Archive for the 'Coalition' Category

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Olly Robbins’ overheard comments are a clue that TMay might be considering EURef2

Friday, February 15th, 2019

David Herdson dissects the detail of what was said

Brexit is not going to plan, it’s fair to assume. Only the Leave Ultras, intent on a No Deal outcome are likely to be feeling any confidence at the moment, and that group is always given to unjustified hope and expectation before the event anyway. Labour partisans not bothered about Brexit might also be revelling in the government’s discomfort too, but the list pleased with how it’s going runs short after that.

In reality, any optimism on the part of the ERG No Deal fringe should be tempered by the prospect of parliament firming up plans to oppose that outcome. Their asset is the lack of anything like a majority for the existing Withdrawal Agreement, and the lack of time or political space to find an alternative. The EU regards the text as closed and if that does remain the position, it’s May’s Deal, No Deal, delay or revoke. Given that revoke would be political suicide, delay merely postpones the question and there’s no majority for May’s deal, that leaves them in the box seat, yes? Well, not quite.

Can-kicking is an EU speciality. I doubt there’d be any great enthusiasm for it over Brexit, given the extent to which the subject has distracted the EU over the last four years (since Cameron’s intitial negotiations), but putting the deadline off would still for them be the least-worst option when set against both the economic disruption around Britain’s borders, and the Irish issue in particular, where EU officials apparently recently confirmed the obvious to Dublin: that they’d have to choose between a hard border with the North, and some sort of semi-detached status with the Single Market.

For how long might an extension be agreed? Here’s where an overheard comment from Olly Robbins – May’s civil service Brexit supremo – comes in. My assumption had been that any Article 50 extension would be short, in order to enable ratification before the new European Parliament sits on 1 July: three months at most. That in turn implies that it would only be granted to tidy up the parliamentary process and that therefore 29 March was a practical deadline for the Commons to ratify the (or a) deal. However, if Robbins was reported accurately, then “the extension [would be] a long one”.

What are we to take from that? To me, there are two probable interpretations. The first is that the two sides just keep on talking. The problem with that is that it doesn’t resolve the political problems at the heart of the issue. The two sides struggled so much to reach agreement, and have struggled even more with ratification, because the red lines don’t leave space for agreement – and on the part of the UK government, those red lines are determined by Conservative MPs, the DUP and Labour. If those aren’t willing to shift, and are willing to countenance No Deal, then pushing back the deadline isn’t going to achieve a breakthrough; quite the contrary: it takes the pressure off.

The second interpretation, however, is that May might be thinking of offering a referendum.

At first sight, this might seem madness but if it is, there’s method in it. A referendum couldn’t be run within six months at the minimum due to the need to legislate, for the campaign groups to organise and register, and to then hold the vote. That’s why you’d need a long extension.

A referendum also has signal benefits over the otherwise mooted general election. An election puts the entire government at risk, throws many other issues into the mix, and even if May were to win comfortably (a highly optimistic assumption given her last performance), would be likely to produce an outcome little more conducive to passing her Withdrawal Agreement due to the scale of Tory opposition. By contrast, a referendum could be made binding and provide in advance for each outcome.

Where a referendum really wins out though is that it might be the one process that can command a majority in the House, if No Deal and Remain are also offered alongside the agreed deal. Enough people then have enough of an interest in gaining the mandate necessary to deliver what they otherwise couldn’t.

On a low politics level, it would also be richly ironic if, having resisted huge pressure from within Labour to demand and pursue a second referendum, Corbyn then watched May stand up after another defeat and announce precisely that.

Some will say that it would be a democratic abomination to override the original Leave vote from 2016 and reoffer Remain as an option. I have some sympathy with that. However, that might have to be the price and the incentive necessary to get No Deal and May’s Deal on the paper too. If Leave is still the will of the people (and a more informed will now), then it should win again. And if the referendum were structured as two questions: (1) Leave/Remain, and (2) if Leave, then Deal or No Deal, then there wouldn’t be the risk – as there would be with AV – of Remain winning on transfers, despite a majority for one form of Leave or another.

From the other side, many will object to No Deal being explicitly on the table. Well, if it’s that bad an option, argue against it. But it needs to be there, both as a ‘clean’ Brexit option, and also to enable the PM to keep some semblance of control over her own party, without which they would at some point inflict a crushing defeat.

We also have to remember the other side of the equation here, which is that a “long” extension has to be agreed unanimously by the EU, which means it needs justifying. Asking for at least six months implies putting something on the table for them too, which Remain does (as, to a lesser extent, does an increased chance of passing the agreed deal).

Theresa May’s career has generally been marked by caution and to call such a divisive vote would run counter to that. All the same, why would the UK ask for a long extension – which she must know would be hugely controversial – without a game-changing proposal? A second referendum would break the parliamentary deadlock and would be that game-changer. She’d be right to do it.

David Herdson



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Ahead of this afternoon’s May-Corbyn meeting the two leaders get warmed up with a spiky PMQs exchange

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

If we were to predict the outcome of this afternoon’s historic meeting face-to-face meeting between TMay and Mr Corbyn based on what happened at today’s PMQs it is hard to see this taking things very much forward.

But Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn have a joint interest for the country not to leave the EU on March 29th with No Deal. She cannot be certain of her CON votes and the complicated relationship with the DUP. This, on the face it, should put Corbyn in a stronger position.

The problem is, of course, is that the PM always has the divisions in her own party to think about and it is perhaps hard to see her going forward with whatever the Labour leader offers.

As has been commented on many times once you strip away the wording and rhetoric from LAB’s proposed deal and what Theresa May has there is very little difference in functional effectiveness. The UK would be still in the Customs Union in one form or another.

    The pressure on Corbyn is that he doesn’t want to see Labour’s fingerprints on a no deal brexit. If that happens he has to be able to totally blame the Tories for all the consequences. So far his ambiguity has actually not been an issue. Now that is changing.

No doubt later on this evening we will get reports from both sides of how they saw it going.

The BBC’s political editor, Laura kuenssberg, noted before PMQs started that both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May have reputations for not talking very much in meetings. Maybe it’s all going to be silence?

Mike Smithson




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Kamala Harris makes strong start to her WH2020 campaign and is already attracting endorsements

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

My 66/1 tip from January 2017 now the clear frontrunner

Even though we are a year off the first WH2020 primaries the former Attorney General for California and now Senator, Kamala Harris, is top slot in the betting and in pole position for the Democratic party nomination.

Her campaign was launched a week last Monday and on Sunday a crowd estimated at 20k turned up in her home city of Oakland for her first campaign rally. Last night she appeared at a CNN Town Hall in Iowa (see pic) – the state that, of course, is the first to decide in the nomination race.

Her campaign has also made key hirings of political professionals for Iowa and is starting to get endorsements.

    All of this puts her well ahead of the other likely contenders and might well be a factor in determining how many others want to run against her.

If she starts to look almost invincible then that will play a big part in the decisions of maybe two dozen potential other challengers. She is certainly being treated by the media as the clear frontrunner which means that what she does and says gets a lot more coverage.

A big danger of being in this position is that her opponents for both the nomination and the White House do deep opposition research to find things that could impede the campaign. That’s already started and she can expect her every action while Californian Attorney-General to be scrutinised.

I just wonder how 76 year old Joe Biden and 77 year old Bernie Sanders are viewing the rise of Harris. My guess is that the former, at least, might decide that its not worth the effort. Bernie, who played a big part in Trump’s victory at WH2016, will probably try again.

Exactly two years ago I tipped her here when Kamala was 66/1, I’m hoping to be able to refer to that post again!

Mike Smithson




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FBI officers in Florida make pre-dawn raid to arrest Trump associate Roger Stone

Friday, January 25th, 2019

This is all getting very close to the President

The big news this lunchtime which could have big implications for WH2020 and Donald Trump is that his long-standing associate, Roger Stone, has been arrested by the FBI in a pre-dawn raid.

According to CNN a federal grand jury in Washington has indicted him on seven counts – one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements, and one count of witness tampering.

This all dates back to Stone’s role in the leak of documents used to try to undermine the Clinton campaign. CNN reports:

On October 7, 2016, after WikiLeaks released its first set of emails, prosecutors say Stone received a text message from “an associate of the high-ranking Trump campaign official” that said “well done,” signaling that the Trump campaign was looped in on Stone’s quest for dirt on Democrats.

Inevitably the manner of the arrest and Stone’s proximity to Trump are going to further heighten speculation over the President future.

Mike Smithson




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It’s time for the Tories to pick a candidate for Buckingham

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Bercow needs to be eased out, one way or another

Goodwill is the oil which lubricates the British constitution. The rules of parliament have been inherited from a time when governing was a gentlemen’s business and was expected to be carried out by gentlemen acting as gentlemen. Self-restraint and the awareness of when it becomes inappropriate to keep pushing a case are an essential aspect to enabling the system to work. Parliament is frequently criticised for being overly adversarial – and so it is – but that conflict is also bounded by an unwritten (and unwriteable) code of conduct.

So what, you might ask. Well, that code of conduct is defined in large part by convention and precedent, meaning that they should only be interfered with either when there’s a consensus for change or when a political crisis becomes so intense that it becomes necessary to break the code.

Which brings us forthwith to John Bercow and his innovation this week in allowing MPs to table and vote on amendments to the government’s programme of business; something which sounds like (and is) a fairly dry and arcane subject but it’s an important one.

Let me set my own cards out here. Allowing MPs to determine the business in front of the House is a good thing. The government has too much power over the procedures of parliament, and the events in it, and there’s no rational reason why the House should not determine for itself what it discusses and votes on, though clearly someone has to take a lead in tabling a draft timetable and the government is best-placed to do that. However, the issue is not whether it would be beneficial to make that change but whether reform should come about by discussion among MPs and a vote on procedure, or whether it can be introduced unilaterally by the Speaker.

In amending the rules when and how he has, then Bercow gives the impression of changing procedure not in order to give MPs more control in general but in order to influence the outcome of a specific issue – an impression that may be accurate.

Also, the controversy over the Grieve amendment doesn’t stand in isolation; it’s just the latest in a series of spats where his impartiality has been in doubt, not just between the Commons and the government – where you can make an argument that the Speaker shouldn’t be impartial – but between the two sides of the House, where it most certainly should.

The perception of a Speaker who is willing to use his powers in order to tilt the playing field in favour of an outcome he privately champions (even if his means of so doing in this case is to introduce a change which is, in general, beneficial), is one that undermines his authority to such an extent as to make his Speakership unviable. As such, he needs to go.

There are, in any case, at least two other reasons why Bercow’s time should already have passed. The first is that when he took on the job, he promised to serve no more than nine years. That was nine years and seven months ago (which incidentally makes him the longest-serving Speaker since the 1940s: it’s not as if nine years is an unusually or unreasonably short tenure). The other is in his inadequate response to claims of bullying and harassment within the House, which again should, of itself, have been enough to prompt his departure.

That brings us back to the question of convention, and the principle that one good flout deserves another. Until recently, a Speaker served until they died or decided to retire, unchallenged in the House and rarely challenged in general elections (though not contesting the Speaker’s constituency has been only patchily observed even among major parties – the SNP and UKIP have never abided by it and as recently as 1987, both Labour and the SDP stood against Speaker Weatherill in Croydon NE).

Those conventions are clearly breaking down, with increasing talk of Bercow being challenged within the House, potentially under a Vote of Confidence. For two successive Speakers to be forced out would be unfortunate in one sense, but perhaps still the right outcome given that both men are or were sub-standard in the role.

Alternatively, a longer-term action – but one carrying clear intent – would be for the Conservative Party to select a candidate for Buckingham and begin campaign preparations. Niceties can be observed by merely claiming that doing so is consistent with Bercow’s ‘nine year’ pledge and his later revision that he now intends to serve out this parliament. It would, however, send an unmistakeable signal to him that he would not get another clear run should he revise his retirement plans again and seek to serve on. Given Bercow’s willingness to retain the Speakership through to 2022, the possibility of a general election before then, and his own sense of self, such a revision is entirely plausible.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Tory would win against Bercow in Buckingham but nor is there any guarantee that the Speaker would either, even if he had the tacit endorsement of Labour and the Lib Dems. For reference, the last time that Bercow stood as a Conservative (in 2005), he won 57% of the vote and had a majority of over 18,000.

Brexit is in many ways a rule-breaker. Passions are high and with those passions go a disregard for the conventions of behaviour and self-restraint. That’s a shame, because those conventions play a valuable role in keeping a system running smoothly which has generally worked well over the centuries. Breaking them should not go without consequences.

David Herdson



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Trump’s Shutdown: Who blinks, who loses?

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

How long can neither side budge with 400,000 federal employees furloughed?

Thirteen months to the first elections in the primary campaigns for next year’s US presidential vote might seem a long way off when so much can and will happen in the UK over the next thirteen weeks, never mind months. That, however, is because Brexit is exceptional.

Lifting our eyes a little, the partial federal shutdown resulting from the stalemate between Trump and Congress over funding for his Wall is already defining the battlelines for the 2020 campaign, and could have a significant impact on the electorate.

So far, ‘only’ about 800,000 federal employees are going without pay, though as the shutdown has already gone over one month-end, that will have real-world effects. In a country the size of the US, eight hundred thousand people isn’t all that many (it’s the equivalent of about 0.6% of voters at the last US presidential), and even with family and friends, the numbers indirectly affected won’t be that big.

However, Trump claims to be promising to keep (part of) the government shut down for months or even years, if necessary. “Years” won’t happen but “months”? Dangerous territory for someone lacking in understanding of, and empathy with, or sympathy for households under financial stress, something he underscored by claiming that the furloughed employees “agree with what we’re doing”, and something events underscored when his senior staff are in line to receive $10k pay rises while low-salaried workers are getting nothing.

Already, at 15 days, the shutdown is the third-longest in US history in cases where federal employees are not being paid. If it lasts another week, it’ll be the longest ever. Coming straight after Christmas and when heating energy bills will be at their highest, a prolonged stand-off will give the media plenty of opportunity to highlight hard-luck human interest stories.

This makes the struggle a high-stakes game where it’s possible for both sides to lose. There are, however, two ways to lose. The first is to be blamed by the public for getting priorities wrong and putting ‘winning the vote’ above ‘managing the country well’. The other is simply losing the contest. There is some scope for compromise but chances are that either Trump will get funding for his wall or he won’t. Fail in the direct political battle and you increase the contempt the public has towards you; win, and you mitigate it somewhat.

It might be that in the long year ahead, so many things will happen that this shutdown will be forgotten by all but those who lost out badly. There’s certainly the potential for that. On the other hand, this is already the third shutdown under Trump; the other two coming while the Republicans held both Houses as well as the presidency. What chance there won’t be at least one more during 2019? Indeed, it would be very much in keeping with Trump’s tactics to aim to provoke more shutdowns.

There are some temporary advantages to the shutdown leading the headlines: it keeps Mueller or Cohen out of the spotlight, though only for so long and at a price.

2019 has started quickly in the US. In addition to the shutdown, Elizabeth Warren moved a step closer to formally announcing her candidature, and Bernie Sanders was accused of ignoring (or being shamefully ignorant of) sexual harassment within his campaign in 2016.

If ‘the Democrats’ existed as a sentient whole, they would need to be deciding now whether their best strategy was to attack Trump from the centre, with a reasonable, experienced and capable candidate, or with a mirror candidate, able to whip up emotion and passion and who stands for everything Trump supporters hate. The answer to that question could then help define the response to the shutdown. However, political parties – and American political parties in particular – are not such coherent entities: they are at best semi-organised collections and different people have different ideas as to how far to fight back, and on what grounds. The House Democrats might decide one thing but it can’t chime with their party’s 2020 presidential campaign because as yet, there is no such campaign.

Even so, how the public respond to what could well be a record-breakingly long shutdown could give us some good pointers as to what sort of candidates ideologically and temperamentally would be best-placed to beat Trump. That doesn’t mean that the Democratic primary voters will choose on that basis but it does mean that we might be able to better assess value in the Next President market.

The British political media will be fixated on Westminster this next fortnight, and with good reason. Outside, the world goes on and in the US, this could be a defining moment.

David Herdson



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Last night’s confidence vote points to a pathway to the leadership for Johnson

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

If the 117 went for him he’d make the membership ballot

One of the big question marks over Boris’ leadership hopes has been whether he’d be able to secure the support of enough fellow MPs in the first rounds of voting to be able to secure a place in the final two names that go to the membership.

The former mayor and ex-Foreign Secretary who has just had a haircut has never had a sizeable base amongst CON MPs who would be ready to work in those critical first rounds which take place within the parliamentary party.

In fact he is loathed by many of his fellow MPs some of whom have said they would quit the party if he achieved his career ambition. Only last week he was booed by fellow Tories while speaking in the Commons.

    No doubt there will be a very strong stop Boris effort going on whenever TMay does step down and one can envisage her choosing a time which would be most disadvantageous to the ex-mayor.

Well the result of last night’s secret ballot gave us an indication that the hardline Brexiteers can muster perhaps a 100 MPs which should be enough to get him to the line. Tory leadership contests are, of course, of two parts. The first amongst MPs to vote on a shortlist of two and then the membership ballot.

It is widely assumed that if his name goes to the membership then he would win and in the past couple of days Boris has emerged as clear betting favourite.

Mike Smithson




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As Trump’s legal troubles mount punters now make it a 34% chance that he’ll win WH2020

Monday, December 10th, 2018

A good bet but which way?

If it wasn’t for Brexit we’d be doing several threads a week about the US and particularly the prospects for Trump as the investigations appear to be getting closer.

With the Mueller probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the 2016 campaign coming to a head it’s highly likely that we could see a lot of activity on Trump survival betting markets in the coming days and weeks. This is how the New York Times is summing up where things are.

The latest revelations by prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Mr. Trump has ever acknowledged.

In the narrative that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and New York prosecutors are building, Mr. Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety in violation of campaign finance law.

The prosecutors made clear in their memo that they viewed efforts by Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to squelch the stories as nothing less than a perversion of a democratic election — and by extension they effectively accused the president of defrauding voters, questioning the legitimacy of his victory.”

Both his former campaign chief and personal attorney looks set to be facing possible long prison sentences and each new development seems to bring us closer to the Oval Office.

    Looking to the next presidential election it is hard to envisage anything about Trump that will undermine the confidence that his core base has in him. But to win again against a fired up Democratic party he needs more than just the core and has to appeal to independents and Trump sceptics who are currently Republican Party voters.

I think a lot depends on whether the GOP establishment is ready to stick with Trump for another four years. After last month’s midterm setback Trump might struggle to be seen as the electoral asset that he was. Having him at the top of the ticket in November 2020 might hinder the party in the multitude of races for all the other positions on that day? A real worry as we saw in the midterms, is that the incumbent is a big turnout driver for the other side.

There are several betting markets. The biggest, of course, is who will be next president which currently has Trump at a 34% chance. There is also betting on the Republican party nomination where Trump’s chances are currently rated at about 67%. You can all have bets on the year of Trump’s final departure from the White House and whether or not he will finish a full first term.

My current best WH2020 bets, all placed some time ago, are 66/1 on Kamala Harris, 270/1 on outgoing Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper and 25/1 on Beto O’Rourke.

Mike Smithson