Archive for the 'Coalition' Category


CORRECTED: The Electoral Reform Society attacks the government’s planned voter ID trials as “unnecessary and over-bearing’’

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Do the figures show that the government has got this wrong?

New figures on electoral fraud from the Electoral Commission show the tiny scale of the problem of personation which the ERS says raises major questions about overbearing ID restrictions to be trialed at elections this May,

The analysis by the Electoral Commission of votes conducted in 2017 revealed there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ in polling stations – where someone is accused of assuming another’s identity to cast a vote.

Just one of these allegations resulted in a prosecution – out of nearly 45 million votes cast in total throughout 2017.

Despite the scale of the problem, the government is requiring voters in five areas to have ID with them when they attend a polling station for local elections in May.

The Electoral Reform Society are arguing for the government to reconsider its trials and instead look at other means of improving the electoral process – including better training and funding of Electoral Registration Officers and police on election day.

    A big problem with the government’s plan is the total number of voters who don’t have access to any form of photo ID. The EC puts this at 3.5m or 7.5% of the electorate. A total of 11m voters (24% of the electorate) do not have a passport or photographic driving license.

This is a delicate balance. To make the process of voting significantly more difficult for quite a large segment of the population could be regarded as voter supression.

Note. An earlier version of this post said, wrongly, that it was the Electoral Commission that was attacking the Government’s plan – in fact it was the Electoral Reform Society.

Mike Smithson


Chris Rennard’s “Winning Here” – the requiem for the battered Lib Dems or the handbook for another revival?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

A review of Chris Rennard’s newly published “Winning Here”

    “ Paddy’s personal ratings were shown to be very high in our poll, even at the outset of the by- election campaign. This helped to persuade him of the validity of the other poll findings.”

Thus Chris Renard then the LD director of campaigns and elections coaxed Paddy Ashdown into accepting his formula for winning the 1993 Newbury by-election. The humour and shrewdness about people’s motivation mark this first volume of his political memoirs (just published by Biteback): it never becomes a mere boastful catalogue of Rennard’s election trophies.

Lord Rennard has measured out his life in by-elections. This book revisits a varied series of by-elections from Liverpool Edge Hill in 1979 to Dunfermline in 2006. He had learned early on how much the U.K’s third party needs the boost from by-election success to improve its tally of seats in general elections. And, as the apostle of targeting seats for general elections, he in effect simulated by-elections in those seats which gave full scope for Lib Dem campaign techniques.

His first chapter “An Unusual Introduction to Politics in Liverpool” describes his immersion in the community politics developed by the Liverpool Liberal councillors, year-round leafleting, canvassing and campaigning. These continue to characterise the party’s approach to elections.

Without self-pity he writes about his loving but straitened upbringing. It was a Liberal Councillor who had helped Rennard’s disabled mother to get her widowed mothers’ allowance. Orphaned when nearly 17, Rennard then showed abnormal self-reliance in getting through sixth form and university. This he combined with a massive workload for the local Liberals. His heroic labours take on a Victorian resonance, an example of self-help straight out of Samuel Smiles.

When the Edge Hill by-election was called shortly before the 1979 General Election, the Liberals nationally stood at 5% in opinion polls, damaged by the Lib-Lab Pact and the impending trial of former party leader. Jeremy Thorpe, for conspiracy to murder. The Liverpool Liberals were in good campaigning shape with Rennard already a seasoned and trusted part of the machine.

The victory of David Alton at Edge Hill meant the saving of the then Liberal Party. They moved up in the polls and held eleven of their fourteen seats in the General Election that followed immediately: a lesson not lost on Rennard. During the Alliance years he became Alton’s agent and helped him win the new seat of Mossley Hill from third place. He then became the East Midlands organiser, in charge of the West Derbyshire by- election in 1986 when the Liberals failed to take the seat by 100 votes.

In 1990 by which time Rennard had become the LD Director of Campaigns and Elections the IRA murdered Ian Gow – CON M.P for Eastbourne. Paddy Ashdown was reluctant to put forward a candidate for the ensuing by-election since he did not wish the party to be seen to benefit from terrorism. This caused Rennard to send Ashdown an irate memo setting out reasons to stand:“.. It will not be seen to be bold and courageous to recommend not fighting- it will make you a laughing stock in Walworth Road, Downing Street and eventually in the quality press that you threw away this chance.”

The LD victory in the subsequent by-election made it clear that the LDs were back in business: “a safe seat had been lost to a party that Mrs Thatcher herself had recently branded as a ” dead parrot” Six weeks later she resigned as Prime Minister.”

Successes in Ribble Valley and Kincardine and Deeside followed, strengthening the LDs in the run-up to GE1992 but the hoped-for big increase in LD seats failed to materialise. Rennard argues that speculation about a hung parliament and proportional representation, which he himself had wanted to avoid, was promoted by Ashdown in the last days of the 1992 – and this deterred Conservative voters whom the Lib Dems had hoped to win over.

    Rennard’s attitude towards Ashdown rather resembled that of a kindly school master trying to make sure that a gifted pupil bored with the syllabus does himself justice in the exams.

This pattern repeats itself in Rennard’s account of the LD revival which began with the Newbury by-election in 1993 where Rennard shows himself to have been a sceptic about Ashdown’s preoccupation with Lib-Lab cooperation, believing that careless talk about coalition would cost votes. Based on his Liverpool experience the Rennard approach in any election campaign was to find out the issues on voters’ minds and to deal with those issues rather than go on about constitutional reform which polling suggested was only of interest to a minute fraction of voters,

Rennard’s strategy at GE1997 delivered 46 LD seats, the largest third party contingent since 1929 a number which had increased to 62 at GE2005. By then Charles Kennedy had become the Liberal Democrat leader and Rennard writes sensitively about the alcoholism which was to cost Kennedy the leadership. Ever practical, however he saw the Dunfermline by-election of 2006 as a means to give the party a boost after Kennedy’s downfall.

Throughout the book Rennard refers – never at great length – to his health problems of depression and diabetes-, problems not eased by his long irregular hours and it was these problems which caused him to step down as the Paty’s chief executive.

Certainly this book is generous to colleagues and friends, and suggests he is loyal and considerate in his personal dealings.

Steve Lawson


Hurrah! Our sovereign parliament is taking back control!

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

May should balance one Brexit concession with another

This is what Brexit was about: the right of Britain’s democratically elected MPs to take their own decisions free from the interference of Brussels (or, indeed, anybody else). Or perhaps not. Understandably, some pro-Leave MPs are so incandescent at the prospect that the Trade Bill might be amended so as to require “an appropriate authority to take all necessary steps [to conclude a customs union with the EU by Brexit Day]” that they’re burning as filament-white as the light bulbs you once got before the EU banned them.

Whether that anger is justified is a moot point and turns on what obligations come along with such a Union. After all, the Phase One deal potentially committed to “full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union” insofar as intra-Irish co-operation and trade is concerned (which is arguably virtually all of it). And the prize on leaving of new trade deals around the world is inevitably going to involve accepting some terms that strongly challenge currently-protected groups within the UK, or which go against public opinion (the chlorinated chicken has details).

On the other hand, Copper Brexit (it comes with CU*) could not only change the whole nature of the Brexit process and trigger further moves to pseudo-Remain but might, at the extremes, bring down the government.

I don’t think it will go that far. There is a reasonable (though odds-against, I’d suggest) chance that the government will still win. Alternatively, it might just accept the defeat and do its best to carry on. May as PM resembles Gordon Brown in no small way and her resilience in keeping going is one such measure. After all, it was parliament which inflicted the defeat – admittedly, made possible only because of her botched election campaign – rather than a government reversal, and what would Leavers do? The maths in the Commons are the same whoever leads the Tories, unless they upset the DUP or expel the saboteurs or something similarly silly.

    Perhaps what’s most remarkable about the quite probable success of the amendment is that it could well pass not only against the outright opposition of the government but with only an ambivalent opposition front bench, one which has only come round to backing the amendment against its instincts because of pressure from the backbenches.

    I can think of few parallels in British history where something potentially so significant was delivered with such little active support of either main party – the Sexual Offences Act (1967), might perhaps be the most recent one. Truly the nation’s sovereign parliament has taken back control.

Unfortunately for Theresa May, that would leave her in a crisis bigger even than that she faced on 9 June 2017; one that could only be overcome by grasping the initiative – not a natural instinct for the PM, it has to be said. How to do it? One thought comes to mind: that bus. It’s time to announce an increase in the NHS budget of £350m a week.

Cynical? A little. Audacious? That too. But it’s not like the Service doesn’t need the cash, it wouldn’t all have to be delivered up front (thank you, transition period), this week’s borrowing figures do leave genuine fiscal breathing space, and by addressing both a physical and political problem, it would also spike one of Labour’s most effective attack lines. Take back control: give in.

David Herdson

* Yes, technically it should be ‘Cu’ but that not only looks wrong but hints too readily at rudeness; go with how it sounds. ‘Carbon-Uranium’ would be even worse.


There’s greater than a 1.25% chance that Emily Thornberry will be next PM

Monday, February 19th, 2018

My little punt this afternoon

One of the things about running a site about political betting and being a punter myself is that I like to spend a few minutes each day casting my eye over the markets to see if anything interesting is happening.

I’m usually on the lookout for long odds bets where my assessment of the chances of it coming off is better than how the market is pricing it.

One such one I took this afternoon. It was at the place of 80 on Betfair that Emily Thornberry will be the next prime minister.

We’ve discussed at length how before how difficult it is going to be for a LAB PM to come directly after Mrs. May. That would require the incumbent to continue until after she has lost another general election and the widespread perception is CON MPs are not going to let her do that.

The general view is probably right but, as we saw with Gordon Brown in the years before GE2010 there was a great reluctance to oust an incumbent PM with a general election not that too far away. The same could happen with Mrs. May.

Although Corbyn is the strong second favourite to be next PM you’ve got to go down a long way, in my case to odds of 80, to find another LAB MP as a contender and that person is Thornberry – the clear favourite to succeed JC.

Given the massive ambivalence that Corbyn and his inner circle has on Brexit we cannot assume that he’ll stay in post all the way to the general election. He’s also getting old.

Mike Smithson


Amber Rudd now clear third favourite in the CON leader betting

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

JRM 18%..Bojo 10%..Rudd 8%..Gove 6%..Hunt & Raab 5%..Davidson & Williamson 3%

However you look at the next Conservative leadership betting there’s one thing that is probably not going to happen – that the two men heading the betting at the moment, old Etonians Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, are going to be fighting each other in the membership ballot which, of course, is of the two who top the secret ballot of party MPs.

BoJo and Moggsy, I’d suggest will appeal to the same broad audience within the parliamentary party that the chances are that one of them will not make it. My view at the moment is that the former mayor is probably more popular amongst Conservative MPs than Rees-Mogg but that could change.

The interesting Befair movement in recent days has been more support from punters for the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, the woman, who of course, stood in for Theresa May in the TV debate against Corbyn at the general election.

She comes over as very much a safe pair of hands. The only question mark about her is that she has a minuscule majority in her home seat of Hastings and Rye.

Generally, party leaders do better in their own constituencies than the party as a whole particularly at their first general election after their elevation. A big exception to this was last June when Theresa May saw decline in her seat which was very much against the run of what was happening to the party in the country as a whole.

Rudd, of course, was a remainer and a lot would depend on the timing of the election. She’d probably do better after Brexit has happened than before.

Mike Smithson


The LDs appear to be returning to their former role as NOTA – none of the above

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

I’ve just come across the above chart which shows an interesting picture of vote movements in council by-elections since GE17.

Clearly the collapse of UKIP is having a big impact and in almost every segment of seats, based on the defending party, LAB, CON and the LDs have moved forward.

What is striking is that in the former UKIP seats the biggest gainer has been the LDs vote increase which, on the face of it seems counter-intuitive.

My reading is that what is happening I is that as memory of the coalition fades the LDs are returning to their traditional role as “none of the Above”.

Mike Smithson


UKIP: circling the plughole

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The problem is the leader – but could anyone else do better?

Revolutions devouring their own creators is hardly a novelty but UKIP are giving a fascinating new take on an old theme. They were never the most disciplined of parties and perhaps that was, for some, part of their attraction. Even so, since their crowning glory with their success in the referendum, they’ve not been so much undisciplined but ungovernable.

After Nigel Farage stepped down in September 2016, they’ve worked through no fewer than five leaders or acting leaders in the space of 16 months. By next week, they could be onto their sixth if Henry Bolton is forced out over his girlfriend’s racist tweets and over whether he was truthful in his statements as to whether they’d subsequently split up. This is taking the Throwaway Society to a whole new level – and as with other one-time use items, there’s a cost that comes with such excessive consumption. (To be fair to UKIP, they did make Nigel Farage reusable but even that’s no longer a solution).

With infighting, incompetence and instability on this scale, UKIP’s voice has become completely absent from the political debate at a time when their core issue is still very much live and when the fight to prevent Brexit – forlorn though that may be – still has vocal and powerful advocates. Certainly their support is a fraction of what it was but they still polled nearly 600,000 votes at the 2017 general election: around 70,000 more than the Greens despite standing 89 fewer candidates. Media access would be there for the asking.

The simple analysis would be to say that UKIP’s central problem is that Brexit has robbed it of its purpose and identity – and to a large extent, that’s true. But it’s far from the whole story and shouldn’t be used as an excuse for their subsequent collapse, for two main reasons.

Firstly, Brexit is a process and one which is likely to take much longer than many expected and leave Britain much closer to the EU than many natural UKIP voters would have expected. There is a story there to be sold and resentment there to be mined.

That opportunity would only take UKIP so far. The political class may be obsessed with Europe at the moment but few of the public are. Sure, it scores highly on polls measuring issues of concern because there is a lot of risk involved and because it’s in the news a lot. For all that, few members of the public are bothered about the detail and few votes will be won campaigning on it. There might be enough for a party polling in low single figures to progress but probably not much further than mid-single figures if its campaigning was limited to that alone. Even then, once Brexit is done and dusted, the issue will again drop off the public’s radar.

However, there’s no reason for a radical anti-establishment right-of-centre party to limit itself in such a way and a populist party campaigning on domestic issues as well as international ones would have plenty of scope to eat into the vote shares of a Tory party which has been on the defensive ever since the shock of last year’s election result, a Labour Party whose leadership stance is widely at odds with the values of many of its traditional supporters, and Lib Dem and Green parties which have wholly failed to capture the NOTA vote. There are more than enough examples across Europe and beyond to demonstrate what’s possible when the old order struggles. Indeed, we don’t even need to look abroad: capturing that vote in 2012-13 was precisely what prompted Cameron into promising the referendum in the first place.

But that was then: when it had money, an effective leader and an esprit de corps. With a highly talented leader now, it would still stand a decent chance of capitalising on the numerous opportunities before it and transitioning for a post-Brexit role. Instead, if it can’t sort out its internal problems – and given the depth of current divisions and the paucity of talent available, that looks the most likely outcome – it is heading for utter irrelevance.

David Herdson

p.s. I did think about writing about the impending US government shutdown or Nick Boles’ comments on Theresa May. But on the former, this is just more of the same: it will change very little unless a shutdown goes on for weeks. On the latter, the only point of interest is that he’s said it publicly. Again, it’s not going to change anything.


Seat projection from today’s ICM poll has CON ahead on MPs even though behind on votes

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

When’s the Corbyn Clique going to work out that the system now works against LAB?

The latest ICM Guardian poll out and the figures – C40/LB41/LD7 – are included above in the seat projection from Martin Baxter’s Electoral Calculus.

As can be seen that although the Conservatives are one point behind on votes this, according to the projection, will put them one ahead in terms of seats.

This reflects a big trend that first was noticed at GE2015 when the Lib Dems were hammered after the years in Coalition. The Tories who had suffered most in relation to LAB on the votes/seats in the previous four elections found themselves benefiting disproportionately from the sharp decline of what was then Clegg’s party.

    The effect is that now on the same vote share the Tories will probably get 20-30 more seats than Labour. If the system is biased then it is to the blue team though they’ll continue, no doubt, to whinge quoting 2005.

LAB, for want of a better term, “wastes” more of it votes chalking up big shares in its heartlands than the Tories who are more vulnerable to the LDs.

Interesting in the latest projection above that the LDs move up two seats even though their share is down on GE2017. The reason, of course, the that in this poll the Tories are down even more.

Projections on the proposed new boundaries have the system biased even more to the blue team.

All this means is that Mr. Corbyn’s LAB needs vote share leads far in excess of anything it has managed to achieve since June to be sure of him becoming PM.

Mike Smithson