Archive for May, 2018


Taking Back Control

Monday, May 28th, 2018

At this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, Birmingham City Council had an exuberantly floriferous display celebrating the Windrush generation.  It is a reminder (to non-gardeners at least) that many of the plants we think of as essential to the British garden come from the farthest reaches of the world.  A gentle – and quintessentially British – pastime (often unkindly seen as an activity best suited for the limbo between retirement and death) owes its beauty and variety to imports from China, South Africa, Turkey and South America.

As in gardening so in other spheres.  Much of what we see as British has had foreign influences which have – over time – subtly changed and mixed with the local to create what we have now.  Being British – whether we refer to flora, horses, monarchs, the English language or even our financial system (which owed much to Lombards and the Dutch long before American bankers arrived) – has rarely involved an insistence on biological, racial or other tests of purity.  Almost in spite of itself, Britain has been a melting pot quite as successful as – and for longer than – its noisier American cousin.

And yet.  Two years ago Britain voted to leave the EU largely because of concerns about immigration, concerns which were in part expressed in crudely offensive ad hominem terms.  Britain is not alone in this.  Across Europe immigration is one of the top two concerns in countries as varied as France and Lithuania.  Politicians in Denmark, Germany, Austria, France and Italy have spoken about creating hostile environments, deportations and closing borders.

In all the words agonisingly written to explain this, the underlying assumption has generally been that the desire to control migration cannot be a good in itself but can only have arisen because of other factors: poverty, social exclusion, wage pressure, rage at globalisation, cocking a snook at the elites, lack of education, xenophobia, hatred of different religions and cultures, racism, a fear of terrorism, nostalgia for a non-existent age.  

All of these have been put forward as factors which far right populists have used for their own sinister ends.  Immigration is assumed to be a good with no or few downsides and only illiberal barbarians would try to control it. Easy to see why many think this: there is a natural sympathy for the poor and oppressed seeking a better life; scapegoating others has a long and dishonourable history; people like to think of themselves as friendly and welcoming; few closed societies are successful or pleasant.

But there is a liberal case for immigration control.  And it needs to be made – and by those who want to strengthen and preserve an open, welcoming liberal democracy.

It is the belief that a country is not simply a geographical area with space to be filled up but a society, a home, a family, whose members have mutual obligations and an often unexpressed sense of solidarity with and to each other.

It is the belief that to maintain a sense of society, the social cohesion and shared – if usually unexpressed – assumptions necessary to make democracy work, its citizens should be able to choose who is let in and on what terms.  All the more so when that democracy is seeking to make a welfare state work.

It is a belief that an immigration policy which does not have the consent of a country’s citizens lacks a fundamental legitimacy and that lack, if not addressed, is corrosive to a democracy’s underpinnings.

It is a belief in the rule of law and fairness – that if there are rules, there should be consequences for those who break them. When people see migrants breaking the law to get here without any consequences, it makes those who do respect the law feel they are being taken advantage of.

One of the reasons people were outraged by the injustices done to the Windrush immigrants or some EU citizens was that it looked as if a failure to deal with illegal migration was being compensated for by arbitrary harshness to those here legally.  It suggested a state which is incompetent, arbitrary and malicious.  If it can behave thus to those who have a right to be here, very few of us can be confident of not being caught by its capricious tentacles.

But that outrage does not mean that people want those who do break immigration laws to be allowed to get away with it.  The rule of law will be undermined rather than strengthened if countries fail to enforce laws because it is too difficult to do so or because they are afraid of emotional blow-back.

It is the belief that people in a country are not simply economic units but people with a shared history, culture, values, attitudes and that without this glue a society can end up fracturing or end up being held together by ever more authoritarian governance.  Without such bonds ever increasing diversity and differences risk weakening a society.

It is a belief that the economic advantages immigrants may bring are not – and should not be – the only relevant admission criteria: a willingness and ability to integrate on the host society’s terms are necessary if society is not to atomise into mutually uncomprehending or hostile groups.  Otherwise tolerance can end up being little more than turning a blind eye to behaviour which undermines the very liberties a society claims to cherish.

It is an understanding that change can be destabilising and unsettling and that, therefore, immigration needs to be at a pace and in numbers which permit comfortable absorption.  It is an understanding that all change, even change for the better, has a cost and that the costs and benefits of such change need to be fairly shared.

For all the endless discussion of immigration, racism and diversity there has been over recent years, we have got this debate – and our policy – the wrong way round.  We have ended up talking about and, in some cases, behaving towards immigrants in a harsh way without achieving any real control.  Those with justifiable concerns have not been satisfied while liberals have clutched their pearls at the language used.  It is quite some achievement to be both ineffective and nasty.

The right and responsible thing to do is to manage immigration in the national interest. That means making hard-headed decisions about who to let in and who to keep out and doing so primarily in the interests of existing citizens.  It means being clear that the would-be immigrant’s “I want” should not automatically get or override a society’s collective right to determine what sort of society it wants to be and that making such a choice is not inherently anti-immigrant but the mark of a grown-up society.  It means reconsidering whether asylum laws and Conventions written in and for a different age need to be reviewed and rewritten.

Above all, it means taking back control both from the “Abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends” crowd and those who think that wanting any limit on or control over immigration is the mark of Cain.  One test for Sajid Javid is whether he can make a start on doing so.



Esther McVey’s betting problem is why I’m taking the 20/1 on her as next out of the cabinet

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

There’s a very interesting story in today’s Sunday Times about Esther McVey, the Sunday Times say

Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, has been accused of breaching the ministerial code after she led a cabinet revolt against gambling reforms weeks after accepting hospitality from a betting firm.

Jon Trickett, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, has written to the prime minister to demand an investigation of the alleged conflict of interest.

In the letter he accuses McVey of breaching the ministerial code, which requires ministers to “ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests”.

It also states that “no minister should accept gifts which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an obligation”.

McVey came under pressure after it was revealed that she and her partner, Philip Davies, the Tory MP for Shipley, attended the Cheltenham festival on March 16 as guests of William Hill. Davies recorded in the MPs’ register that he had received two tickets, worth £270 each. There was no mention of the ticket on McVey’s entry in the register.

She declined to say whether she had told ministers about the hospitality when arguing against cutting the maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals. But in his letter Trickett says he understands she did not — an admission, he claims, that amounts to a conflict of interest.

The Sunday Times also note that Mr Davies received two tickets for eight racing events in the last year, but if like a good partner he took his other half to some of those events Ms McVey will be in trouble.

Whilst the amounts involved are relatively trivial I’m working on the premise there could be several other breaches of the ministerial code which could lead to the death by a thousand cuts and the minister in trouble gets described as beleaguered.

Since she joined the cabinet Ms McVey has performed poorly culminating with an answer over the rape clause when applying and receiving benefits  that sounded appalling and could have been delivered by Theresa May at her robotic worst.

This has been a surprise to those, myself included, who thought she might have been Theresa May’s successor. Had she not lost her seat in 2015 Esther McVey would have almost certainly joined the cabinet in 2015 and could have been a potential successor to David Cameron.

Currently Esther McVey is 20/1 with Ladbrokes as next out of the cabinet, that price won’t last long I suspect.



Nick Palmer ponders: What should a Brexiteer do next?

Sunday, May 27th, 2018


I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m not just a Remainer but a Europhile. I like the EU. I admire the work of the European Parliament. I would cheerfully sign up to a single European country.

Nonetheless, it’s always important to see politics from different viewpoints. Suppose you are a keen Brexiteer Tory MP. You’re delighted that we voted Leave. However, it appears that the Government is inching towards a very soft Brexit. Lots of money will be paid with no guarantee of a trade deal. Transitional arrangements will reach far into the future. The power to control European immigration may be only lightly exercised. Something objectively resembling a customs union will probably be agreed. Trade deals with the US and other countries may be elusive.

What do you do next? It is possible that these things will not come to pass, and we will head into a hard Brexit or indeed a no deal outcome. But if they do?

You could join UKIP. However, UKIP is at present a near-bankrupt joke. Rivals have stopped bothering to attack it – they just smile tolerantly. It’s a waste of your time and career suicide.

You could support the deal, for want of better. But on the above scenario they have undermined almost everything you wanted from Leave. Do you want to show that you are blindly loyal and all future threats to defect can be ignored?

You could join Labour. But Labour opinion about Leave ranges from unenthusiastic acceptance to fanatical opposition. Not very promising for you, and you don’t like Corbyn.

You could join the LibDems. This is fanatical opposition HQ. Are you a masochist?

You could help set up a new UKIP. New parties in Britain are almost always doomed.

Or you could stay in the Tories but vote down the EU deal, allying with Labour who will no doubt be saying that they accept Leave but this particular deal is rubbish. You could bring down Mrs May while you’re at it, or not, but that’s actually a separate issue: it might be wise to proclaim loyalty to May, while disagreeing with this particular deal.

We then get No Deal. What happens then? Possibly a new leader. Possibly a new election. Or, quite possibly on her record, May grimly soldiers on, and makes the best of the situation. Whatever – elections come and go, some good, some bad. But Britain is decisively free from entanglements, and out there is the world on its own, for better or worse.

I wouldn’t like that. You might not be keen. But is there really a better alternative that doesn’t make Leave almost completely pointless?

I’ve always thought that May and the EU will reach a deal. I still think so. But, given this analysis, I really wonder if the Parliamentary arithmetic will work.


Nick Palmer (Ex LAB MP and longstanding PB poster)


Why betting on the Republicans in the House mid-terms may be the right strategy

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Ian Whittaker on his betting plan

The consensual view on the November mid-terms has been that the Democrats are favourites to win back the House in November.It is almost a given that a party that holds the White House loses seats – Clinton and Bush picked up a few seats in 1998 and 2002 but under unusual circumstances (pushback against Impeachment for Clinton, the aftermath of 9/11 for Bush). Trump disgust is seen as a powerful force for Democrats to turn out and independents to switch sides. The Mueller probe casts a shadow over the Presidency. Moreover, the Maths seem to favour the Democrats. Democrats have to win 23 seats, fewer than the Democrats won in 2006 and 2008 and the Republicans in 2010. There are 23 seats where Clinton won in 2016 but where there are Republican House members. Pennsylvania’s court ruling helps the Democrats in several seats. Special elections in Arizona and Pennsylvania (Conor Lamb) show a swing to the Dems.

However, I think the value is more in the Republicans winning the House, which you can get for 5/4 at Ladbrokes.

First, the Democrats lead in the Generic polls is shrinking. As Mike said, it is down to 3.4% and on a downward trend. The quite frequent double-digit Democrat poll leads have disappeared (the last one was in late April) and there is a question whether the Democrats are suffering from Labour’s problem over here in that it is building up huge but useless majorities in safe seats, which could exaggerate their position.

Second, the economy is improving and Trump is getting the credit. According to CBS, 64% rate the economy as doing well or very well and, importantly, 68% credit Trump’s policies, either strongly or somewhat, with that strength. GDP growth, jobs growth, wage growth all point to a buoyant US economy and Trump’s ratings are improving, 44% on average think he is doing a good job, not great but not disastrous.

Third, the Republicans are far ahead of the Democrats on fundraising,. Up to and including April, they had raised c. $185m and plan to spend $250m on the election. Republican turnout in primaries is up substantially (61% up in West Virginia, 43% in Indiana and 48% in Ohio) and the ground machine looks well prepared and slick. Democrats do have their strengths and, while the national party is in debt, local candidates have been well funded. However, that is a problem because it makes it far easier for the Republicans to shift resources to well needed.

Fourth is impeachment. While Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi states impeachment of Trump is not on the table, that message is constantly undermined by activities and other influential Democrats such as Maxime Waters who says a Democrat-controlled House will push for it. That is a problem, it fires up Republicans to turn out and it alienates swing voters. The more talk of impeachment, the more likely swing voters will stick with the lesser of two evils, essentially in a strong economy.

Finally, I think there will be a “wild card”
and that is the Mueller investigation but not in the way you may think. The increasing narrative on the Republican side is that, yes, there is a scandal bigger than Watergate but that scandal is the Obama Administration deliberately placed spies in the Trump campaign in 2016 to spy on his campaign (FWIW, the fact both the NY Times and Washington Post are quoting sources saying, yes, there was a source inputted but it was for the good of Trump etc suggests there is something that is about to come out). The narrative is already firing up Republicans, and if anything fishy comes out, is likely to impact swing voters.

If you do not want to take the risk on the House, then the 4/7 on the Republicans with more than 50 Senate seats on Ladbrokes looks a very safe bet. Ticket splitting is getting rarer and Trump has delivered to the conservatives on judicial appointments. With a fair chance, there could be at least one Supreme Court justice retiring, that gives an incentives to turn out. The Republicans have learnt from the Moore fiasco in Alabama and gone for sensible choices in WV, OH and ID. The Dems only hopes are Nevada and Arizona, and the latter seems too much of a push. The Republicans, on the other hand, would seem to have a very good chance in Indiana, West Virginia (depending on the losing Republican primary candidate getting on the ballot), Montana and North Dakota, with Missouri another good option. I have not seen individual state Senate bets but I would go for Rick Scott in Florida, which I think will be another Republican pick-up and Ohio might also be worth a look.

PS for matters of disclosure on whether to listen to me, I won on Brexit and the US Presidentials but did horribly on the 2017 GE ex-TSE’s great tip on Scottish Tories 🙂

Ian Whittaker


Local By-Election Review : May 24th / 25th 2018

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Aylsham on Broadland (Con defence)
Result: Lib Dem 1,018 (46% +15% on last time), Con 865 (39% +7% on last time), Lab 328 (15% -7% on last time) (No UKIP candidate this time -15%)
Liberal Democrat GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 153 (7%) on a swing of 4% from Con to Lib Dem)

Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead on Horsham (Con defence)
Result: Con 661 (68% -3% on last time), Lab 158 (16%, no candidate last time), Lib Dem 148 (15% -14% on last time)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 503 (52%) on a notional swing of 9.5% from Con to Lab (5.5% from Lib Dem to Con)

Edgeley and Cheadle Heath on Stockport (Lab defence)
Result: Lab 1,709 (74% +16% on last time), Lib Dem 203 (9% +2% on last time), Con 187 (8% unchanged on last time), Green 144 (6% -3% on last time), UKIP 71 (3% -15% on last time)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 1,506 (65%) on a swing of 7% from Lib Dem to Lab (15.5% from UKIP to Lab)

Farnham, Castle on Waverley (Residents defence)
Result: Residents 354 (38% +3% on last time), Lib Dem 338 (36% +12% on last time), Con 175 (19% -7% on last time), Lab 42 (4% -11% on last time), Ind 26 (3%, no candidate last time)
Residents HOLD with a majority of 16 (2%) on a swing of 4.5% from Residents to Lib Dem (5% from Con to Residents)

Kirkby de la Thorpe and South Kyme on North Kesteven (Con defence)
Result: Lincolnshire Independents 278 (46% +10% on last time), Con 271 (45% -21% on last time), Lab 30 (5% no candidate last time), Lib Dem 27 (4% no candidate last time)
Lincolnshire Independent GAIN from Conservative with a majority of 7 (1%) on a swing of 15.5% from Con to Lincolnshire Independent

Westbury-on-Tyrm and Henleaze on Bristol (Lib Dem defence)
Result: Con 2,900 (42% +3% on last time), Lib Dem 2,704 (39% +7% on last time), Lab 891 (13% -3% on last time), Green 355 (5% -8% on last time)
Conservative GAIN from Liberal Democrat with a majority of 196 (3%) on a swing of 2% from Con to Lib Dem

Glascote on Tamworth (Lab defence)
Result: Lab 490 (43% -14% on last time), Con 478 (42% -1% on last time), UKIP 124 (11% no candidate last time), Green 55 (5% no candidate last time)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 12 (1%) on a swing from Lab to Con of 6.5%


On another planet

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Rebel Tory MPs have lost a sense of reality if they think an election will improve their position

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. In one sense that’s just a truism: that which happens is, by definition, within the bounds of the possible. However, this week’s shown up again that Bismarck’s aphorism is only true to a degree. There are plenty of politicians who are not interested in the possible but only in their own priorities. And there are others who are sufficiently deluded as to believe that their own priorities are possible, against all available evidence.

Dominic Cummings is not a politician, though he is hugely political. The driving force behind the Leave campaign is not a happy man at how the government is going about delivering it – or, as he sees it, not delivering it. In a blog post earlier this week, he made a lot of criticisms of ministers, Tory Leave MPs, civil servants and others about how they have gone about Brexit. Much of that criticism is fair enough but the mistake he makes is far too frequently to ignore the world outside Whitehall. He is not alone in this error.

The truth is that while Theresa May and her team have struggled both to formulate a policy and to implement it, this is only in part down to establishment resistance, poor advice, poor strategy and the other causes Cummings blames. It’s also down to two much simpler things.

Firstly, the government still wants to have its cake and eat it – or at least, it does officially. In truth, it must know that it cannot leave and retain most of the benefits with little of the cost or responsibilities but that doesn’t square with, on the one hand, the commitment to leave, and on the other, the desire not to significantly impede trade and other links.

And secondly, numbers. Corbyn might be offering the Tories a few free passes on Brexit that his MPs would rather he didn’t but even he has his limits. May is clearly being pulled in all directions in part because she hasn’t got a firm grip herself but mainly because she’s constantly having to assuage her own factions in order to ensure she retains a majority.

Which is presumably why the notion of another early election has again reared its head this week, with claims that Tory MPs are preparing for a snap poll this autumn. It may be that this talk is simply a ruse to enable MPs to be reselected for their constituencies as early as possible (if so, this will of itself work against the Boundary Review being approved – MPs with an assured seat will be less likely to destroy it than those who only assume that they’ll be readopted). However, it may be that the talk is in earnest.

The suggestion from the anonymous MP in the Metro was that an election would somehow clear the air. This is the point at which the art of the possible has become the art of delusion.

    Any strongly Leave Tory MP who thinks that their cause would be aided by an early election is on another planet.

In fact, it’s not clear whether the MP even understands the process. He (let’s assume it’s a man) says that a Vote of No Confidence in the PM would probably lead to a general election. That might be true but it’s convoluted. For a start, a VoNC in the PM within parliament wouldn’t carry any constitutional weight; it’s only such a vote in the government that’d matter. Perhaps he’s lazily using one as shorthand for the other. If so, the government would only lose if the DUP withdraw support or if at least five Tories vote against their own party – something which would immediately result in their expulsion, assuming that the government wanted to win.

In this scenario, the Conservatives would be in obvious chaos, without a meaningful Brexit policy (and unable to implement one if it did exist), losing the support of its own MPs or its ally, and suffering serial defeats in the Commons. How could it credibly run an election campaign? What would it be campaigning for? How could it say what it would do? In such a state of paralysis, it would be a sitting duck for Corbyn’s energetic campaign assertions.

On the other hand, if he meant that the Tory MPs would No Confidence the PM, then he’s talking about a party leadership election. While that could in theory be carried out quickly – as those that resulted in the election of Howard and May were – that would almost certainly not be the case if the Tories were deeply divided. We’d be looking at maybe six weeks of a Tory leadership campaign, followed by another five or six weeks of a general election, if the new PM felt, as the MP presumably he would, that a national mandate was necessary.

While under this scenario, the Tories wouldn’t necessarily be heading for the certain defeat that they would if they lost control of the Commons, it’d still take around three months out of what is already a tight negotiating timetable, meaning that the only options then would be to take the deal on offer from the EU (in which case, why bother with the elections), to reject the deal (which would be an exceptionally high-risk and potentially high-cost option), or to request an extension. These options would also be the only ones open to a Labour government, should one form in the late autumn.

So we return to what’s possible. An election this year would very likely lead to a Labour government and/or a Soft Brexit on the EU’s terms – and just perhaps, no real Brexit at all. You’d expect Tory MPs to do everything possible to avoid that outcome. Given that together with the DUP they have a majority, that shouldn’t be too difficult. What isn’t possible is to change things the other way: there simply neither the time nor the opportunity to shift the parliamentary maths towards Leave. Nor is there time to do as Cummings suggests, and ‘rewire’ the mechanics of power in Whitehall, even before considering whether such a revolution would be a wise idea in the middle of the most complex negotiation in generations.

All in all, I think that the 7/1 offered against an election this year (Betfred) is short by at least a factor of three. There is neither the need nor the desire for yet another national poll and it’d be an act of both desperation and foolishness were Tory MPs to trigger one – and while some might be desperate, they’re not foolish.

David Herdson


Sajid Javid moves to second favourite to succeed Theresa May

Friday, May 25th, 2018

From a 3.7% chance to 9%+ in just 25 days

Following a glowing write-up by Fraser Nelson in The Telegraph this morning there’s been a lot of been a fair bit of betting interest in the Home Secretary for next Conservative leader.

This is from the Nelson piece in which he looks at how Javid is handling his new job:

“His first change – rhetorical style – is relatively easy. The bigger test will be if he can win the battle that his predecessor kept losing: creating a more sensible immigration regime with more Tier 2 visas for highly-skilled workers. Ms Rudd wanted to let in a lot more doctors, engineers and computer programmers. Mrs May wanted no deviation from the overall target – and she won. This, of course, is the inflexibility that led to the Windrush debacle. If Mr Javid can replace this with a more liberal system – which can easily be introduced after Brexit – he’ll have won the gratitude of his party.

He isn’t disliked, which counts for a lot at a time when Tory leadership elections are won by whoever has the fewest enemies. When he ran for the leadership two years ago, the junior partner on a joint ticket with the now-forgotten Stephen Crabb, they presented themselves as the “nice guy” duo. That was the biggest boast either could make, having not achieved much or made clear what they stood for. As Home Secretary, Mr Javid is making it clearer now: he’s a reformer, someone who wants to change the tone of the party and is impatient for radical change. Someone who’s sure of himself and his form of conservatism… “

The favourite continues to be Jacob Rees-Mogg although he has seen a decline in recent weeks. My long-standing view has been that Rees-Mogg would find it hard to secure the support of 150 or more Conservative MPs required to get him onto the party members’ ballot. This is, of course, restricted to the top two elected by MPs.

Can Javid do it? Don’t know and in recent times baldies have not prospered in the role. Just think Hague and IDS.

Everything, of course, depends on timing of the next leadership contest. Is Theresa May really going to step down after brexit next March or is she going to be pushed beforehand? She could have caused make it right through to the end of the Parliament. Amazingly she’s been an incredible survivor so far

Mike Smithson


Think of this weekend on PB as being like the Thameslink changes

Friday, May 25th, 2018

Thanks to Liverpool getting through to the Champion’s league final and the ongoing series of strikes on SNCF – the French railway system we have a problem this weekend running PB.

TSE is off to Kiev to support his beloved Liverpool while I am having to bring my holiday forward by two days so our train trip down to Andalusia won’t be disrupted by the strikes. The result is there is no one “on duty” over the weekend.

So we have lined up a number of guest slots as well as posts prepared in advance. But if something current happens, like TMay having a re-think on something while on her holiday break, it probably won’t be covered. Any betting prices quoted are those that applied today.

TSE, hopefully reinvigorated by the outcome of the match should be back after the holiday weekend.

Mike Smithson