Punters now think it is even less likely that the UK will leave the EU on March 29th

January 15th, 2019

To my mind the most significant thing to come out of the catastrophic defeat for the government on its Brexit deal was the statement by Theresa May that she’ll look to consulting with other parties.

I just wonder if that is paving the way for a second referendum. Clearly the other main parties, LAB after its likely confidence vote failure tomorrow, the SNP, the LDS, PC and the Green are all committed to a second vote.

    It would be politically easier if the the decision to go to the country again was a joint one. The move would also a less difficult time getting through the Commons.

One thing that TMay has been saying repeatedly which is surely right – rejecting the deal makes Brexit happening at all less likely.

It is hard to conclude otherwise that the ERG’s strategy has not been very smart.

Mike Smithson


On the spread betting markets the number of Brexit deal “ayes” for TMay’s deal slips five during the afternoon

January 15th, 2019

For me the most satisfying, if risky, form of political gambling is on the spread betting markets where the more you are right with your prediction the more you win – with, alas, of the converse being the case.

So on SportingIndex this afternoon there has been a lively market on who many MPs are going to vote “Aye” in the voting that starts in less than an hour.

At 3pm you could have “sold” the number at 222 MPs – that’s now slipped to 217.

If you bet at that level and the outcome was, say, 210 MPs then you would win the difference between the actual outcome and your bet – in this case SEVEN, times your stake level. The worse it is for Mrs May the more money you would make.

If you think that it is not going to be as bad for the PM then you “buy”.

Because of the open-ended nature of the outcome spread betting is only for those comfortable with taking big risks.

Mike Smithson


On this day lets not forget the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the troubled province

January 15th, 2019


Let’s not forget either the DUP’s popularity within the province

One of the issues with the politics Northern Ireland is that the Republican party, Sinn Fein, refuses to take up its seven seats at Westminster. This means that of the 18 constituencies in the Province seven do not have active MPs. It also means that the only Westminster representation comes from a party that got just 36% of the vote there in June 2017.

This makes the parliamentary representation of opinion in the province rather distorted but there’s nothing that can be done about it because the Sinn Fein stance is central to its core politics.

Throughout the early part of my career the one massive story that dominated British politics was h troubles in Northern Ireland which lead to many deaths and much destruction. The ending of nearly a third of a century of difficulties as a result of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was a major success that both Tony Blair and John Major can claim credit for.

The DUP, it should be noted, was opposed to the agreement and as can be seen the no side got 28.8% of the vote.

A huge problem is that this was all a long time ago and many current politicians have no real knowledge understanding of its significance.

Mike Smithson


Whatever you think of Bercow it is right that the executive has less control over proceedings of the elected House

January 15th, 2019

Like many I’ve often been irritated by John Bercow particularly at the lengthy interjections he likes to make at PMQs which can appear like grandstanding.

    It is said that his approach to the role is anti-Tory, a view I don’t hold. If he appears that way it is down to the fact that for the vast majority of his time in the job the Tories have been in power and inevitably the executive hates anything that impedes their actions.

Basically he is just sticking up for the elected members of the House against a government that gives the impression of being reluctant to recognise that it should be accountable to the elected members.

This has been more the case since TMay entered Number 10 as evidenced by the way she put back the Brexit deal vote last month until today. That move alone more than justifies Bercow’s approach and the way he uses his powers to select amendments and the like.

Sometimes, maybe, he oversteps the mark but I’d prefer that to a Speaker who simply kowtows to what Number 10 wants in many cases cutting out the views of elected MPs.

This is a big moment in Britain’s political history and we mustn’t forget that much of Mrs May’s predicament is self made. She, on the advice apparently of DDavis, called the last election three years early to shore up her small majority and ended up with no majority at all. That inevitably diminished her authority as well as creating an ongoing dilemma for the government when it comes to tight votes.

Arguably, as well, she made a huge mistake in triggering the rigid timetable of Article 50 process before the government had worked out precisely what it wanted and what it was going to do. That wasn’t Bercow’s fault but Number 10`s misjudgement.

Labour for all their protestations cannot moan on the Article 50 timing. Remember that on the day after the referendum in June 2016 Mr Corbyn called for the immediate invoking of Article 50.

Mike Smithson


On the eve of the big vote political punters now make it 79% that the UK won’t leave the EU by March 29th

January 14th, 2019

Chart from Betdata.io showing trend on what is currently the busiest political market on the Betfair Exchange.

The general view is that TMay is heading for a defeat tomorrow night when MPs are at last given a chance to vote on the deal. Assuming that happens she then has three days to come back to the house with another proposal.

Quite how that shapes up is hard to read but punters are gambling that the UK won’t be leaving on the due date.

This could be significant if true:

Mike Smithson


Rebels without a get-out clause. Why you shouldn’t expect many declared Leave opponents of the deal to back down

January 14th, 2019

(Constituencies coded A had a Leave vote of over 60%, those coded B had a Leave vote of over 50%, those coded C had a Leave vote over 40% and those coded D had a Leave vote of less than 40%. )

Everyone loves talking about the rebel MPs who have put Theresa May in double trouble.  There are numerous lists floating around.  Some list all the MPs who have expressed reservations about Chequers or the deal.  Some seek to look into the souls of the MPs and divine how they might change their minds before the meaningful vote.  

Quite a lot of these lists are badly out of date: many of them don’t seem to have been updated since the vote was pulled in December, which is strange because MPs haven’t stopped talking about their intentions.  Twitter was convulsed with excitement when it was reported that Mike Wood was going to resign as a PPS to oppose the deal – but he announced a month ago that he would not vote for it as it stood.  Andrew Murrison’s and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown’s support for the deal was proclaimed to be good news for the Prime Minister, but again this was already known.

As of this morning, I count 11 Conservative MPs who are calling for a new referendum and exactly 100 more Conservative MPs who are opposing the deal, essentially because it is insufficiently Brexity.  They may change their mind between now and the vote (some might have done so by the time this has been published), but that’s where I see the state of play right now.

For now I’m going to leave the 11 Remainer Conservatives to one side.  While there are routes to securing the meaningful deal that do not involve getting the acquiescence of the dissident Leavers, while they are so numerous it would seem almost certain to split the Conservative party from stem to stern.  So let’s concentrate on them.

Here’s my current list of the 100 Brexiteers (apologies in advance to any MPs whose views I have inadvertently misrepresented).  To explain the colour-coding, those listed first in bold resigned from government over the handling of Brexit negotiations.  Those in ochre are those additional MPs who publicly announced that they had put in a letter of no confidence in Theresa May.  I’d assume they’re all irreconcilable.  You can presumably add Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel, both of whom signed a letter this morning urging colleagues to vote down the deal.  That’s 43 votes against that look rock solid by any definition and we haven’t really got started.  

Theresa May urgently needs to get a lot of the rest on board.  That brings us to the map at the top of the page (you can zoom in and out with your mouse if you like).  This shows those 100 MPs’ constituencies mapped by Leave vote in the referendum.   As you can see, the overwhelming majority of these constituencies voted Leave.  

Now, put yourself in the position of one of the MPs who is unhappy but not one of the headbangers.  You have the whips cajoling you to get behind your Prime Minister.  You hear that call.  But you also hear the call of your constituency party and your electorate.

 If 65% of your constituency voted Leave and 40% of them see themselves as very strong Leavers, that’s up to a quarter of the electorate who might be infuriated if you backtrack now.  Worse, they were disproportionately likely to have voted for you in 2017.  The constituency party is probably stuffed with hardliners.  

There comes a point where you conclude, as Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin did, that I must follow them, for I am their leader.” It’s not a coincidence that Cornwall, Essex and Kent constituencies are so well represented on this map.

So these MPs may well feel at least as much pressure to stand firm as to support their Prime Minister.  It could get worse for her too.  There are 14 Conservative MPs who have still to disclose how they will vote.  Some of them, such as Jack Brereton, Eddie Hughes and Tom Pursglove, also represent heavily Leave-voting constituencies.  If they see the deal is going down heavily, some of them might well decide that the advantage lies with currying favour with their own hardliners.

What this suggests to me is that this rebellion is likely to remain firm.  As a result, if you are betting on seat bands, err on the side of pessimism from Theresa May’s perspective.

Alastair Meeks


The weekend polling suggests that Trump is losing voter support in the battle of “The Wall”

January 14th, 2019

Now he’s in negative territory amongst non-college whites

With the US government shutdown continuing and 800k federal workers not getting their salary cheques on Friday there’s no sign of an end to what is totally dominating US politics. Basically Trump has shut down large parts of the federal government to put pressure on the Democrats to provide funding for a wall along the whole of the Mexican-US border. This was a key Trump WH2016 campaign pledge when he said the Mexicans would pay. That, as you’d expect has not been forthcoming.

The polling suggests that Trump is losing the battle for public support. A Washington Post/ABC News poll on the government shutdown finds 53% saying Trump and the Republicans are to blame with 29% saying the Democrats. Those are not good numbers for the incumbent in the year before a presidential election.

In the US between elections the big polling numbers that matter for a first term President are his approval ratings and these are the ones that get highlighted by the media. So any sizeable shift gets attention.

A new CNN poll has the President’s approval rating at 37% approve to 57% disapprove. Disapproval has risen five points since December, while his approval number has held roughly the same. CNN reports that the detail suggests he’s now struggling with his core base.

“The increase in disapproval for the President comes primarily among whites without college degrees, 45% of whom approve and 47% disapprove, marking the first time his approval rating with this group has been underwater in CNN polling since February 2018. In December, his approval rating with whites who have not received a four-year degree stood at 54%, with 39% disapproving. Among whites who do hold college degrees, Trump’s ratings are largely unchanged in the last month and remain sharply negative — 64% disapprove and 32% approve.”

There’s no sign that either the President or the Democrats are going to give way and at some stage key public services like airport security look set to get hit. Already there are reports of many federal workers calling in sick and you can understand their feelings. It is not their fault that they are having to bear the brunt.

Key to the politics of this are leading Republicans who have largely stuck with their President though there are signs of dissent.

From Trump’s point of view the shutdown does detract attention from the wide range in probes into his dealings and whether there was collusion with Russia.

Mike Smithson


The Italian Job – Part Two: Nessun Dorma – sleepless nights in Brussels

January 13th, 2019

For most of the modern era Italy has been treated as something of a lightweight in world affairs despite being one of the world’s largest economies. This has often been on the back of weak and unpredictable government which has stopped Italy taking a wider role.

Within the European Union itself Italy has been treated as something inconsequential despite being a founder member. Northern Europeans and especially German politicians have been openly scathing about the country. More recently Emmanuel Macron trying to win some cheap points tried pushing Italy about by making an open attack on Italy and its government. 

All of this comes against a background of a decade where the EU has battered the Italian economy in the name of the Euro and has not been particularly tactful about how it did it. On the sensitive topic of immigration the scorecard is even worse. It is not hard to see why Italian voters are quietly seething with Brussels; it is harder to see how Brussels, Germany and France could let themselves get in to this position.

In “normal” times I would be of no import, but 2018 was a year when the worm started to turn. Firstly the pillars of the EU establishment began to show cracks. German politics took a decidedly “old Italy” turn when the country couldn’t form a sensible government and Frau Merkel had to promise her departure following repeated losses in state elections. 

France descended into chaos on the back of street protests as Emmanuel Macron battled to save his failing presidency. In Brussels too the Commission was looking weakened by growing populism across Europe, a steady stream of disaffected members and a sense of drift as the current commission saw its end in sight.

In Italy the situation was reversed Italy appeared to have a strongish government ready to take the fight to its Northern neighbours and ready to stand up for its citizens. In particular Matteo Salvini stepped up on the parapet and started firing. 

An expansive budget, a crackdown on illegal immigration, attacks on Brussels for a legacy of creaking infrastructure and perhaps most deliciously of all payback on Macron as he wobbles in the Elysee. The Italian public appear to love it.

The government has an approval rating approaching 60% (Macrons is 22%) and more importantly the Lega has now overtaken 5 Star since the election and stands at 33% in the polls.

If this was all simple tubthumping it would be time to buy popcorn. But Salvini appears to be picking his fights – popular issues that have been ignored are to the fore and this keeps the public on side.  On the other hand he’s not afraid to compromise and settle for the good rather than the perfect. The budget fight was a case in point.

While the Eurosceptic blogosphere was predicting an armageddon showdown with Brussels Salvini compromised but still came out better off. This is not dissimilar to the compromise with Matterella. In doing so he keeps the show on the road and moves on to the next issue with his support still growing in background. Likewise he creates a sense of national pride the Italians haven’t seen in years

And so to the European elections.

Perhaps unwisely the EU establishment has demonised Salvini.  This not only has ramped up his credibility but has made him the new focus of the Eurosceptic block. Having already been an MEP Salvini understands Brussels as well as any and is now starting to reach out to other parties and countries to establish a stronger sceptical movement. His timing couldn’t be better.

Returns from across Europe show a wave of populist sympathy in just about every member state including the founding members. Furthermore the Commission’s pariah states like Hungary and Poland are already lining up to change the status quo. Salvini currently sits in the centre of this movement in a way  sceptics like Nigel Farage never could.

For a start off he has shown he is pragmatic something  the ideologues wouldn’t countenance. He is prepared to deal with all ends of the spectrum from the untouchables most mainstream political parties avoid to the direct opposition he in theory should be competing against.

In a much more sceptical EU parliament come May there may just be the chance of a change of regime. At the very least there will be a real opposition. All of this is a nightmare to the federal integrationists as ever closer union comes to a grinding halt. If the UK is still in the EU Parliament in May the chances of this happening become much greater.

Like a lot of continental sceptics Salvini does not wish to leave the EU but to remake it at the service of the nation states. If he succeeds – and it’s a big ask – the European Union will be a very different place 10 years from now. Time to burn some more midnight oil in The Berlaymont.