Archive for the 'Guest slot' Category

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History of the Political Punter: Always Expect the Unexpected

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

The modern era of big, open, political betting began in 1963 when Ron Pollard of Ladbrokes offered odds on the Conservative leadership contest for the ordinary punter. It was a dismal start as the 5/4 favourite Rab Butler was beaten by the 16/1 shot Alec Douglas-Home.

In offering the market Pollard tapped into a long, often secret, history of political betting in Britain. In the 1920s, people on the stock exchange would bet on ‘majorities’ – what we now call spread betting – where seat totals would be calculated and traders would buy/sell above or below the line.

It proved popular, and in 1931, the bookmakers traded over £750,000 on the election. They had severely under-estimated the prospect of a Labour collapse when they set a line of 200 for a National Government majority. It ended up being a 469 seat margin. The losses of one punter led to a much-publicised court case when a trader refused to pay up, citing the Gaming Act as his defence. The Council of the Stock Exchange subsequently banned election gambling.

Small secret trades continued to take place and in 1945, bookmakers offered 5/1 on a Labour victory in the first election for a decade. Fortunately for them, few were enticed into backing Labour.

Five years later Labour were quoted at odds of 4/6 to win the election and there was much greater interest. It prompted The Economist to observe how ‘It is curious that in a nation devoted to gambling as the British, so little opportunity should nowadays be taken of a general election, the most sporting of all events’.

Punters would finally get their wish in the 1960s and at the 1964 election, William Hill followed Ladbrokes into the brave new world. In a newspaper advert, Hills claimed that ‘in response to public demand’ they would now offer odds on the result of the election. Labour won by just four seats and the 1-10 margin had been priced up at 14/1

Ever since betting has been a central part of the coverage of the election campaigns and has proved lucrative for shrewd politico’s. In 1970, the bookmakers and the pollsters misjudged the result.

Ladbrokes opened up on a Labour majority at 8/13 which was quickly backed into 1/12 as they took a poll lead. Events changed, the economy faltered and England were eliminated from the World Cup. The money came flooding in for Heath’s Tories and the Times reported that £5000 had been placed on them at 8/1. Heath confounded all by securing a majority for the Conservatives. Four years later however it was Harold Wilson who defied the odds. The Conservatives were seen as slight 4/7 favourites going into the ‘Who Governs?’ election but lost their majority.

The 1979 result was never in doubt and the Conservatives won after being priced up at 1/6 for victory. However, four years later, there was much better value to be had. Despite a commanding poll lead, the bookmakers opened up at an attractive 2/9 for the Conservatives to hold their majority.

In a sign of the growth of political betting, one punter staked £90,000 on the Conservatives to win and as the Sun noted, it seemed a big risk for little reward, especially when you consider that half of the profit would be ‘swallowed in betting tax’. It would prove to be one of the safest bets in political history.

The bookmakers expected Labour’s history to save them in their heartlands and offered a mouth-watering 28/1 on a Conservative victory by 97 seats or more. They subsequently ended up with a majority of 144 seats.

Surprisingly, by January 1987, many predicted that Labour could close the gap and the Tories were an attractive 4/9 to win the most seats. By the time the election campaign began, the Tories had been backed in to 1/7 to win a majority and they did in style.

After a decade of one sided contests, the 1992 general election was one of the closest in modern political history. Labour began the campaign as 8/11 favourites and with a week to go the money was still with them. Kinnock was expected to lead the biggest party at 2/5 but a hung parliament was priced in at 10/11.

The man who had made it all happen in the 1960s, Ron Pollard, was confident of a Labour victory. He layed a bet of £14,000 to a man from Stoke on Trent for the Tories to win an overall majority and told The Times that ‘he must be mad…but if he is right, he stands to win £142,000’. He then laid another £20,000 – the biggest bet of the election – at 11/4 on a Tory win. On the night, even the exit poll could not split the two but in the end, the Tories pulled off a major shock by winning a majority of 21.

The subsequent collapse of the Major Government from 1992 onwards led many to believe that Labour could return to office after eighteen years in the wilderness. Despite being mired by scandal and incompetence, you could still back the Tories to win an overall majority at 4/1 and a hung parliament was 10/3.

One enthusiastic Labour backer drew £25,000 from his building society account to back Labour at 1 / 4. Contrary to the myth that a landslide was inevitable, the initial seat total was priced at 367 seats for Labour to the Tories 242. Sellers of Tory seats had a great night when they chalked up just 165 MPs.

The most disciplined punter was the Durham taxi driver George Elliott. In 1983 he picked up a passenger who he thought ‘had something about him’. After a political discussion, he dashed to his local bookmakers to request a bet: that his new MP, Tony Blair, would one day become Prime Minister. 15 years later, Elliot picked up £5,000 in what must rank as the shrewdest £10 punt in political history.

Labour’s electoral dominance threatened to make the 2001 election another stalemate for punters. Tony Blair was the shortest odds-on favourite in UK political history at 1/40. Nobody expected the Tories to dent Labour’s majority. One bookmaker told BBC News: ‘If you want to bet on a Tory win, give us a call, if you want to back a Lib Dem win, we’ll send a cab.’

There was still money to be made, as firms offered 10/1 on a Labour majority of 160+. Despite the short odds, firms were stung by multiple six-figure bets on Labour. With such a large majority, it was as close to ‘buying money’ as one could ever hope to find.

Four years later, the bookmakers favoured Labour too heavily, offering 1/40 on a Labour win, despite polls showing the Tories within a 5pt margin at points in the campaign. To neutralise the risk, Paddy Power paid out on a Labour victory before a vote had been cast.

2010 would prove to be a much closer run contest. Bookmakers opened up at 8/15 on a Tory majority which had drifted from 1/3 just a few months earlier. The 6/4 on a Hung Parliament offered the best value of the campaign, which saw the Lib Dems odds shorten following ‘Clegg-Mania’.

2015 was another tight one with few expecting a majority for either side. One punter, who won £193,000, on the Scottish Referendum (from a £900,000 stake) invested a further £200,000 on a Hung Parliament at odds of 2/9. On the opposite side, one pensioner defied the polls and scooped £210,000 after he placed £20,000 on Cameron to win a majority.

Then in 2017, the Labour defied all the pre-election odds. Sporting Index began the campaign with the Tories in for 386 seats to Labour’s 164. The Tories opened up at 1/25 for a majority and quoted at 1 / 4 to win seats such as Great Grimsby. The election quickly unravelled for the Tories but with a week to go, you could still back a Hung Parliament at 7/1.

On election night – the markets failed to react to the exit poll – and then over-reacted. At 1:30 am Corbyn became the 6/4 favourite to become the next Prime Minister as it looked like May would not even be able to cobble together a deal with D.U.P.

As we approach the 2019 poll there will be many twists and tuns, wobbles and price shifts. If the electorate is as undecided as polls suggest, it could prove to be the most lucrative yet for those punters who can call it right. History, however, shows us that we should always expect the unexpected on election night.

Anthony Broxton

Anthony Broxton runs the Tides of History project on twitter and tweets as @labour_history




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A Brexit Carol – how last time is shaping views of GE2019

Monday, November 11th, 2019

There is a ghost which is stalking this election in the media coverage, and it is the spirit of 2017. Everywhere one looks right leaning journalists are fretting and not quite believing the polls. The spirit of Election 2017 and a good ghost for Labour it is too – “Oh Jeremy Corbyn !”.

Everywhere one looks the written media is observing this election as a closish horse race “You can’t rely on labour leavers to not revert to type” twitter journalists type. “I’ve found Brexit party switchers in Workington and they are ALL from the Conservatives” rings Goodall. 2017, a haunted spirit of an election for the Conservatives hangs heavy in everyone’s mind where Corbyn seemingly did the impossible and reduced May’s seats.

I think this phantom haunts me too as this piece- which is based on an attempt to see objective truth and clarity through the murky and muddied polling light has me instinctively disbelieving my own conclusions. But yet it is there – now onto what those Will o the wisp polls, the best light to guide us but occasionally lead us into a murky betting grave are saying:

The simple polling evidence points to a Tory % of somewhere between 35 and 41% whilst Labour is between 25 and 30%. Regional polling suggests the Tories are losing votes in the south whilst gaining or at least holding steady in the north and midlands. Based on where the marginals lie that’s a deal you’d take at CCHQ. Candidates who have made any sort of questionable utterance on Twitter are being dealt with ruthlessly before media stories can gain traction – Anthony Calvert and Nick Conrad have been politically dealt with quickly and efficiently. They’ll certainly ship some seats in Scotland to a well revived SNP – but Sturgeon comes with her own unhelpful demands from Labour’s perspective…

The Lib Dems are seemingly doing well with individual southern constituency surveys in the south, but beware these do not have the greatest predictive powers – I note the Lib Dem candidate and John Redwood were both named in a Wokingham one commissioned which showed Redwood narrowly hanging on.

Now I’m not saying the Lib Dems aren’t doing well in the home stockbroker belt, they are – but the swings needed for them to capture these seats on a significant scale aren’t being borne out by the polling right now. The swings needed to take out Raab in Esher and Walton and Guildford are to put it mildly ‘large’ – far beyond Con Gain Bolsover in the East midlands as an example … It will be a good night for them just not as good as Jo’s forays into Kensington early on in the campaign might suggest.

The Labour vote, I think is where the narrative isn’t quite matching up to anecdata. It is plummeting not just in the Midlands and the north, but also interestingly central London. They appear to have become a remain party to leavers and a leave party to remainers. This is the opposite of and the biggest change to 2017 where they pulled the trick of appearing to be a leave party to leavers and a remain party to remainers.

Who will they swing to though ? The remainers look to have a ready home in the Lib Dems but the Labour leavers, well perhaps they will simply sit this one out. It’s hard to find an unenthused staying at home Labour voter as a journalist, and easy to find a vocal Con -> Brexit switcher. Add to this the anti-semitism rows, splits and ex Labour MPs urging a vote for Johnson and in short this looks like it could be a very bad night for Labour indeed. They are not dealing with questionable candidates anything like as well as the Tories, Sultana is still running in Coventry South last time I checked – a marked contrast to Broadland and Wakefield for the Tories.

The ghost of 2017 haunts everyone,  but with under a month to go till the election and a lifetime of not changing his spots behind him a macabre poltergeist of election future likely awaits Corbyn’s Labour.

Pulpstar



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Can anyone challenge the green and orange waves?

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

A guest slot by GreenMachine

A lot has happened since the 2017 election and the Northern Ireland Executive has been out of office for 3 years now, What will we see this in the election!?

First of all we’re going to start with the more obvious results.

Belfast West: S.F have held this seat since the 1980’s bar the 1992 election where the S.D.L.P won by several hundred votes. S.F regained control of Belfast West in 1997 (shortly after the Peace Process and have held it for 22 years and they will hold for at least another decade.

 PREDICTION = S.F will win with 60% + of the vote but their vote count might decrease specially if Gerry Carroll (People Before Profit) nominates himself to run.

West Tyrone: Here, we have another seat in which S.F have held for a long time, DUP should get to 10,000 + but it’ll be pretty straight forward to S.F and this will be their second easy win of the election!

PREDICTION = S.F will win very convincingly.

Newry & Armagh: Mickey Brady (S.F) is hugely popular and very well liked in this part of the country and there’s not too much to say other than he’ll be getting a very nice wage for at least another few years.

PREDICTION = Basically, It will be pointless for any other party to run / turn up. This is a foregone conclusion, S.F will steamroll this.

Mid Ulster: Francie Molloy has been around forever and is one of the most well liked politicians in the country and he seems to get better with every election.

PREDICTION = S.F with another easy win, No Contest.

East Antrim: Sammy Wilson has been an M.P for a very long time, he’s a senior and key member of the D.U.P and will storm home here once again.

PREDICTION = D.U.P to win very easily.

East Londonderry / East Derry: This is a D.U.P stronghold and I can’t see this going any other way.

PREDICTION = D.U.P will win this seat without doubt. S.F will finish second comfortably.

Lagan Valley: D.U.P have grown from strength to strength in Lagan Valley but I expect the growing is over, Alliance should do well this time around.

PREDICTION = D.U.P will hold this seat but will drop their vote count, Alliance should climb to second place and are worth £2-£3 at 20/1 with Paddy Power.

North Antrim: Ian Paisley Junior is a very controversial person. I’m not sure who the D.U.P will field this time but they will win.

PREDICTION = D.U.P with an easy hold.

Strangford: D.U.P seem to be getting stronger and stronger as the years go on in this beautiful part of the country, Alliance & U.U.P should increase their vote count.

PREDICTION = D.U.P will hold this seat, U.U.P & Alliance will fight for second place.

Upper Bann: D.U.P are the clear favourites but I don’t think they’re a 1-25 chance. Hate him or love him, John O’Dowd is one of the most prolific M.P’s in the country. I believe this will be closer than the betting suggest. The D.U.P, S.F & the U.U.P all have a genuine chance of gaining or winning.

PREDICTION = The D.U.P vote could swing to both Alliance & the U.U.P. This could give S.F a massive boost and they should close the gap dramatically. D.U.P will probably hold but I would play U.U.P & S.F at the very nice odds.

Hope your enjoying the article so far, now onto the much closer and interesting constituencies.

South Antrim: Alliance, the D.U.P and the U.U.P are all close in the betting but I don’t think Alliance are a true 3-1 shot, D.U.P should get over the line again

PREDICTION = The D.U.P @ 4-7 is a fair price.

North Down: Sylvia Hermon announced that she is stepping down, Happy retirement. The D.U.P & the U.U.P will probably fight it out. Powers betting is the D.U.P (1-3), Alliance (3-1) – not sure that’s right and the U.U.P (8-1). The majority of Sylvia Hermon’s votes will probably go to the U.U.P as she was a former member of that party. With Naomi Long winning the third and final European seat, the bookies are very tight with their odds and it probably won’t come to much or mean anything, Alliance will suffer more heavy defeats and green party should vastly improve their vote count here.

PREDICTION = There is betting on North Down with Powers and the D.U.P should achieve a gain here.

South Down: S.F & S.D.L.P will fight this out, The other parties have no chance. Chris Hazzard is a very good M.P and has done a fair amount for his constituencies.

PREDICTION = This will be close enough but Chris Hazzard should hold this with a 1000+ majority.

Belfast South: Claire Hanna (S.D.L.P), Paula Bradshaw (Alliance) & Emma Pengally (D.U.P) are among the top and most prestigious M.P’s in the country. Belfast South has always been a swings and roundabouts area in elections, The people change their vote and mind more than the weather and you just don’t know what’s going to happen this time around. In saying that, I don’t think Alliance are a true 7-2 shot and this will be between S.D.L.P and the D.U.P.

PREDICTION = With S.F and the Green Party absent, that’s almost 10,000 votes to go elsewhere, the majority of the green voters will vote for Claire and the S.F vote will be split. The green vote will probably take Claire Hanna over the line but I wouldn’t play at 2-9.

Belfast East: Naomi Long is returning from his short stay in Europe as an M.E.P and is running in her beloved colours of the Alliance Party. She has a huge fan base and following and is without doubt, one of the best M.P’s in the U.K (Not A Personal Opinion). She is a very passionate person and would try her best to help, Gavin Robinson won this seat in 2017 with a 8,500 majority meaning if Naomi was to win she’d need almost a 4,500 vote swing which to be honest I find it extremely difficult for this to happen.

PREDICTION = I think Gavin Robinson (D.U.P) will hold pretty handily in the end, 8-13 With Paddy Powers is very tempting indeed.

Belfast North: The moment of truth, the media can’t wait, I can’t wait and most importantly the voters and runners can’t wait, Nigel Dodds (D.U.P) couldn’t be anymore Pro – British and John Finucane (Sinn Fein) couldn’t be anymore Pro – Irish. This is not just a Nationalist vs Unionist election, this is a true battle, a true war and simply magnificent.

I expect Alliance to take some of the S.F vote and I’m hoping and expecting that Mal O’Hara (Green Party) will get to 1000+ votes – keep up the good work!

PREDICTION = This will probably be the closest battle in terms of vote count. I think Nigel Dodds will just get enough to get over the line, The prices (odds) with Powers are probably about right. This should be within 1000 votes either way. I wouldn’t lump on Dodds but I think he’s worth £15-£20.

Fermanagh & South Tyrone: The return and another series of Elliott vs Gildernew. You simply could not get much closer than this, excitement all around! Alliance will perhaps take some of the U.U.P vote but I think S.D.L.P voters will swing to S.F as S.D.L.P have no chance and would be a waste of a vote.

PREDICTION = I expect Gildernew to increase her vote and win by 1000+. I genuinely believe that 8-15 with Paddy Power is very generous.

Foyle: Wow, just WOW! You just can’t get any closer, Elisha won by around 150 votes last time out but in my opinion that was just a one off, this is a predominately S.D.L.P constituency / stronghold and I expect Colum Eastwood (S.D.L.P) to win this pretty handily with the help of the D.U.P voters who detest S.F.

PREDICTION = Colum Eastwood (S.D.L.P) will probably win with a 1000+ vote count. I think 4-6 with Powers is big value (NAP!)

GreenMachine



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“National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy” – a review

Sunday, October 6th, 2019

INTRODUCTION

The book is an overview of “National Populism”, the umbrella term the authors use to describe a political stance of increasing electoral salience in Europe and North America, familiar to us as an explanation for Brexit and Trump. The authors are Roger Eatwell of Bath University and Matthew Goodwin of the University and Kent: both are experts in academic study of the right and all its flavours. The book is a summary of their academic studies, expanded into a medium-size book written in clear, if slightly plodding text readable by the everyman. This is its strength and its weakness, which I will describe later.

STRUCTURE

The book sets out its thesis: the National Populism stance is real, electorally salient, on the rise and isn’t going away any time soon. The book chapters itself into Myths, Promises, and the 4 D’s (Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation, De-alignment), and concludes with a view of the future.

It’s convincing (with some notable exceptions). It lists explanations proffered by non-populists – it’s temporary, it’s a reaction to 2008, it’s just angry racist white men, it’s close, just one more heave and it’ll go – and points out that actually, no: it’s been around for quite some time, it’s not racist per se, it’s diverse, prodemocratic and will be around for a while because the reasons are deep rooted.

It encapsulates these reasons with the clever catchphrase of the “4 D’s” for Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation and De-alignment: Distrust for the realisation that the rulers no longer reflect the ruled, Destruction for the feeling that a familiar way-of-life is under threat, (relative) Deprivation for uneven distribution of the fruits of capitalism, and De-alignment for the disconnect between the parties and the people, and then points out that these are longstanding issues. It then concludes with “Towards Post-Populism”, outlining predicted future development and the parties that will survive.

DISCUSSION

There’s nothing really wrong here: the argument makes sense, it proceeds from A to B to C to D, it can be used for predictions, the prose is readable and the only fault of the diagrams is the monochrome. It’s written by two people but it has a singular authorial voice, which I assume was assisted by their copy editor at Pelican, Linden Lawson. So it’s quite good and an important addition to the shelves. But there are bits and bobs that had me biting my lip and the cumulative effect drove me scatty.

Eatwell and Goodwin are academics writing a popular book and have to adjust to the different length and audience, and it shows. An academic paper is short and you have to justify every word. But this is a book (approx 350pages) and you have to fill the word-count somehow and…problem is, not everything they fill it with is good.

They sometimes use telepathy (inferring motives to actors without providing justification), they use current terms to describe historical positions (“The first parties to develop in the nineteenth century…supported economically liberal and socially conservative values” Well in 21st century terms yesss, but there were other things) and their world-view intrudes.

Mostly it’s just irritating. As we move from a European to an American mindset, we lose the concept of multiple parties and subdivisions, with its French Radicals, Polish National Conservatives, British Atlanticists and all the shades of gray, and replace it with a more reduced instruction set of “Liberals” and “Conservatives”. So in the text they have to flit between definitions of the word “liberal” – the “soppy lefty” sense, the “Orange Book Liberals” sense, the “liberal democracy” sense, and you find yourself having to reread bits to identify what they meant. It breaks the flow.

But sometimes the wheels come off. In one case they devote some time to demonstrating that National Populism isn’t Fascist. OK, that’s fair: as I have said on here repeatedly, it definitely isn’t – there’s no militarisation of society, no recusal of democracy, and it’s notably lacking in the Nazi tendency to antisemitism. So what’s the problem?

The problem is their choice of characteristics: they define fascism as one list (holistic nation, new men, authoritarian), define populist as another list (popular will, ordinary people, anti-elite), and point out that they are different. Fine….but. The differences aren’t as obvious or conclusive as they think – both a “holistic nation” and “popular will” describe a national gestalt, and both the Fascist “New Man” concept and the National Populist “plain man” concept reify human individuals into archetypal groups.

So I ended up less convinced than before, even though I knew going in that National Populists aren’t Fascists. The argument was important to make, but their failure to properly stick the landing bugged me.

And lastly and more humorously, the book has a tic that I’ve observed before with Matthew Goodwin and it gets me every single time. I’ve characterised him as a good analyst but a bad advocate, and his urge to advocate instead of simply describe sometimes intrudes.

In this case it manifests as superfluous intensifiers: issues are never just “issues” they’re “legitimate issues”, “concerns” are “legitimate concerns”, and they stand out like poles in the snow. You’re reading the text perfectly happy then he jumps out from behind a tree, yells “LEGITIMATE” in your ear, and jumps back: the Catchphrase From Hell. It throws you off…

CONCLUSION

So, where are we? I thought their description of present and recent events was convincing and I value their conclusions about the longevity and robustness of the stance. The events of 2019 uphold their 2018 prediction of a “populist-lite” party gaining votes, as Boris mutates the Conservatives to fit that niche and hence defeat the new Brexit Party.

So the book is genuinely valuable. But the padding, their view of the past, a restricted palette, Goodwin’s tic – LEGITIMATE!! – and the compromises required for a popular book do take the edge off. I don’t want to overegg the pudding and the standards for a popular book are different for an academic paper or a briefing paper. But the problems are self-inflicted and this book would be a lot better if it was shorter.

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“National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy” is by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. The reviewed version is ISBN 9780241312001 and is published by Pelican Books 2018, in print and available new at £9.99 or free from your local library. Support your local library. Legitimately… 🙂



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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




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Chronicle of a bet foretold Part 2

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

It is 11am on September 21st 2019 as I write this. Earlier in the year I wrote an article about fixed-odds betting used to insure against political risk. I finished by saying I would investigate other modes, specifically currency conversion. This is that investigation.

PREAMBLE

The investigation took the form of recollections of previous betting combined with consideration of new modes. Time constraints meant that some modes could only be briefly examined so conclusions from this article should be taken as illustrative and advisory, not conclusive. If the reader notes any errors, please point them out.

The modes covered in the article are spread betting, fixed-odds betting and betting exchanges, bureaux de change, currency conversion and other modes such as tailored foreign exchange and political insurance. I consider them as follows:

SPREAD BETTING

Historically, British gambling regulation has been class based, with subdivisions such as horserace betting (literally the sport of kings!), telephone betting (used by the middle classes) and high-street gambling (working-class) attracting different regulation at different times. One of the odd tributaries of this phenomenon is the regulation of spread betting, which is governed by the Financial Conduct Authority (formerly the FSA), not the Gambling Commission. Spread betting accounts have a ferocious reputation: the majority of customers lose money, some lots. Consequently regulation has grown tighter.

In UK spread betting, you bet on the movement, not the level: one buys at level X, sells at level Y and the more the change, the greater the profit/loss. (US spread betting may be different and we do not cover it). This allows great profit to be made with little money, but the requirement to keep a float to maintain a positive balance and the possibility of great loss if the movement is in the wrong direction makes this high-risk/high-reward.

Opening an account requires bank details and proof of ID, and you are warned that losses may be large. I closed my account some years ago and changing regulation means that further checks and limits may now pertain. Political betting is availably from IG Index and Sporting Index. Sporting Index is familiarly known as “SPIN” and has a habit of suspending trading during uncertain times.

FIXED-ODDS BETING AND BETTING EXCHANGES

These are regulated in GB by the Gambling Commission, but difficulties in prosecutions and the anomalous position of Northern Ireland (not all legislation applies to NI and the suspension of Stormont and the different polity morals means that regulation has not yet caught up) means that some bookmakers insist they are regulated by overseas bodies such as the Malta Gaming Commission. That argument is best settled by lawyers.

In GB fixed-odds betting (we occasionally use the American term “sportsbook”, which I quite like), the bookmaker acts as the layer (betting against the future event) and offers odds. The punter is the backer (bets on the future event) and deposits money with the bookmaker until the event is resolved. In betting exchanges the bookmaker acts as matchmaker, with one punter acting as backer and another as layer. Unmatched money is returned to the punters on resolution.

It is medium-risk/medium-reward, with the possible profit and loss being fixed at the point the bet is made. It is freely available and can be done in-person via a high-street bookmaker or remotely via an online or telephone account. In-person betting ordinarily does not require an account or ID, but remote betting has bureaucracy. Political betting is available in-person or remotely via Ladbrokes/Coral and William Hill, or Betfair Exchange. Other bookmakers are available.

CURRENCY CONVERSION

The above methods allow political betting on events directly, but one may be more concerned with the effects of the event and require proxy betting. Since my concern is on currency effects, currency was the obvious proxy. Betting on currency movements may be done via spread betting or (rarely) sportsbook/exchange betting, but currency conversion is also viable. Currency conversion may be done in-person via a “bureau de change” (a high-street kiosk that physically changes currency in one denomination into another) or online via dedicated foreign-exchange firms or foreign-currency accounts offered by some high-street banks.

Bureax-de-change are usually used for holiday money and may offer buyback facilities: buying and selling at the same exchange rate for a limited period. They require no registration and are zero-risk, but will have a poor exchange rate and carrying large amounts of cash is difficult and raises eyebrows. An online foreign-currency account only requires an existing bank account and is low-risk/low-reward, as adverse positions can be traded out of rapidly. But to cover a sufficient risk requires moving a lot of money, which brings its own problems. Bureaux-de-change can be found via yell, a foreign-exchange firm is Travelex. For foreign-currency accounts, please see the high-street banks.

OTHER MODES

There exist tailored foreign exchange services (for example Tramonex, which went but last year) and political insurance via Lloyds (there are syndicates, such as AmTrust? Validus? Apols if these are wrong) but are aimed at corporate entities/very-high-net-worth individuals and are outside my weight-class: for example, Tramonex required 500,000GBP traded per annum, which is way outside my reach. I did not investigate these. Tramonex no longer exists (see here) and I did not research others. For Lloyds Political Risk insurance, please see here and other sources.

MY CHOICE

In the previous article I outlined my use of a fixed-odds bet to insure against adverse currency changes in the event of no-deal. I practice betting transparency, so I outline here my use in Q2-3 2019: numbers are given magnitudally to preserve some anonymity. Previous experience of spread-betting some years ago had been scary and counterproductive: lacking any knowledge of movement I could not make a profit and I closed my account in short order after a total three-figure loss. Some years ago I changed four-figures into USD, which was fun but walking around with a thick wad in your back pocket is obviously stupid, so I converted back at zero loss.

So since 2016 I have opened USD and EUR accounts and in Q2-3 2019 I started moving money en-masse, currently totalling low-five-figures in various USD and EUR accounts (gulp!). This is personally traumatic: moving large sums of money inspires fear, and lack of any real knowledge about currency movements inspires uncertainty. I deal with this by moving smaller sums at smaller intervals, which normalises the behaviour and reduces the trauma of a Large Event.

Today is September 21st 2019. The rates are 1GBP=1.13EUR and 1GBP=1.24USD. At those rates I have a low-three-figure profit in EUR but a mid-three-figure loss in GBP (converting back incurs an additional conversion cost!).

In the event of Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1.2 and USD will pass 1.3 within 48 hours of the announcement and my losses in GBP will be low-four-figures, at which point I will trade out with alacrity before they settle at over 1.3 and over 1.35 within the month.

In the event of No-Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1 and USD 1.15 within 48 hours before settling at 0.95 and 1.05 within the month: at that point I will remain in as my gains in GBP will be low-four-figures. I will let you know what happens.

Viewcode

Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector



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Changing the Prime Minister might be the only way

Monday, September 9th, 2019

One thing the existing House of Commons can agree on (it can’t on anything else) is that it doesn’t want No Deal. It’s now voted several times to this effect and, in fact, it’s as determined to prevent No Deal as the Government is to deliver Brexit by 31st October at all costs. It has been trying to do everything it can to stop it: delaying a General Election, challenging the proroguing of Parliament, and, now, passing the Hillary Benn Bill into law.

Equally, the present Government is equally clear it will test this law to the extremes – everything short of breaking the law. There have even been suggestions of invoking the Civil Contingencies Act over the weekend. It might also yet find allies within the EU on scuppering yet another delay, including President Macron. The House of Commons therefore has no reason to trust the present administration that it will honour their wishes.

However, two things remain true: this current Government doesn’t have a majority (or anything close) for its policy and, whilst Parliament will be prorogued on Thursday, it will come back on 14th October. The Queen will then make her speech and – usually – there will be six days of debate assigned to each policy area within it followed by a vote in the Commons on whether to accept it. The European Council meeting takes place right in the middle of this: on 17th and 18th October.

If by this date there is no deal agreed or no extension secured to Brexit (either by obfuscation by the Government or through European Council exasperation or a mixture of both) then the House of Commons is staring into the abyss. They will be out of options, except one: to strip control from the Executive, and form an alternative administration. That administration will be left with two choices: to either pass whatever is on the table from the EU, at that stage, or to revoke A50.

Whether this occurs through some procedural chicanery facilitated by the Speaker during the Queen’s Speech debates (which I don’t rule out) or shortly after will be interesting to see but matters will come to a head during the week commencing Monday 21st October, which will be Parliament’s last chance and a matter of days away from the Article 50 termination date.

There has been lots of focus recently on the FTPA and that a Vote of No Confidence leads to an early general election after fourteen days if no alternative government is formed that the House of Commons subsequently resolves it has confidence in. However, it can happen much faster than that. In this scenario, I expect it would happen inside 24 hours.

It’s my view that the House of Commons would baulk at an outright Revoke, and will be painfully aware of the consequences of doing so, but would want the next ‘least bad’ option. Something that can kicks and mitigates the impact. Parliament would want to ensure the European Parliament had several days to ratify at their end (indeed it’s currently not planning to sit from 28th to 31st October) and, if needs be, prepare any additional emergency legislation in the UK to convert it into law.

There would also be many MPs who’d either baulk at voting for Jeremy Corbyn as PM (why take the risk of his disorganisation and equivocation at this late stage?) or by having “voted for Brexit” on their records, so the majority required to pass the Withdrawal Agreement in my view would drop. I’d expect abstentions from the Liberals Democrats and SNP at the very least. But we’d need someone who could both do the job and carry 280 to 290 MPs in the Commons with.

I think a Conservative (or ex-Conservative) would be an obvious choice. The opposition would love to split the party further, make it own Brexit (at an Executive level) and it’s clear that with the personal animosity many possess toward Boris Johnson, this may influence their choices too. There are also several Conservatives currently on the backbenches who might be sufficiently altruistic to sacrifice themselves in the national interest where they sense the game might be up anyway.

Ken Clarke is flavour of the month but my view is that Jeremy Hunt represents a good choice. If he could command a temporary Government of National Unity to pass the WA there’d be no better way to mitigate Brexit, spite Boris and damage the Conservatives all in one. Hunt would take it in my view because he’ll be very nervous about his Surrey South West seat post No Deal and would relish being the saviour – few people give up the chance to become Prime Minister and lead.

He is currently available at 66/1 with Ladbrokes and William Hill, where I might have him down more at 15/1 or even 12/1. I’m on.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a long standing PBer and tweets as CasinoRoyalePB




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Getting the MPs we deserve?

Friday, April 12th, 2019

A guest slot from Harris Tweed

In a rare moment of PB agreement in a recent thread, Casino_Royale and Nick Palmer, himself a former MP, discussed the shallow gene pool which provides too many of our MPs, and the party and parliamentary processes which aim – not always successfully – to keep them in check. Strong whipping, party patronage and a lack of local competition in their seats mean too many members can enjoy a trouble- and blame-free life on the backbenches with an agreeably-subsidised lunch. As Nick also pointed out, this stifles free thinking and bores some of the cream before it has the chance to rise to the top. (Before I go any further, I apologise for the generalisations in this piece, and agree wholeheartedly that most MPs are doing what they believe to be best, and a number way in excess of zero succeeding).

The three factors I mentioned in breaking down this order of things are probably not the only ones, but they’ve each played their own role. Brexit and Corbyn are effectively the same issue – factors which have split parties to a greater depth than whipping can fix. Both stem from public/membership votes which weren’t tied to the provision of a Commons majority to deliver a programme. Labour members elected a leader clearly unacceptable to a majority of the MPs, and the great British public decided Leave was A Thing without providing the parliamentary clout to see it through. This has left the whipping system broken, and may yet split one or both of the main parties.

I mention social media, because it’s a relatively new influence on MPs. Too often it’s negative and reactive (“people on Facebook are for/against X, therefore so must I be”), and leaves MPs scared of the baying mob. They ignore the fact that the people moved to post about X are very much the fired-up front row, and never a representative sample of their constituents. Nor are they posting from a position of legislating in the round. But it has also democratised the process, and allowed actual experts to illustrate when MPs are talking out of their hats, using the valuable but unfashionable currency of researched facts.

And it’s the lack of that currency among MPs which worries me most. In the “trouble-free/agreeably subsidised lunch/working parliamentary majority” era, they could get away with being ill-informed sheep. Now that each one has become what Nick Palmer called a ‘quasi minister’, chuntering at an op-ed in the Mail and jeering at PMQs really won’t cut it. But we’re the ones who send them there, and the baying mob has more votes than the academic expert on trade in lemons. Too many times, MPs grasp onto a passing opinion piece in the papers as evidence for what they should think or do, without considering that its author was up against a deadline and will be measured on retweets rather than accurate facts-per-paragraph. Get your head in the Commons library and read some actual facts on which to base your opinions!

But even among PB members, how many of us do enough due diligence on the people we send to Westminster? How many of us consider the calibre and quality of the individual rather than which colour rosette they wear and whether they support Policy Y from Party Leader Z? And among the electorate at large, where local newspaper readership has been decimated and local radio stations no longer need to be local, how many voters even know or care who their MP is?

The ‘current situation’ may have left many holding heads in hands, exasperated at MPs’ collective failures. And that may increase the disconnect between Westminster and the voters. But perhaps we can also hope that it’ll lead to at least a few more of us checking who we’re sending there in the first place.

Harris Tweed

(Harris Tweed has been a PB poster for five years and a reader for over a decade. He works in the media, parts of which he fully agrees also find themselves in need of “adultier adults”!)