Archive for the 'Theresa May' Category

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Article 50 will be invoked next week with the country still totally split over whether it is the right thing to do

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

The YouGov tracker is not shifting either way

If the Prime Minister was hoping that the ending of the parliamentary approval process for Article 50 would swing opinion more behind the move then she is going to be disappointed.

The latest YouGov tracker came out shortly before the Westminster terror attack and as can be seen in the chart the country is still totally divided on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. There’s been very little movement since TMay became leader last July.

This is very much sets the scene for the coming months and TMay has two very different audiences to satisfy – those who want out and those who don’t. The the result on June 23rd was very close and the trend in the chart suggests that that is how it remains.

It is only the presence of Corbyn who was ambivalent to BREXIT that gives her some relief. She’s not facing someone who has the ability to exploit the situation.

Does she put the emphasis on curtailing immigration at the expense of the economy or vice versa? There’ll be huge pressures either way.

I love trackers like this because the same question is asked in the same manner every time.

Mike Smithson




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Blindsided. Leavers have given the PM a free rein over the Article 50 negotiations and they’ll come to regret it

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

From now on Theresa May can ignore Parliament

Theresa May has striven mightily at every stage to avoid Parliamentary restraint on her Brexit negotiations with the rest of the EU.  She fought in the courts to the bitter end against the principle that the triggering of Article 50 required the prior approval from Parliament.  A White Paper was extracted out of the government in a manner akin to that used by Lord Olivier in Marathon Man.  The White Paper thus extracted was so anodyne that vanilla seemed tangy after reading it.  The Article 50 Bill was pushed through Parliament with every attempt to place any restraint on the way in which the government negotiates Brexit stripped out.  It received Royal Assent on Wednesday in pristine form.  The only commitment that the Government has given is to allow a vote on the final deal on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Leaving it would mean that Britain left the EU without any deal at all.  So from now on, Theresa May can ignore Parliament.

Throughout all of this process, Theresa May has been aided and abetted by the ardent Leavers and their press supporters.  Judges were vilified for issuing inconvenient judgments, to the point of being described as enemies of the people.  The more hardcore Leavers contemplated the abolition of the House of Lords when it sought to impose conditions on the Article 50 Bill.  They are no doubt surveying the outcome with great satisfaction.

Those Leavers who are regarded on their own side as intellectuals have often stressed how Brexit would restore Parliamentary sovereignty.  Yet they have fought tooth and nail to remove Parliament’s role in the exit process.  These are Augustinian Leavers – Lord give me Parliamentary sovereignty, but not yet.

But they do not seem to realise what they have done.  Because this was never a battle between Leavers and Remainers.  This was, as the courts explained in their judgments in the Article 50 case, a question of where power lay between the Government and Parliament.  The courts concluded that Parliament held the power to initiate the triggering of Article 50.

Throughout the Second World War, Parliament debated war aims, strategy and progress.  Chamberlain fell over just such a debate.  No matter how keen many Leavers are on analogies from the 1940s, even they would struggle to describe Brexit as operating on a higher plane than a global war.  But the Leaver MPs have fallen far below their predecessors, acting as lobby fodder to abdicate their role to the Government.  From now on, the executive has complete control.

It is important to understand what that means.  Between the triggering of Article 50 (A Day) and the day of Brexit (B Day), Theresa May’s government can set whatever policy it thinks fit.  It is far from clear that policy will be one of hard Brexit.  The negotiations have not yet started.  No one yet knows where they are going to finish.  Unless there is no deal at all, the deal will involve compromise on the British side in some ways.  And if the Government compromises in some ways, we can expect the ultra-orthodox Leavers to be outraged.

But they will have no direct outlet for that outrage.  The Government negotiations are not to be controlled by Parliament.  Ministers may be brought before select committees, whose members may huff and puff, but ultimately if a deal is struck it will be put before Parliament on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.  Given the balance of the House of Commons, that deal will be taken.  The ultra-orthodox Leavers have voted for their own impotence.  By B Day, their vision of a Britain with no ties to the EU of any kind might well have been flushed down the pan.

Now imagine that the House of Commons had approached this differently, with a will to ensure that it kept a tight rein on the Government.  Given the small majority of the Government in the House of Commons, a relatively small number of Conservative MPs on either side of the party (perhaps even working in concert) could have secured this.  The Government could then have been required to explain its approach to MPs and win their support for approach on broad policy decisions.  The Government would have been forced to do the hard thinking that David Davis freely admitted before the select committee this week had not yet been undertaken.  It might even have helped build that consensus that the Prime Minister is set to tour the nation to build.

So when the Leaver MPs are betrayed, as in their own minds they most certainly will be, and Brexit is not negotiated to their complete satisfaction, they are going to be unable to express themselves through normal Parliamentary means.  The newspaper front pages will no doubt scream, but they will do so largely impotently.

How will the hardline Leavers continue their campaign?  They’ve just helped to close off the conventional route.  But that frustration will find a vent somehow.  But how?

Alastair Meeks




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As we edge towards the enactment of the A50 Bill Nicola has just made Theresa’s task harder

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The political price of hard brexit could be a smaller UK

TMay’s reaction to Sturgeon’s InyRef2 announcement was that the Scottish FM and SNP leader was “playing politics” – a term I generally conclude to mean that what’s been said has been highly effective.

Certainly the suggestions that TMay might defer invoking A50 until the end of the month suggests there’s a need to look again at her strategy and the rhetoric she will deploy when the formal process of extraction is triggered.

On the politics of the Sturgeon move there’s an excellent analysis by the FT’s Janan Ganesh who notes that the short timetable put formard by Sturgeon is one that is “designed to be rejected, giving her, at the very least, a grievance with which to stoke nationalism.” Ganesh goes on

“..She has also earned herself some leverage over the negotiations themselves. Mrs May cannot sign off on hard exit terms without risking the loss of Scotland, three-fifths of whose electorate voted for the EU. Such terms would not just threaten material harm to a small, trading economy, they would communicate England’s hauteur to the smaller nation. But if Mrs May softens her line, she must forgo the right to make external trade deals (to stay in the customs union) or accept free movement (to stay in the single market). The first would be death to her governing vision, the second would be unsurvivable…”

The threat of losing Scotland and thus creating a much smaller UK is a powerful one.

This is going to run.

Mike Smithson




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Maybe next time the Tories will have to emulate the GE2015 EdStone to show they’ll honour manifesto commitments

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

OmNICshambles, like the LDs tuition fees pledge, will be remembered

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has been in full defensive mode as he has sought to fight off the criticism that his National Insurance changes for the self-employed are in breach of a GE2015 Conservative manifesto pledge.

His responses that this just applied to one form of NIC charges really didn’t resonate and he’d be well advised to find another way of dealing with the attacks.

What is surprising is that this wasn’t anticipated. The way the Tories used the threat of increased National Insurance contributions against LAB at the last election is all on the record and cannot easily be airbrushed out.

The problem at the next election is that the blue team is going to be pressed even further on any manifesto commitments that they make and this one will be thrown back at them.

Maybe there was something in Ed Miliband headstone plan that was, as we can all record, going to be placed in the garden at 10 Downing Street, as a way of saying that they’ll keep their promises.

One thing’s for sure Cameron/Osborne would not have made this mistake.

With the second BREXIT bill defeat in the Lords, the sacking of Michael Heseltine and the reception the budget has got this has probably been the worst week of Theresa May’s government.

Mike Smithson




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Theresa Maybe? Definitely not

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

It’s only eight weeks since The Economist’s cover story but the mood has changed decisively

At the turn of the year Theresa May was besieged by many similar opinion pieces, several of them prompted by Sir Ivan Rogers’ resignation on 3rd January. Indecisiveness was the central charge, specifically over Brexit but also with regard to the operation of her Downing Street office and some rushed and/or reversed policy announcements. Her predecessor’s alleged nickname for her – “Submarine” – was used against her in articles that specifically did call for a running commentary.

And yet barely eight weeks later she dominates the scene to such an extent that three-figure majorities seem to be the mere beginning of her possibilities. Bruce Anderson writes, without hyperbole, that the “Tories have an historic opportunity to dominate British politics.”

These eight weeks have been busy – the Supreme Court verdict, the Trump trip, the progress of the Brexit Bill and the by-elections – but a flannelly White Paper aside, Mrs May hasn’t had to reveal much more of her thinking. The FT’s Janan Ganesh sums this all up: “Theresa May runs an imperious government and still no one knows if it is any good.” She may well be a submarine, but if so she’s clearly an Astute one.

She has, of course, been lucky in her opponent, and for once I’m not talking about Corbyn. Gina Miller’s misguided case showed why politics is usually best left to the professionals. Though I do not question her right to have brought the claim, and I thought the Supreme Court’s verdict was unsurprising and sound, she won a victory that King Pyrrhus himself might have thought a touch costly. This process: (a) bought Mrs May’s government some time; (b) united the bulk of her party behind her; (c) made [some of] the Remainers look unreasonable; and most of all (d) helped to persuade the public to accept a harder Brexit, at least as our stated opening negotiating position.

The signs were there earlier

The Economist had a point that some of Downing Street’s early policy announcements were a bit muddled. I think this is chiefly attributable to the surprisingly swift nature of her elevation to the top job [and the associated promotion of her staff] and the fact that she didn’t have the discipline of an internal leadership election.

No premier since Alec Douglas-Home has emerged so suddenly and surprisingly; on top of that one of the foremost policies of the entire nation had just been ripped up. In such circumstances it was unsurprising that some mistakes were made, and also that there was quite substantial briefing against the new brooms. I suspect the aforementioned resignation letter will serve as the high-water mark for such briefing!

But all the while the Conservatives were pulling further ahead in the polls. Momentum activists may wish to attribute this to the so-called “chicken coup” but, as others on here have noted, the polling was both a reaction to the fact of Brexit and a recognition that Theresa May can reach parts of the electorate that David Cameron simply couldn’t.  To borrow a couple of graphs from Theo Bertram:

There are some more figures in his excellent recent blog post, but the core of it is his conclusion that “David Cameron put off working class voters, Theresa May does not.” Allied to the Corbyn effect the top-line polling results are staggering, and Copeland is a clear manifestation of them.  Against this, the referendum cleavage still poses substantial risks to the Conservatives, as Alastair Meeks pointed out. The Liberal Democrats are surging against the Tories in council by-elections – in both Remain and Leave areas – and of course they took the Remain heartland of Richmond Park in December. Her strategy may well concede some losses to the Lib Dems at the next general election; the hope is clearly that gains from Labour and the SNP will outweigh them.

It may seem trite but the obvious comparison is indeed with Mrs Thatcher. The Economist article uncharitably describes her first term as shambolic; she certainly struggled with her inherited political position. Monetarism was derided by experts in much the same way that Brexit is. Yet enough people trusted her sense of purpose and the idea that she was fulfilling a mandate for fundamental change. She too broadened the Conservative coalition, aided and abetted by an utterly unsuitable Labour leader.

Brexit remains a unprecedented challenge and the negotiations will bring more certainty, meaning Mrs May may find it difficult to keep all wings of her party satisfied. Like Mrs Thatcher, she will eventually find that no one gets to live forever in politics. But it doesn’t look like she’ll slide away either.

Tissue Price



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Fifty shades of grey voters. Corbyn’s punishing polling with older voters.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Corbyn is doing worse with older voters, and history shows older voters turn out to vote and are a growing demographic.

A few weeks ago whilst looking at the polling entrails I was struck by how much of a lead with older voters Mrs May was developing over Jeremy Corbyn in the best Prime Minister polling. As we can see with the chart above, there’s a clear correlation with the older you get, the more you prefer Mrs May as Prime Minister.

With the recent YouGov poll, just 7% of the overs 65s think Corbyn would make the best Prime Minister, whilst 75% thought Mrs May would be.

Whilst some of this is an incumbency bonus because Mrs May is Prime Minister, these figures are explained because of the poor esteem Corbyn is held in by the electorate as evidenced in most polls.

When looking at how the over 65s plan to vote at the next general election from the most recent polls in the chart below, there’s some occasionally eye watering figures that appear, as Ipsos MORI looking like an outlier, with four of the regular pollsters showing the Tories leading Labour by at least 41% with the over 65s. This is something I shall be tracking over the next few months on PB.

With the recent Opinium and YouGov polls, Labour are now in third place with the over 65s, behind UKIP. With YouGov Labour are only 3% ahead of the fourth placed Lib Dems.

Adam Ludlow of ComRes pointed out that by 2020 “people aged 65+ will make up a quarter of the adult population” and coupled with the greater propensity of older voters to vote, these figures tend to presage an absolute shellacking for a Corbyn led Labour party at a general election, to use a popular culture reference, at the next general election a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party is set to play the role of Anastasia Steele to the electorate’s Christian Grey.

TSE

A couple of technical points about the second  chart. 

i) The ICM figure is from the VI before the spiral of silence adjustment, as the post spiral of silence figures are presented as headline figures and not broken down by demographics. The Tory lead with all voters over Labour before the spiral of silence was 20%, afterwards it became a 18% Tory lead.

ii) Ipsos MORI split their figures into two groups, 65 to 74 year olds, and 75 year olds and over, to ensure consistency for comparative purposes, I’ve averaged these two out to get an overall aged 65 and over figure.



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The return of Butskellism

Friday, February 17th, 2017

On seeing Sarah Bernhardt play Cleopatra a Victorian matron exclaimed: “How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!”  Leave supporters might voice similar sentiments about the very different ways in which Theresa May and Donald Trump have chosen to capitalise on their respective ascents to power.

President Trump has chosen to lead the nation as he campaigned – divisively, aggressively and with scant regard for longstanding conventions.  His spokesman has pronounced that the president’s national security actions will not be questioned, including by the judiciary, and he warned about judicial intervention, “we will make sure that we take action to keep from happening in the future what’s happened in the past.”  President Trump has become deeply embroiled in a scandal over the extent of Russian links and influence over his administration.  Meanwhile he has found time to quarrel over the size of his inauguration crowd and go into bat on his daughter’s behalf with a department store that had dropped her range of clothes.  He seems intent on dismantling longstanding conventions and consensuses and rewriting ethical rules in order to ram through whatever he wants to achieve.

Mrs May has gone in a very different direction.  In order to understand this, we first need to see how policy stood when she took over.  David Cameron and George Osborne had run an administration that was in the main socially fairly liberal but economically dry as dust.  The 2015 election was fought on the basis of the Conservatives offering eye-watering financial discipline for the current Parliament in order to generate a budgetary surplus and then branding Labour as profligate for failing to match this.  The Conservatives’ election victory was fought and won on austerity.  Ever since 1979, the Conservatives had stood on a platform of economic rigour.  David Cameron’s leadership was unusually liberal but otherwise entirely in keeping with his predecessors from Mrs Thatcher onwards.

Theresa May’s administration has upended this completely.  With Philip Hammond, she has quietly junked the economic machismo.  The projected fiscal tightening has been completely abandoned. 

Instead, Theresa May has focused on meeting the concerns of the “just about managing” – echoing Ed Miliband’s focus on the “squeezed middle”.  She has taken the opportunity given by Labour’s disarray to steal some of Labour’s policy proposals from the last election.  Ed Miliband himself has wryly noted that his idea of seizing land that was not developed quickly enough had gone “From Mugabe to May in a few short years”.  The government is also looking at developing longer tenancies for renters – another Miliband policy that was fiercely attacked by the Conservatives when it came out.

In short, Theresa May has moved the economic consensus sharply left, spotting vacant territory.  Having won the last election on traditional Conservative terrain, the Conservatives have found themselves abandoning it without even noticing.

Instead, the Conservatives are differentiating themselves by moving to the right on social concerns.  This is embodied by the way that Theresa May has interpreted the Brexit vote.  She is prioritising controls on freedom of movement and aggressively seeking to reduce immigration, even to the point of reneging on previous commitments to take in child refugees.  We have learned that she doesn’t approve of self-described citizens of the world and she gracelessly poked at Emily Thornberry for not taking her husband’s name.

So Theresa May has completely reversed the political dividing lines.  Instead of seeking to differentiate the Conservatives from Labour on economics, she is seeking to do so through social conservatism. In contemporary terms, she appears to be seeking to make the Conservative party into a Christian Democrat party – more like Angela Merkel than Margaret Thatcher or Queen Elizabeth I.  The irony in that, given that Brexit looms over everything else at present, is obvious.

In British historical terms, what Theresa May seems to be setting up post-Brexit is a return to the post-war consensus commonly nicknamed Butskellism (a hybrid of RAB Butler’s and Hugh Gaitskell’s names), where the two parties basically agreed on leftish economics and slugged it out over social matters.  It would leave UKIP purposeless and the left divided for the foreseeable future.  So it’s easy to see why it would appeal to a Conservative Prime Minister in the current political landscape.

Also ironically, many of the most enthusiastic Leavers, including the erstwhile head of Vote Leave Michael Gove, are fervent economic Thatcherites and socially fairly liberal.  How much they welcome political developments since the vote must be open to doubt.

Of course, Butskellism is now widely regarded to have been a generational failure, leaving Britain as the sick man of Europe lagging far behind the more dynamic nations on the continent.  Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Alastair Meeks




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First polling on Trump’s UK visit has 49% supporting and 36% opposing

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

In spite of the massive petition against it and the huge furore and demonstrations within the last 48 hours new UK polling this morning finds that 49% telling a YouGov Times poll that the visit should go ahead with 36% saying it shouldn’t.

That means that public appeared to be backing Theresa Mays line on the controversial invitation.

I suspect that if it’s felt that the security issues would be so great a polite way of postponing the visit would be created. You can see one of the parties having a minor illness or something of that nature which means that it is postponed.

Whatever the gloss from what at first appeared like triumphal visit to Washington last week by the PM has fallen away following the executive orders from the White House on refugees, Muslims, and immigration.

Mike Smithson