As the Brexit process trundles on tonight’s PB cartoon

February 12th, 2018

Thanks once again to Nicholas Leonard and Helen Cochrane.

Mike Smithson


The star who plays a LAB MP in tonight’s new BBC political thriller is worried about state of the party

February 12th, 2018

Why Don Brind thinks he shouldn’t be

David Mars is a Labour MP worried about the state of his party and at odds with his leader. Described as a “frustrated but hard-working member of the shadow cabinet” the central character in tonight’s BBC2 thriller Collateral “despairs at the state of the Labour Party and many of its policies .. he’s not afraid to be outspoken and on more than one occasion he finds himself in hot water with the party leader.”

John Simms, the man who plays the fictional MP, is also worried about what he sees as Labour’s ineffectiveness. He told the Big Issue  “Everything is all fucked. And until Trump leaves the Oval Office, I will not think we are not fucked,” he says.

“Every day I am expecting the end of the world. It is terrifying. I despair. Like most people, I am horrified by all of it at the moment.

“This government is in disarray, and I can’t see any immediate challenge from Labour, really. They are standing in front of an open goal and no one is really putting it in the net.”

You wouldn’t have to go far at Westminster to find a real life Labour MP to echo the worries of John Simms and his character. Even before the run of recent polls showing the Tories in the lead there was a nagging concern that Labour is level pegging with this uniquely incompetent government.

“Why, then, is the leadership not more depressed? The question is posed and answered by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush, the journalist you turn to for the best insights into what is going on in Team Corbyn.

The leader’s inner circle, he says, reckon last year’s election realigned politics – the trouble is “that realignment wasn’t enough to deliver a Labour government.” The reason they remain upbeat, says Bush, “is a belief that time favours Labour. The government will have to deliver a Brexit deal that falls short of May’s rhetoric, the public realm, particularly the NHS, will continue to be under growing pressure, and the housing market will continue to shut out growing numbers of voters under 45.”

    Another way of putting it is that Team Corbyn believe are doing the right things and will eventually get the reward.

For instance, having recently chided Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott for not campaigning hard enough on crime I was delighted to see her boss get stuck into the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions – winning this plauditfrom Tony Blair’s biographer John Rentoul: “ I never thought I’d say it but Jeremy Corbyn manipulates PMQs brilliantly. Simply by raising the subject of crime, Corbyn is winning.”

More substantially there is a great deal of policy development going on, some of which was on show at last weekend’s Alternative Models of Ownership conference. The top line was the assertion by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell that public ownership would have zero cost for taxpayers.

A friend who attended the conference was mightily impressed by John McDonnell’s “careful and reasonable-sounding presentation”.

For the record, my friend is not easily impressed – definitely not a Corbynista rather a very savvy, business-friendly former MP.

What came across was that “while the Tories were obsessing about Brexit and who was going to be their next leader, Labour was putting together a serious agenda for government.”

The plan is to use Labour’s powers at council level effectively (especially if Labour win more in May’s elections) to make the blueprint for municipalisation work. “This would improve Labour’s electoral chances even more.”

On the issue of privatisation and outsourcing “McDonnell accused the Tories of dogma and an ideological commitment to an idea they knew didn’t work. The alternative model being presented was free of dogma and ideology but was looking at “what works” (very Blair).”

The verdict on the conference — “The Labour Party seems to have a very clear strategy of what it needs to do between now and the general election while no-one else seems to.

So how to answer John Simm’s point that Labour can’t put the ball into an empty net? What more could Team Corbyn be doing at the moment?

The answer, rather boringly, is Not Much.

Don Brind


None of the Above takes 44% lead in new CON leadership poll

February 12th, 2018

With a new week opening and Mrs Msy still there at number 10 there is a new poll out in the Independent on who voters think should be her successor.

The outcome is far from decisive for although Johnson has a lead he is 44% behind the number saying none of the above.

This really reflects the situation we have known since July the 9th after Theresa May failed to retain the Conservative majority in the general election. Her situation was then in real doubt but she has carried on because there is no clear alternative.

In many ways this is not surprising because the nature of her leadership since winning in July 2016 has been that it has all been about her. No other names within the party have been able to develop a significant profile for themselves excluding, perhaps, Jacob Rees Mogg who is not a minister.

She has also been careful with her cabinet not to promote others who perhaps could develop into bigger figures within the party if they were given the chance to evolve in a manner that gave them a lot of public exposure.

There is, however, little comfort for Mrs May elsewhere in the poll. More than half (51%) say they are dissatisfied with her leadership, with only 33% happy with her performance. Corbyn had 44% dissatisfied to 34% satisfied.

So the ongoing Tory leadership narrative trudges on.

Mike Smithson


Things are so bad with Mrs May that some Tory MPs want Nick Timothy back to provide direction

February 11th, 2018

It is clear that whatever decision makes on Brexit it will likely hasten Mrs May’s departure.

The Sunday Times say

The standard bearer of the hardliners, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has privately told colleagues he would be a lot more relaxed “if we knew what we were transitioning to”. In extremis, this mistrust manifests itself in threats to oust May by submitting letters to the backbench 1922 committee demanding a vote of no confidence. “We’ve made our position clear to the prime minister,” said one Eurosceptic. “If she lets us down, the letters will go in.”

The procrastination from Mrs May is all about keeping her as PM for as long as possible whilst the national interest seems to be relegated as a priority.

As we say in Yorkshire, pee or get off the pot, the fact that Nick Timothy’s stint as Chief of Staff is seen as the halcyon days of Mrs May’s leadership and people want him back should send a chill down the spine of every Tory and near tumescent joy to every opponent of the Tories.

The consequences of Timothy’s stint as Chief of Staff is that Mrs May lost David Cameron’s majority, the Sunday Times also observe

The prospects of May getting any deal through the Commons could hang on the position of the Labour Party. It plans its own away day in coming weeks to agree a stance that is likely to be “opposing the Tory Brexit, whatever it is”.



A few assorted bets for your perusal

February 11th, 2018

William Hill have a few markets on various events, a lot of these appear designed to enrich William Hill or ones that I wish William Hill offered the other side of the bet. I’d really like to bet on UK GDP growth to be lower than 1.8% one calendar year after Brexit.

The 4/7 on the Democrats to win a majority in the House of Representatives seems like the safest bet. On the principle on betting on something NOT happening is usually profitable, the 5/6 on Mrs May being PM on Christmas Day looks of interest.

However I suspect if she promotes a pragmatic Brexit deal that is not the full fat Brexit the likes of the ERG wants, she will be toppled, this should come to a head in the next few weeks.

With talk of nearly 90 Tory MPs backing Jacob Rees-Mogg as next Tory Leader & PM, I can see Michael Gove uniting behind Rees-Mogg to once again to stop Boris Johnson from ascending to the Premiership. Gove could expect to occupy one of the great offices of state for his support, or Rees-Mogg might wish to make Gove his deputy.

Given that Rees-Mogg has no ministerial experience, he might see the advantage of appointing an experienced minister who has a vision to help him run the government, Gove certainly fits that bill. One of the most damaging criticisms of Mrs May and her Government is that there’s no strategic vision, whilst many might not agree with the vision Gove offers, nobody can deny he lacks a vision.

With the parliamentary arithmetic being so tight, Gove’s experience as Chief Whip could help in running the government.

In the past Deputy Prime Ministers have on occasion served concurrently in one of the great offices, Gove could revive that tradition.

At 25/1 I’m going to have a small stake on this, Gove being Deputy PM to Prime Minister Rees-Mogg seems unlikely but not 25/1 unlikely.



A third pollster now reports that TMay’s Tories are in the lead

February 10th, 2018


This’ll make it harder to oust TMay

After a period since the Jube general election when LAB toppped just about every published poll there’s been a sharp change in February.

Latest out is Opinium for tomorrow’s Observer. These are e numbers with changes on last month.

CON 42 (+2)
LAB 39 (-1)
LDt 7 (+1)
UKIP 5 (n/c)

So three separate polling organisations all have the direction of travel moving to the blue team.

This will help reinforce the beleaguered PM as she tries to hang on but LAB, no doubt, will carry on with the man who barely talks about the issue of the moment – Brexit.

Mike Smithson


The Tory Brexit divide is in the cabinet – the LAB one is between the leadership & party supporters

February 10th, 2018

We’ve heard a lot in the past few days about the arguments inside the cabinet between the rival factions over the form of Brexit that individual ministers want.

How that will turn out is far from clear and whether it will be the Philip Hammond or the Boris Johnson approach that prevails.

Clearly because they are not the government there is much less focus on the LAB Brexit divide between the bulk of party supporters and the leadership. That could be critical both in the short and long term.

Even after Brexit has happened this will be an ongoing part of UK politics with, no doubt, team Corbyn’s detractors every ready to point the finger at Labour’s equivocation.

Above is the Labour voter split in the latest YouGov.

Mike Smithson


If not May, then who?

February 10th, 2018

Assessing the runners and riders of the next Tory leadership contest

Correctly identifying the next Conservative leader is a notoriously tricky task. While the golden rule is to lay the favourite – something which can accumulate good profits over a prolonged period – it’s still quite a cautious strategy. The more ambitious, but much more difficult, one is to try to back the winner.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible and now that the latest bout of speculation over a potential Vote of No Confidence in Theresa May’s leadership has subsided, it’s as good a time as any to try to do so. Before going there, however, two points: one on the timescale and one on the process.

The betting is that May will go this year (evens), with 2019 by far the next most favoured (9/4 – both Ladbrokes). I think that’s a little too weighted to this year. As I wrote last month, any change this year will be hugely disruptive to Brexit; the earliest clean change that can be made is in the summer of 2019. However, as we know, a VoNC could be triggered at any time by the threshold-reaching letter being sent – and it could be sent over just about anything at just about any time. A serious stumble or just a sense that ‘this can’t go on’ could precipitate an election much earlier.

Either way, the crucial point as far as the betting market is this: the election is overwhelmingly likely to be in the next 18 months. That means that there’s going to be little opportunity for people to rise through the ranks. Anyone currently outside the cabinet who fancies their chance will very probably have to fight from where they are now.

Who ends up winning is also very much influenced by the dynamics of the MPs’ votes, which itself is a factor of the overall field (something even harder, if not impossible, to predict). In particular, the nature of the penultimate round – when three candidates remain – will be crucial. A candidate with a sizable lead will look a clear favourite and will be treated as such by the media and, to an extent, politicians. To give an example, the 2005 election might have looked very different had Clarke beaten Fox for third place in the first vote. In that case, instead of the actual second round scores of

Cameron 90
Davis 57
Fox 51

The scores might have been

Davis 92
Cameron 62
Clarke 44

In that case, the momentum that Cameron had built up to that stage would have come clattering to a halt and Davis would have appeared the clear leader going into the members’ vote.

So this time. The contest, whether it comes before or after March 2019, will be dominated by Brexit, with the core Brexiteers reverting to their referendum rhetoric on one side and the ex-Remain pragmatists looking beyond the need to deliver Brexit to the need to not crash the economy while doing so. Here, ironically, if one wing is the stronger but not substantially so, that ‘divided vote dynamic’ could work against them – a final MPs’ round line-up of, say, Gove, Hunt and Boris could see Hunt hoover up enough transfers from the ex-Remain wing to finish comfortably first. By contrast, a line-up of Rees-Mogg, Rudd and Williamson would likely see the backbencher top the poll.

What then of the possible candidates?

To my mind, Rees-Mogg’s odds are absurdly short; a consequence of people wrong reading the Labour election across to the Tories’. For all the caricatures, the Tory membership is relatively pragmatic. Certainly it has an ideological edge (why else would people join) but it also elected Cameron ahead of David Davis in 2005, and – according to polling – would have backed May ahead of both Boris and Leadsom in 2016. There is no equivalent of the three-pound Corbynite. Similarly, those reading across from Rees-Mogg’s huge support in his bid for the Treasury Select Committee chairmanship, or his election to lead the European Research Group, to support for a full leadership bid are making a mistake. The roles and skills required are very different and MPs – whose jobs are on the line if they mess up a leadership contest – will recognise that. In addition, both his policy stance beyond Brexit and his life away from politics are likely to be limit his chances. It’s far from obvious that he would even stand but if he does, I’d expect him to be knocked out relatively early.

Of the other Brexiteers, Gove and Boris again remain best-placed to run. The shine has come off Boris a little since the referendum – government is hard work and he’s not a natural administrator – but come an election campaign, his star is likely to shine a little more brightly. In truth, it is Boris, not Rees-Mogg, who is closer to being the Tory Corbyn (albeit that Boris’s politics are more flexible). 8/1 (Ladbrokes) is about right.

And if Boris is the heart of Tory Brexit then Gove is the head. Hugely unpopular at Education – though effective in what he wanted to do – some would have that he’s reinvented himself at Justice and then Environment but in truth politicians are rarely easy to neatly pigeonhole as ‘right’ or ‘left’ and Gove is one such. After Theresa May’s problems with Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Gove would likely be required by MPs to sign in blood that he wouldn’t invite Dominic Cummings into Number Ten before being assured of their support. There are plenty of reasons as to why Gove shouldn’t be elected but much the same can be said of the rest of the field (which is why May is where she is); however, no-one else is likely to go into the contest with such comprehensive policies and ideas across the board. The 12/1 Betway are offering is good value.

After those three, two ex-Remainers sit at 16/1. Amber Rudd has been relatively anonymous at the Home Office (though having an ex-Home Secretary as PM was always likely to make that the case), but she did reasonably enough in the general election. Her more vocal support for Remain in 2016 will probably be enough though to ensure her unelectability. By contrast, Jeremy Hunt remained quiet during the referendum and has since, like May, transitioned to backing the Will of the People. Tory leadership elections are often as much about who people are not as who they are and with so many big characters potentially in the race, it’s entirely possible that Hunt could literally come through the middle. The NHS’s capacity problems shouldn’t be a limiting factor: he will have no difficulty blaming the Treasury. His odds should be shorter.

Of those with odds in the 20s, Leadsom (22), and Davis and Davidson (25) should be written off. Leadsom showed her unsuitability last time; Davis is preoccupied with Brexit detail and in any case, his time, such as it was, as a future leader has now passed; while Davidson, not being an MP, isn’t eligible and is highly unlikely to become so.

The other two in that range – Dominic Raab and Gavin Williamson – shouldn’t be written off but I don’t think their odds offer value. The election is likely to come too early for the former, whereas the latter is being just a little too obvious in his actions, which is never well appreciated by colleagues.

Is there any value with the candidates at 33/1 or longer? That is, after all, where any number of future winners have come from, even at this relatively short timeframe. At the risk of looking foolish, I don’t think so. The fact is that the person who would traditionally have been the long-odds outsider is in fact currently favourite. It’s entirely possible that JRM’s prominence could wane rapidly following some badly-judged remark and, were that to happen, some other backbencher could become the new Voice of Pure Brexit. Identifying who that might be though is very much a game of chance – and with likely odds on request of no more than 125/1, not a very attractive one.

For someone to come from so far out, they have to light up the campaign with something new – hard enough in opposition, never mind government. Prior to May, every person for well over a century who became PM mid-term, outside of wartime had served immediately before as Chancellor, Foreign Secretary or the effective deputy PM. Even counting May, and others who didn’t become PM but could plausibly have done, the circle is traditionally confined to the senior roles in cabinet, for two good interrelated reasons. Firstly, that’s where the most effective politicians (however defined) are usually found: PMs are obliged to give big beasts big jobs; and secondly, those who choose the leaders require evidence of the candidates’ suitability, which is again most easily found in the big jobs. (Not that this evidence is fool-proof but it’s the best anyone has to go on). We discard this lengthy precedent at our peril.

The conclusion from all that? As things stand – and quite probably, as they will stand when the election comes, Gove, Hunt and Boris have the best chance of making the final three. If so, Hunt will have a structural advantage in the final MPs’ round but would be then up against someone with more ideas or more charisma in the run-off, which will be close. If were forced to make a prediction at this stage though, I’d have to say that ideas will win out.

David Herdson