Johnson’s taking a big gamble avoiding Andrew Neil

December 5th, 2019

This’ll contine right through to next Thursday

In this clip Neil makes a powerful case why Johnson should be there and if Tory strategy is that this could go away then that that could be a massive mistake.

Corbyn, Swinson and Farage have agreed. Why not Johnson?

Mike Smithson


Chuka Umunna’s political journey: From 2015 favourite for the LAB leadership to trying to make a GE2019 gain for the LDs

December 5th, 2019

Next LAB leader odds May 12th 2015

Chuka’s GE2019 campaign with a different party

One of the most intriguing battles next Thursday is in the city of London and Westminster – seat which has been held by the Conservatives for well over a century.

At the referendum the constituency voted just under 72% for remain and only 28% for leave making it it a tasty target for the Lib Dems in an election where Brexit is the dominant issue.

The party’s candidate is Chuka, who joined the party earlier in the year and has been playing a major role in the LDs national election campaign. He’s got high name recognition and is media-savvy.

A week and a half ago Deltapoll had a seat survey from there and the numbers looked promising for Chuka even though though the first voting intention question had him 5 points behind.

To a second question that asked “ How would you vote if you felt that the only two candidates with a realistic chance of winning here in Cities of London & Westminster were the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats?” it was LD 52%, CON 42%, LAB 5%.

If the Deltapoll cities of London & Westminster has this right Chuka at 2/1 or longer is a value bet

Mike Smithson


Protecting Our Democracy?

December 5th, 2019

Remember the Supreme Court cases on prorogation or Article 50? How irrelevant they seem if, as polls indicate, the Tories get a majority. With 7 days to go, can there be a better time to wheel out Wilson’s dictum about a week being a long time in politics?  There cannot. Consider it duly wheeled out.

And yet the “Protect our Democracy” section in the Tory manifesto (pages 47-48, here) has not received the scrutiny it deserves. It starts with what some might consider a colourable statement, given recent events: “As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law.” I should bloody well hope so. Little point being a Conservative if one didn’t believe in such things.

How unfortunate then that it was a Conservative PM who tried to suspend democracy, an act described by the Supreme Court as “having … an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy”; the same PM then saying that the Supreme Court was wrong, on the basis of his hitherto unknown legal expertise. It was a Conservative Leader of the House who described this decision as “a constitutional coup“, a claim as vacuous and silly as his claim that it was constitutionally necessary for the then Conservative Leader to resign having won a leadership vote. How unfortunate that it was a Conservative Lord Chancellor who had to be reminded of her legal obligations  to protect the independence of the judiciary when the judges ruling on Article 50 were attacked. How surprising it was to hear another Conservative Lord Chancellor having to confirm to Parliament that the PM would indeed comply with the law (despite not liking it) the PM’s advisors having previously put it about that he would ignore it. And how depressing was it to hear a Conservative Attorney-General berating MPs  saying that they did not have a “moral right” to sit in Parliament, apparently forgetting that those MPs had been elected by the voters in the 2017 General Election.

What could possibly lead to such extravagant, petulant reactions? Fortunately, the manifesto goes on to tell us in its next (and, to many, tendentious) statements:-

“One of the strengths of the UK’s constitution is its ability to evolve – as times have changed, so have Parliament, government and the judiciary.”  (Er, no: one of its strengths is that it has changed slowly, generally on a cross-party basis and that stability, rather than endless tinkering in response to events, has been prized as a virtue. There was a time when Tories criticised New Labour for upending the constitution without thought and for short-term party political advantage. Now they seem to have adopted it as a strategy.)

It goes on: “Today that need is greater than ever. The failure of Parliament to deliver Brexit – the way so many MPs have devoted themselves to thwarting the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum – has opened up a destabilising and potentially extremely damaging rift between politicians and people.”  There we have it. Parliament did not vote through the Brexit the government put before it so the constitution must be reformed. No understanding that there was a General Election in 2017 which the people did not give the government the majority it asked for. No understanding that this meant that the government had to work with the Parliament which the people had voted for. No understanding that you cannot endlessly chant about the “Will of the People” when it supports what you want to do but ignore those same People when they don’t give you what you want. No understanding that MPs have the right – indeed the duty – to exercise their judgment. No appreciation that if MPs do something which their constituents don’t like or contrary to what they promised them, they will face their judgment – as indeed most of  the awkward squad will next week when they will likely not be re-elected – and that it is not for the executive to come between that relationship between MP and constituent. No understanding that Parliament is not there simply to do the government’s bidding; that it is for the government to work within the constraints of the majority it has or can obtain and the limits of the law. No understanding that scrutiny of what a government does, whether by Parliament or by the courts, is essential to a democracy.

This is a party and leader who do not like scrutiny, whether by Parliament, Select Committee or the press. The party has convinced itself that the only important test of democracy in Britain today is whether it implements a referendum result. Important as that is politically, it is a dangerously reductive, self-serving and profoundly ignorant understanding of democracy. It is also decidedly unConservative. And so the manifesto goes on to promise:-

  • A look at “the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords”.  
  • A promise that “judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state”. (This is no more than a statement of what has been the law for at least 60 years since the Wednesbury case, developed by judges not granted by Parliament, as implied by this promise, and is intended to prevent public bodies from acting unreasonably or unlawfully not simply in an “overbearing” way, another example of a loaded adjective). But wait: this right must “not be abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”   

Aha! This is what all this is about: Tory politicians did not like being told by the courts that they could not simply do as they pleased, that they too were subject to the law, that they could not abuse the Royal Prerogative and behave like sovereigns of old. They did not have a big enough majority and, rather than realising that this was a message from the voters that they needed to work within the constraints of the elected Parliament, they now want to change the relationship between the two, disingenuously claiming this is necessary to restore trust in democracy. Let me take a wild guess: this review is unlikely to suggest ways in which the legislature or courts will have more power to control or scrutinise the executive but rather will plan to limit the extent to which governments can be challenged. It is certainly the view of a former Lord Chancellor – here, at 14 mins, 19 seconds in.

Let’s be fair: the manifesto does say that they will look at “access to justice for ordinary people” (like Harry Dunn’s parents, perhaps?). But you will look hard to find anything in the manifesto about how that access will be improved nor about how to deal with the consequences of a 40% cut in the budget for the justice system.

One of the dilemmas for those thinking of voting Tory is that, if Boris gets only a small majority or there is a Hung Parliament, the likelihood of a No-Deal Brexit or continued Parliamentary paralysis is that much higher. But if he gets a big majority, he will be able to behave with relative freedom. That requires a level of trust in him which, given his own and his government’s behaviour when it had no majority, would not appear wise.

Are these concerns of interest only to lawyers? No. Big mistake that. Judicial independence, scrutiny, legal restraints on the use of power, the rule of law are not there primarily for the benefit of lawyers, judges and journalists. They make democracy possible. They reinforce it. They are there above all to protect us.

If you are serious about protecting democracy, you do not attack or undermine them.

Let the last word go to a former Lord Chancellor, Thomas More (as imagined in A Man For All Seasons):-

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”  







Johnson is surely relatively safe in his Uxbridge & Ruislip constituency

December 4th, 2019

At the referendum it was 56.4% Leave

In some quarters quite a lot of people have been getting excited about Johnson possibly running into trouble in his Uxbridge & Ruislip constituency which he held at GE2017 with a majority of 5k+.

In the chart I’ve shown the vote shares from last time and the projection by Prof Chris Hanratty on the party shares there at the May 23rd Euros.

First thing to note is that this is not your typical West London seat which is part of Remainier. It went Leave by a clear margin. This was further reflected in the May 2019 Euro election results there where BRX had a convincing victory. Farage’s party is not standing there a week tomorrow.

That 40% GE2017 LAB share looks promising but there are not that many other votes there to squeeze.

What Uxbridge is likely to do is to divert hordes of LAB activists from seats that really are at stake fixated by the prospect that the PM could be in trouble. My view is that they would struggle to make it happen.

I wonder if this could be part of the next round of Deltapoll constituency surveys.

Mike Smithson


Dominic Raab’s rock solid safe seat now a key GE2019 battleground

December 4th, 2019

What happens when anti-CON voters decide to go tactical

There is little doubt that if the LDs are to salvage anything from from a hugely disappointing GE19 campaign a lot depends on what happens in Esher & Walton – the seat currently held by the Foreign Secretary and former BrexSec, Dominic Raab. A victory here would be the Portillo moment of the election and might just take some of the edge off Johnson’s likely victory.

The chart shows the result last time compared with with the two constituency polls that have been carried out – one at the start of November and one at the end.

Just about everything now depends on LAB voters and whether they decide to stick with their party or vote tactically.

Currently the Betfair sportsbook has the Tories on 1/2 with the LDs on 15/8. The latter was 11/4 on Monday. The odds are probably about right. If these polls are on the right lines, and both are in the same territory, then it is going to be close.

One thing’s for sure – there’ll be a big media presence at this constituency count.

Mike Smithson


The Commons seats spread betting markets appear to have settled down with very little movement

December 4th, 2019

Will it be in these ranges when the exit poll comes out?

Above are the latest Commons seats spreads from SportingIndex which have shown little movement  this week. A way of looking at this is that this is where current betting money is going and to me, at least, there are few obvious bargains.

My main spread bet is on turnout which is currently 66.8% sell and 67.4% buy. I bought at 66.4%. I did have a sell bet at 210 seats which I got out of at 205 making a profits of five times my stake level. Since then, of course, LAB has improved in the polls and this has been reflected on the markets.

This is a form of betting that can be high risk with the more you are right the more you win. Sadly the converse is the case. Back at GE2017 I sold CON seats at 393 and they came out with 318 meaning my winning was the seat gap between the two numbers multiplied by my stake level. I don’t see that happening again,

We saw with the GE2015, the referendum and GE2017 that the betting markets did not have it right. Will that be the same this time?

Roll on the exit poll.

Mike Smithson


Thoughts from a Big Beast

December 3rd, 2019

On Monday evening, Ken Clarke, described by Intelligence² as a Big Beast of British politics, was being interviewed by John Humphreys, though even Humphreys was scarcely able to get a word in, as Ken opined, entertainingly and at length, on Brexit, Boris, elections and a life in politics.

The following comments he made are worth noting as relevant, not just to the election, but to politics thereafter:-

Communicating with voters

The challenge now for politicians was how to talk to voters, persuade them, reach out to them intelligently, particularly in an age of social media and fragmented groups with people only listening to those they agreed with rather than those who challenged them. The old-fashioned ways: speeches, town hall meetings, long interviews were no longer enough. New ways were needed and this was one of the most important things for the next generation to develop. He did not think anyone had yet found the right voice, an effective way of doing this. But if it did not happen, then the siren voices of populists promising glib analyses and easy answers would dominate.

The Benefits of FPTP

This forced parties to become wide coalitions and present to the electorate a broad package of measures, a programme for government, based on compromise and priorities. But he liked it because it also forced voters to make a choice about a programme for government rather than simply focus on a single issue or obsession. Rather than have lots of small parties unable to agree or unwilling to compromise, all arguing for their own preference (much like the pointless 7-way election debates), voters would be forced to choose and to prioritise. He thought that both main parties were now a somewhat bizarre version of themselves but thought, perhaps optimistically,  that they would be able to pull back to the art of compromise and pragmatism, to being a truer version of themselves.

The Benefits of Unpopularity

In answer to a question on the steps needed to combat climate change, he made two points. First, while it was now high on the agenda, the talk was still of setting targets and changing dates by when steps would be taken and not on the actual steps which needed to be taken. Second, those steps (and as an example, he named raising two taxes he had introduced as Chancellor) would be individually extremely unpopular. If parties only ever worried about short-term popularity, what went down well with focus groups and opinion polls, nothing would ever get done. That was why sensible governments worked out what their priorities were, did them as soon as they were elected, explained what they were about and why, made sure they worked properly, eased off the closer it came to an election and awaited the judgment of voters on the whole after a 4/5 year term rather than obsessing about the immediate ratings. If the measures had been properly explained and worked, then voters would be more willing to accept them; if they didn’t work you were stuffed anyway. But to achieve effective change you needed to be willing to endure unpopularity. That, of course, presupposed that parties knew what they wanted to do and had a plan for getting there.

The Importance of a Good Opposition

An opposition which was an alternative government was essential to our system, not simply because it was needed but because, if it was properly challenged and scrutinised, it forced the government to raise its game. Labour was not such an opposition and he felt that Corbyn would never be PM, even if he tried “for a thousand years”. But Labour would be “out of sight” if it had a good leader. In the same way, he had no problem with interviewers being probing and asking tough questions. A good interview forced the interviewee to engage with his audience (rather than repeat slogans “developed by erks in No 10”) and explain things well, probably better than if he was just lobbed easy questions.

Spreading the Wealth

The 2008 financial crisis was at least as much responsible for Brexit as any particular issues people had with the EU itself. Finance Ministers (like him) believed in the 1990’s that they had sorted out how best to manage economies. Everything was becoming more globalised and co-operative; the levers they had seemed to be working. What they didn’t notice (or pay enough attention to) was that this was benefiting 40% of the population and that parts of the country and its people were not benefiting but were nonetheless enduring significant change and disruption. The dissatisfactions this had caused had expressed themselves in many ways (Trump, Brexit, Salvini).  The answers so far given: it’s all the fault of the favoured scapegoat were not an answer. But a sensible pragmatic answer and solutions were needed.

My take (FWIW): This issue – who gets the benefits, who bears the costs and are both fairly shared – is, and always has been, the pre-eminent question in politics. It will, however it may be presented as issues related to Brexit and FTAs and nationalisation and austerity, continue to be so after December 12th.  And it will be quite a challenge for whatever government emerges after the election. It was notable that Clarke admitted that his generation of politicians had been perhaps too smug and confident about what they were doing and had not noticed what was happening under their noses. But all of the above issues (and they are only some of what was discussed) matter, particularly the issue of how politicians and voters find a new common means of communicating with each other. If understanding and persuasion are absent, how can politics work effectively?

Clarke said that it was Macmillan’s decision to apply to join the EU which finally persuaded him he was a Conservative. He would now describe himself to a canvasser as a “doubtful Conservative”, one who wanted a sensible plan – not just fine words – for what Britain’s relationship with the EU would be. He was wryly aware of the symmetry in his long political career.

Whether you agree with him or not on the European question, it is a great pity that his voice will no longer be heard in the Commons.



Kamala Harris, one time favourite the Democratic nomination, reported to be pulling out of the race

December 3rd, 2019

So another one bites the dust

The big news from the US is the California Senator, Kamala Harris, is reported to be quitting the race for the nomination. This come less than six months after moving to the favourite slot following her performance in the first TV debate.

Unfortunately she was not able to follow that up and has dwindled in the polls. The latest surveys in Iowa, the first state to decide, have her down at 2-3%. She simply has not gained any traction.

This has not come as a shock and is surely a wise decision on her part. Her decision follows a similar move last month by the once fancied, Beto O’Rourke.

All this underlines what a massive challenge running for president actually is especially as at one stage she was up against more than 20 other contenders.

From my perspective this is a pity. I had a long-term bet on her at 66/1.

Mike Smithson