Wasting Time? How the Article 50 extension has been used

September 24th, 2019

As we await the Supreme Court decision reflections on what’s happened since it was agreed in early April

When the last Article 50 extension was obtained on 10 April, Donald Tusk said“Please do not waste this time.”  

So how has Britain used the 167 days since then?

Well, it has certainly been busy. There has been no shortage of activity to keep even the most jaded of political journalists interested:-

  • The then Prime Minister entered into discussions with the opposition to get agreement on a deal. These talks, predictably enough, went nowhere.
  • She tried to get another vote on her deal but withdrew in the face of pretty fierce opposition from her own MPs and Cabinet.
  • She then announced her resignation, sobbed a bit but managed to stay on just long enough to endure the Purgatory of another EU meeting at which she was looked on pityingly by her fellow leaders and a state visit by President Trump, notable only for the fact that the President could not find a tailor able to make him a white tie suit that fitted. He looked like a fat waiter meeting the Queen. She’s probably met worse.
  • As Mrs May left she made a speech about her legacy which no-one remembers, probably because there isn’t one, at least not one anyone wants to revisit.
  • Farage’s new party won the Euro elections and has since distinguished itself in the new Parliament by its boorishness: turning its back on a youth choir singing “Ode to Joy“, comparing Britain in the EU to slaves yearning to be free and refusing to vote in favour of the release of Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe. It has displayed all the charm of English football fans visiting Europe in the mid-1980’s.
  • The Tory party embarked on a lengthy leadership campaign designed to finish only just before Parliament rose for the summer break. A number of well-known and unknown-even-in-their-own-homes wannabes vied for the leadership to no avail, only one – Rory Stewart – making any sort of impact with his eccentric attempt to win Tory MP votes by speaking to – and taking selfies with – random strangers round the country. All the public learnt was that most of the applicants had taken drugs and were obsessed with leaving on 31 October, to the exclusion of all else.
  • The British Ambassador to the US was forced from his post after some emails saying that Trump was a bit of a moronic loose cannon unfit for office, a view shared by, well, pretty much everyone with eyes to see and a brain to think with, were leaked. An inquiry was started involving the police. Nothing has been heard since. Nor will it. No replacement has yet been appointed. Who cares. Diplomacy by Tweet is now where it’s at.
  • Some sort of Parliamentary motion was passed requiring it to discuss Northern Ireland, in an attempt to stop a No Deal Brexit. Just as well someone wants to talk about Northern Ireland because no-one else does, despite its border being the single most important thing stopping a Withdrawal Agreement happening.
  • Boris won the election, sacked everyone he could other than those who had resigned first, appointed a lot of Brexit-supporting nonentities to his Cabinet, appeared once in Parliament and then settled down to the important business of making up with his girlfriend and getting a dog. Priorities are so important after all. He appointed Dominic Cummings to do his thinking for him and continue with the general humiliation of anyone displaying any independence of mind.
  • The government’s Brexit policy turned into a “Do or die” Brexit by 31 October. Depending on how trusting you want to be, you can also believe that the government is trying to negotiate another deal, finding an answer to the Irish question, preparing for departure without a deal and negotiating a British-US FTA the minute Britain leaves.
  • A party created to change British politics changed so much that it appears to have vanished without trace. It may now have 3 MPs. No-one cares.
  • Other MPs have left their parties: some for independence (Field, Boles), some for the Lib Dems (Lee, Wollaston, Ummuna, Berger). Some have been kicked out of theirs for voting in favour of not having a No Deal exit: 21 of them, all Tories, including Ken Clarke, the Father of the House, who simply could not care less and might, if some reports are believed, either lead a GoNU or vote Lib Dem or support Corbyn as a temporary PM.
  • The Tories lost their majority.  The Opposition declined to call a Vote of No Confidence, their leader preferring to speak to some people campaigning against the Tories outside Parliament about the wickedness of the government he declined to try and bring down.
  • The Lib Dems changed their leader.  The Scottish Tories lost theirs.  Labour kept their useless one in place.
  • After the summer various opposition MPs bestirred themselves enough to pass a law requiring the PM to ask the EU for an extension if by 19 October he has not got a deal with the EU so that a No Deal exit could be avoided.  The PM discovered his inner Marxist, indicating that the end (Brexit) justifies any means (not complying with the law). This may be bluff, frustration or mis-speaking. Or maybe a new sort of political gender fluidity. Constitutional lawyers cannot believe their luck.
  • The Tories lost every single vote in Parliament. They could not even get opposition MPs to agree to a General Election. A Cabinet Minister resigned.
  • A policewoman fainted during a speech by Boris.  She expressed what many feel when he opens his mouth.
  • Boris did the usual round of European capitals, being politely patronised in France and Germany, lectured in Ireland and snubbed/humiliated/insulted in Luxembourg.  For a brief while, journalists learnt how to spell “Xavier“.
  • The Lib Dems have agreed on a policy to revoke Article 50 the minute they win a General Election.  A 113-year extension of Article 50 may therefore be necessary.  What their policy will be if this is not granted and Britain leaves no-one knows.  It is much more exciting to change policies every few weeks.
  • Labour has decided that it will decide on whether to be for Remain or Leave mañana, after a General Election and a new deal and maybe a referendum.  Anyway, not now.  And possibly not ever.
  • Labour’s conference has turned into a paean of nostalgia for the policies of the 1970’s. Perhaps we will get an updated version of “Anarchy in the UK” for our times. The music – not the politics – was the best bit of the 1970’s after all. So typical of Labour to miss the point.
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg started a meme by draping himself over House of Commons seats like an expiring virgin in a pre-Raphaelite painting.
  • Boris prorogued Parliament for 5 weeks despite promising he wouldn’t.  There was uproar by MPs.  Not to be outdone, Bercow announced his resignation on the day of prorogation, to take effect on the day Britain does or does not leave the EU.
  • The lawyers got involved – inevitably.  The Scottish Court ruled against the government.  The English High Court didn’t.  The Supreme Court heard the arguments last week and lots of people became instant Twitter “experts” on justiciability.  11 out of the 18 barristers appearing before the Supreme Court came from one set of chambers.  Their clerks will be deliriously happy at all the fees being paid.
  • We could find our constitutional norms upended – or perhaps not.  One side will certainly be furious. The number of opinions expressed on the judges’ decision will be in inverse proportion to the number of people actually reading the damn thing. A word of caution for those expecting fireworks: remember the Hutton Inquiry.
  • No-one has the first idea whether a deal will be reached, whether if reached it will be passed and if not reached whether Boris will resign, get someone else to ask for an extension or simply refuse to comply with the law. Given everything else going on, it is far too exhausting to worry about such things.

And as we wait for the Supreme Court’s decision – to be announced at 10:30 am – perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we have used this time wisely or, as poor gentle Mr Tusk feared, wasted it. Still, not long to wait now.



Another conference boost for Jo Swinson – this time from LAB

September 23rd, 2019

Corbyn the opposition leader with the worst leader ratings ever gets his way

The big political news has been the Labour conference decision to reject a move that would have seen the party take out-and-out Remain position in the run-up to the likely early general election.

Delegates rejected a composite motion that would have seen the party pledge to campaign for remain.

Whether this was electorally wise only time will tell but my guess is that the biggest cheers for the vote would have come from the LDs who are currently taking about a quarter of the LAB GE2017 vote.

It does mean that in a general election LAB will not be on one side or the other giving Swinson party a clear run for the Remain vote and Johnson the unambiguous supporter of Brexit.

The nature of the vote was somewhat chaotic and given the importance of this to the party’s electoral future it was perhaps unwise not to have gone to a card vote.

Mike Smithson


If this YouGov polling is correct then tactical voting looks set to play a big part in an early general election

September 23rd, 2019

As a general rule I really don’t like surveys on things like tactical voting because we are asking a pollster to do something that’s highly complicated and we should retain our sectptism.

A concern on the polling above is that members of the YouGov panel might have a tendency to be more politically involved than the norm and therefore, possibly, more likely to state that they would use their vote in a tactical way.

The first polling to feature in the panel above seeks to find out what LAB and GRN voters would do in seats where the Tories are slugging out with the LDs. The second panel seeks to established what LD voters voters would do where the battle in their seat is perceived to be between Labour and the Tories.

One danger is that these are based on perceptions of the likely main battle in each seat and things might have changed dramatically since baseline of GE2017. LAB has lost a lot of support as have the Tories. The LDs, meanwhile, have seen their polling shares get to nearly three times the last general election level. There might be what in 2017 were CON-LAB marginals where the LDs would now fancy their chances.

On the basis of the above LD voters seem less likely to contemplate voting tactically then LAB ones.

Mike Smithson


With a possible LAB leadership in prospect Laura Pidcock could be the one to get Jezza’s backing

September 23rd, 2019

Her odds make her an interesting bet

Of all the political betting markets available one that we haven’t looked at for a very long time is on who will succeed Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. He has looked totally secure in his position even though he has recently seen his personal poll ratings dropped to record lows.

Corbyn, now 70, doesn’t appear to be enjoying the job that he has occupied since his shock victory in the September 2015 Labour leadership contest.

One thing that we keep on hearing from the party is a view that the next leader should be a woman. LAB is alone amongst the major parties with MPs at Westminster never to have had a female person at the top. If that’s the case then who could that be?

Emily Thornberry has been a major figure in the party for many years and looks set to be a possible contender. Then there is Rebecca Long Bailey who for a time looked as though she was the favourite of the incumbent Mr Corbyn. Now there are suggestions that the person who would get the backing, however informally, of the incumbent would be be the 32 year old MP from North West Durham, Laura Pidcock.

Rachel Wearmouth in Huffpost had a piece outlining Pidcock’s credentials at the weekend and that’s caused me to have a flutter at 16/1 with Ladbrokes on her getting the job. She wrote:

“this summer has revealed the extent to which Laura Pidcock is favoured by powerful left-wing unions such as Len McCluskey’s Unite, and by Corbyn himself.

Despite being elected for the first time in 2017, the campaigning MP has rapidly risen through the ranks to shadow minister and was earlier this month quietly promoted to shadow secretary of state for workers’ rights.

Pidcock now attends meetings of Corbyn’s top team where she has been described by some as “Jeremy’s de-facto deputy” as Watson’s appearances thin out. ..

A brief look on YouTube suggests that she’s a much more engaging speaker than Long-Bailey.

Mike Smithson


Iowa’s most accurate pollster has Warren in the lead for the first time

September 22nd, 2019

She’s now 38% on Betfair for the nomination

Those who have followed American politics for some time will be aware that Anne Selzer polls for the Des Moines register have over the decades built up a strong reputation for accuracy in polling the Iowa Caucuses. The issue here is ensuring that samples are made up of voters who will actually participate – attending a meeting in their precinct at 7pm on the stated day. The Selzer approach seem to get this most right.

The latest poll this weekend had Warren leading with 22%, followed by Joe Biden at 20%, Sanders at 11%, Pete Buttigieg at 9%, Kamala Harris at 6%, Amy Klobuchar at 3% and Cory Booker at 3%.

Favourability figures in the poll found Buttigieg in second place ahead of Biden – an interesting pointer..

The Iowa caucuses, because they come first, have a long history of shaping the race giving the state an influence on US politics far far greater than its size would suggest.

Mike Smithson


Labour’s general election plan on Brexit- it looks as though the fudge will continue

September 22nd, 2019

Surely a clear position is required?

As well as the side shows of the move against Watson that were pulled and the top Corbyn advisor who has quit the the big story about behind the secenes in Brighton appears to have been the policy, or non-policy, on Brexit.

We know where Johnson’s Tories stand and Swinson’s LDs but if you are looking for clarity from what is currently the official opposition then you are probably going to be disappointed.

Somewhat naively I was expecting that the impending general election would focus minds amongst the red team and that they’d come out for Remain while at the same time having a good bash against the Tories for their no deal threats and against the LDs for their revoke now without a new referendum plan.

So many GE2017 LAB voters, up a quarter according to the polling, have now switched to the LDs that that surely was going to provoke a response. You can’t go into elections without such a large slice of your support base.

Well it looks as though I’ll be wrong. As I write at 3.45pm the leadership’s plan is to go into the general election without having a view – something that pleases neither side.

What’s happening here, of course, is that Unite is using its considerable influence to quash any remainery.

Mike Smithson


Chronicle of a bet foretold Part 2

September 22nd, 2019

It is 11am on September 21st 2019 as I write this. Earlier in the year I wrote an article about fixed-odds betting used to insure against political risk. I finished by saying I would investigate other modes, specifically currency conversion. This is that investigation.


The investigation took the form of recollections of previous betting combined with consideration of new modes. Time constraints meant that some modes could only be briefly examined so conclusions from this article should be taken as illustrative and advisory, not conclusive. If the reader notes any errors, please point them out.

The modes covered in the article are spread betting, fixed-odds betting and betting exchanges, bureaux de change, currency conversion and other modes such as tailored foreign exchange and political insurance. I consider them as follows:


Historically, British gambling regulation has been class based, with subdivisions such as horserace betting (literally the sport of kings!), telephone betting (used by the middle classes) and high-street gambling (working-class) attracting different regulation at different times. One of the odd tributaries of this phenomenon is the regulation of spread betting, which is governed by the Financial Conduct Authority (formerly the FSA), not the Gambling Commission. Spread betting accounts have a ferocious reputation: the majority of customers lose money, some lots. Consequently regulation has grown tighter.

In UK spread betting, you bet on the movement, not the level: one buys at level X, sells at level Y and the more the change, the greater the profit/loss. (US spread betting may be different and we do not cover it). This allows great profit to be made with little money, but the requirement to keep a float to maintain a positive balance and the possibility of great loss if the movement is in the wrong direction makes this high-risk/high-reward.

Opening an account requires bank details and proof of ID, and you are warned that losses may be large. I closed my account some years ago and changing regulation means that further checks and limits may now pertain. Political betting is availably from IG Index and Sporting Index. Sporting Index is familiarly known as “SPIN” and has a habit of suspending trading during uncertain times.


These are regulated in GB by the Gambling Commission, but difficulties in prosecutions and the anomalous position of Northern Ireland (not all legislation applies to NI and the suspension of Stormont and the different polity morals means that regulation has not yet caught up) means that some bookmakers insist they are regulated by overseas bodies such as the Malta Gaming Commission. That argument is best settled by lawyers.

In GB fixed-odds betting (we occasionally use the American term “sportsbook”, which I quite like), the bookmaker acts as the layer (betting against the future event) and offers odds. The punter is the backer (bets on the future event) and deposits money with the bookmaker until the event is resolved. In betting exchanges the bookmaker acts as matchmaker, with one punter acting as backer and another as layer. Unmatched money is returned to the punters on resolution.

It is medium-risk/medium-reward, with the possible profit and loss being fixed at the point the bet is made. It is freely available and can be done in-person via a high-street bookmaker or remotely via an online or telephone account. In-person betting ordinarily does not require an account or ID, but remote betting has bureaucracy. Political betting is available in-person or remotely via Ladbrokes/Coral and William Hill, or Betfair Exchange. Other bookmakers are available.


The above methods allow political betting on events directly, but one may be more concerned with the effects of the event and require proxy betting. Since my concern is on currency effects, currency was the obvious proxy. Betting on currency movements may be done via spread betting or (rarely) sportsbook/exchange betting, but currency conversion is also viable. Currency conversion may be done in-person via a “bureau de change” (a high-street kiosk that physically changes currency in one denomination into another) or online via dedicated foreign-exchange firms or foreign-currency accounts offered by some high-street banks.

Bureax-de-change are usually used for holiday money and may offer buyback facilities: buying and selling at the same exchange rate for a limited period. They require no registration and are zero-risk, but will have a poor exchange rate and carrying large amounts of cash is difficult and raises eyebrows. An online foreign-currency account only requires an existing bank account and is low-risk/low-reward, as adverse positions can be traded out of rapidly. But to cover a sufficient risk requires moving a lot of money, which brings its own problems. Bureaux-de-change can be found via yell, a foreign-exchange firm is Travelex. For foreign-currency accounts, please see the high-street banks.


There exist tailored foreign exchange services (for example Tramonex, which went but last year) and political insurance via Lloyds (there are syndicates, such as AmTrust? Validus? Apols if these are wrong) but are aimed at corporate entities/very-high-net-worth individuals and are outside my weight-class: for example, Tramonex required 500,000GBP traded per annum, which is way outside my reach. I did not investigate these. Tramonex no longer exists (see here) and I did not research others. For Lloyds Political Risk insurance, please see here and other sources.


In the previous article I outlined my use of a fixed-odds bet to insure against adverse currency changes in the event of no-deal. I practice betting transparency, so I outline here my use in Q2-3 2019: numbers are given magnitudally to preserve some anonymity. Previous experience of spread-betting some years ago had been scary and counterproductive: lacking any knowledge of movement I could not make a profit and I closed my account in short order after a total three-figure loss. Some years ago I changed four-figures into USD, which was fun but walking around with a thick wad in your back pocket is obviously stupid, so I converted back at zero loss.

So since 2016 I have opened USD and EUR accounts and in Q2-3 2019 I started moving money en-masse, currently totalling low-five-figures in various USD and EUR accounts (gulp!). This is personally traumatic: moving large sums of money inspires fear, and lack of any real knowledge about currency movements inspires uncertainty. I deal with this by moving smaller sums at smaller intervals, which normalises the behaviour and reduces the trauma of a Large Event.

Today is September 21st 2019. The rates are 1GBP=1.13EUR and 1GBP=1.24USD. At those rates I have a low-three-figure profit in EUR but a mid-three-figure loss in GBP (converting back incurs an additional conversion cost!).

In the event of Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1.2 and USD will pass 1.3 within 48 hours of the announcement and my losses in GBP will be low-four-figures, at which point I will trade out with alacrity before they settle at over 1.3 and over 1.35 within the month.

In the event of No-Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1 and USD 1.15 within 48 hours before settling at 0.95 and 1.05 within the month: at that point I will remain in as my gains in GBP will be low-four-figures. I will let you know what happens.


Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector


Labour’s leadership machinations could be a pointer that an early change is being planned

September 21st, 2019

So far I have not been tempted to take the Betfair 26% that Corbyn will step down as LAB leader during 2019.  But an early exit for Mr Corbyn is how some of the machinations ahead of the party conference both last night and this morning are being interpreted.

Why the party had to change its position on a move that seemed to be about abolishing the role of deputy leader as a means of clipping Watson’s wings we do not know.  It appears as though the position of Tom Watson was threatened in the first place because there was the possibility that he would, by being deputy, be the default temporary leader when Corbyn goes.

Something has been going on for the motion to have been published in the first place and then replaced by what appeared to be  much more apparently moderately sounding one. Maybe this is a common tactic. The first with the the deputy job being abolished was published in order to test the waters. Given that it has received such a negative response then maybe that has driven the decision to change it into something that appears more acceptable.

The fact is that this month Corbyn enters his fifth year as Labour leader which apart from Nicola Sturgeon makes him one of the most long-lasting leaders in the UK.  In the sametime period the Tories  have gone from Cameron to to Theresa May and now to Mr Johnson while the LDs have gone from Tim Farron to Vince Cable and now to Jo Swinson.

Whatever it is hard to see how  Corbyn could stand aside with all the talk of an imminent general election in which the LAB leader himself could play the key part in triggering by moving a confidence vote under the FPTP Act procedures.

If there is a general election then whether Corbyn will be lead could be an issue. After all the LAB leader is the next PM, elections permitting, in waiting and what has happened has raised doubts. Maybe this blunts the Corbyn negative factor.

Mike Smithson