Viewpoint: Tribal Tim Farron attacks Corbyn and lets TMay off the hook.

January 23rd, 2017

Labour’s Don Brind says the LD leader has a soft spot for the PM.

The Lib Dem leader told Politics Home In a really peculiar way I felt slightly proud of her when she became prime minister.”  A very odd thing to say, isn’t it?

Since you’re asking, Tim – Yes it is a bit odd. Not only is she a Tory. She is the Remainer who failed to campaign in the EU referendum and now, with all the zeal of a convert, is determined to drag the country into a hard Brexit regardless of the economic carnage that could ensue.

Farron explained that his link with May dates back to 1992 when they were candidates in the safe Labour seat of North West Durham. “I remember thinking she was a very straight person. I enjoyed being on the campaign trail with her.”

Today, the Lib Dem leader does, of course, criticise the Prime Minister for choosing “the most extreme interpretation of the referendum result … which is not only going to be massively damaging to the livelihoods of every family and business in the country but will rob the public purse of – on the government’s own figures £220bn. But Farron lets May off the hook by claiming there is no difference between her approach and Labour’s. “You have the Labour party basically hugging Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – and we’ve heard it from Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn too – they’ve just given up.”

Farron has a tough task in reviving the Lib Dems after the 2015 massacre. He clearly hopes to boost their current poll shares by siphoning off Labour votes from amongst the 48% who voted Leave.

But let’s be clear that putting Corbyn and May in the same boat is divisive claptrap which has nothing to with fighting Brexit and everything to do with Lib Dem tribalism.

After chiding Labour for not standing aside in Richmond by election the Lib Dems – and the Greens — will be fighting Copeland where they both lost deposits in 2015 with around 3% of the vote. Although I expect Labour to win it’s possible that Lib Dems and Green can take votes from Labour. If that leads to a Labour defeat the result would strengthen the Tories and/or Ukip and with it the forces of Brexit.

The fact is that it will be Labour parliamentarians who do the heavy lifting in countering the worst extremes of Brexit. They are at the core of the cross party group reported by the Observer to be drawing up plans to “halt hard Brexit “

I sat in on a meeting last week of Labour parliamentarians brought together by the Labour Movement for Europe , Everyone there was as at least as passionate Europeans as Farron but with a much more intelligent view of the challenges facing the anti-Brexit cause.
One wise old bird said “Labour MPs face a choice between being a hawk, a dove or an ostrich – and all have their good points.” There is no sure-fire way of fighting Brexit and keeping quiet while watching how things develop is at least as valid an approach as launching a frontal assualt.Three key priorities emerged from the discussion.

First is the need for unity in confronting Theresa May’s version of Brexit. Let’s hope Tim Farron hears the message.

The second is the need to organise effectively in Parliament where the main battle will not be over triggering Article 50 but over the Great Reform Bill. There are lots of smart people in the Commons and the Lords who will make parliamentary sovereignty.

The third priority is, as one former minister put it, a need “to change the tone of the conversation in the country.” That is partly a matter of better communications but it is also a question of being listened to by Labour voters who supported Leave. That is why Jeremy Corbyn’s shift on the issue of immigration is regarded by many as a vital first step.

As is well known a majority of Labour MPs supported Remain but represent areas that back Leave. It is that very fact that which makes how Labour wrestles with the issue crucial. There may be frustration at the performance of Jeremy Corbyn but many will agree with the MP who said; “Any Labour leader would struggle with the issue.”

Don Brind


The Leader of Surrey County Council – The Unlikeliest Revolutionary

January 23rd, 2017

At a time when the Daily Mail and others are eulogising over Donald Trump and extolling him as a revolutionary (though his “America First” slogan belonged to Charles Lindbergh over 70 years ago), I would argue the week’s true revolutionary is a contemporary of President Trump.

Step forward David Hodge CBE, leader of Surrey County Council.

This week Hodge announced a referendum for Surrey voters on a proposal to raise Council Tax 15% to fund additional adult social care.

It’s a bold and radical move – referenda have been held in other authorities – one example in Bedfordshire on General Election day in May 2015 saw a proposal for a Council Tax to fund extra Police soundly defeated.

It might be reasonable to argue that if people won’t vote for extra money for the Police they almost certainly won’t support a tax rise to fund extra care for the elderly and vulnerable adults.

According to the 2011 Census, the proportion of those aged over 65 in Surrey is 17.2% so that’s more than one sixth of the population.

The County Council has argued, not without some justification, that it has been badly treated in terms of central Government funding but will the residents voluntarily agree to plug the gap?

The referendum isn’t about funding – it goes much deeper and cuts to one of the central questions. How do we want to treat the elderly in society and how do they want to be treated? Many families have a strong sense of caring within the family for an elderly relative and that is laudable but caring for a relative with dementia or someone with extreme physical problems requires a level of care and dedication beyond most individuals and families.

With families having become smaller and more geographically disconnected, there are a growing number of elderly who have no one and for whom State care is the last resort. Ironically, the news this week that the Alzheimer’s Society in Surrey is closing all its centres is part of the problem. Without the funding to provide specialist transport, those in need can’t reach the centres and as they fall into disuse, they close.

A growing ageing population puts pressure on carers, care facilities and other medical facilities such as hospitals with beds “blocked” for long periods by geriatric cases.  It is a huge problem which goes unreported and in my view challenges some basic assumptions about the kind of people we are, the kind of people we think we are and the notion of respecting for all.

A Government preoccupied with free trade deals and attracting foreign investors may not want to think too much about its own elderly but the problem isn’t going to go away.

Will Surrey’s electors support the County Council and what impact will the referendum have on the forthcoming County Council elections? Surrey is a Conservative stronghold with the Party winning 58 out of the 81 Council seats in 2013.

On a wider level, IF Surrey residents back the County Council; will it encourage other authorities to seek similar mandates? If the proposal falls, the crisis in Adult Social Care won’t go away and the County Council may have to make cuts in other areas.

Could the Opposition (led by a pensioner) make headway with A New Deal for Pensioners whereby some of the current “trinkets” such as winter fuel allowance and free TV licences are sacrificed for a more comprehensive and better funded Adult Social Care system?

As for the Referendum, no one yet knows when it will be held and there have been no polls. Early Twitter reaction was hostile but that can hardly be viewed as reliable.


Stodge is a long standing contributor to PB


Hamon tops the first round French Socialist primary and looks set to be the party’s nominee

January 22nd, 2017

Today about one and a half million people in France are thought to have taken part in the primary for the Socialist party nominee at the April presidential election. As a result of today’s voting, Hamon and Vals now go forward to a final run off in a week’s time.

Today’s winner is a much more left wing candidate than Vals and his victory today suggests that he  will be carrying the flag for his party in the April election

The critical thing in French elections is who’ll make the final two April. Fillon, the Republican nominee, is the clear favourite and the race for the second slot looks like being between Marine le Pen and Emmanuel Macron who is the Independent.

The view is that Hamon’s victory today has probably made it more likely that Macron has a better chance of beating Le Pen for the second place. Hamon is regarded as too left wing to attract centrist votes – the people that Macron needs if he is to succeed.

This is by far the biggest current political betting Market.

Mike Smithson


Betting on Mrs May outdistancing Mrs Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister

January 22nd, 2017

William Hill have a market on whether Mrs May being Prime Minister for longer than the country’s first female Prime Minister. To be honest I’m not enthused by either option. To win the  10/1, you’d be tying up your money for the next eleven years, I can think of better things to do with my money than given William Hill an interest free loan for eleven years.

For this bet to pay out Mrs May would have to win the 2020 and 2025 general elections, whilst Jeremy Corbyn remains Labour leader the 2020 general election should be a slam dunk for Mrs May, if Labour choose someone more electable post a general election shellacking then calling a 2025 general election will be hard. (As an aside, Labour don’t need to win a majority to form a government, they can probably be 70 seats short of a majority, and the reality of Parliamentary arithmetic would mean we’d get a Lab/SNP alliance with the possible acquiescence of the Lib Dems, Greens, and SDLP, assuming Scotland hasn’t seceded by then.)

As for taking the 1/25 on Mrs May not lasting as long as Mrs Thatcher, this is also a no bet for me, she’ll be Prime Minister until 2020 at least (assuming no early election) and if the most recent YouGov and Ipsos Mori polls are accurate, she’s on course for a decent three figure majority, so that should keep her in place for a few years post 2020. I can see her standing down in 2024, so we’re looking at this becoming potentially becoming at minimum seven year interest free loan to William Hill.  I can think of a lot of other better priced bets that have higher chances of paying out this week.

That we have such a market is probably reflection of truly dire state that Labour party finds itself in whilst it is led  by Jeremy Corbyn, I think Abraham Lincoln had brighter prospects when he picked up those theatre tickets than a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party does.



Douglas Carswell is my 100/1 tip for next Speaker of the House of Commons

January 22nd, 2017

Back in June 2009 when John Bercow was elected Speaker of the House of Commons he said he would serve for nine years, so if he honours his promise we are around 18 months from the election of a new Speaker.

Ladbrokes have put up a market on who the new Speaker will be, I understand why Lindsay Hoyle is the joint favourite, he has widely praised for his performances as Deputy Speaker, but given the 100/1 odds on Carswell I think a small stake on Carswell is in order as well.

Carswell does understand the importance of the role of Speaker better than most as evidenced back in 2009 when he helped effectively oust the first Speaker in 300 years, which led to John Bercow ascending to the Speakership. Carswell does have the potential to be an effective Speaker, he does have an appetite for holding the executive to account, something which would appeal to those who want to see the government held to account on a regular basis.

Additionally post referendum (and indeed before it) Douglas Carswell has appeared to be uncomfortable within UKIP as a nun in a whorehouse, with Nigel Farage and his allies, inter alia, telling Carswell to quit UKIP and alleging Carswell helped the Tories defeat Farage in Thanet South.

Given the precedent Carswell has set when defecting, becoming Speaker is probably the only way of leaving UKIP mid Parliament without triggering a by election. I suspect those 100/1 odds won’t last long.

Earlier on this week the BBC’s Daily Politics show looked at the next Speaker race, the video is below (I would point out Labour abrogated the recent convention that the Speaker alternates between the major parties when they chose Michael Martin as the second consecutive Labour Speaker.)



PS – If Bercow does quit next year, that would mean an interesting by election in Buckingham, a seat that voted Remain in the EU referendum, but should be staunchly Tory in normal circumstances. Back in 2010 Nigel Farage contested the seat and finished third in a two horse race, being pushed into third place by John Stevens, the founder of the Pro-Euro Tory Party. 


The Tories’ current odds-on status in Copeland doesn’t square with the party’s rubbish performances since GE2015

January 21st, 2017

How the main two have done in LAB defences since GE2015

The CON performance in seats its defended since BREXIT

And the local by election performance since last May’s elections

Latest Betfair odds

This latest betting move has been sparked off by press reports of LAB party canvas data. That, if true, came presumably from information gleaned before the candidate, was selected. Now that a local doctor and anti-Corbynite has been given the job then things could be different.

    One factor that could impact on Tory organisation in a very remote part of England is that the party will be extremely cautious about sending professional organisers from outside given the continuing investigation into election spending following the Michael Crick investigations.

The Tories could also be hit by the expected high-octane Lib Dem campaign aimed at REMAINERS. This seat is next door to Tim Farron’s and he’s a well known figure in the county and his party are going to fight hard to keep its by-election momentum going.

I am reminded by how the pundits were telling us just over a year ago that LAB was vulnerable to UKIP in Oldham West. Then we had Tooting where pundits were saying that the Tories had a chance in Sadiq Khan’s old seat. What happened – the LAB vote went up in each case.

Many pundits also had Richmond Park totally wrong and the view was that Zac/CON was going to hold on. He lost badly.

Holding a seat for a party of government used to be a real struggle. Taking one from the main opposition party is an even bigger ask. Yes of course the Tories have chance in Copeland but not a 61% one.

Mike Smithson


Trump’s New American Revolution

January 21st, 2017

He can’t govern in slogans but they’ll take him a long way

Inaugurations set the tone for a presidency and Trump undoubtedly set his yesterday: life will be different – for DC, for Europe, for China and for the world. In an extraordinarily pugnacious address, which might have been lifted direct from his campaign rallies, Trump served notice that the Old Order is dead as far as he is concerned. There will be no more Beltway politics, benefitting lobbyists and politicians at the expense of the public; no more Pax Americana, underwriting the global order.

Whether he can deliver on that is another matter. That he and the Washington elite kept the common folk waiting for over half an hour at the inaugural parade while they lunched was hardly a good pointer. His speech proclaimed that “we will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over.” Yet the speech was just platitudes and slogans, and a litany of complaints about the state of the country without any detail on how to address them. By his own measure, he fell short.

Trump has however kept surprising pundits and commentators with his capacity to succeed by (or despite) doing the unexpected and unorthodox. We’re in that place again. He is relying on the people that he berated in his inaugural to pass his legislation and budgets – and relying on the lobbyists and donors who might feel differently not providing an equal counterweight.

One might expect that someone who really has little support in DC, who has no political experience and who doesn’t respect diplomatic niceties (whether domestic or foreign) to fail in delivering anything that congress doesn’t want. I wouldn’t be so sure.

Trump has three main cards he can play. The first is the simple fact of his election. It might be a weak mandate but it’s a mandate all the same. The establishment lost and for the time being, that means his opponents can’t be entirely sure that they’re on solid ground going against him. Secondly, he has initiative. He has set out his new direction for America and beyond and while others can respond, he’ll be setting the terms of debate.

But thirdly and most importantly, his America First platform will be difficult to argue against without sounding unpatriotic, and patriotism, while the last refuge of a scoundrel, is also the first claim of a politician – and in particular, an American politician. No matter that ‘America First’ as a slogan hardly has an unsullied past; no matter that the practical objections of limiting trade or building walls are evident to those prepared to think. Trump cannot fail politically now unless congress blocks him and congress has already made and won the case as to why America First is wrong – and that will be extremely hard.

Of course, Trump could fail elsewhere. His businesses give ample scope for conflicts of interest and his style of management is not one that is well suited to the office he now holds. He is without many friends internationally and those he has are in it solely for what they can get (which is not without irony).

That foreign policy marks the biggest shift in priorities. The US is heading back towards isolationism, though Trump’s comments about fighting extremist Islam run counter to the general drift. All the same, the TPP is out, NAFTA may be out, co-operation on climate change is out – and NATO might well be out too. If radical Islam is the US’s number one perceived threat then the Kremlin is an ally rather than an opponent, while the European states are fighting the wrong war with someone else’s – his – soldiers. But Europe is rapidly becoming a backwater to the US’s strategic considerations. If radical Islam is the number one threat then China is number two. Again, Russia is a potential ally and Europe is of little consequence.

That shift in foreign priorities is unlikely to be unpopular in principle. In practice, ‘bringing jobs home’ is likely to be rather harder to achieve and putting up trade barriers will probably be counterproductive. But when emotions are running high, short-term politics trumps longer-term economics in decision-making.

However, as populists throughout the ages have discovered, the price of neglecting longer-term economic considerations will have to be paid eventually. And turning away from the industries of the 21st century in favour of those of the 19th and 20th is neglecting them. Regulations might bring cost but they also stimulate innovation.

For that reason, I expect Trump to lose in 2020. By then, the America First campaign is likely to have run out of steam and he’ll find it harder to hide. It’s rare for a party to hold the White House for a single term (Carter was the only example in the 20th century), but Trump is exceptional. He only just won this year against a very weak Democrat opponent and has set himself huge targets. I think he’ll get a longer run than many expect but will ultimately fail and against a stronger Democrat – there must be a moderate, sensible, successful governor thinking of having a go, surely? – will lose.

But until then, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

David Herdson


After a dramatic and historic day the world has changed and we have yet to fully appreciate what the Trump presidency means

January 20th, 2017

Following such an extraordinary day it is very hard to fully assimilate what we have seen and heard in Washington. Certainly the new President has given strong indications about his direction of travel and that is going to have huge implications in many different parts of the world including the UK and Europe.

This was an inauguration speech like no other which very much reflects the  individual personality of the new President.

At the same time it was quite moving seeing one administration and President being replaced by another one as a result solely of what has happened at the ballot box and and as a believer in democracy I find that a very good thing to observe.

One sure thing is that the new President speech today should have taken nobody by surprise. This was exactly the rhetoric and things that he has used consistently during the 18 month long election campaign that finished in November.

Mike Smithson