Playing it long. When will this Parliament end?

June 14th, 2017

A look at when the next election might take place

Clearly we haven’t had enough elections recently.  In the last three years we’ve been treated to the Scottish independence referendum, the May 2015 general election, the EU referendum and the June 2017 general election.  I’d have thought that would be enough for even the most assiduous voter, but YouGov have found that by 43:38 the public want to have another general election.  You have to applaud their civic-mindedness.  Either that, or they fancy another betting opportunity.

Everyone seems to be agreed that even if Theresa May cobbles together a deal with the DUP, the whole thing will be highly unstable and liable to come crashing down at any minute.  The only question that most people are considering is whether the government will collapse immediately or later this autumn or whether it will stagger on into next year.  Memories of the mid-1990s are strong.  Others recall that the February 1974 election resulted in a repeat within 8 months.

As is so often the case, everyone is probably wrong.  The centripetal forces holding the incoming government together are stronger than are generally understood.  How so?  Well, there are five relevant considerations:

1) Unlike February 1974 which resulted in an extremely well-hung Parliament, the Conservatives have very nearly got an overall majority.  For now they seem to have secured the support of the DUP.  As the numbers currently stack up, however, they only need to secure the abstention of any one of the DUP, the SNP and the Lib Dems.  If the DUP start playing silly buggers, the Conservatives have options.

2) Following on from this, in order for there to be an early election, there needs to be a majority in the House of Commons that is willing to vote as necessary to produce one.  Given recent experience, the Conservatives are going to be very wary indeed of seeking an early election even if they rack up astonishing leads in the opinion polls.  More likely, if they are the party of government they can expect to fall behind Labour in the polls (they may already have done so) and to stay behind for long periods of this Parliament given their very challenging task of negotiating Brexit.  Turkeys don’t normally vote for Christmas.  The SNP also seem to be staring down the barrel of a gun.  Unless their poll ratings recover markedly, they look set to lose many more seats at the next election simply because those voters who wish to defend the union now have a clear route map which party to back in most constituencies.  So there looks likely to be an enduring majority opposed to an early election, with or without the DUP.

3) Conservative discipline is likely to hold far better than in the mid-1990s.  This is less out of respect for the Conservative leadership and more out of genuine loathing of the Labour leadership and belief that they must be shut out of government.  Brexit compromises will be internally rationalised on the basis that Brexit is happening, albeit in imperfect form.

4) Defections, uncommon in any event, are unlikely.  The political distance between the parties is the greatest that it has been since the early 1980s.

5) By-elections are much rarer than in the past.  In the 2015-17 Parliament, there were just ten.  Only three of these followed the death of an MP and all three were Labour MPs.  In the 2010-15 Parliament, there were 21 by-elections and six of these followed the death of an MP and again all six were Labour MPs.  With fewer Conservative MPs continuing in harness into their 70s than in the past, we should not expect many enforced by-elections.  We can expect the Conservative hierarchy to take great pains to avoid optional by-elections if they possibly can.  Even if the government were to lose every by-election that it defended, we might see an attrition rate for them of just 1 or 2 MPs a year.  That could easily see the Conservatives to the end of the term.

So I expect to see the new Parliament be much more enduring than is commonly thought.  I am not alone in this belief.  Baron Nicholas Macpherson, who was Permanent Secretary to the Treasury until last year, has tweeted that he expects this Parliament to go the distance.  Betfair has two different markets (“Will there be a second election this year?” and “Year of next UK Election”?) and you can lay 2017 at less than 3/1 on either of these markets.  If – as now seems to be the case – the Conservatives can reach a workable deal with the DUP, these odds are way out of kilter with reality.   I’m on.

Alastair Meeks


June 8th 2017 is a day that the election predictor/modellers will want to forget

June 14th, 2017


It is little comfort to the election predictors/modellers that Wikipedia has now decided to record for posterity how successful they were in predicting the party seat outcome of GE17. The chart is above.

As can be seen only the YouGov model based on 50k+ of its own interviews came out of this well.

Throughout the campaign the forecaster/modellers aimed to produce projections of the party seat totals which, are course, based on the outcome of 650 separate first past the post elections in the different constituencies. This is sharp contrast to the BREXIT referendum or, say, the final round of the French election where it is a binary choice of two based on national totals.

The reason the GE17 modellers got it so terribly wrong was that their main data sources, the opinion polls, had, with one very honourable exception, a huge polling fail. Never was the saying garbage in garbage out so appropriate.

Virtually all of the models were following standard swing theory in their approach to seat predictions which meant a big error on top of everything with their LD seat projections. The party increased its MP total by 50% with a reduced national vote share. The exception was YouGov with its own exclusive and large polling data source.

A problem was the overwhelming CON landslide narrative which dominated everything and was reinforced by the adjustments almost all the pollsters had made following the GE15 polling fail. Any pollster that produced numbers that didn’t fit the general perception were attacked and their findings ignored.

This meant that sharp move away from the Tories after the manifesto saga was much less noticeable at the time and things like the consequential drop in CON 65+ support are only now being observed.

Lots of lessons from GE17 then which no doubt they will try to avoid next time.

The problem, of course, is that there is a huge appetite during a campaign for information on how the battle is going in terms of seats. Gamblers in particular are a key audience. The forecaster/modellers satisfy that need.

No doubt the Wikipedia table will be rolled out next time as a reminder to treat projections with caution.

Mike Smithson


Don’t laugh at us, Argentina

June 13th, 2017

A lot can happen in a hundred years or so.  On the eve of the First World War, the United Kingdom was a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but it didn’t look very united at all.  The nation was on the point of civil war, with the Conservatives openly allied with the Ulster Protestants who were prepared to fight for their cause both politically and paramilitarily.  Industrial unrest was rife, with 1,400 strikes in 1913.

The intervening years have not been particularly good for the UK.  While the standard of living for ordinary Britons is of course far better than it was then, UK has endured relative decline for much of that period.  Some things don’t change of course.  The United Kingdom of what is now Great Britain and Northern Ireland is riven by strife, with the Conservatives once more seeking to ally with a grouping of Ulster Protestants whose relationship with paramilitaries could usefully be clarified further.

There is always someone worse off than you, of course.  Few British people know that on the eve of the First World War, Argentina was one of the ten richest countries per head in the world.  It was a popular destination for European emigrants and looked to be set on a similar course to the USA.

Its decline since then has been precipitous.  It did not participate in either world war, staying neutral in both (until almost the end of World War Two).  Indeed, aside from the Falklands War and a nominal role in the first Gulf War, it has not fought any wars.  The impact of the Great Depression was relatively mild.  But as of 2015, it ranked 63rd in the world for GDP per head. 

Argentina’s stumbles have been in large part down to dreadful governance and prolonged periods of deeply misguided policies.  After 1930, the start of what is known as the Infamous Decade, Argentina first retreated towards autarky and protectionism, flirted with wholescale nationalisation, then spent decades unravelling and reravelling these policies, seeking alternately to appeal to populism and to deal with the inevitable consequences.  It is far from clear that this cycle has yet ended.

What does this have to do with Britain? There is no inevitability that countries that currently rank among the global winners will stay there. And right now Britain seems to be taking wrong turning after wrong turning.  In 2015 Nigel Farage said that he’d rather Britain was poorer with fewer people.  In the EU referendum last year, the British people on balance agreed, voting to cooperate less with our closest neighbours, primarily in order to put a brake on immigration.  The public liked the idea of saving contributions to the EU to spend on funding NHS contributions (this mysteriously has not yet materialised) without placing much weight on the existing advantages of membership that Britain was putting at risk.  Leave campaigners saw this as vindicating their vision of a Britain facing the open seas, securing superior trade deals with still-to-be-identified trading partners to more than compensate for the inferior access to the EU’s markets.

The intervening months have done nothing to suggest that parting from the EU will be harmonious or cost free.  The Prime Minister has asserted that no deal is better than a bad deal while the EU is shaping up to make colossal alimony demands.  The rights of EU residents in the UK are in limbo (and UK residents in the EU).  The Article 50 notice has been served and the clock is ticking.

A Brexit pessimist is someone who believes that it can’t get any worse.  A Brexit optimist, on the contrary, believes that it can.  And the result of the general election has justified the Brexit optimists.

For it turns out that the public’s desire for free stuff hasn’t been sated by a bogus promise for £350 million a week for the NHS.  Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn’s bungs for all and sundry has secured the vote of over 40% of the population, apparently entirely untroubled about how it would be paid for and leaving the country with a hung Parliament.  Many Leavers who were ecstatic and gleeful that their own nonsense promises won the day are now hysterical that different nonsense promises also have a wide audience.

For those of us that voted Remain, this is wryly amusing in the short term.  But the long term outlook is bleak.  Britain seems set for a spiral of decline, alternating between right wing fantasies and left wing fantasies, with each side stridently blaming the other for the calamities that both have contributed to.  Already we have seen Daniel Hannan claim: “The referendum has not harmed growth, investment or confidence. The *possibility* of a Corbyn Government could be a different matter.”  Mr Hannan: You Brexit, You Own It.

Now that Britain has a hung Parliament, Britain’s approach to the Brexit negotiations is likely to be revisited, but there is no assurance that will result in a happier outcome.  The negotiations remain fiendishly complicated, will now require much more consultation on the British side and the mistrust between the two sides persists.  The chances of talks collapsing remain high.

How can Britain get out of this oscillating cycle of destructive populism?  The first step is for some serious politicians to speak out against it.  And there too the prospects are bleak.  The centre has been hollowed out.  Brexit cleared out the Conservatives who were able and prepared to do this: David Cameron and George Osborne have left the stage.  The Labour right has been muzzled by Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success.  For the foreseeable future, there are no voices to speak for responsible government and against incoherent populism.  We merely have competing versions of incoherent populism.

So right now the prospects for Britain look bleak indeed.  Hunker down.  Winter is coming.

Alastair Meeks


It’s time for Labour to push back against Tory plastic patriotism

June 13th, 2017

Labour has allowed the Conservative party to question its patriotism and take sole ownership of the Union Jack. That is a mistake, says Joff Wild – particularly in light of what has happened over recent years

Theresa May, we are told, has bought herself sometime after appearing in front of the 1922 Committee and taking responsibility for the general election campaign and the result it delivered. “I got us into this mess,” she is reported to have told her backbench MPs, “and I’m going to get us out of it.” Of course, the “us” she refers to here is the Conservative party.

While it’s nice that the Prime Minister saw fit to apologise to her colleagues for the absolute Horlicks she made of her attempt to crush the saboteurs, I can’t help wondering about when she is going to apologise to the country. After all, she put us through six weeks of completely unnecessary mudslinging and failed totally to make the case she presented, so dropping us into an uncertain constitutional morass just days before the most important negotiations this country has been involved in since the end of World War Two are supposed to start. The UK already had a weak hand in the Brexit talks, now it has an even weaker one. Thank-you Mrs May – you have delivered the precise opposite of strong and stable.

All of which takes me to patriotism. It is, without doubt, one of the Conservative party’s most potent calling cards – and one that it has used extensively over the years. In the election that has just gone, Theresa May was presented as the Union Jack waving mother of the nation and contrasted starkly with Jeremy Corbyn, who does not sing the national anthem and has spent 40 years consorting with apologists for terrorism and those who wish the UK harm. At the next election, the flag will no doubt by deployed again by Boris Johnson or whoever it is that the Tories eventually decide will replace the current, hapless occupant of 10 Downing Street. They’ll do it because Corbyn is undoubtedly vulnerable (whatever he says now, the central charges are true) and because they believe they own the subject. So, what can Labour do?

For me the solution is an obvious one: the best form of defence is attack. Every time the Tories accuse Labour and its leader of hating Britain and its history, of despising the British people and of wishing them harm, Labour needs to ask the following:

  • What was patriotic about a Brexit referendum that was only conceived for internal Conservative party reasons and which only happened because David Cameron won an election he thought he would lose?
  • What was patriotic about a Brexit referendum campaign in which the very wealthy, Establishment Tories who led both the Remain and Leave campaigns told lie after lie to the electorate in order to win their votes?
  • What was patriotic about holding a referendum without giving any serious thought to the possibility of a Leave win and making absolutely no plans for how to deal with one, so leaving the UK woefully ill-prepared to negotiate a decent Brexit deal?
  • What was patriotic about failing to defend the independence of the judiciary and of playing along while the right wing press labelled all those millions of British people who disagreed with the government’s Brexit line as saboteurs?
  • What was patriotic about declaring that those who did not agree with the Prime Minister’s view of Brexit are citizens of nowhere?
  • What was patriotic about foisting a general election on the country at a time of major uncertainty only in order to secure party political advantage?
  • What is patriotic about seriously contemplating the kind of Brexit that would cause substantial harm to the long-term economic prospects of the UK and cause millions of British citizens to see their standards of living significantly reduced?
  • What is patriotic about overseeing an economy in which housing and other basics are increasingly unaffordable, public services are being cut to the bone and the NHS is in permanent crisis?
  • What is patriotic about contemplating a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party that will keep the Tories in office but which could lead to serious social and political problems in an integral part of the United Kingdom that has only recently returned to peace after decades of armed conflict?

In short, the Labour line should be that while the Tories claim only to act in the national interest, the evidence suggests otherwise: they always put party before country. A truly patriotic party would have done none of the above; instead it would be For the Many, Not the Few.

Would such an attack strategy work? Well, I suspect that a lot of voters will always have serious doubts about Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and others in the Labour high command. Their pasts cannot be rewritten; their words cannot be unsaid; it is perfectly valid to draw attention to them.

But as we enter the tenth year of austerity amidst the desperate confusion of Brexit, there may well be many more who can be persuaded that the Tories do not own the Union Jack and should not to be allowed to get away with acting as if they do. Just like the Labour leadership, their commitment to the whole country should be put under the microscope. Were that to happen, a lot of British people would not like what they see.

Joff Wild

Joff Wild posts on Political Betting as SouthamObserver. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpaJW


Being wrong about about Jeremy and being right about Jeremy

June 13th, 2017

Don Brind reflects on a better than expected result

“Can I have one of those”, said a young woman as I was walking along the road with a bundle of leaflets in my south London constituency. She was on her way home to collect her boyfriend before going to vote. She was having trouble deciding how to vote. “Is there anything in particular that is worrying you”, I asked. “I’m worried about terrorist attacks. I’m not sure that Labour can tackle it.”

I launched into the argument that Theresa May had cut 20,000 police and Labour were going to recruit an extra 10,000 officers. Could we afford to pay for them, she asked. We couldn’t afford not to, I replied.

It struck home. She was nodding agreement. My follow up, that schools were facing 8% cuts in their budgets was a clincher – her sister was a teacher. “OK, I’m going to vote for you. My boyfriend will too.”

Back at the campaign centre I boasted that if our MP Rosena Allin-Khan survived by just two votes — it was down to me. All day I had been saying on doorsteps, with complete, conviction, this is going to be really close.

I had started the day taking numbers at my local polling station and one of my main fears was underlined when a man walked out saying, very apologetically, “I would have voted for you but I can’t vote for Corbyn. Sorry.”

But then a couple of hours later the Tory teller confided “I voted for Dr Rosena. I’m a Remainer.”
Another pointer to what was to unfold came when my wife, who’d taken over the clipboard, was told by a grey-haired man “I’ve never voted before but I’m voting for Jeremy.”

So Jeremy was a vote winner – but also, as I had argued persistently, a vote loser.
At the beginning of the campaign when key decisions are made about campaign material he looked like a drag on the campaign. That’s why it’s the face of Mayor Sadiq Khan that adorned leaflets in Tooting and in many other London seats.

But Corbyn supporters had long argued that Jeremy could be a vote winner if only people got the chance to see him as they saw him. And the great joy of a British General Election is that the broadcasters give equal time to the parties. Jeremy got his chance. Armed with his little red book – the For the Many not the Few manifesto — he took it.

With ten days to go I tweeted that I was wrong about him and that he had grown into the job.
Something important was also happening at street level. Corbyn fans and Corbyn sceptics, who last year were arguing and voting over whether he should be replaced, were working side by side and developing a mutual respect. Momentum followers, sometimes derided as clicktivists and slacktivists, were there doing the hard slog alongside veterans of many campaigns. It won’t have been lost on MPs, who saved seats that looked in jeopardy or those who gained seats.

The campaign succeeded – up to a point. There is a huge amount of work still to do.

Thrusting the “weak and wobbly” Theresa May into hung Parliament agony was a big achievement. It has stopped, grammar schools, the dementia tax, foxhunting, hopefully, hard Brexit.

Austerity will, however, continue. Theresa May sacked George Osborne but his ghost still haunts the Treasury. That means living standards will carry on falling, the crisis in the NHS will continue school budgets will be cut — because Labour did, after all, lose the election.

Jeremy Corbyn faces a new and different challenge when MPs return to Westminster to engage them in preparing for the next election, whenever it comes.

In a charming exchange with Newsnight’s Nick Watt he offered his critics a group hug. It’s the right spirit.

He will, of course, feel great loyalty to the front benchers who have supported him over the past year and during the campaign but he also needs to recognise that there are a lot of talented and articulate people outside their ranks. How he embraces them will go a long way to deciding whether Labour can build on 2017 or whether 40% and 262 MPs turns out to have been a high water mark.

Don Brind


It wasn’t just young people voting that cost TMay her majority but failing to retain the levels of OAP support

June 13th, 2017

Detailed breakdown from Lord’s Ashcroft’s 13k “exit” poll

How the Tories lost their “oldie” firewall

Thanks to David Cowling for producing the above table from Lord Ashcroft’s 13k sample on the survey. It provides an excellent resource which will be referred to time and time again.

The picture presented has become well-known since the election – the huge vote for Labour amongst the younger generations those in the 18-24 and 24-34 groups. What I find interesting is the the 65+ split which was not on anything like the scale that some pre-election polls has predicted. As can be seen CON “only” won 59% of the oldest age group.

    It appears that key factor in determining the result was TMay’s failure to retain the level of support that she’d had amongst the oldies at the start of the campaign.

This is the CON lead over LAB amongst 65+ voters in YouGov campaign polls. The split in the final poll is quite similar to what Lord Ashcroft found.

The manifesto provisions on winter fuel allowance and social care appears to have undermined what had been regarded as the CON firewall – the oldies.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll was conducted by a mixture of online (13,384 respondents) and telephone (1,000 respondents) between 7-9 June ,2017. Some 36% of respondents had voted by post and 64% in polling stations.

Mike Smithson


A look at the DUP and what supporting the government would mean

June 12th, 2017

The election in Northern Ireland was an enormously dispiriting one for me. As a Unionist who is a former liberal Tory I threw my hat in with the UUP a number of years ago, before joining them last year.

When I first started working with them the new Stormont Opposition (UUP/SDLP) was box fresh and ready to try and land blows on the DUP/SF Executive.

It was difficult to get a foothold in a place that isn’t really used to Opposition politics but there were signs co-operation between the parties was starting to come together. We were landing the odd jab.

But then RHI broke, we had an Assembly election and there were signs that the Unionist and Nationalist communities were heading away from the centre-ground parties. Stormont negotiations were difficult and restoration of devolution hadn’t happened before a general election was called.

Theresa May’s decision to call a general election when NI was in that position is one of the reasons I believe she should go. But that’s another story.

What it did mean was that the general election here became the most single-issue election I can remember. It was dreadful.

I knocked on hundreds of doors. One person mentioned God, one mentioned Brexit. That was the sum total of my policy discussions.

The result was that there was a very impressive vote for DUP and SF. The DUP won 10 seats, Sinn Fein won 7 and the remaining seat (North Down) was retained by Lady Hermon (Ind Unionist). The SDLP and UUP were wiped out.

It was a great vote for Unionism in the short term. The DUP has an opportunity to win investment for NI and to advance its own agenda.

The DUP was a Brexit party. But the DUP/SF Executive put together a post-Brexit letter to Theresa May which was very much along what we might term a ‘soft Brexit’ line. They won’t be wanting border checkpoints and tariffs. They were flag-waving Brexiteers, rather than economic ones.

But the DUP have to be careful. They are in a strong position that they can’t waste. It is important that Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds don’t overplay it. If they put Orange Order issues front and centre they risk bringing the house of cards down.

And that would be bad for the DUP.

The DUP don’t want another election any time soon for a few reasons:

  1. Jeremy Corbyn would be favourite to win any election caused by the collapse of the Tory minority administration. Jeremy Corbyn and the DUP don’t, erm, see eye to eye on constitutional matters.
  2. The DUP has just enjoyed its own best election. Even without taking into account the maths stacking up in a way that gives them a hand they never imagined (this time, they did in 2015). They have a lead of 53,000 over Sinn Fein. In the March Assembly election it was 1,000. They won TEN seats. They won’t want to risk throwing that away.
  3. They are in a position of influence it is unlikely that they ever will be again.

I don’t expect the DUP to make demands that the Government can’t deliver on. Red, white and blue meat might be tinkering with the historical enquiries which Unionists believe is targeting former RUC and British Army people rather than trying to bring terrorists to account. I can’t see that being impossible to deliver.

But on bread and butter issues the DUP largely speaks for a relatively poor group of people. Working class Protestants. They would probably vote Labour in GB from a purely economic ground.

Therefore, you may see them push for triple-lock pension guarantees and a serious rethink on the Dementia Tax. If they can make these the headline demands and avoid too many tubthumping sessions, they may be able to assuage fears among the GB centre.

However, DUP MPs are not famous for their subtlety! So it really is up in the air.

As an aside, I must put on record how bloody irritating it is to get ‘who are the DUP’ lessons in the papers and the television from journalists who have clearly just put ‘DUP quotes’ into Google. There are plenty of journalists in Belfast who could give them a more accurate picture. But I guess random Sammy Wilson quotes are more colourful.

I could probably write another 2,000 words but I know NI politics isn’t everyone’s cup of tay. I haven’t covered everything but will try and answer any direct questions below to the best of my ability. With the obvious caveat that I’m not claiming to be an unbiased commentator on this.

Lucian Fletcher

Lucian Fletcher is a longstanding contributor to PB


Marf on the travails of Theresa

June 12th, 2017