Is there life after Brexit?

July 23rd, 2018

Chou en-Lai is supposed to have said that his assessment of the French Revolution was “It is too early to tell.” Sadly, this appears to have been a misunderstanding, but the agreeably placid sentiment was echoed by Jacob Rees-Mogg this week. Asked if he’d resign if Brexit turned out badly, he said it might take 50 years before the full impact was apparent.

Well, that solves the Rees-Mogg resignation issue, but more generally the public seem unlikely to want to ponder the matter until 2069. Let’s assume that the current doomsayers are wrong. That after the customary crises and extended deadline and midnight negotiations, Mrs May and the Council of Minister stumble out with a deal. Fudged, no doubt, with long-term implications unclear, perhaps, but A Deal. Personally, I think it’s likely.

What happens to British politics then? Will the public want to chew over the details for the following years? Surely not – even professional politicians are mostly fed up with it, and they’re professionally interested. Instead, we should expect a powerful “Now get on with everything else” sentiment. The economy! The NHS! Crime! Schools! The environment! HS2! Heathrow!

What will that do to political preferences? After World War 2, Labour won a sweeping majority on the slogan “Now win the peace”, and it will be that kind of sentiment that most people will want. In meeting that demand, the Conservatives will have two advantages. First, they own Brexit, and any kind of deal will be presented as a success. What more natural than to ask them to carry on? Second, the splits currently dogging the party will presumably abate.

Except that there are two problems as well. First, a great many Conservatives at all levels seem poised to eject May as soon as she succeeds. We all know the reasons, but doing that will largely destroy the success story – if it was such a great success, why are you getting rid of her, hmm? Second, people are weary of the Government; indeed, Ministers often give the appearance of being weary of it themselves. All the creative energy is going into fixing Brexit – the question “Then what?” is hardly being addressed, let alone answered.

What about Labour? Well, inexplicably they seem to have decided that this is a good moment to debate precisely what attitudes to Middle Eastern affairs are permissible. However, at some point that will be put to bed. More promisingly, the party is drawing up plans for the first year government in case a snap election is called. Yes, actually thinking about what to do next. Aided by near-agnosticism about Brexit, the leadership is not really preoccupied with it, no matter how much we think they should be.

The 2017 programme was pretty popular and doesn’t need huge adjustment, but it needs to be updated; more importantly, we need to see some priorities, so people have a clear idea of what they can look forward to early on. The most zealous socialist doesn’t think that nationalising water needs to be done instantly: the immediate actions need to focus on economic stabilisation, the NHS and some clear moves away from austerity.

In principle, the traditional dwindling of support for sitting governments should see Labour edge home. The scare campaign against Corbyn will be tried again but will deliver diminishing returns: people get that he’s a dogged socialist who doesn’t change his views often, but on the whole they’re up for a bit of socialism for a change, and the charge that he might be held back by having to compromise with the LibDems and SNP is not necessarily seen as a drawback.

Nonetheless, it’s important that the base of the next Government is seen to be broader than Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott: people like Ashworth (health), Hayman (environment) and Rayner (education) need to be put onto Question Time and Today at every opportunity.

Is it then a done deal? No way. There is nothing about British politics that’s guaranteed at present. But we’re probably at Advantage Labour, because being “The party that isn’t just about Europe” is about to become an asset.

Nick Palmer

Nick was Labour MP for Broxtowe from 1997 to 2010


After just a year in the job Cable comes under pressure

July 22nd, 2018

Could he be the first party leader out?

I have no idea whether the Mail story linked to in the tweet above is correct but there’s little doubt that Cable’s failure to participate in one of the key Commons votes of this Parliament has raised a few eyebrows something that’s been exacerbated by the narrowness of outcome.

But is the report right that there is a plot to replace him with the woman of Palestinian descent who took Oxford West and Abingdon back from the Tories at the last election?

There’s little doubt that when the Lib Dems do choose a successor to Cable that Moran together with the former minister, Jo Swinson appear to be the strong favourites.

The problem for the Lib Dems is that since dropping to just 8 seats at the 2015 General Election they’ve simply been ruled out of political discourse. At the last election that seat total was increased to 12 and at the local elections in May they gained control the four councils which compares with labour’s net total of zero.

My guess is that Moran or Swinson would be able to command more media attention and that is something that is urgently needed by the yellow team.

As to the first leader out betting Theresa May remains the strong odds on favourite.

Mike Smithson


While the Tories tear themselves apart on Brexit LAB’s new antisemitism policy threatens a divide between the NEC and the party at Westminster

July 22nd, 2018

There’s a new poll from YouGov out this morning which has Labour’s lead down to just 1% if BoJo was CON leader.

This coincides with the renewed row within Corbyn’s Labour over anti-semitism following the decision of the party’s national executive committee to trim down the widely regarded definition of what anti-semitism is.

This was brought to a head a couple of days ago in the Commons in a widely reported spat between the long-standing Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, and the leader in which four letter words were said to have been used. Mrs Hodge has been threatened with disciplinary action as a result.

Now this has taken on a new dimension according to reports in this mornings Observer which suggest that Labour MPs and Labour peers are planning to change the rules of their bodies at Westminster to specifically incorporate the wider definition of anti-Semitism.

If this went through it would mean a very formal and public split between the official party and the parliamentary parties which would very much be one in the eye for Mr Corbyn.

    It is hard to see how the NEC could stand by and allow such an act of public defiance from the party’s MPs and peers.

All this means is that this row is going to rumble on and the longer it is making the headlines the more it is going to hurt the party. As has been widely observed over the years voters do not like parties that are split.

At least the Conservative splits appear to have an end date – March 29 next year when the article 50 process terminates and Britain should officially be out of the EU.

While all of this is going on the Sunday Times is reporting this morning that the reason Lib Dem leader Vince Cable missed a crucial vote earlier in the week was because he was attending a meeting about setting up another centre party.

Watch this space.

Mike Smithson


My 270/1 shot for the White House indicates that he might run

July 21st, 2018

Watch out for John Hickenlooper – Governor of Colorado

Back in early April I reported that I’d backed Governor John Hickenlooper for the presidency at odds of 270/1 on Betfair.

One of the things about super long-shots is that you generally don’t know when you place your bet whether your man/woman will actually make a bid. So today’s strong indication that he is considering putting his hat into the ring is a big step forward.

I’d first noticed Hickenlooper a couple of years ago when he was being tipped as Hillary Clinton’s running mate and I liked what I saw. He appears to be everything that the Trump isn’t lucid, self-deprecating, intelligent and someone who comes over well. He’s also appears to have a strong sense of public service and has a good record in Colorado and Denver where he used to be mayor.

At this stage he’ll be assessing whether a bid is feasible – will he get the backing of key figures in the party and donors? My guess is that the most important thing the party will be looking for is someone who appears as though he/she could be competitive against Trump.

Today’s comments are exactly what you would expect from a potential runner at this stage. Even though WH2020 is more than two year away the battle will start in only about nine months.

Mike Smithson


A week is a long time in politics

July 20th, 2018

Corporeal wonders just what we’ve done to deserve our current political situation.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Then after that, and if we are being punished for some serious crimes committed in a previous life, it descends into whatever this is.

I’ve been trying to crowbar an article around a Groundhog day analogy, since every week recently has seemed so depressingly familiar. Theresa May has established herself (for lack of a worse word) as a career substitute teacher ruling with a cotton fist. The monkey house she ‘presides’ over remains in full swing while the collection of stereotypes stuffed into a ventriloquist dummy that is known as Jacob Rees-Mogg pokes his head out to further blur the line between reality and performance art.

Then this last week happened, and is still happening. Boris Johnson’s fittingly self-publicised departure has done nothing to shake the sense of watching Jeffrey Archer’s adaptation of a P.G. Wodehouse novel.

As a short recap. Donald Trump departed at the end of his eventful trip (even if he wasn’t always sure about what country he was in) having declared Britain as being in turmoil, a remark that depressingly doubled as being plausibly a line written for him by Putin and the most truthful moment of his presidency.

Thankfully he later moved back onto more familiar ground by declaring he didn’t say something there was published audio of him saying before accusing someone else of spreading fake news. The parting revelation of his suggestion to sue the EU triggered both a flurry of googling from Brexiteers and a horrifyingly comforting vision of how things could in fact be more embarrassing for the UK.

On Monday the Prime Minister announced a new and improved plan for Brexit. This prompted some well-practised EU eye-rolling, multiple cabinet resignations (Boris’ letter was slightly delayed by the photographer needing to get the lighting right for his thoughtful stare into nothingness), and a demonstration of her power by accepting all four of the ERG amendments.

Her triumphant transition from captain to figurehead has been accompanied by the backbench Brexiteers flexing muscle enough to show that while they didn’t have the power to steer the ship their ability to sink it was very effective (but not productive). Theresa May showed her steel and negotiating skills to gain the key agreement that they could have everything they wanted as long as they didn’t celebrate too loudly.

Tuesday evening this led to a dramatic showdown when a couple of hours before the crucial votes came up when Labour (or their leadership of shy Brexiteers) decided that they were tired of their firm and principled tactic of opposition by inaction and decided to see if voting against something was more effective than abstaining. Suddenly the game was on and the whips were dusting off their calculators and oiling up their thumbscrews for a good old-fashioned contest that was going to be a razor thin vote.

The Lib Dems were so shocked by the sudden possibility of being relevant again fell back on what they knew best by screwing up, apologising, and taking a lot of blame without having much general influence. Their two previous leaders (and probably next one) all failed to vote. Vince Cable couldn’t be reached in time for him to return from a confidential political meeting (it’s unconfirmed as to if the confidentiality was to protect the other party from admitting to still meeting with the Lib Dems).

Tim Farron somehow managed to provide parliamentary sketch writers, the sharp-tongued twitterati, and lovers of tortured metaphors with more fuel by giving a speech on faith in politics and “what happens when my truth is not yours” that placed him too far away from Parliament to be effective. (If anyone in attendance can confirm whether he addressed the official belief that Theresa May commands a majority in the Commons it would be appreciated).

Jo Swinson’s absence was discovered to be due to something between conspiracy and cock up. She was paired with the Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis who, in a very unfortunate mistake, managed to remember to abstain in the unimportant vote but completely forgot when it came to the crucial votes. Thankfully it was all cleared up as an innocent mistake, albeit one that the Chief Whip Julian Smith ordered five Tory MPs to make.

Still that series of innocent mistakes in the desperate times of keeping a government afloat is so far no reason for him to resign (and I’m sure the applications to replace him in such a desirable job would come flooding in). Theresa May reportedly still had confidence in him and didn’t need to speak to him when the story broke, presumably to avoid him accidentally telling her that what she’d told the Commons was utterly false (but not really misleading since no-one believed her anyway).

And so the May ministry staggered on

Labour followed up this tentative foray into fighting people outside the party by hastily retreating into the comfortable and familiar territory of internal warfare,. They flirted with the idea of adopting the internationally standard IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, then decided no-one would mind if they just tweaked a few parts of it. When this lead to Margaret Hodge calling Jeremy Corbyn an anti-semite and a racist it was a real sense of things returning to business as usual.

So Theresa May headed to Northern Ireland to spend some time enjoying a sense of unity and togetherness with the DUP (cheap at a paltry billion pounds) and so far her tactic of awkwardly clasping her hands together has kept her trouble at bay (it is less noticeable than the wide legged power stance we wrongly thought  was gone forever). There is at least still time for her to return to take part in the hilarious Benny Hill chase around the Houses of Parliament (presumably featuring John Bercow, Dennis Skinner, and a waved mace) that feels somehow inevitable.

Is it time to mourn for the bastardarchy of years gone by. The blandly teflon technocrats versed in all the dark arts and despicable practices of power. They may not have had much resembling integrity but at least they were good at it. Valence politics didn’t breed great principled divides (whereas now our two major parties are divided between an impossibly vague deal or a vaguely impossible one) but gave you the sense that in some ominously lit bunker a secret cabal at least knew what was going on.

And if you have to get a divorce (for some reason you can’t really remember but you’re not going back on it now) don’t you at least wish you had a really good snake for a lawyer. Or at least one you could trust to hold a briefcase the right way up.

Still there’s always next week to look forward to.


Corporeal is a long standing contributor to PB


The places where people would most like to live mostly voted Remain

July 20th, 2018

Away from Brexit for moment with some polling on what are seen as Britain’s desirable locations to live.

With Channel 4 going through a process of choosing a location outside London for a new creative hub YouGov have been carrying out the polling which no doubt will prove controversial.

On my Twitter feed it was observed that most of the top choices all voted remain at the referendum. You have to go down to 9th place, Nottingham to find a Leave location and even there the referendum was a very close thing.

Essentially what this assertion is showing is that demographic groups most likely to back Remain tend to favour what are perceived as the “nicest” locations.

I think this is a bit unfair on Hull which I very much like as a city and Peterborough which has a lovely cathedral and no longer has Stewart Jackson as its MP.

Mike Smithson


At GE2017 six times as many CON voters said Brexit was the deciding issue than LAB ones

July 20th, 2018

Lord Ashcroft GE2017 on the day poll

Why LAB should worry less about supporters who backed leave

On general election day last year the Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft, carried out a huge 14,000 sample poll to find out amongst other things why people had voted as they did and to tryto understand better what had happened. The survey was similar to US exit polls where much more than voting data is collected. The BBC/Sky/ITV UK exit poll is solely about predicting seats numbers and the election outcome.

One question to respondents was askingthem to state what was the main reason they had voted as they did. A summary of the key CON and LAB voter responses is in the graphic above.

    As can be seen the most striking feature is the huge gap between Conservative voters’ views of the importance of Brexit and those of Labour voters

A total of 48% of those who had voted CON said Brexit compared with just 8% of LAB ones. We also cannot assume that the 8% were pro-Brexiteers. LAB picked up 30% of the GE2015 LD vote the vast majority of whom were opposed to Brexit

    Perhaps it was the fact that Brexit was much less of a priority for LAB supporters that the majority of party’s gains from the Tories were in constituencies that had voted Leave a year beforehand at the referendum.

The poll asked people had voted and this was very close to the actual general election result which underlines the robustness of the findings.

Mike Smithson


Republican voters remain solidly behind Trump in the first post-Helsinki polls

July 19th, 2018

Those polled responded along strong partisan lines

Anybody expecting that President Trump’s widely criticised approach at the Helsinki summit with Putin would hurt him amongst his base is going to be disappointed. The first polls are now out and they show the same picture – very solid support from Republican Party voters for the Presidents handling of Russian leader, Putin

Axios/SurveyMonkey has 79% of Republicans approved of Trump’s handling. This compares with 91% of Democrats and 62% of independents who disagreed. The overall splits was 58% disapprove to 40% approve.

A CBS News survey found 68% of Republicans saying Trump did a good job in Helsinki, with 83% of Democrats and 53% of independents said he did a bad job.

No doubt we’ll see a lot of other surveys in the next day or two and I’d be surprised if there is much deviation from this picture.

The big question will be how it impacts on the midterm elections at the start of November.

Mike Smithson