Archive for the 'Labour leadership' Category


Alastair Meeks reviews the next Labour leader betting

Sunday, November 4th, 2018


Whenever I want something sensational to read, I look at my Betfair account.  It’s not always sensationally good, but there’s always something to consider.  The markets I usually end up checking out are the long term ones: next Prime Minister, next Conservative leader and next Labour leader in particular.  These three markets have much in common and indeed overlap heavily: the next Prime Minister is likely to be one of Jeremy Corbyn, the next Conservative leader and the next Labour leader. 

One thing that they have in common is that they pay out rarely. I’m 50. In my lifetime, there have been nine changes of Prime Minister, seven changes of Conservative leader and eight changes of Labour leader. So, each of these markets pays out on average only every six or so years. Nor is it the case that the rate of change has increased much recently. In the last 25 years there have been four changes of Prime Minister, five changes of Conservative leader and four changes of Labour leader, a pay-out on average for each market every five to six years or so. 

You would never appreciate that from the political commentary, which thrives on a diet of stories about vulnerable leaders. I am pleased to say that leads a lot of political bettors astray. The temptation to back possible contenders who have had good weeks is hard to resist. The contenders you need to back are those whose good weeks coincide with the change of leadership. There is no particular reason to assume that these will be the same people unless you think a leadership contest is imminent. It usually isn’t.

I like a happy story, so I’m going to illustrate this with a market that has worked out really well for me, the next Labour leader market. Almost before Jeremy Corbyn was chosen as Labour leader, there was speculation about his position. And so a succession of possible replacements were mooted, backed into short prices, only to fall out of favour again. Often the prices were driven by sentiment rather than any rational consideration. With the party membership firmly dominated by the Corbynites it was far from clear how any of the much-touted right-wingers were ever going to get the job.

So in three years I have at various times laid Dan Jarvis, Hilary Benn, David Miliband, Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, Owen Smith, Keir Starmer and Clive Lewis at prices in single digits. The shortest priced of this octet is Keir Starmer who was last traded at 13.5. Three (Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith) were last traded at a three digit price. Angela Eagle was last matched at 920.

My point is not to boast about good bets (I am sure that many others did similarly and the strategy is neither particularly clever nor particularly original) but to point out that some apparently serious contenders can fall by the wayside with remarkable speed. There’s a reason why laying favourites is so often advised. It applies with especial force in long term markets such as these where early position is little or no guide to the eventual result of the race. Leadership markets are more like the keirin than the Tour de France.

Why are people put off doing this? There’s concern about tying up money over time. That is a valid concern but it can be overdone. If you lay a candidate at 8 with a stake of £700, you risk tying up that £700 for a return of just £100 for many years – and you might still lose your money. Might you not be better just putting the money in the bank? 

All that can happen. In practice, however, this week’s poster boy often becomes next month’s Norma Desmond and that £700 can usually be recouped for a fraction of £100 long before the race is run. Or, alternatively, you can lay the latest poster boy – you won’t be tying up any more money. If over time you get to lay eight candidates at 8 for £700 you will be up £100 if any of those eight win – and up £800 if anyone else does. And you can withdraw that original £700 back to your bank without further delay.

This is not a particularly dynamic strategy.  It requires a shift of mindset, however.  First, it requires you to move away from the idea that a leadership election is probably imminent.  History has shown that it probably isn’t. 

Next, you need to move away from the idea that you can spot the winner or even that you can spot the likely contenders – at any given point you should proceed in the absence of compelling evidence on the basis that a leadership election is years away.  If that’s right, the contenders are not just unknown but unknowable.  This is especially true of a party out of power.  In the last 25 years we have seen Iain Duncan Smith, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn become leader of the opposition.  In each case they would not have been remotely considered plausible successors when their predecessor became leader. 

This is easier said than done. I blush to see some of my own past comments about possible Labour leadership candidates. No, I’m not going to link to them.  Take my word for it, it is all too easy to be overconfident that you can see ahead into the middle distance.

Next, you need to keep a clear head. Momentum (or Moggmentum) is of no use at all at the wrong time.  David Miliband, George Osborne and Boris Johnson have all at different times been seen as inevitable successors.  Standing against the crowd takes a certain strength of character: there will always be apparently good reasons why those candidates will be seen as so well-placed. Laying them when their star is shining brightly takes nerve.

Finally, you need to stay clearheaded if markets move in your direction. It is all too tempting to take notional profits before the rats get at them. But you are at least as likely to be doing the wrong thing. If you close a bet you are giving up on upside as well as protecting yourself against downside. Consider doing nothing in such circumstances. It is often the best action.

Oh, and the corollary that favourites in these markets are too short is that there are some longshots that are too long. If you back a few well-chosen candidates well into three figures you can reasonably hope that one or two of them will shorten sharply in the coming years. I have bet at very long odds on Rebecca Long-Bailey, Ed Miliband and Kate Osamor, among others. Some now look very silly. But Rebecca Long-Bailey is now the fourth favourite. The amount that I have taken by laying off my bets on her since she shortened has paid for all the rest put together and much more besides (and she would still be among my best winners).

This market has not stopped. On general principles there is much to be said for laying Emily Thornberry at 7 or so: she looks a very credible possibility right now but experience has shown that such contenders can be expected to fade. 

I believe that some figures on the Labour right, having been far too short for a long time, are now too long.  The Labour membership are looking for inspiring leadership rather than necessarily being unthinking hard leftists. A Labour right winger who could construct a positive message rather than snipe at the current leadership could easily win. Stella Creasy for example, will never win over Momentum supporters but she has the character, achievements and determination to win over the uncommitted. Rachel Reeves also cannot be discounted.

But it you want some real long shots, there are quite a few members of the shadow Cabinet that can be backed today in high three figures.  Some – Tony Lloyd, Valerie Vaz, Shami Chakrabati, Christina Rees, are available at 1000.  They are likely to have the time to prove themselves. Some will no doubt return to obscurity. But there has to be the possibility that one of them will catch the public’s attention.  Lesley Laird, who I backed at 1000 and is now at 520 is one who I am keeping an eye on in particular. Try covering a few of them. I have.

Alastair Meeks


Lessons from Labour’s conference for the Conservatives

Friday, September 28th, 2018


Labour have, on balance, had a good conference, which should of course worry Conservatives like myself. Their leadership is now in full ascendancy – indeed many of the Corbynsceptic PLP stayed away.

Brexit was largely elided (of which more later), so the actual splits in evidence were merely between different degrees of Corbynism. On reselection, Momentum butted heads with the unions and came off slightly worse, for now. (Watch that space…)

And Corbyn himself is now much improved as a speaker – the first half of his speech was delivered very well, though he lost some energy during the second part. That all adds to the perception that he really could be Prime Minister one day, as does all the talk of a General Election.

The lesson here is simply that unity sells well. Now this might be a little time coming for the Conservatives, but putting on a show at our own conference wouldn’t hurt!


Freed from the drudgery of actually negotiating a Brexit, Labour have been full of ideas, the most eyecatching of which was the proposal to force companies to give 10% of their equity to their workers, and then cap the dividends from that to only £500, with the rest going to the government as tax (sorry, “social dividend”).

To my mind this is the epitome of what’s wrong with Labour’s policymaking: it’s superficially attractive but it ignores all the situations where it can’t apply (e.g. foreign & private companies) and the knock-on effects it could have (e.g. de-listing, moving abroad, buybacks rather than dividends, reduction in startup investment). Most of all it also ignores the fact that private sector wages are usually determined in a free-market process and an anticipated £500pa bonus will simply ultimately come off the headline wage.

Labour’s wishlist of ideas is also hugely expensive and not properly costed. It might be a good idea to highlight this next time.

But these ideas are popular. Allister Heath’s headline in the Telegraph is spot on – “the terrifying truth is that Middle England is falling for Corbynomics”. We need to fight back with ideas of our own.

The next General Election

I don’t expect a General Election any time soon, but Labour are clearly planning for one whenever it comes. Their slick PPB shows that the leadership get it – the battleground seats will be predominately small towns.

A lot of the thinking behind this focus has been driven by the new think-tank the Centre for Towns, set up by Ian Warren (@electiondata on Twitter), Lisa Nandy MP and political science professor Will Jennings. The data and mapping on their site is excellent and there is plenty of food for thought for Conservatives there too.

However Labour’s PPB is ultimately a romantic call to turn back the clock (did anyone spot the pit head?) and – as Robert Smithson’s video shows – that ain’t happening. And in the age of the internet, High Streets won’t be coming back in the same form.


Corbyn and McDonnell’s left-wing populism explains why Labour has managed to dodge the pan-European crisis in social democracy: it is no longer a social democratic party (though it still has many MPs answering to that description).

Matthew Goodwin’s recent article on that crisis references YouGov’s July polling on issues that “most Britons feel unrepresented on”. The top 5 issues were as follows:

  1. The justice system not harsh enough
  2. Immigration restrictions should be tighter
  3. Britain should not militarily intervene in other countries
  4. Government should regulate big business more
  5. The benefits system is too generous

This – not a metropolitan anti-Brexit project – is the space YouGov identified for a hypothetical new party. Under FPTP it is more likely to be filled by shifts within our system.

Obviously neither party would wish to swallow these polling findings wholesale, but the key to a majority is to take this “unrepresented” group seriously. Goodwin hypothesises that the unexpected General Election result was as a consequence of Labour hitting some of these themes while the Conservatives missed them:

“Indeed, I have no doubt that one reason why Jeremy Corbyn did not suffer more working-class losses at the 2017 general election is precisely because he preached economic interventionism while at least recognising the need to respect the Brexit vote and reform freedom of movement. Had Corbyn instead called, à la Blair, to reverse the vote while making the case for open borders, then the result would likely have been very different, just as it would had Prime Minister May followed up her promise to tackle burning injustices with concrete action and a competent campaign.”

The answer here for the Conservatives is to blend our principles and understanding of what works with a recognition that competition and markets aren’t necessarily the same thing.

This doesn’t have to mean economic protectionism, but rather a focus on the consumer. For example, it’s easy to see from free-market principles that supermarket competition drives prices down – it only takes a few switched-on people to move to Aldi or Lidl to drive prices down everywhere, and for everyone.

But same isn’t true for energy markets or telephone contracts. The vast majority of the benefit of competition – and there has been plenty – is captured by the engaged: those willing and able to compare and switch whenever they can. Contracts are fundamentally different to purchases and our government needs to recognise that. Auto-switching and/or internal auctions, not caps, can be the answer.

And, to refer again to Robert’s video, jobs are a harder problem: in the information age people’s value to their company is more explicit than ever, which means the traditional career model isn’t coming back. The answer here has to be in education and training; a tighter immigration policy post-Brexit ought to increase investment in domestic training.


The focus on the next election, and on those Leave-voting small towns, is why Labour are being so circumspect on Brexit, despite the wishes of Andrew Adonis, David Lammy, Keir Starmer and much of their membership. Adding another 3,000 votes to Keir’s majority in Holborn will not be much use if they can’t gain back Mansfield or defend Dudley.

There’s not that much value in me opining what the final deal will be, though I still think it’s likely that there will be one, probably fudged somewhere between Chequers and Canada. I wouldn’t be sitting too comfortably if I were the DUP – since the deal is quite likely to need some cross-party backing (or abstention) anyway, what’s finding another 10 votes?

The fact that negotiations have been difficult was always to be expected – in fact I’m a little surprised to have got this far without stronger rows or walkouts. The working of Article 50 has clearly favoured the EU, as it was always intended to: we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the next couple of months.

A deal is important for the country but also for my Party. The radical nature of Brexit is a challenge to our traditional USP of, well, conservatism, and John McDonnell is clearly hoping that one radical shift may induce another. We therefore need to deliver a measure of continuity as we Leave.

The overall lesson for the Conservatives from Labour’s conference, and the themes they are espousing, is that the technical fact of our exit needs to be the start of a national renewal. GE2017 and Brexit have consumed May’s premiership, but we shouldn’t forget how popular her initial pitch was. The challenge is to deliver that whilst staying true to our party’s principles. Otherwise we risk delivering the country into the hands of the most left-wing Labour Party in living memory.

Aaron Bell

Aaron works in the betting industry and is a long-standing contributor to, posting under the username Tissue_Price. He stood for the Conservatives in Don Valley at the General Election last year.


While the nation faces huge and historic issues over Brexit Labour gathers in Liverpool to talk about itself

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Today’s Times column by Phillip Collins hits the nail on the head about Labour and its current state.

“..The issues of the hour are historic. Are any of the half-formed answers to the Irish border question at all practicable? Will the strong desire of the European Union 27 to agree a deal quieten the opposition to Mrs May’s besieged plans? Is it really worth risking exit without a deal for the distant and unlikely prize of winning a second referendum? Is there not a danger that thwarting the first referendum would result in civil disobedience? Is that not a democratic outrage? Never mind all of that. Let’s talk about the contemporary criterion for conference motions.

The Labour Party has decided it need not pay attention to the historic turn of events…The Labour leadership isn’t interested in Europe. All it has ever wanted is to take back control of the Labour Party. Which is what the Labour conference will essentially be about. All conversations in the party since Tony Blair left office have been, in one way or another, about which faction is the rightful owner of the party heritage…”

Meanwhile this from the latest polling ought to be worrying the red team.

Mike Smithson


Et tu, John? Is another JC set to get stabbed in the back by a close ally?

Monday, September 17th, 2018

The truly great, such as Caesar & Thatcher, are removed from power by their allies stabbing them in the back, is Corbyn about to join that club?

The Sunday Times reports

While those who are aware of the discussions say there is no imminent threat to Corbyn, they claim it is the first time that senior party figures have begun to question whether he is the right person to lead Labour into the next general election.

A source said: “John McDonnell is a pragmatist and is hell-bent on getting Labour back into power. He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of that. While he is not actively agitating against the Labour leader, there are people around him who are starting to raise questions about the future of the leadership and whether some of the shine is beginning to fall off Corbyn.”

Another source added: “While it is unclear whether McDonnell wants the leadership for himself, some within the party are convinced he is on manoeuvres and has been remoulding himself as the voice of reason.”

Corbyn provoked further fury within the party last week when he said he would not protect colleagues facing the threat of deselection by hard-left activists.

However, McDonnell is said to have privately told colleagues that he is not in favour of the mandatory reselection process, in comments which have been interpreted by some as part of his charm offensive to win over Labour MPs.

A Labour MP said: “Even moderate Labour MPs are coming around to McDonnell. I have heard Labour MPs say recently that they think McDonnell would be preferable to Corbyn.”

All of this chimes with what I have been saying for a while, Labour’s obsession with Israel and Palestine seems a political waste of time when all that energy could, and should, be focussed on attacking the government on any number of matters.

How much have you heard Labour banging on about the problems with Universal Credit or the train system in recent months? Those are but two areas where the government is vulnerable. The leadership and members seem more obsessed with the Middle East than Middle England, focussing on the latter helps wins general elections in this country, not the former.

I suspect John McDonnell is one of the few Labour MPs Corbyn will willingly stand down for, particularly as McDonnell doesn’t bring as much baggage on Middle Eastern matters as Corbyn.

Political authority is a lot like virginity, once it is gone then it is difficult to get back, if McDonnell’s close allies are questioning his leadership then we are closer to the end of his leadership than the beginning of it. It will be very hard for the Corbyn cult to dismiss John McDonnell as a Blairite agitator.

At the time of writing you could get between 14/1 to 20/1 on John McDonnell being Corbyn’s successor.



Further thoughts on Chris Williamson succeeding Jeremy Corbyn

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

Earlier on this week I wrote a piece on Chris Williamson’s odds to succeed Jeremy Corbyn tumbling from 100/1 to 33/1 in a week, I also explained the reasons why I wouldn’t be jumping aboard that betting bandwagon.

The tweets below from Theo Bertram are a response to my initial tweets on the subject. Theo is someone who knows the Labour party very well, he has been an adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, so I really do pay attention to him as he understands the Labour party better than I do.

Whilst I do still think it is unlikely Williamson succeeds Corbyn because of the size of his majority but if Corbyn lowers the threshold to stand in Labour leadership contests it could happen, especially in light of Theo’s comments.

So going forward, I won’t be laying Chris Williamson in this market, currently his best price is 25/1 with Bet365.



Chris Williamson’s odds to succeed Corbyn move from 100/1 to 33/1 in a week

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Why I’m not jumping aboard on this betting bandwagon

The major betting news today is the odds of Derby North MP Chris Williamson tumbling from 100/1 last week to 33/1 today.

My primary reason for not backing Williamson is that if someone from the Corbynite wing of the party succeeds they will need explicit public and private support of Jeremy Corbyn.

From my vantage point I’d expect the likes of John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Rebecca Long-Bailey, et al to receive the support of Corbyn before Chris Williamson does.

Whilst Williamson might adore Corbyn it doesn’t seem entirely mutual, as evidenced with which the ease Chris Williamson left the shadow front bench when Williamson got himself into trouble with his plans to double council tax.

The other primary reason for my decision not to bet on Williamson is the problem with Amber Rudd would have faced before her Windrush problem, the size of their majority. A little over a 2% Labour to Tory swing would see Derby North turn blue, just like it did in 2015.

Having a leader with a smallish majority would see them targeted by their opponents in the mother of all decapitation strategies. It would see them spending less time nationwide as they focus on holding their seats. It turns out size does matter.

You can get 40/1 with Bet365 and on the Betfair exchange on Williamson succeeding Corbyn if you disagree with my assessment.



How the Labour Party would split – and why it won’t

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

A summer of conspiratorial meetings amongst serial rebels has fuelled talk of a split.

Picture the scene. Lord Mandleson hosts a BBQ where “up to” 20 Labour rebels look at their options for a breakaway party. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson was amongst the group, uniting the remnant Blairite and Brownite camps against Corbyn.

Whether plotting to adopt the IHRA definition against the NEC, or plotting to deliberately lose to spite Corbyn (Stephen Kinnock not being very good at this), there is a clear sense of an internal battle for supremacy coming to a head. MPs vs Members. Let’s consider the options discussed at the Mandy BBQ:

1) Do Nothing. Jeremy Corbyn is an old man. His support claims to be “the membership” yet in practice the majority of members are silent. They do not participate in anything other than leadership elections, do not participate locally in any shape or form, and are already drifting away.

Jeremy Corbyn will retire, and a sizeable chunk of the membership will leave when he goes. When he does the party can change shape, organisation, message. Nothing that has been done – despite shrieking headlines of takeovers at local and NEC levels – cannot be undone.

2) A breakaway group of Labour MPs. Various options are open to them – an independent parliamentary group, the creation of SDP2, leaving to join the Greens, the LibDems, even a takeover of the Co-op was floated. None of these are particularly appealing to Labour rebels. SDP2 means starting from scratch in terms of organising and funding, the Greens and LibDems offer their own aims not the fulment of the rebel’s dreams.

3) A wholesale split in the party. Tom Watson has form plotting to remove unwanted leaders, and his physical shedding of weight has been accompanied by him clearly shedding any pretence at agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn or the Momentum cabal. A Watsonite Labour Party carrying the majority of MPs could try and claim legal title to the party machine, effectively de-merging the hard left into Momentum (“as you already have your own membership structure, branches, executive”)

4) A realignment in British politics. A similar piece could be written about both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and Brexit has all the potential to create a big enough bang to fracture the fragile coalitions that make up our parties. Vince Cable went AWOL for a key Brexit vote supposedly attending a dinner party discussing the creation of a new centre party.

Emmanuel Macron broke away from the socialists, founded a new centre party and led it to power. A failed Brexit fracturing Labour and the Tories at the same time could make a new party born out of the wreckage look like the sane option. Especially if the alternatives are a Boris-led Tory Party fighting off a Farage UKIP resurgence or a Corbyn-led Labour Party busy denouncing the Momentum traitors.

The only rule in politics is that everything is possible – look at the 2017 General Election campaign. But from a betting perspective where does my money go? I am a Labour councillor, activist and member of nearly 25 years so I am personally caught up in this. I’m also a Co-op Party member.

My expectation is that “do nothing” is most likely. People like me sick to the back teeth of Corbyn and the dross that surround him will wait him out, as happened with Michael Foot. The split will be the hard left slouching off again post-Corbyn to join scab groups aimed at keeping the evil Labour Party out of power. Until that happens, I would be gobsmacked to see anything more than the odd MP aping James “Who” Purnell.

Unless of course Brexit really does fracture the political parties beyond repair. At which point literally anything is possible. Anna Turley and Anna Soubry as colleagues?

Rochdale Pioneers

Rochdale Pioneers is a member of the Labour Party and a long standing contributor to PB.


Just 19% of LAB voters believe Israel’s more to blame for the lack progress on Middle East peace than the Palestinians

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Sure the Deltapoll for Prospect finds that three times as many LAB voters than CON ones blame Israel but it is the huge “both equally” numbers that are a surprise. Here as the chart shows there’s really not that much difference between supporters of the two main parties and the whole sample.

This does suggest at the very minimum that this is far from the top of most people’s concerns.

Given the polling it is hard to disagree with Martin Boon of Deltapoll who is quoted in the latest edition of Prospect magazine as saying:

“The great irony about Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party being consumed by the Jewish question is not only that personal reputations are sinking as a result, but that infinite amounts of emotional and political energy is being drained on a subject that very few Britons know much about, and probably care even less. Exactly what Labour hope to get out constant introspection on Israel and Palestine is an absolute mystery”.

The damage for Labour is that for months the party has appeared to be totally split and we know that voters don’t like parties to be divided.

Of course what has put this on the agenda has been Corbyn’s history- things he said and did before he became leader. This has been driven by what’s available on the record and by the media. The result has been so much energy is being directed at the internal Labour battle and there is also the opportunity cost – the summer could have been better spent by the main opposition fighting the Tories.

The problem, of course, is that the leader himself is so much involved and this is all about him. In those circumstances the party machine has to back the boss. If there is indeed a split within Labour then antisemitism will have made a contribution.

Mike Smithson