Archive for January, 2016


Trump could be unstoppable if he wins Iowa next Monday

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Cruz makes last minute plea to pastors in the state

There’s an increasing consensus which I buy into that if Trump wins in Iowa next Monday then he’ll be almost unstoppable.

The organisational challenges at the state’s caucuses are formidable. Probably only about 12% of those eligible take part in the complex process of attending a two hour meeting in one of the 1,600 precincts where caucus meetings are held.

Generally the best guide as to whether someone will participate is whether they’ve done so before and polls that weight by this have historically got the outcomes closest. The polls where Trump has been doing best are those where this isn’t a factor.

Another key element in Iowa is how the contenders are viewed by the churches. Santorum squeezed a narrow surprise victory there four years ago after getting the backing of key religious leaders.

So it isn’t any surprise that Ted Cruz has been doing a lot of work in the time remaining with pastors and others able to influence congregations.

The Brady Report is reporting this about how Cruz is pitching himself to this key group.

In video obtained exclusively by The Brody File, Ted Cruz says it’s up to Iowa pastors to stop Donald Trump from winning the Iowa Caucus or the billionaire from New York will be, unstoppable. “If Donald wins Iowa, he right now has a substantial lead in New Hampshire, if he went on to win New Hampshire as well, there is a very good chance he could be unstoppable and be our nominee,” Cruz told pastors at a private meeting in Cedar Rapids this afternoon. Cruz also pleaded with them to support him for one very notable reason. “Even if you’re thinking about another candidate, the simple reality is there’s only one campaign that can beat Trump in this state, and if conservatives simply stand up and unite, that’s everything.”

Will that work? Hard to say.

We’ll get a better idea late Saturday night when the final Des Moines Register poll is due out. If that’s pointing to Trump it will be a wider indicator than just Iowa.

Mike Smithson


Corbyn: Alastair Meeks looks at the options for Labour’s right wing

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn

Believing six impossible things before breakfast

Jeremy Corbyn has come in for much criticism from the right of the Labour party since he took over as leader of the Labour party.  He has been accused of indulging in fantasy politics, of deluding himself that the British public will ever elect a party on such a left wing prospectus and of surrounding himself with third raters whose only virtues are their impeccably socialist credentials.  But the Labour right is just as guilty if not more so of fantasy politics.  Like the Red Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass, it is capable of believing up to six impossible things before breakfast.  Unless it disabuses itself of these notions, it is doomed to defeat and irrelevance.

  1. Jeremy Corbyn will go quietly

Of course he won’t.  He’s got an incredible opportunity to reshape British politics in a direction that he never dreamed he’d get.  He’s grasping it with both hands.  If he goes, it will be because he sees his job as complete and he’s ready to hand over to someone else.  That someone else will not be any more congenial to the Labour right.

If Jeremy Corbyn is going to go, he is going to need to be challenged at some point.

  1. The pendulum in the party will inevitably swing back to the centre at some point

Nothing is inevitable in politics.  No doubt there were Tory wets who were confident that the Conservative party would return to their politics in due course after Margaret Thatcher had her time.  Any such wets are still waiting 40 years later.

Jeremy Corbyn is taking the internal controls of the party and using them in order to bypass the Parliamentary party.  In a few months’ time he will have completed the takeover by the membership of the party institutions.  It may already be too late to stop this.  For so long as the membership’s centre of gravity is far to the left of the Parliamentary party, the Labour right is in a very weak position.

For the pendulum to swing back, someone is going to need to give it a yank.

  1. The members will stop supporting Jeremy Corbyn eventually of their own free will in response to external events

Labour party members were won over by Jeremy Corbyn because he clearly articulated an alternative positive view that they found appealing.  They will not find it less appealing because the public have not warmed to it.  They have discounted his past connections with unsavoury groups in Ireland and the Middle East.  They regard much of the press criticism as a demonstration of media bias, even when based around verbatim quotations.  They will regard electoral setbacks as a manifestation of media bias or caused by other factors, such as internal party sniping.

Unless Jeremy Corbyn abandons his own credo, party members will stay loyal to him until someone puts forward a more compelling case.

  1. Party members and the public don’t need the Labour right to articulate a positive prospectus for their ideas

The right of the Labour party were openly disdainful of Ed Miliband’s election strategy at the last election of largely campaigning on not being the Conservatives.  They are making the same mistake themselves.

It is not enough for Labour rightwingers to present themselves as progressives who are not opposed to Trident, who do not subscribe to neo-Marxist foreign policy objectives, who are not opposed to some discipline on public spending and who do not agree with open-door immigration.  They need to present their prospectus in positive terms. With the honourable exception of Tristram Hunt, no figure from the Labour right has attempted to do this yet.

It is very clear what they stand against.  But to get people to vote for them, whether in the party or in the wider electorate, they need to explain what they stand for.  Assuming, of course, that they stand for something.  Do they?

  1. The right issue to stand and fight on will arise sooner or later

Jeremy Corbyn has picked two major fights so far: Syria and Trident.  On both subjects he is far more in tune with the party rank and file than his opponents are.  So long as he carries on picking fights where the bulk of the membership backs him, he will carry on consolidating his support base.  There’s no reason to assume that he will do otherwise.

Rather than being reactive, the Labour right will need to actively bring up awkward topics to present the leadership with dilemmas that put it on the wrong side of the membership.

  1. Someone else will bell the cat

Jeremy Corbyn is in an internally strong position.  Anyone who goes into open rebellion is risking everything at poor odds of success.  So it is easy to wait for others to act.  But if Labour rightwingers believe that change is required, some of them are going to have to show leadership rather than followership.  Some of them will need to front the rebellion.  Some of them will need to be prepared to face the consequences if they fail, as they are likely to do.

The consequences of failure are not necessarily fatal.  The act of fighting may itself establish them as considerable figures, just as Hilary Benn rose immensely in the public’s estimation when he led the Labour interventionists in Syria.  At worst, they may establish to their satisfaction that Labour is lost and they need to find a new home for their social democratic beliefs.  One thing is certain: doing nothing will achieve nothing.

Sir Walter Raleigh scratched into a window pane “fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall”.  Under it, Queen Elizabeth I scratched “if thy heart fails thee, climb not at all”.  Sir Walter climbed and eventually fell, but not before he had a career that still resounds through the ages.  Do Labour rightwingers have the heart?  We shall soon see.

Alastair Meeks


A week to go until Iowa: the Great American Gamble – to Trump or No Trump

Monday, January 25th, 2016


Leader ratings side by side: How JC’s doing against DC generally & with party supporters

Monday, January 25th, 2016

The next general election, of course is unlikely to be between Corbyn’s LAB and Cameron’s CON. The latter has made his exit intentions partially clear though we don’t know whether it’ll be before the election or afterwards.

There’s doubt on the Labour side as well. Interestingly in recent days PB’s two LAB post writers, Henry G and Donald Brind, have both suggested that they don’t thing Corbyn will be there at the election.

Whatever the chart above can only be interpreted as bad news for Corbyn. He’s doing significantly worse than Miliband and we all know what happened there.

Of real concern should be the ratings from those who voted for Miliband’s LAB last May.

Mike Smithson


The last time Hillary Clinton fought New Hampshire the pollsters did worse than the British ones at GE2015

Monday, January 25th, 2016

NH Polls 2008

Many punters lost a lot of money that night

One of the great nights on PB was the New Hampshire primary in January 2008. It came a week after the Iowa caucuses where Obama pulled off a significant victory.

Interest was intense as one of the two main parties look set to be the first in US history not to select a white man as nominee.

Following Iowa the media narrative was all on Obama and the final polls for the New Hampshire primary are shown in the chart above. The Real Clear Politics average close with Obama on 38.% and Clinton on just 30%. The Clinton campaign looked doomed and all the money piled against her.

Those who backed Obama at very tight odds on prices lost a lot if money. One of the site’s biggest gamblers told me it was his worst political betting ever.

    For as it turned out Hillary got 39% to Obama’s 36.4% which was a bigger miss than what we saw in the UK on May 7th last year.

Close analysis of what happened found that women were significantly more likely to have chosen Clinton over Obama and, more importantly, were more likely to vote.

What this says about the coming contest against Bernie Sanders I don’t know. He has the benefit of being from the neighbouring state and there’s a long history of New Hampshire favouring such contenders.

Mike Smithson


The changing politics of Northern Ireland

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Alastair Meeks on the unknown First Minister

Part of the United Kingdom got a new leader earlier this month.  You probably missed this: most people did.  Following the usual tortuous process that its politics always seems to entail, Northern Ireland now has a new First Minister.  Arlene Foster took over as First Minister (the first woman to hold that role in Northern Ireland) on 11 January 2016.  She is also the first female leader of the DUP.  Perhaps it is a sign of our political progress that neither of these facts was thought worthy of very much comment.  However, with a majority of only 12, the DUP could become critical to the ability of the government to function, so we must pay close attention to them and their choice of leader.

Arlene Foster takes charge at a time when Northern Ireland’s politics are in flux and after a year where the DUP’s strategic approaches on at least three fronts have suffered major setbacks.   With a Northern Ireland Assembly election in May, she is not short of challenges.

Outside Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics seems to be comprised of sectarian bickering, leftovers from past paramilitary activity, marches and flags, Irish language in schools and gay cakes.  All this has its place; indeed, Arlene Foster has made an early start by indicating that she won’t be attending the Easter 1916 commemorations and claims not to have been invited yet to attend any GAA sporting events.

Yet Northern Ireland has the same challenges on the economy, housing, schools, health and suchlike as anywhere else.  These do not get enough attention within Northern Ireland, never mind elsewhere.  Northern Ireland is about the same area as Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire combined, but with only 60% of the population of those four counties.  Over 30% of the population live in the Belfast metropolitan area.  Beyond that, there are few big towns and a lot of empty space.  So Northern Ireland has all the problems that you expect to find in a large city and alongside those the full set of problems of very remote rural communities. Spending per head on alcohol, narcotics and tobacco is the highest in the UK, belying the province’s God-fearing reputation.

26% of the working population are in public sector employment of one type or another. While unemployment is low, more than one in eight is claiming disability-related benefits and nearly 40% of the population are claiming one form of benefit or another: in some wards of Belfast this figure rises to more than 60%.  It has been hit particularly hard by the downturn: household incomes are still below their pre-recession levels and are the lowest in the UK.  Similarly, average house prices are still over 40% off their peak (and almost exactly half the average price in England), though they are rising at present.  So Northern Ireland has much more to worry about than whether Orangemen should be marching down streets with Gaelic signage.

The DUP were among the many losers at the general election last year.  Northern Ireland was given three years’ grace before it was required to implement cuts but by 2014 its executive was playing for time, hoping for an inconclusive result in the general election to enable the Northern Irish MPs to play the two main parties off against each other for more money.  The executive’s prayers were not met and now Northern Ireland must deal with the consequences.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was an unmitigated disaster for the DUP.  As he is a long term supporter of a united Ireland and not noticeably troubled in the past by the idea of force being used to secure it, a Labour government inspired by his ideas would be a bitter enemy.  This means that the DUP are unable to perform their usual balancing act between the two main parties: everyone knows that when the chips are down the DUP will prefer the Conservatives.  This in turn means that they lack their usual leverage in Westminster.  Moreover, with few believing that Labour stand any chance of gaining power for the foreseeable future, the DUP’s bargaining power looks likely to be in abeyance for years to come.

Adding to the DUP’s annus horribilis was the completion of the SNP’s hegemony in Scotland.  Scottish independence would throw the position of Northern Ireland within the residual United Kingdom into serious question.  This throws unionists still more firmly behind the Conservatives at the UK level.

Now the DUP face an election where for the first time in a decade they do not necessarily epitomise unionist instincts.  The UUP have fought an effective insurgent campaign over the last year, stealing a march on the DUP over the revelations about the IRA’s continuing activity by withdrawing from the power-sharing executive.  Party opinion polling in Northern Ireland is rare but there is limited polling evidence that unionist voters strongly approve of the UUP’s handling of this.  Having won two seats at the general election last year (one following an electoral pact with the DUP, one won from the DUP), the UUP will be looking to make further gains at Stormont.

With one proviso, the system favours insurgents.  Unlike the Welsh Assembly or the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Irish Assembly is elected by single transferable vote.  The 18 Northern Irish Westminster constituencies are used, each electing six MLAs.  Accordingly, the concept of a wasted vote does not apply.

The proviso relates to the mechanics of power-sharing.  In order to ensure cross-community backing, the allocation of ministerial roles is tightly controlled.  The First Minister and deputy First Minister are nominated by the largest and second largest political parties respectively.  Departmental ministers, with the exception of the Minister of Justice, are nominated by the political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, according to their share of seats in the Assembly (calculated using the d’Hondt system).  The Minister of Justice is appointed following a cross-community vote in the Assembly.  What this means is that unionist voters can be reluctant to experiment, for fear of giving the nationalist parties greater weight than they would otherwise have got when the Cabinet seats come to be shared out or Sinn Fein might even take the First Minister role.

This particularly hampers cross-community parties like the Alliance but this fear can now be used by the DUP against the UUP also.  In theory, an improvement in the UUP seat count could imperil the unionist hold on the role of First Minister: if Sinn Fein stood still in May and the UUP took 10 seats off the DUP, Sinn Fein would have 29 seats, the DUP would have 28 seats and the UUP would have 26 seats.  In practice, the UUP are unlikely to make anything like that much progress.  That probably won’t stop the DUP using the possibility as a way of scaring unionist voters back into line.

So the Assembly election seems likely to produce a broadly similar result to last time – maybe we’ll see a few more UUP seats at the DUP’s expense, but there’s no hint of any major changes.  With the DUP lacking bargaining power with the UK government for the foreseeable future (and with Sinn Fein having a vested interest in not making life more difficult for Jeremy Corbyn than it already is), Northern Ireland might at last start to focus on the normal concerns that every other government has to think about.  What’s bad for political parties isn’t always bad for the general public.

Alastair Meeks


Donald Brind says a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership is now a “virtual certainty”

Sunday, January 24th, 2016


Reflecting on a dispiriting week for the red team

Corbyn’s tent suddenly looks a lot smaller after the loss of policy chief Neale Coleman.  a big loss. 

“If you want them to eat chicken, don’t lay out a buffet”. That’s a favourite piece of advice from a Lefty friend who I work with offering training in media skills to progressive folk in the Labour movement and charities. The point of the advice is — focus on your key message and don’t get drawn into highways and byways which will provide the media with negative stories.

When he appeared on the Marr show on BBC  Jeremy Corbyn’s “chicken” was to put fairness at the centre of Labour’s New Year message to the voters. That had been the key theme of his speech to the Fabian Society the previous day.   

In the event he didn’t so much offer a buffet as a banquet, with musings about repealing anti-strike laws passed in the 1980s,  Trident submarines going to sea without nuclear warheads and negotiations over the Falkland with Argentina.

Lord Prescott blamed Marr for asking questions designed to get headlines. Shadow Minister Chris Bryant and Channel Four’s Paul Mason took the same line.    

I’m afraid we media trainers will have none of such rubbish. If your day job is Leader of the Labour party you go into a TV studio prepared to focus on the core message you want the voters and determined to avoid anything that will provoke negative headlines.

At best the Corbyn performance was naive. His aides should warned him against naively answering every question as if it was a chat around the kitchen table. Just imagaine what a series of such interviews would do to Labour’s campaign during a General Election.

Here’s a suggested model answer : “Andrew, that’s not an issue people want to hear about today. Voters want to know what Labour has to offer them on the NHS, housing, and social justice where the Tories are hurting not helping the British people.”

It was the start of a miserable week for Labour MPs. Despite the fact that most oppose Corbyn they heard David Cameron use Prime Minister’s Questions to lump them together with their leader. “Anyone watching this Labour Party, and it’s not now just the leader, it’s the whole Labour Party. they are a risk to our national security, a risk to our economic security, a risk to our health service and the security of every family in our country.”

Worse was to come with the resignation of head of policy Neal Coleman, after losing a battle for influence with head of strategy and communications Seumas Milne. Most MPs think Corbyn let the wrong man go. Coleman is credited with trying to make a success of the “big tent” reaching out to MPs who didn’t vote for Corbyn.   

It all makes a leadership challenge – don’t ask me when or how – a virtual certainty, which gave added piquancy to the the appearance of Dan Jarvis at a gathering of Labour Women. They were launching a pamphlet celebrating five years of the Fabians Women’s Network. Former SAS officer Major Jarvis is a longstanding supporter of the network and was the only male speaker of the evening. Most of the people in the room – including me would probably prefer Labour’s next leader to be a woman – but a feminist and a war hero wouldn’t be a bad combination. I agree with Henry G Manson about Lisa Nandy’s chances.

Donald Brind


Electoral reform might not be the panacea the left hope it is

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Con Majority

If the 2015 general election had been fought under PR, the Tories would most likely still be in government (probably in coalition with UKIP)

There’s a very interesting story in today’s Independent on Sunday.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, is in secret talks with Jeremy Corbyn about voting reform in a bid to form a progressive electoral alliance against the Conservatives.

Mr Farron’s aides are talking to a Labour MP a close ally of Mr Corbyn who is acting as a conduit between the two leaders, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

However, for the talks to progress, the Lib Dems want a respected senior figure in the Labour Party to take on a formal role as a go-between. “It should be a former Cabinet minister, or someone of that rank, said a Lib Dem source.

The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Greens could also be involved in the talks, the source said. If the  negotiations are successful, up to five left-of-centre parties could stand on an agreed platform of voting reform at the 2020 election giving them a mandate to scrap Westminster’s first-past- the-post system without a referendum, so long as they are able to secure a majority in the Commons. Ukip also backs electoral reform, but is unlikely to enter into a pact with Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst it isn’t a formal pact, merely if the parties end up in government in 2020 they will change the voting system without a referendum. This might sound like a good idea if you don’t like the idea of a Tory government, but The Electoral Reform Society last summer produced a report showing what the general election result would have been if it has been fought under different (proportional) voting systems.Â

As we can see below, under the various PR systems, we would likely see a Tory/UKIP coalition, indeed some Tories might well regret not voting for AV in the 2011 referendum, as they would have done better under AV than under First Past The Post.

At the general election, in Great Britain, The Tories and UKIP polled 50.7%, some recent polls have the Tories and UKIP polling well above 50%, whilst it would be the height of arrogance to assume all UKIPers would vote Tory under a form of PR, it is easy to see under a more proportional voting system how the Tories would remain in power, especially against a Corbyn(esque) Labour leader.

I’m astounded given Corbyn’s dire polling, why the Lib Dems (or anyone else) would want to form an alliance/understanding with a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party on any topic. Political osmosis would take place, and the other parties in this alliance/understanding could be tainted by association with Corbyn’s more interesting views and policies. Instead of spending time on changing the voting system, it might be wiser for these parties to come up with policies that change the minds of the voters, especially Tory voters.