Corbyn got through GE2017 without his back-story becoming an issue – 14 months on things are different

August 13th, 2018

Where the danger to Corbyn really lies

Ever since his surprise victory in the 2015 leadership contest Corbyn’s detractors have consistently argued that his backstory and some of the relationships and things he has done over the past 30 years would be a major encumbrances in an election campaign.

In spite of considerable efforts by the Tories and part of the national media somehow this didn’t resonate fourteen months ago but a direct consequence of the anti-semitism role within the party is that he is now being looked at a lot differently and that could be very dangerous.

    He’s simply not been able to shake off the antisemitism charge something that hasn’t been helped by the party’s controversial attempt to narrow the definition of what antisemitism is.

The latest Tunis story is a case in point. This has been reported on and looked into quite considerably in the past and somehow it never seemed to resonate. But that has changed.

Corbyn’s approach to this is becoming very familiar. He always admits that he has been in the presence of what can be seen as difficult situations but has always been able to convince that he personally was not directly involved.

But although anti-semitism might seem to be at the heart of his problems at the moment the underlying issue is that he is pursuing a policy on Brexit which is very much alien to large parts of Labour supporter base. Will he survive? On the face of it he’s in a strong position because the party members are said to be totally on side and it is hard to see him losing a contest.

My view is that the danger to him could come from some of the major trade union leaders and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell. If they decided that his past was becoming too much of an embarrassment for the party then you can see them putting heavy pressure on him to go.

Mike Smithson


Men of Honour?

August 13th, 2018

In Peter Hennessey’s Reflections radio series, Margaret Beckett was asked why she abandoned the Catholic faith of her childhood.  The event which crystallised her disenchantment was John Freeman asking Cardinal Heenan what one word summed up the Church.  Margaret waited, expecting something like “charity”or “love”. The Cardinal’s answer was “Authority”.

Perhaps not a surprising answer for an institution long steeped in hierarchy and an acute sense of its own magisterium.  But in light of the revelations over recent years of the criminal, un-Christian activities of too many of its priests and nuns, most recently in this story (which has received surprisingly little attention) the Cardinal’s answer was revealing about what really mattered to its leaders.

To its shame, the Church has yet to show that it really understands that the appalling conduct by some, and its cover up by others, is not, sadly, an exception but the almost inevitable consequence of it placing the maintenance of its authority above other values.

This is what is likely to happen when people in authority feel unchallenged and unchallengeable.  For an institution founded by a man who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me” it will be a long time before many will be able to look at a sentence with the words “church” and “children” without thinking of matters quite other than what Jesus intended.

When an institution becomes more concerned about its own reputation, even at the expense of covering up or condoning behaviour deeply at odds with its professed values, about preserving its brand, about protecting its leader or staff from criticism, however justified, then there seems to be nothing which cannot be justified to protect the institution’s honour, even as its conduct becomes more and more dishonourable.

The same responses to allegations of scandal have been seen in: the Anglican church (Bishop George Bell), charities; some parts of the Muslim community, understandably (on a human level) unwilling to countenance the possibility that their religion may have been used to justify atrocious crimes; the NHS (most lately, Gosport); the Labour party, parts of whom have been desperate to ignore any suggestion that their leader is anything other than perfect;

Trump and his supporters treating anything even remotely critical as “Fake News”; the Leave campaign refusing to engage with allegations about its funding; even banking where, contrary to Bob Diamond’s tin-eared and premature “The time for apologies is over” most people felt (and probably still feel) the time for apologies has yet to start.

Curious that, in an age of PR, branding and the “message”, it seems to come as a surprise to many that the only long-term effect of acting dishonourably while focusing on image, of a culture of denial and cover up is to stain an entity’s or person’s reputation, perhaps irretrievably. Worse: the longer the denial lasts, the longer it will take to recover one’s reputation.  Long after a clean-up has occurred the entity will still be dealing with the harm caused by events long before.

You would have thought that the Tory party would have understood this lesson.  Its description as the “nasty” party has a half-life almost as long as the material stored at Sellafield.  The flirtation of Johnson and Rees-Mogg with Bannon, their apparent desire to copy the Trump playbook risks tainting once again their party, whatever its short-term advantages. 

Even if they are careless of their own reputation, surely they should have a care for the party?  Labour too seems intent on repeating the same mistake.  Not just in failing to address its issues with anti-Semitism but in giving the impression that the current leader’s reputation is more important than that of the party he leads. 

Corbyn is echoing the hubris shown by May last year when her battle bus had her name prominently displayed rather than that of the party she led.  One day they will no longer be leaders but their parties will live on.  When leaders forget that they are not more important than the institution they serve, disaster is rarely far away.

In an article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on 4 September 2004, shortly after the Beslan massacre, Abdel Rahman al-Rashed wrote this: “It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorist, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslim…….It would be easy to cure ourselves if we realise the seriousness of our sickness. Self-cure starts with self-realisation and confession. 

We should then run after our terrorist sons, in the full knowledge that they are the sour grapes of a deformed culture.”  Substitute “Catholics” and “child abusers” and “abusive priests” for “Muslims”, “terrorists” and “terrorist sons” in the above passage and this could – and should be – addressed to the church with which this header started.  There is profound pain and shame in these words but also an appeal to people’s better nature, to remember, and act on and according to, the real values which once motivated the entity’s creation.

What might the travails of religious groups teach those in public life?  The obvious one is that describing oneself as good does not makeone so.  But, ironically enough, one lesson is not to place so much emphasis on a star politician, a saviour who will lead the party to the promised land of huge majorities and electoral hegemony.  As is being clear that even the best politicians are flawed human beings, needing people and processes around them to limit their power.

But perhaps the most important one – and for voters, not just politicians – is to realise that, while  there is honour in public life, in seeking to speak up for unpopular groups or causes, in trying to make life better for the forgotten and vulnerable, in wishing to remove injustices, in seeking to improve our political arrangements, remembering the values which motivated you and acting honourably in trying to achieve your aims is the only, the best way of achieving anything worthwhile and lasting. 

There is a price to be paid for short-term victories achieved in a dishonourable manner.  Cynicism, disillusionment, worse: a perception that reprehensible means are a useful tactic.  Might we get better politicians were we to reward honourable behaviour?  Or, like Caliban, are we raging at our own face in the glass?



The end of an era. Sir Paul Dacre is said to have edited his last Daily Mail

August 13th, 2018

We can expect fewer powerful pro-Brexit front pages like these?

The biggest political development over the weekend, I’d suggest, was the report in the Observer about the replacement of Paul Dacre as Daily Mail editor with the Geordie Gregg, of the Mail on Sunday, who has taken a totally different view of the referendum outcome.

Gregg will start in September a couple of months earlier than planned and it is hard to see, given his views, him carrying on with Dacre’s strident approach epitomised in a whole series of striking front pages. UK Press Gazette is reporting that “Dacre is understood to have edited his last Daily Mail

The Mail is enormously powerful both because it has the second largest UK circulation and by some margin the busiest online presence. There’s little doubt that it has a big influence on public opinion. The Observer report noted:

“The incoming editor of the Daily Mail has indicated that he will only gradually tone down the strident pro-Brexit agenda espoused by his predecessor when he takes the helm at the powerful rightwing tabloid at the beginning of next month.

Geordie Gregg has told staff not to expect an immediate change in political coverage when he takes the reins from Dacre who spent 26 years in charge, for fear of alienating readers and because the wider political situation is so uncertain. Instead the focus will be on ensuring that the country achieves the least damaging form of Brexit and developing a more nuanced editorial line by next spring, a shift in emphasis that will be welcomed in Downing Street, where Theresa May is battling to control a revolt from the right of her party.

The planned Greig approach of achieving the least damaging form of Brexit appears to chime with that which is being followed by TMay.

The changeover could also impact on whether there’s a CON leadership challenge and the position of the Etonian hard line Brexiter duo of Moggsy and BoJo. It is hard to see them getting the backing from Greig that you’d expect Dacre to have given?

This, of course, comes at a key time in the Brexit negotiations and in the run-up to the party conferences.

Mike Smithson


We need to talk about Brandon Lewis

August 12th, 2018

The fallout from Boris Johnson’s insults towards women who wear the burqa and niqab might end up putting the kibosh on his leadership ambitions it may also end up being sub-optimal for the prospects of Brandon Lewis.

The Mail on Sunday report 

When Mr Lewis called for the former Foreign Secretary to apologise for the remarks – forcing the Prime Minister to echo his call – he triggered a furious backlash from Mr Johnson’s supporters. 

Their anger intensified when the party launched a probe that could lead to him being forced to undergo ‘diversity training’.

One Boris ally accused Mr Lewis of ‘double standards’ for sanctioning an inquiry into Mr Johnson’s behaviour immediately – but ‘stalling’ on more serious allegations against another Tory MP who is a Remain supporter.

Mr Lewis was said to have ‘parked’ the results of an official party inquiry into bullying claims against the MP – whose identity is known to The Mail on Sunday – even though the probe was months ago.

Tory sources rejected the accusation against Mr Lewis, saying the party board had decided no further action was needed.

Mr Johnson’s friends say he has been bombarded with supportive messages from Tory MPs, and is now surging in the leadership stakes.

By earning the enmity of the Leavers who see the Chairman’s actions of someone trying to nobble a potential leadership rival might be at risk for Brandon Lewis, Mrs May might shuffle him out at the earliest opportunity.

That would be a shame for the Tories. As a Tory activist of many years, since Brandon Lewis became Party Chairman there seems to be a bit more professionalism that has been lacking at CCHQ for many years. It was felt that CCHQ couldn’t organise a farting contest in a baked bean factory, something that nearly cost the Tories a majority in 2015 when the Tory computer system crashed on election day.

But with prominent Leavers still in the cabinet we could see others leaving before Brandon Lewis if Mrs May makes certain compromises on Brexit such as Liam Fox who has warned against extending Article 50.

I’m not prepared to stake much on Brandon Lewis on this market, however I am prepared to stake more on laying Brandon Lewis as Theresa May’s successor, that makes more sense to me, especially after the events of this week.


PS – If Mrs May and Brandon Lewis wish to move the subject on perhaps they should instruct Boris Johnson and other Tories not to deal with Steve Bannon.

There is a precedent for this, when Iain Duncan Smith was leader he ended the Tory Party’s links with the Monday Club given, for example, their views on the assisted repatriation of immigrants. Steve Bannon’s views are much more robust than the Monday Club.

With the criticisms they’ve aimed at Jeremy Corbyn and his interesting associations the Tories would be on sound ground.

If associating with Steve Bannon is a hill that Boris Johnson wishes to die on well that will re-confirm his unsuitability to be Prime Minister or Tory leader.


Betting on will there be a Tory leadership contest in 2018

August 12th, 2018

Why I’m betting on no leadership contest in 2018.

Paddy Power’s market on whether there will be a Tory leadership contest in 2018 intrigues me. I’ve confirmed with them the precise terms of this bet. A vote of no confidence being called will not be enough, what needs to happen is for either Mrs May to lose a vote of confidence or resign and the Chairman of the 1922 committee to start accepting nominations for Mrs May’s successor.

After Chequers went pop and we saw DExEU’s midnight runners, David Davis and Steve Baker resigning around midnight, and then Boris Johnson resigning a few hours later it seemed inevitable Mrs May would be ousted this year. But she’s still in place and from that my reading of the situation is that there’s no majority for in the Parliamentary Conservative Party for ousting Mrs May.

If the most recent YouGov poll is a harbinger for the wider polling community then it will be that the Chequers Deal doesn’t mean Corbyn and that will help secure Mrs May for the rest of the year. As Mike observed the other day the prospect of Boris Johnson, the worst Foreign Secretary since Lord Halifax, succeeding Mrs May will likely reduce the chances of a leadership contest in 2018.

The only realistic way I can see a contest this year is if by October/November a no deal cliff edge Brexit is inevitable, that would likely see carnage on the financial markets and the end of Mrs May, if not the government.



This poll just about sums Brexit up – 60% don’t care what happens over Brexit they just want it to be over

August 11th, 2018

This is good news for TMay

I’m starting to like some of the original output from DeltaPoll – the new pollster established a few months ago with Martin Boon, ex-ICM and Jo Twyman ex-YouGov at the helm.

In this question which came out during the week I think they’ve touched the mood of the nation. This seems to have gone on for so long and people are just bored.

Notice in the splits that Remainers are less likely to take this view but then that is understandable.

It is against this background, I’d suggest, that TMay’s Chequers strategy might eventually resonate. Her plan is essentially BINO, Brexit in Name Only, and is designed to honour the referendum result while causing as little damage as possible to the economy.

A lot now could depend on Labour and how influential Corbyn remains within the party. His strong pro-Brexit stance is very much out of line with his party supporters but he has held to it until now. The party conference, however, could be interesting with a big move going on to get backing for another referendum.

The antisemitism row has clearly weakened him and whether he can continue to stick with his policy on that and hold firm on his Brexit approach is very much a moot point.

Mike Smithson


PB Video Analysis: How Bad Is The US-China Trade Deficit?

August 11th, 2018

The US runs a trade deficit with China of $375bn. It’s a staggering number, larger than the economies of Ireland or Israel. Little wonder than Donald Trump frets that the US is being taken advantage of.

But how meaningful are bilateral trade numbers anyway? Should governments aim to balance volumes of trade with other countries, or is it all a bit irrelevant? And if you impose tariffs on countries with whom you have deficits, will your overall balance of trade improve?

With the help of Tom, Dick and Ludovic, I’m answering that question.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’


Answering a poll question is NOT the same as having an opinion

August 10th, 2018

The above tweet from former Labour Party pollster James Morris strikes me as being very apposite and goes to the heart of how we use polling outcomes. For unless there is some effort within the poll to ascertain how strongly people feel about a subject then it can be hard to interpret results.

We know that with voting intention surveys almost all pollsters now try to ascertain how certain it is that respondents will actually vote but what about other findings? Those sampled might have a view when pressed but how strongly do they feel about it.

Are, for instance, ordinary voters really going round saying how angered they are about Chequers or do they not feel that strongly about it. Clearly those who are hostile, like the MP named in the tweet, are going to give an interpretation to a polling outcome that most supports their own position. A better measure, I’d argue, are the TMay leader ratings.

I’m sceptical of polling questions which require a very long preamble to explain what it is that an opinion is being sought. If the issue isn’t known to the respondent and doesn’t come over simply then you cannot assume that people really have the knowledge to make a judgement.

The other thing that does annoys is when the pollster knocks out all the don’t knows and refusers and gives you a net number so the total adds up to 100%. We really do do need to know what the other figure is so we can pass judgement. I tend to ignore these polls.

I’d argue that the fact that 40% of samples now have no view on whether Corbyn or May is the best prime minister says more than saying that Corbyn is 12 points behind on this question.

I like long-term tracker questions where they are sufficient data points to see if there is a trend when the same question as has been asked in the same format.

Mike Smithson