Archive for the 'Coalition' Category


The Tory leadership – an alternative view

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Ian Whittaker on why Esther McVey might be the one to watch

David’s piece yesterday was very insightful on the mechanics for how a new Conservative leader could be elected. I wanted to add a few thoughts on what has happened over the past week, and what are the betting implications on the political front.

    First of all, standing back, the last week has been, objectively, a disaster for Theresa May. That may seem harsh and it puts me odd with David and Mike. But, logically, there is no other conclusion.

In increasing order of importance, she has lost two Cabinet Ministers, seen the President of the United States give succour to Brexiteers, whatever his later comments, and clear signs those who support Brexit, the bedrock of Conservative support, see the Chequers plan as a sell out, with the Conservative vote down 6pc in the Optimum poll today with UKIP rising to 8pc. Also, ominously for May, while Remainers have praised the plan and Brexiteers have condemned it, the middle of the Conservative Party has largely kept its mouth shut, suggesting a “wait and see” attitude. If May was hoping the World Cup and the Trump visit would distract from the Plan, she has been disappointed.

Secondly, I don’t think this is the end of the resignations for May. Ironically, the lack of Brexit related resignations over the past couple of days should probably worry May more. It suggests discipline on the Brexiteers part, realising that announcing resignations when England were playing in the World Cup Semi-Final and Trump was visiting would annoy its supporters ( in fact, The Sun’s front page on Tuesday was effectively a warning not to do so). These events are now over.

And any future departures and actions are likely to be well planned to create maximum harm on May. The most important departure has not been David or Johnson but that of Steve Baker, the arch-Brexiteer. Anyone who read Tim Shipman’s magnus opus on the Brexit vote will know how effectively Baker can coordinate effective guerrilla warfare against the Government. And they are likely to play clever. For example, do we really believe Suella Fernandes staying in Government is because she is convinced of May’s plan or more a way for the Brexiteers to be kept in touch with Government thinking?

What does this mean for the likely course of events?

To me, and I run the risk of being completely wrong, the course is clear. May’s Achilles Heel is not the Brexiteers like JRM but that the priority for most Conservative MPs is keeping their seats. The chances are there will be a continuing deterioration in the Conservative poll position, especially as the EU pushes for further concessions and the likelihood May will give further ground. As that happens, those MPs will become more fearful.

What makes this situation even worse for May is the unusually high number of seats in this Parliament with wafer-thiin majorities. It does not take that many voters to switch sides or abstain for the Conservatives to be looking at its seat tally rapidly falling. And as its pro-Brexit base see May as betraying true Brexit and giving in to the “Remoaners” with some determined to punish the Tories by going for “Anyone but May” that is more than plausible. Both MPs and constituency chairs will turn their thinking to how May is putting their jobs at risk and damaging the Conservative position. And the Brexit rebels will, as that happens, find more recruits to their cause.

Hence, In effect, a re-run of what happened with Thatcher in 1990 over the Poll Tax looks likely with May trying to cling on but the party deciding she is too much of a liability and she needs to go to save their seats. Re the betting implications, I think this makes it more likely May will face a challenge (and go) in 2018, probably towards the end of the year. Several have pointed out here that the unintended consequence of the challenges to Brexit is that, in the event of no-deal being reached, then hard Brexit on WTO terms is the default. That is the “promised land” to the Hardliners. So, the logical conclusion now for the hardliners would be to feed the “Stab in the back” storyline, see the Conservative vote fall further in the polls (helped by rebellions on their part), pull in more MPs who fear for their jobs, and then strike at an optimal point in time when it would become impossible to agree any sort of deal with the EU with the timeline involved. Anytime in 2019 risks being too close to the March 2019 date that the party shirks from a contest. Striking around the time of the Party Conference or afterwards makes more sense.

What about the next Conservative leader? David made a very important point about the rules being more fluid around a contest. If a contest is triggered on the above circumstances, then the 1922 and party machine will be very aware that a selection where only Remainers or soft Brexiteers are put forward as candidates to the membership would lead to open mutiny in the party and would not solve the problem. Thus, as well as speed, the Committee will want to ensure breadth. Don’t expect either of these two groups to win machinations to rig the final selection.

So a more hardline Brexiteer has to be favourite. Who are the candidates? One of the positive aspects of the Chequers result from the next leader betting market is that it has narrowed the market considerably. Any Remainer is obviously out. Those Remainers turned Brexiteers like Hunt, Javid and Williamson are also out as they will be deemed to have put career above principle and will not be trusted. Gove has burnt his bridges by so openly supporting the deal. Mourdant and Fox are out for the same reason as is Raab.

Who does that leave? I think the next leader will have to Cabinet experience because of the tasks facing the Government. So I don’t expect JRM. Davis has ruled himself out. Boris is the obvious one given his resignation but two factors will play against him, firstly he is so associated with London, which may not play well outside the capital, and, less commented on, his seat is not exactly safe, which could be a risk.

Who is left? Notice two minor Cabinet members who have kept quiet on Chequers but who have ambitions. Liz Truss was a remainer but has reinvented herself as a low tax, smaller state, pro Brexit Conservative. For me, though, Esther McVey is the one to watch. She is a Brexiteer and her Northern Working Class roots are likely to appeal to the more Working Class Tory supporters who they are losing now. While she has not resigned, she has not vocally backed Chequers, unlike Mourdant (a mistake on the latter’s part) so may be more open to being “forgiven” on the issue. The NAO issue does not seem to have gained traction. She is 100/1 on Ladbrokes for next PM.

A few other points. If the scenario above plays out, expect 2019 as the election year. A new leader will want to claim authority and Corbyn will be keen to fight. More to the point, a hard Brexit will need to have been seen to have been supported at the polls. Secondly, I don’t understand why there is such a major difference in the odds between the next Conservative leader and the next PM (Esther McVey is 66/1 on the former, 100/1 on the latter). The transition from Cameron to May showed that the two moves are linked and, unless a new leader loses the support of the DUP, it is hard to see how they would not be the next PM.

Ian Whittaker


Brexit equivocator Corbyn isn’t doing too badly with Remainers but he’s doing appallingly with leavers

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

TMay drops to her lowest favourability level yet

I am really glad that YouGov has returned to doing favorability ratings because I believe that this is the best measure of how leaders, in particular, are being viewed. I can also take some ownership for the format because these were first initiated by the firm following suggestions from me a couple of years ago.

Favorability ratings, of course, are the main measure used by American posters to test the political water.

The table above is very revealing and shows Theresa May really struggling with with her core base, those who voted Conservative. The polling, of course, took place against a background of great controversy and ministerial resignations following the big cabinet meeting last weekend on the government’s brexit policy.

The result is that in net terms Corbyn now has better ratings than Theresa May. I can’t help but feel that given the backing he gets from remain voters that at some stage this is going to cause him problems.

Interestingly for all the equivocation that the Labour leader has had over Brexit he is not getting much recognition for this from those who voted leave. In fact his net negative of -59 is greater than the -49 that Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has with this segment.

Mike Smithson


It looks as though TMay could be facing a confidence vote

Monday, July 9th, 2018

On Betfair she’s odds-on to go this year

What a day with “Fuck Business” Johnson quitting as Foreign Secretary and reports now that the required total of 48 CON MPs to demand a confidence vote on TMay has been reached.

The betting on her exit date has moved very sharply from a 26% chance on Betfair yesterday morning that she’d be out this year to a 55% chance now.

I’m not so sure. As we’ve seen she is super-resilient and a lot more than 48 MPs would need to vote against her to force her out.

With CON meetings meeting this will develop even more.

Mike Smithson


Three Lions: just maybe

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

The perfect football song to capture the national mood

I should start by apologising to Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish. This is a thread about England. It is also a thread about the continual disappointment and thwarted dreams that England’s national football team has visited on its fans so on that basis, perhaps fans from elsewhere will forgive me.

On one level, England’s record in major football finals tournaments is quite impressive. Today’s match is the seventeenth time that England have reached the last eight of either the World Cup or European Championships. Add in that famous win in 1966 and you have the basis for a lot of hope. Unfortunately, in only four of the previous sixteen appearances did England advance to the semi-finals – hence the belief that it could have been so much better, particularly when so many of those defeats were by fractions.

Nothing has captured those contrasting emotions like the Three Lions song by the Lightning Seeds, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, first recorded some 22 years ago. In many ways, the Ian Broudie was the ideal person to write it. Much of the Lightning Seeds catalogue offsets super-happy tunes against somewhat darker lyrics (see Pure, or Sugar Coated Iceberg).

Three Lions not only has a similar happy, naïve bounce to it but also a rather more complex undercurrent. For example, the lines “Jules Rimet still gleaming” and “never stopped me dreaming” in the chorus are offset against a closing minor chord, suggestive of at the least subconscious doubt. By contrast, the first riff of the ‘coming home’ motif is introduced, after several clips of downbeat commentators and analysts, by an ascending fanfare-like call on soft but clear solo brass (a horn, I think), indicative of new beginnings. Between them, they musically capture the experienced England fan’s natural reaction to Kipling’s twin imposters of Triumph and Disaster.

The song is more than that though. It became an instant terrace chant and remains an enduring one, mainly because as well as being well-known and football related, it’s both simple while containing enough variety to be interesting and offer comic potential. The three phrases of ‘it’s coming home’ are of four, three and five notes respectively, meaning that words put to them also have to be varied slightly. Likewise, both the ‘three lions’ and ‘it’s coming home’ tunes cover ranges of just five notes each with no big jumps – they’re easy to sing.

And then there’s the video. If the music has slightly complex psychological underpinnings, mirroring the more obvious contrasts of the lyrics, the darker clouds are banished from the video. There was always something wonderfully child-like about the Pheonix From the Flames sections of Fantasy Football, which allowed (famous) grown men to regress to the playground, where they could act out scenes as if they were stars. As well as being absurd, it’s also slightly touching to see David Baddiel pretend to be Pele (at about one-tenth of the speed of the original: that tackle by Moore sent the Brazilian tumbling across half the penalty area – though no play-acting of course, just an upwards glance of respect).

It says much about England’s national self-image that the song has become such a part of the national culture that it deserves a place in the National Football Museum. But after all, why not dream? Sometimes they come true.

David Herdson


May’s Straw Man

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

The Chequers Brexit Plan is about winning the blame game

Works away days invariably disappoint their participants and for all the beauty of the surroundings, the cabinet’s day out at Chequers won’t have been much different. Twelve hours of intensive discussions in literal hot-house conditions, to hammer out a Brexit policy that they could all stick to is surely no-one’s idea of fun.

Even those politicians who have long dreamt of Britain leaving the European Union, the agreement of a policy that would deliver a workable Brexit must come with very mixed feelings. For one thing, the policy that they’ve signed up to is not the ambitious, buccaneering free-wheeling country that they envisioned a little over two years ago. For another, but relatedly, the fact that they haven’t resigned means that they’ve missed the boat to establish themselves as the true voice of Pure Brexit and volunteer activists and backbenchers will hold (and judging by Twitter, are holding) them accountable on that point. But thirdly, the deal is almost certainly dead before it gets back within the M25.

For all the concessions to Brussels, the package agreed remains very much in the cake-and-eat-it category. It is certainly inconsistent with the EU’s negotiating guidelines; at times, it is inconsistent with itself (a hall-mark of documents produced quickly and by committee). For example:

The cabinet want to remain harmonised with the EU on goods but not services. Apart from the fact that there isn’t such a clean distinction, the EU has been consistent on no cherry-picking of the Single Market – a unilateral voluntary alignment won’t be sufficient to produce frictionless trade.
– Giving Parliament the right to pick and choose which legislation to adopt runs completely counter to regulatory alignment.
– Ending Freedom of Movement will also be seen as cherry-picking the rules of the Single Market. Goodness knows what a ‘mobility framework’ is.
– The FaxFac Plus solution to customs has already been dismissed by Brussels. Putting forward more-or-less the same plan with a different name is not going to get any change in response.
– Signing trade deals with other countries or blocs will be extremely difficult to align with the commitments to the EU.

Those are just some of the inconsistencies or points already dismissed. Other aspects of the agreement – the insistence on withdrawing from the CFP and taking back control of UK waters, for example – will be strongly resisted by Brussels.

All of which means that the document, and the White Paper it should spawn, are not really negotiating positions as such, because they are so far from what the EU will accept that there isn’t scope for a negotiation that will lead to an agreement.

So if it isn’t a negotiating document, what is it?

The only answer I can come up with to that question is that it’s a demonstration of goodwill not to the EU but to the UK public. Undoubtedly, the document goes much further than many Brexiteers would like. If implemented, it would mean that Britain was a rule-taker on goods markets, indefinitely. It would mean that the EU could amend UK law without any British input. It would hugely inhibit any future trade policy. It would in many ways be Brexit in Name Only.

And yet it will still be rejected, which is probably the point. It’s been clear for some time that the talks were going nowhere fast and that No Deal and No Leave were increasingly becoming the options. By putting forward a reasonable set of proposals, the government is no doubt hoping to demonstrate its goodwill and, hence, if the EU reject them, the government will be able to say that they were dealing with unreasonable people and that they did the best they could. Some might question whether the proposals were workable or whether the government could have done better but the main question remains: was any deal that respected the Brexit vote ever possible? Presumably, the cabinet Brexiteers recognise this, which would explain their otherwise supine attitude today.

Because if Britain does end up in a Crash Brexit next March, something it’s done precious little preparation for (though nor has France or Ireland – the two EU countries most affected), there will be a lot of disruption and damage. Who is to blame for that might not matter to those affected but it matters hugely politically.

Hence yesterday’s Chequers Straw Man. It might in theory be the basis for a deal, and if it was, then the confirmed Leave tendency wouldn’t like it at all. In practice, it’s more likely that it’s been put up to be knocked down.

One practical effect of that though is that rejection will not just harden opinion against the EU; it will strengthen Tory support for the PM. The lack of resignations today and the probable refusal to concede further to the EU means that Theresa May is very likely now to remain at No 10 until at least next summer.

David Herdson


Unless Moggsy has the backing of 158 CON MPs for his oust TMay move this threat is all piss and wind

Sunday, July 1st, 2018


A confidence move could make her position stronger

This week is going to be all about the crunch cabinet meeting on Friday at Chequers when TMay is hoping to get agreement on Britain’s approach to Brexit.

So we can expect a lot of sabre rattling like that above from Moggsy and threats of resignations and moves to oust her.

    The problem is that we’ve been here before. Those opposesed to the TMay approach have been briefing about resignations and ousting her for months and haven’t done anything. I’d suggest they’ve cried “wolf” too often.

One of the great rules of politics is don’t make a threat without going through with it if your conditions are not met. If you do you just lose credibility.

One of the challenges that the TMay ousters have is that any move under the rules of the party could end up strengthening her position. We all know that 48 MPs have to send a letter to 1922 Chair, Brady, for a confidence ballot to take place.

That would trigger a secret ballot the following day when the numbers start to get more challenging – for to be certain of getting rid of her a majority of the 318 CON MPs would have to back it. So we are talking about 159 votes against. That is too big an ask.

The sting in the tale is that if Mrs.May survived such a ballot there could be no follow-up move for a year. This would make her stronger.

So far punters think that she’ll survive with next year being the favourite on Betfair for her departure.

Mike Smithson


So, this errr… Target2 thing. What is it, and why is it spiking, and should I care?

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

With the election of the Lega Nord and Five Star Movement in Italy, Target2 imbalances are growing again. The gap between the creditor nations (mostly Germany and the Netherlands) and the debtors (the PIIGS, less Ireland) is now back at levels last seen at the height of the Eurozone crisis.

But wait. What are Target2 balances? Are they the result of Germany’s enormous current account surplus, or is there something else at work?

More importantly, should you care about them, and do they mark the beginning of the end for the Eurozone?

Robert Smithson


Gove now level-pegging with Corbyn in the next PM betting

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Mike Smithson