Archive for the 'Boris' Category


At the end of the tunnel

Friday, October 11th, 2019

One of the many quirks of Brexit is that things look brightest when we’re in a tunnel. The announcement on Friday that the government’s latest proposals had gone into private intensive discussions caused market sentiment to soar, as well as the hopes of many political observers.

What does it all mean?  Well, since everyone is being uncharacteristically tight-lipped, it’s impossible to tell really. That hasn’t stopped endless speculation.

We can, however, set out the parameters. The last time that Parliament considered a deal was the third Meaningful Vote. It was defeated by 58. If Boris Johnson is to get a deal that will pass Parliament, he will have to do better (and, indeed, not lose any existing supporters). To be precise, he needs a net 29 to change sides in his favour.

Here is the current state of play in Parliament:

Conservative 288

Labour 245

SNP 35

Independents 35

Lib Dems 19

DUP 10

Sinn Fein 7

Independent Group for Change 5

Plaid Cymru 4

Green 1

Speaker 1

Who does he have to persuade? 34 Conservatives voted against it. Five of those are no longer Conservatives and look no more amenable than they did before. A sixth Remainer, Jo Johnson, might give his brother a sympathy shag, but that looks doubtful too. The other 28 are all militant Leavers. It has been suggested that Boris Johnson could now rely on the power of preferment to get more of them onside, but in fact only three of the hardcore Leavers, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and James Duddridge, are ministers. 

So there are 25 more MPs who can afford to remain true to their principles without cost if they are so inclined. This idea that the hardcore rebels are magically more biddable is not resting on patronage.

Whether they are so inclined will depend in considerable part on the reaction of the DUP. Their 10 MPs opposed the last deal on every occasion. Sammy Wilson has already fired warning shots.

The Lib Dems can be expected to show testicular fortitude opposing whatever deal Boris Johnson might come up with. So can the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the bulk of the Labour party. Just five Labour MPs voted for the deal last time around and only one of the independents last time who voted against (John Woodcock) looks even potentially persuadable. 

19 Labour MPs, however, wrote to the European Commission beseeching them to look for a deal. Boris Johnson will hope to pick up their votes and perhaps some more Labour MPs as well (Lisa Nandy has estimated 40 Labour MPs are working towards a cross-party deal).  They may, however, insist on extracting a price.

The movement may not all be one way. At least one Conservative MP has repented of his support of the last meaningful vote and others may follow if they regard the revised deal as selling out Northern Ireland. Lady Sylvia Hermon – who is after all a unionist, albeit an unusual one – may find it difficult to support a deal if it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

All of this means that the numbers look challenging, but not necessarily impossible.  Much will depend on the deal actually struck, the willingness of the Spartans to accept a figleaf if offered and the newfound desperation of some Labour MPs to accept a deal.

Oh, and all this assumes that a deal is found in the first place. Still, let’s keep that faint candle flickering for now.

Alastair Meeks


The mood changes on Brexit but the devil will be in the detail

Friday, October 11th, 2019

A UK Brexit by the end of the year now 38% betting favourite

Judging by today’s front pages the prospect for a deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU look better than ever. Certainly Johnson’s meeting with his Irish counterpart on the Wirral yesterday looks very promising but at the moment we do not know exactly what concessions have been made and whether that will be acceptable to the DUP.

A political problem of course is that there are two communities in Northern Ireland, but that only one of them the protestants, sends MPs to Westminster. Sinn Fein competes in elections and wins a clutch of seats which it never fills.

There’s also been the issue that Stormont has been suspended for nearly two years because of the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree. One positive thing of the current situation over Brexit is that it might get the Parliament in Belfast functioning again.

A key part of the the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was that both communities should share power and that has not always been easy to achieve.

The DUP, which got just 36% of the Northern Irish vote at the last general election has always made its red line that this part of the UK should not be treated differently from other parts. How they will react to what was discussed yesterday day is is a big question though so it is going to be hard for them to oppose something that that has wide agreement elsewhere.

One thing we do know know is that the overall agreement has to be sanctioned by the House of Commons something that Theresa May struggled to achieve and failed three times.

I think we could now see see opponents of Brexit at Westminster seeking to ensure that the deal is agreed by a confirmatory referendum. It becomes harder to argue against that once we know exactly what is involved. 

The mood on the Brexit betting markets has changed but it is still only a 38% chance on the Betfair Exchange that the UK will leave the EU by the end of the year. Before yesterday it was about 30%.

Mike Smithson


It’s looking like a no-deal brexit or else an Article 50 extension

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

If the front pages have this right then the chances of Johnson getting his deal through look very thin indeed and so the only options remaining are a no-deal Brexit or else it’s an Article 50 extension.

The latter,  of course, would breach the the deadlines that Johnson set for himself on taking over at Number 10 and the consequences of such a move are very hard to fathom. The big plan, I guess, is for there to be an extension but for it to be seen that this has not been because of Johnson.

This could be dangerous stuff and I wonder whether we might hear calls for Theresa May’s deal to be resurrected and to be put to MPs again. This, of course, has been rejected three times already.

The problem is Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago which brought an end to the troubles that so dominated the politics of these islands from the late 60s onwards.

It was because the Irish Republic and the UK were both in the EU that made such an agreement possible. That is why it has been so hard finding a solution that works for Brexit and is politically acceptable.

In retrospect Theresa May’s deal with the Irish backstop was an elegant solution and was actually a huge compromise by the EU27 something that has not been fully appreciated in the UK.

Another referendum appears to be be increasingly talked about and I wonder whether that might gather momentum as we approach this critical time period. Could we see a backbench bill being put forward and getting the backing of MPs? There might just be a possibility of that getting through. This would probably delay a general election.

Mike Smithson


Corbyn would be taking a massive gamble calling an election when he’s so far behind in the leader ratings

Monday, October 7th, 2019

As has been remarked upon many times recently we are in a totally unprecedented situation when it comes to calling the next general election. Following Corbyn’s repeated reluctance to take the bait in September he, effectively, is the one who will decide when the country’s next general election will be held

Johnson simply does not have the votes to reach the required two-thirds of all MPs as laid down by the Fixed-Term Parliament Act. If he wants to go to the country early, and there might be good reasons for him doing so, then he has to rely on the opposition leader, Corbyn, moving a vote of no confidence in the prescribed form or him backing the PM’s motion.

So the decision is in Corbyn’s personal hands and the complete opposite situation that we normally expect. The question is will will Labour and its leader decide to go this year or will they reckon that holding on a bit will help its position period.

A factor that might help LAB leadership make its mind up are the latest leader ratings which show Corbyn continuing to struggle against others behind, on these measures, that might be unsurmountable.

But Corbyn might be buoyed up by the experience of last time when he was behind on voting intention but came through and did not suffer as big a defeat as many had been predicting. But, and sometimes his loyal backers forget this, he still lost.

The Glastonbury rhetoric in 2016 of “being in Downing Street by Christmas 2016” is all a long time ago.

Mike Smithson


My 500/1 tip might just turn out be a winner

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

This morning’s Sunday Times is reporting

John Bercow has been proposed for the role of Britain’s caretaker prime minister, as opposition parties plot to sidestep Jeremy Corbyn and form a “government of national unity” composed entirely of prominent backbenchers.

The Commons Speaker has emerged as the new favourite in the race to take over from Boris Johnson if opposition parties succeed in ousting the prime minister with a vote of no confidence.

Bercow would lead a “cabinet of all the talents” made up of backbenchers and MPs leaving parliament at the next election, under plans floated by opposition parties last week.

The idea has been proposed as a way to avoid a clash with the Labour leader, who has insisted that only he can lead a caretaker government despite not having the support of other opposition parties.

One source familiar with the idea said: “If none of the opposition party leaders are given roles in the cabinet, then it should allay Corbyn’s fears that his authority will drain away if he does not become caretaker prime minister.”

The proposal is for the cabinet to be made up entirely of “clean skins” — MPs unrestricted by party loyalty — who can work together in the “national interest” rather than “narrow partisan interests”, according to another source.

“MPs who are standing down will also be able to rise above their own self-interest because they will not be seeking re-election, meaning they will be able to put the country before their own parties,” the source added.

Some of those MPs expected to be called on to serve include Ken Clarke and Sir Oliver Letwin.

Sir Vince Cable has told friends he would be prepared to join such a cabinet amid speculation that he is eyeing up the job of chancellor.

This story is great news for anyone who followed my tip in August where I thought Bercow might well be the successor to Boris Johnson.

Bercow is currently 33/1 with Ladbrokes to succeed Boris Johnson, whether that’s value is up to to the reader, I’m probably leaning against. However with Boris Johnson prepared to break all sorts of conventions to remain PM and deliver a No Deal Brexit on Halloween, including further embarrassing Her Majesty by daring her to sack him.

I never expected to read sentences like ‘One senior figure said: “Unless the police turn up at the doors of 10 Downing Street with a warrant for the prime minister’s arrest, [Boris Johnson] won’t be leaving.”’

Those opposed to Project Fear becoming Project Reality might have to take similar extraordinary steps, Speaker Bercow becoming Prime Minister might just be one of those steps.



Will Dominic Cummings still be senior adviser to Boris Johnson on New Year’s Day?

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

Will the PM have more Cummings or goings?

This market by Paddy Power on Boris Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings should attract a lot of attention given the prominence of Mr Cummings and his publicity shy nature that can only be rivalled by Paddy Power.

It is understandable why No is favourite in this market, during the summer it was reported that

Mr Cummings also suggested that he may leave his role after Britain exits the European Union on October 31. He postponed an operation that required general anaesthetic after being asked by Mr Johnson to work at No 10. He is due to have the operation in November. “Who knows if I will be back,” he said.

I suspect Dominic Cummings would like to add a (landslide) general election victory to his résumé to go alongside his role in winning the 2016 referendum. With the Benn Act being enacted I think that will see Cummings remain Boris Johnson’s senior adviser until Brexit actually happens. So that makes me think the value lies with Yes.

The main risk to this bet is the wording and if Boris Johnson brings in someone else with the title of say ‘principal adviser’ whilst keeping Cummings in his current role. Arguing semantics is always fun.



In the year of general election betting punters continue to make 2019 odds on favourite but not the near certainty that it was

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

Chart by

We are now in October and we know that the law lays down that there has to be 25 working days between an election being called and polling day so if one is to take place this year the options are running out.

This month sees, of course, the Article 50 deadline and the court case in Scotland that seeks to ensure that a letter seeking an extension under the Benn act is actually sent if Johnson is not minded to do it himself.

We’ve also got the “no ifs no buts” assertions by the PM that the UK is going to leave by Halloween. Current strategy appears to be to ensure that it is not Johnson who gets the blame if the deadline is not reached.

We have also got the key EU meeting coming up when its response to the Johnson/Cummings “deal” will be known.

On the election timing Johnson has the big problem that he doesn’t have the MP numbers to put it through on his own and will have to rely on LAB which has made clear that avoiding no deal at the end of the month is the key priority.

There’s also the possibility that at any time Corbyn could table a no confidence motion in the prescribed form laid down by the FTPA and as things stand at the moment this would carry on the required simple majority. Then there would be 14 days for a new government to be formed which had the confidence of the house or, failing that, a general election.

Meanwhile John Rentoul in the Indy is speculating on what agovernment of national unity might look like.

My betting position continues to be that there will be no 2019 general election.

Mike Smithson


Tommyknockers. The death of the old Conservative party

Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Stephen King has produced some dross. One of his worst is a book called Tommyknockers, the premise of which is that an alien spacecraft is found buried in the woods in Maine, and it then starts a creeping possession of the minds and bodies of the local townsfolk, until finally they mutate into the form of the aliens who flew in it. Stephen King himself has stated that he regards this as an awful book.

Nevertheless, it provides a good metaphor for what we have seen happen to the Conservative party in the last few years. Since the EU referendum was unearthed, it has undergone a slow transformation from a placidly liberal party of law and order and sound government into an angry and wild English nationalist mob.

Wednesday was the day when the Conservative party spat out the last of its liberal teeth. Fresh from its defeat in the Supreme Court, where the government had been found to have made an illegal attempt to suspend Parliamentary democracy, the party of law and order might have been expected to have been whipped and cowed.  

Not a bit of it. The government decided that the Supreme Court had got the law wrong and only its current inability to place itself above it meant that it would grudgingly comply with it. No apologies, no contrition for unconstitutionally suspending democracy. The Attorney General, so far from humiliated that his advice had been shredded, decided to boom out his opinion that this Parliament is dead.  

The Prime Minister refused to apologise and took the opportunity to rail over and over against what he termed the “Surrender Act”. In the face of outrage from opposition MPs, who queued up to ask him to moderate his language given the death threats they were receiving from those who adopted the Prime Minister’s words, he doubled down, describing as “humbug” a reference to Jo Cox and arguing that the best way to honour her was to get Brexit done.  

For a man who once professed a desire to unite the country, he’s doing a terrible job. His hero, Winston Churchill, once said that if Hitler invaded Hell he would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson was not prepared to go even that far to help woo the support of potentially biddable Labour MPs.

Most importantly, however, was the lack of queasiness on the Conservative benches. No Cabinet ministers resigned and no MPs have called for the Prime Minister’s resignation, despite his personal involvement in the greatest affront to democracy in living memory and its crushing rejection by the Supreme Court. Just a small handful of Conservative MPs who still hold the whip have expressed any qualms about Boris Johnson’s language, and none has done so in anything other than the weakest terms. The takeover of the Conservative party is pretty much complete.

(Amazingly, this takes place against the backdrop of a scandal that all by itself would have the potential to bring down a Prime Minister. When he was Mayor of London, Boris Johnson apparently steered funds and access to the start-up business of a young woman to whom he was very close at the time. Lord Sandwich supposedly said to John Wilkes: ‘You will either die of a pox or on the gallows’. Wilkes retorted: ‘That depends, my Lord, whether I embrace your mistress or your principles’. Boris Johnson seems to be attempting a unique double.)

Where next? There is no way back. The Conservatives have had a clean break divorce from prudence. In two short months, Boris Johnson has burned the party’s bridges. It will be a long time before we next see a Conservative leader who smoothly seeks to persuade the country that he or she will offer stable and strong government.

Instead, the Conservatives have cast their lot with populism. With Labour firmly campaigning as outsider insurgents as well, an opportunity is going begging for any party that wishes to campaign as the party of quiet competence and measured governance. The Lib Dems look very well-placed to pick that up, if they so choose.

The interesting question is whether they should actively seek this vote out.  There’s definitely a section of the public that votes for good government. However, the recent past has shown (and the Lib Dems’s own resurgence indicates) that having a tubthumping platform is a good vote-getter.

The Lib Dems, more than any other party, now stand at a crossroads. They have a big decision to make about their approach to the dissident Conservatives, who come from this spat-out strand of the Conservative party.  Do they seek to co-opt them or do they seek to leave them to be eclipsed? It would be a big message if, for example, David Gauke, Justine Greening or Dominic Grieve were to join them — but that message would be heard by left of centre voters as well as right of centre voters and may repel some voters as well as attract others.

It’s a big call and not an easy one. For what it’s worth, I think they should look to broaden their tent and actively reach out to those Conservatives who the current Conservative party not only rejects but regards as hate figures. In the coming years, having steadiness as a USP may be very valuable indeed.

Alastair Meeks