Archive for the ' General Election' Category


The whole Corbyn GNU story is based on a false premise – that MP numbers are there for a no confidence vote to be passed

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

The US President who took over after Kennedy was assassinated, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was famed for his sayings that wonderfully summed up political situations one of which was that the first rule of politics was that its “practitioners need to be able to count”.

If only MPs and the media circus had thought about that last night when Corbyn made his ludicrous pitch to try to embarrass new LD leader Jo Swinson.

For the main requirement for the circumstances envisaged to be apply is Johnson’s government being defeated on a confidence motion and that based on current numbers is highly unlikely. For the only way that this could get through is for three CON MPS to rebel. This is how Stephen Bush puts in in the I:

“Getting even three Tory names is a major difficulty, but clearing that hurdle on paper still isn’t enough. There are also the ten MPs who were elected in 2017 under Labour colours, but who have since quit because they believe that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister. This is due to what they see as, at best, toleration of anti-Semitism in the Labour ranks and a collection of political views that are dangerous to the country. Then there is Sylvia Hermon, an independent Unionist MP who opposes the Conservative party but has vowed never to make Corbyn Prime Minister due to his historical ties to the Republican movement. So to cancel out their votes you need not three Conservative MPs, but fourteen. There is no chance of attracting anything like that many Conservative rebels.

Jo Swinson got round to this during the afternoon in her letter to Corbyn. But this is good reminder that the chances of such a vote succeeding is highly unlikely under the current composition of the Commons.

Next story..

Mike Smithson


Survation has CON lead at 4 with just 19% wanting a no deal Brexit

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Not the platform surely for a no deal-based General Election?

With the October 31st deadline getting nearer and nearer all polls are being looked at closely to evaluate the gamble that Johnson would be taking if there was an Autumn UK general election.

He will be very conscious of what happened to TMay in 2017 when she had consistent double digit leads and high approval ratings. General Elections are a massive risk for an incumbent government something that has been been exacerbated by a change in the law in 2013 that imposes a 25 working day requirement for a general election campaign. Previously is was 17 days.

The longer a campaign last the more the chance of a cock-up as we saw in 2017. TMay’s “strong and stable” message was not going to sustain her throughout the campaign.

It is hard comparing Brexit questions because each pollster does it differently but I quite like the Survation approach. No doubt many of those saying they’d like to leave with a deal a former Remain voters. They just want this all over.

Mike Smithson


Johnson appears to be doing what Gordon Brown did in the summer of 2007 giving you all the signs of going for an early election

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Why I’m betting that there’s greater than a 28% chance of no 2019 election

This period reminds me very much of summer 2007 when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair in the June of that year. There was a mass of activity, and a new initiative just about every day. All the speculation was that he was going for an early election. This was in spite of the fact that Brown inherited a working majority.

We all know what happened. Brown bottled it, his polling leads evaporated and that was the end, effectively , of his premiership although he struggled on till May 2010.

The pace of announcements from Number 10 at the moment is very similar although I get the feeling that the media is less inclined to give prominence to everything that is now coming out of Cummings’ head. Just look how little coverage the clamp down on law and order got this morning.

What eventually stopped Gordon Brown going to the Country 12 years ago was that the polling did not indicate that he would achieve a bigger majority than Blair had got two years earlier which is what head dearly wanted. He could not take risk that the election would see the LAB position get worse.

The difference compared with Johnson at the moment is that Brown had an effective working majority.  Johnson’s parliamentary situation now is dire and was made worse by the loss of the Brecon by-election in his first week.

My reading of Johnson is that he has strived for so long and so hard to get into Number 10 that he isn’t going to risk throwing it all away  by calling an early election that does not give him what he wants.

He might be beating off the Brexit party challenge on his right but there are many other problems emerging in the centre ground.  The SNP looks set to regain most of the seats that Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories gained at the last general election. Many of those 13 Scottish CON MPs look vulnerable on current Scottish polling. On top of that we have the Lib Dem and Green recovery and possibility of collaboration that could lead to dozens of losses. There might have been a LAB to CON swing since GE2017 but there’s been an even bigger CON to LD one.

Sitting PMs can lose ground by calling an early election as his predecessor could no doubt attest.

Of course Johnson could have an election forced on him by an no confidence vote.

The whole political landscape has been changed by Brexit and there aren’t the same old certainties.  Johnson needs to be convinced that he can more than offset potential losses with gains from LAB and that looks challenging.  In October 2007 I made quite a lot betting that Brown would not risk it. Now I am laying 2019 on the Betfair General Election year market above.

Mike Smithson


The political backcloth to current events is that the majority of those who have a view think Brexit is wrong

Friday, August 9th, 2019

Cummings/Johnson don’t have public opinion on their side

There was a time when the Brexit tracker in every new Times/YouGov poll would get reported and discussed with people trying to read something into the changes week on week. That’s now long gone. Public opinion as measured by this tracker has remained pretty constant for “wrong” with over the past year the lead being mostly in a range of 6-11 points.

Clearly those answering that Brexit was wrong have a very wide range of views about what should happen next. They go, I guess, from the hardline revoke now to supporters of the People’s Votes right through to those who think that they’re entirely sick of it all and just want the government to get on with getting the UK out of the EU.

Of course you can ask all sorts of different questions but the core belief element found in the tracker remains solid.

The fact remains that the notion of Brexit itself is not supported by the majority something you would never guess by the rhetoric of either Theresa May or now BJohnson.

This is why, I would suggest, it would be politically dangerous for the new prime minister to go to the country on the basis of a no deal Brexit with all that entails. That Johnson has started his term of PM in negative leader ratings territory could all be an indication of the overall view on Brexit.

To expect the public to deal with the sacrifices of a No Deal in this context would lead, possibly, to a general election outcome that would surprise everyone.

A big reason why Labour did surprisingly well at the 2017 General Election was that a significant number of Remain voters thought that the best way they could impede Brexit on that day was by supporting Corbyn’s party even though they disliked it. This was in spite of the fact that Labour manifesto was in favour.

Mike Smithson


Do or Die? The trap the PM has set himself

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

In all the reactions to the Times front page about the possibility of Johnson staying on as PM even if Parliament passes a VoNC in him and prefers someone else who can command the House, two absences were notable: (1) no immediate denial by No 10; and (2) no outrage by the official Opposition at the prospect of what would seem to be an appalling breach of normally understood conventions, moreover ones which would normally benefit the opposition.

After all, if the PM has lost confidence it is usually the opposition which benefits. Perhaps this silence by Labour is because they do not believe that Johnson would be so silly. Or perhaps, more alarmingly, it is because they are not too bothered about a Tory government ignoring conventions. After all, if the Tories (who are meant to be conservative after all) can do it, why can’t Labour ignore those conventions they find inconvenient in pursuit of their interpretation of what the People?

Well, the issue may never arise. In the interminable Brexit saga, waiting for a successful VoNC or indeed any effective action by those MPs determined to stop a No Deal exit is a bit like waiting for Godot – lots of agonised, pointless talk, very little action.

But there is one other convention and possibility which ought to be considered more seriously than it has been. When elections are called, governments go into a form of suspended animation – purdah – during which no new or controversial government initiatives should be announced or enacted, particularly not if they could be seen to be advantageous to a particular party. This impacts the governing party of course, far more than others. The government needs to continue running matters and will even have to deal with unexpected events (the Manchester Arena bombing during the 2017 election, for instance). But what it cannot do is anything new, anything which changes the status quo.

And the reason for this is obvious and sensible: the election will determine who governs. The time for new initiatives and irreversible decisions is once that government is elected. The voters should have their say first.  After all, they might decide to throw out the old government and demand a radically different direction.

This convention is not set out in any Act of Parliament; it is not law; it is a well-established understanding underpinned by ministerial guidance and established practice. It has moral authority. Its force comes from the fact that to do otherwise would be to second guess the wishes of the voters, to treat their right to take the decision as to who will be the government with contempt.

So let’s imagine that Johnson, whether by choice or as a result of a VoNC, calls for a General Election on a date after 31 October. As it currently stands, on that date, Britain is set to leave the EU without any form of transitional deal. Let’s assume that the departure is a smooth one, that there is no chaos or economic shock so that there is no need for Cobra meetings or for government ministers to put on their yellow jackets and wellies marching round the countryside looking authoritative. Isn’t this change the status quo? It has after all been on the statute book since the Act triggering Article 50 was passed. Why shouldn’t it go ahead as planned?

But hang on: the very strong likelihood is that the election will be happening either in order to get a specific mandate for a No Deal Brexit or because the government has lost a VoNC and no-one else has been able to command a majority. The question of what sort of Brexit there should be or, indeed, whether to Brexit at all will be a very live issue in that election.  It is possible that a government could be elected with a specific mandate not to Brexit at all or to get a deal on a different basis to May’s Withdrawal Agreement. A No Deal Brexit may be explicitly rejected by the voters.

To implement it while the electorate is still making up its mind would be to render the election largely pointless. Unlike many other government decisions such an action cannot be reversed.

Once out of the EU, Britain’s ability to revoke Article 50 and remain a member on the same terms as before will have been irrevocably removed, even if this is the express wish of the electorate.  Sure – Britain could apply to rejoin but this is a different process and likely to be on different terms.  And a decision to remain on existing terms is different to a decision to rejoin on different terms.  It is perfectly possible to envisage voters who might be willing to do the former but not the latter.

So if continuing with a No Deal Brexit is not the status quo, what is to be done?  The obvious answer is for the government to seek an extension of Article 50 until after the result of the election so all of Britain’s options in relation to EU membership are kept until the people have voted.  What would be the problem with this?  After all, if a Tory government is returned with a majority then it is free to exit on a No Deal basis, with only a slight delay.  If, on the other hand, a government is elected which wants to do something different, then it can do so.

Well, we all know what the problem is.  Johnson has promised to leave on 31 October unconditionally.  A request for an extension is an act which may well harm the Tories’ electoral prospects among some of the voters. It might be seen as aiding the electoral prospects of other parties. It will be controversial. And it will mean that the EU will find itself inserted directly into the heart of a current member’s election campaign.  This is in itself controversial whatever side of the Brexit debate you are on. A decision to refuse an extension would show a certain contempt for the voters,  though the EU may not care.  More likely, it would feel pressure to grant the extension precisely because of the possibility of a change of a mind.  Whatever happens, it will impact the relationship between Britain and the EU in ways which may make it even harder to achieve – eventually – a reasonably harmonious equilibrium.

And yet, despite all these difficulties, surely the balance of risk points to a request for an extension precisely because it preserves the ability of whichever side of the Brexit debate wins to implement the voters’ wishes.  An exit during an election closes off options. An extension preserves them.

What an extension does do, though, is highlight the conflict between what is in the voters’ interests – giving them the say – and what is in the Tory party’s interests – avoiding the charge of betrayal and broken promises that will surely be hurled at them by Farage and his followers.  A conflict created not over a matter of substance but over a date.  It should be easy enough to say that a delay of 2-3 weeks is nothing to get excited about.   But Johnson’s real fear will be that even such a delay might be enough to deny him a majority.

It is an exquisite trap and one he has built all by himself. Do or die indeed. How will he resolve the dilemma: by seeking an election well before the end of October, by not having one or by doing what he has solemnly promised not to?  You’d have thought that Johnson, of all people, would have realised the folly of making promises you know you cannot keep.



Ruth Davidson’s hard won Scots Tory gains at GE2017 look set to evaporate at an early general election

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Gloomy numbers for Boris as he considers going to the country

One thing that is looking increasingly likely at the next election is that a lot more seats are going to change hands than usual. BJohnson’s party will be looking to make gains in Leave areas to offset likely losses to the resurgent LDs and in Scotland the SNP.

This has been reinforced from more data from Lord Ashcroft’s Scottish poll featured in the chart above. There was no conventional voting intention question but one which asked:

If there were to be a general election tomorrow, how likely would you be to vote for each of the following parties – where 0 means there is no chance you would vote for that party, and 100 means you would be certain to vote for that party?”

In Scotland at GE2017 the Tories picked up 28.6% of the vote and based on this latest data the party will get nowhere near that total at the next election which could have a profound impact on the Tories.

The strongly pro-Remain LDs and Scottish Greens come out of this particularly well suggesting a basis for deal between the two in key seats. The “old” two major parties – CON and LAB – come out poorly with only Farage’s BRX behind.

Mike Smithson


Is there life after Brexit?

Monday, August 5th, 2019

I don’t, unlike Dominic Cummings, think that No Deal is unstoppable. Parliament can stop it if it wants to. But let’s suppose that Mr Johnson succeeds in taking us out of the EU on October 31. Let’s further assume that he calls an election soon afterwards. 

His pitch is obvious. “I said I’d get you out and I have. Now we need to charge whole-heartedly into the green fields awaiting us. I want to show you how great life will be outside the EU. But I can’t do it with a majority of 1 and individual backbenchers trying to hold us all to ransom. Give me a proper majority!”

What, then, are the Opposition manifestos going to look like? 100% of the effort so far has been on preventing No Deal and predicting how awful it will be. But that’s a prognosis, not a policy. What do the parties want to do if it happens?

For Labour, I suspect pragmatic caution to prevail. “We very much regret leaving, but we have to make the best of it, which means negotiating a close relationship guaranteeing workers’ rights and environmental protection. And we won’t do a trade deal with the USA or get into any of their wars.” Of all the accusations that are levelled at Jeremy Corbyn, a suspicion that he will suck up to Donald Trump is not among them.

As a policy, making the best of a bad job is sort of OK, but hardly exciting. But what of the LibDems?

The logic of “Bollocks to Brexit” suggests that they should stand on a platform of rejoining. But even among hardened Remainers (like me), the prospect of starting the negotiations all over again looks wearying, with no real prospect that the EU will entertain a fresh application for a moment – after the experience of the last 3 years, they would be mad to do so. So would the Lib Dem policy, too, be “make the best of it”?

I truly have no idea about either party, but I’m alarmed by the apparent fact that nobody appears to be giving it any thought. Quite possibly, we are going to have to write those manifestos 3 months from now. Isn’t it time we did a bit of contingency planning?

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010


Lord Ashcroft poll has Swinson beating Johnson, Corbyn and Farage in Scotland

Monday, August 5th, 2019

While all the focus on today’s Ashcroft Scotland poll has been on growing support for independence the numbers that could have most impact on an early UK general election are in the chart above. How the national party leaders are rated according to the Ashcroft question asking respondents to give a rating from 0 to 100.

One of the remarkable things about the GE2010 outcome was that Gordon Brown’s LAB did substantially better in Scotland than in the rest of GB. The party increased its vote share and picked up 41 of the 59 Scottish seat while getting hit back elsewhere.

This was put down to the fact that Brown is Scottish, sat for a Scottish constituency and that Scottish voters have a tendency to favour their own – a tendency shown this latest poll.

For in choosing Dumbarton E MP, Jo Swinson, the LDs have become the first national UK party since 2010 to be led by someone who is Scottish and this is the first Scotland only poll since the leadership change.

It is not often appreciated that until the post-IndyRef 2015 General Election the LDs were, in terms of Westminster seats, the second biggest party north of the border being particularly strong in the borders and Highland regions. The GE2010 Scottish seat split was LAB 41,LD 11,SNP 6 and CON 1.

So more positive numbers now for their leader might be boost LD hopes of what might happen at an early general election.

As PBers will know I am a Lib Dem member and the reason I voted for Swinson in the leadership election was because I hoped that she could just have an edge with Scottish voters that could have an impact in terms of seats.

Mike Smithson