Archive for May, 2011


Which Huhne punters are going to end up winners?

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Will he really be out of the cabinet by Tuesday?

For the fourth weekend in succession it looks as though the Lib Dem energy secretary, Chris Huhne, is going to figure prominently in the Sunday papers.

The business with speeding point allegations has prompted a lot of coverage and we seem to have a pattern – what’s predicted on some websites never quite lives up to the billing when the papers arrive.

For punters there’s been a lively betting on whether he’ll have to quit the cabinet. One market put up three weeks ago by Ladbrokes was simply on whether he would still be a cabinet minister at the start of June and many PBers have gone in betting on both sides of the argument.

Well that runs out on Tuesday evening and if those who took the prices of up to 2/1 that he’d be out are to win then there needs to be something dramatically new.

The other market has been on who will be the next cabinet minister to leave. That moves up and down sharply with one name after another moving into the frame.

What we’ve always got to remember is that politicians who make it to the top of the greasy pole are hugely resilient as we saw with Hague last September. I went in quite heavily against the foreign secretary then when all seemed black for him. Hague stuck in there – could Huhne do the same?

Mike Smithson


What odds an early election?

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

How likely is brinkmanship to go wrong?

The continuing struggle within the coalition over the fate or ultimate nature of the NHS reforms is as good an indicator as is necessary that the May elections and AV referendum really did mark a watershed in the Coalition’s history. The Lib Dems, as Clegg promised, have been much more vocal and active in pressing their case, even where – as with the NHS bill – it reverses their previous stance.

This approach certainly could bring about benefits but also has its downsides. One is that it will make it more difficult to get their own preferred legislation enacted where it’s not covered by the Coalition Agreement. Another is that appearing to act like an opposition while in government runs the risk of confusing the public. The most acute risk though is that of a miscalculation, where some issue becomes so divisive that one side or the other feels goaded or threatened into withdrawing from the government.

That’s not as unlikely as it sounds. The obvious political solution to the NHS clash is to make a few amendments softening the most contentious points, cut a quid pro quo on something else and push on. However, rather than moving towards compromise and consensus, both sides appear to be hardening in their position, almost instinctively responding to the other.

It shouldn’t be enough to bring down the government and of itself, it won’t be. The challenge only becomes a crisis if hotheads on either side start throwing allegations of untrustworthiness or betrayal around, from which compromise then appears to vindicate those charges.

It’s worth remembering what kicked all this off though: a members’ revolt at a Spring Conference. These are events that are not wholly within the control of the parties’ leaderships, or even their caucus of MPs.

What makes all this timely is that while the NHS fuss has been grabbing the spotlight, the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill has completed its progress through the Lords. With only the amendments to sort out, that should reach the Statute Book shortly. Once it’s there, calling an early election gets much more difficult and much messier.

It won’t do any side any favours to go to the brink. At a minimum, it would erode trust far further within the coalition parties with at least one side coming out with a reputation badly damaged; at worst, it may prove impossible to pull back with all that implies. Even Labour may not welcome an early election, with a leadership still bedding in and policy reviews barely begun.

The best odds available for an election this year are 11/2 with Bet365, or 10/1 with Betfair on a moderately liquid market. My guess at the odds would be between those two. One issue is the timetable: even a crisis now would push an election date back to late June. Within a fortnight, we’d be into the Summer holidays closing the door until Autumn, by which time the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill will be an Act. That said, the main conferences in September and October could be very lively. If they feed off or into some other friction around at the time, it’s just possible that events could get out of control.

David Herdson


Should you be taking the 8-1 Lansley next exit bet?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Daily Mail

How serious is his resignation threat?

According to the Daily Mail the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, is threatening to quit over his NHS reform plan.

The paper’s Jason Groves says that Lansley has told the PM that he would reject a face-saving plan to switch him to another role and if it came to it would quit the cabinet.

The report goes on: In an outspoken public intervention ..he said driving through the health reforms was now his only political goal. ‘I’ve stopped being a politician – I just want to get the NHS to a place where it will deliver results. ‘I don’t want to do any other Cabinet job. I’m someone who cares about the NHS who happens to be a politician, not the other way around.’

Going on the record, if that indeed is what he did, with this sort of threat is highly risky for any politician and suggests that the health secretary is trying to put as much pressure as possible on Cameron.

Ladbrokes make Lansley the 8/1 joint second favourite to be next out. Huhne is currently 1/2.

Mike Smithson


Is Labour being marginalised in the NHS stand-off?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

How do the reds get a look in when it’s a Blue-Yellow spat?

There’s a poignant piece by Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy about the challenges for Labour when all the political focus is on the coalition partners.

He wrote: “At 9am yesterday morning, Labour shadow health secretary John Healey gave a speech calling for the NHS bill to be scrapped because it essentially meant the end of the NHS..At around 11am Nick Clegg gave a press conference and pretty much did just that; saying it would most likely have to go back to the House of Commons for a debate. This sequence of events not only highlights the problems Labour have, but the coming battle over NHS ‘red lines’.

The Labour problem is simply this: John Healey’s speech in the morning was ignored by most of the national media…because Healey said nothing new and partly because the media is much more interested in Libdem-Conservative fights over the NHS than what Labour is saying. In a sense, Libdems have positioned themselves to become the de-facto opposition on the NHS rather than Labour…”

The challenge, of course, for any opposition is that they cannot “do” – they can only call for things or attack – so getting coverage is invariably a challenge. Inevitably the media focus is generally on the key players and if the argument, as in this case, is between those who can affect the outcome then inevitably what Labour says is not going to get much attention.

Hundal concludes that this all presents a big tactical problem for Labour who are seen to be doing little while real the opposition is coming from the Lib Dems.

Mike Smithson


Heath vs Wilson – the ten year battle

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The documentary you cannot miss

One of the great “must-watch” political documentaries of recent times was the on BBC4 channel on Wednesday night on the mighty tussle between two grammar school boys who went to Oxford and fought four general elections against other.

Two of those elections were pivotal – 1970 when against all the odds and polling Heath won a majority and February 1974 when the Tories went to the country in the middle of the miners’ strike in the aftermath of the the 1973 oil crisis. They won most votes but were behind on seats and Harold Wilson returned to Number 10.

June 1970 was the first election that I voted in and the first I covered as a professional journalist. Labour being re-elected seemed a foregone conclusion and Heath’s victory was the biggest political shock of my life-time.

Looking at what’s happened since that February ’74 election marked the end of two party politics.

The programme deals extremely well with both elections and the most revealing story to me was how Harold Wilson scuppered a deal to end the 1973-74 miners’ strike thus paving the way for the Tory election defeat.

As the programme blurb states of Heath and Wilson “… together they presided over a decade that redefined the nation: Britain ceased to be a world power and entered Europe; the postwar consensus in which they both believed was destroyed; Thatcherism and New Labour were born. The country they left behind was unrecognisable from the one they had inherited – and the one they had promised.”

So many of the themes seen in the 90 minute programme are contemporary and have a relevance today. It’s really worth watching. It’s available on BBC IPlayer< ;/a> for another five days.

Mike Smithson


What does this do to the Huhne story..?

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

From the front page of tomorrow’s Telegraph

The clip is all we’ve got at the moment but if the headline is borne out in the story then it looks like good news for the energy secretary and bad news for those who’ve been betting on him to be the next cabinet minister out.

Mike Smithson


How Ed Miliband compares with previous opposition leaders

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Will Labour find cold comfort in the IDS comparison?

The Ipsos-MORI data on Ed Miliband is getting a lot of coverage today and I thought that this chart puts the “ready to be PM” responses into an historical context.

It shows the trend with all opposition leaders from Tony Blair onwards and, interestingly the man who was to lead Labour to three election victories had a positive rating of 59 to 28 six months after he took over the job.

William Hague dropped to a low of 18% on this measure but that’s still ahead of today’s numbers for Miliband. His 17% level of agreement is at least one point higher than Iain Duncan Smith enjoyed a month before he lost the no confidence vote in October 2003.

But on negative ratings today’s Ed Miliband 69% is higher than all of them. Cameron’s worst negative figure was 43%.

UPDATE: On looking at the way Ipsos-MORI have created this graph I do think that it is misleading particularly in relation to Cameron and Miliband comparisons. The question was not put at that stage of Cameron’s leadership. However that does not detract from the main point that these are not good figures for the Labour leader.

UPDATE 2 Ipsos-MORI have revised their chart to deal with the criticisms. The replacement is now at the top of the article.

Mike Smithson


How critical is the leader to Labour’s election chances?

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Is there a lesson to be learned from Scotland?

My biggest betting wins of 2011 were against the SNP taking most seats in the Scottish Parliament election earlier in the month. I started piling on towards the end of March when I became convinced that the leaderships ratings of Alex Salmond and Iain Grey were a far better pointer to the outcome than the voting intention polls.

At the time Labour was in the lead in almost all the polls and I was able to get prices of up to 7/2 and the SNP which look amazing given what happened six weeks later.

Should the same thinking apply to Labour’s current voting intention numbers – the latest of which, from MORI, have the party with a gap of seven points? Will this mean little at an election if there’s still a huge gap with the leadership numbers?

PB regulars will know that for several years I’ve argued that the best indicator of election outcomes are the leadership numbers. This was certainly true in 1992 when John Major was well ahead of Kinnock in the leadership ratings but trailed in the voting intention polls.

Ahead of the 2010 general election we saw a tailing off of Cameron’s ratings as we headed towards polling day suggesting that a blue overall majority, which had looked almost a certainty nine months before, was not going to happen.

My preferred polling series is Ipsos-MORI because they’ve built up such a good record over the decades with this form of questioning.

Mike Smithson