Archive for October, 2015


If the CON GE2015 manifesto had been specific about the tax credit change it’s arguable that they would NOT have won

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Next time it’ll harder not to be specific

An interesting point was raised by an SNP MP at PMQs:

“.. the reason David Cameron chose not to include this policy in his manifesto – and the reason he promised before the election not to do it – is because he knows if he had done, he would not have been elected. Pushing working families into poverty even goes against the most right wing Tory rhetoric about those mythical “benefit scroungers”.

There’s something in that. This would have been a specific that all the non-CON parties would have been able to get their teeth into and it would have been a big part of the campaign.

I think it will be harder for any party at the next election to make the kind of generalised statements that the Tories did last April/May.

Mike Smithson


More leader rating woes for Corbyn though Dave moves from a positive to a negative with YouGov

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

JC comparing badly with EdM’s early ratings

The latest YouGov Well/Badly ratings are in the top panel above and show Corbyn with a net minus 20%.

Normally main party leaders enjoy a honeymoon partly caused by a high level of don’t knows as we see with Ed Miliband’s initial ratings. That’s not happening for the new Labour leader.

Whilst the voting intention polls did poorly at the last election the leader ratings from the different firms highlighted clearly that the red team had a big problem with their man.

Mike Smithson


Osborne – the Volkswagen of British politics – having taken a reputational hit the question is can he recover?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015


Remember Maggie survived taking away school milk

George Osborne is a bit like Volkswagen – never really loved but until a short time ago highly regarded for reliability and performance. Then came the tax credits – his version of the diesel emissions scandal with the defeat software designed to get round environmental tests.

For the past six months Osborne had appeared to be able to do no wrong. He got much of the kudos within the Conservative Party for the extraordinary an unexpected election victory in May. His budget 3 months ago was well received and he appeared the master of all before him.

This has been reflected in the next CON leader betting markets. The former position where he trailed Boris by some distance changed in late June and George established himself as the firm favourite to succeed Dave.

    A problem he has got with the tax credits move is that he could get stuck with the tag of wanting to make the poor poorer.

All his efforts on “cutting welfare” appeared to be focused on the young with him never daring to seeking to get pensioners (the segment most likely to vote and support the Tories) to shoulder some of the burden of deficit reduction. That might appear to have been smart politics but it can appear to be unfair.

He’s also getting a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of being more keen on setting traps for Labour than anything else.

One thing he should console himself with is Maggie Thatcher’s early years as Education Minister. One of her cost reduction measure in the early 70s that proved very controversial was taking away free school milk. Those of my generation well remember the chant “Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher“. In the end that did not do her any harm.

Osborne does learn from past mistakes and has shown in the past an ability to bounce back. My guess is that in the short to medium term he’s got a better chance of recovering than Volkswagen.

Mike Smithson


On the eve of this month’s GOP debate Trump gets knocked off the top slot in new national poll

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

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Trump edged out for the first time in three months

Tomorrow’s a big night in the fight for the GOP nomination – the third big TV debate.

With established politicians all making heavy weather in the polls the former neuro-surgeon, Ben Carson and Donald Trump have been leading with, until today, the latter having the edge. But now we have this one from CBS/NYT.

I find it hard envisaging a Carson victory and this probably reflects the fact that the mainstream politicians like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have yet to make their mark. I still rate the latter as the most likely nominee but tomorrow might change that.

Mike Smithson


Antifrank looks at what now for the House of Lords

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

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The possible courses of action

So the House of Lords has opted for confrontation with the government by asserting its right to intervene on financial matters that are not covered by the letter of the Parliament Act 1949. In turn, the government, like King Lear, has threatened that “I will do such things — what they are yet I know not — but they shall be the terrors of the earth”. We’ll see.

It has long been recognised by pretty much everyone at every point on the political spectrum that the House of Lords is in need of reform. It has no democratic legitimacy and with the modern supremacy of life peers, following the Life Peerages Act 1958, it is now dominated by appointees. The rate of appointment has quickened in recent years. No research has been undertaken that I am aware of to determine whether this reflects an improvement in the quality of potential candidates or whether grade inflation has taken hold.

Since the turn of the century, three serious attempts have been made at reforming the House of Lords. In 2003, every single option put to the House of Commons was rejected. In 2007, the House of Commons voted in favour of either a House of Lords that was wholly-elected or where 80% of its members were elected. However, the (almost wholly-appointed) House of Lords voted in favour only of a wholly-appointed House of Lords. This impasse was not resolved.

In 2010, the coalition agreement went into some detail on this question:

“We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.

The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

The proposals were duly put forward, but then Conservative backbenchers scuppered them, being hostile to the idea of single 15 year fixed terms for elected peers. The same problem keeps recurring: despite general agreement that the current state of affairs is unsatisfactory, every attempt at reform of the House of Lords founders on a complete lack of agreement on what should replace it.

There is an underlying question that is rarely addressed: what should the House of Lords be for? At present, it operates as a revising chamber. Under the Parliament Act 1911, the House of Lords can slow down legislation introduced by the House of Commons but it cannot stop it completely if the Commons is determined.

To date the two houses have rarely clashed. The House of Lords has only been overruled on seven occasions and it has given way on a further three occasions when the House of Commons threatened to use its final powers. The Parliament Act has only been invoked once under a Conservative Government (for the War Crimes Act 1991, if you’re interested).

Progressive governments have had to contend with truculent lords more often up till now. This looks likely to change for two reasons. First, the numbers have changed. Historically the Conservatives have controlled the House of Lords. Following 13 years of Labour government to 2010 and the stripping of the rights of the hereditary peers, this is no longer the case. Under the coalition it mattered less because the Lib Dem peers could be added to the Conservative tally. With the Lib Dem peers transferring on 8 May 2015 from the government to the opposition ranks, the Conservatives’ minority status in the House of Lords becomes much more important.

Secondly, both Labour and the Lib Dems look likely to be much more assertive in the House of Lords in this Parliament than previously. The Lib Dems have already signalled that they are breaking with the Salisbury Convention, under which peers do not seek to block legislation that is mentioned in the government manifesto. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn also look likely to be less respectful of conventions in the House of Lords (though Labour lords reaffirmed their observance of it as recently as June). The vote on tax credits confirms that neither party in the Lords is the least bit troubled by the spirit of convention and obligation – the previous statutory instruments voted down by the Lords concerned UN sanctions on Rhodesia as it then was, arrangements for the Mayoral elections in London (two different statutory instruments), supercasinos and changes to legal aid eligibility. The changes to tax credits form an integral part of the government’s budgetary plans and the decision to vote them down represents astepchange in the Lords’ willingness to intervene in matters central to government administration.

This probably reflects their Commons colleagues’ inability to mount effective oppositions. Nature abhors a vacuum and if the Labour party and the Lib Dems in the Commons are going to be ineffectual, others will feel the urge to step into the gap.

Let us assume for now that the Conservatives decide to take action as opposed to bluster: they need to determine what they expect from the House of Lords. There is as yet no sign at all of any serious thinking by the government as to how it should be reformed. MPs recognise uneasily that an increase in democracy in the upper house would lead to an increase in its legitimacy. They do not want to see a rival source of power develop (this approach is no doubt in the interests of MPs though it is not obviously in the interests of the country as a whole). So how can the government preserve the general balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament while clipping the wings of unelected peers?

The straightforward approach, as threatened by anonymous government sources, would be to ennoble vast numbers of Conservative time-servers to rebalance the House of Lords numerically rather than structurally. This would simultaneously look like gerrymandering and venal (and would place a strain on the vetting procedures that would probably result in timebombs of scandal detonating every few months for years to come). It would also risk drawing the monarchy into politics, so it looks like a complete non-starter to me.

If the upper house is to be elected but to have lesser legitimacy, the type of approach of providing for limited electoral accountability proposed by the Lib Dems in the last Parliament and kyboshed by Conservative backbenchers would work theoretically but now not politically. Given that full and regular elections to the upper house would fundamentally upend the balance between the two houses, I doubt whether the government could get them through Parliament even if it tried. Getting rid of the House of Lords completely would be still more controversial and I can’t see it being floated, still less enacted.

So what else might the government do? It might seek to enshrine in legislation the conventions that have operated to date but which now seem to be breaking down, adding new ones in for its own convenience (further restrictions on the Lords’ ability to block statutory instruments may suddenly look tempting). The government seems to be thinking along these lines if press reports since the vote are to be believed.

This form of limitation would be resisted strongly by the House of Lords and would probably need the Parliament Act procedures to be invoked. This type of constitutional change to the role of the House of Lords has a precedent. The Parliament Act 1949 was passed in just this manner. It would be an amusing inversion of the Salisbury Convention, since the Conservative manifesto stated explicitly that reform of the House of Lords was not a priority in this Parliament.

But it would satisfy the need for “something” to be done and it is a “something” that the government would have good prospects of securing. The government’s rage with the House of Lords is no doubt very real. It no doubt is seriously considering what revenge it can take on the vermin in ermine. But it isn’t the first government to look at this problem and it may well not be the last to conclude that it is all just too difficult. The  House of Lords’ days have looked numbered ever since the Parliament Act 1911. That number may still, however, be in the thousands.





The tax credits defeat happened because the Tories are still paying a price for not winning a majority in 2010

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015


The UK politics version “A peerage is for life not just for a parliament”

Whenever I see animal welfare posters like the one above I think of the Coalition agreement of May 11 2010 – the day that David Cameron became PM after reaching an agreement with Nick Clegg and his team.

For in recent days there’s been some comment that the Liberal Democrats are in a very strong position with 100+ peers in the House of Lords – a total that is disproportionate to the 8 MPs they were left with after the general election in the House of Commons.

During the five years of the Coalition the total number of Liberal Democrat peers just about doubled. This was because of the section of the agreement on House of Lords reform.

The idea was that during the last Parliament the upper house would be reformed and made into an elected chamber. In the meantime it was agreed that the proportion of Lords that a party had would be linked to their national vote sshares at the 2010 election.

The thinking at the time was that these new peers would really be temporary appointments whose role would terminate once a new structure had been put into place. After all both coalition partners, in public at least, had committed themselves to creating this.

As we know that all didn’t happen following the commons rebellion by Tory backbenchers in July 2012. The process for extra peers, however, remained, and the yellows saw a huge expansion in their numbers in the House of Lords. They are there for life and not just for a parliament.

Without them the Tories would have escaped unscathed from last night’s voted on Mr Osborne’s tax credits changes.

Mike Smithson


The Lords vote to delay, not kill, Osborne’s tax credits plan

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Reminder: PB gathering Shooting Star Pub, London on Thursday evening from 6.30pm


Farage and UKIP the big gainers in the October Ipsos phone poll

Monday, October 26th, 2015