Archive for September, 2006


Could the Guardian possibly ditch Brown?

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

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    Why is it being unfriendly to the Chancellor?

One of the problems of reading the newspapers online is that although the words might be the same the overall impact can be very different in the print edition. Yesterday’s reporting of the Guardian ICM poll was a classic example.

Taking up almost the entire front page running across five columns the headline ran “Brown feels the Cameron effect”. The main numbers were featured nearly half an inch big and were overlaid on a huge picture of a grim looking Gordon.

In yesterday’s discussion several people wondered why the poll had appeared to ask “Gordon unfriendly” questions which led me to inquire of the paper who had been responsible for the question setting. This is the response I got from the journalist who does polls, Julian Glover. “There’s no secret, the themes and questions are agreed between us, I don’t think either of us would want to ask anything the other party was unhappy about. & the questions this month are pretty straightforward”.

    So the poll was carried out in the form it was because the Guardian wanted it that way.

Today’s big pre-Labour conference story in the paper is headed “Brown prepares for ‘speech of his life’. Chancellor has worked for months on party conference address which could make or break his leadership hopes”. It goes onto to describe the nightmare that he could do a David Davis – last year’s Tory leadership front-runner who bombed in his conference speech.

    You get the feeling that the Guardian is about as enthusiastic about Brown as the Telegraph is of Cameron – and that is saying something!

Of all parts of the media the Guardian has the most influence within the Labour movement and its coverage could have a very major impact. If the paper goes enthusiastically for Gordon then there can be no doubt about the outcome. If it doesn’t we have a contest on our hands.

Latest betting odds are here.

Mike Smithson


Guest Slot: Gavin Baylis on the prospects for the LDs

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

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    Could there ever be a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister?

Ming Campbell talked bravely this week about taking the Lib Dems from a party of opposition to a party of government.

A few rare Lib Dem loyalists aside, no-one seriously believes that the party might win the next general election. At Betfair, you can get odds of 75-1 against the Lib Dems being the largest party or winning an overall majority in the next election – and only £2000 has been bet. But what about after that?

Obviously very little can be said about politics beyond the next election. But here are two comments. Firstly, in say, 30 years, the Lib Dems (or any successor party) are likely still to be in third place, whatever the party might hope.

Secondly, governments almost always get less popular until they lose power. In just three democratic countries to my knowledge, a single party remained in almost unbroken power for decades. They are the Congress in India, the Social Democrats in Sweden, and the LDP in Japan. Today, only Japan’s LDP remains dominant.

In Britain in 1983, the Tories gained 58 seats despite being in government. But even then, their share of the vote dropped by 1.5%. They took seats off Labour while the Labour vote collapsed in favour of the Alliance. No governing party has gained seats at an election in Britain for decades.

However, a hung parliament is the favourite outcome of the next election, rated around 40% by punters at Betfair. That may well lead to a coalition – or at least substantial influence for the Lib Dems with a minority government.

    If the Lib Dems were to hold between 40 and 80 seats over the decades, hung Parliaments could well become the norm.

Official oppositions would normally have to win at least hundred seats to win an overall majority directly without there being a hung parliament first. For example, the Tories need about 125 seats in the next election to form a government; Labour need only lose 44 for a hung Parliament.

So we could well be moving into an era where, even if there is no change in the voting system, the Lib Dems are coalition partners a lot of the time, perhaps in one in three parliaments. My guess is that in 15 years, the Lib Dems may well be between 40 and 100 seats – I can be no more specific or definite than that. If anyone offered odds today against a Lib Dem prime minister by that time, they might be 20-1 against?

Of course, in Harold Wilson’s famous phrase, it all depends on ‘Events, dear boy, events.’

Gavin Baylis is a Lib Dem activist and former parliamentary candidate.


New ICM poll has Tories still 4% ahead

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

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    But 70% of voters say it’s “time for change”

With the Labour Conference due to start in Manchester on Sunday the first of several polls this weekend, ICM for the Guardian, shows little change on the last survey by the pollster last weekend. The party shares are: CON 36%(-1), LAB 32%(-1), LD 22%(+1).

The finding that should really worry Labour is that 70% of those in the survey said they thought is was “time for change”, if there were a general election tomorrow with only 23% agreeing that “continuity is important, stick with Labour”. This is probably the most significant part of the poll and Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report makes this his lead.

Those in the survey were asked how they would vote if a Brown-led Labour was up against a Cameron led Tory party and this had Labour’s support dropping 1% and the Tories moving up the same amount. The figures were CON 37%: LAB 31%: LD ??. The Lib Dem figure is not included in the report. So in the fourteenth successive survey in which this question has been asked the Tory margin has increased when Brown and Cameron are named as party leaders.

In spite of all of this the Tories need shares considerably bigger than 36-37% if they want to be certain of forming the next government. The way that the “seats for votes” calculations work suggest that Labour would still be ahead with a 4% deficit. The Tories need a 9-10% margin to be certain of having a Commons majority. The party will take some comfort from the fact that in the same Guardian ICM survey in September 2005 the shares were CON 31: LAB 40: LD 21 – so a lot of progress has been made

Because ICM is the only interview-based pollster that names the three main parties in its polling question it has tended to record bigger shares for the Lib Dems. Ming’s party will be pleased with today’s 22% which is up on a year ago.

The survey has a lot of Brown-Cameron comparisons with the sample splitting 35-32 that Cameron would “make the best PM”. However those figures were reversed when the question of who would “make the right decisions in difficult circumstances” was asked.

On a series of other measures, as Julian Glover reports, the Tory leader is well ahead. “…He has a 17-point lead over the chancellor as the man who looks most able to work with his colleagues, a 12-point lead as the person who appears to have the most enthusiasm for the job and an eight-point lead as the leader who appears most honest. The Conservative leader has succeeded in persuading voters to warm to him, with 52% saying he has the most pleasant personality, against 17% for Mr Brown…the chancellor is seen as more arrogant, by 36% to 15%, and has a 23-point lead as a man more likely to stab his colleagues in the back.”

Overall the poll is very much what you would expect and won’t have much impact on any betting market.

Mike Smithson


Who’ll write PBC’s 300,000th post?

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

    Can someone stop Roger reaching a milestone point for the THIRD time?

Within the next two-three days the number of posts that have been submitted to PBC since we started in March 2004 will top the 300,000 mark. This is a major milestone and thanks to all of you for making the site what it – the UK’s leading political discussion forum.

We got through the six figure mark on October 25th 2005 when Roger managed to make the 100,000th contribution. Amazing it was Roger again on June 9th 2006 who had the honour of writing the 250,000th post.

What has been very good is that in spite of the huge traffic we have not been forced to insist on pre-registration or have all comments being moderated. We have also not had to resort to that irritating “copy the letters” from the box anti-spam control mechanism.

Amazingly we are still a site where people of all allegiances can feel comfortable being and thanks to everybody for helping us keep it that way.

Now who can stop Roger? There are about 800 comments to go.

Mike Smithson


Do women think Johnson’s got the Cameron-style X-Factor?

Thursday, September 21st, 2006


    How female writers are leading the way for the Education Secretary

In June 2005 one of first indications that David Cameron was going to get a huge media boost came when women writers began producing extraordinarily favourable columns and profiles about the then relatively unknown 39 year old. Just read again what Vicki Woods wrote in the Spectator after reading a piece on Cameron’s leadership campaign on PBC.

    The Woods “Cameron love-in” continued and reached its peak with a Telegraph article under the heading “Politics is like sex – so pick David Cameron.”

We are now seeing the same pattern with Alan Johnson. This was from Rachel Cooke’s highly flattering profile in the Observer on Sunday. “…also, he is extremely attractive. Seriously. I know that in pictures he might look like a provincial butcher made good, all rosy cheeks and sharp suits. But in person, he just … well, he’s definitely got something. It is almost impossible not to flirt with him.”

I’ve been amazed this week by the number of people who’ve talked to me about this piece. It seems to have struck a chord, particularly with women, and the enthusiasm that it has engendered for Johnson is quite telling.

The bandwagon for the former postman amongst women journalists continued yesterday with Alice Miles in the Times writing “…Mr Johnson’s “back story” gets more extraordinarily compelling the more one hears about it: his father walked out when he was 9, his mother died three years later, and his 15-year-old sister persuaded the welfare officer to let her bring up Alan on her own from then on, and amazingly they were given a council flat, the first home where they had ever had a bathroom…..Mr Johnson is good-looking, smooth, charming and doesn’t seem to have an enemy in the world, which for someone who pushed one member one vote (Omov) through the postal workers union and university tuition fees through the Labour Party is pretty amazing.

All of this, I believe, is setting the scene for what would happen if Johnson did decide to go for it. Undoubtedly he would get the same sort of treatment that Cameron experienced during those crucial weeks last November when Tory members were voting on who should succeed Michael Howard.

Everybody tells me that somehow the Labour party will be different. In some way, it is argued, it will be immune from Cameron-style media coverage. Don’t believe it. The ordinary Labour members and the million trade unionists entitled to vote will be highly influenced by the reporting – after all they chose Blair last time.

    They want a winner to take on the Tories and if that is how the press is presenting Johnson the former postman will stand a good chance.

I’ve now adjusted my personal betting again and am putting more on Johnson. If he decided to run and if he can get the necessary 44 fellow Labour MPs to sign his nomination then he must have a 50-50 chance of doing it.

Latest leadership betting is here.

Mike Smithson


Guest slot: Does ditching a leader help you win?

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

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    Harry Hayfield reports on the historical precedents

Following Tony Blair’s statement two weeks ago now seems an opportune moment to look at past prime ministerial resignations whilst in office and the effect it has on all the parties. Since the war, only four prime ministers have resigned whilst in office. So let’s start with the first of those resignations back in 1957.

Eden had won a sizable majority in the 1955 general election and the polls reflected this, however Eden was soon in trouble. Six months after the election Labour were ahead in the polls by between 1% and 6%. In January 1957, with the most recent Gallup poll suggesting Lab 46%, Con 45%, Lib 8%, Eden announced his resignation as Prime Minister and Harold Macmillian entered the fray.

The electorate’s initial reaction was poor to say the least. The Conservative poll rating fell from 45% to 33% in less than than a year and Labour polling 52% began to wonder if they had a chance of winning the next election (which had to be held before May 1960). However, there was another complication at work. In March 1958, the Liberals gained Torrington in Devon from the Conservatives with a swing of 33% and the Liberals surged in the polls to a high of 19% the following month (taking most of it’s support from Labour).

But as happens with most Liberal by-election shocks, the Conservatives responded and whilst Labour remained at 35%, the Conservative took support back from the Liberals, so that by the time Macmillian went to the country in 1959, the Conservatives polled 49% (+4% on Jan 57), Labour polled 44% (-2% on Jan 57) and the Liberals polled 6% (-2%). Macmillian was able to claim “You’ve never had it so good” and was returned to Downing Street in his own right, but he wasn’t there for long mind.

After the 1959 general election, things went very well for the Conservatives with them holding comfortable leads in the polls, until August 1961 when Labour took a 5% lead. The Conservatives soon recovered but a year later things were looking desperate. The reason was again those darned Liberals, this time Oprington in Surrey was the reason. Another Liberal gain from Con at a by-election on a 27% swing, but unlike in 1958 when the Liberal surge eased, the support went to Labour under it’s new leader of Harold Wilson faster than it came back to the Conservatives.

Faced with what looked like a drubbing at the 1964 general election, Macmillian resigned (citing ill health) and the Conservatives (after a lot of arguments and a parliamentary by-election) elected Sir Alec Douglas-Home as it’s leader. But pitting an old Douglas-Home against a youthful Wilson wasn’t good enough and the Conservatives lost the 1964 general election, but as in 1959 they did manage to recover some ground. The Conservatives polled 43% (+7% on October 1963), Labour polled 44% (-4% on October 1963) and the Liberals polled 11% (-3% on October 1963).

And while we are dealing with famous Conservative resignations, who can forget the biggest of recent political history? The resignation of Margaret Thatcher in November 1990. Say what you will about the reasons for her resignation, this was a lady who won three elections on the trot with majorities totalling 290 and had served Britain as Prime Minister for 11½ years, but as the polls said in the months leading up to her resignation, “You are looking at a landslide defeat at the next election”.

Labour were polling 53% to the Conservatives 28%. And although the month before she resigned, the polls said a Labour lead of 15%, it wasn’t enough. After a measure that would have surprised both Eden and Macmillian, John Major was elected leader and led the Conservatives to what most people still call a shocking election win, but just as with Eden and Macmillian, the same thing happened again. Election 1992 saw the Conservatives poll 42% (+10% on October 1990), Labour polled 34% (-12% on October 1990) and the Liberal Democrats polled 18% (+4% on October 1990).

    So does it always follow then that a resigning Prime Minister allows their party to recover support ahead of a general election?

Not in the case of Harold Wilson in 1976, and as a Labour Prime Minister himself Mr. Blair should perhaps take note of this and take note very carefully. Harold Wilson resigned in April 1976, 18 months after his election win (with a majority of 3) in October 1974 and James Callaghan was elected as the new Prime Minister. No sooner had he taken office than it all went pear shaped for Labour.

Within 6 months of his election, Callaghan’s Labour was registering 30% in the polls against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives at 55%. Labour managed to gain some ground and by January 1978 were neck and neck, by the end of 1978 though there was no hope. The Winter of Discontent had started and led to the no confidence vote that Callaghan lost by 1 vote and led to the 1979 general election.

But would the trend of PM’s resigning help Mr. Callaghan? When Wilson resigned Labour were polling 41%, the Conservatives 44% and the Liberals 10%. Election 1979 showed the disregard that the public had for Labour. Conservatives 44% (Unchanged on April 1976), Labour 37% (-4% on April 1976), Liberals 14% (+4% on April 1976).

    So, what does this suggest for Blair then? Well, let’s say he stuns everyone and resigns this month and as expected Gordon Brown becomes PM.

Looking at Callaghan’s record in the polls, Brown would have to go to the country within six months in order to win a general election (even if it is as the leader of the largest party in a hung parliament) to be sure of not falling into the same trap that Callaghan did. If however, he decides to hold on for as long as possible, the next available chance would come in March 2009 (as minds become focused on a possible election in 2010), if he misses that opportunity and the unions start creating trouble again, don’t be surprised to see a Conservative win at that election and David Cameron stride into Downing Street to become the first Conservative Prime Minister in 13 years.

Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem activist in Wales.


Why do Labour supporters still go 2-1 for Tony?

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

    The betting markets move to a later departure date

With Tony Blair preparing for his final Labour conference as party leader there was a nugget of good news for him in the detailed data, now available, from the latest ICM poll. For when asked “Who do you think will make a better Prime Minister, Gordon Brown or Tony Blair?” the poll came out 40-30% for Tony.

    But even more significantly the declared Labour supporters in the sample went 61% for Blair against 29% for Brown – an apparent overwhelming endorsement from those who just vote for the party rather than the activists who are more hostile to their leader

What this suggests is that there’s a gulf in the view of Blair between ordinary supporters, who remain largely loyal, and the activists, councillors and members of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments who are fearful of losing their seats and salaries in next May’s elections.

I know that similar questions feature largely in the plethora of polls that we’ll see in the days leading up to next week’s Manchester party conference and all this might have an impact on the final leaving date. It will certainly make Blair’s farewell a touch easier.

There’s also the possibility that such poll findings will take away some of the pressure for a much earlier departure date than had been planned. This has been reflected in the latest betting. The Q4 2006 price is now out to 7.2/1 while Q2 2007 is at 1.56/1.

The Cantor Spreadfair on how many weeks Blair’s third term will continue for has moved to 97.5 – 103 weeks. This means that a BUY bet will come into profit at the end of April, four weeks later than the price we recorded here on Monday.

Spreadfair make clear that “If Tony Blair announces his resignation for a date in the future, but carries on as Prime Minister in the interim, then the market will be settled on his actual final day as Prime Minister, not the time of the announcement.” The weeks started on May 9 2005 and if the leaving date is on a Monday then the whole of that week would count in settling the bet.

Mike Smithson


The world’s different as a contender Mr. Johnson!

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

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    How will the contestants cope with the media scrutiny?

If Alan Johnson had just been an ordinary cabinet minister then today’s row over the alleged attempt to “bury” poor school results would probably have gone unnoticed. For this is what minsters do all the time. If there’s some news that has to be made public that might be embarrassing then you announce something positive at the same time in the hope that good will bury the bad.

But as of the past week or so Alan Johnson has been no ordinary cabinet minster. The repeated suggestions that he might make a leadership challenge, the Sunday newspaper profiles, and being second favourite in the betting mean that until this is all resolved the Education Secretary’s life is going to be a bit tougher. He’s not going to be able to get away as easily with the management of bad news announcements.

    For everything that he does is and has done in his life going to be judged in terms of his possible leadership bid. Is there a chink in his “nice guy armour”?

Very soon now if its not happening already the Michael Cricks of this world will start examining Johnson and begin crawling over the life of a man who is said to be aspiring to be the next resident of number 10. It happened to David Cameron and it happened, even to Chris (remember him) Huhne.

No doubt the investigation will be assisted by “helpful” spin merchants at the Treasury anxious to protect their man’s position. Is there “dirt” that they’ve got on Johnson that they can help get made public?

    But Brown’s team, which has a formidable reputation for seeking to destroy the reputations of prospective challengers, has got to be very careful. The last thing they want at this tricky time is to be accused of smear-mongering.

Brown himself will not be immune from this process which will continue until the contest is over. It’s tough being a politician who is aspiring to high office.

Latest betting on the Labour leadership is here.

Mike Smithson