Crossing the Rubicon

February 10th, 2019

For reasons I need not go into now, a few years ago I had occasion to go on a stag weekend to Barmouth in west Wales. What happens in Merionethshire stays in Merionethshire, but one dramatic incident is worth recounting.

A fair amount of liquor had been consumed on the Saturday night, and some offence had inadvertently been caused to a young member of a different group of young men. Voices were raised, chests were puffed out. The young man, no doubt under the influence of a heady cocktail of alcohol and testosterone, whipped out a knife and shouted: “I’m going to stab you through the heart”.

He’d chosen the wrong man to try to daunt. The threatenee was a police sergeant and calmly replied: “You’re not going to stab me through the heart. You’re not going to stab me at all.  If you were going to, you’d have done it.” He was right too.

As the deadline of 29 March 2019 for Brexit approaches, we have heard similar outwardly-threatening noises from two groups of self-esteeming politicians. Greg Clark and Richard Harrington are both threatening to resign from the government if no-deal Brexit is not ruled out. Owen Smith, when asked if he intended to quit the Labour party over its prevarications on Brexit, said: “I think that’s a very good question”.

Neither group is emerging from self-imposed silence. Their concerns have trickled out through the media for a year or so. None of them have actually done anything about those concerns though.

There has always been a reason to delay. Conservatives opposed to no-deal waited to see whether the negotiated deal would pass. When Theresa May delayed the vote by a month, they bided their time. When it was eventually defeated in January, with no changes from the version previously put forward, they waited to see whether Theresa May would be able to secure further concessions.  

Though she did not, they deferred breaking with the government when she promised that there would be a further opportunity to vote against no deal, and waited to see whether her meaningless fudge could result in further concessions from the EU. It did not, though the EU has promised to continue discussions for another three weeks.  

Next week Parliament will vote again on the exit terms. Theresa May will again play for time, arguing that the negotiations must be allowed to be seen through. As can be seen from the tweet above, however, there is not the slightest sign of movement from the EU that will allow the majority that Theresa May wishes to construct to be built.

Hopping across to the red side of the fence, ardent Remainers have been similarly procrastinating.  Jeremy Corbyn has not committed to support a fresh referendum. At every stage he has found reasons to oppose the government’s proposals without meeting the wishes of the 90% or so of members who want to revisit the original decision to leave the EU.

His latest gambit this week was to write to the Prime Minister setting out the terms on which he could support a deal to leave the EU, terms which as he well knew were impossible for her to accept. Next week offers another opportunity for those who want to turn back to seek to change the course of events.

For both of these groups, time is running very short indeed. They will no doubt both be assured by their respective leaders that there will be further opportunities.  Yet neither leader has the track record for their assurances to reassure convincingly. Sooner or later both of these groups are going to have to decide whether there is a hill that they are going to stand and fight on. Now is the time. Otherwise, they will find that the decision has been taken out of their hands.

Both groups may well feel that the odds are against them and they may well both be right. Prudence will always dictate caution. Here, however, there is – unless an active decision is taken – a fixed timetable. Later will eventually become too late.

Theresa May understands the game. She is doing everything she can, in the face of the clearest evidence, to lull and gull her MPs into biding their time. It has worked amazingly well.

Her partner in the conspiracy of silence, Jeremy Corbyn, has been less adroit, being forced to use his acolytes on social media to face down a slowly building wave of discontent. His personal ratings have plumbed new depths. He has kept both Brexit wings of his party on board but at the expense of ruining his own reputation.

He has a different problem too. The MPs who don’t trust him on Brexit don’t trust him on a whole load of other fronts either. Many of them are also at loggerheads with their local constituency party members too. If these MPs think that they are going to be deselected, they will feel that they have nothing to lose.  

It is barely remembered now but a large part of the impetus for the founding of the SDP was exactly this: MPs jumping before they were pushed. Is history about to repeat itself? Perhaps. Don’t count on it. To date, they’ve been all talk and no action. If not now, when?

Alastair Meeks


Damian Hinds – the 100/1 CON leadership longshot who at Oxford beat Moggsy for the Union Presidency

February 9th, 2019

A guest slot betting tip from Woody662

I’m sure those political obsessives amongst us all remember the ‘Party Games’ episode of Yes Minister where 2 candidates on the extremes of the party were frontrunners for the post, only for the civil service to conspire to see them withdraw in favour of a compromise candidate. Sir Humphrey and Sir Arnold listed their requirements ‘malleable, flexible, likeable, No firm opinions, no bright ideas ect’ and eventually arrived, to initial self-amusement, at Jim Hacker.

Looking at the next Conservative leadership race, could we hit on a situation where a life mimics fiction once again. In a party that is split between Breixiteers and Remainers, it is entirely plausible that if one of the extremes of either camp becomes leader, it will split the party.

    As the next election looms and Brexit is dealt with one way or another, the Party will inevitably regroup and focus on its ultimate reason for existing and that’s power and keeping the Labour Party out.

To attract the broadest possible voting coalition therefore, a moderate compromise candidate could be seen as the best way of achieving this. Someone who after the referendum has supported Government policy on Brexit. Someone who is actually getting positive airtime for their portfolio. Someone who could be acceptable to both wings of the party, someone with not a lot of baggage.

Few of the frontrunners meet that criteria but looking at members at senior cabinet level, there is one contender I believe is vastly overpriced and he is Damian Hinds.

Now when I researching Damian Hinds, there wasn’t a huge amount of information, clearly he is a man who just quietly gets along with his business. However there is a profile on Conservative Home from last year which has some very illuminating information. For instance, it quotes Michael Gove, who ‘foresees a day when Hinds might contest the Conservative Party leadership against Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary.’ He goes on to say ‘Hinds (President of the Oxford Union in 1991, three years after Gove) was “a dashing and accomplished speaker”.

It also confirms that Hinds beat a certain Jacob Rees Mogg to that position of President! He is one of very few Cabinet Minister’s getting on TV talking about matters other than Brexit (he has appeared at least 3 times on Good Morning Britain in the past few weeks opposite Piers Morgan, and come out unscathed) and again from Conservative Home, a journalist was quoted as saying after a lunch with Hinds “He was enormously impressive – he didn’t tell me anything at all. He was just very straight and gave nothing away,”

Hinds head the Education Department where the heavy lifting of policy development has already been completed by Michael Gove, and doesn’t appear to be attracting the scorn of the teaching unions that his predecessors endured. Unlike the likes of Javid, Hancock and Rudd, Hinds shouldn’t have historic departmental problems to trip him up. He enjoys positive numbers in the Conservative Home cabinet league table and they have crept up over the last 3 months.

If the moderates in the party are looking for someone to take on a Brexit candidate and if Gove does indeed get behind him, Hinds may well be their man. The Education Department has a decent record of providing Conservative leaders and 100-1 looks a good value bet.

Woody662 has worked for a CON MP for the past decade


Punters could still be under-rating the chances of No Deal

February 9th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

The route to any other outcome is fraught with difficulties

You might think that with 94% of the time between the referendum and the scheduled Brexit Day now gone, we’d have some idea as to when and how Britain will be leaving the EU. Arguments about conceptual arrangements would have been better had in 2016 rather than in the final weeks. Instead, even the question as to whether the country will leave remains in doubt. No such luck.

The measure of that uncertainty is evident in the current status of the Withdrawal Agreement. Despite Theresa May having secured a provisional deal and despite parliament having overwhelmingly rejected it, it remains in some political quantum state, neither dead nor alive but capable of either.

In fact, there are four possible outcomes to Brexit and with markets surrounding them, it’s worth looking at their respective chances. The best way to do so is through process. How can we get there?


The most radical outcome would be to not Brexit at all. The CJEU very helpfully gave departing states the right to revoke Article 50 notification unilaterally. Not that that means the ball is entirely in Britain’s court, as we’ll come on to.

In theory, Britain could simply revoke and that would be that. In practice, it’s not so simple. Most obviously, Theresa May leads a political party which is overwhelmingly backed by Leavers and has Leavers as an overwhelming share of its members. A majority of its MPs might have backed Remain in 2016 but, like the PM herself, are now committed to Leaving. A U-turn is not only against May’s many-times declared intent (not that that’s stopped her U-turning before) but also would be such anathema to enough Tory MPs, with further extra-parliamentary pressure, that she couldn’t deliver it without being deposed.

Could someone else? The only realistic alternative is Corbyn, who is himself committed to Brexit (it’s notable that Labour’s Brexit ‘policy’ until recently was to secure a general election, which is not an objective not a policy – what would they have done had they won it?). Further, it’ll be almost impossible to force a change of government, either within the Commons or via an election before March 29. For someone else to take the reins requires an A50 extension. We’ll come back to that.

May’s Deal

Ah yes: the undead. Not everyone hates the 600+ pages of text, though lots do. Even so, for all that it’s worse in the eyes of many MPs than their preferred options, it’s rarely the worst option of all (though for the DUP, it probably is). For MPs opposed to No Deal and unable to secure any other outcome, it’s the only means of doing so and has the huge benefit of being acceptable to the EU. (This assumes that the European Parliament will sign it off, though the signs are that they will).

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple as that. It’s not just a single vote to approve the deal that the government needs but a whole Act of Parliament to implement it (this of course goes for any deal). Putting together an ad hoc ragbag coalition across the House on a one-off basis to get the Withdrawal Agreement through will be hard enough; to repeat the trick time and again through the many stages of legislating (in both Houses), so much harder. And again – this is up against the clock: unless both ratification and legislation can be complete before the end of next month, an Article 50 extension will be needed.

A different Deal

Here be unicorns. This so-called option or outcome has bedevilled the process ever since the PM returned from Brussels with her underwhelming document. Critics all know what they don’t like and if only the government and/or EU would agree to remain in the Customs Union, or remove the backstop, or provide a withdrawal mechanism, or mirror EU social and employment legislation – and so on – the MPs would vote for it.

Two problems with that. The first is that the EU has been firm that it won’t reopen the text, and the second is that these various groups chasing different aspirations are contradictory, so even if the government and EU could shift position and renegotiate a text it took 18 months to negotiate within the space of weeks, there’s still no guarantee that there’d be a majority for it in the House.

In fact, the EU might not be so unyielding if the UK were to ask for softer exit terms and/or offer some other concession but it’s clear that’s not what May is asking for. Besides, the N Ireland backstop – at the root of the difficulty in ratifying the existing deal – goes beyond customs alignment so a permanent customs union is not of itself enough to obviate the need (as the EU and Dublin sees it) for the backstop.

No Deal

This is the easiest route to plan and the hardest to assess. It’s what happens if nothing else is agreed, by the time the clock runs out. That might or might not be March 29 (we could have an A50 extension to the end of June and still end up with No Deal), but it is still the default, absent anything positive being agreed.

Red Herrings

What about second referendums, changes of government, general elections and so on? The simple answer is that these are not outcomes, they’re events along the way (or, in some cases, possibly afterwards). They might influence a particular outcome but they are not, of themselves, destinations.


If Brexit was easy, we wouldn’t be where we are. No Deal is intolerable and the rest may well be unachievable. But against the immovable object of indecision runs the remorseless and irresistible force of time.

I really don’t see the EU moving its red lines, even at the cost of a No Deal outcome (note that even if nothing has been agreed by 29 March, it might still be possible to resurrect the original deal as a scramble back to some sort of framework.

Likewise, I don’t see any value in a general election for the government. There may be an election, if the DUP feel sufficiently betrayed but we’re not there now. There is merit in the value of a public vote but an election is messy, doesn’t guarantee a clear winner, mixes up all sort of issues and puts the government at stake.

What is, I think, still much more possible than is being given credit for, due mainly to the fact that neither front bench wants it, is a second referendum. A referendum holds two main advantages. Firstly, it can be made binding and all the provisions can be put in place in advance, contingent on the outcome. That reverses the normal process and so gives everyone an incentive to cross the T’s and dot the I’s in advance. And secondly, it gives enough people a stake in the process to create a natural majority – though the price would have to be a three-way vote, with both Remain and No Deal on the paper, alongside the original deal (assuming no new one has taken its place).

Not that that would be simple. We’d be talking about new, complex, legislation plus a lengthy campaign, which probably couldn’t be completed before the autumn. Would the EU grant such a long extension? One that goes into the next European Parliament’s term? There has to be some doubt and if it didn’t, then we’d be straight into No Deal.

There is a path to May’s Deal and to Remain, though both are fairly tortuous but any other deal looks very unlikely. As it stands, No Deal looks by some way the most likely outcome, mainly by default rather than design. After all, the entire process has been marked much more by cock-up than conspiracy. Why should we expect that to change now?

David Herdson


A Labour Twitter thread with a sting in the tail from Michael Crick

February 8th, 2019


Corbyn’s Ipsos-MORI ratings take a huge tumble with 72% saying they are dissatisfied with him

February 8th, 2019

These looks being the worst LAB leader ratings on record

The latest Ipsos-MORI voting intention figure have LAB and CON level pegging which puts the pollsters out of line with Opinium and YouGov which both have CON leads of seven points.

But there’s a shock for the LAB leader in the firm’s satisfaction ratings which have been recorded in every published survey since the 1970s. A total of 72% of those in the sample said they were dissatisfied with Corbyn against just 17% who said said they were satisfied.

I’ve scanned through every poll from the firm since 1977 and cannot find anything that is as bad as this for a LAB leader.

Historically these ratings have been a better pointer to general election outcomes than the voting intention numbers.

The Standard in a commentary notes:

“..It’s not hard to work out why. He has led Labour into the intellectual wilderness, allowed nasty anti-Semitism to flourish, encouraged deselections by the hard Left of moderate MPs, visited the graves of terrorists and made alliances with Venezuelan dictators. But all this was known some time ago.

What is the reason for the more recent collapse in Mr Corbyn’s ratings?

The answer, according to the polling, is his position on Brexit.

A mere 16 per cent think he is providing strong leadership on this central issue facing the country, less than half Mrs May’s rating — 47 per cent of the public think he is acting in his personal interest rather than the national interest. They are right. ..”

Things, of course, could change between now and the next general election and we might look back at this and see it as a low point. But this should be worrying for the party.

Mike Smithson


Strong showings by the anti-Brexit LDs in the local by-elections declared overnight

February 8th, 2019

A hold, a gain and big vote share increases

Mike Smithson


In terms of influence on major policy developments Corbyn today is surely the most powerful opposition leader in decades

February 7th, 2019

It’s possible the UK could end up with a Labour Brexit

To me the biggest development of the day was the response by Donald Tusk to the Labour proposal for Brexit. The details envisage a softer brexit then Theresa May’s plan but because of the numbers in the Commons there’s a good chance that this is what could actually be agreed.

If so that will be remarkable and something and it’s almost without precedent. Labour could claim that this was their plan and seek to get the political kudos from it.

Because this appears to be a viable alternative then surely it is going to make the hardliners of Moggsy’s ERG more reluctant to go on opposing Theresa May. They are not going to get their hard brexit and the deal that the Prime Minister has on the table could be seen as the best that’s available in the circumstances.

The question for Labour, which has had to deal with huge demands within the party for a second referendum, is whether what’s in their proposal will be enough to satisfy the party’s largely remainer voters, party members and MPs.

My sense is that it is becoming more likely that the UK will leave on March 29th making the odds of 27% on Betfair good value.

Mike Smithson


Punters start backing O’Rourke again after he tells Oprah he’ll make his mind up by the end of the month

February 7th, 2019

And Biden’s plans remain a mystery

The big developments in the WH2020 race have been an appearance by one-time Democratic nomination favourite, Beto O’Rourke on Oprah’s V show and reports on BuzzFeed that the man toping the nomination polling, 76 year old Joe Biden, has made no contact at all with the states that hold their primaries first.

O’Rourke, who seemed to to be in a strong position after running Ted Cruz close in last November’s Texas race, had barely done anything since and the betting money money moved away from him. This compared with the betting move towards the high-profile California Senator, Kamala Harris, who launched her effort two weeks ago.

With so many contenders trying to make a mark a lot is going to depend on what happens in the early states to decide – Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. A good start in the Iowa caucuses could make a big difference. What makes the latter intriguing is that the state’s decision is not made by a secret ballot open to all voters but on those who attend on of 1,600 precinct meetings on a cold February evening next year. Good organisation there is at a premium.

This is why the first port of call for serious White House contenders is generally Iowa and why there’s quite a bit of surprise that ex-VP Biden has yet to make a move in that direction. Signing up the most experienced and knowledgeable organisers is an important first step. It might be a year off but activity needs to be taking place now.

The latest Betfair betting has Harris on 23% with O’Rourke and Biden on 13%.

Mike Smithson