Warren consolidates her position as the main challenger to Joe Biden in the first of the Democratic nominee debates

June 27th, 2019

Beto failed to help his bid

Overnight we have had the first of the Democratic debates held in Miami in the possible swing state of florida which the party needs to win next year if it is to have a chance of beating Trump.

The Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren , had a big boost before the debate started with a new Economist YouGov poll having her at 19% just 6 points behind the front-runner Joe Biden. This is the closest she has got to the former vice president so far in this campaign.

The general view was she performed confidently and well underpinning her position in both the betting and the polling. She is going to be a formidable opponent.

There are so many contenders for the Democratic nomination that the first debate has had to be split up into two phases. This was the first and tonight we will have the second in which Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will be on the platform.

Such was the range of people on the stage last night that someone like myself who closely follows US politics could barely name more than half of them.

A big loser, I thought, was Beto O’Rourke, who came to prominence in last November’s midterm elections when he came close to un-seating Texas senator Ted Cruz. He simply wasn’t distinctive enough in such a large field to make an impression.

Warren’s performance and new polling position puts extra pressure on Joe Biden during his debate tonight.

One thing that the event did show is that having so many different contenders on the stage is really quite ridiculous and unmanageable. The party and the TV networks need to find a mechanism to hone it down to only those with a real chance.

Mike Smithson



Johnson edges back to being an even stronger favourite on the Betfair exchange

June 26th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

His “bus painting hobby” has moved the agenda on

Maybe because we are getting closer to the ballot packs going out and Johnson appears to have survived the Camberwell apartment crisis but we are now seeing a move back to him and away from Hunt in the next CON leader betting.

Essentially there’s little more in the story and Johnson’s “painting model buses” interview, however bizarre, has been his dead cat on the table. Things have just moved on.

Things could still go wrong but he is being ably advised.

I just wonder whether the emotional strain of first his marriage break-up and then the highly public spat with his girl friend is going to show at some stage. Just having no permanent home must add to his stress levels.

Mike Smithson


YouGov finds just 28% wanting a no deal against 43% wanting to remain

June 26th, 2019

I like this YouGov approach to discerning public opinion on Brexit – set out the four main option and get people to rank them.

The results, which have just been published, are in the table above.

The numbers broadly speak for themselves but notice the gender divide.  Women are less likely to make no deal their top choice than men.

Mike Smithson


Tonight the fight for the WH2020 Democratic nomination moves to the debate stage with Biden leading in the betting followed by Warren

June 26th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Tonight in the US the fight for the Democratic nomination for next year’s White House Race moves to a new stage with the first TV debate between the wannabe nominees.

Because so many figures within the party have put their names forward the debate is going to be spread over two nights and tonight’s line up includes Elizabeth Warren heading a group of ten. Joe Biden, the current favourite, will feature on Thursday night.

To qualify to appear the Democratic party has insisted that each nominee must be able to demonstrate they have 65,000 individual campaign donors including at least 200 each in 20 States. The alternative is to have at least 1% support in at least three polls.

With so many people there this is being quite a high bar but clearly one that is necessary given the numbers.

If any of the outsiders are to have an impact then they need to do well in their first debate

Generally the American public only starts getting interested in the fight once the debates have started and the premium that those contenders currently with high name recognition have in the polls will be less of an issue.

As the betting chart shows Biden has remained pretty consistent but we have seen a solid move to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in recent weeks. Her rise has been mainly at the expense of 77 year old Bernie Sanders who competes for the left wing base.

I remain totally unconvinced of the 76 yer old favourite who has a reputation for being gaff-prone, something reinforced by his comments about working with segregationists during his early career. His phraseology was awkward with his attempts to respond to criticism barely convincing.

Mike Smithson


Johnson appears to be planning to ignore parliament if it sought to block a no deal Brexit

June 25th, 2019

Dangerous stuff from the wannabe PM


Meanwhile in the leadership battle in the party that won four times as many MEPs and more than twice the CON vote last month

June 25th, 2019

Inevitably the Tory leadership contest is totally dwarfing coverage of other political developments including the battle for the leadership of the party that totally out-performed the Tories in last month’s Euro elections. Yet given the parliamentary situation the outcome of this postal members’ ballot could be crucial.

Last night I attended a hustings in London, sponsored by the New Statesman and hosted by its political editor,  Stephen Bush. There are two candidates both of whom were ministers during the coalition government – Jo Swinson and Ed Davey – the latter having been in the cabinet.

The question which caught them both to when they were asked over what they were most illiberal. It was a bit like the famous question to TMay during the GE2017 when she was asked what the naughtiest thing she had ever done. Perhaps that could be asked to Boris whenever he gets pinned down.

Both were impressive in different ways and clearly the process of doing successive hustings meetings in different parts of the country has honed up their skills. Whatever this is good training for general elections.

I continue to be a Lib Dem member and would be happy with either of them and find it very difficult to choose,  The challenge for Davey, who is someone I have known since before he became an MP, is that there is clearly a feeling within the party that the next leader should be a woman. He does, however have the most experience.

The LDs are going through something of a renaissance simply because, unlike LAB and CON, they have a clear view on the overwhelming main issue of the day – Brexit.  The “Bollocks to Brexit” slogan from last month might have been unedifying but at least it was clear.

Swinson is the favourite having tighter odds on Betfair at the moment than Boris has in the CON leadership betting.

Mike Smithson


It looks as though August 1st will be the date of the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election

June 25th, 2019

The signs are that today will see the writ being moved for the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election to fill the vacancy created by the success of the recall petition that has seen the sitting Conservative MP, Chris Davies, forced out of his seat. This follows his conviction and sentencing for expenses fraud. The date looks set to be August 1st bang in the middle of the holiday season.

Extraordinarily it was confirmed yesterday that Mr Davies has been selected as the Tory candidate in the upcoming fight which on the face of it seems a very brave decision. He can be literally described as a “convict” by his opponents and the Tory Party approach to Law and Order can be portrayed as being bit lapse when it comes to one of its own.

What makes this really interesting is that the by-election will take place in the week after both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties will have new leaders. It also means that the by-election campaign will run parallel to the leadership campaigns that are taking place in those two parties.

No doubt Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson for the Tories as well as Ed Davey and Jo Swinson for the Lib Dems will be keen to make sure that they are photographed working hard in the by-election campaigns.

If the betting markets have this right then the Lib Dems are about to win back a seat that they gained in a 1987 by-election which was lost at the 2015 general election. But betting markets can be wrong as we saw a few weeks ago in Peterborough where the Brexit party had been odds on to take the seat but Labour hung on. At Peterborough, though, LAB disowned their MP as soon as she was convicted and put a new candidate up in the by-election.

This is the first by-election in a Conservative seat since GE2017 and since then the Tory national polling position has sharply declined while the LDs are doing better than at any time since entering the coalition in 2010.

Because of the shear size of the seat, it is the largest in England and Wales in terms of the area covered, it is a very difficult place to campaign. There are no towns bigger than 10k population and in many parts the mobile signals are almost non-existent.

No doubt a range of betting markets will emerge.

Mike Smithson







The final step. Why the leader of the Conservative party does not automatically become Prime Minister

June 24th, 2019

Professor Brian Cox was once asked to explain string theory in a sentence. His answer: “It’s probably not true.” The same one sentence explanation could be used to explain the theory that the next Conservative leader might not become Prime Minister. But since it’s being talked about quite a bit, let’s have a look at why.

The current Parliament was elected at a general election held on 8 June 2017. It resulted in a hung Parliament. It is forgotten now, because Theresa May held office both before and after that election, just how precarious her grip on power was. She faced two challenges simultaneously: retaining control of her own party and retaining control of Parliament.  

Theresa May stayed in office as Prime Minister for two reasons. First, as the incumbent, she had the right to try to form a government first, just as Ted Heath had in 1974 and Gordon Brown had in 2010. And secondly, because whether or not she was going to be successful, someone had to fill the role until the successful contender had emerged and that responsibility falls to the incumbent.

During the intervening period, there was some genuine doubt about whether the negotiations with the DUP would reach a successful outcome. Jeremy Corbyn was demanding the right to get the keys of Number 10. It was not until 26 June 2017 that the Conservative party reached agreement with the DUP on a supply and confidence arrangement.  

The last two years have not been kind to the Conservative party. Brexit has acted as a centrifuge on it, its forces pinning its MPs and leaving them feeling dizzy and sick. It has already seen four MPs break away from its Remain wing, further weakening its already-etiolated control of Parliament. Another of their number has just been ejected from Parliament by recall, meaning that a by-election is pending. The Conservatives’ effective majority, with DUP support, is currently just two.

Many remaining Conservative MPs do not trouble to conceal their dismay at the prospect of no deal Brexit and Boris Johnson. Some, such as Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, have been making public or semi-public their intention to oppose him in the name of Brexit. The continuing complexities of his personal life and his reclusiveness will be doing nothing to deter them. Several of them are being threatened with deselection, giving them little to lose by going rogue.

To date, no one has ever gone broke betting on the Conservative Remainers failing to follow through. So it must remain by some way the likeliest outcome that most of them will go quietly, at least initially, deluding themselves that they should wait and see. You and I might wonder what they would be waiting to see, but they aren’t called wets for nothing.

Numbers are so tight, however, that even a handful might transform the calculation. Lyndon B Johnson reputedly said that the first rule of politics was knowing how to count. Let’s consider that first rule for a while. If Boris Johnson looks unlikely to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons, what then?

Professor Cox would appreciate that a different first rule, Newton’s First Law of Motion, applies.  Unless and until something happens, the status quo continues. So Theresa May stays in office until she resigns or is ousted. The assumption is that she will speedily resign after the conclusion of the Conservative leadership election campaign. That assumption looks very open to question.

When she resigns, it is her duty (as well as that of other senior statesmen) to recommend to the Queen the person who she believes can be expected to command the confidence of the Commons. If that is not clear to her, she should not make such a recommendation. It is very questionable whether she should resign at all until things become clearer.

Obviously, this would be an extremely unstable equilibrium. Theresa May would have no visible means of support. At any point, she might face a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in her government.  This would presumably pass. We would then enter a period of 14 days to find a government that commanded the confidence of the Commons. Otherwise, a general election is automatically held.

Even after the passing of a vote of no confidence, Theresa May is not obliged to resign as Prime Minister and might well not. After James Callaghan was defeated in a vote of no confidence in 1979, the government continued in office for a further week before Parliament was dissolved. Theresa May might reasonably argue that she should stay in situ until it was clear that a fresh government was capable of being formed that might command the confidence of Parliament.

Political journalists, who have frankly been spoiled in recent years by the speed and variety of political developments, would love the chaos. The rest of us, not so much. Where it would go, goodness only knows. On the track record of recent years, nowhere very good.

In the end, however, Boris Johnson would probably be able to line up enough votes behind him at least to have a shot at proving that he could control a majority. With Labour having lost a more than a dozen MPs from its ranks since 2017, enough independents might abstain or prop him up to justify him being called to kiss hands to test his chances in Parliament, unless rather more Conservative MPs are prepared to take a stand than have already made themselves known – at least half a dozen, I think.  

Even if Boris Johnson tries and fails, a Prime Minister for a few days is still a Prime Minister. At least for betting purposes, anyway.

What might happen after that is still murkier. Perhaps Brian Cox could explain it in 11 dimensions for us. I’m all ears.

Alastair Meeks