Archive for February, 2017


Betting on whether or not Jeremy Hunt will be Health Secretary on the 1st of January 2018

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

But is there another Jeremy Hunt bet you should be making?

William Hill have a market up whether Jeremy Hunt will be Health Secretary on the 1st of January 2018. I think taking the 2/5 on him being Health Secretary on the 1st of January 2018 is the best option. Here’s why you’ll be getting a 40% return in less than ten months.

One of the things to take from the Copeland by-election is that Labour’s attempts to use the NHS to win votes isn’t effective as these tweets below confirm.

So that should help Jeremy Hunt going forward, politically speaking a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party is as impotent as a battalion of eunuchs, any problems with the NHS won’t be effectively exploited.

Given the way Jeremy Corbyn goes through shadow cabinet members*, it is entirely possible that constant reshuffles might not allow any shadow Health Secretary to be in the role long enough to become effective at holding the government to account.

Additionally I think Mrs May has learned from David Cameron’s example and will not make annual reshuffles, so I’d expect scandals notwithstanding, Mrs May won’t be holding a major reshuffle this year, so again that should make Jeremy Hunt secure.

Since VE Day, only Nye Bevan and Norman Fowler have served as Health Secretary longer than Jeremy Hunt has today, such endurance in looking after the NHS, which has been described as the national religion, points to an adroit politician.

Were Theresa May to fall under a bus, or were she to last as Prime Minister for a decade, Hunt would be young enough to be a plausible to be her sucessor. Coral are offering 80/1 on Jeremy Hunt as next PM, it might be worth a flutter.


*My favourite statistic of the week


77% of non Labour voters say Labour has the wrong leader and 73% say Labour has the wrong policies

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

This poll, like the result in Copeland, is a harbinger of a truly awful general election result for Labour. When will Corbyn take responsibility?

ComRes have conducted a poll for The Sunday Mirror, and if you’re Jeremy Corbyn or a Labour supporter it makes me for painful reading, the poll shows

A damning poll after Labour’s by-election disaster shows more than a third of the party’s voters think Jeremy Corbyn should be replaced as leader.

And almost one in six believe the party does not have the right ­policies to win a general election.

A fifth of Labour voters feel the party is too left wing.

Among non-Labour voters the judgment on the party is even harsher – 77 per cent do not believe that Labour has the right leader and 73 per cent do not ­believe it has the right policies.

The poll found 71 per cent of this group believe Labour has lost touch with working-class people.

Almost half of those surveyed believe it should do more to “appeal to people’s aspiration and ambition.”…..

….The poll found 57 per cent of Lib Dem voters would switch to Labour if Mr Corbyn stood down.

And almost a quarter of UKIP voters said that move would change their minds. Even 34 per cent of ­Labour voters say they would be more likely to support the party with a different leader.

But more than half say a change at the top would make no difference, which makes some Labour MPs despair. One senior party source said: “I’m resigned to him leading us into 2020 and we all know what that’s going to mean.

“He’s not going anywhere. But Copeland was a Labour seat. That’s a seat we’ve held for 80 years. It’s not a marginal, no matter what people are saying about it. We’ve got no business losing a seat like that.”

But what about replacements for Corbyn, the polling also makes for grim reading.

The poll shows the most popular alternative to Mr Corbyn as leader would be London Mayor Sadiq Khan. 

However, while 19 per cent said him taking over would make them more likely to vote Labour, 23 per cent said they would be less likely.

Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn – widely tipped as a possible successor – showed up neutral with as many being put off voting Labour as being more inclined to.

Among Lib Dem voters, seen as a potential source of support for ­Labour, 47 per cent would vote for Mr Khan. Other popular choices would be Mr Benn (40 per cent), Mr Blair (34 per cent) and MP Chuka Umunna (36 per cent).

My own view is this part of the polling just doesn’t feel right, based on my instincts, apart from John McDonnell, Ken Livingston, and Tony Blair, most other Labour politicians would be doing better than Corbyn is currently doing,  they don’t posses the toxicity of Corbyn, but it is worrying indictment of the situation Labour currently finds itself in.



Ahead of tomorrow night’s Oscars Roger’s annual assessment & predictions

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

As many PBers will attest his guide’s been on the money in the past

2017 Oscars. They say when things aren’t going well the Oscars cheer themselves up by turning to fantasy. Enter the musical La La Land with a record 14 nominations. Cheesy and cheerful it might take your mind off Trump for a couple of hours but sadly the memory of it will disappear long before he does.

Best Picture: Arrival, Fences, Hackshaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight.

Last year Spike Lee was so outraged by the lack of Black nominations that he called for a ‘Blackout’. This year they’ve more than made up for it though the quality doesn’t always match the quantity. The two strongest and least cliched are ’Moonlight’ and ‘Fences’.

‘Moonlight’ is set in a tough part of Miami with an all black cast. It’s the tale of a boy who grows up with a heroin addict mother and who realises he’s gay in a place where that isn’t an option. Denzil Washington’s directorial debut ‘Fences’ is a family drama which also has an all black cast and is similar in many ways to “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’. My two contrasting favourites though are the maudlin ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and the uplifting “La La Land’. I’m going to trip the light fantastic and go for ’La La Land’.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Andrew Garfield, Ryan Gosling, Viggo Mortensen, Denzel Washington

It’s a choice between Casey Affleck and Denzil Washington. I’m going for the inconsolable Casey Affleck in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ though bitter patriarch Denzil Washington in ‘Fences’ is a worthwhile outside bet.

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Ruth Negga, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep.

A difficult choice. Emma Stone is engaging in ‘La La Land’ but I loved Natalie Portman as ‘Jackie’. I also wouldn’t rule out the compelling Isabelle Huppert as the rape ‘victim’ in ‘Elle’. I’m going for Natalie Portman in the underrated ‘Jackie’.

Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Jeff Bridges, Lucas Hedges, Dev Patel, Michael Shannon.

An unusually disappointing field. I found the much fancied ‘Moonlight’ a difficult watch but Mahershala Ali’s understated performance gets into in your head. Dev Patel was also good in ‘Lion’ but I’m going for Mahershala Ali.

Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Naomie Harris, Nicole Kidman, Octavia Spencer, Michelle Williams.

I’m going for Viola Davis the wife mother and matriarch in the overlong but powerful ‘Fences’. Naomi Harris as the heroin addicted mother in ‘Moonlight’ is an outside possibility.

Best Director: Arrival, Hackshaw Ridge, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight.

If as expected ‘La La Land’ wins Best Film then 32 year old Damien Chazelle has to become the youngest ever winner of Best Director. For all it’s frippery it wasn’t without subtlety and with only one serious film behind him he did an outstanding job.

Best Animation: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, Zootopia.

My favourite was ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ followed by the similar ‘Moana’. The very hot favourite (it made the most money) ‘Zootopia’ was good but there has to be a limit to the number of times Disney can trot out the same old animals.

Cinematography: Arrival, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Silence.

The most deserved of all La La Land’s nominations. Some very clever camera work. An honourable mention for ‘Lion’. Very much in the style of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and with an outside chance.

Costume Design: Allied, Fantastic Beasts, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La la Land.

I’m going for ‘Jackie’ though I suspect the ubiquitous ‘La La Land’ is favourite again.

Make-Up: A Man Called Ove, Star Trek, Suicide Squad.

Star Trek.

Sound Editing: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hackshaw Ridge, La La Land, Sully.

I don’t know whether Mel Gibson has been rehabilitated yet? It was all a bit too ‘Erol Flynn’ to be the true story it claimed but watching our heroes catching and returning hand grenades whilst wiping out the Japanese Imperial army with machine guns in each hand has to be worth an award and the sound effects were memorable. So ‘Hackshaw Ridge.’

Sound Mixing: Arrival, Hackshaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue One, 13 Hours.

Another deserved Oscar for ‘La la Land’ Film Editing: Arrival, Hackshaw Ridge, Hell or High Water. La La Land, Moonlight. Probably the seamless cuts of ‘La La Land’ but I wouldn’t rule out the wild and wonderful Hacksaw Ridge.

Original Score: Jackie, La La Land, Lion, Moonlight, Passengers.

Almost certainly ‘La La Land’ but an interesting outsider is ‘Moonlight’. An uncomfortable film with a haunting soundtrack.

Production Design: Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Hail Caesar, La La Land, Passengers.

‘La La Land’ is very hot favourite but as an outside bet I’d consider ‘Arrival’

Visual Effects: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One.

The nominations are a mix of live action and animation. I can’t remember this happening before. Seems like comparing apples and lobsters but I’d go for the outstanding visuals in Jungle Book.

Adapted Screenplay: Arrival, Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight.

Probably a choice between the watchable but flawed ‘Lion’ and the worthy but disturbing ‘Moonlight’.

Original Screenplay: Hell or High Water, La La Land, The Lobster, Manchester by the Sea, 20th Century Woman.

It’s back to the beginning. The ultra depressing ‘Manchester by the Sea’ or the super uplifting ‘La La Land’ . I hope it’s ‘Manchester by the Sea’.

Original Song: La la land …………… ’City of stars’… (video atop this thread)


Roger is a longstanding contributor to PB and his Oscar tips have been accurate and profitable for many years on PB


The dark cloud on Labour’s horizon: total wipeout

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Just where is Labour’s floor for 2020?

One of the best political tips of the 2015 general election was to back Labour for 0-5 seats in Scotland. When William Hill first put the market up – after the independence referendum – they marked that outcome at no less than 125/1. (I apologise for not being able to namecheck the PBer who tipped the bet; I forget who it was.)

That price was a testament to the inertia of thinking as much as the inertia of politics but those who snapped up the long odds were handsomely rewarded. Those who didn’t presumably believed that such voting revolutions could not occur so quickly, ignoring that in fact it already had done. After the Scotland experience and the Copeland result, the question has to be ‘could it happen in England and Wales too?’.

The simple answer is ‘yes, it could’, though of course that doesn’t mean it will. Indeed, the crucial supplementary is ‘and if so, what are the chances?’.

Even so, the rate at which Labour is testing the capability of political commentators to find historic precedents for polling or electoral phenomena is a good indicator of the state of the party. Who would have thought that the Worcester by-election of 1878 would achieve such a renewed prominence?

One factor that makes Copeland (and Stoke) particularly significant is that they validate the opinion polls. These have been returning figures out of line with local by-elections, where the Tories have been doing a good deal worse and the Lib Dems a good deal better. We can now say with a little more confidence that for Westminster, the polling seems the more reliable.

And that polling has been dire for Labour. Close to two years after the last election, the Conservatives have a lead in at least the mid-teens, possibly the high-teens. Only the Blair 1997-2001 parliament is remotely comparable (and of course, that ended in a second landslide). Worse, since April last year – when they averaged about 32% – Labour has lost a steady half-point a month.

Projection is not prediction and we can’t assume that trend will continue but if there’s one thing that the local by-elections do prove it’s that the Lib Dems are no longer toxic. With Farron’s party still only on about 10%, there’s plenty more potential for Labour defectors. As it is, Labour is within touching distance of a post-WWII low in opposition and, though there are no polls from before the war, it’s probable that the 1983 low was the party’s worst in opposition since at least 1915*.

But there has to be a natural floor, doesn’t there? All else being equal, yes, there does. Labour has several firewalls: in London, in parts of Greater Manchester / Merseyside and in former mining or other heavy industrial areas of Yorkshire, the North East and Wales.

However, two spectral presences should stalk Labour minds. The first is 1981-3. The prospect of a formal split has receded in recent months as Corbyn’s leadership falters, his activist supporters have proven paper tigers in anything other than leadership elections and worries of mass deselections have diminished as moderates wait for the chance to go on the attack. Even so, if the left could rejuvenate, perhaps under a new leader, the risk of a formal split would once again become real. Similarly, if the Lib Dems started polling at or near Labour levels, some MPs might wonder whether the bigger risk would be to stay or to jump.

And the second, returning to the beginning, is Scotland 2015. As yet, there’s no party which could do an SNP: make wholesale inroads into the Labour vote and win 20%+ swings across the country. But maybe there doesn’t need to be. Even though UKIP fluffed their chance in Stoke on Thursday, their average national share has edged up over the last three months. The Lib Dems too are on the up. The risk is that rather than being swamped in a one-party tsunami, Labour’s coalition might just dissolve slowly but continually at the edges in all directions. There is no reason to assume that the 2020s could not be unlike what the 1920s would have been had Lloyd George and Asquith not behaved like a pair of squabbling children: a large conservative party, a large liberal one and a smaller, marginalised left-wing socialist party.

You would expect the natural checks in the system to prevent such an outcome. There are good incentives for MPs and activists to use the tools at their disposal to deliver the changes necessary to prevent disaster. However, those tools were ineffective when tried last year. Perhaps it will be second time lucky. Or perhaps Corbyn will get his act together and finally strike a chord with the public, or perhaps he’ll stand down voluntarily. If so, the country will gain an opposition again. Or perhaps not.

Inertia is a powerful anti-force in politics (as in life). Labour has huge built-in advantages that should enable it to survive the odd crisis. That said, Rome once had even bigger built-in advantages and look what civil war and self-indulgence did there. Nothing is forever.

David Herdson

p.s. I ought to apologise for anyone misled by my piece on Monday, where I tipped Labour to hold on in Copeland after my visit there last weekend. As was noted in the comments, I didn’t have chance to visit the inland parts of the constituency, which in retrospect were more staunchly Tory than I’d anticipated. Also, the final Labour leaflets on the NHS were so hard-hitting that they may have proven counterproductive; voters have a sense of fair play.

* Despite their cataclysmic result in 1931, when the National government won a majority of almost 500 and Labour was reduced to just 52 MPs, they actually polled reasonably well, winning over 30% of the vote. As they gained by-elections fairly steadily through the 1930s, it’s unlikely they dipped below that level afterwards. Much the same can be said for the 1920s: Labour polled 30%+ from 1922 on, and made gains in opposition, indicating that they would have polled higher in the interim had polls been taken. As Labour supplied ministers during the coalitions from 1915-22, we probably have to go back to at least 1915 for when Labour last polled below 23% in opposition. The one possible exception would be after the formation to the national government in 1931, when MacDonald ratted on his party. In that confused period and with Labour divided and in disarray, it’s not unreasonable to think that some very low scores might have been recorded. Unfortunately, no contested by-election occurred between the formation of the National government and the 1931 election, so we’ll never know.


During February the Tories have defended NINE local by-elections – they only managed to retain TWO

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Harry Hayfield’s Local By-Election Summary : February 2017

February local by election aggregate % vote shares with changes on last time
CON 24%-5
LAB 24%-5
LD 28%+18
UKIP 9%-6
OTH 9%+3

Liberal Democrats 7,162 votes (28% +18% on last time) winning 7 seats (+4 seats on last time)
Labour 6,305 votes (24% -5% on last time) winning 5 seats (+1 seat on last time)
Conservatives 6,255 votes (24% -5% on last time) winning 2 seats (-7 seats on last time)
United Kingdom Independence Party 2,468 votes (9% -6% on last time) winning 1 seat (-1 seat on last time)
Other Parties 2,337 votes (9% +3% on last time) winning 2 seats (+3 seats on last time)
Green Party 959 votes (4% -2% on last time) winning 1 seat (+1 seat on last time)
Independents 493 votes (2% -4% on last time) winning 0 seats (-1 seat on last time)
Liberal Democrat lead of 857 (4%) on a swing from Lab to Lib Dem of 11.5% (No swing from Con to Lab)

Liberal Democrats GAIN Brinsworth and Catcliffe on Rotherham from Lab
Labour GAIN Dinnington on Rotherham from UKIP
Liberal Democrats GAIN Fairford North on Cotswold from Con
Liberal Democrats GAIN Waterside on North Norfolk from Con
United Kingdom Independence Party GAIN Great and Little Oakley on Tendring from Ind
Bollington First GAIN Bollington on Cheshire East from Con
Green Party GAIN Lydbrook and Ruardean on Forest of Dean from UKIP
Residents for Uttlesford GAIN two seats in Elsenham and Henham on Uttlesford from Lib Dem
Liberal Democrats GAIN Emmbrook on Wokingham from Con
Labour GAIN Winklebury on Basingstoke and Deane from Con
Liberal Democrats GAIN Barton on Kettering from Con
Liberal Democrats GAIN Charterlands on South Hams from Con


Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central: What have we learned?

Friday, February 24th, 2017

It is in the nature of political junkies, like sharks, to be constantly moving forwards, and like goldfish, to be constantly forgetting what has just happened.  We should try to do better.  In the wake of two extraordinary by-elections we should reflect on their implications.  Because, as it happens this time, their implications are manifold.

The Conservatives did incredibly well

This is one of those rare occasions where the media have actually underplayed something.  The Conservatives’ victory in Copeland is off-the-scale impressive.

Others have written about how Copeland was the first government by-election gain since 1982 and how it represents a new landmark not achieved since 1960, 1929 or 1878 according to taste.  The swing to the Conservatives is bigger than that to any governing party in a by-election since at least 1950.  The last time the Conservatives achieved a gain in vote share at a by-election was 1982 in Beaconsfield (by 0.1% against a Labour candidate called Tony Blair).  In Copeland, the Conservatives put 8.5% on their vote share.

But the Conservatives also did extremely well in Stoke Central.  They started in third but far from being squeezed they put on vote share there also.  Remember, this was one of only seven occasions since 1970 where a government party has put on vote share in a by-election.  To do so from third is quite remarkable.

Bear in mind that sitting governments normally do much better at general elections than in by-elections and the Conservatives are potentially heading for a landslide that would far eclipse 1983 and perhaps 1997.

UKIP now lack meaning

Stoke Central was supposed to be UKIP’s big opportunity.  A seat where they were already in second place with a relatively small swing required for victory, where they had a substantial existing vote share and where Leave had won overwhelmingly, it was by my reckoning in their top ten most promising targets.  But they made no real progress towards winning it.

It would be easy to lay the blame on the candidate.  Certainly he did not help.  Paul Nuttall, through his strained relationship with the truth, seemed to put the nut into Nuttall and in doing so he ensured that UKIP got the all out of f-all.

That would be easy, but it would be far from the whole story.  The Conservatives gained vote share in Stoke Central – even though they started third.  In some ways this was even more astonishing than their victory in Copeland.  By taking ownership of Brexit, the Conservatives have deprived UKIP of meaning.  You might very well argue that represents a victory for UKIP’s ideas, but as an electoral force the purple team now look marooned.

The Lib Dems are barely off the canvass in Leave-voting seats

The Lib Dems have been doing very perkily in local council by-elections and had put in excellent performances in the Parliamentary by-elections in Witney and Richmond Park.  But while they have increased vote share in Sleaford & North Hykeham, Copeland and Stoke Central, they have only done so from deposit-losing levels to barely respectable levels.  They were not remotely in contention in any of these three seats, despite rushes of enthusiasm from their activists (particularly in Stoke Central).

The Lib Dems have sought to position themselves as the party of Remain.  In Leave-voting seats, they have yet to succeed.  Worse, in the 1980s, they were able to scoop all of the None Of The Above vote for themselves.  With the advent of UKIP and the Greens, the NOTA party is not a single party any more.

It’s important to keep perspective.  The Lib Dems have improved markedly in Remain areas.  18 months ago they seemed completely irrelevant everywhere. They have work to do in Leave areas if they are going to be anything more than almost completely irrelevant. But at least they have some areas of relevance now.

Labour are in very very serious trouble

It is hard to overstate just how bad the Copeland result was for Labour.  They didn’t just lose, they were soundly beaten by the Conservatives.  They lost vote share in both Copeland and Stoke Central (and if the combined Conservative/UKIP vote had been as unevenly divided in Stoke Central as it was in Copeland, they would have lost both seats).  It’s unfair to compare Jeremy Corbyn’s performance with the 1997 results -– no one is expecting him to win a landslide – but it’s reasonable to compare his performance with 2005, a fairly run-of-the-mill overall majority.  In under 12 years Labour have lost over a quarter of their vote share in both constituencies.

Since the referendum vote, Labour have lost vote share at every seriously contested by-election.  Opposition parties should be gaining vote share at by-elections in all bar the most extreme circumstances.  The circumstances are extreme.

If any Labour supporters are comforting themselves that at least UKIP were seen off in Stoke Central, they are deluding themselves.  In almost every constituency, the Conservatives are their real opponents.  Both these results showed the Conservatives are doing unbelievably well.

If Labour are to avoid a defeat that exceeds that of the Conservatives in 1997 for severity, they need to act fast.  Time is not on their side.

Alastair Meeks


If UKIP can’t crack FPTP soon it’ll find itself almost without elected reps when current MEP terms end

Friday, February 24th, 2017

Once again an election for a Westminster seat has highlighted the struggle UKIP has with first past the post elections. Even though it was placed third in terms of national vote share at GE2015 it only managed one of the 650 MPs. That was, of course, Carswell’s Clacton seat which he’d won in the 2014 by election when he’d stood as a defector incumbent.

Getting to be top dog in one of the Westminster seats requires a very different approach to campaigning than the party brand building that serves the purples well in the EU parliament elections.

The party has struggled enormously with English council seats as well for the very same reason.

The next PR type elections that could prove fertile for Nuttall’s party are those for the list seats in the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections.

Given where UKIP started from, 2nd at GE2015, in Stoke and the way the constituency voted in the referendum all looked good for the party especially as the leader had put himself forward.

It was not to be and the hoped for switching from GE2015 CON voters didn’t happen.

Would it have been any different with the nomination form address issue and of course the Hillsborough revelations? Hard to say.

But unless UKIP is very lucky indeed there won’t be a by-election with as much promise again before GE2020. The Tories have shown that they can pick up seats in the north.

Mike Smithson


If Labour don’t take the lead in the polls, is that how John McDonnell topples Jeremy Corbyn?

Friday, February 24th, 2017

If Corbyn is toppled will it be one of his inner circle that wields the dagger?

Earlier on this month John McDonnell gave an interview in which he said the polls will reverse in the next 12 months. We’ve already seen articles saying that McDonnell is taking over. If McDonnell feels that Labour aren’t going to improve, he might end up saying to Corbyn he should stand down.

This chart shows Labour’s continuing decline, surely the likes of McDonnell and Diane Abbott (who has start rebelling against Corbyn) will realise the party they love is at the risk an extinction level election, and will urge Corbyn to stand aside, for the greater good.

If the PLP want to topple Corbyn they might need to start working with John McDonnell, after all it wasn’t just Brutus who was involved in the assassination of another JC, Julius Caesar.