Archive for the ' General Election' Category


The front pages after Johnson’s big conference speech

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Surprisingly the two biggest circulation and arguably most influential politically papers, the Mail and the Sun, do not make in their lead. The former ignores it completely on its front page. Quite what we can read into that I don’t know.

Mike Smithson


Once again the betting moves to the general election taking place later rather than sooner

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019


My money’s on 2020 or beyond

For those who have followed the general election timing market this has become a familiar theme. The money moves to what appears to be the first possible month and then after a short period as betting favourite time appears to be running out and so we move onto the next option.

Currently December 2019 is the favourite but apart from all the issues of holding an election in the run-up to Christmas, dark evenings, inclement weather and voters being distracted by other things in their lives I believe that whoever actually makes the decision will shy away from holding it then.

This is an area where Labour is in control and this raises another element because the party is doing relatively poorly in the polls down in some cases to barely half what the party achieved at the 2017 general election.

It is one thing acquiescing in an election date like Corbyn did in April 2017 when TMay called one and another when it is you yourself who is making the decision. There will always be reasons not to go soon particularly when the party’s fortunes don’t appear as good as they might be.

Because of the FTPA and the parliamentary arithmetic this is the first time ever in British political history that it is the the opposition leader who has the power to choose whether there should be an early General Election and he will act cautiously. Corbyn won’t want to be blamed for calling an election that could see his party lose seats.

So I’m confident in the largest bets I placed yesterday morning at 2/1 that the election will take place in 2020 or beyond. Picking up my winnings will be a nice start to to 2020.

Mike Smithson


Endgame. The death of the referendum mandate draws near

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Leavers have an apparently compelling pair of arguments. Certainly, those arguments completely satisfy them. First, they argue that everyone agreed that the referendum result would be implemented. Secondly, they argue that the wording on the ballot paper was clear, and that all that is required is for Britain to leave the EU. So, what’s the hold-up?

It would be churlish to take issue with these arguments. So let me be that churl. For those two arguments are mutually contradictory. The first depends on an assumption that one has to look beyond the legal form. The second depends on an assumption that only the legal form matters. Now Brexiters from the Prime Minister down have been keen to have their cake and eat it, but this is a bit much. Some consistency is required.

There are two options. Either you take the view that only the legal form matters, in which case you have to accept that the referendum was advisory only. Or you take the view that you have to look in each case what was substantively being determined. You can’t pick and mix.

As a matter of practicality, it seems pretty clear to me that you have to look at the substance. So you can’t really argue that the referendum result was advisory only: everyone was expecting that whatever was decided was to be implemented.

So what was decided? The wording of the ballot paper is clearly very important to determining this. It is, however, fanciful to divorce that entirely from the campaign that led to it. Vote Leave set out a detailed prospectus of what the public could expect from Brexit, a prospectus that formed the basis of speech after speech. It denounced suggestions that Britain might not reach a deal and might experience disruption as Project Fear. Its position was summed up, as described in the tweet above, as “we hold all the cards”. Britain would be able to prepare, it would not rush and its access to the free trade area would obviously be unimpaired. 

These were not off-the-cuff remarks. Vote Leave’s papers took the same approach. It stated: “There is a free trade zone stretching all the way from Iceland to the Russian border.  We will still be part of it after we vote Leave.”  In the same document, it stated: “Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden step – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.” It gave a timetable: “It will be possible to negotiate a new settlement with the EU by the next general election in May 2020. Indeed, Vote Leave went as far as saying: “The best way to get a better deal for Britain and Europe is to vote to leave. This will force the politicians to renegotiate a new friendly deal.

By any measure, things have not turned out as Michael Gove or Vote Leave foretold. As October starts, no deal is in sight and the government is adamant that Britain should leave the EU by 31 October, deal or no deal, do or die. Note, we have not reached the target date of May 2020 mentioned in Vote Leave’s own literature. It is very hard to reconcile the assertion that taking back control would be a careful change, that the best way of getting a better deal was to vote to leave or that Britain would still be part of the free trade zone with no deal Brexit. This version of Leave does not remotely match the prospectus.

(You will note that Michael Gove has been in government since June 2017 and has at no point murmured any dissent from the path that the government has set on Brexit. So he can’t have been too unhappy with the approach the government took implementing the Leave project he presided over. Indeed, not even the most zealous Leavers started agitating about the course of negotiations until the summer of 2018. So the cry you occasionally hear now that it was about the execution of the negotiations is hard to give much credence.)

When a company floats on the Stock Exchange, the directors of the company to be floated are rightly subject to stringent requirements. They must issue a prospectus. The prospectus must contain the information necessary for investors to make an informed assessment of the assets and liabilities, financial position, profits and losses and prospects of the company, as well as the rights attaching to the securities being offered. This information must be presented in a way that is comprehensible and easy to analyse. If they fail to give an accurate picture, they can be subject to swingeing penalties.

If the same approach were taken to politicians, the Vote Leave crew would be bricking themselves. Optimistic claim after optimistic claim has turned out to be unsubstantiated. If the same failure in the verification process had taken place in a float, the directors would have been facing huge financial liability and potentially even a spell in chokey. I’m not at all clear why politicians are given greater leeway. The harm they can potentially do is even greater.

That’s all well and good but what is the remedy so far as we, the investors in the country’s future, are concerned? In law, when damage has been done by an untrue statement, the court does not attempt to compensate on the basis that the untrue statement was true. Rather, the aim of the court is to put the victim back in the position that he or she would have been in had they been given the correct information.

What would the nation’s decision have been in June 2016 if it had been given an honest prospectus by Vote Leave? You will find few takers for the idea that the country would have voted for a no-deal Brexit in June 2016. So the idea that the referendum substantially decided that the country was accepting the prospect of a no-deal Brexit can be dismissed.

What this means is that if a deal cannot be reached, the referendum’s mandate expires. That does not by itself give a mandate to revoke the Article 50 notice but it does mean that before Britain leaves on a no-deal basis, a fresh mandate is required from the public. There are two ways this can be achieved: through a general election or through a referendum. Take your pick, Leavers, because one of these is required as a matter of democracy.

Alastair Meeks


Heading for Labour minority government?

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

At the time of writing, the Betfair odds for a Labour minority government after the expected election are 3.5 (7-2). After the Tory conference there should be a further Tory bounce, making the odds perhaps 3-1. This is, I think, too long. Here’s why.

It’s generally expected and evidenced by numerous polls that the Conservatives will lose seats in Scotland to the SNP and to the Lib Dems in the south. They hope that these losses will be compensated for by gains from Labour seats in the north of England.

We heard this theory in the last election, epitomised by the “Bolsover strategy”, holding that even the famous Beast’s seat was in reach. What happened? The Tories did indeed gain 16 percentage points in Bolsover, though entirely at the expense of UKIP; Labour’s share was completely unchanged. The Labour vote in the north is famously sticky when it comes to polling day. While UKIP was a busted flush in 2017, the Brexit Party seems to be maintaining a significant chunk of the populist Leaver vote, so it’s not obvious where the Tory gains in the north will come from.

A more plausible-looking target might be Lab/Con marginals in other parts of England and Wales, not because the Conservatives expect to gain votes but because the LibDems are making significant inroads into the Remainer Labour vote. If the Conservatives hold most of their votes while Labour drops by 10 percentage points, lots of Labour seats will go Tory.

It’s true that a recent PB header noted that a third of Lib Dem voters would support Labour if they were the obvious alternative to the Tories, but tactical voting is difficult in Tory seats, since both Labour and LibDems will routinely claim to be the main challengers. For example, in Uxbridge Labour got 40% to Boris Johnson’s 50%, but that isn’t stopping the Lib Dem candidate (based on a share last time of 4%) from claiming to be the main challenger.

However, while voters may be confused in Tory seats, they can’t really be confused in Labour-held seats – if you currently have a Labour MP, he or she is almost certainly the main alternative to the Tories (often with a first term incumbency bonus too). So I expect differential tactical voting – many Labour voters going Lib Dem in southern Tory seats, some Lib Dems supporting sitting Labour MPs, and confusion in other Tory marginals. 

Labour’s strategy should therefore focus on defence. A seat like Portsmouth South (Lab 41%, Con 38%, Lib Dem 17%) is the sort of place to worry about – LibDems strong enough to make a serious effort, but not strong enough to do more than split the non-Tory vote. The more aggressive the Tory campaign, the better for Labour defence – as a floating Labour-leaning Remainer, you might be tempted to stray if you were only risking some Major-style centrist Tory government, but if the alternative is the Johnson/Cummings rampage and you have a sensible Labour MP, probably not.

But might Lib Dem tactical voters go Tory instead? A few months ago, perhaps – but Johnson’s confrontational strategy has made that relatively unlikely. The Tories are clearly trying to squeeze the Brexit Party; it’s frankly hard to gain Lib Dem votes in the same breath.

Why would this deliver a minority Labour government? Well, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see a majority Labour government, and the Conservatives merely have to lose a couple of dozen seats to be  underwater, even after those frightful leftists like Philip Hammond and Amber Rudd are replaced by loyalists. But haven’t the LibDems promised not to enter coalition with Labour under Corbyn? Yes – but they are silent on Confidence and Supply. Ask them, and they say airily “We’re aiming to win outright”. (Do they have the organisation to win 326 seats? No.)

And again as a result of Johnson’s scorched earth assault, it’s very hard to see them offering C&S to Boris Johnson – while pre-2015 memories are starting to fade, most LibDems who I know feel they’ve had enough Conservative pacts for this decade, thanks. Moreover, the Brexit policy of a current Conservative-Lib Dem arrangement would be an artistic creation worthy of Hieronymus Bosch.

By contrast, a Labour promise of a referendum on Brexit with a Remain option that is likely to win is quite appealing for LibDems – not as good as Revoke, but not a total contradiction. The notably cooperative meetings of all the non-DUP opposition parties in recent weeks are a significant straw in the wind.

History abounds with strange bedfellows, and Corbyn/Swinson/Sturgeon must be up there among the most exotic. I doubt if it would last very long – long enough to see Brexit settled, and not very much more – but this is a betting forum. That 7-2 is about the first government after the election. It looks tasty.

Oh, and if you aren’t sure, you can also lay Corbyn as next PM at 3.1 and put a small saver on Labour overall majority at 11. You then only lose if Labour is not a majority or minority government yet Corbyn is somehow PM anyway. I wouldn’t worry about that.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010 and has been contributing to PB since 2004


Polling analysis: One in three CON GE2017 Remainers now say they’ll vote Lib Dem

Monday, September 30th, 2019

Team Cummings-Johnson working hard for Jo Swinson’s party

Thanks to Paula Surridge of the University of Bristol for first picking up this trend that an increasing and now sizeable chunk of CON Remainers from 2017 have now switched to the LDs.

This is based on Opinium polls which very helpfully provide cross tabs for what those sampled did at the last election broken down into their referendum choice.

The trend is such that former CON voters could be rivalling LAB-LD switchers as the biggest source of new support.

Mike Smithson


Where the Cummings “People vs Parliament” plan might stumble: LAB voters significantly less concerned about Brexit

Monday, September 30th, 2019

How will this affect the campaign?

There seems to be little doubt that the Tories will take hits from the SNP and the Lib Dems in the coming General Election. On top of that there could be messy situations in seats where Tory MPs who have been sacked stand again under a different flag potentially splitting the blue vote.

If the Tories are to stay in the game and possibly win a majority then they need to take LAB seats something that proved particularly difficult at the last general election. TMay’s then party lost 28 seats to LAB but only gained six seats from them. It was the Scottish CON gains from the SNP that saved her bacon.

One of the challenges in what would be a Brexit dominated election is that LAB voters are less concerned about Brexit than those of other parties. This is shown in the above chart based on new Ashcroft polling data published at the weekend. Opinium’s poll for the Observer had broadly similar figures.

This is also in line with the large sample General Election day in June 2017. by Lord Ashcroft which sought to find out why people had voted as they did. A key question what was the main factor in determining people’s votes. This found 48% of CON ones named Brexit as the prime influencer whereas just 8% of Labour once said the same.

So just over 2 years ago CON voters were 6 times more likely to be concerned about Brexit than LAB ONES.

Labour might not be as vulnerable in its effort to retain seats in leave voting areas as might appear.

Mike Smithson



The Dogs that Haven’t Barked (Yet)

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Public schoolboys should never underestimate girly swots (Joanna Cherry QC, Lady Hale, Gina Miller). Nor should Tory Ministers, though judging by their reaction since the judgment, they seem to be doing everything possible to show they still don’t believe the law applies to them. Rees-Mogg, a man without any legal training and author of an execrable history book, has reportedly informed Cabinet that the decision is wrong and a constitutional coup. Gove has suggested that some judges in lower courts taking a different view somehow undermines the legal reasoning or strength of the decision of the country’s most senior court. One wonders what he learnt during his time as Lord Chancellor. Their camp followers have been quick to insinuate – wrongly – that the judges are acting as politicians and/or trying to stop Brexit. A former Law Lord – Lord Sumption – has succinctly shredded these arguments.

There is much to be taken from the Supreme Court’s decision. It bears careful reading and  reflection on the points made – and not just by lawyers. For now, six points are worth noting:-

  1. The key to good decision-making and good communication is, above all, clarity of thought. Not bumptious self-regard or emotive ranting, politicians please note. The judgment is a model of clear reasoning and crystalline prose, its findings all the more devastating in consequence.
  2. It is vanishingly rare for British judges to describe governmental action as “having such an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy” (paragraph 58). Ministers might usefully reflect on the facts set out in the judgment which led the Court to use such a phrase.
  3. The Court’s finding that every prerogative power has limits and can be reviewed has very wide application. It is not simply Tory politicians who need to realise that their actions have to comply with the law. Note the reference in paragraph 40 to governments not being able to deprive people of their property without compensation.
  4. A Prime Minister is more than simply a party leader and has an obligation to take their constitutional obligations seriously, including the interests of Parliament (see paragraph 30), a point which – remarkably – the current Tory party seems to have forgotten.
  5. Courts have been exercising a supervisory jurisdiction over the executive for centuries. The Supreme Court was doing nothing new and the idea that this case is so exceptional that it will necessitate US-style confirmation hearings of judges is the sort of nonsense to be expected from the thwarted toddlers who seem to comprise the government.
  6. Revenge is indeed a dish eaten cold. Frozen in the case of Sir John Major who, 26 years after the misery caused by the “bastards” in his party, has finally got his own back. His unchallenged evidence about what it takes to prepare a Queen’s Speech and the effects of prorogation were key to the Court’s decision. Note also how a very English government was sharply reminded of the existence of Scottish law, Scottish courts and that the United Kingdom consists of more than one nation. It was a Scottish court decision which was upheld and an English court which was overruled. The indifference, condescension and incomprehension shown to the Scots over the last three years will have made this particular aspect of the victory sweet.

Let’s leave the Supreme Court for a moment and focus on some other important lawyers: the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor, a former Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, and the current Shadow Brexit Secretary and former DPP, Keir Starmer.

Why no evidence?

A curiosity in the Government’s case was that it failed to provide any evidence at all explaining the rationale for its decision. One explanation is that since its case was that the power was not justiciable, the reasons for exercising it were irrelevant. That was a tenable proposition but a high risk one if, as happened in the Court of Session, the judges decided that motive was a relevant factor. It became even riskier once the Supreme Court looked at the effect of the government’s actions. Did the government failed to provide factual evidence only to avoid undermining the legal argument? Two facts suggest not: (1) the production of the Da Costa memo explaining some of the thinking behind the government’s decision; and (2) the apparent existence of an affidavit in support of the government’s case which no-one felt able to sign, not even the man making the decision. This does suggest some concern about what could honestly be said.  And that is where those communications requested by Grieve and others matter. The government has refused to provide these, giving a variety of spurious excuses for not doing so. But they may now shed some important light on the government’s thinking and, in particular, the issue of what legal advice, if any, the government received. Expect Grieve to follow up on those missing documents.

The Legal Advice

The government has said it had legal advice supporting its decision. Lawyers do disagree about the law and there is no shame in finding that, when challenged, a court comes to a different view. The fact that the government’s legal advice turned out to be incorrect does not necessarily mean that the government deliberately or maliciously sought to behave unlawfully. It is perfectly possible for it to have acted in good faith on the basis of reasonable legal advice. But it is curious that there has now been a leak of what is reported to have been the A-G’s legal advice to Cabinet, advice which one Cabinet member repeatedly asked for but never received. Set aside the political risks of leaking legal advice for partisan purposes (remember the Westland affair?), there are a number of unanswered questions which arise from the little we’ve seen.

  • What legal advice did it seek?  The leaked note only seems to refer to the need to debate Northern Ireland: a very narrow point.
  • When?
  • On what basis?
  • Was it given in written form or only orally?
  • Was it qualified in any way?  Cox’s statement in Parliament about not supporting prorogation over a longer time frame suggests it might have been (and, incidentally, seems to undermine the government’s claim that it had an unfettered power to prorogue).
  • Was it ignored? Or overruled?
  • Why wasn’t it shared with Cabinet?
  • Who was it shared with?
  • Who was involved in drafting it?
  • Why is an extract of a note about it being leaked now and why?

This government may be adopting the same casual approach to getting the legal advice it wants to hear that Blair did before the Iraq war. A previous A-G, Peter Goldsmith, did not exactly cover himself in glory in relation to his advice. Bluntly, he had little experience or knowledge of international law, chose not to involve those who did and was weak. He did his legal reputation no favours. Geoffrey Cox would be well advised to remember that his legal obligations as Attorney-General override his obligations as politician. Keir Starmer has already indicated that he will ask for the legal advice to be made available to Parliament. This may be one of the next Parliamentary battles.

It bears repeating: governments are subject to the law. Saying this is not an impertinence. A judge saying this does not make them political. It is not enough for the Lord Chancellor to send out tweets saying that British judges are the finest in the world. He has a legal duty to protect the judiciary from political interference. He needs to tell the PM and Cabinet that mealy mouthed platitudes accompanied by snide insinuations are not the way this duty is complied with. If you are defeated in court, you accept it with good grace. He has done the bare minimum.  He needs to do much more.

One of Britain’s most important USPs is our law and legal system, its robustness, its impartiality, its transparency, the certainty it provides to those living here. Over a prolonged period, it has sought to exemplify this tenet: “Let no man live uncurbed by law or curbed by tyranny.” (Aeschylus’s The Oresteia). It is one reason why so many contracts involving non-British parties are made subject to English law and the English courts. Even France is setting up in Paris an English law court staffed by English lawyers to attract this work post-Brexit. And yet this week has given us the government throwing a tantrum at being told that it has to comply with the law and our main opposition party cheerfully adopting policies which would destroy the concept of the right to property. They risk destroying one of Britain’s great advantages, one we will need more than ever after Brexit. It is a dismal spectacle.



Compared with the 2016 “Enemies of the People” Mail coverage today’s tabloids appear quite restrained

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

While watching the Supreme Court verdict yesterday morning I wondered quite how the strident pro-Brexit tabloids would cover it. We all remember the very powerful Daily Mail front page after the first Gina Miller case in the High Court and I was expecting something along the same lines.

Well as can be seen above that hasn’t happened. The Mail links its attacks to Johnson’s comment and the Express reminds us yet against of the 17.4m.  The Sun’s front page hardly fits into the memorable category and bases it on readers’ comments and a pun.

So in short the Mail, Sun and Express have covered this rather tamely and there are no real attacks on the judges like there were last time in November 2016

The difference between now and then is that the first Miller case saw a split Court verdict. Yesterday’s decision had 11 judges who all agreed. Secondly I wonder whether the hostile response to the Mail’s coverage in 2016 has impacted on the paper’s thinking. There was a strong view at the time that the paper had gone too far.

Mike Smithson