Archive for the 'Theresa May' Category


Selling time. What passes for Theresa May’s strategy

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Picture credit: Sunil Prasannan

We spend all our lives buying and selling time. We sell our time to employers. We trade time for convenience when deciding where we live and what we are prepared to pay for that.

Oddly, we talk of buying time but we never talk of selling time, even though we do both. This is a gap in the English language. For the last few months that has been all that Theresa May has been doing.

After Theresa May lost the Conservatives’ overall majority in the unnecessary 2017 general election, it was apparent that she had lost authority. She successfully bought time in the election’s wake (which on this occasion was the wake of a funeral and not of a boat) by telling MPs that she would serve as long as they still wanted her.

She used that time to negotiate the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration with the EU. This was unveiled in November and it received the type of critical reaction that theatrical types politely call mixed. With the clock ticking down on the Article 50 timetable to 29 March 2019, Theresa May had limited amounts of time at her disposal and she had to decide how to spend it to secure an acceptable result to her.

She concluded that her deal would not pass in December, so she decided to spend a month over Christmas working on MPs’ hearts and minds. She did not get the value she sought for what she sold: Generals December and January were never going to help her when MPs were hearing on all sides how vehemently constituents and party members felt about the subject.  

She did, however, get a windfall bonus that was worth that month and then some: as a result of her decision dissident Conservative MPs obtained and lost a vote of no confidence in her, cementing her in place as party leader for another year.  

You can argue whether it was unwise for the dissidents to shoot their bolt then or whether it was unwise for Conservative MPs then to give her their backing (or both).

Whatever, she got a freedom of manoeuvre in the short term that she did not previously have.  In order to secure this, she made another big sale of her personal time, this time promising publicly that she would not fight the next election.

She did not use her time well. Theresa May stuck rigidly to one path: the one that she had agreed with the EU. There have been murmurings in the papers that the EU is deeply unhappy with the way in which Britain has approached agreeing the withdrawal agreement.  

Hardline Leavers and unreconciled Remainers alike have grounds to object (as has anyone with a passing interest in good or even adequate governance) but the EU has not. The one thing that Theresa May has unflinchingly sought to do is secure the agreement that she had negotiated with them.

It has, however, been obvious for months that objective was unattainable. It should have been jettisoned much sooner. Instead, the Prime Minister sold the rest of January and all of February on manoeuvres to steamroller her deal through. It didn’t work. Anyone who could count, as LBJ would have advised her, would have seen it wouldn’t work.

She was aided by a supine Parliament, that accepted her airy and loosely-framed commitments rather than take control of the process sooner. As always, however, tactics without strategy is the longest way to defeat. She was defeated again in the second meaningful vote. She then threatened Parliament with the cliff edge of 29 March if it did not pass her deal.

This gambit was thwarted by the EU offering her more time, to at least 12 April, that she could not afford to seem not to take. She then sought to sell more of her personal time by promising her own MPs to resign if they passed the withdrawal agreement. This bargain was turned down.

Now, in extra time, Theresa May is down to trading remaining minutes, this time by seeking finally to involve the leader of the Labour party in what should always have been a national decision. If a deal is to be struck with him it will need to be struck by Monday if there are not to be more indicative votes.

The price of this bargain – for just six days – is huge. She has probably definitively lost a cohort of hard Leave backbenchers, many of whom appear to be seriously weighing voting against her in any Parliamentary vote of no confidence. Her party is splintering on both sides and if the Conservative party were to lose even three more MPs, it would no longer have a working majority with the DUP. Far more than three on each side of the party are very close to the end of the road with the party.

So what next? The Prime Minister is bereft of a strategy. This has been clear for some weeks. Perhaps some form of deal will be reached with Labour. Since the leader of the Opposition has no obvious reason to help the Prime Minister out, a failure to agree must be the likeliest outcome. If a deal is reached, it will inevitably involve something that will be called a customs union and very possibly some form of referendum (not to include this would devastate Labour’s own supporter base).  

Either of those would be too bitter a pill for most Conservatives to swallow. Both together look like a lethal cocktail for both the Conservatives and Theresa May. So for this reason too, an agreement looks less likely than a failure to agree.

In that case, there will be more indicative votes on Monday. The residual party discipline of the Conservatives can then be assumed to have definitively evaporated. This will not make finding a way forward that commands a majority of the Commons easier since the bulk of the Parliamentary Conservative party now dresses to No Deal.

Theresa May can be counted upon not to take any step that will shorten her tenure as Prime Minister but she can be counted upon to take any step, including the burning of her own future, to extend her present. To that end, it would suit her better to look overborne by events than actively to have taken any step to bring about either a deal that her party would not stomach or actively to have taken any step to effect no deal.

So I expect there to be no breakthrough deal brokered by the party leaders, for indicative votes next Monday to take place, for the government to give no steer and, probably, for the institutional gridlock in the House of Commons to continue. By this point, the Conservative party may well have lost control of Parliament through further defections.

After that, who knows?  Can anyone even try to see further ahead than that?

Alastair Meeks


The picture of TMay that says it all on most of the front pages this morning

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Will she stay if Brexit doesn’t happen?

It is not often that the papers are all at one over what is the big news of the day. Interestingly as well they mostly use the same picture of Theresa May to illustrate their stories and this, my guess, will go down as a match to the shots of Maggie Thatcher in the car as she was leaving Downing Street for the last time in November 1990.

The problem with her withdrawal plan is that it is conditional on the first stage of Brexit going to plan and that is far from clear. We don’t know whether she will get a vote through on her deal and the signs are that this might not happen.

The question then becomes what happens to Mrs May? Is she going to struggle on or will she have to be forced out in some manner? Is the deadlock over Brexit going to be a semi-permanent fixture of a politics while a battered leader struggles on?

For those PBers who are punters there are also betting issues and I will be down a bit if a deal is not accepted by MPs the end of tomorrow. So be it.

What Theresa May’s announcement yesterday has set off, of course, is the next CON leadership election because it will no longer be a requirement of apparent loyalists to deny any interest in the job.

The interesting betting move last night was towards the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, someone whom I tipped here in January when he was 65/1.  It’s been notable that Hancock has played a big part in explaining to the media and doing some  key interviews on behalf of the government. Hancock, of course, is a George Osborne protégé and I wonder whether the London Evening Standard will be a great big backer if it comes to a contest.

All to play for.

Mike Smithson


Johnson edges back to favourite on the day that TMay’s future could be decided

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

On the face of it a lot could be decided today that will give us a clearer view of Britain’s and Theresa May’s political Futures. The two are clearly interlinked.

With even some of her most hostile opponents within the parliamentary party now supporting her deal the prime minister is facing her backbenchers this afternoon when it’s widely expected that she’ll be pressed strongly to give an indication of her exit date.

It has been her ambivalence over this since she lost the party its majority at the June 2017 General Election that has caused a lot of tensions. While the Tories have been happy to let her take on the battle of dealing with Europe there’s virtually nobody in  the party comfortable with her leading the Tories at the next general election. Memories of her GE2017 performance are still strong. She’s somebody who loses the party seats not gains them.

In December she was pressed to give a commitment before the confidence vote in her that she would go before the general election but that’s not enough. The party wants a date and if she gives a specific undertaking this afternoon that might help secure some of the extra support she requires to get her EU deal finally through.

How that fits in with today’s Commons events where MPs will be taking part in an indicative ballot on which of the various scenarios they’ll support is hard to say. One of the options that’s not there is Theresa May’s deal.

For the prime minister’s plan to succeed it probably requires none of the alternatives that are being voted on to actually secure majority support and that might be easier should she commit to her MPs  a firm and early exit date.

Meanwhile in the next CON leader betting the chart shows that Johnson is now back as favourite slightly edging in Michael Gove. I’m not too sure either of them will end up with the top job and the fact the favourite is only a 19% shot suggests that there is great uncertainty.

In another Betfair market it is an 88% chance that TMay will go this year.

Mike Smithson


This morning’s front pages after the night before

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

On Betfair it’s a 54% chance that she’ll be out in 2019 Q2

Mike Smithson


Both TMay and Corbyn drop to record lows in YouGov’s favourability tracker

Monday, March 25th, 2019

I always feel a sense of ownership with the YouGov favourability ratings for shortly after the referendum, in 2016, I got into a  discussion with the pollster about a line of questioning that I suggested that the firm should do. My desire was favourability ratings on key figures.

The first ones ran here as the PB/YouGov Favourability Ratings when TMay had a net plus 12 while Corbyn was a net minus 25. This is calculated by subtracting the “unfavourable” responses from the “favourable” ones.

Of all the leader rating formats I regard favourability as the best. Ipsos-MORI have satisfaction ratings which has the problem that opponents of a party could well be satisfied with their leader if they perceived him/her as poor.

We ran these in conjunction with the pollster several times until YouGov adopted it as one of their regular trackers.

An interesting feature the current May/Corbyn comparison is a gender divide when TMay is the subject. Men give TMay a net negative of minus 50 while women have her as minus 28. With Corbyn there is nothing like as big a difference.

Amongst GE2017 LAB voters just 42% have a favourable view of Corbyn with 52% an unfavourable one. TMay still has a small net positive, plus 6%, with those who voted for the party last time.

Mike Smithson


With all the questions over TMay’s future punters it a tad less likely that she’ll be out soon

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

But it’s still a 67% chance that she’ll cease to be PM before Brexit

There’s little doubt that just about the worst thing that Theresa May has done during her short Premiership was the broadcast to the nation five nights go when she appeared to blame Parliament for the problems in getting her  brexit deal approved. It was that apparent denial of the democratic process that has angered a lot within the House and outside.

More and more people are commenting on her robotic style and her complete lack of flexibility when faced with a massive issue that will impact on the nation for generations.

As to whether she is going to have an early exit  that requires the near unanimous view of her cabinet to ask her to go. Even then, knowing Theresa May, she might just stand firm.

So the next few days are extraordinarily hard to predict and we have tomorrow morning the cabinet meeting when, if last night reports are to be believed, she is going to be confronted by her ministers. I’ll believe it when I see it.

What is dawning on people is the fragility of her situation particularly in view of her own health issues. That she’s able to carry on in the way she does in many ways is amazing but worrying.

Mike Smithson


Even though TMay slumped to her worst ever Ipsos-MORI PM ratings & Corbyn has the second worst Opposition leader rating

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Never have the views of both CON & LAB leaders been so poor

Just out today is the latest Ipsos-MORI political monitor whicht has the Tories taking a lead of 4% over labour. Last time the two main parties were level pegging.

Also, as ever, included are the firm’s  leader satisfaction number a polling series that is now into its forty-third year. For the Corbyn and TMay the ratings are dreadful. The former has the second worst Opposition leader numbers on record only slightly better than last month which were the worst.

TMay’s ratings were the worst she’s experienced since becoming PM although she has a “lead” over the LAB leader in the sense there his net negatives are 16  points worse than hers.

We’ve never had a time like this when the leaders of the two main parties are simultaneously recording record lows. TMay has had Brexit while Corbyn continues to be hit by the anti-semitism rows which simply won’t go away.

In one sense the Tories are in a better position in that TMay has said she won’t fight the next general election as leader. Corbyn’s still there.

Mike Smithson


At this critical time a look at matters of Confidence in the political arena

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

In both senses of the word, confidence lies at the heart of politics. It is certainly the preference of this habitual voyeur of Westminster life. Yet the concept has been distorted beyond recognition by the stresses of Brexit.

Brexit positions cut across most parties, and MPs are clearly torn between their loyalties to their party, their electorate, their local members, the nation, the referendum result, and their consciences. But it is hard not to be cynical about how a number of them have voted.

confidence n. 1. The feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something.

On January 16th 2019, the House voted by 325 to 306 against a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government. Yet the day before, a huge chunk of those 325 (including the DUP) had voted against the Government’s central policy and purpose, namely the Withdrawal Agreement, when that went down to its historic 230-vote defeat. In previous times a vote of that magnitude would have been framed as a matter of confidence in the government itself, and thus treated with the seriousness it deserved.

It is clear from subsequent developments that a number of MPs could have accepted the deal but preferred not to vote for it. This may have been in the reasonable hope that they could get closer to their own position. Indeed the EU did provide some further legal assurances as a result.

However my overriding impression from both MV1 and MV2 is that these MPs – most of the ERG and many Labour MPs sitting in Leave seats – wanted the deal to pass (eventually) but without getting their own hands dirty by actually voting for it themselves. This is a failure of salesmanship on the part of the PM and a failure of whipping, but it’s also a failure of those MPs to face up to their own responsibilities.

confidence n. 2. The telling of private matters or secrets with mutual trust.

Another casualty of Brexit is this second sense of confidence. To be fair, leaks and briefings have always been integral to politics, but in recent times Cabinet has been practically live-blogged by lobby journalists, as have meetings of the PLP and the 1922 Committee. And Labour’s deputy leader attempted to set up a parallel complaints process, because of his lack of trust in their General Secretary. The EU has also been prone to leaking sensitive details of the negotiating process.

When leaders cannot trust a wider group to keep confidences, then they retreat into their bunkers. This heightens the risk both of groupthink and also PR disasters: the lack of an outside perspective leads them to choose words or actions which can cause unnecessary offence. This in turn makes securing trust from those outside their parties even harder.

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” – Vince Lombardi

It would be foolish to deny that Theresa May and her team could have managed the Brexit process better. Notably, she ought to have sold her deal much more assertively, and made a virtue of the all-UK nature of the backstop (a genuine negotiating win) rather than apologising for it. Given the structural difficulties of negotiating under Article 50 – perhaps something she and others ought to have been more upfront about – I think the deal itself is pretty reasonable.

But many of the criticisms of Theresa May are themselves cynical. To quote Danny Finkelstein in Tuesday’s Times: “they are all easy to say now, while not having been practical to do at the time. Even Labour was against a soft Brexit for a year or two after the referendum. And none of them were advanced by the hard Leavers. Those who argue that Mrs May’s departure is necessary if they or their friends are to back the deal are the same people who supported, indeed urged, her hard line.

We have now ended up in a position where Theresa May appears to have no confidence in the nation’s MPs, and the feeling is clearly reciprocated. The Speaker has clearly lost the confidence of a substantial proportion of the House: enough that he ought to be considering his position too. And the fact that our exit has been allowed to go this close to the wire has damaged the confidence of the country at large in our political processes.

Whichever outcome we get will polarise the electorate still further, with a sizeable minority likely to feel that something has been stolen from them. There is going to be a lot of work – for the next Prime Minister, but also for everyone involved in politics – to restore confidence in the system.

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 in 2017.