Betting on the next Tory Party Chairman (or Chairwoman)

October 22nd, 2017

Mrs May should appoint an ex military man as her new Party Chairman

Ladbrokes have a market on who the next Chairman or Chairwoman of the the Tory party will be. It seems Sir Patrick McLoughlin will be standing down following his role in the disastrous general election campaign and the farce at the Tory conference when a ‘comedian’ interrupted Mrs May and the background behind Mrs May start falling apart, which in no way was symbolic for the shambles Mrs May has become since she called the snap election that squandered David Cameron’s majority. So who to replace him?

Quite a few reports in recent weeks have tipped immigration minister Brandon Lewis as the next Party Chairman, and understandably Shadsy has made Mr Lewis is the favourite but I wonder if Mrs May should be a bit bolder in her choice, with respect to Mr Lewis he seems a very underwhelming choice.

From that list I think her choice should be one of the former military men on that list, Messrs Mercer and Tugendhat. As ex military men they might be best to exploit Corbyn and Labour’s perceived weakness on military matters, an area that wasn’t fully exploited by the Tories during the election campaign, as they focused on the past instead of the present.

Johnny Mercer can demonstrate that he is electorally successful. In 2015 he gained a seat from Labour and this year his fellow Tory MP in Plymouth, Oliver Colvile, lost his seat with a 7.2% swing to Labour, whilst Johnny Mercer increased his majority with a 4.4% swing from Labour, which defied the national trend. That’s the sort of electoral nous the Tory party needs if it is going to remain in power after the next general election. He could also use his own experiences to get non voters to vote Tory, ‘In 2014 Johnny Mercer had never voted – now he’s an MP.’

Tom Tugendhat has the attributes to deal with the perceptions that the Tories are out of touch with younger voters. He has a masters in Islamic from Cambridge, speaks fluent Arabic, and when the Tory/DUP alliance was being mooted he wrote a brilliant piece expressing his doubts about the deal, in part because of the DUP’s stance on homosexuality. He’s pretty competent too, becoming Chair of the prestigious and influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee a little over two years after becoming an MP.

Tobias Ellwood is another ex military man and currently a minister, but apart from his response to the tragic aftermath of the attack on Westminster, I don’t know enough about him to know if he’d make a good Party Chairman.



Brexit – the Guilty Men?

October 21st, 2017

Cyclefree sticks her neck out and gives her choices

Scepticism (Euroscepticism, certainly) has a bad press these days. But being sceptical of received wisdom, of grand plans and theories, of the assumption that because matters have always been this way, this is how they should remain, is a good thing. At its best, it’s the courage to ask “Why?”and “Why not?” We could have done with more of it when Mrs May came out with her alliterative but empty “Brexit means Brexit” line last year. And it is possible to be a Eurosceptic – ie sceptical of how the EU behaves, its destination and whether it is adopting the right policies – while still thinking that, on balance, it makes more sense for Britain to remain part of it than not. But that kind of Euroscepticism has fallen out of fashion or, perhaps, been forced into silence by a much more toxic form which seems to see no good in the EU at all, which knows what it is against but not what it is for, which sees conspiracies and bad faith everywhere and which sounds increasingly strident and angry to anyone who is, well, sceptical of this. How did this come about?

Well, here is my list of some of the men who helped, some of them unintentionally, toxify a debate in a way which is doing no credit to anyone involved. (And one, perhaps surprising, omission.)

1. Jacques Delors

Delors wanted to have a social aspect to the EU and, as part of it, famously sold that vision to the TUC Congress. Nothing wrong with such a vision, of course, and pursuing it at an EU/ governmental level. But inserting himself in UK domestic politics in an attempt to sell one of the EU’s benefits to a hostile/sceptical Left had disastrous long-term unintended consequences for the EU debate in Britain. It looked as if the EU was seeking to undermine the results of British elections, of seeking to impose policies which had been rejected by British voters. It made the EU look as if it opposed the Tories and helped trigger or accelerate a a feeling within some Tories that the EU was the enemy. And for others it highlighted concerns about the EU’s approach to democracy and the electoral process within member states, about whether its default instincts were quite as liberal and democratic as it claimed, about how far it might go if voters did not like what it was doing.

2. Major / the “Bastards”

Unfair to group them together? Maybe. The Redwood’s/IDS’s/Cash’s/Gorman’s obsession with Maastricht, with undermining their own leader, with fighting arcane Parliamentary battles bears much of the blame for making those worried about EU developments seem unhinged. Few people will listen to arguments, however reasonable, from the sort of person you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a long bus journey with no stops. But what it also meant was that the consequences of Maastricht were never properly explained – let alone sold – to the public, particularly in relation to what has now become, unfairly perhaps, the totemic EU issue: Freedom of Movement. Major failed to do so or, more likely, was too exhausted or fed up to do so. The purists, shielded by their monomania, failed to realise that others would take the debate beyond high-minded discussions of Parliamentary sovereignty into Faragiste “Too many foreigners on the train” territory.

3. Tony Blair

FoM would never have become as toxic as it has if the arrival of Eastern Europeans had not been preceded by an increase in immigration in the preceding 8 years, the abandonment of previous attempts to control it and the almost total failure to implement effectively those controls which did exist, coupled with a snobbish refusal to understand why people might want to know about – let alone – control who is or is not allowed into their country. Did Blair really think it sensible for his

Home Secretary to say that there was “no obvious limit” to the number of immigrants allowed in? Blair’s biggest mistake was not the lack of transitional controls in 2004. Britain’s approach to Eastern Europe was open, generous and the right thing to do (and rather more communautaire than that of the Pharisaical Germans). Rather, it was his total failure to engage properly with immigration in the years beforehand. The Poles were, unfairly, seen as the final straw. And as a result, a country which has generally had a good record of openness and welcome, which has not indulged in blood and soil notions of race and nationalism has acquired a reputation for small-minded xenophobia which will likely – and shamefully – endure long after any agreement on rights for EU citizens already here.

And one omission

Wot – no Thatcher? Well, no. On balance. Ever the pragmatic politician, she fought for Britain within the EU and, on the whole, did so rather more effectively than her successors. Being the grit in the EU oyster suited Britain quite well and was of more use to some EU states than they might publicly admit. She relished argument rather than simple assertion of apparently self-evident truths or insults, a point Cameron might have done well to ponder, especially after Clegg’s poor showing in his debate with Farage. Would she have favoured Brexit or a referendum on it? Who can say? But she’d have been a damn sight better prepared for it. And the resulting negotiations.

The irony is that her one main European achievement, the Single Market, one part of the EU which has indisputably been a benefit to Britain and which is treasured by the rest of the EU (as May and Davis are painfully learning) will likely be lost to it, at least in its current form, as a result of the actions of those who claim her as their inspiration. Guilty men indeed.



Tips for WH2020: Bullock, Hickenlooper – and Trump

October 21st, 2017

The field is too clogged up with the debris and echoes of 2016

One of the enduring mysteries of political betting is the continuing strength of David Miliband in the Next Labour Leader market. Despite his not having sat in the Commons for four and a half years, despite his showing no inclination to return, despite there being little opportunity to return in the near term, despite his politics now being completely out of line with a Labour Party whose membership is utterly transformed from the one he left in 2013, and despite his close association with Blair – hardly flavour of the month these days – his odds are no longer than 33/1 anywhere and are ludicrously as short as 14/1 (co-fifth favourite!) with BetStars. In reality, he should be at least 200/1.

The mystery is perhaps best solved by looking at punters rather than bookies. For all the evidence, some people place far more weight on the past and far too little on the present and the future.

What is true of Britain is even more true of the United States, with its four-year presidential cycle. Of the nine Democrats listed at 40/1 or less, four will be in their seventies by Inauguration Day 2021. They include two former candidates, Biden (78) and Sanders (79), and one frequently speculated about as a potential candidate, Elizabeth Warren (71). Following Trump’s victory, proving that inexperience in politics was no bar to victory, the top of the list is unusually heavy with celebrities and businessmen. Mark Zuckerberg is priced at just 33s (his current age, as it happens), with Oprah Winfrey at 40s. Several more are rated as 50/1, as, for that matter, is Hillary Clinton.

I’m sceptical about the chances of most if not all of the above. The first and most important question is: will they run? As with the Miliband example in Britain, the field at this stage in the cycle tends to be heavily influenced by considerations of the last campaign, not the next one. Square pegs are attempted to be hammered into round holes. Hence Biden, who should have run in 2016 but will be too old in 2020, or Warren, who offers little that Hillary Clinton didn’t. As for non-politicians, they rarely run. Trump is a highly unusual exception and is proving the difficulty of changing careers as he has.

I ought to be equally sceptical about the woman who is the fourth-favourite Democrat, Michelle Obama. Surely 25/1 is too short? Is this not just lazy thinking, tied back to a mixture of the Obama White House and Hillary’s ex-First Lady presidential bid? That was certainly my first impression, bolstered by previous comments that she wouldn’t run for office and past polling that’s shown the public to be unsympathetic to the idea of her candidature.

In truth, 25/1 is too short, but only a little. For all that she doesn’t want to run, the fact is that her husband remains hugely popular among Democrats and with decent ratings in the country at large. The only problem is that he can’t run again; not under his own name anyway. That is of course hugely patronising to Michelle, who is an accomplished speaker in her own right and a far more human and sympathetic figure than Hillary ever was. All the same, I doubt if she’d be so high up the favourites were the promise of two-for-one not a consideration. Unless some rising star can break through, the pressure will no doubt continue to mount as Democrats survey a field of has-beens, second-raters and enthusiastic amateurs and come to the conclusion that Trump could potentially beat any of them.

Are there such candidates? At this stage, it’s hard to tell. Kamala Harris (18/1) and Cory Booker (33/1) are ‘next generation’ in the senses both of following those now in their seventies and in when they broke through into national politics, even if they’re both in their fifties. All the same, I’m not convinced by the odds. Harris’s have dropped following speculation that she’ll run which of itself is fair enough but I think they’ve overshot. Booker is also being touted but I’m far from convinced that the US is ready to elect a man who’s never married and who refuses to address questions about his sexuality.

In terms of value, I’d look even down the field, into the zone where there are all sorts of oddball candidates, together with some who I think shouldn’t be there. Two who shouldn’t be there, both available at 100/1, are the governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, and the governor of Montana, Steve Bullock.

But there’s only so much value to be extracted that far down. Some also exists at the top. I’ve said that there are precious few Democrats worth backing. That’s because one Republican in particular is too long, namely the president himself: Donald Trump. For him to be 5/2 to win re-election is for punters to forget all the lessons that should have been learned in 2016. Never underestimate his chances against an opponent with a weak spot.

David Herdson


The trend in the YouGov Brexit tracker edges towards those who think it is wrong

October 20th, 2017

Above is my annotated version of the latest YouGov summary chart showing the top line responses since the referendum when the the firm’s tracker question was asked.

The question is in exactly the same form every time and reads “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?”

I’ve put a little green tick against those polls where more thought it was right than wrong and a red one alongside where more thought it was wrong.

Those polls where opinion was equally divided have been left unmarked.

What is very clear is that from referendum to Mrs. May calling the general election on April 14th only one poll had “wrong” ahead, three had it evenly split and the rest all had “right” ahead. In the eleven polls since the general election only two have green ticks the last one more than two months ago.

We now have a run of six polls with five showing “wrong” leads.

Overall this suggests that opinion might just be shifting though, of course, we need more polling.

Mike Smithson


Why Theresa May’s Maidenhead could be the next parliamentary by-election in a CON held seat

October 20th, 2017

Two days ago in my post on why there would not be a general election until 2022 I observed that there have been very few by elections in CON held seats in recent times. Tory MPs have been a lot healthier than LAB ones.

What CON by-elections defences there have been have been caused by other factors such as the weird resignation by the then shadow Home Secretary David Davis in 2008 so he could fight his own seat for reasons that have long since been forgotten.

In the current Parliament apart from possible actions by the courts which we cannot speculate upon my suggestion for the first by-election in a Tory seat would be Maidenhead.

This was retained by the Prime Minister with a whopping vote share of 64.8% on June 8th with LAB on 19.3% and the LDs on 11.1%.

Against the national trend which was an average vote increase of 5.8% by Tory candidates TMay’s vote went down by 1.1% but it still looks totally solid. It would be hard to see a by-election there as anything other than a CON hold with perhaps a reduced majority on a lower turnout.

    In spite of her survival since the conference TMay’s position remains precarious and wasn’t helped yesterday by another PMQs mauling at the hands of Corbyn.

If she is replaced as leader then like the former PMs of late who quit between general elections, Tony Blair and David Cameron, it is hard to see her wanting to continue as an MP.

In any case we are all aware of her diabetes and it is always possible that her departure could be prompted by her health rather than any political move.

Remember that morning last April when we were all standing by for an announcement from Downing Street of what turned out to be the general election call. The speculation for a time then, led by Sky’s Adam Boulton, was that she was going because of her health.

Whatever it is hard to see her sticking at Number 10 until the next election and there must be a high chance of a by-election.

Mike Smithson


Betfair punters now make it a 50-50 chance that Trump won’t complete a full first term

October 19th, 2017


Mike Smithson


Its 5/4 at Ladbrokes that there’ll be no deal on Brexit

October 19th, 2017

Ladbrokes has some new markets up on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations which look interesting but I’m not sure if any of them offer any value.

The options are above with 5/4 being offered on no deal being agreed before the Article 50 deadline 18 months on from now. Note the way the bookie is defining what a deal actually is.

The 4/1 on Britain still being a member of the EU at the end of 2019 and whether there will be a third Brexit referendum (the first was in 1975) before the end of 2019 both could come good but the odds are not long enough for me to be tempted.

There is a huge amount likely to happen in the coming months both in Brussels and at Westminster. The Government is going to struggle with its “Great” reform bill in both the Commons and the Lords and things could move in any direction.

At the moment we cannot say with any certainty who the next prime minister is going to be and whether indeed the Tories will still be in power at the due date.

Mike Smithson


The new election reality: The Tories need the SNP to impede LAB’s revival in Scotland

October 19th, 2017

Table – Commons Library

Why BoJo/Andrea/Phil/David/Amber might be cheering Nicola on

The group of constituencies that have seen the most dramatic changes over the past two general elections have been the 59 seats in Scotland.

At GE2010 when Labour lost power there were no changes at all north of the border with what was then Gordon Brown’s party retaining all 41 seats that it held on an overall increased Scottish vote share. The SNP had just 6 seats with the LDs 11 and the Tories just 1.

Then came the huge changes in 2015 in the aftermath of the IndyRef nine months earlier. LAB lost all but one of the 41, the LDs lost 10 and the Tories remained with just one Scottish MP.

The SNP found itself with 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats and displaced the LDs as the third party at Westminster.

Move on to June 8th this year which proved to be something of a disaster for Sturgeon’s party losing 21 seats and holding onto the 35 listed above all of them with much reduced majorities.

    Two years after gaining 50% of the Scottish vote the SNP’s biggest vote share in any constituency was 46.7% leaving a lot prospective rich pickings for the main national parties particularly LAB

If LAB is to return to government then much of the current seat deficit it has nationally with the Tories will be made up from battles with the SNP not the blue team.

One of the problems we have with ongoing analysis of this is that there is very little regular Scotland only polling. Trying to assess what’s happening north of the border from the Scottish sub-set in national polls is fraught with danger.

So in many ways whoever is Tory leader at the next election might be secretly cheering the SNP on.

Mike Smithson