Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


With the first LE2018 postal votes being cast the signs are not good for the Tories

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

The first of next month’s two electoral challenges for the Tories

While everybody seems to be getting excited about the May 23rd Euro elections there has been little focus on the big hurdle that the Tories have to surmount three weeks before that. These are the local elections in England which cover almost all of the country excluding London and just one or two counties.

Each year during a four years cycle a different set of local elections takes place and it is a particular challenge for the Tories at this difficult time that the group of council elections up on May 2nd are the ones where the party traditionally does very well.  Indeed back in 2015, when, most  were last fought, the Tories won more than 4000 which was in excess of half the overall number of contests.

Four years ago, of course, was on the day of GE2015  when the Tories did far better than had been predicted and secured a Commons majority.  This success was seen in the locals as well so it was always going to be the case even without the Brexit turmoil that May 2nd 2019 was going to be hard because there are so many seats to defend.

In his annual media presentation on the coming local elections the week before last the Tory elections analyst, Lord Hayward, observed that the one thing that could help his party between then and the May 2nd election day was the Brexit deal being approved. For there’s little doubt that the events of the past months have made life on the doorstep for Tory campaigners quite challenging and there’ll be a sense of relief once Brexit is settled. Alas that is not going to happen.

Reports from the ground suggest that the Tory vote is weak. It is not that there will be much switching to other parties but a concern that traditional CON voters simply won’t turnout. The thing about local elections is that turnout is everything. The national average is in the mid 30s which puts a premium on local parties ability to get their vote out.

This was a PB comment yesterday from ex-LAB MP, Nick Palmer on his experience:

Interesting 3 hours on the doorstep this afternoon (and no, people don’t mind being canvassed at Easter) in deepest Surrey. I think the Lib Dems are going to do well – I’m used to their voters showing up as don’t knows till the last minute, but there’s some definite enthusiasm out there. Labour’s core vote seems solid but not especially enthusiastic – it’s mostly about fighting the Tories. The Tory vote is crumbling at the edges – unusual number of former Tory voters going out of their way to say they wouldn’t ever vote Labour but definitely not Tory any more either – even met some Brexiteers voting LibDem ias an anti-big party protest. But the Tories too have a core vote which is loyal – I don’t expect a real metldown.”

All of this fits with the reports I have been getting and it is possible that the number of Tory losses could be in the hundreds which will reinforce the negative narrative for the party in the lead up to May 23rd.

Normally by this stage before the May locals we have had projections on likely party gain and losses based on what’s been happening in local by-elections. In the past these have set expectations but I don’t think we will be seeing numbers this year.

My guess is that the Lib Dems will do better than at any set of local elections since going into coalition with the Tories in May 2010. They should make a significant increase in their councillor numbers and that will be the backcloth for Vince Cable to announce his resignation as leader thus triggering off a leadership contest.

Mike Smithson


Brexit is Ulsterising British politics

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

One issue has become so important as to define the entire system

Most people would regard the Good Friday Agreement as a Very Good Thing. Certainly, it was so at the time and 21 years later, that broadly remains so. Despite the continuing background presence of dissident political violence – sadly this week coming into the foreground – the Agreement brought peace and an agreed political structure to the province.

As with much else in Irish politics, the GFA has generated a good deal of myth-making, to the extent that the Agreement is now more conceptual than written; more founded on belief than law. We know that because, for example, the debates over the UK-RoI land border never reference the actual clauses a hard border is claimed to break. The breach is not so much in the text as in what the text represents.

In truth, the Northern Ireland structures and processes that came out of the GFA have never worked particularly well, needed to be re-written and are currently in abeyance: inconvenient facts ignored by those who want to believe in its abiding Goodness, for want of anything better. Turning a blind eye is an essential skill in N Irish politics, and sometimes one that brings a public benefit too.

However, at the heart of those processes is an insuperable barrier to long-term normalisation: the Assembly is built on the concepts of unionist and nationalist communities. Given that the political parties are themselves built on unionist and nationalist programmes, that might seem sensible but the effect is to ensure that that division acquires a reinforcing dynamic and makes any long-term normalisation even more difficult. The GFA does not seek to create one nation; it seeks to manage the relations between two.

As such, a voter more concerned about school standards, economic growth, provision of libraries and parks, or public freedoms has to filter what would usually be social and economic left/right debates through the unnatural prism of unionism/nationalism. If you want to vote Conservative, you might be able to but it won’t get you anywhere; if you want to vote Labour or Lib Dem, you can’t do that at all: you have to vote for ‘sister parties’, which in essence means having to sign up to, respectively, a nationalist or overtly non-aligned agenda. Note that the Alliance Party, while nominally eschewing Northern Ireland’s divisions, still ends up being bound and defined by them.

One unfortunate aspect of Brexit (of many) is an Ulsterising of Britain’s politics at large, in two ways.

The first, and more immediately obvious, is the prominence of the RoI-NI border within the arguments over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and the UK’s future relationship with the EU, which has brought the issues in and around Northern Ireland back to the top of the agenda for both government and parliament. This is, of course, compounded by the Con-DUP Confidence and Supply deal and the mathematics within the Commons. British politics is dominated by Brexit (albeit that both are on a necessary, if hardly well-earned, holiday at the moment), and Ireland is central to Brexit.

There is another way in which Britain’s politics is Ulsterising though: public political identity is more attuned to Brexit than to the traditional political parties, and those parties – and the voters backing them – are realigning to reflect that fact.

The Conservative Party is transforming into the Leave Party. That it’s failed to deliver any form of Leave (other than an unratified Agreement no-one much likes and many hate) is at the core of the Tories’ collapse in support over the last 4-6 weeks and what are likely to be May election results that come in somewhere between very poor and disastrous. FPTP will help protect the Tories to some degree in Westminster elections but not in the Euros. The probability is that Theresa May will step down or be forced out this summer and will be replaced by a hard Leaver. It’s possible that such a candidate won’t always have been a hard Leaver but if not, ERG MPs and party members will demand assurances in blood of their conversion to the cause.

As an aside, I’d think about backing the Brexit Party candidate to win any Peterborough by-election at anything over 3/1, given the likely timing of that election, the likely result of the EP elections, and that public realignment.

By contrast, Labour is transforming into a Remain party. Jeremy Corbyn might not be very happy about that but it’s happening all the same and Conference will be difficult for him on this point unless he’s either accepted the need to go along with members or unless he’s greatly enhanced his authority in the interim.

Corbyn, unlike May and her successor, does at least have the advantage that the challenger Remain-Revoke parties are not very good at politics. TIG, or Change, or whatever have completely missed the open goal in making the public case, while rebel Labour and Tory MPs led the parliamentary battle. The Lib Dems are even further out of the game – when did anyone last hear from any of them on or in the media? By contrast, Nigel Farage has once again captured the attention and support of his target audience.

However, Corbyn won’t be around for ever, even if he wins an election and becomes PM. He’s 70 next month and one of the last relics of first-generation Bennism and the Euroscepticism that came with it. His successor will be (and will have to be) far more openly pro-EU.

Sometimes slowly, sometimes much more rapidly, the party system has realigned from class and social/economic policy preferences to Brexit identity. For those primarily interested in domestic policy, this presents the same problems facing the public in Ulster: domestic policies come as part-and-parcel of the overall package but very much secondary. This is going to leave a lot of voters homeless and struggling to find someone to support, whether they be traditional floating voters or those who were previously aligned but have seen their former party unwelcomingly transformed.

For now though, politics is Brexit, and Brexit is Ireland, and politics is Ulsterised.

David Herdson


UK Euro elections have been no guide to what will happen at the next general election

Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Even under Blair LAB never “won” a Euro election

While everybody is getting over excited at the moment about the prospect of the May 23rd Euro elections we should remind ourselves and how they have been totally non indicative of what’s going to happen at the following general election

Back in 1999, the first General Election after Tony Blair’s landslide, William Hague’s Tories came out as the top party with 33.5% of the vote 7 points ahead of Labour. Two years later at the 2001 general election Tony Blair’s party achieved another landslide which was only a couple of seats off what he had achieved 4 years earlier. Hague had been somewhat misled by the Tory success in the 1999 Euros that he focused almost his whole GE2001 campaign on the issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU. It did him no good.

For the 2004 Euros Blair went to great lengths to try to boost his party. All postal voting took place in several regions in the hope this would boost turnout. On the day the Tories led then by Michael Howard achieved a victory in the Euro elections with a similar sort of margin to William hague’s five years earlier. The following year Tony Blair went on to win a solid working Commons majority that would sustain LAB for 5 years.

In 2009 the Tories topped the aggregate vote total on 25.9% with UKIP on 16%. LAB slipped to third place. A year later at GE2010 UKIP didn’t pick up a single seat.

In 2014 Farage’s UKIP came out top with 27% of the vote winning most MEPs. This was, of course, no indicator to what would happen at GE2015 when the party just picked up one seat – Douglas Carswell’s and losing the other one it held. Carswell later quit UKIP.

This is all down, I’d argue, to two factors – the closed list voting system and voters not really believing that their ballot has an impact like at a general election. The last three UK Euro elections have been held simultaneously with the local elections thus probably boosting turnout. That will not happen on May 23rd because this year’s locals take place a fortnight today.

Mike Smithson


The extent to which the Euro elections can be treated as a referendum depends on whether the outcome supports your side

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Get ready on the evening of Sunday May 26th, when the euro elections results are announced, for the production of aggregates of the votes of the pro brexit and pro remain parties and and whoever has “won” trying argue that this is a mini referendum.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one or more of the TV results programmes creates live graphics so we can see how it is going as the numbers come in.

Clearly this is a national election and given the fact that those elected will probably only serve for about 4 months a big pointer is what the party vote totals be.

We got a today a YouGov poll on the Euro elections which had parties baking brexit, when aggregated with a small lead over the parties of remain.

For this purpose I am adding up the votes of the Tories, Farage’s Brexit party, UKIP and the DUP and comparing that with the aggregate of Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK, the SNP, PC and the Greens and the anti-Brexit Northern Irish parties.. The former group will be put in the leave category while the latter group will be put in the remain one.

Quite how valid a measure this is will be very much dependent on what the outcome is and whether it suits people’s particular positions.

We do have other UK elections taking place two weeks tomorrow. These are the English local elections covering most of the country and Northern Ireland. I’ve no doubt that similar calculations will be made once we’ve got the projected national vote shares that are usually issued by Professor John curtice at about 4 a.m. in the morning on the BBC results programme.

The problem with using both sets of elections is that turnouts are likely to be in the mid 30s compared with the near 70% turnout that we had at the referendum on June 23rd 2016.

Whatever it will allow us to get back to the big brexit argument that is so divided the country for nearly half a decade.

Mike Smithson


Plunging opinion polls are not the Conservatives’ biggest problem

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Alice was introduced to the concept of an unbirthday party at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. By close analogy, let me introduce you to the concept of an unBrexit day. We have had rather more of these than might have been expected at the beginning of the year, with two, on 29 March and 12 April, being especially memorable events. We look set to have many more unBrexit days in the coming months and there is no guarantee that the current longstop date of 31 October will not be pushed back further.

This surfeit of unBrexit days has driven Leavers, like the hatter, mad. This has not been to the benefit of the government. The Conservatives’ poll ratings have taken a ski jump in recent weeks.  They don’t look to have landed yet and when they do it looks likely to be in an ungainly heap.

This would not matter particularly in the normal scheme of things. Governments are prone to suffer from mid-term unpopularity. So long as the government can turn things around in time for the next election, current opinion polls would be of little interest.

The Conservatives have a much bigger problem, which it is that it is difficult to see how they could turn this around. Far from the polls masking underlying strengths, if anything they have only just caught up with underlying weaknesses.

The Conservatives fought the last election in large part on delivering Brexit. Their voter base then saw itself as being on a promise. However, that promise has turned out to be easier to make than deliver, with different groups in the Conservative party having a radically different view of what that promise entailed – and in any case they did not command a Parliamentary majority even collectively.  

The Conservative party has now split into at least five component parts: Remain resisters, Remain reconstructors, government loyalists, moveable Leavers and purist Leavers. Theresa May failed, despite repeated attempts, to get them to work together.

All of them are now furious with at least two of the other groups (and in some cases all four).  Some MPs have already left the party and some at each end of the spectrum are more or less openly considering their options. All party discipline has broken down.

So the Conservatives simultaneously face a huge failure on a policy that was central to their manifesto (with the potential to be student fees on steroids) and a collapse of their internal coalition. The two are locked in a negative feedback loop: attempting to deliver Brexit undermines the internal coalition and the collapsed coalition makes delivering Brexit so much harder.

How could they solve this problem? They could try to put Brexit in the rear view mirror. That would almost certainly lead to further breakages within the Conservative party in the short term. If the end resolution were not too damaging, however, they could hope that time would heal wounds.

There are only a few problems with that idea. There is presently no approach to Brexit that commands a majority in the House of Commons.  One cannot simply be magicked up. Neither the Remain resisters nor the purist Leavers look ready to back down in relation to Theresa May’s deal (and nor does the DUP).  

Theresa May has to date done her best to stop a majority forming around a different option. She had good reason to (though it betrayed an inability to count). Any different option is going to cause still greater dissent in the Conservative party.  

Many moveable Leavers moved with the greatest reluctance. A deal based around a permanent customs union, in accordance with Labour’s policy position, or with a fresh referendum attached, in accordance with Labour members’ wishes, is going to make them incandescent.  

Ditto any of the softer versions of Brexit contemplated in the indicative votes. Perhaps the damage would be worth it for the prize of securing Brexit. That damage would, however, almost certainly include the shearing-off of a chunk of MPs, quite possibly to join Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

That also assumes that such a change of tack would work.  Labour have no incentive now to help Theresa May – the opposite. From their viewpoint the government’s inability to deliver its promise to its voters is an immensely valuable gift. Why on earth would they give it away again? Given that, my strong expectation is that some insurmountable stumbling block will be found to a cross-party deal. Labour are going to want to leave the Conservatives impaled on their own policy.

Theresa May could try to work with Parliamentarians rather than with the Labour front bench. There are two problems with this idea. First, Theresa May’s past wilful obstructiveness will have left them with no trust at all in her. She is going to have to work extra-hard to put together a deal with them. Secondly, and more importantly, their preferred deal is going to be still closer to a Remain outcome than anything the Labour leadership outwardly aspires to.

Assuming the Conservatives can conjure a Brexit outcome that does not smash their party to smithereens, the Conservatives then need to pray that it will get public acquiescence. That looks doubtful. At least a quarter of the population yearns for Fortress Britannia. At least a third of the population would sign up for the Euro. The country is getting steadily more polarised. It is likely to be getting steadily less inclined to compromise.

Those former Conservative voters who care most about Brexit are currently decamping to UKIP and the Brexit party. They are going to need a good reason to return. On the Mohs scale of Brexit, they’re looking for a minimum hardness of quartz and are not going to settle for talcum powder or gypsum. Does anyone think they’re going to get what they want?

If they did, the Conservatives would be blamed by the unconvinced for every single piece of disruption caused by Brexit. That would be one hell of a gamble to take. Fortunately for the Conservatives, they don’t have the numbers in Parliament to take it.

MPs, however, are focussing most on who succeeds Theresa May. That is the least of their problems right now. Since the new leader would face all the same problems (and would no doubt be penned in by campaign commitments), a successful resolution to their problems would look just as unlikely as under Theresa May.

From all this we can deduce two things. First, since any resolution of Brexit would fracture the Conservatives still further, any leader of the Conservatives is probably going to decide to keep pushing the moment of truth back. And secondly, the Conservatives look set to languish in the polls for quite some time.

All of which explains why I’m continuing to bet against the Conservatives winning most seats. What is their route back with their disaffected former voters? Right now, I don’t see one.

Alastair Meeks


Why I’m taking the 12/1 on the Tories polling under 10% in the European election

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

The YouGov poll published yesterday showed the Conservatives polling 16% in the European election, Opinium had the Conservatives on 17% so it is worth analysing this market from Ladbrokes on what vote share the Conservatives will achieve. I’ll explain why I think the 12/1 is the best option.

I) A polarised electorate and polarising election.

This election will be seen as a de facto referendum on Brexit, Remainers and Leavers will want to utilise their vote to send a message on Brexit. The Conservative party will not appeal to either Remainers or Leavers, Leavers will see the party as failing to deliver Brexit whilst Remainers see the party as the one that got us into this whole Brexit mess, so there’s no real reason to vote for the Blues in this election.

II) The enthusiasm gap.

It has been reported that Conservative party activists will go on strike and refuse to campaign for the European election, this means it will be a struggle to get the Conservative vote out. If the activist base isn’t participating my view is that the Conservatives will do worse than the polls suggest.

III) The enthusiasm gap, part II.

Yesterday it was reported that the man who lies about opinion polls, Boris Johnson, would not campaign in the European election. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the serial adulterer would betray his party like he did wife on many occasions but people like Dominic Raab refused to rule out doing the same. I expect other Leavers to follow suit.

If senior Leaver Conservatives are sitting out the campaign it will only amplify the issues about getting the Conservative vote out as identified in point II)

IV) It is a free hit for right wingers and Leavers as it doesn’t make Corbyn Prime Minister.

Both YouGov and Opinium also polled on voting intention for a general election which saw the Conservatives do better. This shows right wing voters are sophisticated enough to how give the Conservative party a bloody nose without forcing the Conservative party out of office.

V) For the Conservative party things can only get worse.

The 16% and 17% might soon be considered the high point for the Conservative party in this election. Ask yourselves this question, between now and May 23rd can you see anything realistic that will cause the fortunes of the Conservative party to improve?

It is more likely the fault line over Europe gets worse for the Conservative party, the recent fall in Conservative support coincided with a major fracture over Brexit when the ERG and their DUP confederates prevented Brexit happening.

VI) The ERG are turning Japanese.

One of the greatest strategic blunders in human history was when in 1941 the Japanese attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbour to keep America out of the (Pacific) war. All it did was ‘awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’ Ultimately it did the exact opposite to what the Japanese wanted. Which brings me to the ERG.

If the all of the ERG and DUP had backed meaningful vote 2.5 we would have Brexited by now. By voting to stop Brexit happening all the ERG enabled the chances of No Brexit increasing. Many in the ERG have realised the error of their ways but some have not.

The more we see the likes of Private Francois on television the Conservative poll ratings seems to fall further. The more we don’t Brexit the more we’ll see the Spartan ERGers on television criticising the government and Mrs May, that’s ultimately going to be bad for the Conservative party, history has shown the electorate doesn’t reward divided parties.

Again this is further proof of the ERG turning Japanese. Surely they want the Conservative party to do well in opinion polls and elections but their actions will achieve the opposite.


I think the 12/1 on under 10% in this market by Ladbrokes is value, all of the above will make it value. The favourite is the band just above it, 10% to 20%, so it isn’t difficult to see how my tip could be a winner.

Never did I think in my lifetime I could see the Conservative party poll under 10% in a nationwide election but that’s what I think might happen next month.




The PB/Polling Matters podcast analyses May’s EU elections – the contest that’s taken the political world by surprise –

Friday, April 12th, 2019

On this week’s podcast, Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi look in detail at the prospects for EU parliamentary elections in the UK now that Brexit has been delayed up to a further 6 months.

Listen to the episode below

Follow this week’s guests:




The overnight developments in Brussels barely move the Brexit betting markets

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

Still the same stalemate but now with added time

A quick look across the Brexit related betting markets suggest that there has been relatively little movement given the developments last night. That might be because Theresa May didn’t get her very short extension and neither did the EU leadership get their longer one.

A no-deal Brexit now rated at a 14% chance which is barely changed. That UK will hold EU elections in May is up 3% to 95% but that is very little movement.

The Betfair brexit date market for the July to December 2019 is option up a couple of percent to 36% while we will article 50 be revoked betting now a 28% chance down from about 30%

This year 2019 still the favourite to be the Year of the next general election but that’s down a couple of percent to 37%. It is now rated at an 81% chance that Theresa May will finally quit during 2019 but this is wobbling a bit but still in a range of just 5%.

The big question is whether a fourth attempt to get her deal through the Commons will be successful. It is hard to see the votes changing.

Mike Smithson