Archive for the 'Boris' Category


It’s Johnson’s bad luck that the floods have happened in Yorkshire home of many of his GE2019 target seats

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019

So another day goes by and still the misery continues for many families in South Yorkshire who have suffered because of the flooding. These are situations which are very tricky for a PM because just about nothing he can do or say is going to resonate well.

This has also played havoc with the carefully worked out programme for the campaign itself. I don’t know what was on the Cummings PR grid for this week because it has been totally sidelined.

Given we are just a fortnight or so from the postal ballot packs going out and four weeks away from the big day the question is whether the Tories will be hit at the ballot box by the flooding.

No doubt there will be a detailed analysis on this from Prof John Curtice in his planned definitie book on GE2017.

Will this impact be confined to Yorkshire or will the TV pictures have been seen nationally on social media and have a wider effect?

A problem he has is that he is barely better than TMsy when confronted with “ordinary people”. He’s awkward, lacks empathy and doesn’t respond well to being attacked.

What is ironic, of course, is that seats like those in the Doncaster area were among the prime targets identified to Tory planners as possible gains from Labour.

Mike Smithson


Foxes and Hedgehogs – a tale of tactics without strategy

Friday, November 8th, 2019

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (Sun Tzu). Something those Remainer MPs behind the Benn Act would do well to reflect on. However successful it was in stopping a Halloween No Deal exit and, arguably, forcing Boris to negotiate a Withdrawal Agreement he could sell to his party, its effect has been to put the Tories in a strong position as they embark on their General Election campaign. How so?

It allows Boris to say that he:-

  • Got the Withdrawal Agreement reopened.
  • Got rid of the backstop for the UK.
  • Got a deal before his “do or die” date.
  • Should be given the Parliament needed to get this enacted.
  • Can get a final deal with the EU done before the transition period ends on 31 December 2010, some 264 working days (minus Parliamentary holidays) after the election.
  • Is the only person who can get Brexit done, thus appealing to probably the largest group of voters in the country – the GetItOverWith voters.
  • Is on the People’s side versus an obstructive Parliament, conveniently ignoring that the obstructive Parliament was not foisted on the People but elected by them.

Even worse, it has helped elide the distinction between the Withdrawal Agreement and the final deal with the EU i.e. the basis on which Britain will trade with 27 EU countries. And not just trade: security, intelligence, law enforcement, defence, data protection, IP, transport, energy, civil nuclear power, fishing, migration – legal and illegal, the environment, financial services – all (and more) will need a new settlement. There will be many voters – those who don’t care much about Brexit, those not following the detail  – who will assume Boris’s deal is the final deal; once out, Brexit is done. That is certainly how the Tories are presenting it – let’s do Brexit and move on. No matter how untrue, it is an attractive siren song.

So much energy and fury was focused on avoiding No Deal last month, it will be hard to make voters realise that in just over a year’s time Britain faces exactly the same prospect if no FTA (and other agreements) with the EU have been agreed: departure from the transition on a No Deal basis, an overnight rupture of all existing agreements and arrangements, life as a third country. Or the same dilemma – whether to extend the transition or not. But in barely six months time.

Could the same tactics be employed? Alas, this too has been stymied by the Benn Act’s success. If the Tories get their majority, the new Parliament is likely to be much less amenable to similar guerrilla legislation. Many of the MPs involved, many experienced MPs, those most opposed to No Deal will have left. The Tories will claim a fresh mandate, if necessary, to leave on a No Deal basis. Already Cabinet Ministers (Gove on Today) are resiling from what was said in Parliament on 22 October (by the Attorney-General who promised MPs a say on whether the transition should be extended). So the chances of another Benn Act are low.

Maybe the Tories’ manifesto will rule out a No Deal departure. Maybe – but it is the default as the ERG well understand. From their perspective No Deal has not been ruled out, simply postponed. Little wonder they were so willing to embrace the new WA – sacrificing the DUP’s support was a small price to pay to get a clean break from the EU and a majority Tory government with no recalcitrant Remainer MPs. For all the stupidity on show from many ERG MPs, like the hedgehog they know one big thing – never to lose sight of the prize: a clean break from the EU.

And it is in sight – and quite likely, even if Boris wants otherwise. There is not much time to conclude an FTA with the EU, especially if the intention is to diverge from EU laws in key areas. And this must be the intention because what would be the point of Brexit otherwise? The greater the divergence, the harder it will be to get EU agreement. The EU had an incentive to stop a No Deal exit – the desire not to harm Ireland. But it is now protected with its own backstop. So there is much less incentive for the EU to agree an FTA unless it gives the EU what it wants – no unseemly competition and/or money for access to its market. Plus it now has a year to lure away those companies/individuals who are not ecstatic at the prospect of less access, Non-Tariff barriers, tariffs and general administrative nuisance. A No Deal departure will only make it easier for the EU to do more luring. What of the fabled UK-US FTA?  Will this come first? If so, No Deal with the EU is practically inevitable.

It is quite remarkable that nearly 3½ years after the referendum, we still don’t know whether Britain will choose trade with the US, even if this is at the expense of its relationship with the EU, or vice versa. Nor do we know what Britain’s trade negotiation objectives will be, whether in relation to the EU or the US. How will differences between US and EU approaches be reconciled, for instance? Something more than the motherhood and apple pie statements contained in the Political Declaration are needed and should be part of the election debate.

What trade-offs? What divergence? In which areas? To what extent? For whose benefit? At what cost? To whom? What does less / smarter regulation actually mean?

There is an opportunity here for political parties who don’t share the Brexiteer’s Panglossian belief that FTAs are quick and easy to agree. In reality one party only – the Lib Dems, Labour having decided on yet another renegotiation and a referendum. But the Lib Dems have decided to stake all on stopping Brexit, a policy which will shortly become redundant. They are – for now – absenting themselves from any debate about what Britain’s post-Brexit trade, foreign and other policies should be. Indeed, by presenting themselves as the Revoke and Remain party (as if anyone had any doubt) they risk ensuring that this debate will not happen at all or only amongst Tories, out of sight of the voters. It is a strategic error – not just because revoking Article 50 without regard to the voters is not democratic – but because once Remain goes what is left?  Rejoin?  Really?

There is a much more urgent important debate to be had – about what sort of relationship Britain should have with the EU, the US and other countries once it has left, whether the transition should be extended, whether Britain should look West to the US or to Europe or China (Any thoughts, Ms Swinson on Huawei and 5G or Chinese pressure on UK universities?) about the trade-offs to be made, what sort of divergence there should be, about what sort of country and economy Britain wants to be.

The time for that debate is now – before the election. Those on the Remain side need to be in that debate, arguing for their vision of what sort of country Britain should be, what its future relationship with its neighbours should be, not just hoping to refight the referendum. If that debate doesn’t happen now, it will be Tory hard Brexiteers – those who have known all along what they want – who will make the key decisions. Clever Parliamentary ruses later will be of no help.



Farage plays his Trump card but Johnson surely shouldn’t be tempted

Friday, November 1st, 2019

Perhaps the most bizarre event so far in this election campaign was Nigel Farage talking to Donald Trump on his LBC radio programme yesterday.

Clearly Farage has been the big loser from the emergence of Johnson as the Conservative leader and Prime Minister and we have heard very little from the the Brexit party leader over the last month or so.

How was Farage going to get back into the game and start commanding media attention again? Well we have now seen how and the question is what does Johnson do do?

The problem is that in UK terms a link with Trump himself is an asset that is declining in value by the day as the moves to impeach him ratchet up.

What is the political benefit to Johnson in entering a dialogue particularly when there is the Farage link? The last thing the prime minister wants to do is to take action that puts the attention back on Farage who has been so damaging to Conservative Party interests in the past.

Also it is hard to see how Trump adds to Johnson’s political position at the moment. Of course if the UK does leave the EU at the end of of January then the government will need to talk to the US about a trade deal but being seen to use the Farage link would not be helpful.

No doubt Farage will use his relationship with Trump at today’s Brexit Party campaign launch.

As the Mirror front page this morning highlights a Johnson relationship with Trump could be a very big negative because it rightly or wrongly triggers the “US threat to the NHS” meme that has been used before and seems to get traction.

Mike Smithson


With the former Brexit deadline ending at 11pm how the betting’s moved since Johnson came

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

So here we are and a third Brexit deadline is about to be missed in spite of Johnson firm assertions that we would be leaving tonight when he first became PM.

This has been a very active betting market with on Betfair alone £7.2m of bets being matched. The chart of Betfair prices really follows what has been happening.

My own view is that Johnson won’t suffer any real political damage from failing to get the UK out by the due date.

We now have the extension and I just wonder whether January 31st is going to see the UK actually leave the EU or will it be missed again.

A lot depends on the general election outcome.

Mike Smithson


Let’s not forget that Johnson’s precarious parliamentary situation is largely self-made

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

He inherited from TMay an effective majority of 3

The reason that Johnson is in such a weak parliamentary position stems directly from two big decisions that he has made. First there was the reaction to his first Commons vote when he stripped 21 of his party’s MPs from the whip. Then there was his Brexit agreement with its changes for the status Northern Ireland which have resulted in the DUP’s 10 MPs moving entirely to the other side.

This was all against the background of the announcement in late August to prorogue parliament with the unstated objective of ensuring that the Commons would not sit for five weeks during a critical period. That caused an outrage which, of course, led to the Supreme Court ruling against him.

His aggressive refusal to follow the conventions of the UK’s unwritten constitution has hardly endeared him to parliamentarians who have sought to use whatever means there are to block him. He’s simply lost any goodwill and it is hard to see how he recovers from that.

His current desire to try to get another general election is thwarted by the FTPA which effectively leaves the decision in the hands of Corbyn’s party. His assumption that oppositions would always fall in behind a general election move proved to be a huge strategic mistake.

Sure Johnson has not been helped by the outgoing Speaker, John Bercow, who over his period in the job has sought to increase the power of the House against the executive. But much of Bercow’s position, I’d argue, has been in response to how the PM has approached his job.

The result is a stalemate.

Mike Smithson


Why the bar that the Tories will have to surmount at the next election has just got higher

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

All the talk is of elections. This time we might actually see one. In a narrative that has strong echoes of 2017, the talk is all of the Conservatives holding large leads in the polls, remaking their coalition and sweeping all gloriously before them with a victory that will transform the electoral map.

Well, perhaps. It was Marx who first suggested that when history repeats itself, the first time is tragedy and the second is farce. Whether or not you see Theresa May as a tragic figure, Boris Johnson would not be out of place on a theatre stage up the road from Downing Street in Whitehall where the protagonist’s trousers are falling from his waist at a moment’s notice. And his current buoyant polling position may well flatter to deceive. It seems to be largely built on dislike of Jeremy Corbyn rather than on any great enthusiasm for the Prime Minister or his project.  

Beneath the voting intention figures, the polling holds warnings for the Conservatives. The Prime Minister is not a popular figure. His government is by broad consensus perceived to be handling the Brexit negotiations badly (75% of respondents in the latest YouGov). In the latest YouGov, just 18% of the general population thought that his deal was good (30% think it is bad). These are not the figures of a party or a leader who can be sure of the public’s backing. It could easily all go very wrong very quickly.

And the Conservatives have, largely unnoticed, made the task of forming the next government considerably harder for themselves in the last week. If they were to win an overall majority, they would have nothing to worry about. This remains an odds-against shot on Betfair, however.

What if they fall short? Then they have rather a big problem. Who might they form a coalition with? Never mind that, who might they seek confidence and supply from? When Theresa May mislaid her majority in 2017, Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens were all non-starters as potential allies. There was only one party in Parliament that she could even start talking with: the DUP.

After the last week, one has become none. Boris Johnson can never, never, never, never expect any help ever again from the DUP. Come to that, nor can any of his successors for the foreseeable future. The DUP have memories that make elephants look absent-minded. They are not known for their sweet and forgiving nature. If ever an enemy was implacable, the DUP is that enemy.

Of course, the next Parliament might not look like this Parliament. It might have a cohort of MPs from the Brexit party, who the Conservatives might hope would make more congenial coalition partners. Current polling gives no reason to suggest that the Brexit party in a 2019 election would do any better than UKIP did in 2015. If they do, it will be because Nigel Farage has managed to make himself relevant to the Brexit debate. This is unlikely to be to the advantage of the Conservatives, who have in recent weeks pushed him to the margins. The votes he would scoop up would mostly be from them.

That doesn’t mean that all of the Conservatives’ opponents would unite under a single leader, especially if the Labour leader is Jeremy Corbyn. It does, however, mean, that without a vote being cast the bar for them remaining in government has risen from something like 305 MPs to something like 315 MPs.

They can still do it, of course.  The Conservatives have at least got their story straight. They are aided by the divisions among their opponents. It has, however, got just that bit harder.

Alastair Meeks


MPs back the deal but block the timetable

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019


Johnson’s problem is that his actions since becoming PM have led to him being totally mistrusted and disbelieved

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Why getting the timetable motion through is going to be a struggle

Above is Hillary Benn on a key issue of which MPs have only been aware tonight. Inevitably given the Cumming shenanigans since September there is a total lack of trust – something that would not have happened in TMay’s day.

Every single line and measure is going to be scrutinised to ensure that the PM is not pulling a fast one. September’s prorogation move that had to be stopped by the Supreme Court to all the other apparently smart moves briefed by Cumming have just create an atmosphere of total distrust.

The fight tomorrow is on a timetable motion as Johnson tries to meet his self-imposed deadline and avoid proper scrutiny.

Mike Smithson