Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


The challenges facing the Conservatives

Friday, December 29th, 2017

The Conservatives are in power and in disarray.  They possess a will to power but no common view on what to do with it.  For now the bulk of the party is intent on pursuing Brexit to its bitter conclusion.  But what then?  What indeed.  For the Conservative coalition has been turned upside down.

Charles gave a crisp summary a couple of weeks ago of the three Conservative tribes. All three have abandoned their usual stances in the face of the referendum result.  The Ultras, who oppose change, have – enthusiastically – sought radical upheaval in order to perfect Brexit.  The Radicals, who seek a global role for Britain and for free trade, have – with varying degrees of enthusiasm – turned their back on Britain’s most profound international and trading endeavour: some regret this and some are persuading themselves that new roles will be found.  The Paternalists, who seek compromise in pursuit of social stability, have found themselves in the midst of the biggest social upheaval for a generation and firmly pressing one side of a binary decision.   Everything has been subordinated to Brexit.

The Conservatives are guilty of double think.  On the one hand, they think that Brexit is so important that every previous belief and credo must be jettisoned to the extent that it gets in the way of leaving the EU.  On the other hand, they think that once Britain has left the EU normal service will be resumed, since the public will speedily move on to every day topics.

This looks hopelessly optimistic.  Once Britain has left the EU, Leavers will pocket the policy success and move on, probably to complain about why immigration isn’t coming down (whether or not it actually is).  Meanwhile, committed Remain supporters are unlikely to forgive or forget for the foreseeable future.  Those who implemented Brexit are not going to get a hearing from them this year, next year or in all likelihood in 15 years time unless they have shown through the means of implementation that they have sought to be inclusive. The Conservatives have not sought to be inclusive.

That by itself is not fatal to the Conservatives’ chances.  While many of those committed Remain voters would in previous eras have been natural Conservative voters, this portion of the electorate is probably the one third who a recent opinion poll found would support joining the euro.  There is still another two thirds to go after and new coalitions can be built.

The Conservatives have in practice been building an electoral coalition around the Leave coalition, apparently without particular thought to the long term consequences of this.  It’s all very well being the party of the old, the uneducated, the insular and the obsessed, but that rubs off on your image.  Despite the fact that Labour is headed up by the most leftwing and inexperienced leadership in living memory, the Conservatives now have only a slender lead on economic competence over Labour: Philip Hammond, the epitome of a stolid Conservative chancellor, had only a 9% lead for best Chancellor in a recent opinion poll over John McDonnell, his Mao-brandishing opponent.   They look reactionary, uncaring and obsessed.  Labour have many defects of their own but by staying above the fray on Brexit they have avoided the taint of weirdness that the Conservatives are volunteering for in the eyes of many voters. 

There is more than another year of this to go.  And that timescale will be met only on the basis that everything goes quite well from here, which is itself an assumption so mini-heroic that it is awaiting its own confectionery tin.

The Conservatives can’t afford to wait that long.  If they want to retain power in the short, medium and long term, they need to rediscover a sense of purpose that does not involve Brexit.  Indeed, they need to determine what a good Brexit would look like.  That means that they need to ask themselves a question which they have not allowed themselves to ask since the referendum: is there anything more important than leaving the EU?

The answer for most normal people to this question is an emphatic yes.  Many Conservatives will scratch their heads at the concept.  But if you are going to be telling the general public that policies on the economy, housing, education or the NHS are going to be determined by the Brexit settlement, a lot of voters are going to think that you’ve got the cart before the horse.

Conservatives seem to be putting those questions on hold until Brexit is out of the way.  The voters won’t.  And if the Conservatives don’t, voters will take a lot of persuading that the Conservatives have the right priorities for the country.

What should the Conservatives be focusing on?  In the past they have succeeded when they have persuaded a plurality of voters that they are best placed to grow the economy in a manner that fairly rewards the aspirations of the ordinary voter.  That looks like a good place to start.  The Conservatives’ big problem at present is that if they put Brexit ahead of this, the public won’t be persuaded.  Indeed, for many working voters the Conservatives’ fixation with Brexit is symbolic of their warped priorities and their inability to tackle the problems in the housing market, low pay growth, poor productivity and out-of-date infrastructure.  So it’s time for the Conservatives to start talking about what they think is more important than Brexit.

Alastair Meeks


This must be the Troll of the year

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017


Young voters are much more opposed to blue passports being brought back than older ones in favour

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

A smart electoral move or not?

Above is based on YouGov polling from last February when the specific question of the post-Brexit reintroduction of the blue passport was asked. This is something that ministers have just announced will happen. The figure shown is the net one. The total opposed is subtracted from those supporting for each segment.

As can be seen from the chart this will please some older voters but in the overall sample there were more opposed than in favour. This is because the youngest age groups feel a fair bi more strongly about it than those who are older.

Now this polling is from last February but it should be noted that support for Brexit was stronger then that it is now.

No doubt we’ll see some new polling after the holidays.

Mike Smithson


The restoration of hanging, corporal punishment & blue passports – the key post-Brexit priorities for Leave voters

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

What YouGov found earlier in the year

The point that Professor John Curtice made yesterday about the big dividing politics British politics has become between social liberals and social conservatives is very much backed up by the above polling published by YouGov earlier in the year.

All the options that the sample was offered are in the chart above and as can be seen hanging and corporal punishment are at the top of the list for the voters followed by blue passports.

Really there is nothing surprising here. This is something that we knew but it is good to see hard numbers which is why I have revived this polling which I don’t think has been repeated.

Mike Smithson


Why those opposed to Brexit shouldn’t get too excited by the BMG 10% Remain lead poll

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Ex-YouGov President, Peter Kellner, says be cautious

The former President of YouGov and leading political commentator, Peter Kellner, has written a comprehensive note about the BMG poll for the Indy which has Remain 10% ahead to a question of how those sampled would vote in a future referendum. In his look at the BMG numbers Kellner notes:

“First, they are mainly driven by a seemingly huge shift in people who did not vote in last year’s referendum. Sure, the Remain camp is being swelled by young adults who abstained last time or were not old enough to vote. But previous BMG polls included this phenomenon. During the summer, when previous non-voters were asked how they would vote in a fresh referendum, they divided fairly steadily: around 45% Remain, 25% Leave. Now, suddenly, BMG say the divide is 67%- 16%. As this group comprises more than a fifth of BMG’s total weighted sample (299 out of 1,363), this 51-point Remain lead within this group accounts for the whole of the reported overall Remain lead.

However, BMG did not actually interview 299 previous non-voters. Its unweighted subsample was barely half that: 156. The margin of error on such a subsample is large – and the very fact that BMG could not track down as many non-voters as it wanted, provides a clear warning (as I know from my experience at YouGov) that the sub-sample may not be as representative as one would like.

Secondly, if it were true that, despite these sampling issues, there had been a sharp shift among non-voters to Remain, there would be some echo of this among other groups. In particular, one would expect to see clear signs of growing buyers’ remorse among Leave voters. That wouldn’t apply to hardline anti-EU voters – something like two thirds of those who voted Leave 18 months ago. But it would be likely to have some effect on the one-third who were “instrumental” voters: people who are not viscerally anti-EU, but believed that Brexit held the best hope of more jobs, higher pay, less crime, a better-funded NHS and improved access to public services such as local schools and social housing.

The point is that any weakening of these pro-Brexit arguments that is liable to shift large numbers of non-voters into the Remain camp, should also produce some shift among the “instrumental” Leave voters. But BMG’s figures produce no evidence of this. There is no statistically significant rise in buyers’ remorse among Leave voters in this poll compared with previous BMG polls.

The third reason to doubt that BMG’s figures reflect a public reaction to last weeks’ Government defeat in the House of Commons is that the poll was conducted before the vote. Its fieldwork dates were December 5-8 – that is the week before last.

Fourthly, other polls within the past fortnight show no indication of a lurch to Remain. Two YouGov surveys and one ICM poll indicate that nothing much has changed in recent weeks, despite the turbulence surrounding the events leading to the EU’s decision to allow Brexit negotiations to move to stage two. They are consistent with a narrow Remain lead, compared with a narrow Leave lead before this year’s general election. Over the past six months, as I discussed in a recent blog, there has been a small shift to Remain, but only a small shift.

To say this is not in any way to denigrate the quality of BMG’s work. Small subsamples of hard-to-reach groups must always be examined with care, for they are liable to trip up even the best research companies. BMG seem to have been unlucky, not culpable.

The larger point is one that applies to enthusiasts on any side of any issue. It is important to resist the temptation to cherry-pick those polls and findings that support one’s case, and ignore those that don’t. Remember the warning of those great 20th century philosophers, Simon and Garfunkel, in The Boxer: “All lies and jest: a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

Like all shock polls we need to see if other surveys from other organisations show the same broad trend. So at the moment we must wait. As Peter writes it is too easy for people to believe what they want to believe.

Mike Smithson


Jacob Rees-Mogg might not even be a Tory MP at the time of the next Tory leadership contest

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Could JRM be without the Tory whip at the time of the next leadership contest?

One of the reasons I’m laying Jacob Rees-Mogg in the next Tory leader/PM markets, apart from the the fact he’s the favourite. There’s also the not so insignificant chance he might not have the Tory whip at the time of the next Tory leadership contest. One of the requirements to stand for the Tory leadership is that you need to be a Member of Parliament in receipt of the Tory whip.

Watching that video in the tweet above it is clear Jacob Rees-Mogg is unhappy and incredulous that Mrs May could be charting such a course of action on Brexit. In the words of Harry Cole it might a case of ‘Backbench blowhards gonna blow,’ but we must remember including Bob Spink, in the last decade the only three Tory MPs to have defected from the party have defected to UKIP, the EU matters quite a lot to some Tories.

Achieving a successful Brexit requires a lot of pragmatism and compromise, so far Mrs May’s recent approach has that in plentiful supply, Mr Rees-Mogg’s comments don’t seem to have much pragmatism and compromise, it isn’t hard to see Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming a self-consumed malcontent over Brexit.

Whilst it might come as a shock to Tim Montgomerie and Nadine Dorries, the Euro-sceptic wing of the Tory party do have a history of rebelling against a Tory government on matters related to the European Union, most (in)famously over the Maastricht Treaty, to the point where Rupert Allason had the whip removed, the following year several more Tory MPs had the whip removed for not supporting John Major’s government on another EU related matter.

When I hear talk of ‘vassal state’ alarm bells start going off in my head about the political judgment of the person making such comments. A country with an independent nuclear deterrent is no vassal state. The fact that Boris Johnson uses the ‘vassal state’ phrase in this morning’s Sunday Times comes as no surprise to me.

The rebels of yore were prepared to risk ending a Tory government, I won’t be surprised if current Euro-sceptics are prepared to bring down the May Government even with the attendant risk of making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister if they don’t get the pure Brexit they want.

When betting on the next Tory leader/PM markets it might be wise to think ‘Is this candidate likely to have the Tory whip at the time of the next leadership contest?’ It could be the difference between making a profit or a loss.


PS – Hat-tip to David Herdson for being the inspiration behind this thread.


To get the tone right it has to come from the top

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Cyclefree on why this is so important

During the 1983 campaign, Saatchi suggested a poster showing Michael Foot on Hampstead Heath with his walking stick looking like a scruffy old man and the caption “Even Pensioners are Better Off under the Conservatives”. Thatcher was furious, refusing to use it, calling it disrespectful and undignified.

Similarly, in 2005 Labour withdrew two proposed posters which were criticised for recycling, whether intentionally or not, anti-Semitic tropes in the way they portrayed Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin. (Darkly ironic this in light of the current Labour party’s difficulties with the same issue.) Both parties’ leaderships realised that while winning is the most important thing in politics, how one wins also matters. Tone matters, not just for the campaign but, more importantly, for how the winner governs in the years long after the details of the campaign have been forgotten.

And so, alas, to the referendum campaign. Whatever the arguments about Farage’s posters about Turkey or queues of migrants, even those in the official Leave campaign felt uncomfortable about them, and not simply because of factual inaccuracies (most election campaigns are full of statements which would hardly win the George Washington Prize for Truthfulness) but rather because of the unpleasantly chauvinistic message, all too horribly reminiscent of the way certain groups have been picked on in the past as the source of a country’s problems, without whom all would be sweetness and light.

Wishing to control immigration into a country is a respectable position which does not – and, critically, should not – depend on saying hateful things about those you wish to exclude. Indeed, doing the latter, as Farage did, coarsened and debased an argument which, more than many others, needs to be made from first principles rather than in ad hominem and abusive way. Equally, those who deplore how Farage made his arguments would do well not to give the impression that seeking to control immigration, ipso facto, makes a person racist or fascist or a Nazi. All countries (and associations of them, including the EU) have some form of control over who is let in, however unevenly enforced.

Even so, these posters might have been forgotten or implicitly repudiated if May’s government had in its first few weeks and months consciously sought to adopt a conciliatory, friendly and welcoming approach to those left bewildered (at the very least) by the result. And chief among these were the EU citizens who had come here, legally, in good faith, to work and contribute and their families, spouses, friends, colleagues.

Not to mention those who felt that there was no existential conflict between their identity as British citizens and as EU citizens and resented being forced to choose. As well as others from immigrant communities, who worried that they too might, if the wind changed, be picked on. In truth, everyone is in some way part of some minority. So when politicians start adopting a hard-line “us and them” tone it creates a nervousness in more voters than just those being explicitly targeted.

It should not need saying but the vote was, for many, a difficult and finely balanced decision. Calling those who voted to Remain “traitors” or “saboteurs” or implying that they had no loyalty to Britain by voting to Remain in an organisation, membership of which had been British policy for decades and was supported by every major political party, was not calculated to heal the divisions caused or exposed by the referendum. And even if some of those who voted Remain wanted to find a way to ignore or reverse the referendum result, it would still have been better to remember Churchill’s dictum: “In victory, magnanimity”. Or, ironically enough, the prayer that Thatcher quoted when first elected PM.

The referendum brought a fair amount of discord. There has been little attempt to bring harmony in its wake. Indeed, there has not been much realisation that this should even be attempted. Easy to blame this on the government’s small majority or on May’s fear of her ultra-hard Brexit wing or on the annoyance caused by those who disapproved of or wished to subvert the result or on the stupidly triumphalist tone of some of the winners. But the government should have been bigger than its opponents. It should have realised that implementation of a difficult decision in an almost equally divided country would require enormous goodwill from as many people as possible, both in Britain and abroad.

It should have sought to preserve the reality of Britain as a country which, for all its faults, has generally rejected nativist, race-based “blood and soil” concepts of belonging, rather than appear to give succour to those who seem to want to turn back to an era when there was an “Aliens” passport queue at British ports. It should have realised that its own long-term self-interest, let alone the country’s, required it to reach out to the voters of the future.

Perhaps Conservatives need to be reminded of what Burke told them – that society is a partnership not only between those who are living – let alone only those living who support your particular view of the world – but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born. The Tories may have forgotten this but the young, who turned away from them at the election, did not and are making their voices heard as loud as any newborn.

So, what now? It may be too late for May to do this. She has enough to do trying to implement Brexit. What of her obvious (at least in their own minds) successors? I will stick my neck out and say that none of them will do. They are already yesterday’s men and will be even more so at the time of the next election, leadership or general.

The next successful Tory leader, the next successful PM (the two are not necessarily the same) should – maybe ( if we’re lucky) even will – be the person who realises that reaching out to those who feel left behind by the referendum result is necessary, as necessary as implementing the wishes of those who voted to leave because they felt left behind. A person who can find a way of defining what a successful post-Brexit Britain might look like, who realises that the young will be those largely creating that Britain and can find a way to help them do so successfully.

A person who finds the right tone to speak to all the country and not merely those who vote for his/her party, who finds a way to answer peoples’ concerns about immigration, change, globalisation and all the rest without doing a bad impersonation of failed or toxic politicians of the past or nostalgically wishing life would go back to how it used to be.

A person who perhaps in themselves and their experiences until now embodies what a successful, prosperous Britain less divided than now might be like.

Perhaps something for ambitious politicians to ponder over their holidays?



The real problem for TMay from last night’s vote could be when the Brexit bill goes to the Lords

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

The revolt could give their Lordships more confidence to make their own amendments

James Forsyth’s latest Spectator podcast makes a very good point about one consequence of last night’s Commons rebellion – it will make it much harder for the bill to get through the Upper House unamended.

It is clear that there is a fairly strong majority amongst against Brexit amongst peers but the government always felt that if Lords received the bill which had not been altered against its will it would be harder for the unelected peers to overrule what MPs had decided.

That has now changed thanks to the success of the rebellion last night and we could see a tricky period as an emboldened Upper House seeks to make its impression on the legislation.

It only requires one amendment opposed by the government to get through the Lords and we get into ping pong between the two houses of Parliament.

This was very much realised in Mrs Mays statement when she called the general election last April.

Another problem that the government might have is that there are now three investigations going on into aspects of the leave campaign. As well as the two into the funding by the Electoral Commission another one is being undertaken by the Information Commissioner relating to the use of data.

If these start to be upheld then you can hear the argument developing that the Leave victory, by 1.9% above the 50% threshold, does not have the same democratic legitimacy as has been suggested.

Mike Smithson