Archive for September, 2018

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With polls showing a sharply contrasting picture let’s look at the trend in real election with real voters

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Harry Hayfield’s 2018 Q3 review

For all the talk of Labour advancing and the Conservatives getting stuck in the quagmire that is Brexit, the fact that in the third quarter of 2018 in the local by-elections there’s been such a tiny swing from Con to Lab really does show that the Westminster bubble is just that, a bubble.

Perhaps this is why the national polls are showing anything from a Con lead of 6% to a Lab lead of 1%, suggesting that people are not confident with either party to lead them towards Brexit. This, if it is indeed the case raises a serious question. Why, despite their good performance in local by-elections, are the Lib Dems missing in action at Westminster?

Harry Hayfield



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Polling boost for beleaguered Theresa as the Tory conference opens in Birmingham

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Her party retakes the lead with Opinium

Opinium fieldwprk Sept 26-29
CON 39+2
LAB 36-3
LD 9=

It used to be one of those rock solid polling rules that LAB would always get a boost in its polling position in surveys taken at the end of its September conference and before the Tory one started. After all the media focus has been on the red team and during the week the general perception was that Labour had had a much better than expected conference. The policy ideas paraded for the first time seemed to have been well received.

Well not so the latest poll from Opinium for the Observer which sees the blues team re-take the lead which must come as a relief for TMay after she faces her conference in Birmingham in the most difficult of circumstances.

    Boris, as seen on the Sunday Times front page, is on the war-path and no doubt will get acres of coverage over the next four days but he’s nothing like the star that he was.

Yesterday the YouGov/Times poll found 57%, more than any other contender, think the ex-Mayor would be a poor leader, Gove had a negative rating of 56%, with Hunt 47%, Rees-Mogg 40% with Javid at 30%. The same poll found that 55% of CON voters want TMay to lead the party into next general election. 33% thought she should go earlier.

One thing I’m very confident of for this year’s conference – if there is a sign behind TMay when she’s making her big speech the letters will remain in place!

Mike Smithson




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PB Video Analysis: Optionally Rewarding – The Dark Side of Share Options

Saturday, September 29th, 2018


Look in any company report, and you’ll see pages of details about executive compensation. And the biggest part of this is – however dressed up – share options.

Get the share price moving, and management is set to make serious money. But what if share options made companies, and the economy, more fragile and encouraged poor decisions.

This time, we’re talking about the dark side of share options.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’




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The Conservatives must join and win the battle of ideas

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

The Thatcherite consensus is dead; the case for choice, freedom and opportunity is not

In full, the United States’ Declaration of Independence is not a very good document. It bears the classic mark of the composite motion, being too long overall and unbalanced in its structure: very nearly half of it is a list of twenty-seven grievances. Fortunately, for history and for the revolutionaries, it was drafted by someone who knew not only how to turn a phrase but where to place it. There may have been more than a smidgen of dishonesty in Jefferson’s assertion (abridged here) that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, with the unalienable rights of life and liberty; that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; and that it is the Right of the People to abolish unjust forms of government”, but that’s not the point. The point is that he defined what the war was about in words that were inspiring, simple and righteous, and did so at the outset of the document, before people lost interest amid the detail. It is the masterpiece in political framing.

Few political battles have such high stakes but whether physical or electoral, framing the question on which the contest is fought remains critical. In Britain, at the moment, it is Labour who is setting the terms and as such, are gaining for themselves a huge advantage.

The reasons why Labour is evangelising their beliefs and the Conservatives are not aren’t hard to pin down. For one thing, Labour has much more space and time in which to do so. The government is spending a huge amount of time and effort on a policy it doesn’t really want and probably can’t deliver without some – perhaps a great deal of – damage to the country. Domestic politics, where the battle-lines are being drawn, is taking a back-seat. In effect, the Conservatives are still fighting the last war, to a large extent among themselves.

Secondly, there has probably never been as big a gap between the managers at the top of the Tories and the activists at the top of Labour. Governments always tend to grey as their time in office increases, as competent administrators rise and firebrand populists who made their name in opposition fall, but May and Hammond are particularly lacking in any sense of ideological fervour.

By contrast, Corbyn has spent his entire life as an activist: decrying injustices or fighting for (or more often against) some cause or another. These were frequently fringe or unpopular causes – some of his pet topics still are – but allied to the more politically savvy McDonnell, Labour has now put together a superficially plausible critique of society and the economy that appeals to a lot of people because many of the problems he campaigns on, from housing to inequality to funding of public services, have an element of truth in them that resonates with those struggling. And Labour’s the only party proposing change.

And the third part is that the Conservatives have got out of the habit of making the ideological case. Their consensus – the Thatcherite consensus, seemingly cemented in place by New Labour’s conversion to its basic structure – was in place for so long that they have never needed to argue for why the mechanisms that underpin the Conservative model of the economy, public services and society are best. It’s a complacency that can no longer be taken for granted: that consensus is dead.

It wasn’t always like that. In the 1980s, it would be a rare interview when the likes of Thatcher, Tebbit or Lawson wasn’t advocating policy just because it was (in their eyes) effective but also because it was an ethically good thing for people to, for example, own their own homes, keep more of their income or own shares in the nation’s great industries: it gave them both a greater stake in the country and a return on its success. Choice and markets were good because competition drives up choice and quality, and drives down prices (assuming the market works effectively).

In reality, forty years of experience have produced some notorious examples where that model has failed – though usually in implementation rather than concept – and that’s what’s given the Labour left both the opportunity and the confidence to fight back. But without a Conservative leadership ready and able to take to the field on behalf of the moral and practical benefits of individual choice, regulated competition and a smaller state, the argument is in danger of going by default.

    If the Conservatives want to be reasonably confident about their chances in 2022, they need to do a lot more than deliver a satisfactory Brexit and manage the economy effectively. They need to inspire, as Corbyn has inspired.

They need to reconnect with people – particularly the 25-49 age group – whose aspiration and ambition to get on in live is being blocked by structures that the government has the power to reform. Those people need to be able to buy their own house and put down roots; they need to know that their investment in education is worth-while; they need to believe that the thrifty will not be disadvantaged in their old age as against the reckless.

To do that, Theresa May or her successor needs to frame the Conservatives’ own vision of what a fair and successful Britain looks like, what’s preventing that at the moment, how those obstacles will be removed, and – above all – why that journey is worth joining. The Tory top brass might regard those truths to be self-evident but, like Jefferson did, they need to spell them out all the same.

David Herdson



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Lessons from Labour’s conference for the Conservatives

Friday, September 28th, 2018

Leadership

Labour have, on balance, had a good conference, which should of course worry Conservatives like myself. Their leadership is now in full ascendancy – indeed many of the Corbynsceptic PLP stayed away.

Brexit was largely elided (of which more later), so the actual splits in evidence were merely between different degrees of Corbynism. On reselection, Momentum butted heads with the unions and came off slightly worse, for now. (Watch that space…)

And Corbyn himself is now much improved as a speaker – the first half of his speech was delivered very well, though he lost some energy during the second part. That all adds to the perception that he really could be Prime Minister one day, as does all the talk of a General Election.

The lesson here is simply that unity sells well. Now this might be a little time coming for the Conservatives, but putting on a show at our own conference wouldn’t hurt!

Ideas

Freed from the drudgery of actually negotiating a Brexit, Labour have been full of ideas, the most eyecatching of which was the proposal to force companies to give 10% of their equity to their workers, and then cap the dividends from that to only £500, with the rest going to the government as tax (sorry, “social dividend”).

To my mind this is the epitome of what’s wrong with Labour’s policymaking: it’s superficially attractive but it ignores all the situations where it can’t apply (e.g. foreign & private companies) and the knock-on effects it could have (e.g. de-listing, moving abroad, buybacks rather than dividends, reduction in startup investment). Most of all it also ignores the fact that private sector wages are usually determined in a free-market process and an anticipated £500pa bonus will simply ultimately come off the headline wage.

Labour’s wishlist of ideas is also hugely expensive and not properly costed. It might be a good idea to highlight this next time.

But these ideas are popular. Allister Heath’s headline in the Telegraph is spot on – “the terrifying truth is that Middle England is falling for Corbynomics”. We need to fight back with ideas of our own.

The next General Election

I don’t expect a General Election any time soon, but Labour are clearly planning for one whenever it comes. Their slick PPB shows that the leadership get it – the battleground seats will be predominately small towns.

A lot of the thinking behind this focus has been driven by the new think-tank the Centre for Towns, set up by Ian Warren (@electiondata on Twitter), Lisa Nandy MP and political science professor Will Jennings. The data and mapping on their site is excellent and there is plenty of food for thought for Conservatives there too.

However Labour’s PPB is ultimately a romantic call to turn back the clock (did anyone spot the pit head?) and – as Robert Smithson’s video shows – that ain’t happening. And in the age of the internet, High Streets won’t be coming back in the same form.

Populism

Corbyn and McDonnell’s left-wing populism explains why Labour has managed to dodge the pan-European crisis in social democracy: it is no longer a social democratic party (though it still has many MPs answering to that description).

Matthew Goodwin’s recent article on that crisis references YouGov’s July polling on issues that “most Britons feel unrepresented on”. The top 5 issues were as follows:

  1. The justice system not harsh enough
  2. Immigration restrictions should be tighter
  3. Britain should not militarily intervene in other countries
  4. Government should regulate big business more
  5. The benefits system is too generous

This – not a metropolitan anti-Brexit project – is the space YouGov identified for a hypothetical new party. Under FPTP it is more likely to be filled by shifts within our system.

Obviously neither party would wish to swallow these polling findings wholesale, but the key to a majority is to take this “unrepresented” group seriously. Goodwin hypothesises that the unexpected General Election result was as a consequence of Labour hitting some of these themes while the Conservatives missed them:

“Indeed, I have no doubt that one reason why Jeremy Corbyn did not suffer more working-class losses at the 2017 general election is precisely because he preached economic interventionism while at least recognising the need to respect the Brexit vote and reform freedom of movement. Had Corbyn instead called, à la Blair, to reverse the vote while making the case for open borders, then the result would likely have been very different, just as it would had Prime Minister May followed up her promise to tackle burning injustices with concrete action and a competent campaign.”

The answer here for the Conservatives is to blend our principles and understanding of what works with a recognition that competition and markets aren’t necessarily the same thing.

This doesn’t have to mean economic protectionism, but rather a focus on the consumer. For example, it’s easy to see from free-market principles that supermarket competition drives prices down – it only takes a few switched-on people to move to Aldi or Lidl to drive prices down everywhere, and for everyone.

But same isn’t true for energy markets or telephone contracts. The vast majority of the benefit of competition – and there has been plenty – is captured by the engaged: those willing and able to compare and switch whenever they can. Contracts are fundamentally different to purchases and our government needs to recognise that. Auto-switching and/or internal auctions, not caps, can be the answer.

And, to refer again to Robert’s video, jobs are a harder problem: in the information age people’s value to their company is more explicit than ever, which means the traditional career model isn’t coming back. The answer here has to be in education and training; a tighter immigration policy post-Brexit ought to increase investment in domestic training.

Brexit

The focus on the next election, and on those Leave-voting small towns, is why Labour are being so circumspect on Brexit, despite the wishes of Andrew Adonis, David Lammy, Keir Starmer and much of their membership. Adding another 3,000 votes to Keir’s majority in Holborn will not be much use if they can’t gain back Mansfield or defend Dudley.

There’s not that much value in me opining what the final deal will be, though I still think it’s likely that there will be one, probably fudged somewhere between Chequers and Canada. I wouldn’t be sitting too comfortably if I were the DUP – since the deal is quite likely to need some cross-party backing (or abstention) anyway, what’s finding another 10 votes?

The fact that negotiations have been difficult was always to be expected – in fact I’m a little surprised to have got this far without stronger rows or walkouts. The working of Article 50 has clearly favoured the EU, as it was always intended to: we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next couple of months.

A deal is important for the country but also for my Party. The radical nature of Brexit is a challenge to our traditional USP of, well, conservatism, and John McDonnell is clearly hoping that one radical shift may induce another. We therefore need to deliver a measure of continuity as we Leave.

The overall lesson for the Conservatives from Labour’s conference, and the themes they are espousing, is that the technical fact of our exit needs to be the start of a national renewal. GE2017 and Brexit have consumed May’s premiership, but we shouldn’t forget how popular her initial pitch was. The challenge is to deliver that whilst staying true to our party’s principles. Otherwise we risk delivering the country into the hands of the most left-wing Labour Party in living memory.

Aaron Bell

Aaron works in the betting industry and is a long-standing contributor to politicalbetting.com, posting under the username Tissue_Price. He stood for the Conservatives in Don Valley at the General Election last year.




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PB Video Analysis: Demographics Two. The Big Drag

Friday, September 28th, 2018


In my last demographics piece, I looked at the boost developed countries got from falling fertility freeing up females from childcare duties. (I adore alliteration.) This piece looks to the recent past, to the experience of Japan, and asks what next?

And the picture isn’t, if we’re going to be honest, a pretty one. Rising life expectancy, and birth rates below replacement almost everywhere mean that population pyramids will continue to invert. Old people produce less economic output than young ones. And they require more healthcare and expensive pensions.

This is not good for economic growth. And intergenerational squabbles will increasingly become a feature of our politics. It’s always harder to distribute losses than to share gains.

But, hey, at least it probably means lower house prices.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’




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Canucked. Where the UK goes next

Friday, September 28th, 2018

Where do we go from here?  After Salzburg, infuriated by the dismissive way in which her fellow EU leaders sought to cast the Chequers approach to one side, the Prime Minister took the usual British approach of dealing with foreigners, speaking loudly and slowly. 

The Prime Minister would like to plough on.  She appears to be almost alone in that.  In Theresa’s Party, the EU don’t want Chequers, the Labour Party don’t want Chequers, the Tory Reform Group don’t want Chequers, the ERG don’t want Chequers and, rumour has it, a large chunk of the Cabinet don’t want Chequers.  But she still insists on inflicting it on an unappreciative audience.  This does not look to be a promising strategy.

Theresa May can justly point to the absence of alternatives.  The EU have to date shown no substantive flexibility, not seeking meaningfully to address obvious concerns of the British.  Her domestic critics carp but have not yet unveiled any coherent alternatives.

Some of her critics, recognising this, are now gathering around the Canadian flag. The detail of the Canadian option is never particularly explored: the single word “Canada” has become code for a still looser relationship between the EU and Britain.

So what actually is the Canadian option?Canada does not participate in the single market but in CETA, the deal that Canada has agreed with the EU, it has negotiated tariff-free trade in industrial goods and most agricultural products. Canada also has negotiated access to the services market, except where specifically excluded (financial services are excluded). Because Canada is outside the single market, there are more regulatory barriers, including customs checks. There is a CETA-specific dispute resolution process.

The appeal of Canada to some of those proposing it is that it is less linked to the EU than Chequers. The appeal to others is that it is better than no deal at all. The appeal to some, I suspect, is that there is no hint of Europeanness about the name.

Many of the problems of Chequers can be found with a Canadian-style deal. Something has to be done about Northern Ireland: a Canadian deal would do nothing to address that.

No one seems to be bothering to ask whether it is actually achievable. The trade negotiations leading to CETA were launched in May 2009. It still isn’t fully in force. It provisionally came into force in September 2017 after both the EU and Canada ratified it. However, it still needs to be ratified by all of the EU’s member states. So far it has been ratified by nine member states.

This leisurely pace would not matter so much if it were clear that the job will be done in the end. It isn’t. The Belgians have launched a legal objection to the dispute resolution process. No fewer than 14 countries might conceivably have a referendum on CETA. And Italy has already stated that it will refuse to ratify the CETA deal.

All of which makes it a very uncertain assumption that the EU member states, when asked, will actually agree to a deal that looks like CETA, whether or not souped-up.  Governments around the EU are both more unstable than they were when CETA was agreed and less biddable.  Getting them all to agree to a variant of an agreement which some at least of them now have reservations about looks like a major job all by itself.

Yet again, Britain is making the mistake of presuming that what it proposes will essentially be acceptable to the EU.  You’d have thought that after David Cameron’s renegotiation, the fraught path to the December agreement last year, the interminable discussions about Northern Ireland and the Salzburg assault on Chequers that the presumption might start to fall out of favour.  But it appears not.  Britain may be about to wander down yet another blind alley.

Alastair Meeks




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The Senate Kavanaugh hearing begins taking evidence from the woman who says she was sexually attacked by Trump’s nominee

Thursday, September 27th, 2018


BBC News

Its odds-on that he’ll be confirmed

All eyes in the US are on the Senate Justice committee which is taking evidence from a woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, Brett Kavanaugh.

Christine Blasey Ford told the committee that Kavanaugh’s attack on her 38 years ago had left her “afraid and ashamed”.

Because of the power of the Supreme Court and that its members serve for life the stakes couldn’t be higher. There are 100 Senators of which 51 are currently Republicans. If the vote is tied then the decision would be down Vice-President Pence.

PaddyPower make it 8/11 that Kavanaugh will be confirmed and evens that he won’t.

Mike Smithson