Archive for the ' General Election' Category


The idea that BoJo has some magical means of reaching LAB or pro-Brexit voters isn’t backed up by his record

Monday, June 10th, 2019

At Uxbridge Johnson performed worse than the London Tory average

One of the apparent great selling points for Johnson to his party is that somehow he has a means of reaching voters that other Tories do not have. Therefore, his supporters argue, he is the man to take the party forward at a general election.

Well looking at what happened at the last election in his West London constituency of Uxbridge there is nothing to back this up. Even bearing in mind that the Conservatives did poorly in the capital in 2017 compared with elsewhere Johnson did worse than the average CON to LAB swing of 6.2% in the capital.

Just looking at the result in Uxbridge you would have thought that the largish UKIP vote from the election before would have got behind Johnson who was, after all, the leader of the Leave campaign. The numbers suggest that that didn’t happen.

The turnout level in Johnson’s constituency was also lower than the London average of 70.1%.

The main case that somehow Johnson has some amazing ability is largely based on his 2008 and 2012 London mayoral campaigns when he did indeed win the Crown twice. But we should also remember that the margins were pretty close and of course his opponent was Ken Livingstone who by 2012 was not the electoral magnet that he had been.

Mike Smithson


It was exactly two years ago today that Brexit, if it happens, inexorably changed

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Video: The moment the 2017 exit poll was announced

When the history of Brexit is written I suspect the 8th of June 2017 will be seen as the most momentous day in Brexit history, even more so than June 23rd 2016.

The moment Mrs May lost David Cameron’s majority might be the seen as the moment the Brexit mandate was superseded by those opposed to a No Deal Brexit, indeed Labour’s manifesto was explicit in that, nor did it commit to an exit on the 29th of March 2019.

Without a majority Mrs May became reliant on the DUP who value the Union ahead of (a no deal) Brexit. The hardline, leave at any cost, Leavers may well regret not ousting Mrs May back in June 2017.

The irony is that had George Osborne remained an MP he might have been best placed to ensure her ousting in June 2017 (without becoming leader himself), something a Leaver told me recently, Brexiteers may regret cheering Osborne’s decision to stand down as an MP.

For two years we ended up with a Prime Minister, despite her public pronouncements, refused to take the country out of the EU without a deal. Once Brexit stopped being inevitable then there was always a risk it might not happen, I wonder if the ERG will eventually realise that.

It has allowed the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems to outflank the Tories to the point where  we are now talking about the next general election could be an extinction level event for the Tories.



There’s no automaticity that the next Tory leader becomes Prime Minister

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

Why Mrs May could end up remaining Prime Minister a lot longer than we think

The Guardian reports

Boris Johnson could avoid facing an immediate confidence vote in his premiership if he becomes Conservative leader, as ministers are considering whether to send MPs home early for their summer break before the new prime minister is announced.

Mel Stride, the new leader of the House of Commons, aroused suspicions that the Conservatives are plotting to put off a confidence vote for their new leader until September, as he refused to confirm when recess will start.

He said it was “not necessarily” the case that the new Conservative leader would have to appear in front of parliament before MPs go off on holiday until the autumn.

Ministers appear to be trying to get round the threat of a new Conservative leader failing to be able to form a government, if Johnson or one of the other frontrunners to succeed Theresa May loses the support of some Tory MPs or cannot win over the Democratic Unionist party.

Labour sources said they believe the government whips are planning recess to start potentially as early as July 19 – almost a week earlier than last year – while the Conservatives will not say exactly when the winner of their leadership contest will be announced, other than it will be in the week of July 22.

The move to delay a confidence vote until September would give a new leader the chance to ensure its confidence and supply deal with the DUP still stands.

However, it could mean that Theresa May would not be able to go to Buckingham Palace straight away and resign as prime minister. Her spokesman said May would only hand over the keys to No 10 when “she says to the Queen that she is stepping aside and believes that someone else can command the confidence of the House”.

This is something that Alastair Meeks has mentioned a few times that it only needs three Tory MPs to switch sides for the Tory/DUP majority to be wiped out and I’m fairly confident there’s more than three Tory MPs who will do whatever it takes to stop a no deal Brexit.

With the likes of Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab openly talking about acting like a modern day Charles I and proroguing Parliament to ensure (a no deal) Brexit on Halloween you can see why Parliament would have no confidence in certain winners of the Tory leadership race. I cannot see Parliament having confidence in someone committed to a no deal Brexit in October.

I think if Parliament declares it has no confidence in the new Tory leader we could see any of the following, a government of national unity to sort out Brexit, or more likely a new general election. So Mrs May ends remaining Prime Minister for the duration of the general election campaign whilst her successor as Tory leader fights the general election.

With the Lib Dems and Brexit party surging in the polls and the Tories hitting rock bottom in the polls there’s no desire for an early general election in the Tory party so Tory MPs might end up backing as leader someone who does not become tumescent over no deal, that should benefit Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock, and Rory Stewart.

This could have serious implications for several betting markets, I’m fortunate that most of my bets are on next Tory leader whilst I’ve been active in laying the next Prime Minister market. Given the complications of Theresa May’s exit markets I suggest if you’re betting on the next Tory leader/PM markets you check the precise rules/markets, different bookies can have slightly different definitions.

If you’re constitutional expert or lawyer this might be an even more exciting and profitable time for you. There’s a beautiful irony that Boris Johnson’s declaration that he would exit from the EU, deal or no deal, on Halloween might ensure he becomes Tory leader but stops him from becoming Prime Minister.


Update – Remember that Yes, Prime Minister maxim of never believing anything until has been officially denied.



Going back to your constituencies. Alastair Meeks on not taking seat predictors too seriously in times of change

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

Obviously, you should not treat opinion polls very seriously at all, especially when no general election is on hand. Respondents are being asked an artificial question (there is no general election tomorrow) with no real-world consequences hanging on their answer. 

You might be getting a general expression of enthusiasm for a particular credo, a message to the voter’s normal choice or simply a casual choice made without much thought, and that’s before you get into the methodological adjustments that the pollsters use to produce their confection. Headline voting polls at this stage in an electoral cycle should be treated as an expression of mood rather than a forecast.

For all that, they are pretty well the only useful data points that we have for Westminster elections. So they are pored over endlessly by political geeks, deconstructed by subsamples and slotted into seat predictors.

The latest YouGov poll was particularly sensational, putting Labour and the Conservatives in joint third on 19% behind the Lib Dems on 24% and the Brexit party on 22%. Not content with this, Nigel Farage complained that YouGov’s failure to prompt for the Brexit party nefariously suppressed his creation’s ratings (regrettably, he did not give a detailed psephological explanation of how YouGov should correct for their past overstatement of Brexit party support: no doubt they would have welcomed his new-found expertise).

These findings were then plugged into the seat predictors. What was most striking about these was how Labour in particular, but also the Conservatives, held onto far more seats than one might expect. Electoral Calculus comes up with Labour 202, Brexit 141, Lib Dems 119, Conservatives 110.

Forgive me if I have my doubts about the accuracy of such predictions. Seat predictors are made for a world where polls move up or down a few percentage points, like boats bobbing on the swell of the ocean. If this poll were to be anything like accurate, Labour and the Conservatives are about to be hit by a rogue wave.

The traditional method of calculating seat movements at elections is by uniform national swing. That implies that the percentage swing between parties is exactly the same in every seat. So if the Conservatives start on 48% in a seat and Labour on 30%, and there’s a 10% national swing from the Conservatives to Labour, Labour would be expected, all things being equal, to take the seat 40% to 38%. Historically it has worked better than the more intuitive proportional swing (where each parties’ share of the vote would move proportionately in each seat).

The problem with uniform national swing where the movements are so wild is that it breaks down completely. If, for example, the Conservatives were to drop from 43% to 19% at successive elections, then uniform national swing would imply that the Conservatives got negative votes in every seat in which they tallied 24% or less of the vote in 2017. There were 98 such constituencies; this is not a theoretical problem.

Electoral Calculus is more sophisticated than this. It operates what is known as a strong transition model. As the link explains, the model divides party supporters into strong and weak supporters. The model allocates them to each seat based on vote share in each seat, and then assumes that the weak supporters fall away first when a party’s polling droops.

There are two difficulties with this approach in turbulent times, particularly so far as both Labour and the Conservatives are concerned. First, it assumes that their votes would drop off particularly quickly in seats where they start from the position of a low vote share. This might well be true for minor parties or parties with particular regional strength.

But both main parties have substantial and to date enduring strength across the nation: Labour did not lose a deposit in 2017. It is not at all obvious that beyond a certain point in any given constituency that their voters are weak.

Secondly, and more fundamentally, the model copes poorly with a fundamental realignment. Many lifelong former Labour supporters voted for other parties in the EU elections. An absolute majority of Conservative party members appear to have voted for the Brexit party in the EU elections. The concept of a strong voter breaks down when new binary divides spring up.

None of this is to disparage electoral models and Electoral Calculus is excellent. They have proved terrifically useful in the past in understanding the dynamics of close battles (and you should always remember that the predictions are only ever going to be as good as the inputted data). But where the public shifts allegiance dramatically, they are going to be much less useful. It would be like predicting the outcome of a duck race in a whirlpool.

At the vote shares indicated by that sensational YouGov poll, my expectation is that both Labour and the Conservatives would have far more wasted votes than any electoral model currently suggests and as a result lose considerably more seats than any model put forward.

We’ve since had an Opinium poll showing the Brexit party in the lead and the Lib Dems in fourth. Electoral Calculus showed the Brexit party with 306 seats and Labour with 202, but with the Conservatives on a mere 26 seats.  I have to say that feels a more believable outcome from such a result.

In summary, supporters of the main parties, particularly the Conservatives, should not assume that incumbency and traditional strength is going to save them if the polling continues to show them gurgling round the plughole, even if the seat calculators suggest otherwise. This is no time for complacency.

Alastair Meeks


A 2019 general election moves up in the betting as the pressure mounts on TMay

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

One of the big political betting movements this afternoon has been on the timing of the next general election as can been from the chart. As far as I can see the reasoning is that TMay’s time at Number 10 is moving to a conclusion with much talk of a leadership contest before the summer break.

The only problem is that a new PM and leader would face exactly the same challenges that Mrs. May has struggled with over getting Commons agreement on an exit deal. It might be that her successor would seek to break the parliamentary deadlock by going to the country.

The problem with this is that calling a general election is exactly what the incumbent did in 2017 and ended up with fewer cON MPs and no overall majority. Would a new leader be prepared to gamble his or her new job?

Also would the next CON leader go to the country in the aftermath of Farage’s likely success in tomorrow’s Euros?

Whatever everything is deadlocked and something has to give.

Mike Smithson


Nigel Farage reportedly looking to do Corbyn’s dirty work and help Labour gain Boris Johnson’s seat

Sunday, May 5th, 2019

This week’s Spectator reports that

Rumours are circulating that Farage’s aim is to destroy the leader he fears most: Boris Johnson. This is more doable than it might sound. The former foreign secretary holds a 5,000 majority in Uxbridge —respectable, but not a lifetime guarantee, given the volatility of contemporary politics and London’s drift away from the Tories.

Word is that Farage is considering standing against Boris in the next general election. He’d lose. But he might take Johnson down with him by splitting the Leave vote in the seat, letting Labour in through the middle. This would be an entirely destructive act by Farage. But that this idea is being discussed in his circle shows how serious they are about taking out the Tories.

Prior to this news I had a private bet on Boris Johnson losing his seat at the next general election so this news interests me. The reason I’ve bet on Boris losing is seat is mostly down to London demographic trends moving away from the Tories, with 2,700 centre left voters for Labour to squeeze that 5,000 majority doesn’t look quite so secure for Boris.

Then there’s Boris Johnson’s popularity which has fallen substantially since his apotheosis. With the country polarising further on Brexit and with the role that Boris Johnson played in Leave’s victory you can see why Boris Johnson might lose his seat. Boris Johnson’s Bannonite comments on Muslim women isn’t likely to endear him in London. 

If he was Prime Minister at the time of the next general election you can see the mother and father of all decapitation strategies being planned by Labour. It would be the Portillo moment for a new generation.

But if the Leave vote in this constituency is significantly split then Boris Johnson is toast. It is clear that a substantial minority of Leavers view a No Deal Brexit as the only true Brexit and that anyone who compromises is betraying Brexit.

With Boris Johnson eventually backing the Withdrawal Agreement, something that Farage has compared the Withdrawal Agreement to the Treaty of Versailles it isn’t hard to see Farage comparing Boris Johnson to Marshal Pétain or some other Vichyist/Quisling. I’m sure Farage will also appeal to those Leavers for whom immigration was the key driver in their decision to vote Leave that Boris Johnson is in favour of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. 

It does reinforce that a feeling that I’ve had for a while, a lot of Leavers, Farage particularly, are more interested in destroying than creating. If Farage was confident in support for his policies he would stand in a more winnable seat.



Farage against the machine. Why the Brexit party’s chances are not as good as billed

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Nigel Farage’s second coming has been greeted with fanfares in the media, which love someone who courts publicity and is prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. His gaping maw can be viewed wherever you look, and he has so far been given an unimpeded run for his message that Brexit has been betrayed. His credentials as a strategic genius who delivered Brexit are taken as read. His brilliance as a politician is assumed. The imminent collapse of the current political establishment is expected.  

At the time of writing, he was most recently backed on Betfair at 48 (47/1) for next Prime Minister.  This price is shorter than that for Philip Hammond, Geoffrey Cox, Amber Rudd and David Davis. Since he is not even an MP, this shows remarkable enthusiasm for his chances.

There are a few problems with this narrative. Let’s take a look at them.

Nigel Farage is a really poor political campaigner

Put the referendum to one side for now (I will be coming back to this). His track record in seeking election to Westminster is one of almost unmitigated failure, both for himself and for his party. The only successes have been obtaining the re-election at by-elections of two incumbent MPs. One of these lost his seat at the next election.

He himself has failed to be elected to Parliament on no fewer than seven occasions, including coming third in a two horse race in 2010 when campaigning in the Speaker’s constituency.

He has a better record in the EU elections. The Brexit party can be expected to do well there. For long term impact, however, they are going to need to start making inroads into Westminster. Nothing in Nigel Farage’s past suggests that they will.

His role in the referendum is being hugely overstated

Nigel Farage’s biggest contribution to the referendum was leaning on Conservative MPs to help get it called in the first place. During the referendum campaign he roamed around like a rogue elephant, trampling across the main campaign’s efforts.

He may have reached voters that the main campaign did not reach but he also risked alienating other voters who were also needed with such stunts as his Breaking Point poster. He was certainly one of the more visible figures but he was not so much Svengali as sidekick.

Certainly he did not impress Dominic Cummings, guru of Vote Leave. Among his comments:

“We recruited more active volunteers (~12,000) in 10 months than UKIP in 25 years (~7,000 according to Farage).”

“Farage put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters who wanted to leave the EU but who were very clear in market research that a major obstacle to voting Leave was ‘I don’t want to vote for Farage, I’m not like that’. He also put off many prominent business people from supporting us. Over and over they would say ‘I agree with you the EU is a disaster and we should get out but I just cannot be on the same side as a guy who makes comments about people with HIV’.”

Without Boris, Farage would have been a much more prominent face on TV during the crucial final weeks, probably the most prominent face. (We had to use Boris as leverage with the BBC to keep Farage off and even then they nearly screwed us as ITV did.) It is extremely plausible that this would have lost us over 600,000 vital middle class votes.”

Retrospectively making him into some kind of electoral babe-magnet is rewriting history.

The Brexit party, new as it is, has major problems

Considering the Brexit party is so new, it has a remarkably chequered track record already. It has lost its chief executive over blood-curdling anti-Islamic comments and its treasurer over a pot pourri of anti-semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.

If Labour are struggling with accusations of institutional anti-semitism, the Brexit party seem to have much greater structural problems.  What is it about Nigel Farage that attracts such people?

The Brexit party’s party structure is also going to be limiting unless quickly changed. The party leader is chosen by a committee that is appointed by Nigel Farage. The party supporters get no say. Party democracy is evidently something that Nigel Farage has no time for.

While it is no doubt a great comfort to Nigel Farage that he has the same job security as Arthur Scargill, it will prove a major barrier to obtaining new recruits. Disaffected Conservative MPs will be unwilling to jump ship to a party where their status will be subject to the caprices of a man who many others had fallen foul of once their profile got too high.

This may in turn explain why Nigel Farage has yet again overpromised and underdelivered. We were told that the Brexit party was going to unveil a glittering array of candidates. Instead so far we have got the sister of a backbench Conservative MP and the usual ragbag of committed EU-haters who no one else had heard of. I suppose that this was a step up from a much-touted march that ultimately had fewer than 100 participants. It still suggests that the party structures are again likely to prove an Achilles heel for him.

Nigel Farage has a host of questions to answer about himself that he won’t be able to duck forever

Then we come to the man himself. He has never shown himself particularly deft on the defence rather than on the attack. Perhaps he will break that habit. He will need to.

As Dominic Cummings noted, he has an array of past statements that are voter-repellent (Mike Smithson noted his approach to the NHS, which is far outside the mainstream, on Monday). Those will come back to haunt him – does he still believe them? If not, why did he change his mind?

He also visibly struggles over questions about funding. The ongoing questions about Leave.EU’s finances rumble on. The answers won’t sink the referendum result but the waters lap around Nigel Farage’s feet (which is no doubt why Arron Banks is not being asked to contribute to funding the Brexit party).  

It is also worth noting that the rules on disclosing MPs’ interests are more stringent than those for MEPs. Were he ever to make it eighth (or ninth, or tenth) time lucky, journalists would be queuing up to pore over them.

He will no doubt also be watching with some concern developments over the Mueller report. He was named in passing as a possible conduit to Julian Assange for wikileaks. He was indeed seen at the Ecuadorean embassy. No doubt in due course he will be asked by reporters to explain his bit part in this drama.

Most importantly, he is campaigning on the democratic need to implement Brexit and how the MPs are betraying it. But before and during the referendum campaign he made many statements on Brexit that suggest that he was expecting a much softer Brexit then than he is campaigning for now. At some point he is going to need to come up with a convincing explanation of the discrepancies if he is going to make inroads beyond the permanently aggrieved.

Ultimately, the Brexit party may well prove extremely problematic for the Conservatives, perhaps lethal up to and including the next general election. That does not mean that it will itself have much electoral success and unlike in the 2010-15 Parliament, the diehard right is in no position to impose itself on the government, which has still greater pressures from elsewhere.

All it looks set to do is hand the initiative to pro-EU forces. For all that they are being much-derided at present, CUK look more likely to achieve their policy objectives in relation to Brexit both in the short and in the long term.

Alastair Meeks


On this day exactly two years ago it was Peak Theresa May (and Nick Timothy)

Friday, April 19th, 2019

On the betting markets it was a 92% chance that the Tories would win a majority. It got even tighter than that – on the weekend after Tory performance in that year’s local elections the betting chance of the CON majority hit 97%.

Then there was:

The launch of the Tory manifesto (written by Mr. Timothy and not even approved by the cabinet) on May 18th 2017…

Mrs. May’s refusal to take part in a TV debate with Corbyn.

The Dimbleby QuestionTime Special when a nurse whose pay had stood still for eight years was told by the PM “There is no magic money tree”

The exit poll.

Mike Smithson