Swinson’s great LD gamble – making cancelling Brexit party policy

September 16th, 2019

Inevitably this new policy agreed to at the party conference in Bournemouth today is going to be attacked for being anti-democratic. The big question is how will it impact electoraly assuming there’s an early general election?

Even the only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who you would have thought to be an ally, has Tweeted her concerns about it.

The criticism is based on the premise that the result on June 23rd 2016 was in fact democratic and there are reasons for questioning that. In any case the referendum itself was only advisory.

Really this is all about branding and the Lib Dems have prospered in the last few months by being unambiguously the party of Remain.

My guess is that this will have been researched at some length and the decision has been taken to take the risk and go with it. The fact that we are nearly three and a half years on from the referendum and ministers are still trying to work out how this will happen reinforces the point about having a simple straightforward position.

Assuming that we do indeed leave on October 31st then this policy platform is a good basis for campaigning to rejoin.

This policy platform will also make any LAB position on Brexit appear equivocal. It also gets Swinson and the party noticed.

Mike Smithson



Warren maintains her strong betting favorite position for the Democratic nomination

September 16th, 2019

But Biden continues to top the polls

With all the focus on the United Kingdom’s political crisis PB’s not covered the 2020 American presidential race for some time. At this stage, of course, this is all about who the Democratic party will choose to take on Donald Trump in November next year.

This, as we all know, is a long process and the fight is on at the moment to establish who the front runners will be when voting actually starts in February.

Although the first state to decide, Iowa, doesn’t make its decision until February 3rd the main contenders are slugging it out to boost their chances in the early primary states.

The latest event, before the weekend, was the third major Democrat TV debate. This time the number of candidates involved was restricted to 10 which meant it was held on a single night enabling the frontunner, Joe Biden and his main opponent, and Elizabeth Warren, to face each other on live TV for the first time in the campaign.

The debate lasted for three hours and it was clear, near the end, that the extended time involved was taking its toll particularly on the ex-VP and current leader in the polling, soon to be 77, Joe Biden. This clip in which Biden talks “record players” is being much repeated by those who question whether Biden is simply too old to cope with the demands of a prolonged campaign.

Even before he formally entered the race Biden headed the polls on likely Democratic contenders and this has been maintained. But the gap has been narrowing and in the latest YouGov US poll he’s running level with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Biden’s poll position is not reflected in the betting. His chance of winning the nomination is now at 22% on Betfair against 37% for Warren. Behind them are Bernie Sanders, Senator Kamala Harris and the 37 year old Pete Buttigieg.

I have now cashed out of all my bets, taking some profits, on the nomination and I’m waiting for the Iowa caucuses which will be the first really big pointer about what’s going to happen when real voters have to make a choice. I’ve got a feeling that Biden will struggle there and Warren and Pete Buttigieg might do well.

Mike Smithson



The Bad Boys Of Brexit. A review

September 15th, 2019

The “Bad Boys Of Brexit” relates the adventures of Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks and Andy Wigmore and the Leave.eu campaign from July 2015 to the referendum and beyond, with a later addendum taking the story up to the May election announcement . It’s told in diary format as written by Aaron Banks, one of the leaders of Leave.eu. The blurb tells us that “every Remainer should steel themselves to read it, because the mindset that it captures…is driving change on both sides of the Atlantic.” (Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian).

Well, whatevs. The blurb works if you live in the Westminster bubble, and I assume many such read it and made many serious pronouncements on WHAT IT ALL MEANS. Well, OK, if you must, but that misses the point, which is: the book is a hoot. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and deliberately so, and not for post-modern sarcastic reasons. Let me explain.

Firstly, you have to note that although it’s nominally written by Banks, it’s actually ghostwritten by Isabel Oakeshott (with help from Banks and Andy Wigmore, the third wheel of the Banks/Farage/Wigmore triad) and she reconstructed the events from texts, emails, notes and half-remembered events. The genre is constructed reality, that grey area where real people speak words that are plausibly their own and accurately represent what they said but are ordered and set to make the narrative flow and form a story. The best example of this genre is “Top Gear” and as Clarkson once said, it takes hours to write the script for an unscripted show. This book flows really well.

Secondly, everybody is as rich as Croesus. Seriously. Banks isn’t an Arthur Daley car salesman from Bristol, he owns a diamond mine in Africa and flies there and back insouciantly throughout the book. Millionaires walk on and off like bit parts: there is Stuart Wheeler, there is Jim Mellon, here are the Masons, there is a politician, well hello my Lord Ashcroft OHMIGODITSTHEDONALD. It’s “Stella Street” for the rich and infamous and I want Oakeshott to write Banks’s biography.

Thirdly, Oakeshott’s Banks has a waspish tongue and it’s hysterical. He disparages everybody who is not Leave.eu: Dominic Cummings, Matthew Elliot, all come in for forthright comment and his barbs at Douglas Carswell are cheerfully libellous. In real life it would be unpleasant but his Oakeshott avatar is poised *just* enough to turn him into a cheeky chappie and speaker of inconvenient truths, a witty gadfly not a creep.

Fourthly, and this is where the book really takes flight, it gradually begins to dawn that this is an episode of “Top Gear”. It’s the Brexit Special, where our three chums wander thru an event, messing up, having a laugh, and curiously winning. They are proper buccaneering semicrims on the Empire model, gliding thru casino and boardrooms, the “Persuaders” telepodded with Clarkson/May/Hammond, Roger Moore urbanity and Tony Curtis tough.

All the battles are cheerfully lost and nothing ever seems to work – Banks tries to organize a concert and a song and flops hugely, his staff are full-stretched trying to keep things going – but the war is won. Lesser books would ram the leave message home here, but Oakeshott is skilful and the persuasion slips down smoothly: people write in with small donations, volunteers volunteer, a great task is underway and the people are marching.

The extended book ends when May announces the election, and Banks cheerfully berates the reader for looking for the deliberately-omitted index. When you consider what happens next, ending it here is probably for the best. Farage should have retired to the House Of Lords and accepted the thanks due the most successful politician of his generation, not the CPAC groupie he turned into; Banks’s unpleasant side became more apparent; and so on as reality overwhelmed the polite narrative.

But never mind the facts, print the legend. The chums are best remembered in one of the book’s more memorable moments when, after winning the Referendum and having drink taken, Farage and Banks skinny dip in Bournemouth (Farage insists pants-on), cocking around on a provincial British shorefront. Brexit Madlads forever…

The “Bad Boys Of Brexit” reviewed here was the paperback version, ISBN: 9781785902055, published by Biteback  in print and available new at £9.99 or free from your local library. Support your local library godsdammit… 🙂


Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector


Before you bet on the next Lib Dem leader market just remember the next leader might be in another party right now

September 15th, 2019

All things considered I think I’ll give this market a swerve until things settle down, I maybe waiting a long time.

One of the things that is little discussed is just how much the Lib Dems are changing, the current influx theoretically will stretch the the party given that they are attracting both Labour and Tory defectors. How will the Lib Dem membership respond? We’ve seen the big two fracture after seeing an influx of new people, albeit this influx of new people is in Parliament.



Will the last One Nation Conservative left in the Tory Party please turn off the lights

September 14th, 2019



The Courts should be an emergency backstop to parliament, not an active player nor a spectator

September 14th, 2019

The Supreme Court has the chance to rebalance the relationship between the Courts and politics

The Brexit process might have inhibited growth, deterred foreign investment, broken political parties and bitterly divided politics, generated political violence and protest not seen for decades and placed a perhaps irredeemable strain on the Union but it has at least help clarify some important points of constitutional law and for that we should be grateful.

The next of these points will be determined when the Supreme Court rules this week on whether parliament is lawfully prorogued, after the English and Scottish courts, hearing essentially the same case, came to opposing conclusions. The two systems do, obviously, operate under different legal codes so both decision could in theory be correct but the failure to arrive at a clear, consistent judgement is of itself rather typical of Brexit in general.

Also rather typical of Brexit in general is the failure to respect boundaries. For once, we’re not talking about Ireland here but the legitimate overstepping of the constitutional marks by the legislature, executive and courts. Sadly, after both government and parliament have trodden beyond their traditional limits (or at least, sought to), the courts have joined that unfortunate party.

Before going into the reasoning, I should declare that I am merely an ignorant layman, with neither qualification nor experience in law. It could be considered presumptuous of me to lecture their learned lordships on their errors. On the other hand, even ignorant layfolk should be able to spot error of consistency, which is largely what I’m doing here.

That said, to my mind, both the High Court and the Court of Session had a bit of a shocker in their judgements, taking – in opposite directions – quite extreme views.

The High Court took a very hands-off approach, stating that it isn’t the job of the courts to get involved in political matters and that the decision to prorogue – including for whatever reason and for what length of time – is a political one. In other words, the High Court could not issue a judgement on the matter irrespective of the practical consequences of the prorogation.

This seems to me to be very dangerous reasoning. The dates chosen for the prorogation are consistent with the maximum length of time possible while still allowing for ministers to comply with the requirements of the Section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. What the Court implies in determining that the use of prorogation is non-justiciable (as opposed to prorogation being justiciable but this specific case being a lawful exercise of it), is that there was in law no need to time the prorogation to fit in with the N Ireland Act, other than that the Act contained provisions to handle such a prorogation. Had that not been the case, the government could have prorogued parliament for longer with impunity and if the Act couldn’t be complied with then such is life. Indeed, had it wanted to, the government could have prorogued parliament right through from the summer recess to October 31.

This credits the executive with far more power than it should have, including the power to override the practical effects of legislation and the ability to preserve itself in office or implement policy, temporarily at least and where primary legislation isn’t needed, against a hostile legislature.

By contrast, the Scottish Court of Session asserted a similarly sweeping but opposite conclusion: that the Court had the right to adjudge any prorogation against not the stated purpose but what the Court inferred from whatever evidence – direct or circumstantial – was the purpose of the prorogation.

In doing so, it disappeared down an unnecessary rabbit hole. Seeking to determine the intended purpose is a mistake: it doesn’t much matter why parliament has been prorogued (and in any case, political decisions are frequently taken for multiple reasons and despite multiple reasons); the more relevant question is what the effect of that action is. It’s a classic error to try to identify only one reason, or even one principle reason.

And that action is not substantially different from that which takes place every year. It’s surely stretching a point to suggest that the few extra sitting days lost, once the conference recess is allowed for, crosses a constitutional threshold, even accepting that recesses and prorogations are different beasts.

This isn’t to say that judicial reviews should never consider intent or whether a power has been used for a legitimate purpose. In the normal course of events, that’s an entirely legitimate question.

But this case isn’t in the normal run of events. Usually the power in question, and the scope of the body exercising it, is quite limited and granted by at least two layers of authority – for example, rules set by a regulatory body created by legislation. However, there are virtually no limits to the power of the government and parliament in consort, nor any establishing authority. Their scope is nothing less than the government of the entire country. The question of whether an action was for a legitimate purpose therefore becomes of itself almost irrelevant when together – and to some extent even individually, any purpose is legitimate. The relevant constitutional question in terms of their mutual interaction is therefore best understood not in terms of nebulous intent but in more readily establishable effect.

It is, after all, an absurdity to say that the prorogation is perfectly fine and valid if the Prime Minister really did tell the truth and wanted to prepare for a Queens Speech but unlawful if it was to stymie parliament’s scrutiny – when the former would ensure the latter, whether or not that was what the PM wanted.

In practice, ‘effect’ was how the Court of Session resolved the question anyway. Despite the absence of direct evidence, it concluded that the effect must imply the intent. They may well have been right about that but frankly, they would have been better cutting out the middle-man and resolving the case in terms of whether the effect of the prorogation is lawful in the circumstances.

On that point, it does seem odd that they almost entirely ignored the fact that parliament had the chance to do something about the prorogation period and about a No Deal Brexit during the short September session. It did act on the latter; it chose not to on the former – but will have another chance in October. The alleged capacity of the government to truly engineer a No Deal Brexit on Oct 31 is difficult to reconcile with the reality of the Benn-Burt Act, demanding the government request a further 3-months extension in the likely even of no deal being agreed by 19 October.

To my mind, the question of prorogations in general must be judiciable but governments need to be given wide latitude in how they are used, given their inherent and legitimate political nature, and should only be ruled unlawful if they clearly render null the critical ability of parliament to hold the government to account or to legislate. The current prorogation, unusually long and at a time of high political tension though it is, does not meet that threshold. It should be allowed.

David Herdson


On the eve of the Lib Dem conference defection speculation goes in to overdrive

September 13th, 2019

The tweet by Michael Foster, a former Labour MP, has seen speculation increase about who might be defecting, I’ve long suspected the Lib Dems have a defection or two ready for their conference, we shall see if it turns out Michael Foster’s tweet turns out to be accurate. My reading of his tweet was the defection was not related to Brexit but anti-Semitism.

I understand why people may have thought it was Rosie Duffield, her constituency party tried to censure her last year after she criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the anti-Semitism issues swirling around Labour.

Hopefully some bookmakers will open markets on who may defect.




Rebels with a cause

September 13th, 2019

Will the voters in Uxbridge & South Ruislip practise safe X to avoid waking up with a blonde and deep regrets the morning after the next GE?

The Sun report that

EXPELLED Tory rebels are plotting to oust Boris Johnson as an MP by running a candidate against him, The Sun can reveal.

Former Tory leadership rival Rory Stewart is being urged by some of the 21 rebels to stand against the PM in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

The Prime Minister is defending a slimmed-down majority of just 5,034 in the Middlesex seat, leaving him already at risk.

A well-known Tory Remainer running against Mr Johnson could split the Conservative vote and hand Labour the seat, abruptly ending Boris’s premiership too.

The extraordinary plot would only be enacted if Mr Johnson still had a No Deal Brexit on the table going into the next General Election.

A Tory rebel source said: “There is an active discussion about running someone against Boris.

“It’s the nuclear option, but we would do it if we have to.”

Fellow Old Etonian Rory Stewart is a bitter critic of the PM’s and built a large public following for his repeated clashes with Boris during the summer leadership campaign.

Mr Stewart confirmed the suggestion has been put to him.

But he told The Sun tonight: “I would never run against Boris Johnson in his own constituency.

“I am hoping to bring the Conservative Party back to the centre ground. I remain loyal to it, I am not trying to destroy it”.

Ex-Cabinet minister Amber Rudd, who resigned the Tory whip in protest over Mr Johnson’s Brexit strategy this week, is also aware of the plot.

But she has also ruled out running against Boris in Uxbridge as the pair were long-standing friends.

The pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum pressure group have already unveiled plans to throw an avalanche of resources into Boris’s constituency in a bid to oust him.

As the old Klingon proverb says ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ and boy would this be cold by Tory rebels, with Rory Stewart confirming the provenance of this story I suspect this may not be something Dominic Cummings has war-gamed.

I think it may happen if the Tories form a pact with the Brexit Party so you can vote for a genuine Tory and not a Brexit Party Lite Tory. With the shifting demographics in London towards Remain leaning voters and Boris Johnson & Brexit being very polarising I can see Boris Johnson’s majority being slashed to an uncomfortable level.

If the centre left are serious about winning the seat they should form a pact to oust the Prime Minister whilst the notional centre right slug it out. It would be the epitome of the bizarre political situation we find ourselves in if the sitting Prime Minister lost his seat.

My own view is if Boris Johnson is looking vulnerable in Uxbridge & South Ruislip he will amend the Tory rules and do a chicken run to a safer seat, there’s one in Orpington available, he certainly has the chutzpah to do so.