Archive for the 'Boris' Category


The favourite always wins the Tory leadership race – eventually

Monday, June 17th, 2019

It’s all about the timing

Conventional wisdom has it that the favourite never wins Tory leadership races. In one sense, this is probably true. I don’t have the historic figures but before every leadership election since the Party moved away from the old Magic Circle method of leaders ‘emerging’, there’s a good case that the person who emerged the winner was not the one seen as most likely to succeed in the period before the election was called.

However, that rule only holds good for so long and in truth, it’s not really a rule at all; more a guideline. Several elections could easily have developed differently, to the favourite’s advantage, but for chance and happenstance. Heseltine would probably have won in 1990 had Thatcher contested the second round (indeed, that’s precisely why she didn’t), or would have done so in 1992 had Howe not resigned when he did, for example.

But while the long-term favourite might have no record of coming out the winner, that’s not the case once the election is underway, as this one is now. Once you move past that mark, favourites have a much stronger record.

Even ignoring the unusual cases of 1989 and 1995, and of 1965 (which required only one round), Thatcher in 1975 and May in 2016 were clear favourites to win after the first round, and went on to do so. There is absolutely no reason based on precedent to believe that Boris won’t follow in their footsteps.

On the contrary, precedent – as well as common sense – suggests that he’s well-set to stroll over the line. The smallest share of the vote that any winner received in any round was the 23.5% support that Duncan Smith won in the first round of the 2001 contest. If anyone other than Boris is to take the crown this time, they will do so having polled little more than half that, as best: Jeremy Hunt, who finished runner-up last Thursday, secured the support of only 13.7% of his colleagues.

By contrast, Johnson appears to be continuing to gain support and if Raab is knocked out before the round-of-three, is likely to be backed by more than half the Conservative parliamentary party before the vote goes to the members: a formidable campaigning asset his team will no doubt play up, even before considering that such polling of Tory members as there has been suggests they both like and trust Boris (despite copious evidence as to why they shouldn’t).

Boris could screw it up but the overwhelming likelihood is that he won’t. I don’t expect any new (large) skeletons to fall out of his closet given how the best that those who would like to discredit him can do is to recycle old ones, and as the firmest Brexiteer on the ballot-paper once Raab is knocked out, would stand a strong chance on that fact alone, even before his other electoral assets.

In short, this will be the election that puts paid to a rule that should never have been taken too seriously in the first place.

David Herdson


Boris will be the next prime minister. Then what?

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

Airy assertions and motivational phrases do not deliver deals or organise governments

The landslide victory for Boris in the first round of the Tory leadership contest comes close by itself to assuring him of the outright win. Even at the 1/5 odds currently widely quoted, he’s still value.

Put simply, the main question is whether he’ll cruise over the line or stumble over it. His safety-first approach may well tend towards the latter outcome for lack of energy and momentum but either way, he still gains the crown.

Why? Numbers. Boris already has enough in the bag to see him through to the run-off. True, the election isn’t conducted by AV and he could lose MPs between the rounds, either for tactical reasons or because they genuinely become disillusioned with him but even if some do flake off, it’s highly unlikely to make much difference.

For one thing, other votes will continually be freed up – 50 MPs alone go into Tuesday’s vote having backed someone this week who’s now withdrawn or been eliminated – and transfers from these will mask any slippage.

Crucially, the dynamics also now work strongly for Boris. It’s very hard to see how Raab can do any better than fourth, given that the majority of votes that will be freed up before the round-of-four will come from ex-Remain MPs. If so, that means that Boris goes into the round-of-three with a huge proportion of the Leave MPs on his side, plus plenty of Remainers too, against two candidates from Gove, Hunt, Javid and Stewart.

If the Leave vote was split between Boris and Raab, against, say, Hunt, Boris’s lead among MPs might look a lot more slender. As it is, he will remain way out in front as the “MP’s choice”.

There is a risk that Boris might lose the vote among the members but it’s essentially the risk of him doing something so stupid that he kills his own campaign. Boris and his team are clearly aware of this risk and so I expect him to continue to err on the side of dullness for now. Providing he avoids potholes, I don’t see how any rival who might make the run-off beats him, especially as most postal votes are likely to be returned in the first week or so of the election.

However, winning the leadership election will be the easy part. Boris will inherit an appalling state of affairs, in policy, in parliament and in his party.

In policy, everything beyond Brexit has ground to a halt, allowing Labour to make great strides in setting the terms of debate on spending, tax, austerity, social policy, crime and so on. Witness the extent to which Tory candidates are falling over themselves to ignore, and implicitly reject, the need for sound public finances – something which will have long-lasting political effects as it becomes extremely hard for Tories to defend the austerity programme having just undermined the rationale for it, and hence becomes very easy for Labour to claim that the cuts were ‘ideological’.

On Brexit, Boris will have left himself no room for manoeuvre, having gained his victory off ERG votes on a pledge to leave on October 31 come what may. He will have to deliver on this, all the more so as he will have to repeat these pledges to the Tory Party conference at the beginning of October, to the activists who voted for him for that very reason and who are deeply spooked by their party lying in fourth place in some polls with a deficit of up to 9% against Farage’s Brexit Party. That it’s only YouGov polls that have the Tories in fourth – no other firm’s found them behind the Lib Dems – is a detail few notice when you’re panicking and with YouGov publishing most frequently.

In all probability, that means there’d be no room to compromise with with the EU anyway but it looks as if the EU is once again going to overplay their hand on the assumption that the UK will fold or at least kick the can again – an assumption that would certainly be wrong from the point of view of the government.

Would it be wrong from the point of view of parliament? That’s harder to say and for that very reason, forms another frame of Boris’ cage. There can be no doubt that parliament is very heavily set against No Deal but it may find it hard to express that opposition.

The Commons, having rejected this week the chance to repeat the process that forced the first extension in March, may have thrown away its best chance to force the government’s hand. Passing legislation in opposition to the government is extremely difficult, requiring both control of the agenda and majorities in the House that shouldn’t normally be there. Even then, the Bill might not be drawn up tightly enough (May wasn’t forced to accept the offer the EU put to her, for example).

However, if lesser options aren’t available, greater ones might be. If a Vote of No Confidence was the only means of stopping No Deal, Labour MPs, including the likes of Kate Hoey (who on Brexit votes have been fairly reliable for the government), would be down-the-line against Boris and co. Possibly the government might survive off DUP votes and some independents but none are to be relied on. Yes, they might be turkeys voting for Christmas but on an issue of this magnitude, politicians who feel strongly enough to leave their parties might well be prepared to sacrifice their careers too.

Winning the Tory leadership on an explicit pledge of No-Deal-if-Needed is bad politics on just about every level other than the briefest of timeframes. It would be to win not a gold medal but an enriched uranium one. The easy option would be to argue that Boris’s weakness for ephemeral moments of adulation, applause and self-amusement mean it will happen anyway but this wouldn’t be quite right. Boris will be chosen not despite that but because of it. He may be cynically playing to the gallery but if he is, it’s because they want to be played. Electing him will be a deeply irresponsible decision but one that is symptomatic of a current mindset that wishes away problems and indulges in fantasies and delusions; a mindset unfit for a great party and one which if not addressed will cause not only the party damage that could last decades but the country too.

David Herdson


Boris and the illusion of unity

Friday, June 14th, 2019

“To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern.” – Nigel Lawson

There was a time, not long ago although it seems a world away now, when the electoral pitch of the Conservative Party strongly featured its willingness to make difficult decisions, to address reality rather than pretend problems away. It was a pitch which won respect and therefore won elections. So how is the party doing with the two most urgent decisions facing it today: who to choose as leader, and what then to do about Brexit?

On the first the party seems to have made up its mind. Barring some major dislocation, Boris Johnson will be the next leader and PM. His campaign has been very professionally run, and (remarkably, given the views about him which fellow MPs and party members have expressed over the years), he is garnering support from almost all factions of this heavily divided party: Steve Baker and Therese Coffey, John Redwood and Damian Collins, IDS and Oliver Dowden, Bill Cash and James Brokenshire. He is getting an impressive level of support from MPs, and seems set to do even better amongst party members.

At first sight this broad support seems a good thing: all major parties are broad coalitions, and successful leaders like Thatcher, Blair and Cameron united their parties to lead them to victory. They did this by winning the internal political arguments and imposing a coherent vision on policy and positioning, drawing their parties in to support their platforms. In each case, even if individual MPs and party activists didn’t like parts of that positioning, they were prepared to unite around it.

Alas, in this case the apparent consensus in support of Boris across much of the party doesn’t reflect any such unity and acceptance. Boris hasn’t won any arguments. He hasn’t convinced the doubters that one course or the other has to be followed. In fact he hasn’t even attempted to do so, in the way that Rory Stewart or Dominic Raab have tried to do. Instead, his pitch is the diametric opposite of facing up to difficult choices. As he famously said, “My policy on cake is pro having it and pro eating it”. That is how he is getting support from both have-ers and eaters.

The party, in apparently going for Boris as leader, is simply postponing, yet again, the moment where it has to face up to reality. This is not unity, it is failure to choose. The choices which have to be made, very soon indeed or they’ll be made for us, are the same as and just as painful as those which the party, and parliament, have failed to make for six months. Postponing the decisions for a few more months won’t make them any easier, but will contribute to the inevitable decline in the fortunes of the Conservative Party, which seems determined to throw away all three of its main electoral strengths of pragmatism, business-friendly financial discipline, and facing up to difficult decisions.

Richard Nabavi

Richard Nabavi is a regular contributor to Political Betting and is currently a member of the Conservative Party.


2019 now moves to the favourite slot as year of the next general election

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Chart of Betfair price movements from

The big betting move following Johnson’s thumping victory in the first round of the CON MP leadership voting has been renewed interest in the next general election taking place this year. This has now moved to favourite on Betfair.

A challenge for a Boris-led CON party is going to be keeping the parliamentary grouping together because, if not, you could see him failing a government confidence motion at the first hurdle which, if not rescinded within a fortnight, would trigger a general election.

His challenge is the same one that TMay faced but more so – MP numbers. It doesn’t take many CON MPs to not back the government in a confidence vote for this to be lost.

His victory in today’s vote was stunning and far exceeded most expectations. It is hard to see anyone other than him entering Number 10 when this process is all over.

Maybe we will have to rethink the “rule” that long term favourites for the Tory leadership don’t make it?

The major limitation on PM Boris is now the member for Uxbridge himself. In the next week or so he mustn’t do anything that raises any doubts about his character or ability to carry out the role.

To be sure he’s going to face a scrutiny in the media the likes of which he has never faced before.

Mike Smithson


Boris Johnson – the man who gets overstated by the polls

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Don’t confuse high name recognition with popularity

Above is a chart based on the final polls in the 2012 London Mayoral race when Johnson just squeezed to victory with a margin of three points. As can be seen none of the pollsters had the gap so close.

Overstatement can happen when one of the people being the subject of the survey has very high name recognition.

So treat any Boris polling numbers with a degree of scepticism.

Mike Smithson


The idea that BoJo has some magical means of reaching LAB or pro-Brexit voters isn’t backed up by his record

Monday, June 10th, 2019

At Uxbridge Johnson performed worse than the London Tory average

One of the apparent great selling points for Johnson to his party is that somehow he has a means of reaching voters that other Tories do not have. Therefore, his supporters argue, he is the man to take the party forward at a general election.

Well looking at what happened at the last election in his West London constituency of Uxbridge there is nothing to back this up. Even bearing in mind that the Conservatives did poorly in the capital in 2017 compared with elsewhere Johnson did worse than the average CON to LAB swing of 6.2% in the capital.

Just looking at the result in Uxbridge you would have thought that the largish UKIP vote from the election before would have got behind Johnson who was, after all, the leader of the Leave campaign. The numbers suggest that that didn’t happen.

The turnout level in Johnson’s constituency was also lower than the London average of 70.1%.

The main case that somehow Johnson has some amazing ability is largely based on his 2008 and 2012 London mayoral campaigns when he did indeed win the Crown twice. But we should also remember that the margins were pretty close and of course his opponent was Ken Livingstone who by 2012 was not the electoral magnet that he had been.

Mike Smithson


The Tory race is crowded but there is value there

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

Even after the recent lengthening of his odds, Boris is still over-fancied

When a dozen candidates declare their candidacy for a party leadership, it’s not a sign of strength. Certainly, it’s entirely possible to go too far the other way and allow a flawed but dominant candidate in by default, but an excess of candidates points to a lack of confidence in the leading runners among the second string.

There are, of course, other reasons why also-rans might give the race a shot, most obviously the chance to seek to trade support for office or policies after being knocked out, and the possibility that the race may develop in unexpected ways and deliver a shock result. All the same, a healthy Tory leadership election would have no more than 5 or 6 candidates standing.

The first thing to note then is the lack of confidence in Boris – both in that rivals adopting more-or-less the same positions are standing but also in his lack of endorsements. For someone who’s been seen as, and wanting to be seen as, the favourite for years to be still short of 30 endorsements more than a week after May announced her intention to resign is poor going. The way for favourites to win is to demonstrate their strength. Yes, that makes them the target but anything else just makes them look weak.

Boris’s shadow campaign should have been preparing for this moment and should have had 40-50 MPs ready to declare within days. That this didn’t happen suggests both a lack of organisation (we’ve heard that before) but also probably a lack of opportunity: perhaps there just aren’t any more Boris backers at this stage – which makes his future look decidedly doubtful. Boris’s odds have drifted markedly and he can now be backed at 9/4, though even that looks skinny to me.

We do know that of the four in the leading pack, two others – Raab and Gove – were Leavers back in 2016, as were some of the smaller fry. The question is how will these transfer? Will it be a clean Leave / Remain split or will there be cross-over? In fact, even looking at the endorsements now, it’s clear that there is already the potential for crossover with Gove and Javid having the most balanced endorsements among the 15+ crowd. Javid has drifted to 25/1 and there may be some value there.

The one candidate who doesn’t yet have endorsements from both sides of the Brexit divide is Matt Hancock, whose 11 supporters are all Remainers. Some have tipped Hancock as a dark horse who could be transfer-friendly. If he’s to make good on that, he’ll need to do more to attract the Leave crowd, not just on Brexit but perhaps in style too. He has come over a bit funky vicar so far.

So where is this contest going? At the moment, I’d say the two strongest candidates are Raab (22 endorsements, 8/1), and Gove (27 endorsements, 7/2). It’s notable that Gove is picking up more Remainers than Leavers, despite having been such a public face of the Leave campaign. Presumably he’s still not been forgiven for knifing Boris and then standing himself, nor for not having resigned from the cabinet. However, this isn’t a bad thing, particularly is Raab is seen as the non-nutcase, non-Boris Leave option.

So far, only half the Con MPs have declared their support so we shouldn’t read too much into the endorsement tallies. All the same, there’s no reason to assume that they‘re not broadly indicative. Where then does that leave Jeremy Hunt, currently leading the pack (just) with 29 declared supporters? Well, his 16/1 certainly looks to be worth a covering bet if only because those numbers mean there’s a good chance he’ll go quite a long way into the contest. All the same, I don’t really see his positive USP in the race.

Once again, this looks like being a Tory leadership race where the favourite doesn’t get it.

David Herdson


Paging all Brexiteers who hate American Presidents interfering in UK politics

Friday, May 31st, 2019

I’m not sure being Donald Trump’s preferred choice as Prime Minister will ultimately help Boris Johnson.