Archive for July, 2018


Ex-LAB MP Nick Palmer puts the case for a new election

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Quite naturally, most of the focus lately has been on Mrs May’s increasingly desperate attempts to reach a deal which steers between the Scylla of EU rejection and the Charybdis of ERG revolt. She may yet succeed. If she does, however, it is clear that it will be a narrow squeeze, built on navigation by fudge, postponement of key decisions and general statements of intent to patch the timbers of the ship where water is pouring in. It is possible to imagine a package that is generally seen as unsatisfactory but passes the Commons by a majority of, say, 15, leaving details to be resolved over an indeterminate transition period years into the future.

Whether you’re a Leaver or Remainer, do you find this an attractive prospect? The usual answer is “Well, it’s better than any available alternative.” But it isn’t. The public can be asked to resolve the problem.

To see the attractions of that, it’s important to consider just how peculiar the current Parliamentary arithmetic is. By pure chance, we’ve ended up with an alliance of convenience with an Ulster party enjoying little respect on the mainland, facing a disparate and divided opposition. The current arithmetic gives both the ERG and the DUP power beyond their numbers. A small shift of say 20 seats either way would transform the situation. 20 more broadly loyal Conservatives would give a Conservative PM – whether May or not – the room to manoeuvre either to an EEA-like outcome or a clear Brexit. 20 more broadly loyal Labour MPs would give Corbyn a mandate to form a loose coalition government, insufficient in number to implement a radical programme but overwhelmingly based on MPs with no particular passion for Brexit, making an EEA-like deal relatively easy to reach.

The polls suggest another close race, and of course we might end up with exactly the same balance of power. But it’s not very likely. Nearly every election in history has shifted the needle on the dial one way or the other, and it’s likely that we would see a clearer outcome.

The point is that both outcomes would actually be more in the national interest than the status quo. Labour supporters would be dismayed to see a solid Tory majority, but many might concede that it could be better for the country than total paralysis. Conversely, many Tories terrified of Corbyn might feel that a period constrained by LibDems and SNP during which the Brexit dilemma was actually resolved might, again, be better than stumbling into a post-Brexit future shaped by inchoate deals and indefinite ambiguity.

Whether the Conservatives feel such an election would best be fought under May is a matter for them, and something to resolve by the autumn. They should either back her or sack her, not leave her negotiating our future from a cell on Death Row. And once they’ve decided, they should try for a proper majority. Sooner or later another election will come anyway, and they are better off fighting one now than in the aftermath of a shambolic Brexit.

Is there time? Oh yes. The EU leaders have repeatedly made it clear that they’re up for a postponement for a few months if something will actually change. The prospect of a British Government that actually agrees with itself about what it wants will be irresistible.

“Frankly, we all need it.”

Nick Palmer

Nick was Labour MP for Broxtowe 1997-2010



The road to No Deal: Brexit’s Rubik’s Cube may simply be too difficult

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

There are too many conflicting interests to simultaneously satisfy

Rubik’s cubes were very much a craze when I was at primary school in the early 1980s. I had one, my friends had one and millions of people across the world had them. No-one I know ever solved one though. Sure, you could solve one side easily enough but to solve all six? Certainly it was possible – you saw people on television doing it – but we simply didn’t understand the maths or mechanics necessary, and didn’t have the vision or capacity to try.

That cube could be a metaphor for Brexit (except that the sides all have feelings and have to be coaxed, persuaded and threatened into place rather than simply rotated – if indeed they’ll go at all). Theresa May is the player – and she could be forgiven for feeling not unlike my friends and me so many years ago.

The simple facts are these: to get an Article 50 exit deal, she needs an actual text which can:
Gain the acceptance of enough of the other 27 EU member states to pass the QMV threshold.
Gain the support of the House of Commons.
Gain the support of the European Parliament.
Not provoke a leadership challenge within her party, either directly from her MPs or as a consequence of cabinet / government resignations.
Retain the support of the DUP.

Is there a deal which could satisfy these four groups? We’ve seen these last two weeks how much push back there was from Conservative ministers and MPs – forcefully supported by Party members – against the Chequers Plan. In effect, the PM has found the limit of how far her Party will allow her to go (for now).

Against which, Michel Barnier, on behalf of the Commission and the Council, has rejected the Plan as being incompatible with the customs union and undermining the indivisibility of the four freedoms and the Single Market. You might think that as the UK government wants to leave the Single Market, its indivisibility shouldn’t be in question – the principle that the UK has signed up to is precisely that you can’t expect all the benefits if you don’t accept all the obligations – but apparently not.

The European Parliament is something of the Cinderella in this drama but we shouldn’t entirely ignore it. While I don’t think it’s likely that it would vote down something that the members states and the Commission was prepared to sign off, it shouldn’t be taken entirely for granted – particularly if they perceive a weakening of the Ever Closer Union principles.

How certain is it that there’s no overlap between what Tory MPs will accept and what can be agreed in Brussels? Will pressure of time mean that red lines on both sides are, in fact, not quite so colourful? The signs are not hopeful. The EU has proven flexible on points of detail but on its main negotiating objectives, it has proven granite-like. And while May has extracted considerable movement from her Party, the fact that public opinion, such as has been polled (I don’t entirely trust the public’s self-assessment of their own awareness on the details of the Plan), is heavily against. May has few arguments or weapons to wield to convince MPs to act against their instincts, other than predictions of doom on No Deal. If she were to be toppled, her replacement would have to be either from the Eurosceptic right or having given absolute guarantees to them. Either way, if May falls, a Brexit deal becomes a whole lot harder.

One scenario which seems popular on social media among convinced Remainers is that parliament will somehow force a deal upon the government. But this fails to understand several points. Firstly, parliament can only approve a deal if there is a deal to approve – and for there to be a deal, the government would have had to negotiation one. Unless they simply take the EU’s terms off the peg. In reality, there would be nothing to vote on. Secondly, who is going to lead this uprising? Labour, under Corbyn? He has other priorities. The SNP? They too have other priorities and preserving the Union isn’t among them. Labour backbenchers? It’s almost impossible to see where the numbers come from unless they ally with a sizable number of Tory backbenchers – and there aren’t enough pro-EU Con MPs for that.

In theory, she could ‘do a Peel’ and split her party to deliver a cross-party majority. However, it’d be completely against her nature and she’d be No Confidenced if she brought back – and advocated – a Single Market continuity option. So she wouldn’t just have to suffer a split, she’d have form a new ministry with (brief) Labour support to get her deal through – which would be then immediately withdrawn, leading to a general election which Corbyn would win easily against the wreckage on the right.

Nor can the usual Brussels tricks of fudging the wording or kicking the can work. There could be an extension to the Article 50 process but to what end? Unless one or both sides are prepared to move substantially then buying more time doesn’t achieve anything. (Although the Brexit Date of 29 March is in the EU Withdrawal Act, my reading is that this can be amended under the Henry VIII powers contained within it). And the probability is that one or other side would revolt against the proposal unless agreement was close on acceptable terms.

But this is one of those occasions when fudge is hard. Either there is no customs border between Britain and Ireland, or there is – and if there is, it’s either in the Irish Sea or the Irish border. Either Britain is in the customs union or it isn’t. Either the four freedoms apply or they don’t. At some point in Schroedinger’s Brexit, the box has to be opened.

On Ireland alone, the EU and Dublin say they won’t accept a hard border, nor will Brussels accept a division in customs arrangements between the Republic and N Ireland. But the DUP and Tories won’t accept an internal division within the UK, and government policy is to leave the Customs Union. These are, and always have been, incompatible.

Some have pointed out that while there’s no majority in parliament for any given deal, nor is there one for No Deal either, which must now also be voted on if nothing’s been agreed by 21 January 2019. However, while parliament can vote to reject the principle of no deal, this vote isn’t binding and in any case, while rejecting a given deal gives ‘no deal’ as a definite alternative, rejecting ‘no deal’ doesn’t do the same in reverse.

And that’s why we are where we are. More than two years after the referendum, not only are the two sides still far apart but as soon as you move in one area, it knocks something else out. It is the Brexit Rubik cube in action.

But maybe there is a solution. I did once solve the cube. I peeled off the stickers and put them back so as to form the completed design. Some would argue that this is cheating but that depends on your view of the rules of the game. With Brexit, the result is what matters, not the process.

A genuine No Deal outcome would be disastrous, with immense disruption to movement, supply chains, rights and contracts – not just in Britain but across Europe and particularly in neighbouring countries. Such a situation would surely be unlikely to be allowed to happen for any time and a whole set of emergency agreements based on mutual recognition of standards, licences and so on (which on 29 March 2019 would be identical to both) would develop. That, rather than the formal A50 process, is the likely deal.

David Herdson


The other upcoming leadership contest – Who will replace Jeremy Corbyn?

Friday, July 27th, 2018


Alastair Meeks looks at the LAB leadership

Considering how little support Jeremy Corbyn has in his Parliamentary party, it is astonishing that the subject of leadership succession never comes up any more. Part of this is about airtime: there’s so much discussion about Brexit and the travails of Theresa May that no one has the energy to look at what’s going on in the Labour party.

For the moment, Jeremy Corbyn is safe from challenge. The membership have twice emphatically demonstrated that they support him and his surprisingly good performance in the general election last year has ensured that he is unquestionably the master of the Labour party.

Still, the question needs to be looked at. While Donald Trump has shown that there isn’t an upper age limit to running a democratic government, Jeremy Corbyn turns 70 next year and in the event that he became Prime Minister, a far left leader gripping the reins of power indefinitely would conjure up images of the twilight of the Soviet Union. (For the benefit of those Corbynites currently boasting of their Communist allegiances, that is not a good look.) A succession plan is needed.

As always with such markets, the first question to consider is not “who?” but “when?”. The possibilities are as follows: he steps down before the next election to hand over to an anointed successor; he steps down at some point in the next term after a general election victory; he steps down at some point in the next term after another general election defeat; or he continues as Labour leader beyond the end of the next term (whether or not he becomes Prime Minister after the next election).

How likely is each of these scenarios? Let’s take them each in turn.

Stepping down soon

I suggest that this is more likely than is generally considered. Rumours that he works a four day week have been dismissed but similar rumours that he takes time off in lieu whenever he appears on the Andrew Marr show have not. He certainly believes in a work-life balance, making time to tend his allotment. It seems entirely possible to me that he might have a retirement age in mind and intend stepping down when he reaches it. Jeremy Corbyn is apparently in reasonable health but he does turn 70 next year. If he feels able, he might well step down.

You can form your own view of this possibility but I’d say it’s at least a one in five chance. If Jeremy Corbyn does step down, he will presumably be confident of handing over to someone who he is confident will continue the project (my biggest reservation is that to date no one has obviously been groomed for the role). The obvious contenders are John McDonnell or just possibly Rebecca Long-Bailey.

The rest of the shadow Cabinet (from where an anointed successor must surely be drawn in such circumstances) either lack sufficient loyalty or lack sufficient ability or experience. Neither defect is completely insuperable. It may be that a loyal if bovine protégé might be chosen to act as a figurehead.

What of the more independent-minded? Well, Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity is uniquely personal and his endorsement of any candidate is likely to be decisive. The winner will don the mantle of his support like a lead cloak and will struggle to move freely. So Emily Thornberry, Jon Ashworth or Angela Rayner might be chosen to carry on the cause, whether or not they fully subscribe to it, if the obvious candidates are in some way seen as unsuitable. Emily Thornberry, being on personally good terms with Jeremy Corbyn and perfectly competent and presentable, might well fit the bill nicely.

Leaving in the next term after victory

This would work quite similarly. The list of potential approved candidates might be longer, though John McDonnell becomes less and less likely, given his own age. Given the turnover in the shadow Cabinet it is far from clear who might be in the mix, even if you take the view that the preferred successor must be drawn from its ranks. To the names already suggested you might add Clive Lewis and Lisa Nandy, who in this scenario have time to rehabilitate themselves with the inner circle.

Again, I see this as a significant possibility given Jeremy Corbyn’s age and given that the Parliamentary Labour party looks likely to be unruly. His age would become increasingly important: he would be 77 at the time of a hypothetical 2027 election so questions of the appropriateness of him being put forward to serve as Prime Minister for a further five years would be ever louder. I make it a 50% chance that Labour will form the next government and a 75% chance that Jeremy Corbyn will step down during that term if he wins. That makes this a 30% chance (allowing for the possibility that he has stepped down by the next election).

Leaving in the next term after defeat

This is the most interesting permutation. Corbynites have followed the old rule that if at first you don’t succeed, redefine success. They treated last year’s defeat as a victory. Will they do so a second time? If so, they will see no need to change course. The non-believers will disagree and if Jeremy Corbyn does not step down voluntarily he will probably be challenged again. My best guess is that he would not stand again but would nominate a preferred successor. In these circumstances the preferred successor would not inevitably win but would have a big head start.

Of those completely outside the circle of trust, the obvious candidate is Keir Starmer, who is Labour’s Remain figurehead. While the Labour membership is much less cult-like than popular myth would have you believe, they are looking to be the foot soldiers of a moral crusade, and no one else on the Labour centre or right currently looks capable of leading one. The far left’s grip of Labour can be broken by a charismatic figure, but charismatic figures are not in superabundance in the Parliamentary Labour party.
Given the greater pressure on Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses, I make it a higher probability that he will step down in these circumstances, something like a 90% chance. This makes this permutation a 36% chance.

Staying in office beyond the end of the next term

At this point Labour could fairly be labelled a Corbynite cult, with jokes about ageing politburos entirely justifiable. You will see that I make this a roughly one in seven chance. Who might succeed him in these circumstances would be wholly imponderable.

To the betting markets. I got rather excited when I first looked at this, because the Betfair market has an underround. However, when I looked closely, no fewer than seven shadow Cabinet ministers were not listed on the market (they have now been added). Always be aware that the eventual winner might not yet be listed.

Despite that warning, it still seems to me that there is value to be had. Even after all the events of the last three years, the prices on Jeremy Corbyn’s Parliamentary opponents remain far too short. While it is very possible that Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna or Hilary Benn might get put before the membership, nothing in Labour’s recent history suggests that they would stand an earthly chance of winning in any currently foreseeable circumstances. I also discount anyone who is not currently in Parliament or likely to be in the next Parliament. David Miliband, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham all fall down on this basis. All of these figures look like lays at current prices (if like me you have a green book from past gyrations of this market).

So who is worth backing? Emily Thornberry is justly favourite, given her personal closeness to the leader and her seniority. Her price (6.8 on Betfair at the time of writing) looks about right to me in a volatile market: this is not a favourite to lay. Rebecca Long-Bailey is available to back at 21 and that looks like value to me. I first backed her at odds of 320 to 350 in October 2016 and I’ve topped up now.

This is a market where long shots are well worth considering. You can back several shadow Cabinet ministers at three figure odds: for example, John Healey at 300 might well be a better choice than other centre figures, given his decision to work with rather than against Jeremy Corbyn. Kate Osamor is currently available at 100 and that looks worth a flutter. But I continue to believe that Lisa Nandy is the Labour figure who is thinking most deeply about what is needed next and talking about what that might mean. It has to be a better than a 28/1 shot that Labour will alight on the best choice, surely?

Alastair Meeks


Ultimately there has to be a compromise in LAB’s antisemitism row or else the party could split

Friday, July 27th, 2018

Neither side appears ready give way

It is now more than four months since Labour’s anti-semitism row hit the headlines following publication of a 2012 tweet from Mr Corbyn in which he seemed to be referring approvingly to what was clearly an anti-semitic mural.

That provoked the widely publicised demonstration of MPs opposed to the leadership’s handling of the situation, outside the Palace of Westminster.

Since then the divide has got deeper and deeper with the NEC wanting to narrow the definition of anti-semitism which provoked the main Jewish newspapers in the country to print a joint editorial attacking Labour. It was said that “A Corbyn government would be a threat to Jewish life”.

The situation has been exacerbated by the the confrontation between long-standing Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, and Corbyn for which former is now facing disciplinary proceedings.

His party’s MPs are seeking to take a different stance on the definition from the leadership and this is set to come to a head in September.

    What makes this so problematical for LAB is that fighting anything linked to Israel goes to the very heart of Corbyn’s politics over many decades because it is seen as a creation of the hated United States.

So while there are human rights abuses in many parts of the world the one that disproportionately gets singled out is Israel and many on the left want the freedom to attack it.

So at a time when LAB should be able to exploit the huge splits within the Conservative Party on Brexit it finds itself having to deal with this one which is taking all the focus away.

Currently a number of leading figures around Corbyn appear to be seeking to get him to take a softer line. John McDonnell is in that camp as is the shadow minister Rebecca Long-Bailey but Corbyn and Seumus Milne are holding firm.

I thought this comment from ydoethur on a thread yesterday summed things up right.

“Whether Labour are just being incredibly careless and complacent or whether Corbyn really is a closet Nazi, it is quite clear that this goes way, way beyond Livingstone making stupid remarks on Zionism or a shadow equalities minister calling for ethnic cleansing. This is now a systemic issue that implicates the entire Labour movement.

And unfortunately for Labour it has come (1) at the moment people are fed up with Brexit and (2) at the start of the silly season when the papers are looking for stuff to fill column inches.

I’ve been told before that there are not many Jews in this country. That is of course true. But if people get it in their heads that Labour are racist (and potentially criminals in light of other events) it’s going to hurt them badly.

Lawyers are now getting involved and it is hard to see the Hodge faction giving ground. The question is whether Corbyn/Milne are ready to give ground. If they don’t the consequences could be real for not just the party but for the whole of British politics.

Mike Smithson


For the first time YouGov finds more supporting a second referendum than opposing

Friday, July 27th, 2018

There’s a new YouGov poll in the Times which has 42% wanting a second referendum against 40% who don’t. This is significant because it is the first time that the pollster’s second referendum tracker has found this result and, undoubtedly, will increase the clamour for it to take place.

The exact wording of the tracker question is in the panel in the Tweet above. The party splits finds 58% of LAB voters wanting a new vote, 67% of LD ones with just 21% of Tory voters taking this view.

The change in the mood clearly reflects the ongoing greater uncertainty over what Brexit will involve and increasing talk of “no deal” and the need, possibly to “stockpile” food.

Other pollsters have found backing for a second vote and a lot appears to depend on the wording of the question. What makes YouGov significant is that it is a tracker question so the proposition has been put in the same form and you can monitor response over time.

My view is that given the political deadlock over what Brexit means the second referendum possibility is going to gain even more traction.

The same poll finds that in such a vote 45% would back remain and 42% would back leave.

On voting intention the poll has CON & LAB level-pegging on 38% each with the LDs in double figures on 10%.

Mike Smithson


YouGov finds TMay rated about the same as Major, ahead of Blair and Brown but behind Cameron

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Above is from some new polling just issued by YouGov in which those surveyed were asked to rate TMay against the three preceding PMs.

The Blair figures shows, I’d suggest, the continuing legacy of the Iraq war. It is perhaps worth noting that he is the only one being compared who led his party to sustainable Commons majorities. In electoral terms he is also the most successful leader in his party’s history and there are no matches in modern time for his three successive general election victories.

Cameron’s legacy will forever be calling the Brexit referendum and it is perhaps surprising that he is as being ahead of May.

The John Major figure is interesting given how he was eventually forced out of office in the biggest defeat of modern times at GE1997.

Mike Smithson


House majority betting moves sharply to the Democrats after 3 bad midwest state polls for Trump/GOP

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

The three states, Michigan,Minnesota and Wisconsin were surveyed by NBC News/Marist polls and are,of course, in the part of the US where Trump very much exceeded expectations at WH2016.

It was, of course, the mid-west where Trump won the presidency and state polling from here is going to be looked at very closely.

If these do represent represent current opinion then the Republicans are going to struggle in November’s midterm elections when all seats in the House of Representatives are up. They will encourage the Democrats in their effort to win back House something that could impede the Republicans and Trump in the run up to the next White House Race.

The outcome in November is currently the most traded political market on the Betfair exchange and from a position 3 days where the two parties were level-pegging the Republicans have slipped to a 45% chance.

What’s interesting is that these are three different polls in three states yet the overall picture is very much the same.

The Trump approval ratings in such politically sensitive states should be worrying for the White House though there is still a long way to go.

Mike Smithson


NEW PB / Polling Matters podcast – Episode 136 Deal or no deal Brexit, support for the far-right and the death penalty and more

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

On this week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi look at the levels of public support for a no-deal Brexit and how that may factor into decisions in Westminster.

Also on the podcast, the duo look at polling on support for the far-right and other potential new parties by YouGov as well as public support for the death penalty in light of Sajid Javid’s decision not to seek assurances that suspected British Jihadis will not face execution when facing trial in the United States.

All this and more (including Corbyn’s Brexit speech and the latest goings on in North Antrim) on the link below:

Follow this week’s guests