Archive for February, 2019

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In this week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast: LAB’s Brexit shift, TIG voters vs the SDP & EU parliament elections

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

On this week’s podcast, Keiran Pedley and Matt Singh look at the numbers around Labour’s policy on a second Brexit vote and discuss the popularity of The Independent Group, comparing their potential impact to that of the SDP in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Matt unveils some exclusive polling on how Britain could vote in EU parliament elections should Article 50 be extended (& should Brits get to vote in them).

Listen to the episode below

Follow this week’s guests:





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Crisis, what crisis?

Thursday, February 28th, 2019


The 1979 Callaghan Winter of discontent press conference – the basis of the Sun’s famous “Crisis What Crisis” headline

A crisis broken down into key elements

For lovers of scandals and crises, the last few years have provided rich pickings, a surfeit, even.  Scarcely an institution has been untouched: the NHS – from Morecambe Bay to the Francis Report  on Stafford to Gosport, the police, the charity sector – from Amnesty to Oxfam, newspapers, the BBC, MPs and their expenses, Parliament and how it treats its staff, the care sector, local authorities and children’s homes.  On and on the list goes.  And two of the worst: the Catholic Church which, bluntly, has allowed evil to flourish and, even now, is barely starting on the steps necessary to put matters right, and the financial sector, which whether here, or Europe or the Americas or, lately, Australia, has behaved like a robber baron of old.  Between 2012 and 2016 the world’s top 20 banks paid £264 billion in fines. And now we have Labour digging itself into the biggest hole it can find.

And yet none of these scandals started out as big problems. They never do.  So why is it that organisations find it so hard to deal with problems when they are made aware of them and, with the inevitability of Sunday following Saturday, contrive to make them very much worse?

There are distinct 10 stages to a crisis but they broadly fall into 3 phases:-

Phase 1 – Denial.  An issue arises, it’s seen as a one-off, referred to HR or a quiet word is had by a manager, problem solved.  Or so the hope goes.  Then it happens again, maybe with the same person, or another, and repeatedly, but in different offices and sufficiently far apart for the bigger picture to be missed. At this point, it is becoming a bit of nuisance so people turn a blind eye, they can’t believe it’s more than just a few incidents, that there might be something systemic or an underlying issue. Surely HR can deal with this.  Then the denial gets worse: they refuse to believe it.  This cannot be happening to us – we’re good people doing good things.  This is a particular problem for the charity sector, for organisations which think of themselves as moral in some way.  It is much harder to admit – even to yourself – that , that you have a problem if you see yourself as inherently good. (Labour: please note.) The self-image of an organisation, of the people working in it are under attack. So defensiveness and lashing out follow. Better to pretend that the problems are down to just 1 or 2 bad apples.  Or you are full of very intelligent people.  Who would be so stupid as to do such silly / bad things?  The idea that intelligence does not necessarily imply integrity does not enter anyone’s head.  No – it must be just 1 or 2 bad apples.  Nothing really to see here.

There may well have been some whistleblowers by now.  The reaction described above is why there are, in reality, so few of them.  Loyalty to the team, to the group is prized above all else. (How many MPs blew the whistle, after all?  A big fat zero.). If you’re collaborative you get brownie points, bonuses and a promotion.  A loner, someone who thinks for themselves, who speaks as they find is a bit disruptive, is not playing the game.  If you speak up, you’re seen as a troublemaker, a snitch even, you’re ratting on your mates, the bosses won’t support you and, hey, you have a mortgage, a family, you want a good reference, maybe you’ve got it wrong, someone else is dealing with it, it’s not your job, keep your head down, get on with life, why make trouble.  All very human reactions and all very understandable.  Who wants to be a hero, to be courageous and end up out on their own?  And that explains why when someone does eventually speak up months or years later people’s first reaction is often to ask “Well, why now?”  Well, precisely because they feared that reaction – an attack on their motives and their message ignored, that’s why.

By now the story has got into the public domain so we get to –

Phase 2 – Still in Denial but Pretending to Do Something About It. It’s obviously not 1 or 2 apples but a whole basket of them in fact. But the same denial and defensiveness goes on, coupled with an attack on the messengers.  And here is another fact about whistleblowers, which is often ignored. Most of them are not saints.  They may have mixed motives.  They may be protecting themselves.  Or getting their revenge. Or wanting to harm those they dislike. But this does not matter.  It’s what they say that must be listened to and looked at.  But making that distinction is hard.  So, if they can be labelled as mad or bad, it’s so much easier to ignore them. And that’s what often happens, even by those who really should know better.

A limited inquiry is started in the hope that this will sort matters out. It won’t.  People become more concerned with protecting the institution than dealing with what is wrong.  A non-apology apology is crafted which forgets to say sorry, gets the tone all wrong and adds in a bit of emotional blackmail for good measure. The chief will point out all the jobs the institution provides, the taxes it pays, the good it does.  Or there is the correct legalistic – but utterly tone-deaf – statement.  (In what world did anyone at the Vatican think this response was the right one – morally, emotionally, reputationally – to Cardinal Pell’s conviction?) Procedures will be rewritten.  Processes will be updated.  It will make no difference at all.  The stories keep tumbling out.  They get worse and worse.  Resignations happen, good people not wanting to be tainted.  The authorities get involved.  Your organisation is now featuring on the front pages, at the start of the news. Your staff are fearful, anxious, at odds with each other.  The problems seem systemic.  Survival is not a given.

Finally, when the stench is becoming unbearable, when it has reached the boardroom, the leadership, when it is the only thing anyone wants to talk to you about, you get to the final stage.

Phase 3: We Have to Really Take It Seriously Now.  Eventually, a really proper thorough investigation is done and extensive, expensive and difficult remedial measures are taken. It all takes time, money and a huge amount of hard and sometimes stressful work, more than you ever think possible. And even once you have put in all this effort which, in reality, never completely ends, not if you’re serious, the institution is dealing with the continuing fall-out from the previous failures, with the reputational harm long, long after it has cleaned itself up.  Think how long the “nasty party” tag attached itself to the Tories.

What do whistleblowers, those who are concerned, really want?  Two things: to be listened to, really listened to and to have real – not token – action taken.  Listening is hard work, is difficult and is an art.  It needs empathy and patience and imagination. The listener needs to make a connection, to understand, to listen to what is said, to what is not said, if they are to have any hope of getting to the underlying truths, any hope of making real change.

What is needed for that real change to happen?  Well, everyone in the institution has to be involved.  But above all, those at the very top must really, genuinely want to make the change that is needed. They must really take to heart the criticisms they receive, not dismiss them.  They must realise that they too will need to change.  If the changes that are needed – to people’s attitudes, behaviour and reasoning not simply to a process or two – are to work, to last, to be genuine, they have to come from the top.  And those at the top need to be pushing them all the time, need to be utterly focused on this, need to be fighting against the inevitable inertia, the pushback, the “We have done enough now” pleas, the “We have other priorities” brigade, the “Aren’t we there now?” cries.

It is rare for this to happen without a change of leadership.  If that hasn’t happened, it’s a fair bet that the organisation has yet to get out of phase 2. Those who preside over a problem turning into a crisis are rarely the ones best able to resolve it.

 CycleFree



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Sanders aged 77 and Biden 76 move to 2nd and 3rd favourite in the WH2020 Democratic nomination betting

Thursday, February 28th, 2019


Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Both old white male failures from previous White House campaigns

There’s been a big shake up in the betting for the 2020 democratic nomination. Last week Bernie Sanders came into the race and established himself as second favourite. Now, the latest development is that Joe Biden, who first ran for the White House in 1984, is said to be on the point of putting his hat into the ring.

Both, because they’ve been around for so long – the former running last time and the latter being Obama’s VP – have strong name recognition and my guess is that’s what driven their apparent support in early polling. Bernie at least can point to his large fundraising base and the amounts raised so far.

If Biden does decide to go for it, and the signs are that he will, it will be his third attempt. His previous runs for the White House were abject failures. In 1984 he secured just one delegate in the primaries and four years later he secured two. He is notoriously gaffe prone.

Sanders did a whole lot better in his only previous bid, 2016, when he was effectively the only candidate running against Hillary Clinton and was helped enormously because of the concerns over the electoral appeal of the front runner.

What the party needs now is someone with the ability to appeal to a broad base particularly many of the centre ground voters who have concerns about Trump. Last November in the midterms it was former Republican voting college educated white women who switched to the Democrats. I cannot see either of the older white men having that appeal.

The first campaign challenge for Sanders will be the Iowa caucuses in about 11 months time and no doubt people will compare his 49%+ that he achieved there in 2016 with what he does. It is hard, given there are so many contenders, seeing Sanders doing better there.

Mike Smithson




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The hearing with Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, doesn’t bode well for the President

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

In the US the big political news has been the appearance before a Congressional committee of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who is set to go to prison in May after being convicted last year. The Republicans on the committee have been seeking to discredit him but his comments could have a big impact on WH2020.

A good flavour of the hearing is from this exchange between Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Michael Cohen during today’s House Oversight Committee:

GOSAR: You’re a pathological liar. You don’t know truth from falsehood.

COHEN: Sir, I’m sorry, are you referring to me or the President?

There’s little doubt that this damages the incumbent but that at the same time his base will remain totally loyal whatever emerges. Only problem is that Trump needs more than his base to get re-elected.

So far this hasn’t impacted on the betting and Trump is 74% favourite to win the GOP nomination.

Mike Smithson




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A Dilemma

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

So, let’s imagine. It’s the Ides of March.  MPs have voted against Mrs May’s Deal (again). They’ve voted against No Deal. They’ve voted in favour of an extension.

Through gritted teeth Mrs May announces to Parliament that she and her faithful sherpa, Olly Robbins, will be off to Brussels (again) to agree a short extension. By now, one imagines, they must have their own personal Eurostar carriage and enough Belgian chocolate, vacuum-packed mussels and frozen frites in their larder to survive even the harshest of No Deal exits.

Sir Tim Barrow will once again organise meetings with President Juncker and Mr Barnier and their sherpas. Rooms will be booked, coffee will be ordered, Katya Adler will be there, notebook at the ready.

The meeting starts. The British say that their request is  clear: a short extension until the end of June is all that is needed. What is to happen during those three months is left unsaid. It might almost be described as nebulous.

Mr Barnier smiles. He tells them that the EU member states are, happily, of one view. They are willing to grant their British friends an extension of Article 50. The other EU states were, indeed, expecting this request. The British smile and begin to relax.

But. (There is always a “but”, is there not, mes amis? The story would have no tension otherwise.) The only extension the EU 27 are happy to grant is for a further two years. Nothing conclusive will happen in three months and they have other issues to consider. Italy is mentioned, as are the Spanish elections.  (And at the thought of Poland and Hungary, there is a deep sigh.)

During this two years, there will be time for the issues which have come up in relation to the proposed Withdrawal Agreement to be considered further and steps taken towards resolution. It will not be renegotiated, c’est clair. But clarifications can always be made. It is possible that very considerable progress can be made on the suggested technological solutions for the Irish border.

And they can and will start work on a proposed FTA between the EU and the UK.  Of course, it very likely will not be concluded within two years but a lot of progress will have been made if these matters are approached in a spirit of goodwill and with a lot of hard work. And with the likely end date for conclusion of the trade talks visible, this should show the British Parliament that the Irish backstop will not be – and is not intended to be – permanent.

(And if at this point Mr Barnier were to mutter, under his breath, that this had been said repeatedly by him, the Irish Taoiseach and many other EU leaders, one would not begrudge him a small “As I’ve told you” moment.)

They also mention en passant that such an extension would also provide Britain enough time for another referendum, should it so wish, and that the power to revoke Article 50 will endure for as long as the extension endures. Naturally, it is entirely up to us if we want to take up these other options.  And, of course, Britain would have more time for her to make all the other preparations necessary for life as a non-EU member.  

Britain would have to elect MEPs to the European Parliament but this was a small price to pay to give all concerned, including businesses across Europe, more certainty and time to plan. And all the other rights and obligations of being an EU member would remain unchanged.

But a 3-month extension: Non. Only a two-year one is on offer.

What does Britain do? What should Britain do?

Cyclefree



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Those claiming that the “will of the people” equates to no deal should be treated like snake oil salesmen

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

July 2016 ComRes polling that had 42% of Leave voters prioritising staying in the single market.

Any politician trying to assert that what they propose, as we enter the final month of Article 50 process, is the “will of the people” should be treated like a snake oil salesman.

It is now nearly three years since the referendum and things have moved on in all sorts of ways particularly in understanding what a possible deal would look like. So I’d suggest that we look back at the immediate post referendum polling to get a sense of people’s perception of what the June 23rd 2016 vote meant.

One useful poll was carried out by ComRes just over week later and one of the key findings is feature above. Then the sample was asked about the key priority and 42% of Leave voters responded by saying staying in the single market should be paramount.

I cannot find a similar poll from the immediate post-referendum period that looks as the expectations of voters at the time. One thing is clear – the idea of a no deal was not contemplated.

Mike Smithson




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Punters now make it a 77% chance that MPs won’t agree a deal by the end of March

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Lots of betting activity as we move closer to March – the month when the UK is due to leave the EU.

The big issue is whether MPs will agree a deal and the view of the betting markets, as seen in the Betdata.io chart, is that its a 77% chance that it won’t happen.

It is important here to check the exact terms of Betfair’s market before risking your cash.

“When will the House of Commons vote through a government motion to approve a EU withdrawal agreement as set out under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union?

For the purpose of this market any vote by the House of Lords does not count.

If a first vote on the government motion was defeated the market will still remain active as any subsequent votes on a government motion to approve a EU withdrawal agreement will count. The market will only be settled if/when a motion is voted through by the House of Commons or March 29th 2019 CET comes to an end. For the purposes of this market March 29th 2019 will come to an end at midnight Central European Time.”

My reckoning is that TMay has a better chance of getting something through than the odds suggest.

Mike Smithson




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The Ladbrokes 3/1 on a deal being agreed looks like a value bet

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

I’ve just had a small wager at 3/1 with Ladbrokes that a deal that the Commons “meaningful vote” will secure the backing of MPs for the deal.This is what the Indy’s John Rentoul wrote after yesterday’s cabinet meeting:

“..the chances of Theresa May getting her Brexit deal through parliament are rising. I think it is now the most likely outcome, with the UK leaving the EU on 29 March or a few weeks later.

Partly, this is because it is finally sinking in that the chances of a no-deal Brexit are small. Today’s cabinet revolt reinforces the solid majority in the House of Commons against it happening. If the prime minister fails to win parliament’s approval of her deal, the alternative is likely to be that Brexit will be postponed, possibly for ever…”

It is that last Rentoul point that is the sting in the tail. Do strident Brexiteers of all parties want to risk the possibility of Brexit never happening which must be higher if the March 29th deadline is not met and there’s an extension? Some might say that the TMay deal is worse than remain but that is just rhetoric for the moment.

As the old saying goes – “Half a loaf is better than none”.

Mike Smithson