LAB’s leadership rules will limit the number of nominees and could well ensure it’s an all-female battle

December 7th, 2019

Starmer looks a clear lay to me

Irrespective of what happens on Thursday, there will be some form of Labour leadership election soon. Tom Watson standing down as Deputy Leader (and MP) alone ensures that. If Corbyn does well enough to retain the leadership then the contest to be his deputy becomes a contest to be heir-apparent; if not, we get the full-blown leadership contest more-or-less straight away.

A few notes of caution first. The election may well not be immediately. If Johnson forms a new government but with a sufficiently slim majority (or with no majority at all), there’s a fair chance that Labour could try to disrupt the passage of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement further, which is best done if senior Shadow Cabinet members are not at each others’ throats.

Similarly, there’s a chance that the election could be delayed if Labour does form a government: holding the contest while trying to settle down into government, embark on a Brexit renegotiation and launch a radical domestic agenda is best not done concurrently with an internal contest – though it couldn’t be delayed indefinitely. The summer would be best.

However, while polls can be wrong and events can change opinion, as things stand, Labour will be remaining on the opposition benches. If so, current assumptions about how that election might play out are missing some crucial details.

When Labour changed the rules on nominations, lowering the threshold for candidates from 15% of MPs (and MEPs, if there still are any), to 10%, this was widely reported as a relaxing of the qualification. Yes and no. It will certainly make it easier for one – or maybe two – candidates to gain the required number of MPs’ signatures but that was not the only change made. In addition, in order to be validly nominated, a candidate must also receive:
– 5% or more of CLPs (Constituency Labour Parties) i.e. 33+, or
– At least 3 affiliates, including at least 2 trade unions, comprising at least 5% of the affiliated membership.

These may not sound particularly onerous for serious candidates but they are. In 2015, both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper would have failed the affiliates criterion (Kendall didn’t receive any; Cooper did but they fell short of the 5% threshold). Cooper would have gained ballot access on the CLP nominations but Kendall wouldn’t.

One thing the rule change does is put huge power in the hands of four unions – Unite, Unison, the GMB and Usdaw – each of which comfortably meets the 5% threshold: a threshold it’s almost impossible practically to reach without one of those four onside. True, their nominations don’t see a candidate directly onto the ballot paper but there are enough smaller unions and friendly societies that it ought to be possible to make the requirement.

What of the CLPs? Shouldn’t 5% be easily reachable for any credible candidate? Not necessarily. In 2016, with only two candidates on the paper, Owen Smith won the support of only 53 CLPs, representing 8.2%. Had the antu-Corbyn vote been split, it’s highly unlikely that any challenger could have gained the nominations.

Note also that the rules strongly imply that these CLP and affiliate nominations take place before close of nominations – in other words, members and unions won’t necessarily know the final line-up when they’re nominating and could well back candidates who subsequently withdraw (or be split by such candidates that they end up not nominating anyone).

So, what of the potential candidates? The current favourite is Sir Keir Starmer, though the odds of 9/2 rightly indicate how wide the field is. I wonder though. If Labour is elected, he surely can’t contest the Deputy Leader election while negotiating Labour’s revised deal within three months – which means he won’t have the machine or endorsements others will gain, nor the office.

But either way, would he even get the nominations? I’ve no doubt he would be fine among MPs but as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t have close links to any of the big four unions and while you’d think he should gain the CLP support, I have my doubts. To me, Starmer appears to lack both an ideology and passion. In any election, but particularly an internal party one, that can be fatal when his opponents will be clearly from the left and speaking to a left-biased membership.

Even if he does gain the nominations, if it takes much longer than the media expect, that will knock the momentum out of his campaign while handing over the front-runner baton to someone else. (That ‘someone else’ is very likely to be a woman. Given Labour is painfully aware that it’s now the only major party not to have had a female leader, male candidates will begin at a disadvantage anyway).

All of which is to say that I think he’s substantially over-priced. For value, I would look more to Angela Rayner (12/1, Ladbrokes / BetFred), who has been prominent in the campaign, Dawn Butler (50/1, Ladbrokes), who is a close Corbyn ally and a declared candidate for the Deputy Leadership. To my mind, Rebecca Long-Bailey should be favourite and her current best odds of 11/2 (SkyBet) are about right but at half those of Rayner, I don’t think she’s twice as likely to win.

Of course, we don’t yet know either the timetable for the election (it might start next week; it might not be until 2023 or even later), we don’t know the candidates and we don’t necessarily know the rules – they could be changed again, both if Corbyn does win but also if I understand them correctly, the NEC itself has the power to change them unilaterally.

But as certainty firms up, so value will tend to dissipate – hence why it’s a good time to scenario plan betting beyond Thursday.

David Herdson


YouGov snap poll: Johnson wins 52-48

December 6th, 2019

Given the CON voting poll lead that’s not that good for the PM

The CON majority betting has barely moved – still a 71% chance.

I thought Nick Robinson did well and it was good to see the former BBC Political Editor back on TV.

Hard to say what impact this debate will have. Most of those who tuned in, I guess, were committed beforehand. This week’s polls suggests that the Tories have bled little support to LAB during the campaign but that a sizeable slab of LAB leavers are now in the Tory camp. I can’t see that changing.

The big issue for the Tories is stemming losses to the SNP in Scotland and the LDs in Remainia

Mike Smithson


Tories drop five seats on the spreads following the Andrew Neil interview rumpus

December 6th, 2019

SportingIndex Commons Spreads

Punters think it will have an impact

Just before the Andrew Neil video attack on Johnson was published the Tories were trading at 344 sell and 350 buy on the Sporting Index Commons seats spread betting market. Those are now down five seats.

On the Betfair majority market the Tories are down just a point.

Spread betting is much more sensitive here because the more people are right the more they win and the more they are wrong the more they lose.

Whatever the markets still think that Johnson will have a comfortable majority but not quite as big is was seen yesterday.

Mike Smithson


The killer polling numbers for Corbyn – the pre election Ipsos-MORI leader ratings

December 6th, 2019

As I have said repeatedly over the years leader ratings are a better guide to election outcomes than voting intention numbers. The reason is that this form of questioning is what pollsters do best – asking for opinions not seeking to get poll participants to predict whether they might take part in some future event and what they will actually do.

Ipsos-MORI has been doing this in the UK since the late 1970s and has resisted the temptation to mess about with its long term trackers.

The result is that it is able to put together a chart like above and we are comparing like with like.

Assuming Johnson’s Tories do win then he’ll have the distinction of winning with the worst ratings on record. The reason, of course, is that Corbyn has reached record lows for an opposition leader on this metric.

It is extraordinary that he has survived with numbers that surely would have led to a replacement in earlier times.

We are where we are and it is hard to see Corbyn still being in the post a week today.

Corbyn’s net rating of -44 compares to -11 at this stage of the 2017 General Election and a score of -41 at the beginning of that campaign.

Swinson’s satisfaction level has stayed the same since October at 29%. Her problem is that her dissatisfaction numbers have moved from 41% to 51%. Essentially the don’t knows of October have moved against her.

Mike Smithson


The number that should worry the Tories

December 6th, 2019

Andrew Neil’s attack on Johnson goes viral

By 5am this morning, as my screen grab shows, there had been 3.3m views of the Andrew Neil video attacking Johnson for chickening out of doing an interview with him. That is a staggering number which doubt will increase during the day.

No doubt the calculation in Number 10 was that the potential negative of being subject to 30 minutes of forensic scrutiny by Neil was worse than the downside of not taking part. At some stage, with Johnson’s evasiveness becoming the main campaign narrative, that judgement might turn out to be wrong.

No doubt it will play a key part in tonight’s final TV debate.

The problem, of course, is that the forensic questioning that we’ve seen Neil do with Corbyn, Swinson and Farage is exactly what could highlight Johnson’s weaknesses and he knows it. The PM likes the big broad brush without relying too much on the true facts. Neil would have pinned him down.

Now I don’t know how this will play amongst voters in the key marginals that the Tories are hoping to take next Thursday and, of course, in the seats where they are hoping to fend off the SNP and the LDs. My guess is that it could at the margins impact on Tory turnout and reinforce tactical voting.

I’d expect the pollsters carrying out the final weekend surveys will try to add a question on Johnson’s refusal the results of which will only continue the story.

Mike Smithson


Johnson’s taking a big gamble avoiding Andrew Neil

December 5th, 2019

This’ll contine right through to next Thursday

In this clip Neil makes a powerful case why Johnson should be there and if Tory strategy is that this could go away then that that could be a massive mistake.

Corbyn, Swinson and Farage have agreed. Why not Johnson?

Mike Smithson


Chuka Umunna’s political journey: From 2015 favourite for the LAB leadership to trying to make a GE2019 gain for the LDs

December 5th, 2019

Next LAB leader odds May 12th 2015

Chuka’s GE2019 campaign with a different party

One of the most intriguing battles next Thursday is in the city of London and Westminster – seat which has been held by the Conservatives for well over a century.

At the referendum the constituency voted just under 72% for remain and only 28% for leave making it it a tasty target for the Lib Dems in an election where Brexit is the dominant issue.

The party’s candidate is Chuka, who joined the party earlier in the year and has been playing a major role in the LDs national election campaign. He’s got high name recognition and is media-savvy.

A week and a half ago Deltapoll had a seat survey from there and the numbers looked promising for Chuka even though though the first voting intention question had him 5 points behind.

To a second question that asked “ How would you vote if you felt that the only two candidates with a realistic chance of winning here in Cities of London & Westminster were the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats?” it was LD 52%, CON 42%, LAB 5%.

If the Deltapoll cities of London & Westminster has this right Chuka at 2/1 or longer is a value bet

Mike Smithson


Protecting Our Democracy?

December 5th, 2019

Remember the Supreme Court cases on prorogation or Article 50? How irrelevant they seem if, as polls indicate, the Tories get a majority. With 7 days to go, can there be a better time to wheel out Wilson’s dictum about a week being a long time in politics?  There cannot. Consider it duly wheeled out.

And yet the “Protect our Democracy” section in the Tory manifesto (pages 47-48, here) has not received the scrutiny it deserves. It starts with what some might consider a colourable statement, given recent events: “As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law.” I should bloody well hope so. Little point being a Conservative if one didn’t believe in such things.

How unfortunate then that it was a Conservative PM who tried to suspend democracy, an act described by the Supreme Court as “having … an extreme effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy”; the same PM then saying that the Supreme Court was wrong, on the basis of his hitherto unknown legal expertise. It was a Conservative Leader of the House who described this decision as “a constitutional coup“, a claim as vacuous and silly as his claim that it was constitutionally necessary for the then Conservative Leader to resign having won a leadership vote. How unfortunate that it was a Conservative Lord Chancellor who had to be reminded of her legal obligations  to protect the independence of the judiciary when the judges ruling on Article 50 were attacked. How surprising it was to hear another Conservative Lord Chancellor having to confirm to Parliament that the PM would indeed comply with the law (despite not liking it) the PM’s advisors having previously put it about that he would ignore it. And how depressing was it to hear a Conservative Attorney-General berating MPs  saying that they did not have a “moral right” to sit in Parliament, apparently forgetting that those MPs had been elected by the voters in the 2017 General Election.

What could possibly lead to such extravagant, petulant reactions? Fortunately, the manifesto goes on to tell us in its next (and, to many, tendentious) statements:-

“One of the strengths of the UK’s constitution is its ability to evolve – as times have changed, so have Parliament, government and the judiciary.”  (Er, no: one of its strengths is that it has changed slowly, generally on a cross-party basis and that stability, rather than endless tinkering in response to events, has been prized as a virtue. There was a time when Tories criticised New Labour for upending the constitution without thought and for short-term party political advantage. Now they seem to have adopted it as a strategy.)

It goes on: “Today that need is greater than ever. The failure of Parliament to deliver Brexit – the way so many MPs have devoted themselves to thwarting the democratic decision of the British people in the 2016 referendum – has opened up a destabilising and potentially extremely damaging rift between politicians and people.”  There we have it. Parliament did not vote through the Brexit the government put before it so the constitution must be reformed. No understanding that there was a General Election in 2017 which the people did not give the government the majority it asked for. No understanding that this meant that the government had to work with the Parliament which the people had voted for. No understanding that you cannot endlessly chant about the “Will of the People” when it supports what you want to do but ignore those same People when they don’t give you what you want. No understanding that MPs have the right – indeed the duty – to exercise their judgment. No appreciation that if MPs do something which their constituents don’t like or contrary to what they promised them, they will face their judgment – as indeed most of  the awkward squad will next week when they will likely not be re-elected – and that it is not for the executive to come between that relationship between MP and constituent. No understanding that Parliament is not there simply to do the government’s bidding; that it is for the government to work within the constraints of the majority it has or can obtain and the limits of the law. No understanding that scrutiny of what a government does, whether by Parliament or by the courts, is essential to a democracy.

This is a party and leader who do not like scrutiny, whether by Parliament, Select Committee or the press. The party has convinced itself that the only important test of democracy in Britain today is whether it implements a referendum result. Important as that is politically, it is a dangerously reductive, self-serving and profoundly ignorant understanding of democracy. It is also decidedly unConservative. And so the manifesto goes on to promise:-

  • A look at “the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords”.  
  • A promise that “judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state”. (This is no more than a statement of what has been the law for at least 60 years since the Wednesbury case, developed by judges not granted by Parliament, as implied by this promise, and is intended to prevent public bodies from acting unreasonably or unlawfully not simply in an “overbearing” way, another example of a loaded adjective). But wait: this right must “not be abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”   

Aha! This is what all this is about: Tory politicians did not like being told by the courts that they could not simply do as they pleased, that they too were subject to the law, that they could not abuse the Royal Prerogative and behave like sovereigns of old. They did not have a big enough majority and, rather than realising that this was a message from the voters that they needed to work within the constraints of the elected Parliament, they now want to change the relationship between the two, disingenuously claiming this is necessary to restore trust in democracy. Let me take a wild guess: this review is unlikely to suggest ways in which the legislature or courts will have more power to control or scrutinise the executive but rather will plan to limit the extent to which governments can be challenged. It is certainly the view of a former Lord Chancellor – here, at 14 mins, 19 seconds in.

Let’s be fair: the manifesto does say that they will look at “access to justice for ordinary people” (like Harry Dunn’s parents, perhaps?). But you will look hard to find anything in the manifesto about how that access will be improved nor about how to deal with the consequences of a 40% cut in the budget for the justice system.

One of the dilemmas for those thinking of voting Tory is that, if Boris gets only a small majority or there is a Hung Parliament, the likelihood of a No-Deal Brexit or continued Parliamentary paralysis is that much higher. But if he gets a big majority, he will be able to behave with relative freedom. That requires a level of trust in him which, given his own and his government’s behaviour when it had no majority, would not appear wise.

Are these concerns of interest only to lawyers? No. Big mistake that. Judicial independence, scrutiny, legal restraints on the use of power, the rule of law are not there primarily for the benefit of lawyers, judges and journalists. They make democracy possible. They reinforce it. They are there above all to protect us.

If you are serious about protecting democracy, you do not attack or undermine them.

Let the last word go to a former Lord Chancellor, Thomas More (as imagined in A Man For All Seasons):-

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”