties might eventually poll but how that might be redistributed. How efficient each party’s vote is going to be is going to be critical.

Unlike in Scotland in 2015, no one party has taken advantage of Labour’s travails. Relative to the 2017 election, the Conservatives are polling just one point up at 28%. The Brexit party have taken a sizeable chunk – 15%. The Lib Dems are up 7.5% to 12% and Plaid have inched forward 1.5% to 12%.  

Appropriately for a country whose national flag bears a dragon, this polling suggests that the Welsh constituencies are going to be a battle of the five armies (you can decide for yourself who are the eagles and who are the orcs).  Anyone making confident predictions is a lot braver than I am. Too much looks to depend on the distribution of the vote as well as the vote shares.

Anyway, let’s take a butcher’s at the constituencies. Here they are alphabetically. I present these for betting purposes from the perspective of Labour, since they are in contention in most constituencies.  

It is, however, more useful to sort these by the price on Labour, as here.  Immediately, as you would expect, the red mostly rises to the top. Labour are priced at 5/6 (the bookies’ evens) or better in 20 seats. This is actually ahead of what uniform national swing would suggest, which is for them to win 18 seats.   If Labour’s vote were to crash as hard as the most recent polls indicate, you would expect them actually to underperform uniform national swing: the floor in their vote in their weakest constituencies means that the loss of vote share would need to happen elsewhere ie in constituencies with more Labour voters at the last election.

So bettors appear to expect Labour to do better than recent Welsh polling suggests.

As it happens, I agree with the consensus. Labour have already been doing a bit better in UK-wide polling since the election was called and there is no reason to assume that anything different is happening in Wales. And that long muscle memory of voting Labour in Wales is likely to help them when it comes to the crunch.

Even if you disagree, in some of the seats the main challengers are preposterously short. In Ogmore, Labour are priced at 1/5 to retain a 37% majority. In Newport East, they are at just 4/6 to defend a 21% majority.  Perhaps some bettors have inside information. I’m dubious. In both of these seats I’d rather be backing Labour at those prices than the Conservatives at 3/1 and 11/10 respectively. The prices are just too short.

For the same reason, Labour look good value at 3/1 in Vale of Clwyd. They hold the seat with a very experienced MP in Chris Ruane, who is very used to scrapping for votes. The seat is relatively close to Merseyside, which has a Labour party that in recent elections has demonstrated a ferocious ability to work neighbouring constituencies to secure outsized swings as compared with the national figure. He’ll be harder to unhorse than that price suggests.

If you’re looking to bet on the Conservatives, unless you have compelling information, I’d be looking at the size of swing required. The 5/4 in Bridgend looks tempting, given that the Conservatives only require a 5.5% swing and the polls suggest that they’re doing twice as well as that in Wales. With 40% of the vote last time, they might take the seat just by standing still.

There’s no evidence as yet of the Conservatives significantly gaining vote share in Wales, so I would not bet on them in seats where they had a low vote share in 2017 – the votes would have to fall in a very precise way for them to take such seats unless they actually gain vote share. I’ve mentioned Ogmore once. The Conservatives tallied 25% of the vote in 2017. If they’re not going to increase their vote share, 3/1 is ludicrously short for them to win it.

Plaid Cymru haven’t advanced much in the polls so you wouldn’t expect them to be particularly well-placed to make gains.  Ynys Mon is their best prospect, but that is murky, given its long history of voting for the person rather than the party. You’d need more local knowledge than I have to risk your money.

The Lib Dems have their tails up. However, they have few obvious targets in Wales – unsurprisingly since they were wiped out in 2017. If they tally 12% in the polls, that vote will have to go somewhere, but it’s not at all clear where.  They will fight hard to retain Brecon & Radnorshire, which they won earlier this year at a by-election, and they will scrap with Plaid Cymru over Ceredigion (like Ynys Mon, a very personality-driven seat). Elsewhere their best hope in reality is to establish themselves as being back in contention. They held Cardiff Central till 2015 but 11/2 looks very mean for them to get a 24.5% swing from third place. Not a bet for me.

This brings me to the newest party on the block, the Brexit party. So far they’ve had a woeful election, withdrawing candidates from every Conservative-held seat after pressure from the newspapers. They are as a result unlikely to obtain anything like the 15% in Wales that they polled in that last poll. But if they do, that vote is likely to be concentrated in specific seats. The Brexit party performed very well in the Welsh valleys in the Euro elections and UKIP scored fairly well in some of these seats in 2015, demonstrating a continuing strident Euroscepticism in these areas. The bold might fancy a flutter on some of the long shot bets on them in such seats – 80/1 in Llanelli or 50/1 in Torfaen for example. This is 2019. Stranger things have happened.

Alastair Meeks


The latest Ipsos MORI government satisfaction ratings are worse for the incumbent than Major faced just before Blair’s GE1997 landslide

November 16th, 2019

I was so taken by David Herdson’s observation in the previous thread header about how poor the current Ipsos MORI government satisfaction ratings that I thought I would dig into the pollster’s huge archive to see if there were historical precdents.

What’s great about the firm which has been polling UK politics since the 1970s is that it has been asking the same questions in the same format over the decades. You can therefore make comparisons.

Going through the the archive poor negative numbers were indicative of a government that was about to lose power.

The big difference between now and 1997, of course, is that the government ratings then were showing a broad picture that was similar to the voting intention ones. That is not happening now.

What it says about what will happen on December 12th I don’t know but it certainly adds to the overall uncertainty.

  • Just in case you think that the current ratings are an outlier they are the best ratings for the Government since Johnson became PM.

    Mike Smithson

  • h1

    For how long can Johnson continue to defy gravity?

    November 16th, 2019

    He needs to keep running and not look down for four weeks

    Wile E Coyote has enjoyed so many lives that even a cat would feel embarrassed, although perhaps ‘enjoyed’ isn’t quite the right word. Time and again over decades he’s been crushed, burned and fallen from a great height but always to return, unharmed, in pursuit of his great but unattainable aim. With such resilience and obsession, he should have been a politician.

    We should add one other politician’s anti-quality to resilience and obsession: an ability to suspend awareness – and even effects – of life as it appears to everyone else for as long as he concentrates on his own truth. Thus, he only becomes subject to gravity upon the dawning realisation that the ground is no longer beneath his feet (and even then, often with sufficient grace granted to be allowed a parting gesture).

    In truth, gravity is not really all that powerful. When you blu-tac a paper to a wall, for example, you’re overcoming the gravitational power of an entire planet with a small amount of fairly weak adhesive. That said, for us, if not for the Coyote, it is relentless.

    Politics, however, adheres to the principles of Coyotean rather than Newtonian physics: it is entirely possible for a party or a candidate to defy electoral gravity for periods of time, until the forces of cognisance align – which is exactly what Boris Johnson is doing now.

    The October Mori Satisfaction ratings gave Johnson a positive score of +2, a figure which is in line with other polling: YouGov this week found a net favourable rating of -6. These figures, taken against those for Jeremy Corbyn (-60 and -42, respectively), are no doubt a large part of what’s behind the consistent sizeable Tory leads in the polls – five of the last six companies to publish results have put the Con lead in double figures and the exception (ICM), had it at 8.

    If the Tories can deliver a lead of that scale on 12 December, Johnson will almost certainly be back with a comfortable majority. It’s true that the Brexit Party standing in only non-Con seats may make the Tory vote less efficient, piling up larger majorities in seats they already hold, as may the Remain Alliance, but given how super-efficient the Tory vote was in 2017 (very nearly a majority and a lead of 55 seats over Labour with an advantage in vote share of just 2.5%), that should only trim the Con majority, not eliminate it.

    But can the Tories deliver that lead? There are two warning lights flashing in the November gloom that should give us pause for thought, one of which is illuminated with a picture of our friend the Coyote, holding a sign saying “don’t look down”.

    The problem that the Conservatives have is that while Johnson is himself popular, the government is not. The PM’s unusually strong +2 rating has to be set against the net satisfaction score of the government he leads of a fairly awful -55. This is a disparity that cannot endure. Political gravity may be temporarily suspended but it will, sooner or later, come into play: either Johnson will scramble back to the cliff-edge by pulling the government’s rating up towards his own, or else he will plummet chasmwards as opinion turns against him. My firm expectation is the latter because the fundamentals driving that unpopularity are much stronger; the big uncertainty is when it happens.

    The second warning light is Johnson’s own behaviour during the campaign. Time was when Johnson was a considerable asset on the campaign trail: a slightly uncontrolled but exciting bundle of energy and enthusiasm. That time has passed. Johnson is more controlled but also more tetchy. His visit to the flood-affected parts of Yorkshire demonstrated a lack of empathy, compassion or practicality. His inability to make a cup of tea has also been noticed and while that kind of trivial story is usually irrelevant to the bigger picture, sometimes, when it plays to nagging doubts, it can be the sort of thing that helps to tip the scales.

    Other challenges await. His inability to do detail risks becoming a running theme in interviews or, later, in debates, should he turn up – though dodging them would open himself up the accusation of running scared. (This may be why Johnson hasn’t been pushing for Jo Swinson to be included in a 3-way debate, which might otherwise pose far more dangers for Corbyn than for the PM). Then there’s “events, dear boy”. We can predict some known unknowns, like how severe the winter stresses on the NHS will become; others will emerge or strike from out of the blue.

    For the moment, Johnson remains running in mid-air, held up by nothing more than a collective suspension of belief in the power of gravity, and in a disinclination to look down; indeed, a disinclination to think about anything other than making it to 13 December intact. What happens afterwards is for another day.

    In truth, of course, there will be an afterwards and in it he’ll have to keep chasing the road-runner – or, as we know it, Brexit. We know how that ends.

    David Herdson