The August 2017 silly season continues – Ladbrokes now taking bets on “the Democrats” for the next General Election

August 14th, 2017

The party doesn’t even exist yet

I’m always impressed by the way bookies can sometimes create markets that appear to be designed to appeal to the wishful thinking of some punters. Today sees Ladbrokes offering 250/1 on the “Democrats” , currently a theoretical party suggested in a Tweet by James Chapman, winning most seats at the next general election.

Much as personally I want to remain in the EU I’m not tempted by the bet.

Mike Smithson


Jacob Rees-Mogg heads for the favourite slot in the TMay successor betting as the DDavis decline continues

August 14th, 2017


A silly season story we can ignore or a real possibility?

The betting chart above shows the dramatic changes there’ve been in the CON leadership Betfair betting over the weekend with interest in the once clear favourite, Davd Davis, moving down sharply and the extraordinary rise of back-bencher Jacob Rees-Mogg.

William Hill reported last night that ““There is definitely some momentum behind Jacob Rees-Mogg and in the last month he has been the most popular candidate by far”.

The latest moves appear to have been sparked off by two factors – an article by Matthew Parris in the Times on Saturday and and a fiery Radio 4 discussion between Rees-Mogg and James Chapman, the ex-aide to the BrexSec, James Chapman, of which much has been written following his avalanche of Tweets.

This will be further fueled by an article in the Telegraph under the heading “Exclusive: Cut stamp duty now, says Jacob Rees-Mogg, as he reveals his vision for the Conservative Party”.. In his article Rees-Mogg writes:

“..One of life’s small pleasures is that those who do not dispose themselves in a spirit of friendship often do more good than harm. The golden-penned Matthew Parris, by attacking the idea of my becoming leader of the Conservative Party, has given it a spurious veneer of respectability that it does not deserve. First of all, I unequivocally support Theresa May, and do not covet her job. Second, if I did I would be a fool for only in Opposition do political parties choose leaders who have never held high ministerial office.

Third, I neither am a candidate, nor wish to be one. I want to be the servant of the Conservative Party, not its master. Nor is this some clever plan to seek other office; if it were, it would have been scotched some weeks ago when it was suggested to the PM,...”

But if he is dissing the idea of being leader and PM then why is he setting out his vision for the party? That is exactly what serious leadership contenders would be doing. His point, though, about never having held high ministerial office is surely a good one but these are strange times.

Maybe the prospect of having PM Rees-Mogg will help reinforce the case for keeping the humiliated GE2017 failure, TMay in post?

I wish I was Betfair punter who got £5 on Rees-Mogg at 170/1 who must be feeling pretty pleased at the moment.

Mike Smithson


There’s a case for saying that Johnson’s the best equipped to lead the Tories to Brexit and beyond

August 13th, 2017

Who else is capable of selling what’ll be portrayed as a sell-out?

Whoever is the PM as we exit the EU will have a massive task on her/his hand selling the Brexit deal or other arrangement to the party and to the country as a whole.

The parliamentary Tory party is hugely divided as it has been on Europe for several decades and some are not going to compromise on issues like continuing payments or future links with European institutions.

One of the areas where TMay could have done better is in trying to unite the country following the referendum outcome.

    The PM’s uncompromising stance reinforced many remainers to use their vote on June 8th in a way that was going to be most productive in stopping the PM irrespective of their concerns about Corbyn’s Labour.

I’ve never been a fan of Johnson but I recognise that unlike most of the other potential contenders he can, if he applies himself, be mentally agile enough to present things well and change as the situation demands. This is almost the total opposite of the incumbent whose rigid red lines are making the task of David Davis even more difficult.

Theresa May is almost totally incapable of thinking on her feet and doesn’t have the self-awareness to understand how she is coming over. Johnson is a totally different proposition.

The great thing about having him as CON leader and PM is that he would be totally focused on remaining in the job after the next general election and that would drive his approach to the negotiations.

After being the strong favourite to succeed May after the general election he has slumped in the betting from a 30% chance to an 8% one.

Mike Smithson


In the end the GOP, not the Democrats, will determine Trump’s future

August 13th, 2017

The American left seems unable to come to terms with Trump and doesn’t know how to deal with him. It’s his own side he should be worried about says Keiran Pedley

Donald Trump’s presidency may barely be 6 months old but it certainly feels like the die is being cast. The Russian investigation, healthcare fights and threat of war with North Korea are setting the tone for his first term as midterm elections loom next year.

America’s dark side rears its head

This weekend the world has looked on aghast at events in Virginia. At the time of writing a state of emergency has been declared as ‘alt-right protestors’ (e.g. neo Nazi thugs) march on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate war hero Robert E Lee. Watching the violence on television is a sobering reminder of America’s past and how race continues to define politics there in a way – for all our faults – it simply doesn’t here.

Don’t press the button!

Meanwhile, in Korea tensions have risen in a way that feels different to before. North Korea now appears to have the ability to fire viable nuclear weapons. Experts continue to question their ability to fire them accurately but that will be little consolation to the people of Guam, the small US territory in the pacific that appears to be the sights of North Korean leader Kim Jung un.

Liberals react badly

As the pace of events picks up, America’s left has reacted with horror. It’s understandable. The far right appears to be quite literally on the march and Trump’s threats to meet North Korean aggression with ‘fire and fury’ make the prospect of a cataclysmic war in Asia seem frighteningly real.

With Republicans in control of Congress all Democrats can do is look on helplessly. That lack of Congressional control, plus a challenging electoral map next year, means Democrats need to get their message to the American people right as they look to turn the tide.

I’m concerned that they won’t. Many liberal commentators in the U.S. will have you believe that Trump is genuinely about the start a nuclear war (he isn’t) and that the morons in Charlottesville somehow represent the average Trump voter (they don’t).If they aren’t careful, their tendency to react hysterically to everything Trump says and does will end up being the political equivalent of the boy who cried wolf. Voters will stop listening and may start to believe Trump when he tells them that ‘they are all out to get me’. Bluntly, American liberals risk handing Trump an ability to fight back against them that he doesn’t deserve.

Look behind you Donald

With American liberals floundering for a message that resonates, plus a weak Democratic bench in 2020, my hunch is that Trump’s biggest problem may end up being his own side. His relationship with Senate leader Mitch McConnell has soured and a very interesting poll last week put Ohio Governor John Kasich 12 points ahead of Trump among Republicans in a hypothetical primary matchup in New Hampshire.

I’ve long been of the view that Trump will not get impeached but that he might face a challenge from his own side in 2020 that causes him not to run again. If Trump can’t get healthcare through and he allows North Korea to become an untouchable nuclear power then his opponents in the GOP (who will be horrified) will smell blood. This is before we consider the ramifications of the ongoing Russia investigation for the medium and long term political environment in Washington.
Watch South Carolina Senator and Trump critic Lindsey Graham, close friend of John McCain, who I see as a potential ‘stalking horse’ candidate in Iowa for 2020. He won’t be president but he could be the guy the performs well and persuades others to enter the race. It may well be that the 2020 Presidential Election doesn’t involve Donald Trump at all. A Democrat may end up in the White House in 2020 but I suspect the Kasich’s and Pence’s of this world are eyeing up the Oval Office too.

Keiran Pedley tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley


In spite of her general election humiliation TMay still leads in the “who’d make the best PM” polling

August 12th, 2017

Corbyn isn’t seen as an alternative

There’s little doubt that if the general election had been on May 4th, local election day, then Mrs. May would have got her landslide. The general election polling that was coming out at the time with leads of 15%/20% was broadly reflected in the way that the country voted in the range of elections on that day. The build up to that Thursday, and her dramatic visit to the Palace on May 3rd and speech in Downing Street afterwards very much set the tone for the elections the following day.

In the run up to May 4th TMay had leads over Corbyn in the best PM polling of 30-40%. Anything in the general election five weeks later seemed possible.

Party workers in the May local elections were being told on the doorstep that their choice was just “Theresa” – her brand had extraordinary support and went way beyond just the Conservatives.

    Is it any wonder then that Lynton Crosby’s £4m campaign for the Tories advised that making her the main plank of the Tory campaign was the right way to go. She was an electoral phenomenon and he sought to cash in on it.

Unfortunately for the blue team there were still five weeks to go and when TMay faced the serious scrutiny of a general election campaign she moved from being an electoral asset to an electoral liability. Her inability to interact comfortably with ordinary people became more apparent as the days went by and her refusal to take part in a TV debate with Corbyn in the closing stages was a huge mistake as the BES polling has shown.

So in spite of her overall public image taking a battering because of the result it is striking that when pollsters ask ho they think would make the best PM they do not choose Corbyn. He’s only led in one poll since the election.

Mike Smithson


James Chapman’s Democrats notion is a doomed distraction

August 12th, 2017

The existing parties are the only ones that can stop Brexit

James Chapman is not a name that many people will have been aware of before this week. Some will remember him as the Political Editor of the Daily Mail; a few might recall that he became George Osborne’s Director of Communications after the 2015 election; fewer still will have known that he was briefly Chief of Staff at David Davis’ Brexit Department. He has, however, now burst back onto the political scene with what is for now still very much a one-man crusade for a new party – The Democrats – to save Britain from herself and from Brexit.

The as-yet unanswered question is who is lurking behind Chapman’s twitter-shower. There can be little doubt that there are enough wealthy Remainers who would be happy to help fund a meaningful anti-Brexit party for it to be financially viable. Much bigger questions remain, however, about personnel. Parties need candidates, they need support staff (plus the infrastructure and data to work in and with), and above all, they need a visible and capable leader and, ideally, elected representatives. Unless there are to be defections, the personnel question will doom the Democrats from the start.

Two quick examples of the growth of start-up parties should suffice to illustrate the point. UKIP – the party which the Democrats would most closely resemble politically (albeit in mirror image) – was founded in 1991 as the Anti-Federalist League. A decade later, despite having established a place for itself in the political firmament, it was still winning only 1.5% of the vote and it would be 23 years after their formation before they gained their first elected MP (and that following a defection). The Greens had an even slower growth, taking 37 years to win representation at Westminster. By contrast, Brexit Day is scheduled for only a little over a year and a half.

The parallel that Chapman is no doubt keener to emulate and exceed is that of the SDP, formed not as a grass-roots insurgent party but, via defections, born mature: with a high-profile, experienced leader and a sizable Commons contingent and which found itself (in alliance with the Liberals – a crucial distinction) polling well into the 40s only a year after launching. If so, he can dream on.

    For all the overtures to Europhile Tory MPs (who?) or Corbyn-sceptic Labour Remainers, the fact is that neither group has any incentive to defect. If Tory Europhiles did want to disrupt the Brexit process, they could do so just as effectively by rebelling from within – May’s majority remains on a knife-edge either way.

Again, by one of history’s little ironies, the Tory Maastricht rebels provide the best template. Yet no such organised rebellions have occurred since the referendum; there is no desire to go down that road, still less to take the fatal step of splitting.

Labour Europhiles have even less cause to switch. They remain by far in the majority in both their party at large and in the Commons. They know that despite their leader’s ambivalence on the subject, they might still be able to control the effective policy simply by taking advantage of Corbyn’s lack of interest in Brexit (and, perhaps, by working with Starmer behind the scenes). They also know that in terms of the leadership, time is on their side: Labour’s pro-European majority will long outlast Corbyn.

But that fact also hints at another reason as to why the Democrats are (or would be – it hasn’t even launched yet) doomed: there is much more to politics than Brexit. Even if a determination to remain within the EU (or to leave on the softest terms, or to rejoin at the earliest opportunity), unites some MPs across parties, much more divides them. What would its Education policy be? Defence? Welfare? Health? Energy? Transport? These are bread-and-butter issues that matter on the doorstep and which those with experience of elections pay great attention. Given the Tories’ experience this Spring, I doubt it’s likely that defecting MPs would be happy to subcontract policy in these critical areas to a sometime-journalist/advisor with no electoral experience.

That assumes that Chapman would continue to play the leading role he’s delighted in so far, which he may not if the concept ever gets beyond the confines of his laptop. One intriguing question, which he was happy to play up, is whether George Osborne is involved in some way. Indeed, ConHome ran an article on Thursday asking that very question and answering why he might be.

ConHome is not, of course, without its own agenda. For my part, I find it difficult to believe that Osborne would want to return to front-line politics so soon after leaving it, and to return in such an unorthodox manner. Perhaps he has spoken with Chapman and given him advice but even if so, that is a long way from committing to lead a new minor party. His involvement would bring credibility, contacts and money; what it wouldn’t do is bring MPs – indeed, it would actively put off many Labour MPs from getting involved.

Besides, there is an elephant in the room – or at least, a bird of liberty. What would the Democrats offer that the Lib Dems don’t? Chapman would say (and has said) that the Lib Dems are tainted by their coalition years. That’s true though they’re not terminally tainted, any more than Labour was terminally tainted by the Winter of Discontent or Iraq, or the Tories were by the Three Day Week, the Poll Tax, the ERM or the Corn Laws. Cable can never entirely disassociate himself from the coalition (and in particular, tuition fees) but those arguments do seem from another era now: an awful lot has happened since 2010.

No, the bigger problem the Lib Dems face as far as making Brexit a core vote-driver – and an even bigger problem the Democrats would face – is that even now, it simply isn’t that big a driver and is likely to be still less so in 2022. The Lib Dems fought the 2017 election as the pro-EU party, against the pro-Brexit Tories and a deeply divided Labour. Much good it did them: they won their lowest vote-per-candidate score since 1886. The public simply decided that other things mattered more, or that if, as a Remainer, making a stand on Brexit was important, then Labour was an adequate vehicle through which to do it.

The Democrats may or may not launch. My guess will be that they do: Chapman would look pretty silly if after all his tweeting (including about the Democrats forming governments: talk about hubris!), nothing at all came of it. But whether or not they make a fleeting impression, their cause is doomed: they are neither needed nor wanted.

David Herdson


How an anti-Brexit party could be created without the need to leave existing parties

August 11th, 2017

The Labour/Cooperative party provides a legal template

It has been rehearsed many time over – the massive challenges that a new party would face simply getting off the ground.

Now LD blogger, Mark Pack has come up with an ingenious and what he says is legal solution using the provision within electoral law that allows candidates to stand as joint Labour/Co-operative Party candidates. He writes:

“..”This allows a candidate to stand as the joint candidate of two different political parties, with the news that they are a joint candidate reproduced on the ballot paper.

That ballot paper point is crucial because it means that right at the point of voting, people know exactly which candidates have the backing of parties. No messing around with hoping people will look up preferred candidates on a tactical voting website. Instead you get the message right in front of every single voter at the point at which they vote.

Yet by backing candidates of existing parties you also get the benefits of their existing organisations and voter loyalty.

So, you create a new pro-European political party, but rather than try to make it in a fully functioning traditional party, you instead make it an umbrella coalition. Offer any candidate of any party the chance to get an official endorsement from the new party if they agree to a certain number of basic principles (European policy most obviously). If a candidate signs up, give them the right to use the logo and name on the ballot paper..

…There are a few legal wrinkles to this the full details of which are in the legal details from the Electoral Commission. First, the party description on the ballot paper. This requires consent of the ‘traditional’ political parties whose candidates the new party wishes also to endorse as what the law permits is for different parties to agree to register a joint description (e.g. Green Party / New European Party). A candidate using such a joint description then choose which of official logos of the two parties to use.”

It sounds plausible but would the main parties agree to their general election candidates putting themselves forward in this way. You could all get a situation where more than one contender with say “Pro-EU” link could put themselves forward in, say, strong remain areas.

There’s no reason why pro-brexiteers shouldn’t do the same.


Mike Smithson


The key battlegrounds for next time – whenever that is

August 11th, 2017

The above charts are taken from an excellent new paper just published by the Commons Library and is available to download. This will certainly be a key resource for punters at the next election.

They show the most marginal seats for the three main parties at Westminster. In the case of the SNP all seats are listed.

We all know that there were many very tight results on June 8th and the number of seats that were held or changed hands with margins below 100 is quite extraordinary.

For me the most striking list is that of the SNP held seats the biggest majority was relatively small. With more pro-union tactical voting Sturgeon’s party could be whittled down even more at a new election.

It is interesting on the CON list that only two of its 12 Scottish gains from the SNP was by a tight enough margin to feature which suggests that they might continue to be blue.

The LAB list puts some of the party’s and surprise and extraordinary gains into context. Very few were predicting any gains at all for Corbyn’s party which at one point had been 23% down in the polls.

Mike Smithson