Archive for the 'Boris' Category


The final step. Why the leader of the Conservative party does not automatically become Prime Minister

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Professor Brian Cox was once asked to explain string theory in a sentence. His answer: “It’s probably not true.” The same one sentence explanation could be used to explain the theory that the next Conservative leader might not become Prime Minister. But since it’s being talked about quite a bit, let’s have a look at why.

The current Parliament was elected at a general election held on 8 June 2017. It resulted in a hung Parliament. It is forgotten now, because Theresa May held office both before and after that election, just how precarious her grip on power was. She faced two challenges simultaneously: retaining control of her own party and retaining control of Parliament.  

Theresa May stayed in office as Prime Minister for two reasons. First, as the incumbent, she had the right to try to form a government first, just as Ted Heath had in 1974 and Gordon Brown had in 2010. And secondly, because whether or not she was going to be successful, someone had to fill the role until the successful contender had emerged and that responsibility falls to the incumbent.

During the intervening period, there was some genuine doubt about whether the negotiations with the DUP would reach a successful outcome. Jeremy Corbyn was demanding the right to get the keys of Number 10. It was not until 26 June 2017 that the Conservative party reached agreement with the DUP on a supply and confidence arrangement.  

The last two years have not been kind to the Conservative party. Brexit has acted as a centrifuge on it, its forces pinning its MPs and leaving them feeling dizzy and sick. It has already seen four MPs break away from its Remain wing, further weakening its already-etiolated control of Parliament. Another of their number has just been ejected from Parliament by recall, meaning that a by-election is pending. The Conservatives’ effective majority, with DUP support, is currently just two.

Many remaining Conservative MPs do not trouble to conceal their dismay at the prospect of no deal Brexit and Boris Johnson. Some, such as Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, have been making public or semi-public their intention to oppose him in the name of Brexit. The continuing complexities of his personal life and his reclusiveness will be doing nothing to deter them. Several of them are being threatened with deselection, giving them little to lose by going rogue.

To date, no one has ever gone broke betting on the Conservative Remainers failing to follow through. So it must remain by some way the likeliest outcome that most of them will go quietly, at least initially, deluding themselves that they should wait and see. You and I might wonder what they would be waiting to see, but they aren’t called wets for nothing.

Numbers are so tight, however, that even a handful might transform the calculation. Lyndon B Johnson reputedly said that the first rule of politics was knowing how to count. Let’s consider that first rule for a while. If Boris Johnson looks unlikely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons, what then?

Professor Cox would appreciate that a different first rule, Newton’s First Law of Motion, applies.  Unless and until something happens, the status quo continues. So Theresa May stays in office until she resigns or is ousted. The assumption is that she will speedily resign after the conclusion of the Conservative leadership election campaign. That assumption looks very open to question.

When she resigns, it is her duty (as well as that of other senior statesmen) to recommend to the Queen the person who she believes can be expected to command the confidence of the Commons. If that is not clear to her, she should not make such a recommendation. It is very questionable whether she should resign at all until things become clearer.

Obviously, this would be an extremely unstable equilibrium. Theresa May would have no visible means of support. At any point, she might face a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in her government.  This would presumably pass. We would then enter a period of 14 days to find a government that commanded the confidence of the Commons. Otherwise, a general election is automatically held.

Even after the passing of a vote of no confidence, Theresa May is not obliged to resign as Prime Minister and might well not. After James Callaghan was defeated in a vote of no confidence in 1979, the government continued in office for a further week before Parliament was dissolved. Theresa May might reasonably argue that she should stay in situ until it was clear that a fresh government was capable of being formed that might command the confidence of Parliament.

Political journalists, who have frankly been spoiled in recent years by the speed and variety of political developments, would love the chaos. The rest of us, not so much. Where it would go, goodness only knows. On the track record of recent years, nowhere very good.

In the end, however, Boris Johnson would probably be able to line up enough votes behind him at least to have a shot at proving that he could control a majority. With Labour having lost a more than a dozen MPs from its ranks since 2017, enough independents might abstain or prop him up to justify him being called to kiss hands to test his chances in Parliament, unless rather more Conservative MPs are prepared to take a stand than have already made themselves known – at least half a dozen, I think.  

Even if Boris Johnson tries and fails, a Prime Minister for a few days is still a Prime Minister. At least for betting purposes, anyway.

What might happen after that is still murkier. Perhaps Brian Cox could explain it in 11 dimensions for us. I’m all ears.

Alastair Meeks


If the CON race continues to be about character them it might be a lot closer than anybody thought

Monday, June 24th, 2019

When at the launch of the Boris campaign a fortnight ago the Sky journalist, Beth Rigby, sought to raise the question of character she got loudly booed by many of those attending. It was the same yesterday at the the first hustings in Birmingham when Iain Dale sought to raise the issue that’s been dominating the news with Johnson. This didn’t come over well on TV.

Yet that is now what the campaign is becoming about and it is hard to see how this is beneficial to the ex-Mayor and Foreign Secretary who continues to be an 80% plus chance in the betting.

What we don’t know, of course, is what the mainly male Tory members are going to make of all of this. Certainly Boris is very good at making headlines but the ones today are surely not helping his campaign and are a reminder of the potential risk that there might be in him becoming the next leader and Prime Minister.

I think Johnson has also made the Theresa May mistake in not wanting to take part in the TV debates. We saw just two years ago how totally damaging that was for the Prime Minister and surely the member for Uxbridge must have observed and absorbed.

Even though it is Tory members who make the final decision in this instance there is a public expectation that politicians are going to come under scrutiny at a time when they are seeking to get the job. Judging the the Times this morning Jeremy Hunt sees a way of exploiting Johnson’s approach:

“Mr Hunt says that Tory members want a “fair and open contest, not one that one side is trying to rig to avoid scrutiny”.

“One of the strengths of our system is that we scrutinise our politicians with more intelligent ferocity than anywhere else in the world. But in this case it just isn’t happening,” he writes.

“Nothing could be worse for a new prime minister in these challenging times than to come to power with a fake contest.”

Now the question is whether Boris and his advisers are able to move on and get the focus on things that are more positive to him.


Mike Smithson


Johnson’s position is holding up well on the betting markets where he’s now an 82% chance to succeed TMay

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 chart of Betfair exchange movements

Political punters, those who risk their cash trying to predict political outcomes, haven’t changed their view of Johnson’s chances of becoming the next CON leader and PM and is still a solid odds-on favourite to succeed TMay. The events of Thursday night and what’s happened since have had an impact, as can be seen by the chart, but not that much. Those gambling on Betfair £11m TMay succession market don’t think it will impact on his chances.

My reading is that the one thing that could change perceptions is polling that suggests that Johnson does not offer the Tories the electoral advantage that earlier polling has shown particularly the ComRes “145 general election” majority survey. So far there has been nothing contradict the broad thrust and he remains the strong front runner.

The hard reason why Boris is rated so highly is that he is seen as having a much greater chance of leading his party to general election success than Hunt.

Fourteen years ago, it will be recalled, the Tories went for David Cameron ahead of the long standing favourite David Davis because they believed the former would take them to a Commons majority after three bruising defeats by Tony Blair. At the end of the day perceived electability is key.

I’m expecting several polls this week and hopefully we will see numbers that will give us a post Camberwell incident snapshot of where things now stand

Mike Smithson



For the moment at current prices I’m laying Johnson

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Never before has a party membership chosen a PM

We are now at a unique stage in British political history when the members of a particular party will by postal ballot decide who the next prime minister shall be. The decisions that members will take are of a different magnitude from other party leadership contests.

So we need to see new “final two” CON member polling to establish whether there has been any shift now that we know which two are going to be slugging it out. It might be that because there is an established alternative that might harden up the 30+ ratings that Hunt has been getting.  Any polling movement amongst the 160k who are eligible to vote will lead to a sharp reaction in the betting.

Then there are the two televised debates and the hustings meeting where Johnson’s broad brush approach might lead to him being tripped up which again could impact on the betting markets.

Thirdly there are all those stories about Boris himself. Maybe there might be something that hits home and raises doubts.

My main bet for this final phase has been to lay Johnson at 1.09 and be ready to cash in on any price movement away from the current very strong position.

This is not to say that he won’t do it but that there are plenty of  occasions and events where we could see movement and I want to be in a position to trade if the opportunity arises.

Mike Smithson



Now we are down to the final 4 and CON MPs reject the contender deemed to have “won” last night’s debate

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019


YouGov snap CON debate poll gives it to Stewart amongst all voters by a big margin

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

This raises doubts over BoJo’s ability to win converts

YouGov has published what appears to be the only poll carried out on last night’s CON leader debates. The main details are in the YouGov table above.

While there’s little doubt that the member for Uxbridge does well with Tory voters but the party is going to need much more than them in a general election and that presents something of a dilemma.  That just 7% of Remain voters gave their debate verdict to Johnson is very telling and should be worrying  as it seems set to choose Johnson.

Tony Blair was a hugely successful general election campaigner because he was able to reach voters that other LAB figures had been able to get through to. He won three general election working majorities on the trot.

One of the things that’s always trotted out in relation to Johnson is his success in London. A big factor that helped that, I’d suggest, was that each time his LAB opponent was Ken Livingstone and in 2008 when he first won the London mayoralty Cameron’s Tory party was on a roll.

By May 2008 Brown’s LAB had really run out of steam and the Tories looked as though they were heading for a Commons majority.

Maybe this YouGov poll will help keep Stewart in the race in this afternoon’s ballot of MPs


Mike Smithson





From a media perspective Team Boris will regard last night as job well done

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

He’s helped by the size of the field

The Boris plan of refusing almost all media invitations meant that last night was the first time anybody had seen him facing scrutiny since TMay announced that she was going. But the nature of the programme with the BBC feeling it had to bring in questions from studios all over the country meant that the time spent with the overwhelming betting favourite was very limited.

I found him less than convincing and he could be vulnerable in one to one probing. Issues were allowed to hang that should have been probed a bit further because the programme operated on the BBC principle of being fair to all five.

We did get a glimpse of what will become a big narrative when the prospect of UK farmers facing huge tariffs for when their produce is exported to the EU on a such a scale that is going to make it very difficult.

What we need to hear is what the presumptive PM is going to do about those sections of the UK economy that could be ruined in the event of no deal. Johnson needs to be pressed hard.

I was impressed by Stewart’s response afterwards to what clearly was a lacklustre performance. The format didn’t suit him at all and his admission could help him keep in the race after tonight’s vote.

There’s a lot of betting going on and the amount wagered on the Betfair exchange is now above £7m.

Mike Smithson



Maybe Raab’s the one with the best chance of stopping Johnson?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Kitchen Cabinet on choosing between the illness and the cure

Boris Johnson’s election to the Conservative leadership looks almost assured. As I mentioned on a previous thread, Gavin Williamson looks to have done wonders for BoJo’s election prospects. If you are a Boris hater, I might have some good news for you. There is a way he may not be elected. The bad news (for many) is that the only way for that to happen is to have him face Dominic Raab in the members’ ballot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a fan of Raab in terms of electability to the wider public. He comes across as wooden and stiff and non-likeable (although he has an impressive back story). Moreover,  some of his comments around feminism may open him up to attack later, though many in the membership may cheer his stance. However, if you don’t want Johnson as your PM, he is your man.

One way to look at this is to say which opponent, if any, Johnson would like to face in a run-off. Jeremy Hunt would be the favourite.  Easy to characterise as May 2.0, who would flip flop on Brexit and not deliver. Michael Gove would be a close second. The media would love a Gove-BoJo contest but, in reality, it wouldn’t be close. The revelations on Gove are fatal not because he used cocaine (the Conservative membership can be forgiving of personal failings, look at Cecil Parkinson) but because firstly, it shows him to be a hypocrite and, secondly, he looks the sort of guy who used it to impress – not a good look. Oh, and nobody likes a backstabber. Javid might be harder for BoJo but, again, he lacks charisma, can be accused of chickening out on Brexit and the banker angle may be an issue.

That leaves Stewart and Raab. Stewart has been a revelation but, to me, he seems a bit like Game of Thrones – all the luvvies rave about him but the general population couldn’t care less and are watching Coronation Street. His message beyond Brexit is rather vague and he looks odd (mainly not his fault but…). Moreover, BoJo would always be able to use the nuclear weapon of saying Stewart would never fulfil Brexit to persuade the membership to vote for him.

But he could never do that with Raab who could never be accused of threatening to reverse Brexit (at least by BoJo). Raab also has a second agenda he has pushed hard – reducing taxation – which would also be popular amongst the membership and which could win him votes. Boris’ policy commitments are rather, mmm, vague in comparison. Finally, he has been active, both in the media and at the grass roots level, since leaving the Cabinet, which should also help him.

One obvious riposte is that Johnson polls far better than Raab amongst the members. But the real question is how “hard” is that support. I suspect not much. Lord Ashcroft’s feedback suggest that many have negative views on Boris that can be exploited. If Raab pushed hard in a campaign, BoJo May flounder.

The one thing is, though, that I suspect Gavin Williamson is also aware of many of these dynamics and whom would also make the easiest competition for BoJo to face and who wouldn’t. Thus, Raab backers are likely to face subtle hints and threats to withdraw although he may be saved by harder line Brexiteers taking a view that Raab needs to be in the final rounds to stop BoJo reneging on Brexit. We will soon find out.

The Kitchen Cabinet