Archive for the ' General Election' Category


Another fascinating insight into Mrs May and her disastrous election campaign

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

Listening to David Davis and ignoring what made David Cameron a success at general elections helped contribute to Mrs May’s calamitous election result.

This morning The Mail on Sunday have an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Tim Ross and Tom McTague about the Tory election campaign. They have some great snippets, the first one that stood out is that David Davis persuaded Mrs May to hold a snap election.

Few have won the PM’s trust as quickly in government as her buccaneering Brexit Secretary, David Davis. A former SAS reservist, Davis is nothing if not self-assured. He is known for always having a ready smile and a cocksure confidence. He has been described as a rare example of someone who can swagger sitting down.

Davis wanted an early Election. As he war-gamed the next two years of Brexit talks, he was sure a vote now rather than in 2020 would deny his European adversaries the chance to pressure Britain into accepting a poor deal in 2019, on the brink of an Election the following year.

Call a snap Election, thump Corbyn’s Labour Party and then thump the EU in the Brexit talks, was his argument. Davis wanted an Election and set about getting one.

Three weeks before Easter, he called Crosby, telling him: ‘No-one is closer to Theresa May than I and I, Philip Hammond and Theresa May really run the country.’

Then he startled Crosby.

‘I’m urging her to have an Election as early as possible. We’re well ahead in the polls and we’ll win.’ The Australian wasn’t convinced. ‘Support is broad but shallow,’ he replied. ‘Polls in this climate are superficial. They sort of say what’s going on but are not stress-tested to the impact of a campaign.’

But Davis had made up his mind and was determined to make up May’s and Crosby’s too. ‘I’m persuading her and I just wanted you to think about it,’ he said.

Crosby declined to engage in a discussion.

The other thing that struck me was how Mrs May and her team loathed David Cameron and wanted to be the antithesis of him, she did achieve that as she oversaw a net loss in seats. If she had been a bit more like David Cameron, such as relishing debates and being at ease with voters she could have won a stonking majority.

Here’s an example of that desire to not be David Cameron.

Theresa May was working late in No 10 on May 22 when she heard about the terror attack on a pop concert at the Manchester Arena that killed 23 people.

For her advisers, thoughts turned to what she would say to the country. The priority was to act responsibly. They did not want to mislead the public or say anything that would stoke fears.

Their approach came at a cost. It took almost four hours before the first official statement from Downing Street emerged – at 2.20am.

Jeremy Corbyn had tweeted his condolences at six minutes past midnight.

In the intervening time, senior officials in the Conservative campaign grew increasingly exasperated. How could the Prime Minister sit in silence at a time like this?

They were desperate for May to make a short, strong statement on Twitter, setting out what she was doing to get a grip on the crisis. The public needed to be reassured.

May’s team refused. ‘There was a huge row,’ reveals a senior Tory strategist.

‘There were things they said they wouldn’t do because “that’s what David Cameron did” – and reacting quickly on Twitter was one of them.’

May’s inner circle was adamant. ‘We’re not going to tweet, we’re not going to put anything up on Facebook. We do things differently. This is a serious event.’

The position infuriated officials inside CCHQ and frustrations boiled over. ‘There was an exchange of views,’ another Tory official admits. ‘Yes, it was a serious event but it was also happening now and the public were looking for it.

‘I just thought, “For f***’s sake.” Everything became, “the playbook is not Dave”

And much like her spiteful way of sacking George Osborne, hubris came back to haunt them.

When May returned from her Welsh walking trip, she called [Nick] Timothy and [Fiona] Hill. She had made her mind up [to hold an early election.]

Timothy was elated. ‘Nick was saying, it took David Cameron and George Osborne four years to change the face of the Conservative Party and we’ve done it in nine months,’ according to one insider.

That David Davis has such influence on Mrs May is useful to know when it comes to predicting and viewing how our Brexit negotiations will turn out, and it confirms my own view that David David would make a reasonably competent head of a Wolverhampton Social Security office, and that’s about it. But when Mrs May is replaced I do hope her successor doesn’t replicate her mistakes nor do they freeze out the cabinet from important election planning and campaigning.



The evening must read

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Today Conservative Home have published the first of three magna opera on the 2017 Conservative general election campaign which saw Mrs May squander David Cameron’s hard won majority. Once all three have been published, I plan to do a more detailed thread on them.

This excerpt from today’s piece confirms the fears many of us had when the election was called, that the snap election wouldn’t be able to replicate the long term planning and brilliance that the 2015 Tory campaign had in such a short time frame. (The bold bits below are my emphasis.)

The snap election, and getting the band back together

Inevitably, the dominant factor in how the Conservative campaign was constructed was the need for speed. Though some doubted the claims at the time that the Prime Minister had only decided to call the snap election over her Easter holiday, immediately preceding the announcement, all the senior figures I have spoken to, and all the evidence I have seen, confirm that this is indeed what happened. People who had been involved with the 2015 campaign were recalled to CCHQ less than 24 hours before she announced the election on the steps of Downing Street.

That flurry of calls at the end of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend was crucial. In 2015, the Conservative campaign team had secured a majority against all expectations. As I recounted shortly afterwards, the 2015 campaign hadn’t all gone to plan, and the end result rested on just 901 voters across the most marginal seats, but it had worked nonetheless. There was no doubt in the leadership’s mind that they needed, in the words of one senior participant, “to put the band back together, to repeat the trick”.

But after the 2015 election, many of the key specialists who made up “the band” had scattered to the four winds. Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, who did the messaging, day-to-day management and polling, were still on retainer to CCHQ but were in Australia. Jim Messina, who crunched the data, and his team had returned to the United States. Craig Elder and Tom Edmonds, who had cut their teeth in digital campaigning as part of the in-house CCHQ team in the run-up to 2010, had gone back to running their consultancy – dipping into politics to work for Stronger In in the referendum, but not staying on as part of the Conservative Party operation.

A rusty machine and a hollowed-out operation

They all answered the Prime Minister’s call, dropping a variety of other jobs to return to CCHQ as consultants once more. But immediately there were signs that “repeating the trick” wouldn’t be as easy as simply getting everyone in the same room again.

For a start, to quote one of Crosby’s favourite sayings, “you can’t fatten a pig on market day”. While the 2015 election campaign undoubtedly took Labour by surprise, it had been a long time in the making. The top team planning and preparing for it had been in place for almost two years before polling day – gathering data, developing and testing messages, training up staff and establishing what they intended to do and how they intended to do it. By contrast, their swift reunion in 2017 provided no time to prepare. They were pitched straight into running a campaign that became live only a few hours after they had agreed to take part in it (I’m told that in some cases, contracts were still being discussed after Theresa May’s announcement in Downing Street).

Nor was the machine they returned to in the same state as they had left it in 2015. Senior, mid-ranking and junior staff with election experience had variously been signed up as Special Advisers, moved to the private sector, or been let go as part of the regular cost-cutting that tends to take place after costly election campaigns. “They had let things wither on the vine, starving [CCHQ of] both campaigning platforms and people,” one senior participant says, “The groundwork three months out [from the election] was not ready, but that question wasn’t asked.”

“Crosby was basically chief executive of CCHQ for 18 months to two years [before 2015]” another insider recalls, with a senior team reporting directly into him, including teams responsible for Voter ID, Digital, Field Campaigns, the Conservative Research Department (CRD), Press, and the oversight of 120 local campaign managers, but “by the start of 2017, lots of those roles had gone.” Darren Mott, the former Field Director, had stayed on as Director of Campaigning, and the staff responsible for each of these roles now reported to him, but he was not given the power which Crosby had previously wielded.



How the Tories are still paying the price for Cameron’s failure to win a majority in 2010

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The coalition concessions continue to shape Britain’s politics

On May 11th 2010, my birthday as it happens, David Cameron was able to enter Downing Street even though he’d failed to win a majority as a result of the coalition deal with Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems.

Two aspects of the Tory concessions required to make that happen are still very much in place – the Fixed-Term Term Parliament Act and the doubling of the number of LD members of the House of Lords.

The former played a big part in April when TMay announced her general election move putting a date more than seven weeks on. According to John Rentoul in the Indy this was set so far ahead in the expectation that Labour wouldn’t back the election call. In the event of this happening the plan was for an amendment to the FPTP act to be pushed through both houses of Parliament specifically stating that the date should be June 8th.

Arguably that extraordinarily long campaign and the greater exposure it put on Mrs May was one of the reasons why a renewed majority was not forthcoming.

The second coalition concession more than doubling the number of LD peers from just over 50 to more than a hundred still dominates the political arithmetic in the upper house.

The intention had been that this move was to create temporary cover for the situation for the period leading up to the reform of the the Lords which both the Tories in 2010 and LDs were committed to.

Lords reform did not happen because of the Tory back bench rebellion and the LD peers are still there.

The Salisbury Convention that the Lords should not stand in the way of a government implementing its manifesto commitments doesn’t apply because of the failure of TMay to retain a CON majority.

Getting the EU bill through is going to be even more difficult because of what Cameron had to agree to in order to get Gordon Brown out of Downing Street.

Mike Smithson


The first voting poll since TMay’s “not a quitter” assertion has LAB lead up to 5

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

The Sunday papers won’t make comfortable reading for Mrs May following her assertion during the week that she was not a quitter and wanted to fight the next general election as prime minister.

Survation, the pollster that got closest with the June 8th general election result, has now got a new poll out for the Mail on Sunday which sees the Labour lead move to five points.

It comes as politics resumes again following the summer break with the start, during the coming week, of the parliamentary process to enact the Bill that facilitates the UK’s extraction from the EU.

The margin that Labour has over the Conservatives is the biggest in any poll for two months and is in sharp contrast to the earlier recent polling from other firms which had the gap narrowing.

Brexit is clearly dominating everything and the poll also had a number of questions which are relevant to the Tories particularly following the apparent shift in Labour’s position to a more soft approach.

All this looks set to reinforce the leadership speculation as we move into conference season. The big question is whether there will be a challenge within the parliamentary Conservative Party to Theresa May’s leadership.

I remain of the view that the prime minister will step down in 2019 a few months after the Brexit finalisation but I do have an 8/1 bet that she could depart this year.

I am off on holiday to South West Spain tomorrow and there has been a long-standing tradition on PB that when I am there something very major happens.

Mike Smithson


May’s comments on retirement are more about 2019 than 2022

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Her party will give her Brexit but not another election

Theresa May might be on the other side of the world but she can no doubt still hear the cacophony of silence from her cabinet colleagues in support of her comment stating her desire to lead the Conservatives into the next election. As so often, what is not said is more revealing than what is.

To be fair, the question of whether a leader intends to stand down within a specified timeframe is always a difficult one. Say yes and you make yourself a lame duck; say no and it not only looks like hubris and entitlement but can also focus opposition as MPs see both their personal and their party’s futures being damaged; dodge the question and you risk the worst of both worlds.

In this case, however, there was an additional factor in play: the speculation that she would stand down in 2019. That was something that she clearly, and rightly, wanted to squash. Not only would such an expectation undermine her own position in her party but it’d undermine her position in the EU negotiations, which must ultimately come to European Council level.

And Europe, as so often, holds the key to the party’s immediate future. Later this month, we will be one-quarter of the way through the Article 50 period. Talks are, unsurprisingly, making little progress with both sides struggling to understand the language the other is speaking (and often, not really trying). The clock is indeed ticking and a timescale already tight may now already be unachievable.

This kicks off two games, in addition to the one already underway in the talks. The first is about a deferral of Brexit Day. This is a touchy subject because the one really clear way to actually prevent Brexit at all is an indefinite deferral of the Day (or, at least, a deferral to such a distant point that it allows a treaty revision to permit the UK to stay in). Tories and the DUP will also be well aware that the longer a deferral, the closer the negotiations run to the next election and the greater the risk of Labour taking over and completing them. The EU will also be aware of this. Consequently, while the government might agree to a short extension of 12-18 months, it’s unlikely to request or accept anything longer.

The second, related game is about blame. Who gets it if talks should break down or run out of time. On that score, British media, politicians and public will inevitably revert to their default prejudices unless there’s strong evidence to the contrary. In essence, the default majority position will be that it’s unreasonable foreigner to blame unless the government has clearly screwed it up (there will of course be a sizable and no doubt vocal minority for whom a Tory government could do no right but this isn’t about them; it’s about those whose votes are up for grabs).

The one thing that could demonstrate to the public more than anything that a breakdown or a bad deal was the government’s fault would be infighting either within the cabinet or within the wider parliamentary Conservative Party. It is perhaps in the awareness of this that despite indifferent polling and slow going in Brussels, there’s been a marked lack of sounding off, either from disgruntled backbenchers or from ‘friends’ of ministers. That’s not to say there hasn’t been anything of the sort but the level’s been far lower than might have been expected. After all, this is a story the media knows well, and knows who to go to for a juicy quote.

Can that discipline hold as negotiations get more intense? Can it stick to its red lines and compromise enough elsewhere to deliver a deal? That remains to be seen, though it’s extremely likely that there won’t be any big bust-up at this year’s Tory conference and quite possibly not next year’s either. Crunch time will come between October 2018 and March 2019 – which is why it was so essential for May to retain such authority as she has.

    That authority though was deeply damaged by the election and although she’s recovered somewhat since – not least because although she’s a rotten election campaigner, she’s a capable prime minister – she remains damaged goods.

Events may yet turn something up to give her a genuine second chance but as things stand, once the hard work of Brexit is done (and when it is done, it will be at best a tolerable deal, at worst an intolerable one and just possibly, no deal at all; what it won’t be is a triumph), she’ll have served her purpose.

The Tory Party is sentimental but what it doesn’t do (or only rarely, when its judgement is off), is allow sentiment to get in the way of winning. By 2020 or 2021 (depending on Brexit extensions), minds will be turning to the next election and to the next chapter for the UK. There may well be a Brexit-related economic downturn to navigate. That will be the time to hand over the reins, either voluntarily or in a forced election. Events could easily throw that expectation off course but for now, it should be our default assumption.

David Herdson


Corbyn now takes over the favourite slot in the next PM betting

Friday, September 1st, 2017


TMay’s successor as PM is a betting market we’ve not looked at for some time and the big development is that LAB leader, Jeremy Corbyn is now the favourite from a range of bookies.

Much of this is down to the fact that there is no clear alternative to TMay as Tory leader though that could change during the coming party conference season.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with the betting and this isn’t a market I’ve had any bets on. The most likely circumstance in which Corbyn becomes next PM is at a general election while TMay is still CON leader and PM and I cannot see the Tory party allowing her still be at Number 10 by then.

The reaction to her interviews in Tokyo about not being a quitter and wanting to lead the party next time has not been good for the incumbent. The Tories maybe ready to let her stay for now but they want someone else to be in the job by the time of the next general election.

A big factor on the timing of the next election is the SNP which could is vulnerable to losing a lot of its 35 MPs many of whom have very small majorities. In June the party dropped to this total after winning 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats at GE2015. In April the party voted against TMay’s election call and would not, surely, get involved in a contrived confidence motion to force an election.

Without the SNP then it is hard to see how Labour can force an election.

If Corbyn is to become PM then he’ll succeed TMay’s Tory successor and not TMay herself.

Mike Smithson


TMay’s desire to fight the next election makes a challenge this autumn more likely

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Maybe the plan is to bring things to a head

By announcing overnight her desire to carry on as CON leader and Prime Minister until the next general election Mrs May has effectively changed the terms of trade with her party following the disappointing outcome to the general election.

The widespread view that she would depart after Brexit sometime in 2019 had been broadly bought by the parliamentary party and had made a challenge this year less likely.

Now she has upset that balance and we could see some sort of move in the period after the Party Conference in the first week of October.

For a challenge to take place at least 15% of Tory MPs (48) have to write to the chairman of the 1922 committee requesting such a move. It was reported during the summer that the Committee chair, Graham Brady has had about 15 such letters already.

TMay’s major problem is that she called an unnecessary election which saw the end of the small majority that her predecessor, David Cameron, had managed to achieve. The campaign which focused very much on herself exposed her personally even more when things did not quite work out as was planned.

All this was not helped by the expectations of a big majority fueled by many of the pollsters overstating the Conservative position in relation to Labour.

When pressed on her ambitions in the interview yesterday Theresa May could easily have by-passed the point by saying that the big thing for her and the government at the moment was focusing on successful outcome to the Brexit negotiations.

    I just wonder whether all this was pre-planned and that the Prime Minister would rather like to bring this to a head earlier rather than later.

Certainly if there was a move against her in the next few weeks which she was able to survive then her position would undoubtedly be much stronger. Clearly this is a gamble but one, perhaps, that is worth taking.

Ladbrokes has been offering 5/1 that she’ll still be PM in 2020 which seems a good bet. I’ve had a punt.

Mike Smithson


Once again Britain is split down the middle on Brexit while YouGov has the Tories within one point

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

The last YouGov voting intention poll a month ago had with CON 3% behind so changes all within the margin of error.

The regular Brexit tracker from the firm sees those saying it was wrong with a 2% lead. Last month those saying it was right were 2% ahead. Again this is all margin of error stuff and there is no indication of any BrexRegrets.

UPDATE ICM also sees narrowing of gap

Mike Smithson