Archive for February, 2007

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Will holding Sedgefield be Gordon’s first test?

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

    Blair planning to quit as an MP as soon as he steps down – report

trimdon labour club1.JPGAccording to what is billed as an “exclusive” by the News of the World this morning Tony Blair is planning to step down as MP immediately after leaving Downing Street this summer.

The paper says “He has told members of his local Labour Party in the north-east he does not want to “get in the way on the back benches..He had privately agreed to stay out of domestic politics for five years to give Gordon Brown a clear run as Prime Minister.”

So within only a month or so of taking over at Number 10 Gordon would face a by election in what was a predominantly mining seat with a long Labour history. In May 2005 Blair held Sedgefield with 58.9% of the vote with the Tories on 14.4% and the Lib Dems on 11.9%. That campaign was dominated by the campaign of Reg Keys – the father of a British serviceman killed in the Iraq War who got more than 10% of the vote.

On the face of it this should be an easy Labour hold but then by elections can always be tricky for governing parties. Although the Tories were in second place last time it is the Lib Dem party which has strength locally. Sedgefield Council has 7 Lib Dem councillors, one Tory, eight others, and 32 Labour.

There are council elections there in May and this might give a further indication of Labour strengths and weaknesses.

    So the Sedgefield by election looks set to be the first public test of the Brown government. Could this be an opportunity for the Lib Dems?

In Westminster by elections you should never underestimate Ming’s party however unfavourable the general election shares might seem – just look at Dunfermline and Bromley in 2006. A complicating factor could be Reg Keys. Might he stand again where he did so well last time to make further points about Iraq?

Whatever this has the potential to cause problems for Labour’s new leader.

Mike Smithson



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Could this man hurt Dave’s green credentials?

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

    Will the climate change sceptic win the Peers’ Tory by election?

chritopher monckton.jpgThere’s a by election going on at the moment for a place in parliament which has hardly been covered in the media but which, potentially, could cause a problem for David Cameron.

There are 43 candidates fighting it out to win the support from an electorate of just 47 different people and the result is due the week after next. At stake is one of the hereditary Tory places in the House of Lords which was made vacant by the death in December of the Tory peer Lord Mowbray.

And for David Cameron there could be a problem – for one of the leading candidates is Viscount (Christopher) Monckton – the former aide to Margaret Thatcher who has become the leading world voice against climate change.

Monckton’s features in the Sunday Telegraph last November in which he “disputes the ‘facts’ of this impending apocalypse” and accuses the UN and its scientists of distorting the truth have become the main tracts for those who doubt whether global warming is in fact taking place.

And what could be more embarrassing for the young Tory leader if the next party member to be elected to parliament is playing such a role and has such views? For Cameron has sought to make so much of the green agenda to differentiate his Tory party from how they used to be perceived.

Although he is up against a huge number of opponents it is Monckton who has been making the running in what limited coverage there has been in the media. There’s a big piece about him today in the Guardian which notes that he worked for Margaret Thatcher “during her most abrasive ruling period” and describes the Blair government as “dictatorship … inflicted on us by stealth“.

The “electorate” are existing Tory peers in the Lords and not all of them, one would guess, are completely comfortable with Cameron. What better way for them to express their discontent than by supporting the Monckton bid?

The 55 year old peer has also been in the news over a game he invented. In 1999, he created the eternity puzzle (bottom picture) which offered a £1m prize to the first to crack it. It was won after 18 months. A second puzzle, Eternity II, is to be launched in July 2007, with a prize of $2 million.

Alas – there is not a betting market yet on the election. If there was then Monckton might be worth a punt.

Mike Smithson



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Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

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    Can Labour Retain the North Kent Marginals?

One of the funniest sights at the last election was watching Bob Marshall-Andrews conceding defeat in Medway, only to find out later that he’d retained the seat by 223 votes. This set the pattern in North Kent, as Labour managed to cling on to the marginal seats of Chatham & Aylesford, Sittingbourne & Sheppey, Gillingham, Dartford, and, of course, Medway.

In four of these seats, the Labour majority was less than a thousand. Paradoxically, their safest seat in the area, Gravesham, was lost. Up till then, Gravesham had voted for the winner in every general election since 1951. Although the average rise in the Conservative share in these six seat, 2.3%, compared favourably with the national average, 0.5%, it wasn’t quite enough to win them.

Historically, the Thames Estuary has always been hotly contested by Labour and the Conservatives, save for Gillingham, which was thought to be safely Conservative up until the earthquake of 1997.

    While all these seats have prosperous, and rural, areas that provide a reliable Conservative vote, they also much more working class and industrial than the typical Home Counties constituency, which generates a solid Labour vote.

It is no surprise that these seats are so fiercely disputed by the big two parties, or that the Liberal Democrats perform very poorly in this area.

My guess is that David Cameron’s brand of liberal Conservatism will prove less popular here than in, say, Central London. As against that, it would take only a very slight swing to deprive Labour of all but one of the seats it is defending here.

Boundary changes marginally favour the Conservatives here. Anthony Wells projects that both Sittingbourne & Sheppey, and Gillingham, would both move into the Conservative column by tiny margins (although Rallings & Thrasher believe Gillingham remains Labour). In Dartford, the Labour majority is reduced by a fraction, to 583. Rochester & Strood (as Medway is renamed) moves quite strongly to the Conservatives, who are projected to have a 1,500 majority, while Chatham & Aylesford moves decisively to Labour, whose majority rises to 4,800. Gravesham sees its small Conservative majority unchanged.

In general, these seats tend to vote for the winning party in the general election. However, the Conservatives could now win all the seats apart from Chatham & Aylesford, and not come close to winning the election. If however, they do take that seat in addition, which has a percentage Labour majority of 12% now, then they will, in all likelihood, have won an overall majority.

There were two by-elections last night:-

Cumbria CC – Castle: Lib Dem 653, Labour 222, Conservative 117, Green 29. Lib Dem hold. This was a strong performance for the Lib Dems, and a very poor one for Labour, who ran them close in 2005.
Calderdale MBC: Illingworth & Mixenden. Labour 1,104, BNP 1,034, Conservative 525, Lib Dem. 150, Independent: 68. Labour hold. As expected, this provided the night’s excitement. Labour pulled out all the stops to hold this seat, and had great success in persuading enough voters to back them to stop the BNP from winning. This was similar to the outcomes in the Keighley West by-election, last year, and Barking & Dagenham, Village, in 2004, where very strong BNP challenges were kept at bay by tactical voting for the Labour candidate. It is, however, debateable whether the same tactic will work in all out council elections, particularly as Labour will be seeking to defend 3,000 seats in May, compared to a handful being defended by the BNP. Also notable is the fact that after one of their councillors was found guilty of housing benefit fraud, and one of their local activists was found guilty of sending hate mail to Muslims, the BNP should still have increased their vote share, marginally, to 36%.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist



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YouGov brings more poll doubts over Gordon

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

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    The internet pollster reinforces the trend picked up by ICM

Today’s YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph shows almost no change in the overall voting intentions on the last survey by the internet pollster – but provides more evidence following this week’s ICM poll of growing doubts on the electoral appeal of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

The headline figures are with changes on the last YouGov survey two and a half weeks ago are:- CON 37% (nc): LAB 32% (nc): LD 17% (-1)

There’s been a big change, however, in responses to YouGov’s forced choice question – “If you had to choose, which would you prefer to see after the next election, a Conservative Government led by David Cameron or a Labour Government led by Gordon Brown?” This was the split with comparisons on last month CON 43% (-1): LAB 34% (-4)

    To put the Brown-Cameron question in context – exactly one year ago when the Tory leader was enjoying his media honeymoon the split was CON 37% – LAB 43%.

This change on the month is very similar to that recorded in ICM’s voting intention question published on Tuesday when a big swing to the Tories on the month was recorded when respondents were asked how they would vote if it was Brown’s Labour against Cameron’s Tories and Ming’s Lib Dems.

There’s also been a decline in Brown’s position people were asked “who would make the best Prime Minister?” Last month Cameron had a 2% margin over Brown – this is now 4%.

    My reading is that confidence in Gordon appears to erode when he does things like last week’s English World Cup bid announcement. He appears to want the top job too much and this is not something that voters warm to. If he could do “humble” his succession would be 100% assured.

All this is reinforcing doubts about the Chancellor in the Labour leadership betting where the Brown price has eased to 0.25/1. Me? I’m keeping my money on Gordon and will be putting more on if the price moves much further.

Mike Smithson



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What do we think of Frank Luntz on Cameron-Brown?

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

speeccie frank luntz.jpg

    Is the US pollster right on the language that both men are adopting?

This, I know, is getting into dangerous territory because two words that lead to the biggest explosions on PBC are “Frank” and “Luntz” – ever since the US pollster’s famous “focus group” screened on Newsnight during the Conservative Party conference in October 2005.

In this week’s edition of the Spectator, out this morning, Luntz is the author of the cover feature on how both men use language and how Gordon is having to catch up with Dave. No surprise there then I can hear you say.

His argument is interesting and the piece is well worth reading.

Luntz write: “… Today’s voters will punish their leaders for trying to score political points at the expense of getting work done. Message: reach across the divide with words and intent when there is success to be had, progress to be made and prosperity to be achieved…Incredibly, Mr Cameron, a relative novice, is defining the words and themes that the Chancellor uses and, by extension, his political agenda. And it shows. That is why — as my research has consistently demonstrated — the British people aren’t buying into the new, ‘cuddly’ Mr Brown, the one who listens to the Arctic Monkeys in the morning before heading off to a photo op at a nursery school. They know it’s not the real him.”

In the Labour leadership betting the Gordon price has eased sharply in the past 24 hours to 0.24/1. This is down a touch on last night when I got £400 on the Chancellor at 0.25/1. The announcement that veteran Labour figure, Michael Meacher, is going to mount a challenge has had almost no effect.

Mike Smithson



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Has Blair come to terms with his departure yet?

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

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    Is Hoggart right about the exit?

A throwaway line at the end of this morning’s Commons sketch by Simon Hoggart in the Guardian has got me thinking about Tony Blair and when he will step down.

For when asked at PMQs yesterday what he hoped to be remembered for Hoggart notes the “extraordinary” fact that Blair ..”didn’t have anything prepared… he hasn’t worked out what his own legacy is..I’ll believe he’s going when he goes.”

Usually a good litmus test on what’s going on at the top of the Labour party is John Prescott. The picture strip are screen shots of the leader and deputy during yesterday’s encounter with Cameron when I thought that Blair just got the better of the Tory.

Yet rather than his usual cheering his man on giving him forceful vocal backing Prescott seems very detached and at one stage looked as though he was falling asleep. He certainly does not appear happy and content.

For has Prezza realised that Blair has still to make the decision to actually go and that there’s still a lot more to come in the drama of Labour’s succession?

Is Tony trying to hang in there as long as possible in the hope that something will emerge that will make his exit more palatable and help secure his place in history.

Have we all been wrong in thinking that Tony is following a settled plan and that the removal vans will arrive in Downing Street in late June/ early July so Gordon can take over then?

Quite simply has Tony still to make the final decision?

My sense is that he’s looking for anything that will put back the date by even a short period and maybe there will need to be a September 2006-style rolling resignation threat before he’s finally shifted.

In the betting Q3 2007 has now become favourite again for “when he’ll officially cease to be leader”. That’s at 1.14/1 while Q2 has eased to 1.2/1.

Mike Smithson



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Which candidate comes out worst from this?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

USA Today poll.GIF

    What does this all mean for the Republican race?

Lots of interesting polls coming out of the US at the moment on the 2008 White House race. For the latest check here.

The above one, which came out a few days ago, is perhaps the most interesting in that it looks at negatives in a theoretical sense. For the Democrats the lack of negatives for a black or a female nominees looks encouraging.

It’s the Republicans who have the biggest problems. Of the three front-runners:-

  • McCain will be 72 in 2008
  • Giuliani has been married three times
  • Romney is a Mormon
  • The main White House betting markets can be linked from here. I am now laying (betting against) both McCain and Giuliani for the Republican nomination.

    Mike Smithson



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    Who’ll be goaded into losing his temper first?

    Wednesday, February 21st, 2007


      Do both men share the same weakness – having low flash-points?

    Politics is going through an appalling period which must be equally frustrating for all the parties. For we know that barring a political earthquake the next election will be the Gordon and Dave show yet even the most experienced observers cannot predict confidently how this will pan out.

    This encounter has been on the cards since Cameron’s likely victory in the Tory race became apparent October 2005 and yet it looks as though we might have to wait until October 2007, almost two years on, before the two are facing each other across the chamber at PMQs.

      Who’s going to come out on top is hard to predict but a characteristic that both men share is a low threshold level when it comes to losing their tempers. My guess is that both will try to find ways of goading the other to do just that.

    We have seen how Cameron can get flustered and be on the point of losing it if put under aggressive questioning in TV interviews – an arena that Brown has studiously avoided for years. By all reports the Chancellor is notoriously sensitive about being criticised and we saw a flash of temper at Treasury questions a month or so ago in response to George Osborne.

    At the time I wondered whether Osborne was testing the ground for when Cameron comes in.

    For since David Cameron became Tory leader in December 2005 there has been just one occasion when the two have faced each other across the floor of the House of Commons – in the budget debate nearly a year ago when the Tory leader produced his “analogue man in a digital age” sound-bite. But the nature of that occasion meant that Brown was unable to respond.

      So who’ll come out best in the battle of the titans. Will Gord be able to dominate Dave in the way he has dealt with successive Shadow Chancellors – or will he prove vulnerable in the very special situation that PMQs provides?

    Clearly all parties have been game playing this for months and there’s no point now wasting material or giving your opponents a sense of what you will do before the real action starts.

    In my view a big minus for Labour of Gordon getting a coronation is that he won’t be subject to the intense media scrutiny that a hard fought contest would bring. As well as creating massive frustration amongst newspaper and TV journalists, he would miss out on the process of actually running for the job – a good training for the general election.

    Thus the losing candidate in the 2005 Tory contest, David Davis, has become a much more formidable politician after going through the process of running.

    Mike Smithson