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The Tyranny of Low Expectations

October 13th, 2019

It is generally a good idea, when facing severe criticism from an inquiry, to concede with as much good grace as possible, to keep your immediate thoughts about the idiocy of the judge to yourself and not to try and justify the behaviour which has been criticised. No good will come of it: you will look like someone paying lip service to the findings who really thinks you’ve done nothing wrong.

It is advice which the Metropolitan Police singularly failed to follow in their response to the report by Sir Richard Henriques on Operation Midland, the now notorious investigation into alleged child abuse. The day of its publication the Met’s response focused on why no senior officer had done anything wrong despite the long list of failings catalogued: 43 in total, including that, in obtaining search warrants without being fully transparent about the evidence they had, the police had broken the law. This is about as serious a failure as it is possible to have by public servants whose primary and most important duty is to uphold it. Not break it. The Met’s apology for the upset caused by the searches seemed to be quite unequal to the failure – the sort of apology you might make if you’d inadvertently interrupted someone having a bath – rather than a realisation of the very great damage done to policing and the administration of justice if those tasked with it cannot be bothered to behave lawfully.

The report by the IOPC the following day adopted the same self-justifying tone to explain why there was no basis for disciplining any of the officers involved despite its comprehensive investigation, one so comprehensive that none of the officers involved had been interviewed. What would the IOPC consider an inadequate investigation to be?

One of the critical failings was the police deciding – and publicly announcing – that allegations were true and believable before they had been investigated, as a result of an obligation to believe a victim and, indeed, to call them a victim rather than a complainant. Paragraphs 1.11-1.35 of the report on why these two practices are so seriously prejudicial to proper investigation, the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof (the foundations of our entire criminal justice system) are very well worth reading. In consequence, one of the judge’s most important recommendations was for the police not automatically to believe complainants: “If one policy decision results from this review I trust that the instruction to ‘believe’ a victim’s account will cease.”  The police seem disinclined to follow this advice. Even Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, despite being a QC, seems not to understand that belief in an allegation is not necessary to investigate it properly.

The belief that victims must be believed without question did not come from nowhere. It arose in part in response to previous police failings. In 1982 Roger Graef’s documentary series about Thames Valley Police caused a stir when the episode entitled “A Complaint of Rape” showed male policemen treating a female rape victim with harsh dismissiveness. This led to important and valuable changes in how the police investigated this most serious and sensitive of crimes. Similar changes have been made with regard to how child victims of sexual abuse are treated, both by the police and by the courts when they give evidence. All of this is welcome: old-fashioned assumptions (that women are asking for it, that children are liars) are no basis on which to investigate crimes.

Some old-fashioned attitudes still persist though: young troubled girls in care are seen as not “nice” and in effect asking to be abused by their attackers, the assumption this time being wrapped up in the mistaken and nonsensical notion that an underage child has given “consent”. At the other end, the police have veered from ignoring crimes alleged against the famous (Savile) to pursuing them with unseemly malice and a misguided focus on making media headlines (Cliff Richard).  (If there is one thing to be regretted from the decision to abandon the second half of the Leveson Inquiry is that there was no examination of the police’s relationship with the press and whether this is compatible with their policing role. It is something which needs much more scrutiny than it is, for obvious reasons, ever likely now to get.) It as if the police veer from one position to another in response to the scandal du jour without any understanding of – or firm attachment to – the long-standing principles underlying the criminal justice system

Now the police have adopted the spuriously sentimental assumption that a victim should be believed without question. To do so is fatally to confuse therapy and care with investigation. The former is laudable but not the role of the police. The latter is.

For investigators to do their job properly they need two skills above all: emotional intelligence – empathy, an ability to understand human behaviour and motivation and build a relationship with both (alleged) criminal and victim. The second is to have what Graham Greene described as the “splinter of ice in the heart”, the judgment and analysis that makes them look coolly and dispassionately at the facts, to base their opinions on what they have found and not what they would like to believe to be true, that makes them remember that they need to find and test the evidence and ensure that it is good enough to convict someone to the standard required.

As the report put it:

“Any process that imposes an artificial state of mind upon an investigator is, necessarily, a flawed process. An investigator, in any reputable system of justice, must be impartial. The imposed ‘obligation to believe’ removes that impartiality.”

If the police allow sentimental beliefs, preconceived opinions and assumptions, pressure from the media or politicians to override the judgments they need to make, they are doing a profound disservice – to the victims (who need their complaints taken seriously and investigated properly, a crucially important difference to simply being believed), to the defendants (who are entitled not to be accused publicly – or at all – on the basis of opinion unsupported by any evidence), to the public’s faith in policing, to the administration of justice itself.

What was so dismaying about the police’s response to the Henriques report was not just the rush to protect their own, the desire to explain why disciplinary action was unjustified, the belief that incompetence and negligence were not sufficient to merit any kind of action.  The approach was that the police had broken no disciplinary rules; they did not intend to cause harm and there was no evidence of criminal behaviour so that was that.  The level of incompetence and negligence on display, the failures in basic investigative tradecraft were simply to be ignored. No: what’s worse is the assumption that nothing more than this can or should be expected.

The police had passed the low bar expected of them.  43 failings in one inquiry can happen but no-one need take any responsibility.

It is a stunning failure to understand what leadership means.  Leadership means, in essence, taking responsibility for what happens in your watch – even if you are not personally to blame.  Those senior officers who were in position when this lamentable series of failures occurred were the leaders in charge.  If leadership is to mean anything, if setting an example to all those in the police service matters, if an apology is to be meaningful, if learning lessons is to be something other than a cliché to be trotted out, if integrity at the top of policing is to have substance, then those in charge of this inquiry should, in all honour, take responsibility and resign.  Not seek to evade it with self-serving justifications and remorseful cries of “Oh, if only I’d done something different.

The Home Secretary (not noted for either her empathy or integrity or, indeed, her understanding of the criminal justice system – as her latest spat with the Attorney-General suggests) has apparently asked for a further inquiry to be carried out – though since it is to be carried out by the very body which has come up with the practices roundly criticised by the Henriques report, don’t build your hopes too high. In the meanwhile, the Prime Minister has made great play of his intention to fund 20,000 more police for our streets.  Without wishing to downplay the work of ordinary policemen or, indeed the need for effective policing, with this sort of inadequate leadership and incompetence on show, it is worth asking whether this really is the best use of public money?  Maybe fixing the problems identified by Sir Richard Henriques and implementing his recommendations might come before spaffing money on more police. It can’t, after all, cost that much to remind police leaders of that well-known saying: “The buck stops here.

CycleFree





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Six of the top seven in the betting on Corbyn’s successor are women

October 13th, 2019


Chart of Betfair exchange prices from betdata.io

How will leadership hopefuls vote on the key Commons brexit moves?

With Corbyn’s announcement that he’ll step down if he fails to lead LAB to victory in the general election there’s renewed interest in the betting on who will be the successor. We could be only a few months from a contest.

Two factors stand out. Firstly there’s a widespread view within the movement, including from the boss of UNITE, that LAB needs to have a female leader and that clearly is having an impact on punters and the party. The other factor is Brexit and how those likely to be contenders use the their votes in the coming big decisions in the Commons.

An indication of how important this is was the Euro election in May, Then YouGov polling of the party membership found that just 45% had supported their party. 19% had gone for the Greens, 15% the LDs and 2% CHUK. Just 4% had voted for Farage’s Brexit party.

This suggests that the membership is pro-remain – a factor that we saw at the party conference last month when the approach to Brexit was being resolved. My guess is that even those closest to the incumbent are going to be mindful of the anti-Brexit nature of the electorate.

This could be crucial if it comes to agreeing or blocking a deal and any move on a second referendum.

Mike Smithson




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New Scotland only poll has the Tories losing most of the gains made at GE2017 and support for independence at 50%

October 13th, 2019

Scottish Westminster voting intentions with changes from GE2017 in Scotland
SNP 39% +2.1
CON 21% -7.6
LAB 20% -7.1
LD 13% +6.2
GRN 2% +1.8
BREX 5%

Bad news for both Boris and Jezza but positive news for Jo

At the past two general elections the part of the UK where there has seen the most seat churn has been in Scotland with its 59 seats and the signs are that this will continue next time. The country has its own electoral ecosystem and applying GB projections can be distorting. Just a few shifts in Scotland can see many gains and losses.

This is why Scotland-only polls which are relatively rare are such a big political event.

The projected seat changes are in the Sunday Times panel featured in the Tweet above and as can be seen LAB nearly gets wiped out north of the border. To put this in context Gordon Brown’s LAB at GE2010 won 41 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. This poll would have it down to just one.

The Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson came out of GE2017 with 12 gains making 13 Scottish seats overall at the last general election thus helping ameliorate the disastrous performance of TMay’s party in England and Wales. This latest poll sees the SNP taking eight of those seats back.

The Lib Dems, who now have a Scottish leader, hold up well in the poll and SNP hopes of taking Swinson’s Dunbartonshire East seat are not supported by these latest numbers which show an SNP to LD swing of 2%.

The other key findings today are support for Scottish independence reaching 50% when don’t knows are taken out and the preference for an independent Scotland to stay in the EU.

Mike Smithson




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Two videos from the two prominent Senators who are competing for the WH2020 nomination

October 12th, 2019

At evens  for the nomination Warren’s odds are too tight

Amy Klobuchar’s odds of 300/1 are too long

At this stage in a White House race odds of evens on a contender to win the nomination ten months hence are just too tight. So much can happen in the intervening period and it won’t be until Iowa on February 3rd next year that we start to get real voter numbers. There’s also the question as to whether Warren’s left wing approach is a liability or an asset. The former is looking like the case.

Warren has moved forward while Jo Biden has seen his position get weaker in the polls although he still leads most of them Warren is ahead in a number. I think that although Bernie will go on campaigning he is no longer a realistic contender. His recent heart attack has raised too many question marks.

Senator Kamala Harris of California has not been able to capitalise on the front-runner status she achieved following the first nomination TV debate in June.

Of the Senators in the race this leaves Amy Klobuchar who has produced a couple of decent sets of polling numbers in Iowa and was impressive in the interview last night featured above. My 300/1 Betfair bet on her this morning for the nomination looks value.

Mike Smithson




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Trump’s unhinged behaviour won’t invoke the 25th

October 12th, 2019

His mental health is too difficult to assess and there are other, better routes

When Donald Trump was merely the cartoon boss on the Apprentice, he hammed up his performance with the very successful catchphrase “You’re fired” – although it turned out he really was playing himself all along.

Trump’s administration has been a revolving door of appointments amid laudatory comments, followed by resignations and sackings and associated Trumpian bad-mouthing of his former colleagues. In around three years, Trump has got through any number of underlings. While his personal political staff has had most turnover, his cabinet-level appointments have had unusual turnover: of the 15 positions (excluding VP), eight have seen at least one sacking or resignation. That compares with just two at the same point in Obama’s presidency (and neither of those was contentious).

Trump hires and fires at will; it’s part of his god complex. One question we therefore really ought to be asking is whether, if he is renominated by the Republicans for the presidency, he will stick by Mike Pence as his running mate.

Pence has, as far as we can tell, been a loyal deputy: no easy task with such an erratic boss. All the same, his personal ratings are nothing to write home about, hovering in high negative single figures. Granted, that’s a little better than Trump’s scores but not much and Pence doesn’t obviously add much to the ticket. In 2016, he was a clear signal to the Republicans’ evangelical support but Trump has a record in office now and can point to his judicial nominations – far more important than the Vice Presidency – in how he’s delivered for that support. He doesn’t really need Pence now. It is true that Trump has said that Pence will be on the ticket but then Trump says a lot of things that don’t always turn out to be good guides to the future.

There is one complication we should think about though. Trump has never been a model of consistency but his behaviour these last couple of months – now that impeachment is getting serious – has been worse than usual. His tweet simultaneously threatening to destroy Turkey’s economy while boasting of his “great and unmatched wisdom” was merely the most notable example but here’s another.

These incidents have once again raised chatter about the 25th Amendment: the means by which a US president can be removed from effective office on health grounds (note – an important betting consideration here is that the president does not lose office, only the powers of the office, which become vested in the Vice President.

The barriers to invoking Section 4 are, however, formidable. It requires the Vice President and a majority of the 15 cabinet members – all Trump appointees, obviously – to declare “that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. The Vice President’s veto here is one of the few places within the US constitution where he has genuine independent personal power (the Senate casting vote being the only other of note). If those two conditions are met, then it also requires two-thirds majorities in both Houses of Congress for the action to stick – which is to say, a substantial amount of Republican congressmen and senators, although if a majority of the Executive and the VP are on board, chances are many in Congress would regard that as a sufficient green light.

I don’t think this is a realistic outcome unless Trump clearly has a clear, major and sustained mental breakdown – which is to say something well beyond his usual nasty, unempathetic and narcissistic state. I’d imagine that his opponents would rather see where the impeachment hearings go than let him off the hook – and of course the two-thirds provision also means that the Democrats have a blocking vote if senior Republicans tried to use the Amendment to by-pass impeachment; likewise, the prospect of a flawed and failing opponent in next year’s election must cross the more cynical Democrat minds. And if he is re-elected? Well, the 25th Amendment will still be there if necessary.

But that comes back to Pence playing ball, along with many others. Would he? Clearly he would have much to gain personally but I just don’t see it as a political move – it’s too hard and too risky if it goes wrong.

Would that change if Trump dropped him from the ticket? I don’t think so. That decision will be made (or will be made public) very late in the campaign – only three months or so before polling day. By that point, the form of the election will have been set. Besides, not only would it look like serious sour grapes from Pence but it doesn’t answer how the other necessary votes would be gained.

Assessing mental health is extremely difficult: all the more so if the subject doesn’t want to cooperate. For all the talk about removing Trump on health grounds before the election, I don’t see it as anything below a 20/1 shot, probably more – and that’s considering that he’s an obese septuagenarian. The political challenges are too hard.

David Herdson



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At the end of the tunnel

October 11th, 2019

One of the many quirks of Brexit is that things look brightest when we’re in a tunnel. The announcement on Friday that the government’s latest proposals had gone into private intensive discussions caused market sentiment to soar, as well as the hopes of many political observers.

What does it all mean?  Well, since everyone is being uncharacteristically tight-lipped, it’s impossible to tell really. That hasn’t stopped endless speculation.

We can, however, set out the parameters. The last time that Parliament considered a deal was the third Meaningful Vote. It was defeated by 58. If Boris Johnson is to get a deal that will pass Parliament, he will have to do better (and, indeed, not lose any existing supporters). To be precise, he needs a net 29 to change sides in his favour.

Here is the current state of play in Parliament:

Conservative 288

Labour 245

SNP 35

Independents 35

Lib Dems 19

DUP 10

Sinn Fein 7

Independent Group for Change 5

Plaid Cymru 4

Green 1

Speaker 1

Who does he have to persuade? 34 Conservatives voted against it. Five of those are no longer Conservatives and look no more amenable than they did before. A sixth Remainer, Jo Johnson, might give his brother a sympathy shag, but that looks doubtful too. The other 28 are all militant Leavers. It has been suggested that Boris Johnson could now rely on the power of preferment to get more of them onside, but in fact only three of the hardcore Leavers, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and James Duddridge, are ministers. 

So there are 25 more MPs who can afford to remain true to their principles without cost if they are so inclined. This idea that the hardcore rebels are magically more biddable is not resting on patronage.

Whether they are so inclined will depend in considerable part on the reaction of the DUP. Their 10 MPs opposed the last deal on every occasion. Sammy Wilson has already fired warning shots.

The Lib Dems can be expected to show testicular fortitude opposing whatever deal Boris Johnson might come up with. So can the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the bulk of the Labour party. Just five Labour MPs voted for the deal last time around and only one of the independents last time who voted against (John Woodcock) looks even potentially persuadable. 

19 Labour MPs, however, wrote to the European Commission beseeching them to look for a deal. Boris Johnson will hope to pick up their votes and perhaps some more Labour MPs as well (Lisa Nandy has estimated 40 Labour MPs are working towards a cross-party deal).  They may, however, insist on extracting a price.

The movement may not all be one way. At least one Conservative MP has repented of his support of the last meaningful vote and others may follow if they regard the revised deal as selling out Northern Ireland. Lady Sylvia Hermon – who is after all a unionist, albeit an unusual one – may find it difficult to support a deal if it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

All of this means that the numbers look challenging, but not necessarily impossible.  Much will depend on the deal actually struck, the willingness of the Spartans to accept a figleaf if offered and the newfound desperation of some Labour MPs to accept a deal.

Oh, and all this assumes that a deal is found in the first place. Still, let’s keep that faint candle flickering for now.

Alastair Meeks




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2020 or later now betting favourite for when the next general election will be held

October 11th, 2019

On a big political day the money on Betfair, according to the detdata.io has been going on the next general election taking place next year or later. This option has just edged December from the favourite slot.

I’ve never been convinced of December because staging such a vote when the day’s are shortest and voters attentions are focused on the holiday never looked like a possibility.

Meanwhile Corbyn has announced that he’ll step down as LAB leader if his party loses the coming election. Whether this will help or hinder the party is hard to say. He has the distinction of receiving the worst ratings ever for an opposition leader and all the past experience is that leader numbers are the best guide to electoral outcomes.

Also in the betting a no deal Brexit this year has dropped to a 12% chance.

Mike Smithson




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The mood changes on Brexit but the devil will be in the detail

October 11th, 2019

A UK Brexit by the end of the year now 38% betting favourite

Judging by today’s front pages the prospect for a deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU look better than ever. Certainly Johnson’s meeting with his Irish counterpart on the Wirral yesterday looks very promising but at the moment we do not know exactly what concessions have been made and whether that will be acceptable to the DUP.

A political problem of course is that there are two communities in Northern Ireland, but that only one of them the protestants, sends MPs to Westminster. Sinn Fein competes in elections and wins a clutch of seats which it never fills.

There’s also been the issue that Stormont has been suspended for nearly two years because of the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree. One positive thing of the current situation over Brexit is that it might get the Parliament in Belfast functioning again.

A key part of the the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was that both communities should share power and that has not always been easy to achieve.

The DUP, which got just 36% of the Northern Irish vote at the last general election has always made its red line that this part of the UK should not be treated differently from other parts. How they will react to what was discussed yesterday day is is a big question though so it is going to be hard for them to oppose something that that has wide agreement elsewhere.

One thing we do know know is that the overall agreement has to be sanctioned by the House of Commons something that Theresa May struggled to achieve and failed three times.

I think we could now see see opponents of Brexit at Westminster seeking to ensure that the deal is agreed by a confirmatory referendum. It becomes harder to argue against that once we know exactly what is involved. 

The mood on the Brexit betting markets has changed but it is still only a 38% chance on the Betfair Exchange that the UK will leave the EU by the end of the year. Before yesterday it was about 30%.

Mike Smithson