To show they’re back in the game the LDs need the Brecon & Radnor recall petition to succeed and to win the ensuing by-election

June 16th, 2019

An early by-election test for the new CON leader?

This weekend has seen the last intensive campaigning in the Brecon and Radnor constituency to persuade those on the electoral roll to sign the petition that the sitting MP br recalled. This would create an immediate vacancy and a Westminster by-election would be called.

On Thursday evening the recall petition will be closed and should the 10% threshold be reached then there’ll be a Westminster by-election there – the largest constituency by land area in England and Wales. The petition count is expected to take place on the Friday.

Nobody knows how many have signed over the past weeks and opinion polls are banned.

If the recall happens and follows the Peterborough time-table then we could see a by-election taking place within a week or so of the new CON leader taking over.

What an opportunity for the new leader to demonstrate that their electoral prowess but what a chance for the yellows to give him (and we know now that it will be a him) a bloody nose.

Given the precariousness of the Conservative position in the Commons then losing would be a major blow and could make an early general election more likely. This is because not only will the government be one seat down but its opponents will be one seat up and the government’s majority with DUP support would be down to a single seat.

TMay, who by then will be the former leader, had a pretty good by-election record securing in Copeland the only gain from Labour while in government for nearly three decades.

A ComRes/Telegraph poll that came out earlier in the week pointed to a Johnson led Tory party achieving a 140 seat majority in a general election – a finding that must have helped in the MPs ballot.

If Johnson is leader and this survey, the format of which and presentation in the paper has been widely criticised,  is on the right lines then a CON hold should be a doddle

Brecon and Radnor was won by the LDs at GE1997 and held by the party until the current MP, Christopher Davies gained it for the Tories at GE2015. At GE2017 he retained the seat with a 19.5% majority. The LDs are keen to get it back and are already working hard.

This would be the first by-election since Richmond Park when they are the clear challengers and expect a high octane campaign which is already under way in the effort to get 10% of voters to sign the petition.

Mike Smithson



The Tories move to 21% in a YouGov poll and this is being described as a “surge”

June 15th, 2019

Politics has been turned upside down

Mike Smithson


The real driver behind Johnson’s CON MP campaign has been Gavin Williamson, not Lynton Crosby

June 15th, 2019

Marf cartoon first appeared after Williamson was sacked

A guest slot by The Kitchen Cabinet

There are some events that seem unimportant and innocuous at the time but which have far reaching consequences on the longer-term. Historically, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 is the biggest example, an event which, at first, attracted little attention but which set off World War I. Another, far less known, is the financial scandals of President Hindenburg’s son, Oskar, which many believe was a major factor in changing Hindenburg’s mind about appointing Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We may have our own version right now, not as dramatic (hopefully) in its consequences, but an event that arguably may have changed fundamentally the dynamics of UK politics for good. That event was Theresa May’s sacking of the ex-fireplace salesman extraordinaire and Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Many have ascribed Boris Johnson’s approaching coronation to the skills of Lyndon Crosby. But I would argue that it is Gavin Williamson who has done far more to being about the approach of PM Johnson as his effective campaign manager.

Williamson’s supposed gaffes as Defence Secretary are well known. However, that overlooks his time as Chief Whip, where he was incredibly effective, brokering the DUP-CON pact and ensuring that the Government kept on track. One wonders whether we would have had all the drama with the Withdrawal Agreement if Williamson had remained Chief Whip.

In the campaign for Johnson’s leadership, I would argue that it is Williamson who has won it for BJ and he has again come into his own. It is easy in hindsight to think that Johnson’s route to power was inevitable. But that is not the case. We all know from the comments on this site that Johnson was seen by most (but not all) as embodying the typical perennial pattern of favourites for the next Conservative leader falling at the fence. Few judged he could make the leap. His character was untrustworthy and he would not have the discipline for a campaign. Many of his colleagues disliked him intensely.

Moreover, Johnson’s position as the chief cheerleader for Brexit wasn’t secure. It is easy to mock their campaigns now but both Dominic Raab and Esther McVey could have provided serious competition for that block. Both had been building up their leadership campaigns for months post-their resignations and burnishing their credentials, Raab by constant public appearances, McVey by embedding herself more at the grassroots level. Both had policies that went beyond Brexit to a more overriding vision that would appeal to members – Raab with low taxation, McVey with blue-collar conservatism. Both thought they had the numbers to progress further (Raab has but McVey thought she had at least 20, including Liam Fox who signed the papers for Boris Johnson). Both had good reason to think in a campaign where many candidates would come from the pro-Remain wing that the ERG would decide that they needed to swing behind a pro-Brexit candidate to get the latter into the second round where they would probably win the membership contest and that Johnson wouldn’t be trusted.

Yet that hasn’t happened. Williamson would have realised that getting the support of the main ERG MPs was vital. As long as Johnson could get to the second round and his opponents were the likes of Gove and Hunt, he was most likely in with the membership.

I would argue that what he did phenomenally well was gain the support of this block. Having Rees Mogg, Francois and Baker quickly come out for Johnson effectively demolished any hopes of Johnson being out-Brexited. Meanwhile, his marshalling of MPs for Boris, pointing out that it is better to be on the side of the winner if you wanted a job, has been phenomenal. MPs who publicly stated their disbelief of a PM BoJo have fallen into line. As a result, we now have the situation where, unless BoJo blows up, he will be our next PM.

There are two further points from this. The first is Williamson’s role in a Johnson Government. I think he will be the classic power behind the throne type, effectively directing the new Government. I suspect his job will be more DPM / First Secretary of State than in charge of a department, where his skills would be diminished. He may even head to Brussels to head the negotiations with the EU. What it is likely to mean also is that a Johnson Government will be a lot more disciplined and focused than might be expected. And more successful. Expect an agreement with the EU which is the WA rejigged with some phrases and which can be presented as a triumph (I don’t see Williamson pushing for a No Deal and I think his skills will keep Baker et al on board). Expect more classic Conservative policies of low taxation. And, off the back of this, a GE where I would expect the Conservatives to win against a split opposition and a Brexit Party that would have been defanged.

Secondly, it may have turned out that Theresa May’s most lasting legacy may have been to, inadvertently, smooth the path for Johnson as PM. If Williamson hadn’t been sacked, then he may have been tempted to run for the PM job himself when May had stepped down. Even if he hadn’t, the fact he would have been in the Cabinet, would have made it difficult for him to build the links with the Boris camp. However, outside, he could do what he wanted and it was clear he wanted revenge for his sacking. It would be a fitting summary of Theresa May’s reign that she has smoothed the path as her successor a man she would dearly loved to have kept off the throne.

The Kitchen Cabinet


Boris will be the next prime minister. Then what?

June 15th, 2019

Airy assertions and motivational phrases do not deliver deals or organise governments

The landslide victory for Boris in the first round of the Tory leadership contest comes close by itself to assuring him of the outright win. Even at the 1/5 odds currently widely quoted, he’s still value.

Put simply, the main question is whether he’ll cruise over the line or stumble over it. His safety-first approach may well tend towards the latter outcome for lack of energy and momentum but either way, he still gains the crown.

Why? Numbers. Boris already has enough in the bag to see him through to the run-off. True, the election isn’t conducted by AV and he could lose MPs between the rounds, either for tactical reasons or because they genuinely become disillusioned with him but even if some do flake off, it’s highly unlikely to make much difference.

For one thing, other votes will continually be freed up – 50 MPs alone go into Tuesday’s vote having backed someone this week who’s now withdrawn or been eliminated – and transfers from these will mask any slippage.

Crucially, the dynamics also now work strongly for Boris. It’s very hard to see how Raab can do any better than fourth, given that the majority of votes that will be freed up before the round-of-four will come from ex-Remain MPs. If so, that means that Boris goes into the round-of-three with a huge proportion of the Leave MPs on his side, plus plenty of Remainers too, against two candidates from Gove, Hunt, Javid and Stewart.

If the Leave vote was split between Boris and Raab, against, say, Hunt, Boris’s lead among MPs might look a lot more slender. As it is, he will remain way out in front as the “MP’s choice”.

There is a risk that Boris might lose the vote among the members but it’s essentially the risk of him doing something so stupid that he kills his own campaign. Boris and his team are clearly aware of this risk and so I expect him to continue to err on the side of dullness for now. Providing he avoids potholes, I don’t see how any rival who might make the run-off beats him, especially as most postal votes are likely to be returned in the first week or so of the election.

However, winning the leadership election will be the easy part. Boris will inherit an appalling state of affairs, in policy, in parliament and in his party.

In policy, everything beyond Brexit has ground to a halt, allowing Labour to make great strides in setting the terms of debate on spending, tax, austerity, social policy, crime and so on. Witness the extent to which Tory candidates are falling over themselves to ignore, and implicitly reject, the need for sound public finances – something which will have long-lasting political effects as it becomes extremely hard for Tories to defend the austerity programme having just undermined the rationale for it, and hence becomes very easy for Labour to claim that the cuts were ‘ideological’.

On Brexit, Boris will have left himself no room for manoeuvre, having gained his victory off ERG votes on a pledge to leave on October 31 come what may. He will have to deliver on this, all the more so as he will have to repeat these pledges to the Tory Party conference at the beginning of October, to the activists who voted for him for that very reason and who are deeply spooked by their party lying in fourth place in some polls with a deficit of up to 9% against Farage’s Brexit Party. That it’s only YouGov polls that have the Tories in fourth – no other firm’s found them behind the Lib Dems – is a detail few notice when you’re panicking and with YouGov publishing most frequently.

In all probability, that means there’d be no room to compromise with with the EU anyway but it looks as if the EU is once again going to overplay their hand on the assumption that the UK will fold or at least kick the can again – an assumption that would certainly be wrong from the point of view of the government.

Would it be wrong from the point of view of parliament? That’s harder to say and for that very reason, forms another frame of Boris’ cage. There can be no doubt that parliament is very heavily set against No Deal but it may find it hard to express that opposition.

The Commons, having rejected this week the chance to repeat the process that forced the first extension in March, may have thrown away its best chance to force the government’s hand. Passing legislation in opposition to the government is extremely difficult, requiring both control of the agenda and majorities in the House that shouldn’t normally be there. Even then, the Bill might not be drawn up tightly enough (May wasn’t forced to accept the offer the EU put to her, for example).

However, if lesser options aren’t available, greater ones might be. If a Vote of No Confidence was the only means of stopping No Deal, Labour MPs, including the likes of Kate Hoey (who on Brexit votes have been fairly reliable for the government), would be down-the-line against Boris and co. Possibly the government might survive off DUP votes and some independents but none are to be relied on. Yes, they might be turkeys voting for Christmas but on an issue of this magnitude, politicians who feel strongly enough to leave their parties might well be prepared to sacrifice their careers too.

Winning the Tory leadership on an explicit pledge of No-Deal-if-Needed is bad politics on just about every level other than the briefest of timeframes. It would be to win not a gold medal but an enriched uranium one. The easy option would be to argue that Boris’s weakness for ephemeral moments of adulation, applause and self-amusement mean it will happen anyway but this wouldn’t be quite right. Boris will be chosen not despite that but because of it. He may be cynically playing to the gallery but if he is, it’s because they want to be played. Electing him will be a deeply irresponsible decision but one that is symptomatic of a current mindset that wishes away problems and indulges in fantasies and delusions; a mindset unfit for a great party and one which if not addressed will cause not only the party damage that could last decades but the country too.

David Herdson


Boris and the illusion of unity

June 14th, 2019

“To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.” – Nigel Lawson

There was a time, not long ago although it seems a world away now, when the electoral pitch of the Conservative Party strongly featured its willingness to make difficult decisions, to address reality rather than pretend problems away. It was a pitch which won respect and therefore won elections. So how is the party doing with the two most urgent decisions facing it today: who to choose as leader, and what then to do about Brexit?

On the first the party seems to have made up its mind. Barring some major dislocation, Boris Johnson will be the next leader and PM. His campaign has been very professionally run, and (remarkably, given the views about him which fellow MPs and party members have expressed over the years), he is garnering support from almost all factions of this heavily divided party: Steve Baker and Therese Coffey, John Redwood and Damian Collins, IDS and Oliver Dowden, Bill Cash and James Brokenshire. He is getting an impressive level of support from MPs, and seems set to do even better amongst party members.

At first sight this broad support seems a good thing: all major parties are broad coalitions, and successful leaders like Thatcher, Blair and Cameron united their parties to lead them to victory. They did this by winning the internal political arguments and imposing a coherent vision on policy and positioning, drawing their parties in to support their platforms. In each case, even if individual MPs and party activists didn’t like parts of that positioning, they were prepared to unite around it.

Alas, in this case the apparent consensus in support of Boris across much of the party doesn’t reflect any such unity and acceptance. Boris hasn’t won any arguments. He hasn’t convinced the doubters that one course or the other has to be followed. In fact he hasn’t even attempted to do so, in the way that Rory Stewart or Dominic Raab have tried to do. Instead, his pitch is the diametric opposite of facing up to difficult choices. As he famously said, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”. That is how he is getting support from both have-ers and eaters.

The party, in apparently going for Boris as leader, is simply postponing, yet again, the moment where it has to face up to reality. This is not unity, it is failure to choose. The choices which have to be made, very soon indeed or they’ll be made for us, are the same as and just as painful as those which the party, and parliament, have failed to make for six months. Postponing the decisions for a few more months won’t make them any easier, but will contribute to the inevitable decline in the fortunes of the Conservative Party, which seems determined to throw away all three of its main electoral strengths of pragmatism, business-friendly financial discipline, and facing up to difficult decisions.

Richard Nabavi

Richard Nabavi is a regular contributor to Political Betting and is currently a member of the Conservative Party.


The latest PB / Polling Matters podcast asks two big questions about Johnson: Is his victory now inevitable and is he a vote winner?

June 14th, 2019


Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi look at the numbers and ask whether Johnson is a shoo-in to be the next Prime Minister and whether or not he is the vote winner that some say he is.

Listen to the episode here:

Follow this week’s guests:


Chuka joins the Lib Dems but will he be able to retain Streatham at the next GE

June 13th, 2019


2019 now moves to the favourite slot as year of the next general election

June 13th, 2019

Chart of Betfair price movements from Betdata.io

The big betting move following Johnson’s thumping victory in the first round of the CON MP leadership voting has been renewed interest in the next general election taking place this year. This has now moved to favourite on Betfair.

A challenge for a Boris-led CON party is going to be keeping the parliamentary grouping together because, if not, you could see him failing a government confidence motion at the first hurdle which, if not rescinded within a fortnight, would trigger a general election.

His challenge is the same one that TMay faced but more so – MP numbers. It doesn’t take many CON MPs to not back the government in a confidence vote for this to be lost.

His victory in today’s vote was stunning and far exceeded most expectations. It is hard to see anyone other than him entering Number 10 when this process is all over.

Maybe we will have to rethink the “rule” that long term favourites for the Tory leadership don’t make it?

The major limitation on PM Boris is now the member for Uxbridge himself. In the next week or so he mustn’t do anything that raises any doubts about his character or ability to carry out the role.

To be sure he’s going to face a scrutiny in the media the likes of which he has never faced before.

Mike Smithson