As ICM reports another gigantic CON lead Number 10 moves to squash the “snap election” speculation

March 20th, 2017

ICM/Guardian poll
CON 45% (+1)
LAB 26% (-2)
UKIP 10% (-1)
LD 9% (+1)
GRN: 4% (-1)

This morning there have been two significant announcements from number 10. Firstly article 50 will be invoked next week on March 29th. Secondly it is being made very clear that there will be no general election. This is how the Guardian is reporting the latter:

“…In the past Theresa May has said repeatedly that she has not plans to call an early general election, but this morning her spokesman was firmer, saying: “There is not going to be one [an early general election]. He also appeared to rule out any election before 2020, the date when the next one is due under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, saying that any election outside the FTPA timetable would be early…

Before the announcement Ladbrokes were offering just 5/1 on a general election taking place on May 4th – day of the local and mayoral elections.

No doubt the prime minister’s team have looked fully into the legal aspect of the fixed term Parliament Act that was part of the Coalition agreement in 2010 to see if there is a way round. But quite simply the prime minister’s power to select election dates has now been taken away although there is a process within the act for creating an early election. The ability of earlier PMs to go to the country when it most suited them is no longer there.

The way that some people have been talking and reporting this suggests that they haven’t quite caught up with the change in the law that took place as part of the Coalition agreement with the Lib Dems seven years ago

The article 50 timing announcement is not really a surprise. This was always going to be the case once the legislation went through Parliament unamended as happened last week.

The ICM poll is simply totally awful for Mr Corbyn’s Labour but no doubt the old stubborn bed blocker, without the self-awareness to realise HE is a large part of the problem, will just stick it out.

We await the May elections to see if the polling is reflected in a substantial number of Labour losses. That might just trigger pressure on the leadership but the way the party is structured these days Mr Corbyn seems secure.

Mike Smithson


Don’t get complacent – Scotland’s future in the Union is hanging by a thread.

March 19th, 2017

The case for Scottish Independence is full of holes writes Keiran Pedley but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Since Nicola Sturgeon’s bombshell speech last week, where she indicated her intention to ask for a second referendum on Scottish Independence, the conventional wisdom appears to have been on something of a journey. The original reaction was one of panic. This was it. Just as we all feared, Scotland was heading for Independence as a consequence of the Brexit vote. Then Theresa May just said ‘no’. Now was not the time. There was a collective sigh of relief. ‘It’s not as bad as we feared’, the argument went, the SNP have overplayed their hand and this will all backfire on them.

The case against

I acknowledge that those arguing that Scottish Independence won’t happen have a reasonably strong case. First and foremost, Theresa May controls the timing of any vote. She will argue that a second vote will have to wait until after Brexit negotiations are finalised and there isn’t a great deal Nicola Sturgeon can do about it. In theory at least, that means that May can ensure that a future referendum takes place at the most helpful time for a ‘No’ campaign possible. Meanwhile, there is no obvious sign of a surge in support for Scottish Independence right now, nor an immediate desire for another vote on the subject.

Furthermore, it does seem that the ‘No’ side, led by Ruth Davidson, is getting its arguments in early against a ‘Yes’ vote next time.

“We have asked basic questions on things like currency, on things like a central bank, on things like whether we would even rejoin Europe as a full member, and Nicola Sturgeon seems unable to commit to that.” Ruth Davidson

The SNP case for Independence seems to rely on a newly Independent Scotland joining the EU, yet there is some doubt as to whether it would be able to. Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has warned that Scotland’s economy would be destroyed if it was a member of the EU and therefore outside the ‘UK Single Market’ when the rest of the UK is no longer a member.  These issues will be the subject of furious claim and counter-claim but it is reasonable to suggest that the case for Independence is built on shaky ground.

But don’t get complacent – so is the case for ‘No’

Yet all of that is of little comfort to me. Those getting complacent about Scotland’s future in the Union would be wise to think again. Whilst it is true that Theresa May can control the timing of any vote she cannot refuse one forever. A second referendum is coming and the context of that vote is that the UK voted to leave the EU but Scotland voted Remain. That has changed the game. So if the Brexit negotiations go anything other than swimmingly, the SNP will have a stick with which to beat the Independence drum alongside the grievance of a referendum withheld by Westminster. This is before we even touch the problematic dynamics of a future campaign itself. What will the ‘No’ campaign’s message be? Who will be in charge? What will Scottish Labour’s role be? And so on.

In truth, there are arguments for and against why Scottish Independence will ultimately happen or not. It was ever thus. That is not the same as complacently shrugging one’s shoulders and assuming it will all be fine. Just because Scottish opinion leans ‘No’ now does not mean that is fixed. We are about to enter an extremely turbulent time politically. If Theresa May does not emerge with a good Brexit deal – or indeed if she does not emerge with a deal at all – then the case for Scottish Independence will look very different in two years time than it does right now. If you are optimistic about the Union’s future, it is wise to be only cautiously so. The conventional wisdom on this issue seems to have lurched into alarmingly complacent territory and that worries me greatly.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran is the presenter of the PB/Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley

Listen to the latest podcast – on Scottish Independence and Northern Ireland’s future – below


The French election looks set to be biggest non-UK/US political betting event ever

March 19th, 2017

With five weeks to go Macron remains strong odds-on favourite

Exactly 5 weeks on from today, on April 23rd, voters in France will participate in the round one of the presidential election and betting interest has been enormous. Currently on the Betfair exchange alone £7.5m of wagers have been matched and looks set to be bettered in size terms only by BREXIT and Trump.

Given that the French don’t allow punters to access British online bookmakers while in France then it’s safe to assume that little of the betting interest has come from people who will actually vote. I’m now being contacted by French media to explain why there is such interest in the UK.

All the signs from the polling are that the hard right candidate, Marine le Pen, will win that first round. But that will not be enough and it looks as though she will struggle in the second round on May 7th when the two at the top of round one slug it out.

Polling, because of the system is a bit complex. People are asked for their first round voting preferences and then presented with a range of alternatives for the second round. So it is important not to be misled by reports of the first round preferences.

Things look good at the moment for the 39 year old independent now running for En Marche, Emmanuel Macron. He has a 20%+ second round poll margin over Le Pen but a narrower one over the Republican, Fillon, still in the race in spite of Penelopegate.

Le Pen’s main chance comes if Macron fails to make the final two.

Mike Smithson


Blindsided. Leavers have given the PM a free rein over the Article 50 negotiations and they’ll come to regret it

March 19th, 2017

From now on Theresa May can ignore Parliament

Theresa May has striven mightily at every stage to avoid Parliamentary restraint on her Brexit negotiations with the rest of the EU.  She fought in the courts to the bitter end against the principle that the triggering of Article 50 required the prior approval from Parliament.  A White Paper was extracted out of the government in a manner akin to that used by Lord Olivier in Marathon Man.  The White Paper thus extracted was so anodyne that vanilla seemed tangy after reading it.  The Article 50 Bill was pushed through Parliament with every attempt to place any restraint on the way in which the government negotiates Brexit stripped out.  It received Royal Assent on Wednesday in pristine form.  The only commitment that the Government has given is to allow a vote on the final deal on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Leaving it would mean that Britain left the EU without any deal at all.  So from now on, Theresa May can ignore Parliament.

Throughout all of this process, Theresa May has been aided and abetted by the ardent Leavers and their press supporters.  Judges were vilified for issuing inconvenient judgments, to the point of being described as enemies of the people.  The more hardcore Leavers contemplated the abolition of the House of Lords when it sought to impose conditions on the Article 50 Bill.  They are no doubt surveying the outcome with great satisfaction.

Those Leavers who are regarded on their own side as intellectuals have often stressed how Brexit would restore Parliamentary sovereignty.  Yet they have fought tooth and nail to remove Parliament’s role in the exit process.  These are Augustinian Leavers – Lord give me Parliamentary sovereignty, but not yet.

But they do not seem to realise what they have done.  Because this was never a battle between Leavers and Remainers.  This was, as the courts explained in their judgments in the Article 50 case, a question of where power lay between the Government and Parliament.  The courts concluded that Parliament held the power to initiate the triggering of Article 50.

Throughout the Second World War, Parliament debated war aims, strategy and progress.  Chamberlain fell over just such a debate.  No matter how keen many Leavers are on analogies from the 1940s, even they would struggle to describe Brexit as operating on a higher plane than a global war.  But the Leaver MPs have fallen far below their predecessors, acting as lobby fodder to abdicate their role to the Government.  From now on, the executive has complete control.

It is important to understand what that means.  Between the triggering of Article 50 (A Day) and the day of Brexit (B Day), Theresa May’s government can set whatever policy it thinks fit.  It is far from clear that policy will be one of hard Brexit.  The negotiations have not yet started.  No one yet knows where they are going to finish.  Unless there is no deal at all, the deal will involve compromise on the British side in some ways.  And if the Government compromises in some ways, we can expect the ultra-orthodox Leavers to be outraged.

But they will have no direct outlet for that outrage.  The Government negotiations are not to be controlled by Parliament.  Ministers may be brought before select committees, whose members may huff and puff, but ultimately if a deal is struck it will be put before Parliament on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.  Given the balance of the House of Commons, that deal will be taken.  The ultra-orthodox Leavers have voted for their own impotence.  By B Day, their vision of a Britain with no ties to the EU of any kind might well have been flushed down the pan.

Now imagine that the House of Commons had approached this differently, with a will to ensure that it kept a tight rein on the Government.  Given the small majority of the Government in the House of Commons, a relatively small number of Conservative MPs on either side of the party (perhaps even working in concert) could have secured this.  The Government could then have been required to explain its approach to MPs and win their support for approach on broad policy decisions.  The Government would have been forced to do the hard thinking that David Davis freely admitted before the select committee this week had not yet been undertaken.  It might even have helped build that consensus that the Prime Minister is set to tour the nation to build.

So when the Leaver MPs are betrayed, as in their own minds they most certainly will be, and Brexit is not negotiated to their complete satisfaction, they are going to be unable to express themselves through normal Parliamentary means.  The newspaper front pages will no doubt scream, but they will do so largely impotently.

How will the hardline Leavers continue their campaign?  They’ve just helped to close off the conventional route.  But that frustration will find a vent somehow.  But how?

Alastair Meeks


ComRes becomes the 3rd pollster in a week to have UKIP fourth

March 18th, 2017

ComRes for Indy and S Mirror
CON 42
LAB 25
LD 12

Over the past week YouGov, Ipsos-MORI and now ComRes have found UKIP in fourth place. Partly this is down to the LDs advancing and partly to UKIP’s shares slipping.

LAB, meanwhile is now a colossal 17% behind in very serious trouble indeed. Things don’t look good for Corbyn’s team in the May round of local and Mayoral elections.

Since Corbyn was re-elected as leader last September the party’s plight has got worse and worse and they are now shedding support to the LDs. Mr Corbyn, however, looks unassailable because of the party’s rules.

Amongst other questions ComRes found its sample split over the Brexit process, with roughly equal proportions agreeing that Parliament should be able to veto the Government’s proposed Brexit vote as disagreeing (38% v 42%)

The poll found people more likely to agree than disagree that they do not expect Britain to complete leaving the EU within the current planned two year period (47% v 32%), although there is no clear majority.

The Government’s U-turn on an increase in National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed chimes with voters – more than half (54%) oppose the measure.

A worrying feature for the blue team is that a greater proportion of the sample agreed that Theresa May’s Government does not have the best interests at heart of ‘people like me’ (44% compared to 33%). This suggests that LAB under a decent leader would have something to build on.

Similarly, the public are more likely to disagree than agree that the Budget overall was fair (40% v 34%).

Mike Smithson


UKIP: circling the whirlpool

March 18th, 2017

How does Nuttall save his party from irrelevance?

UKIP was very good for Brexit: if the party had never been created, Britain would almost certainly still be a member of the European Union.* Brexit, by contrast, has been disastrous for UKIP. Stripped of their two greatest assets – their mission and by far their most effective leader – UKIP has struggled since last July to find a purpose or a direction. Compounded by internal divisions, the estrangement of their major funder, and a gaffe-prone leadership, you might have expected that the inevitable result would be a major hit to their polling. In fact, it’s not quite as simple as that.

During the referendum campaign, UKIP was consistently polling in the mid- to upper-teens (with the exception of Mori), peaking at a 20% share reported by YouGov on 26 April 2016. Perhaps not coincidentally, that poll also reported the lowest Con share this parliament (30%) and the joint-biggest Lab lead (3%).

Immediately after their crowning triumph on 23 June last year, UKIP suffered an immediate drop in their support. In the month before the referendum, UKIP averaged 16.7%. That dropped to just 13.0% in July but by February 2017, the monthly average was still 12.6%: near enough the same given the different pollsters and methodologies. Since then, however, UKIP’s difficulties – exemplified by Nuttall’s difficult by-election campaign in Stoke Central – might finally have caught up with them.

The 6% that Mori reported this week is, on the face of it, pretty awful but in fact Mori have published very low scores for UKIP for some months: they returned 6% in August and October 2016, and January 2017 as well. Even so, the most rosy interpretation is that the party’s treading water. Unfortunately, that seems less likely when set against the other polls this week: the first single-digit UKIP score reported by YouGov since February 2013 (which also reported UKIP back behind the Lib Dems), and the joint-lowest share with ICM since 2015.

That polling data is backed up in real votes too. UKIP has never been good at by-elections or local elections (and, to be fair, focussing on these was never intrinsic to the party’s mission in a way that it is for, say, the Lib Dems). Even so, this week’s by-elections saw UKIP drop two-thirds of their share in two of the four elections, poll only 5% in another and not contest the fourth – and while they may have been unusually poor results even by UKIP’s standards, they weren’t that atypical of recent weeks.

Where is this pointing? In the first instance, UKIP’s recent decline seems to have been good for the Tories. While the hackneyed cliché of UKIP as Tories-on-holiday was at best a gross simplification, there is a definite mirror to the graph of the Con and UKIP lines this parliament. So while UKIP’s support overall might be a lot more diverse than ex-Con, the movement that’s gone to and from it could well be primarily among Con-sympathetic voters. Certainly, current polling indicates that the great majority of UKIP lost support is to the Conservatives. Hence why UKIP’s March decline has propelled the Tories up into the mid-40s.

(We should, as an aside, note just how extraordinary that Con figure is, even before the context of fiscal restraint, botched budget PR and a difficult Brexit process is taken into account. The 44% that ICM and YouGov reported is a higher share of the GB electorate than Margaret Thatcher won in 1983).

All of which augers very ill for UKIP’s prospects in May. 2013 marked UKIP’s breakthrough in council elections, where they finished third in the national vote and returned a net gain of 139 seats. In many cases, local government hasn’t been a happy experience for the party adding to the problems at a national level. The likely result is a loss of a great many of these seats. The only saving grace for UKIP is that the losses probably won’t receive much coverage: the top-line political reporting will focus on Labour’s performance.

That, however, should be scant consolation. It is too soon to declare UKIP to be in a death-spiral. Political parties are resilient things and it takes a lot to kill them off. UKIP still has issues it can make its own – withdrawal from the ECHR, for example – and of course, the government could yet hand it a reprieve depending on what deal it strikes to leave the EU. Immigration also still has the capacity to attract voters to UKIP, though a hard Brexit and an associated economic downturn would likely reduce numbers. Indeed, short of a rejuvenating Soft Brexit, it’s hard to see the other parties consistently allowing UKIP enough space to thrive on domestic policy. Through the first decade of this century, UKIP tended to poll 2-3%. Given their failure to grasp their opportunities since last July, it’s not unreasonable to think that before long they might be back there.

David Herdson

* As with all alternate histories, it’s impossible to know what would have happened had Eurosceptic activists and voters remained with the main parties. The Conservative Party in particular would have been a different beast, with possible meaningful consequences from the 2005 leadership election onwards. Similarly, the 2010 election wouldn’t take much tipping to produce a different outcome and – consequently – a very different future for the UK. That said, even with additional Eurosceptic agitation within the Conservatives, it’s unlikely that an outright Leaver would have been elected leader before 2015, and then only in opposition. The best (for Leavers) that might have happened is some analogue to reality, with an In/Out referendum promised in order to resolve internal tensions rather than in response to the external threat posed by UKIP. More likely is that divisions over Europe would have so split the party that irrespective of who led it, the Tories would have returned to opposition and, hence, be incapable of implementing any policy. And even if the Tories were in government and did grant a referendum, Leave would have gone into the vote without the nucleus that UKIP in reality provided, making it much more likely that Remain would have won.


Local By-Election Results : March 16th 2017

March 17th, 2017

Warbreck on Blackpool (Con defence, death of sitting member)
Result: Conservative 728 (55% +18%), Labour 468 (35% +6%), UKIP 75 (6% -13%), Liberal Democrat 57 (4% -3%)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 260 (20%) on a swing of 6% from Labour to Conservative

Saham Toney on Breckland (Con defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Conservative 335 (48% -3%), Liberal Democrat 105 (15%, no candidate at last election), Independent 104 (15%, no candidate at last election), UKIP 80 (11% -21%), Labour 72 (10%, no candidate at last election)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 230 (33%) on a notional swing of 9% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat

South Heaton on Newcastle upon Tyne (Lab defence, resignation of sitting member)
Result: Labour 768 (47% -5%), Green Party 444 (27% +2%), Liberal Democrat 260 (16% +10%), UKIP 88 (5% -5%), Conservative 80 (5% unchanged)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 324 (20%) on a swing of 3.5% from Labour to Green

Walton-le-Dale East on South Ribble (Ind defence, elected as Con)
Result: Conservative 359 (49% -5%), Labour 262 (36% -10%), Liberal Democrat 106 (15%, no candidate at last election)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 97 (13%) on a swing of 2.5% from Labour to Conservative

Liberal Democrat swings:
Warbreck: 10.5% from Liberal Democrat to Conservative
Saham Toney: As listed
South Heaton: 7.5% from Labour to Liberal Democrat
Walton-le-Dale East: 10% from Conservative to Liberal Democrat (notional)


George Osborne to become editor of the Evening Standard but he’s NOT quitting as an MP

March 17th, 2017

Get ready for a row about MPs 2nd/3rd jobs

The man who was publicly sacked when TMay become PM last July has found himself another job – he’s to be editor of the London freebie paper, the Evening Standard.

But it has been made clear that the MP for Tatton in Cheshire is to continue in that role – something that is bound to cause controversy. No doubt it will be pointed out that Boris Johnson managed for a time the twin roles of being an MP and editing the Spectator.

The paper’s Russian owner, Evgeny Lebedev, said “I am proud to have an editor of such substance, who reinforces The Standard’s standing and influence in London and whose political viewpoint – socially liberal and economically pragmatic – closely matches that of many of our readers”.

Interestingly paper said its schedule would make it possible for the ex-Chancellor to “continue to fulfil his other commitments, including as an MP; giving him the time to vote and contribute in Parliament in the afternoon after the paper has gone to print, and be in his constituency”.

The former LAB leader, Michael Foot, was at one stage editor of the paper.

Mike Smithson