The prorogue debate is a red herring: the question is No Deal or No Confidence

July 20th, 2019

Parliament won’t be able to repeat Cooper I: only nuclear options remain

Rarely can there have been such a disparity between the apparent dullness of the procedural minutiae of an amendment to a technical Bill about Northern Ireland, and the breathless attention paid it by the political commentariat as there was this week. Wrongly.

They might as well not have bothered. In trying to find processes to avoid the government proroguing parliament in late October (processes which might not work anyway), a lot of people from MPs to journalists seem to be missing the wood for the trees.

Perhaps the best way of understanding why they’re wrong is to ask why they think the government might want to prorogue parliament then. The assumed answer is so as to prevent parliament from doing something to stop Brexit on October 31 – which effectively means a No Deal Brexit.

As an aside, in the unlikely event that there is a deal agreed (which presumably would be something very like the existing one with perhaps some minor tweaks to give a figleaf of political cover), it’s almost certain that the UK couldn’t leave on Halloween. The government isn’t allowed to ratify the deal not only until parliament’s ratified it but also until an implementation bill has been passed. That would surely take longer than the few weeks in October that parliament’s sitting.

However, much more likely is that there isn’t a deal. The question then becomes what could parliament do to express the undoubted majority opposed to a No Deal Brexit?

Taking a step back, we need to remember that the date of 31 October is embedded in both UK and EU law. Consequently, only a change to those legal provisions can amend what is now the default. Put another way, motions in parliament have symbolic value only and aren’t enough.

The fear or hope, depending on which side you’re on, is that parliament might be able to repeat the trick from earlier this year and pass a Cooper II bill, requiring the government to seek a further extension. The chance of this though is overrated. It’s far from clear whether the MPs can take control of parliamentary business as they did in April; the opening used at that time isn’t available now and MPs threw away the chance to repeat the trick via an opposition day debate motion last month. If you can’t introduce the bill, you can’t instruct the government.

That said, even if you can introduce the bill, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. May played along but only because she chose to. She could, quite consistently with Cooper I, have rejected the EU’s counter-offer of an extension and let the clock run out on April 12. Alternatively, she could have asked in such a way as to invite rejection. The Commons might command the PM but it cannot command the European Council. A Cooper II bill would struggle to tie down a government intent on leaving, deal or no deal.

So if parliament couldn’t block No Deal, why the fuss over prorogation? Good question. My guess is that it’s a mental distraction exercise among MPs who really don’t want to face up to the reality and remain – for now – to shadow-box within the confines of the Spring Brexit debates.

In truth, there are only two ways to stop No Deal, if the government is set on it. The first is to pass a Revoke Act. Unlike a Cooper II, this could be specific, leave no wriggle room and wouldn’t require consent from the EU27. The practical problem is that there’s almost certainly no majority for it. It’s one thing to kick the can or even advocate a second referendum; it’s quite another to revoke Brexit altogether without consulting the electorate. And of course, as with a Cooper II, it requires the rebel MPs to gain control of parliamentary business first, which may be hard. Even if they can though, it’d be better for the government to face the proposed legislation down than run and hide behind a prorogation because it’d almost certainly win the key votes.

The other option is a Vote of No Confidence. If you really don’t like the government’s policy, and you can’t change the policy, then change the government. This is the more likely route and may well succeed – although the natural consequence of MPs voting to bring down Boris (especially in October), is that they must be prepared to install someone else, and in reality that means Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn surely won’t allow Labour to prop up any alternative administration and you can’t have one without either the Labour or Tory party. Time pressures mean that there couldn’t be an election before Brexit Day (though an election with Brexit taking place half-way through would be interesting!), so it really would be essential to vote confidence in someone else, if only to seek and gain a further extension.

Could the government prorogue to prevent a Confidence vote? I don’t think so. While it might be constitutionally (never mind legally) valid to prorogue to head off something that the Commons might do – which after all doesn’t change the status quo – it’s a different matter to seek to remain in power when it’s questionable as to whether you actually do have the confidence of the House: a key constitutional question. I’d expect that if a government tried it, the Palace would only agree to proroguing parliament after the No Confidence vote had taken place, assuming it failed – in which case, MPs would have effectively assented to it.

And that’s what it probably comes down to: No Deal or No Confidence. Any Tory MPs thinking of rebelling need to understand that to prevent No Deal they will very likely need to vote to put Corbyn into Number 10 to do so. All else will either not be enough or won’t gain the necessary support.

Will they succeed? I don’t know. I think such a vote would be extremely close. A such, I think that both the odds-against prices against Brexit occurring this year (2.6 on Betfair, 6/4 best-priced with bookies), and on an election next year are value – an election this year is certainly possible but it’d be in December if it arose out of a late October Brexit crisis: next year is more likely.

What is certain is that this autumn will be crunch time. We’re highly likely to get either Brexit delivered, one way or another, or a change of government. Both would have profound consequences.

David Herdson.


The Corbyn end days might soon be upon us

July 19th, 2019

While all the focus has been on the Tory battle things have not been going well for the Labour leadership. The latest crisis follows the sacking off a senior party figure in the Lords and there is talk of a confidence motion.

The polling above by YouGov suggests that Corbyn no longer has the same magical hold on the membership as might have been the case 3 years ago. He’s taken a very different approach on Brexit than the the bulk of Labour MPs and those who vote for the party. Plus there has been ongoing row over anti-semitism which has simply not gone away.

He and his team give every impression of having a bunker mentality. Having been able to take over the party following his leadership victory in 2015 his close team is going to be very reluctant to give up any power and will fight fiercely.

I’ve just had a little punt at 5/2 that he won’t survive the year.

Mike Smithson


13 days to go until the Brecon and Radnorshire by election and the Tories accuse their opponents of vandalism

July 19th, 2019

The Brecon and Radnor Times   is reporting that the local Tories are complaining that their poster boards for the August 1st by-election are being vandalised by their opponents. See the Tweet above for an example.

The by-election,  the first in a CON held seat this parliament,  had been triggered by the successful recall petition against the incumbent Tory MP Chris Davies who had been been convicted and sentenced by the courts of falsifying his expenses. A total of 19% of electors in this huge constituency, largest by land area in England and Wales, had signed the petition which is well above the 10% threshold for creating a vacancy.

The seat was Tory until the old Liberal party gained it in a 1985 by-election only to lose it at the 2015 general election.

Because of the constituency’s size outdoor poster boards, particularity on main road,  play a big part and both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are going to great lengths to maximise their impact.

Voting actually started yesterday when about 10,000 postal voting packs were delivered.

What is extraordinary is that the MP who lost his seat as a result of his conviction and the petition was then selected by the Conservatives to be their candidate. This inevitably means that he himself is an issue. It is as though the Tories are making light of the criminal conviction.

As well as fighting off the LDs the Tories are having to cope with a strong challenge from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party which, of course, came very close to winning the Peterborough by-election last month.

According to the report linked to in the Tweet above the Tories have seen their offices vandalised with “Bollocks to Brexit” and “Bollocks to Boris” stickers and messages.

Currently the bookies make the LDs strong odds on favourite to regain the seat. Ladbrokes have them at 1/7.

Mike Smithson



BoJo’s assertions on leaving by October 31st fail to convince Brexit date punters

July 18th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of Betfair Exchange

On Betfair a 2019 exit is just a 39% chance

We’ve seen in the latest defeat for the government in proroguing parliaments that the parliamentary situation is going to make it very tough for Johnson. There simply aren’t the MP numbers there and now rebellious remain ministers are acting in unison in the same manner as the ERG hardliners.

The latest news that at least three cabinet ministers are ready to resign also adds to the air of crisis as the new man takes over.

I just wonder whether some of the hard-line commitments Johnson has made during the leadership contest will be quietly forgotten as he faces the harsh choice before him. It won’t be the first time that a politician has said one thing during an election and acted differently when elected.

I wished I’d bet against the 2019 exit a month or so ago when the odds were better.

Mike Smithson



Blow for BoJo as CON MPs and ministers rebel on a measure that impedes his ability to prorogue parliament

July 18th, 2019

So the incoming PM’s wings are clipped before he starts

Mike Smithson


2020 now edging toward the favourite slot in Next General Election year betting

July 18th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of Betfair Exchange

With Boris due to become Prime Minister in just 6 days time there’ve been sharp changes on the Betfair year of the next general election market. As can be seen from the chart 2019 is slipping downwards and the money is now going towards 2020.

A lot of this, I would suggest, is down to a growing realisation that the Fixed-Term Parliament Act makes it quite hard for the new leader to call an election if that is indeed what he wants to do.

If he wants to initiate it in the Commons then he would require two-thirds of the entire 650 MPs to back it as happened in April 2017 when Theresa May sought to go to the country early. In the current context, I would suggest, that this would be a lot harder. In 2017 only the SNP MPs were the main group to vote against an early general election. My guess is that there would not be sufficient number of MPs of all persuasions ready vote for an early election making two-thirds rule quite hard to surmount.

The ever present position of Farage’s Brexit party in the polls represents a real threat to the livelihoods of many CON and LAB MPs.  Add, as well, a form of LD-GRN cooperation to create single anti-Brexit candidates in strongly Remain seats and the uncertainty increases. Labour’s equivocation exposes it on either side of the argument.

The other way a general election can come about if the government loses a vote of no confidence which is not rescinded  within a fortnight. The question here is whether the numbers are there. Are there enough CON MPs who would join a move to oust their own government and if there were would all LAB MPs get behind a move that could let Corbyn into Number 10? My guess is no.

Mike Smithson



Why many pollsters overstated LAB so much at the May Euros and what could be happening with current VI polls

July 17th, 2019


GE2017 LAB voters forgetting what they did could be causing distortion

After the 1992 polling debacle when John Major’s Tories won an overall majority even though all but one of the pollsters had LAB ahead a big effort was launched by ICM to find out what had gone wrong and we’ve all heard about “shy Tories” less willing to take part in polls.

The firm’s Nick Sparrow in conjunction with Prof John Curtice came up with what is known as past vote weighting to ensure samples were balanced. Basically respondents were asked how they voted last time and their responses were adjusted so that the sample broadly reflected the previous election.

It worked well and for GE1997 and GE2001  ICM became top pollster. At GE2005 another pollster, NOP, used the same approach and got the result spot on.

By GE2010 most pollsters had adopted mechanisms on the past vote model to ensure balanced samples. The only problem is that you cannot rely on those sampled to remember how they voted.  According to an excellent analysis by Anthony Wells of YouGov is what is happening at the moment with many of those who voted for Corbyn’s LAB at GE17.  He writes:

“How to deal with false recall used to be one of the big methodological debates within British polling. Ipsos MORI still don’t use past vote weighting at all because of their concerns over false recall. In more recent years, recalled vote seemed to be closer to reality, and it has become less of an issue. But with the recent major shifts in party support it may once again become a major concern.

At YouGov we have the advantage of a huge, well-established panel, meaning we have many thousands of people from whom we collected past vote data in 2017, before their memory had chance to play tricks on them. Many other companies do not, and must rely on asking people to recall now how they voted in 2017.

This difference may well explain some of the present variation in Labour support between different companies (I suspect it may not be coincidence that the two companies who avoided significantly overstating Labour support in the recent European elections were Ipsos MORI, who don’t use past vote weighting, and YouGov, who are able to use data collected back in 2017 for past vote weighting).

To illustrate Wells did a test with the same data from the sample but processed differently. One using what those on its panel said they did at GE17 and another on how they now recall their vote. As can be seen there’s a marked impact on the LAB share.

The reason for the variation is that the smaller number of those recalling now that they voted LAB at GE17 means that the responses of those who said they did have to be weighted up in order to fit a past vote weighting model.

Mike Smithson




Biden drops to second place in California while his lead’s down to just 4 in New Hampshire

July 17th, 2019

Another American White House race is starting to dominate political betting which is a  reminder of just how how long PB has been going.  WH2020 contest will be the fifth such race that PB has covered and, indeed, it was the battle for the Democratic nomination in 2004 that first prompted me to create the site.

Even though the first states to decide on Democratic and GOP nomination won’t be for nearly six months the debates have started and the incumbent’s latest racist comments have just made the Democrats more determined to make the right choice.

While 76 old Joe Biden has been enjoying leads of up to 15% in the national Democratic nomination polling he’s facing a much tighter contest, if the latest surveys are to be believed, in the first round of states where primaries will be held.

A new Quinnipiac University poll of the biggest state of all with the most delegates at stake, California, has  Harris on 23% ahead of Biden on 21% with Bernie Sanders  and Elizabeth Warren  at 18% and 16% respectively.

Overnight there have been two New New Hampshire polls one of them which has Biden the 4% ahead and the other 5%. In each poll in second place is the Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren.

What is striking  is the gap between the early state polling and the national polls where former vice president continues to enjoy double-digit Leeds almost across the board.

These are the details of the latest polls from the New Hampshire,

Biden 24, Warren 19, Sanders 19, Harris 9, Buttigieg 10, Yang 1, O’Rourke 2, Booker 2, Klobuchar 0, Williamson 1, Gillibrand 1, Gabbard 1, Delaney 1

St. Anselm
Biden 21, Warren 17, Sanders 10, Harris 18, Buttigieg 12, Yang 5, O’Rourke 0, Booker 1, Klobuchar 3, Williamson 2, Gillibrand 1, Gabbard 1, Delaney 1

On Betfair Harris on 30% and Warren 20% are both ahead of Biden.

Mike Smithson