Archive for June, 2018


Confessions of a door to door fireplace salesman

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

The former fireplace salesman becomes another Tory making plans to oust Mrs May.

Today’s Mail on Sunday reports that

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has threatened to sweep Theresa May from power in a bitter Cabinet row over military cuts.

Furious Mr Williamson warned the Prime Minister that if she did not commit an extra £20 billion to the Ministry of Defence then Tory MPs would vote down the next Budget – effectively passing a motion of no confidence in her.

‘I made her – and I can break her,’ Mr Williamson is said to have boasted to service chiefs. 

The furore, described by one Williamson ally as a ‘dogfight at the heart of Government’, erupted after Mrs May announced a £20 billion-a-year boost to NHS spending last week. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond then declared there was no money left for similar boosts to defence, housing or schools spending.

When Mr Williamson said he needed his own £20 billion – a minimum of £2 billion a year extra for the next decade – to avoid damaging defence cuts, Mrs May questioned whether the UK had to be a ‘tier one’ military power.

Mr Williamson hit back that after Brexit it would be even more important for the UK to ‘sit at the top table’ internationally.

Last night a formidable array of political and military figures were lining up behind Mr Williamson in his power struggle with No 10.

They were led by the chairman of the powerful Commons defence committee, who warned that Mrs May could be ‘at political risk’ if she did not ‘do the right thing’ by increasing defence spending.

And the former head of the British Army, General the Lord Dannatt, told The Mail on Sunday that he feared Mr Williamson could be forced to resign over the issue.

This newspaper understands that in a recent meeting, Mr Williamson reassured senior members of the Armed Forces that he was fighting for more funds…

…Up to 20 Tory MPs are threatening to rebel if the Treasury and No 10 cannot find more money for defence. A powerful delegation formed of Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, along with chairmen of the defence and foreign affairs committees, are planning to meet Mrs May in the coming weeks to urge her to give a generous settlement to the MoD.

One of the few things that seems to unite the current Tory party is the contempt in which Gavin Williamson is held in by pretty much everyone. One Tory said in response to this story was to say “Williamson’s intemperate and frankly bizarre media posturing shows just how unsuited he is for any high office whatsoever. He’s over-promoted and thinks stamping his foot stops him from being found out. It doesn’t.”

So ordinarily I’d expect Mrs May to see off a rebellion from Gavin Williamson, where Mrs May will struggle is that a not inconsiderable number of Tories will find it unpalatable if the UK ceases to be a Tier One Nation on defence.

The Sunday Times says it is entirely possible within the next decade that UK moves from being Europe’s top military power to being the third most important military power after Germany and France as cuts are enacted to deliver the NHS Brexit ‘dividend’. Whilst we cut the Germans and French plan to increase defence spending.

After the Thatcher/Major defence cuts* and the disgraced Liam Fox’s botched Strategic Defence Review you’d have thought Tories would be ok with further defence cuts but this time it might be very different. Indeed a decent opposition could supplant the Tories as the party of defence, but Jeremy Corbyn, with his rich backstory, won’t be able to do that.

For those Tories with leadership ambitions making a stand on defence cuts will play well with Tory members. Mrs May needs as many allies as possible she seems keen to keep on alienating as many people as possible, this is not a viable long term strategy for her.


*The 1990s defence cuts following the end of the Cold War were described as a ‘Peace Dividend’, the government offering dividends does not have an auspicious history.


Speaker cornered. Time for John Bercow to stand down as Speaker

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

I have a soft spot for John Bercow, located somewhere around my wallet.  Over the years he has been a steady source of income for me as he has survived in office as Speaker, despite the noises off that regularly come from Conservative backwoodsmen harrumphing about his supposed rudeness and perceived unConservativeness.  Despite abundant evidence that only a small minority were willing to put their heads above the parapet, enough Bercowphobes were regularly willing to put money on the proposition that he would be ejected from the Speaker’s chair by given dates to enable me to make a decent income.

I’ve bet on John Bercow seeing out 2018 too. I expect I’ll collect on this bet. Yet here I am, arguing (against my own financial interest) that he should step down now. Why?

I need to start answering that question by explaining why I think John Bercow has been an excellent Speaker to this point. Contrary to popular belief, the Speaker’s role has never been just to be impartial. The Speaker’s role is to ensure that the legislature can effectively hold the executive to account.

John Bercow has consistently sided with the legislature against the executive, never giving it an easy ride. He has allowed Prime Minister’s Questions to expand well beyond the bounds of its original 30 minute duration – something which incidentally has allowed for more backbench voices to be heard in the prime Parliamentary slot. He has been very ready to accept urgent questions from MPs, requiring ministers to explain government policy. 

In short, John Bercow has done his best to make sure that the legislature has been given the fullest role in the governance of the country. In this regard, helped by two hung Parliaments and one tenuous overall majority, he has probably been the most effective Speaker in living memory. Some of his fondly-remembered predecessors were pretty poor at their job: their complaisance with government agendas was completely at odds with their responsibilities.

Unsurprisingly, this Speaker has not been popular with the government, who would much prefer a quiet life.  Both David Cameron and Theresa May have allowed rumours of their frustration with the Speaker to percolate into the wider public domain.  David Cameron was not above channelling animal spirits on the backbenches into frustration with the Speaker as a means of deflecting the awkward squad onto another target, in the same way that you might throw a stick for a highly strung Alsatian before it decided that it wanted to savage you.  The Speaker has been a harmless safety valve for that nervous energy.

So, why do I think John Bercow should step down now?  In short, he has reached the point on two fronts – the toxic culture of politics and Brexit – where he has become part of the problem. 

The usual suspects will be fixating about Brexit.  The Speaker is entitled to his personal views on the subject.  He was after all, like every other MP, originally elected on a political program.  Brexit, however, is unusually controversial even by the standards of most political topics.  And the government has just conceded, as part of the most controversial provision of the most controversial bill in years, that it will be for the Speaker to determine whether a motion when it is introduced by the Government under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is or is not in fact cast in neutral terms and hence whether the motion is or is not amendable. 

The compromise is opaque, the passions on both sides run high.  Different views have already been expressed about the scope of the Speaker’s powers.  The Speaker’s decision will be final and effectively unchallengeable.  There is a serious risk that Brexit will get even more divisive as one side or the other concludes that Parliamentary procedure has been used to deal a stab in the back.

Against this background, some Leavers have the concern that the Speaker will not be able to put aside his pungently-expressed personal views when exercising his powers.  Putting a “bollocks to Brexit” sticker on his car is like catnip to a group who are already apt to see vast conspiracies lurking round every corner.  It was gratuitous.  It was, it can now be seen with the benefit of hindsight, very ill-judged.

Caesar divorced his wife because she had to be above suspicion.  The House of Commons is entitled to have a Speaker who is above suspicion, particularly on such a highly charged subject.  John Bercow is not capable of being that man. 

British politics has a still bigger and more deeply rooted problem than Brexit: personal abuse of power. It is becoming increasingly apparent that politics has far too many people who feel able to take advantage of subordinates: see here and here for further depressing details.This is not confined to Westminster.

Only this week, an MSP was recommended for suspension for harassment and a Welsh Assembly report found that over a quarter of respondents had experienced inappropriate behaviour and over 30% had observed inappropriate behaviour. This is an endemic problem that urgently needs addressing.

As the legislature’s figurehead, the Speaker should be leading the charge to address this. Instead, he has been accused of bullying behaviour from several sources. He strongly denies the claims and he has to date successfully fought it even being investigated, benefiting from the casting vote of Sir Christopher Chope (more recently of infamy over the upskirting bill) blocking an inquiry.

It transpires that the Speaker had previously nominated Sir Christopher for his knighthood. Fairly or unfairly, it all looks a bit too cosy. Because John Bercow is at the centre of unresolved allegations, he cannot be the change that British politics urgently needs. Worse, that change cannot happen until he goes.

Speaker Bercow promised on his election that he would step down after nine years in office. He has evidently repented of that commitment but he should keep it. John Bercow has been a great Speaker. He should go now before he gets in the way of his role.

Alastair Meeks


A year ago BoJo was hot favourite for PM: Now those concerned about Brexit jobs are being told “F**k business”

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

The TMay successor betting since GE17

Mike Smithson


If you can’t join them, beat them: Denmark, football, Maastricht and Brexit’s genesis

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

David Herdson looks back to 1992

They shouldn’t even have been there, and had it not been for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, they wouldn’t have been. However, they didn’t let their second chance go to waste and as the leaders of the twelve EC members met in Lisbon, the plucky Danes overturned the natural order of things and defeated Germany’s assumed unstoppable progress.

As metaphors went, the football team’s 2-0 victory was perfect. 24 days earlier, the Danish electorate had rejected the Maastricht Treaty by the slender margin of 50.7 to 49.3. As the Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen – sporting a football scarf in the Portuguese summer – put it, “if you can’t join them, beat them!”

How the European Community handled that vote was seen even at the time as one of the most important decisions it would take in determining its future direction. In retrospect, it was all the more so, and ultimately set Britain on its path to Brexit.

In essence, two choices lay open: to try to assuage Danish concerns and to push on with Project Euro, or to use the Danish vote as the excuse to drop that project and to limit the EC to the Single Market and other single-issue cooperative initiatives.

That choice didn’t lie solely with the governments collectively, it lay with them individually too. John Major must have been sorely tempted to abandon a ratification process that he knew even then would cause his government, with its small and dwindling majority, any number of difficulties. However, he’d negotiated the agreement – and Britain’s opt-outs – in good faith and rightly saw himself as honour-bound to try to ratify it, providing that the other signatories were doing likewise.

There is a school of thought that says that had Britain refused to ratify, either the other countries would have signed their own agreement or they would have waited for a change of mind in the UK. I don’t think either assertion is right. To have tried to have pushed ahead with the Euro outside the structures of the EU would have been practically difficult: those who tried to would have had to have created a parallel organisation. That would have had a political spillover, to the extent that France, which only just ratified Maastricht (by 51-49) might not have done so without the guarantees that the Euro being overseen within the EC/EU institutions brought.

On the other hand, had they waited for a pro-European British government – 1997, in effect – then it wouldn’t have been just the British personnel that had changed. The Euro was born out of a confluence of political interests and beliefs of three men whose relationship allowed it to happen: Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterrand, and Jacques Delors. Kohl and Mitterrand, who both lived through WWII, were scared about the consequences of an excessively powerful Germany, particularly with the end of the Cold War meaning a lessened superpower presence in Europe and the re-emergence of weaker states to the East. They saw the Euro as the means to prevent that. By contrast, Delors was not just an advocate for European federalism but also had the forceful and dynamic personality to drive it. His plans provided the framework that Kohl and Mitterrand saw as necessary to restrain German power. However, by 1997, Delors had left office, Mitterrand was dead and Kohl’s authority was waning amid high unemployment and poor election results. Their successors had different interests, different personalities and were not operating in the heady days of the afterglow to the happy revolutions of 1989-91.

Put simply, had the Maastricht Treaty been dropped in 1993, there’s a good chance that it couldn’t have been revived and that the EC (the EU was a creation of Maastricht) would have remained a primarily economic rather than political project; the one, in fact, that Britain signed up for in the concept of the Common Market. (It is true that Ever Closer Union has always been an objective of the EEC; it’s also true that for thirty years after 1957, that supposed objective meant very little in practice).

Not that we should be too critical of the politicians of 1991-3. For one thing, we don’t know that their prime motive wasn’t right – after all, Germany’s strength was enough of a problem within the Euro; what greater problems might it have caused had it been freer to determine its own tax, spending and interest rate policies?

Back in 1992 though, Denmark managed to both beat them and, later, join them – at least as far as signing the Treaty went; it remains outside the Euro, protected by an opt-out. That worked for Denmark but not for Britain, which in the passage of Maastricht and the follow-on treaties, lost the EEC it was comfortable with and found itself faced with the increasingly stark choice of membership of a club it didn’t really want to be part of, or leaving a club it didn’t really want to be outside.

In an echo of history, the next EU summit opens in Brussels on 28 June, the same day as England’s last World Cup first round match, against Belgium. Perhaps Mrs May should turn up in an England scarf. You never know: perhaps Gareth Southgate’s boys might pull off something remarkable.

David Herdson

p.s. I appreciate that unlike with Denmark, the England football team doesn’t represent the whole of the country the PM represents but you can only make do with the opportunities given. It’s not Mrs May’s fault that Scotland, Wales or N Ireland didn’t qualify.

p.p.s. England were 12/1 at the time of writing (SkyBet) to match Denmark’s 1992 achievement and win the respective tournament. Given the performances of Brazil, Argentina and Germany so far, those are not unreasonable.


Punters now make it a 63% chance that the UK will leave the EU on March 29th next year

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

The big unknown now is the Leave campaign funding investigation

As can be seen from the chart the Brexit “will it happen on time” market has seen a fair bit of turbulence since the start of the year with YES now a 67% chance.

The recent bumps have been cause by the progress of the exit bill through both houses of parliament.

At the moment the one thing that we know about that could cause movement is the Electoral Commission investigation into the leave campaign spending and whether or not what was done was lawful.

We should know the outcome in the next few weeks and there are signs that the Commission could rule that it wasn’t. If that happens then expect it to trigger off huge legal battles by those arguing that this undermines the democratic legitimacy of the referendum. In that situation this market will move.

  • Note: I’m off to my niece’s wedding and this will be my last post today
  • Mike Smithson


    Survation Brexit anniversary poll has REMAIN 5% ahead

    Friday, June 22nd, 2018

    Chart – Survation

    By 48% to 25% those polled want a referendum on the final deal

    Tomorrow’s the second anniversary of the Brexit referendum and expect a number of polls seeking to gauge opinion now.

    First out is Survation for Good Morning Britain which finds that if the referendum was rerun today the UK would remain in the EU, for the first time since March with Survation.

    Leave 47% (-2); Remain 53% (+2)

    Significant percentages (36%-43%) of respondents have a ‘limited’ understanding of the Customs Union, Single Market and the difference between them.

    • However, more respondents identified the correct definition of single market (38%) in comparison to the correct definition of Customs Union (just 17%).

    • More respondents prefer a ‘soft’ to a ‘hard’ Brexit (43% vs 37%).

    • Nearly half (47%) believe that leaving the EU without a deal would be bad for Britain (compared to 32% for ‘good’) and only 35% of respondents believe Brexit will be good for the UK economy (compared to 39% who said it will be bad).

    • Nearly half (48%) of respondents support a referendum on the final deal (compared to 25% opposed) and 40% believe that there will be a Brexit ‘dividend’ (compared to 37% who felt the opposite).


    Mike Smithson


    Just 19% of current LAB voters think the vote to leave the EU was right

    Thursday, June 21st, 2018

    You’ve got to marvel at Team Corbyn’s ambivalence

    Just 19% of Labour voters in today’s YouGov poll think that the decision to leave the EU was right with 72% saying wrong. I think this is the widest split there’s been.

    Yet in spite of being out of line with party supporters the leadership has pursued an approach to Brexit that is very different. The remarkable thing is that this has not become an issue.

    Voters in most of the LAB seats went for leave at the Referendum and the majority of LAB gains at GE2017 in England and Wales were in leave seats.

    In many ways Corbyn is enjoying the luxury of opposition. In government, as Mrs May would not doubt tell you, things are very different.

    Mike Smithson


    Michael Bloomberg to spend $80m helping the Democrats in key races at the November midterms

    Thursday, June 21st, 2018

    Could this help turn the tide?

    For nearly a year the betting markets have made a Democratic party House win in November’s midterm the favourite. These, of course, are the key elections that come up half way through a presidential term when the whole of the House is up for election as well as about a third of the Senate. The Democrats margin has narrowed very sharply on Betfair but the blues are still just ahead. From the betting perspective this is viewed as being very tight.

    What could turn out to be highly significant news in US electoral politics is not Trump’s u-turn on separating immigrant children from their parents but that ex-New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg has announced plans that could make a huge difference in the coming elections. These should give a good take on how Trump’s Republicans are doing and whether or not the incumbent might succeed in winning the nomination again and going for a second term.

    Also if the Republicans lose control of the House then it could impede Trump’s ability to bring in legislation.

    This is how the New York Times is reporting the development:

    “..Mr. Bloomberg … has approved a plan to pour at least $80 million into the 2018 election, with the bulk of that money going to support Democratic congressional candidates, advisers to Mr. Bloomberg said.

    By siding so emphatically with one party, Mr. Bloomberg has the potential to upend the financial dynamics of the midterm campaign, which have appeared to favor Republicans up to this point. Facing intense opposition to President Trump and conservative policies, Republicans have been counting on a strong economy and heavily funded outside groups to give them a political advantage in key races, especially in affluent suburbs where it is expensive to run television ads.

    Mr. Bloomberg’s intervention is likely to undermine that financial advantage by bankrolling advertising on television, online and in the mail for Democratic candidates in a dozen or more congressional districts, chiefly in moderate suburban areas where Mr. Trump is unpopular. Democrats need to gain 23 congressional seats to win a majority..”

    Mike Smithson