Archive for the 'Article 50' Category


YouGov’s BREXIT tracker is back to exactly where it was just after Theresa May became PM

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

For all the machinations opinion simply hasn’t changed

Above is YouGov’s BREXIT tracker in which it has been regularly asking the same question “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?” over many months.”

As can be seen the most striking feature is the almost total lack of movement. In fact the numbers in the latest poll are exactly the same as they were at the start of August 2016 shortly after TMay became PM.

Both leavers and remainers have hardly changed their opinions.

What I like about trackers is that the same question is put every time in exactly the same manner. If there had been a movement then we would see it.

These are the party splits in the latest polling.

What will change things is when we start to get a sense of what BREXIT is actually going to look like and we won’t know that until after Article 50 is invoked.

Mike Smithson


LAB in lead with ICM amongst REMAIN voters – more poll numbers that make make Corbyn’s A50 strategy look dumb

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Mike Smithson


Corbyn is more in touch on Europe with the voters Labour needs to win back than his MPs or members

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Most of Labour’s lost voters are Leavers

This has not been the best week for Jeremy Corbyn. He lost another Shadow Cabinet member and two other frontbench spokesmen, suffered a sizable rebellion on Europe (whereas, unlike one upon a time, the Tories presented an almost united front), prompting several thousand members to resign; yesterday’s YouGov poll confirmed that the Conservatives’ lead remains in the mid-teens, and Labour suffered a devastating local by-election loss in Rotherham, which the Lib Dems took on a 38% swing.

That last item, which ought really to be the most trivial – all sorts of odd things can happen in local by-elections, particularly where there are peculiar local issues – might all the same have a particularly bitter taste.

Rotherham was a strongly Leave area in the EU referendum, voting more than 2:1 for Brexit. That Labour should lose the seat not to UKIP, who started a clear second and whose own share was more than halved, but to the arch-Remain Lib Dems is testament to the fact that Brexit is not all-consuming as a divide (in fact, in a simultaneous by-election in a different Rotherham ward, Labour gained the seat from UKIP).

That’s unfortunate for Corbyn because his position on Brexit is a good deal closer to the sort of voter that Labour’s lost since 2015, not just in Rotherham and Sunderland but across the country.

The ICM poll taken on 20-22 Jan gives good evidence of this. 37% of Labour’s 2015 vote supported Leave, as against only 32% of their current voters. We can’t calculate a precise figure because there’s churn so it’s not possible to assume that simply subtracting the current base from that at the election will give us the deserters. Even so, if we take that as representative of the net change, it implies that the lost voters split 58/42 for Leave.

Yesterday’s YouGov paints much the same picture. Unlike ICM, YouGov don’t release the raw figures for each question and answer, nor is there a specific question on how people voted at the referendum but they do ask if people think the decision to leave was right, and the headline figures there mirror the referendum closely (albeit that there’s a small amount of churn). 34% of their 2015 support think it was right to leave but only 29% of their current voters do – the same 5% difference ICM report, which again implies that the lost voters are Leave-heavy and very probably in a Leave majority.

Corbyn ought to be ideally placed to attract these voters back. He’s certainly more in tune with them than his parliamentary party is, or than his members are. His strategy of respecting the public’s Leave vote while trying to score tactical victories in parliament is exactly the one that an opposition should be following. It will only work, however, if he can bridge the gap between the parliamentary and London Remain wing and the Leavers in the country. The risk is that he fails to satisfy either and that the voters, who probably left over other issues, remain detached from their former party.

David Herdson


The lack of options for Brexit Britain

Monday, January 30th, 2017


Since the Brexit vote, British politics has been curiously alternativeless.  The government rules without any effective opposition.  The Prime Minister was installed by her party as the only imaginable choice once the other would-be contenders had been properly scrutinised.  Theresa May was not particularly inspiring.  But what else could the Conservative party have done?

The Prime Minister has spent some months reviewing her options, only to find that she has none.  She has rightly concluded that controls on immigration are a non-negotiable feature of any Brexit deal, given the basis of the referendum campaign.  So, making a virtue out of necessity, Theresa May has announced that Britain will not be seeking continued membership of the single market (knowing that it was not on offer if Britain insisted on controlling immigration from the EU).  She is looking for a swift agreement on limited terms, accepting that a more comprehensive agreement is in practice impossible.  But what else could she have done?

Having burned its bridges with the rest of the EU, Britain must find new friends – or rely more heavily on existing ones.  And as Thucydides said over 2000 years ago, “It is the habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire”.  So Theresa May concluded that despite disagreeing strongly with Donald Trump on many matters, including the importance of NATO, the appropriate response to Russia and tariff-free trade, she needed to get as close to the incoming administration in Washington as possible.  There were obvious risks given the new president’s apparent waywardness, his loose relationship with the truth, his past boorishness towards many women and a smorgasbord of troubling policy positions.  Britain had to proceed on the basis that those could be contained or sidestepped.  From that point, the British government’s foreign policy in relation to the USA was founded on hope.  But what else could she have done?

The Foreign Office secured the undoubted coup of getting Theresa May to meet Donald Trump first of all the world leaders.  And she gave a serious and thoughtful speech to assembled Republicans in which she announced that “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”.  Once again, the Prime Minister made a virtue of necessity, given the new president’s own clearly-expressed views on the subject.  This marks a sharp break from the liberal interventionist consensus of the last two decades.  But what else could she have done?

No one can accuse Theresa May have being underprepared for her meeting with Donald Trump.  She seems to have taken to heart Thucydides’ words that “It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions.”  With firmness she publicly declared on his behalf that he was fully committed to NATO.  He was charmed sufficiently to guide her through a colonnade.  From that point on the two of them will be forever inextricably associated in the public’s eyes as being hand in hand.  That was a hostage to fortune that Theresa May must have regretted from the very moment that she felt his paw grasp her.  But what else could she have done?

When the Prime Minister left the USA, the consensus was that she had added to her stature.  It unravelled all too quickly as Donald Trump signed an executive order on Holocaust Memorial Day to ban those born in seven countries from entering the USA.  (The president seems unaware that the approved way of interpreting his words was seriously but not literally and seems dead set on being taken seriously and literally.)  This caused outrage in Britain well beyond the usual sources, with a series of Conservative MPs queuing up to condemn it.  A petition to deny Donald Trump the state visit that Theresa May had promised him has accumulated signatures at a record-breaking pace, soaring far past the million mark in a day.  As I write, she seems trapped between wanting to recognise the undoubtedly real disgust that many Britons feel about this policy that affects prominent Brits, including Sir Mo Farah, and not wanting to offend Donald Trump, whose goodwill she so desperately needs.  She looks simultaneously venal and feeble.  But what else can she do?

The contrast is starkly made with other European leaders.  Angela Merkel, for example, has felt no need to rush to Donald Trump’s side.  She has been able to set her own course and has felt uninhibited in condemning this policy.  She is able to do this because she has more options, options that are derived in large part from Germany being in the EU.  Britain, it is becoming painfully clear, is out of options.

Does this mean that Britain should backtrack on Brexit?  No, that ship has sailed.  But the limits of the control taken back are becoming painfully apparent.  That man Thucydides first recorded the view that “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”  Britain is getting a crash course in the truth of this dictum right now.  Ancient history has never seemed more modern.  Expect Britain to have to suffer much more in the coming years.

Alastair Meeks


Polling Matters / Opinium survey: Public backs Brexit as the right decision by 52% to 39%

Monday, January 30th, 2017

New polling this week shows Leave voters are convinced they made the right decision as Remainers stumble on leaderless writes Keiran Pedley

With Trump and May very much making the headlines this week you may have missed the second Polling Matters / Opinium survey (full data here). This survey sought to measure public perceptions of the Brexit vote seven months on and also the strength of feeling on either side. The overarching message is that the public backs Brexit as the ‘right decision’ by 52% to 39% with 40% saying the decision was ‘definitely right’ and 23% saying the decision was ‘definitely wrong’. Some of the key data can be found below.

Do you think the United Kingdom made the right decision or the wrong decision in deciding to leave the European Union? (Fieldwork Jan 10/12 2017)

The results are relatively easy to explain. 93% of Leave voters remain committed to Leave being the ‘right decision’ whereas only 77% of Remain voters think Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’. Similarly 75% of Leave voters think Brexit was ‘definitely right’ versus 48% of Remainers that think it was ‘definitely wrong’. Perhaps some Remainers simply accept the referendum result or perhaps they weren’t that committed to EU membership in the first place.  Whatever the case, with Theresa May’s Conservatives as many as 16 points ahead in the polls, Leavers have little to worry about. Brexit is happening.

Who leads Remainers?

Perhaps a more interesting question is ‘who leads Remainers now?’ We appear to be witnessing something of a political realignment around the referendum result as Theresa May rebrands the Conservatives as ‘the Brexit Party’ (with some success in the polls it should be said). However, on the other side, Remainers look divided and leaderless as Jeremy Corbyn demands Labour MPs back the Article 50 vote when it comes to parliament. The Lib Dems have had some electoral success opposing Brexit but a significant breakthrough looks unlikely. Right now, the most significant opposition to Brexit looks like coming from the SNP. Significant not because it threatens Brexit but because it threatens the breakup of the UK.

Maybe the political realignment point is overdone. Whilst it is true that 25% of Conservative voters think Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’ and 33% of Labour voters think it was the ‘right decision’ old habits, it seems, still die hard.  Without the Labour Party offering full throated opposition to Brexit a genuine realignment around the referendum result appears unlikely. What will be interesting in the short term is how Labour’s grassroots react to Corbyn’s commitment to Brexit. With 60% of Labour voters saying that Brexit was the ‘wrong decision’ and that number likely bigger among members Corbyn may be about the face the biggest crisis of his leadership so far. It is clear that many on the left are losing faith. The question is will they go as far as to abandon him altogether?

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is a regular contributor to PB and editor of the Polling Matters podcast.  He tweets about polling and politics at @keiranpedley

Check out the latest PB/Polling Matters episode below.

Note on the podcast: This week’s episode was somewhat controversial as guests Jade Azim and Suzy Dean traded blows on feminism and Brexit. Some people loved it but others found it too combative. Rest assured, this episode does not represent a change in the podcasts direction. We should be back to normal next week.


Theresa May loses her battle to be able to invoke Article 50 without an Act of Parliament

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017


Viewpoint: Tribal Tim Farron attacks Corbyn and lets TMay off the hook.

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

Labour’s Don Brind says the LD leader has a soft spot for the PM.

The Lib Dem leader told Politics Home In a really peculiar way I felt slightly proud of her when she became prime minister.”  A very odd thing to say, isn’t it?

Since you’re asking, Tim – Yes it is a bit odd. Not only is she a Tory. She is the Remainer who failed to campaign in the EU referendum and now, with all the zeal of a convert, is determined to drag the country into a hard Brexit regardless of the economic carnage that could ensue.

Farron explained that his link with May dates back to 1992 when they were candidates in the safe Labour seat of North West Durham. “I remember thinking she was a very straight person. I enjoyed being on the campaign trail with her.”

Today, the Lib Dem leader does, of course, criticise the Prime Minister for choosing “the most extreme interpretation of the referendum result … which is not only going to be massively damaging to the livelihoods of every family and business in the country but will rob the public purse of – on the government’s own figures £220bn. But Farron lets May off the hook by claiming there is no difference between her approach and Labour’s. “You have the Labour party basically hugging Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party – and we’ve heard it from Keir Starmer and Hilary Benn too – they’ve just given up.”

Farron has a tough task in reviving the Lib Dems after the 2015 massacre. He clearly hopes to boost their current poll shares by siphoning off Labour votes from amongst the 48% who voted Leave.

But let’s be clear that putting Corbyn and May in the same boat is divisive claptrap which has nothing to with fighting Brexit and everything to do with Lib Dem tribalism.

After chiding Labour for not standing aside in Richmond by election the Lib Dems – and the Greens — will be fighting Copeland where they both lost deposits in 2015 with around 3% of the vote. Although I expect Labour to win it’s possible that Lib Dems and Green can take votes from Labour. If that leads to a Labour defeat the result would strengthen the Tories and/or Ukip and with it the forces of Brexit.

The fact is that it will be Labour parliamentarians who do the heavy lifting in countering the worst extremes of Brexit. They are at the core of the cross party group reported by the Observer to be drawing up plans to “halt hard Brexit “

I sat in on a meeting last week of Labour parliamentarians brought together by the Labour Movement for Europe , Everyone there was as at least as passionate Europeans as Farron but with a much more intelligent view of the challenges facing the anti-Brexit cause.
One wise old bird said “Labour MPs face a choice between being a hawk, a dove or an ostrich – and all have their good points.” There is no sure-fire way of fighting Brexit and keeping quiet while watching how things develop is at least as valid an approach as launching a frontal assualt.Three key priorities emerged from the discussion.

First is the need for unity in confronting Theresa May’s version of Brexit. Let’s hope Tim Farron hears the message.

The second is the need to organise effectively in Parliament where the main battle will not be over triggering Article 50 but over the Great Reform Bill. There are lots of smart people in the Commons and the Lords who will make parliamentary sovereignty.

The third priority is, as one former minister put it, a need “to change the tone of the conversation in the country.” That is partly a matter of better communications but it is also a question of being listened to by Labour voters who supported Leave. That is why Jeremy Corbyn’s shift on the issue of immigration is regarded by many as a vital first step.

As is well known a majority of Labour MPs supported Remain but represent areas that back Leave. It is that very fact that which makes how Labour wrestles with the issue crucial. There may be frustration at the performance of Jeremy Corbyn but many will agree with the MP who said; “Any Labour leader would struggle with the issue.”

Don Brind


Cyclefree asks are Banks the new Unions?

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Back in the 1970’s unions were seen – and saw themselves – as a key constituency whom government had to listen to and consult.  Whether beer and sandwiches were actually served at Number 10 was less important than the perception and the reality that governments felt that it was wise to consult the unions on industrial matters and wider economic policy.  And this was done because of a desire to achieve consensus, to be seen as treating both sides of industry fairly, because union membership was large and strikes could cause significant economic and commercial harm.

It was also felt that union leaders were the only people able to control the wildcat strikers and other militants who were responsible for some of the disputes which so plagued Britain in the 1960s and 1970s.  And very few were willing to challenge the consensus that it made sense to involve unions in economic and industrial policy.  All this created what Bernard Ingham described as “the post-war impression of their invincibility”.  When a certain M Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition, challenged this consensus and said that she thought that trade unionists should not get a greater say in the country’s affairs than any other voter, this was viewed with horror by some.  How could – why should – things be other than as they were?

Well, disasters usually help change perspectives and the Winter of Discontent finally persuaded many that it was time to cut the unions down to size.  28 years later the role of unions in Britain is vastly different to what it was then.  They have certainly been reined in but still exist and still perform useful functions for their members and for society as a whole.

The decline in the unions’ power coincided with the rise of finance.  Big Bang, the lifting of exchange controls, the focus on making money, privatisation, the entry into Britain of US investment banks and deregulation of many of the previous controls around credit led to an explosion in the City.  The financial services sector boomed and continued booming.  It was seen as the Goose laying Golden Eggs.  All parties worshipped at the altar of the City: the Tories because they saw it as an example of the sort of profit-focused entrepreneurship which had been lacking.  They conveniently ignored the fact that many of those who made money in the City were not so much rainmakers as lucky – lucky to be in the right place at the right time when the heavens opened and the rain fell.

Still, it is amazingly common to find people who have done very well in life downgrading the role of luck in their life and assuming that it is only their skill and intelligence which has resulted in them amassing riches beyond the dreams of Croesus (or, at least, those of most people).  The L’Oreal advertising slogan: “Because you’re worth it!” might have been written by bankers for bankers.  And Labour too loved the City – or at least entered into a Faustian pact with it – because, finally, it looked as if the City’s tax revenues could help Labour get past the charge that it would tax ordinary people more than they were willing to bear to spend on desirable public services which the public wanted.  Banks and bankers could be taxed; money could be spent on public services; the public would be happy and Labour would be in power forever (or at least for a very long time).

Well, we all know how that fable ended: with the 2007/08 crisis, the government having to bail out banks, evidence of widespread chicanery and criminality, some criminal convictions and a public perception that financiers had got away with it, that they had taken the profits and dumped the costs onto everyone else.  Governments learnt that some golden eggs are not golden at all and that banks with very large balance sheets can unbalance an economy.  And, yet, despite all the well-attested problems associated with an out-of-control and, arguably, too large financial sector, there is still an inclination amongst some in the sector to think that, because they bring in the money, their interests should predominate  It is an attitude not so very different to the unions of old: if you don’t do what we want, we can bring the economy to its knees (either through strikes or by upping sticks and moving elsewhere taking all our lovely money with us).

It is an attitude which shows a tin ear for how much of the public views the finance sector.  Rather than feel that banks have learnt their lessons and it is time to move on, many feel that banks have not yet been taught a lesson and have not fully paid the price for, at best, negligence and incompetence and, at worst, criminality.  It assumes that people are necessarily grateful for the tax revenues when they appear to come from greedy and/or disgraceful behaviour.  It assumes that money speaks and should speak louder than the votes of non-bankers.

Now, there is some hypocrisy in the public’s attitude to finance.  They like it when it allows them to spend and spend and appear to be richer than in fact they are.  And they like the tax it generates.  And they are notably disinclined to pay for proper financial advice, preferring to get “free” advice and complain later about mis-selling, or to educate themselves so as to be better able to navigate offers which are often far too good to be true.  But still, in the end, they have the votes and banks do not and the financial sector is not, after the scandals of recent years, in a position to take the moral high ground.  If you ostentatiously throw your weight around and cause problems for others, eventually those others will cut you down to size.

And yet finance matters.  It matters because the development of a modern society has gone hand in hand with the development of an efficient financial sector.  It matters because without it much of what we want to do (save, buy a home, spend, invest, start a business, grow a business) cannot happen.  And it matters that it operates – or should operate – competently, honestly, without drama and without an inflated idea of its own importance, no matter how much tax revenue it brings in, and that it remembers that it is a service industry, that it is there to serve others not primarily itself.  Naïve?  Hopelessly optimistic?  Possibly.  Nonetheless, at a time when banks have started taking some real steps towards the cleaning up of their industry (culture and behaviours and conduct risk are the buzzwords in banks these days and not all of this is just for show), the City finds itself friendless.

The financial crisis may have only been part of the context which led to Brexit.  But it – and banks’ reaction to it and their behaviour before, during and after it – is certainly one reason why this government has not made it a priority to argue the City’s case.  That and the fact that May does not give the impression of someone who venerates rich financiers in the way that her predecessors did.  Now, following May’s speech, we have announcements that some banks are looking to relocate jobs in Continental Europe.  Concerns have been expressed that this will be the start of a flood, that it will render us poorer, that we will miss the tax revenues and that by foregoing membership of the Single Market, we will hobble one of our primary and successful sectors.  Maybe.

The need to have the “passport” is only one of the factors affecting how financial firms structure themselves: automation, keeping shareholders happy, focusing on those areas where money can be made without undue risk, cost control are all factors which will affect what firms now do in a much tougher regulatory and economic environment.  Banks should not expect Continental European countries to be quite as enamoured of freebooting Anglo-Saxon financiers as Britain has been, however much they may welcome the jobs.  Maybe it will mean that the British economy can become a little more balanced, a little less dependent on one sector only.  Maybe – though Brexit is an odd and potentially harsh way to achieve such a rebalancing.

What is clear is that the City is now learning that it cannot expect the government to put its interests first.  No doubt this is a blow to its pride.  Perhaps it is a long overdue and salutary one. Whether it would have been better for the government to have made the case to British voters to stay in the Single Market in order not to harm the City is now an academic argument.  No politician would now be brave – or stupid enough – to put the interests of bankers before those of other voters.

Ironically, this country may end up doing damage (the extent of which is not clear) to one of its more successful industries at the precise time when that industry is finally learning to behave and when Britain needs all the successful industries it can get as it embarks on its bold solo adventure.

And the moral of this story?  “Ognuno e utile.  Nessuno e indispensabile.”  (Or, as the Irish might say, cemeteries are full of people who thought themselves indispensable.)  A lesson for the Tories – looking with disdain and glee at a Corbyn-led Labour party – and for Labour – seemingly entrenched in its heartlands – to ponder.