Archive for October, 2006


My 50/1 shot says he’s considering running for the White House

Monday, October 23rd, 2006
    Could the only black Senator make it all the way?

obama.jpgBarack Obama, first tipped here when he was 50/1 in May 2005, has given a strong indication that he might run for the White House.

According to the BBC Obama told a TV interviewer that “Given the responses I’ve been getting… I have thought about the possibility” and he said he would give the matter more thought after the mid-term vote.

The Illionois Senator was recently featured on the cover of Time magazine, with the headline “Why Barack Obama could be the Next President.”

On Betfair he is down to 6/1 to get the Democratic nomination while you can still get a bookie price of 33/1 on him going all the way. That will probably tighten.

Mike Smithson


Mori poll gloom for Cameron

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

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    Labour move to 2% lead

Partial details of the Mori poll for October are just out and show the Tories unchanged at 35% but Labour moving up a point to 37%. The online version of the FT, which is reporting the survey, does not include a figure for the Lib Dems.

It will be recalled that last month Mori became the only pollster since April to report a Labour lead. Since then there have been other surveys showing the Tories ahead, or in one case neck and neck but none reporting a Labour lead.

Unlike the other pollsters Mori use face to face interviews and, more importantly, take no measures to check out whether their sample is politically representative by asking how people voted last time and weighting accordingly.

    Mori has a reputation for volatility. In the same poll a year ago it reported Labour 6% ahead, followed by a 10% margin in November which was suddenly turned round to a 9% Tory lead three weeks later.

If this week’s ICM and YouGov polls show a similar trend then things might be difficult for David Cameron.

There’s another poll today by Populus in the Times for Opinion Leader Forum. The group was “people who are inclined to vote Labour at present, but say there is a fair chance of them going to another party, and those currently inclined to vote for another party or unsure about which one to vote for, but who say there is a fair chance of switching to Labour” Amongst this Gordon Brown would be preferred as Prime Minister to David Cameron by 51% to 24%.

It is very hard to assess this without the full data because it is based on a sample 242 and is a sub-set from a larger survey involving 1,018. Normally the total number of Labour voters you would expect in such a survey would be less than 300 so we need to know how many fall within the 242. The description of the sample is not the standard Populus one for swing voters.

My guess is that the detail will show that this is not much out of line with other Populus Polls and this is just being presented in this way for a political purpose. Clearly if what the other 776 respondents had said had been favourable to Gordon then that would have been released as well.

I am making a request under the British Polling Council disclosure rules for a copy of the whole survey.

Betting news. The Deputy Labour leadership markets were taken down within an hour or so of the suggestion here on Saturday morning that Jon Cruddas was a good bet at 8/1. Will those markets return today and, if so, what will Cruddas be priced at? I for one am looking to place more money on him.

Mike Smithson


Could the world soon be run by Women?

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

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    Would having the only male leader impact on UK domestic politics?

An extraordinary series of developments, which few people seem seem to have picked up, is that in just over two years time the leaders of three of the four biggest economies in the West could be women.

Germany got its first ever female Chancellor in the early summer when Angela Merkel just managed to secure the top job after an indecisive election result saw the end of the Schroeder government.

France might just possibly have a female President for the first time if Segolene Royale becomes the Socialist candidate and goes on to win next year’s Presidential election.

The USA, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, has two female possibities – Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Condoleeza Rice for the Republicans.

Judging by the betting and the polls there is a realistic prospect that all this could come about. In an opinion poll last week Royal led Sarkozy 51-49 and the latest betting has her at 6/4 to get the job.

In the US Hillary is priced at 1.26/1 to secure the nomination and 7/4 win back the White House for the Democrats in 2008. On the Republican side Rice is priced at 10.5/1 to get her party’s nomination. Neither of these, it should be said, have announced that they will be running.

    If the US and France went for women then three out of the four top western economies would be led by females. The UK would be the odd one out.

If this were to come about the whole look and feel of international politics would change in a way that is hard to predict. Would, for instance there be any knock on effect in UK domestic politics?

You could see both Brown and Cameron trying to pitch that they would be best in a changed world. The gender split in domestic opinion polls would be given greater prominence and it would filled acres of newspaper space.

Mike Smithson


Can this man stop the threat to Labour’s finances?

Saturday, October 21st, 2006
    How the Tory political funding plan screws Labour

tony dubbins border.JPGBy an extraordinary coincidence I found myself sharing a bottle of wine on a train out of St. Pancras last night with the man who is playing a key role on the subject that I had decided to write about this morning – the Tory threat to Labour’s funding.

This is Tony Dubbins, a leading Labour movement figure for several decades and now chair of the body that links the trade unions with the party. A key issue that he is fighting is the Tory proposal that donations to political parties from either individuals or corporate entities such be restricted to a maximum of £50,000 each year.

On the face of it that sounds quite reasonable and resonates well in the current climate following the “loans for peerages” scandal. For at first sight it appears that the Tories would be the big losers. In fact that’s not the case for the £50,000 cap would apply to trade unions as well.

The challenge Dubbins has got is that as a result a huge series of amalgamations in recent years there are only seventeen unions left affiliated to the party – so the most Labour could get from its traditional source would be 17 times the maximum donation.

It’s been worked out that such a restriction would cost Labour about £8m a year while the Tories would only see a short-fall of just over £3m. No wonder the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, is so enthusiastic about the plan. For from a fundraising perspective a rich individual donor could get round the £50,000 by making several donations in the name of his wife and family as well.

Although Labour, of course, originally evolved from the trade union movement and its links are very deep the unions are viewed very differently nowadays. The Osborne proposal sounds as though the Tories are making a sacrifice and the case about Labour’s traditional links is quite hard to put.

In the current climate I do not think it is feasible for Labour to force through a proposal that would restrict Tory funding but allow it to keep its own income stream.

  • Naturally we talked a lot about the Labour leadership and it would be wrong for me to write about what was a private conversation. All I can say is that my first action on getting home last night was to put as much as the bookmakers would allow me on Jon Cruddas for the Deputy’s job. You can still get 8/1. Take it.
  • Mike Smithson


    Sean Fear’s local election commentary

    Friday, October 20th, 2006

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      What will be the impact of the Scottish switch to PR?

    The next round of Scottish local elections will be held under the Single Transferable Vote system of proportional representation. First past the post has produced some very distorted results in the past, in Scottish local elections. For example, Labour won 87% of the seats in Glasgow, in 2003, on 48% of the vote, and most remarkably of all, a bare majority in Edinburgh with just 27% of the vote.

      Surprisingly perhaps, Labour have opted to abandon an electoral system that provides them with a considerable advantage. In 2003, Labour won 41% of Scotland’s council seats on 33% of the vote. If their vote share were to remain unchanged next year, then they could well lose 100 seats.

    In fact, their likely loss (assuming the same vote share) will probably be less than this. This is because the wards used for the purpose of the election will only contain three or four seats. In practice, that means that a party would need to poll at least 25% of the vote to be sure of winning a seat in a three member ward, and 20% in a four member ward.

    Labour, with their 33% vote share, are far more likely to achieve this, than either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives, who each won 15% in 2003. The Scottish Socialists, and the Scottish Green Party, who both did well under the system of PR used for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, are unlikely to achieve this sort of vote share in more than a handful of wards.

    While Labour are sure to lose overall control of Edinburgh, they can be fairly confident of retaining the majority of their councils in the Central Belt (unless their overall vote share falls sharply). In practice, winning 40% of the vote in any one council is likely to be enough to win an overall majority of seats, albeit, with considerably greater representation for opposition parties. The SNP, in particular, will be able to convert their substantial vote in the Central Belt into a considerable number of seats.

    One feature of Scottish politics is the very substantial number of Independent councillors in rural areas. Unusually, they were favoured by the First Past the Post system. Scotland used small, single member wards, in which personal votes counted for a lot. Overall, Independents won nearly 20% of the seats in 2003, on 11% of the vote. With much larger, multi-member wards, their personal vote might be diluted, and the four main parties may well gain at their expense.

    Last night’s local elections produced a net gain of one each for the Conservatives, and Labour.

    Chiltern DC – Great Missenden:
    C 494, Lib Dem 149, Lab 23. An easy Conservative hold.
    Durham CC – Dawden: Lab 775, C 148. An easy Labour hold.
    Easington DC- Passfield:
    Lab 480, Ind 213 Labour gain from Independent
    Manchester CC – Gorton South: Lib Dem 1588, Lab 1208, BNP 185, Green 151, C
    90. Lib Dem hold. Labour and Liberal Democrat voters both came out to vote in larger numbers than in May, probably due to the BNP candidate, but the outcome between the two parties was almost identical.
    North Shropshire DC – Hordley, Tetchill and Lyneal: C 169, Ind 74, Ind
    40. Conservative gain from Independent.
    Shrewsbury and Atcham BC – Lawley:
    Ind 318, C 298, Lib Dem 82. Independent gain from Conservative.
    South Cambridgeshire DC- The Abingtons
    : C 496, Lib Dem 261. Conservative gain from Liberal Democrat, on a swing of 36%.

    Sean Fear is a London Tory activist and writes a weekly local election feature for PBC


    Will they ever be able to make Gordon voter-friendly?

    Friday, October 20th, 2006

      How can Labour get him to loosen up a bit?

    The scene should be a happy one for the man most likely to be the next Labour leader. He’s there amongst enthusiastic supporters who are pleased to see him yet he stiffens up and appears aloof apparently unwilling or unable to engage with those around him.

    If he is like this amongst committed Labour supporters how is he going to be with the less committed – the groups Labour needs to keep on board if it wants to stave off the Cameron Tory threat?

      For come the intensity of the General Election campaign how is Gordon, a very private man, going to come over when his every move will be followed, filmed and photographed?

    I’ve made this point before but while in this multimedia multi channel age there is much more news available the proportion of people watching regular TV bulletins or reading daily newspapers is on the decline.

    In the days when most people had just four TV channels it was hard to avoid the General Election completely. Next time it will be dead simple. The result is that the opportunities to reach the marginal voter are much more limited.

      Can Gordon be made fit for purpose? Is it possible to transform his current image into something that is instantly appealing to the large number of voters who catch no more than fleeting glances of TV bulletins or newspaper front pages?

    The polling evidence about the way Gordon is perceived does not look promising. The last Guardian ICM survey compared him with Cameron on a number of attributes with the Tory leader beating him 52-17 on having a “pleasant personality“; but Brown scoring 36-15 on being the most arrogant, and 35-12 on being “most likely to stab a colleague in the back“. On the positive side he does come over as strong and likely to be good in a crisis.

    An issue, of course, will be whether he’ll be perceived differently as Prime Minister. That is a hard one to call but there is likely to be an initial beneficial effect. The question is whether it will continue?

    In the betting on which party will win most seats at the General Election Labour is now out to 1.38/1 on the Betfair exchange. The punters don’t believe he’s going to do it.

    Mike Smithson


    How can Labour undermine trust in Cameron?

    Thursday, October 19th, 2006

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      Surely Gordon should be attacking Cameron on the Tory tax plan?

    In times of old today’s publication of the findings of David Cameron’s policy commission on tax would provide Labour with all it needed. At last some meat for party policy wonks to get their teeth into and the furious attacks could begin on the threats to public services.

    Detailed data would be out within hours on what this would mean in every constituency in the land and the questions about Tory economic competence would hit home.

      For how can the Tories be talking about cuts of £21bn while at the same time giving their spending commitments on the NHS and other areas. This surely is open goal territory for Brown and his team?

    It will be interesting to see how things pan out but some somehow the challenge for Labour now seems a lot harder. For Cameron has devised it so he can have it both ways. The commission is showing the direction the party should go in but the leader does not have to accept it just now.

    At the heart of Labour’s problems, I believe, is that the David Cameron is more trusted by the voters than Gordon Brown or Tony Blair. Poll after poll has shown that Cameron has good numbers when these questions are asked and the drift is towards the Tory leader.

    Thus in February ICM found that Gordon Brown was leading David Cameron by 39-28 on the question of “who is most trustworthy”. By last month Cameron was enjoying a 27-19% lead over Brown with ICM on the question “who is most honest”.

    So while there might be apparent contradictions in the policy platform coming from the Tories the evidence suggests that Cameron is more trusted than Brown. The result, I suggest, is that Cameron is able to resist many of the attacks that in former times Tory leaders would have found devastating.

    Labour needs to develop a rhetoric that eats away at the current perception that Cameron is trustworthy. They also need public spokesmen and women who can drive this point home.

      It strikes me that Ed Balls, the minister leading the current attack, sounds totally unconvincing. He simply hasn’t got it when it comes to make a compelling case. If I was a Labour MP in a marginal seat I would be asking why Gordon is not doing this himself?

    In the Labour leadership betting there has been a slight easing of the Brown price which touched 0.37/1 on Monday. This morning it is at 0.41/1.

    Mike Smithson


    How much is Labour being damaged by the Blunkett saga?

    Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

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      Is he just providing PMQ material for David Cameron?

    With a second top civil servant disputing accounts of what went on in Whitehall in David Blunkett’s controversial memoirs Labour appears to have started a damage limitation exercise to dissociate the party from the former Home Secretary.

    The close Gordon Brown aide and former Agriculture Secretary, Nick Brown, is quoted this morning saying “Politics is a team game. Politicians on the same side have to stick together. I cannot understand what David Blunkett thinks he is doing except disqualifying himself from consideration as a serious politician.”

    Fortunately for Labour Blunkett is no longer a minister but the claims by the former prisons chief Martin Narey had told him to “machine gun” rioting inmates during a prison riot in 2002 present a picture of minister who should not have held such a high position.

      Was Blair aware of the character of a close colleague and if so why was he not only kept at the Home Office until 2004 but then invited to return to the Cabinet after the 2005 General Election?

    This all might feature at PMQs today when Tony Blair’s judgement could be questioned. No doubt Cameron will try to find a way of using the reports to ratchet up the attacks on the Government generally and Tony Blair in particular.

    I don’t think that we are quite at the stage that John Major’s government reached ten years ago but we are quite near it. Tony badly needs to perform well at PMQs this afternoon. Another performance like last week and the summer hand-over plan might appear optimistic.

      For it is clearly in the Tory interest for Tony Blair’s departure to take place against a background of chaos and mayhem stoked up by opposition attacks. It won’t be good for Gordon if Cameron is seen to have played a role in the timing of Blair’s departure.

    Latest Blair departure betting is here.

    Mike Smithson