Archive for September, 2006

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Could John Hutton be Labour’s John Major?

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006
    The Blair loyalist moves into the 4th favourite slot

john hutton RH strip.jpgIn spite of all the focus on leadership issues in Manchester over the past three days there’ve been only two real moves in the betting on who will succeed Tony Blair.

The second favourite, Alan Johnson has now eased into the third place position at 10/1 with the Home secretary, John Reid, being backed down from 20/1 at the weekend to 8/1 this morning. Meanwhile of the outsiders the Works and Pension Secretary, John Hutton, has started to attract a bit of interest and is now the 39/1 fourth favourite on Betfair having been at 74/1 at the weekend.

Gordon Brown’s price has eased a touch but he is still, at 0.45/1, the rock solid favourite to take the crown. For while he wasn’t helped by the ICM or Frank Luntz focus groups his greatest strength is that, so far at least, no serious challenger has emerged.

Brown is very much helped by a mood in the party that after he gave up his chance in 1994 then the leadership is rightly his now that Blair is finally moving on

Hutton, meanwhile, seems to be popping up everywhere this week as the Blairite loyalist that the media likes to talk to.

Last November the Observer columnist, Will Hutton (no relation) tipped him as a possible “dark horse in the race”. In a Radio 5Live interview he said:“He’s somebody who could actually be a kind of dark horse. With Margaret Thatcher back in 1989 John Major came out of the shadows. If Gordon Brown ever gets challenged successfully it will be by somebody we haven’t expected.”

The effort to find someone acceptable to fill the “Anybody but Brown” position was boosted by Peter Mandelson’s comments yesterday. His suggestion in a BBC interview that Gordon Brown “never fully reconciled” himself to Tony Blair becoming Labour leader twelve years ago is hardly going to help the Chancellor. Such words, from the Great Schemer, were clearly deliberate and, perhaps, indicate an effort to stop Brown getting it.

A lot now depends on Tony Blair who can control the timing and many other things that could help a challenger. His influence has been boosted by yesterday’s speech and it’s an open question as to whether he will throw his weight behind a challenger to Brown. Certainly the reported comments from Cherie Blair indicate that he might.

If Hutton starts being given more prominent roles then he might be worth a bob or two.

Mike Smithson



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Does Blair’s speech mean that he’ll be around a bit longer?

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

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    Could he have greater influence over the succession?

Surely the big political impact of Tony Blair’s extraordinary farewell speech this afternoon is that he, and nobody else, will decide on the precise date when the removal vans will arrive at Number 10?

The “tour de force” and the amazing reception he was given by delegates in Manchester put him in a unique position for the coming months. It’s going to be hard for anybody, particularly Gordon, to put any pressure at all on about the departure date. Blair is there for as long as we wants until next year’s Labour conference.

    My guess is that the coverage of today will give the party a small but significant boost in the polls and this will reinforce Tony’s position. We might even see Labour back into the lead in the October Populus survey for the Times which is due out next week.

Blair’s conciliatory approach to being ousted in the way he was will win him friends and give him an influence on both party and national events that he has not enjoyed since the invasion of Iraq. His standing will increase.

A telling moment this afternoon was the reception he got when he laid into David Cameron. This was probably the most effective attack on the young Tory leader since his election last December and might indicate that there’s trouble ahead for the Tories. As ConservatveHome describes it this afternoon “Blair is our deadliest opponent.”

    Quite who Tony wants to succeed him nobody knows but it is hard to imagine him not having a huge influence. Maybe that’s good for Gordon maybe it’s not.

In the betting PaddyPower has just introduced a market on the actual month of the departure. The prices are Sept 25/1: Oct 14/1: Nov 18/1: Dec 11/1: Jan 11/1: Feb 9/1: Mar 7/1: Apr 6/1: May 11/8: Jun 3/1: July 10/1: Aug 25/1 September 2007 and beyond 10/1.

I quite like the 10/1 on September 2007 and beyond – just in case he decide to bow out just ahead of a new leader being installed at next year’s conference.

The spread market from Cantor Spreadfair on how many weeks Blair’s third term will continue for is now showing a spread of 95 – 100 weeks. Week one began on May 9th 2005 so the buy price starts in the second week of April 2007.

Mike Smithson



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Why can’t Gordon do the “sincerity thing”?

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
    How damaging were Cherie’s alleged remarks?

guardian - brown 250906.jpgAfter watching and re-watching the vast amount of material coming out of Manchester I’ve come to the conclusion that the real problem with Gordon is that he cannot “do” sincerity.

The world “knows” that he was behind the “rolling resignation” plan to oust Tony earlier in the month that it is stretching credulity to it absolute limits for him to be going on the platform talking about the “great privilege” of working for all that time with the Prime Minister.

You cannot but help thinking that if it was such a privilege then why has he gone to such lengths to force Blair out?

For much of the time, of course, politics is about organised hypocrisy that a key quality in a leader is to be able to deliver the “sincerity” thing. You’ve got to be able to say things that at least sound plausible and that is where Gordon falls down badly.

The reason that Cherie Blair’s alleged remarks carry so much force and dominate the headlines this morning is that they ring true.

If there is widespread disbelief over what he says on this matter then surely that is going to spill over to other areas? That’s been a theme of much of the recent opinion polling and last night’s Frank Luntz focus group on Newsnight.

Where does this leave Labour leadership punters? Is there an alternative to Gordon at price that make an investment attractive. This is where it starts to get hard. For although John Reid came out of the Luntz session well he has a huge amount of baggage that will be crawled over if he does decide to put his hat into the ring when the time comes.

The Brown biographer, Tom Bower, had a long feature on Reid’s background in the Guardian at the weekend and, clearly, the Home Secretary could be very vulnerable in a leadership campaign.

Apart from that there appears to be nobody else. As the Luntz film suggested voters like Alan Johnson’s life-story but he has yet to find out how to inspire. A critical factor is his voice doesn’t sound right – it is not easy on the ear. I think any Johnson challenge is now dead.

    Meanwhile today it is Tony’s turn on the platform and one thing’s for sure – he will at least sound sincere.

Latest leadership betting is here.

Mike Smithson



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How punters reacted to the Brown speech

Monday, September 25th, 2006

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    Gamblers not convinced so the Chancellor’s odds move out

The chart shows the changes during the past six hours in the Gordon Brown price for the Labour leadership.

Mike Smithson



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Has Johnson recovered from the damning 2006 research?

Monday, September 25th, 2006

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    How much of ICM’s and Luntz’s findings are still relevant?

If Alan Johnson was going to have any chance in the Labour leadership race he needed a poll boost from something like the Frank Luntz focus groups or the online session carried out by ICM and reported in the Guardian this morning. At this stage he needs something that will give him the status of a challenger.

For his problem is his very low public profile and the only way he could have got a foot-hold was by getting some good polling evidence that he would do better than Brown against Cameron.

    Alas reports of the ICM and Luntz sessions seem to have dashed his hopes and it is hard to see how he can come back.

This is how Julian Glover in the Guardian summed up the ICM panel’s assessment ..“Johnson, who is considering running, came across as friendlier but less clear-cut. “He seems like a smiley, cheery fellow to me but not a heavyweight politician,” said one member. Mr Johnson’s lack of a strong identity might change if he became a prominent challenger to Mr Brown. But he suffers for the moment as someone seen as “a bit 1970s”, “someone in the background with not much to say.” One Labour voter thought he looked like “a market trader”. Asked what kind of character he might play in a TV drama, one panelist said “one of those bumbling old jokey types from Coronation Street”.

On Newsnight tonight the Frank Luntz focus group will be screened but we get a foretaste of what it is going to show in an article he has written for today’s Times.

“..Alan Johnson has the perfect biography. Participants felt he had the right life-experience. And when he cracked a joke at David Cameron’s expense (“I was coming on these (TV) programmes without a tie when David Cameron was having a fag behind the bike shed at Eton”) he hit the right note. But for almost everyone, his presentation is, in a word, boring. They didn’t disagree with a word he said. His stated objective that “never again in this country will people have to chose between heating and eating” was certainly pleasing to the ear. But most participants felt his résumé spoke better than . . . well . . . his speaking.”

Meanwhile the Bloomberg news service has reported “..Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, walked out of a speech by U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, accusing him of misleading the public about his relationship with the prime minister.As Brown told the Labour Party conference in Manchester that it had been a “privilege for me to work for” the premier, Mrs. Blair left the auditorium saying “well that’s a lie.’

Latest betting on the Labour leadership is here. I have now got rid of most of my Johnson position.

Mike Smithson



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On this day a year ago Cameron was a 12.5/1 outsider

Monday, September 25th, 2006

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    How the political world has changed in the past twelve months

With Gordon Brown due to make what’s being described as the speech of his career at Labour’s conference at Manchester GMEX centre today it’s perhaps worth underlining how the political world has been turned upside-down in the past 12 months. This is how things looked exactly a year ago today on September 25th 2005.

On this day a year ago the prices on the Tory leadership on the Betfair betting exchange were Davis 0.47/1: Clark 4/1: Cameron 12.5/1: Fox 14.5/1: Rifkind 47/1. So Cameron was in the third favourite slot at an amazing 12.5/1 while David David’s price at 0.47/1 was only a touch easier than this morning’s 0.42/1 that’s the best that’s available on Gordon Brown.

On this day a year ago the most recent ICM poll had Labour 9% ahead, YouGov was completing a survey that put the party 8% ahead while MORI was finalising a survey showing a Labour 10% lead. Today YouGov in the Daily Telegraph has the Tories at 38%, Labour at 31% with the Lib Dems on 18%.

On this day a year ago Labour was the overwhelmnig favourite to win the next General Election with punters risking their money at 0.52/1 on the party winning most seats. Today’s price is 1.26/1.

On this day a year ago the most recent polls on the Tory leadership had just 4% of ordinary voters saying they wanted David Cameron. YouGov was showing Ken Clarke ahead with 28% while ICM had him at 40%. The most recent poll of Tory members had Cameron at 17% well behind David Davis and Ken Clarke.

On this day a year ago there wasn’t, like now, a spread market on how long the Lib Dem leader would survive. Charles Kennedy, who unlike Ming was enjoying positive poll ratings, had just returned from his party conference where although there had been some criticism of his style there was no real hint of what was to come fourteen weeks later.

How will the political world look on September 25th 2007?

Mike Smithson



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Will Gordon survive the Frank Luntz test

Sunday, September 24th, 2006
    Meet the man who could decide the next Prime Minister

Frank Luntz.jpgWith today’s YouGov poll in the Sunday Times reflecting a cut-back in the Tory lead and further unease amongst voter towards Gordon Brown a major hurdle in his campaign to get to Number 10 might be a film tomorrow night on Newsnight. Then he’s to feature in a controversial focus group conducted by the US pollster, Frank Luntz.

The programme has the Chancellor being compared with Alan Johnson, John Reid, Alan Milburn, David Miliband and John McDonnel.

Luntz’s famous “metering” first became known to UK audiences before the last General Election when we saw him show clips to small groups who were asked to press on hand-held electronic boxes to register their response to what they were being shown. The group’s reactions are then aggregated and we see a chart superimposed on the screen as the politicians talk.

His best known focus group was screened on the Monday of the Tory party conference last year and played a big part in David Cameron’s successful leadership bid. In the course of an hour the Cameron betting price tightened from 9.5/1 to 5.2/1 as punters changed their view of the race. You can still watch it online.

My judgement at the time was “..What was being presented suggests that Cameron appears to resonate with people …. If the young ex-Etonian does make it to the final membership ballot then there can be little doubt that he will win easily.”

Shortly before May’s local elections Luntz was back on the Newsnight screens and this time Brown was featured.

In those films Ming Campbell was dismissed as being “old” and not appearing to “have it”, Blair was almost universally opposed and while there was reasonable support for Gordon Brown it was on nothing like the scale of that for the Tory leader.

    Whatever people think of him Luntz’s judgements have been largely borne out by election outcomes and the quantitative polls.

Today’s YouGov survey reinforces ICM’s Friday poll that there has been reduction in the Tory lead over the past few weeks. This morning the internet pollster has CON 37:LAB 33: LD 18.

On the Labour leadership the Sunday Times reports “Brown is the clear leader among the candidates to succeed Blair, though none has resounding support. Brown is named by 23% of people as their favoured candidate for next Labour leader, followed by John Reid on 10%, Jack Straw on 5%, and Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, on 4%. Brown is well ahead among Labour supporters, 51% backing him against 9% for Reid. But Reid is favoured by Tory voters and Benn is second to Brown among Liberal Democrats.”

Mike Smithson



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Sean Fear’s local election commentary

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

    So what will be at stake in next May’s elections?

Next year, there will be local elections in 345 local authorities in England and Scotland. In total, around 12,000 council seats, more than half the total, are being fought.

Year two of a Parliament usually produces worse local election results for the governing party than year one. In both 1999, and 2003, the Labour vote share was 2-3% lower than in the preceding year. If that is again the case in May 2007, this implies a Labour vote share of under 25%. Labour will probably poll a smaller vote share than the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives will poll at, or just above, 40%.

Most seats were last contested in 2003, when the national equivalent vote shares were Conservative 35%, Labour 30%, and Lib Dem 27%. The rest were contested in 2004, when the respective shares were 38%, 26%, and 30%. Labour can therefore expect hefty losses, and the Conservatives can expect big gains, mainly from Labour, but also from the Liberal Democrats.

Labour is likely to lose its last vestiges of control in the South of England, outside London, with the exceptions of Reading and Stevenage. Gravesham must be regarded as a certain loss, while the Labour groups on several councils in the Thames Estuary, Kent, Hertfordshire and East Anglia will disappear. Elsewhere, Labour is vulnerable in councils that it would once have seen as strongholds such as Blackburn & Darwen, Wigan, Sheffield, Oldham, Telford & Wrekin, Barnsley, and South Derbyshire. Scotland will also produce losses for Labour, even if it is able to retain its 2003 vote share, due to the introduction of local elections by the Single Transferable Vote. Labour is certain to lose Edinburgh to no overall control, but should hold on to Glasgow. Overall, Labour could easily lose one third of the 3,000 seats it is defending.

The Conservatives will gain right across the South of England, as they did in May. In the South, they should be looking to take places like Portsmouth, Hart, Winchester, Uttlesford, Ipswich, Dartford, and perhaps also Bournemouth and Windsor and Maidenhead, on the back of their strong performances there in the General Election. Brighton & Hove is also a likely target, although that city’s long swing to the left may mean they fall short. In the Midlands, they should achieve largest party status in Birmingham, and win a number of districts such as Nuneaton, South Derbyshire, NW Leicestershire, and Boston. In the North, the Conservatives’ best chance of a major outright gain is in Bury, and they may secure an overall majority on North Tyneside (although that remains under a Labour Mayor). The switch to STV makes it unlikely they can win any Scottish authority outright. Overall, the Conservatives must be heading, on present trends, for at least 750 gains next year.

The Liberal Democrats will struggle against the Conservatives in the South, but, as for a number of years, will compensate with gains from Labour in the urban Midlands and North. In the South, Uttlesford, St. Alban’s, Vale of the White Horse, Bournemouth, and Windsor & Maidenhead all look vulnerable. On the other hand, they are almost certain to take outright control of Rochdale, and stand a good chance of winning outright control of Oldham, St. Helen’s, and Luton.

Among minor party candidates, rural Independents will continue their long decline. The Green Party ought to be able to break through the hundred councillor barrier, and are likely to gain in councils with large numbers of urban intellectuals, who are unhappy with Labour, and who wouldn’t contemplate voting Conservative. The British National Party should be able to make further gains from Labour, in West Yorkshire, and the West Midlands, and terminate Labour’s presence on Epping Forest District Council.

Last night saw just two by-elections:-

Oxford CC – Lye Valley: Labour 784, Lib Dem 487, Conservative 150, Green 64. Labour hold. A very good performance from Labour in a seat they held by just 21 votes in 2005

Hyndburn DC – Accrington Spring Hill; Labour 528, Conservative 247. Labour hold.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist and write regularly for PBC