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The search for the answer to Labour’s woes

March 15th, 2017

What happens when the focus is on “knocking on doors”

John Prescott’s view that Jeremy Corbyn and his top team are “not up to the f***ing job” which earned him a “potty mouth Prescott” headline  in the Mail on Sunday won’t have come as surprise to the Labour leader.

I understand that the former deputy Prime Minister has said as much to Corbyn’s face. “You’re not a leader and you never will be while you’ve got a hole in your backside” is the former deputy Prime Minister’s (slightly bowdlerised) comment to the leader. This is despite the fact Lord Prescott backed the Corbyn’s re-election last year because he didn’t think he’d been given enough time to prove himself and his journalist son, David, is Corbyn’s speech writer.

Prescott undoubtedly speaks for the vast majority of Labour MPs and peers. What’s interesting, though, is how few are speaking out. More than one MP has said to me “I’m biting my tongue”. The word has gone round that silence is a powerful weapon in undermining the under-performing leader. One of the lessons of the second leadership contest was that criticism by MPs was counter-productive, feeding Momentum efforts to depict Corbyn as a martyr.

It means that Corbynistas have been operating in a vacuum in seeking to excuse the leader for the Copeland disaster. One of the more plausible efforts has come from Kate Osamor, the shadow International Development Secretary in a Huffington Post Interview in which she highlights the “neglect” of many safe Labour seats by long-serving MPs.

Rather than blaming Corbyn, she says, MPs should follow his example and get out on to the doorstep of how to win. “All MPs have to be knocking on doors, at least once a week, for an hour … Jeremy is out in his own constituency. He still knocks on doors”

Incidentally, Theresa May is also a great canvasser according to David Runciman in his LRB review of Rosa Prince’s biography of the Prime Minister. “Canvassing – whether in local or national elections – remains her preferred way of doing politics. Given the chance, she will still knock on doors, even now she is prime minister.”

But there is a flaw in Osamor’s “get knocking” prescription as a remedy for Labour’s woes, says London Assembly member Tom Copley.

    Most MPs are out on the doorstep regularly, which is in part how they know Jeremy is so unpopular with voters.

The point is underlined by Professor Glen O’Hara of Oxford Brookes University. He calculates that on the day Corbyn relaunched his leadership early in the New Year the Tory poll lead “was 11.8% (six-poll average). It now stands at 16.5%.”

The label “bed blocker” has been pinned on the Labour leader by David Cowling, former head of research at the BBC. The subtle point is that people become bed blockers in the NHS through no fault of their own. They are in a place they don’t want to be — but they need help to get out of their predicament. The question is who will help Jeremy escape from a job he never wanted and which is causing misery for him and his Labour “family”? John Prescott has done his bit.

Don Brind




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The Tory MP for Thanet South and his agent have been questioned under caution over their election expenses

March 14th, 2017

The Telegraph are reporting that.

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay was questioned by Police under caution last week over his election expenses, the Telegraph can reveal.

The South Thanet MP reportedly spent six hours being interviewed by officers over alleged overspending in the 2015 election campaign in which he beat Nigel Farage and Al Murray, the Pub Landlord.

Kent Police are expected to meet with the Crown Prosecution Service next week to discuss a possible prosecution, it is understood, after the force concluded a series of interviews with Conservative staff and politicians about the alleged overspend.

Both Mr McKinlay and his agent Nathan Gray have denied any wrongdoing.

Over the weekend former Tory Party Co-Chairman Grant Shapps dropped Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s Joint Chief of Staff, further into with this investigation with this intervention. (A non pay-walled version is available here.)

I expect Grant Shapps will have enraged Mrs May with this intervention, whilst people shouldn’t assume because someone has been questioned under caution that either charges or a conviction will inevitably follow, however this does present a huge problem for Mrs May, even before we consider the size of her majority. Sometimes in politics perceptions matter more than the facts, and if one of her top aides embroiled in this scandal, it will impact on the running of her government. A few weeks ago The Times ran a story that said “One source close to No 10 said the [election expenses] subject was “occupying as much as 20 per cent of non-governing head space.””

But more MPs are condemning the handling of the investigations by the party.

Does she really have the ability to conduct Brexit negotiations whilst Nicola Sturgeon is pushing for a second independence referendum and fighting by elections and with Nigel Farage looking to break his duck in becoming an MP, only Churchill probably had such a complicated in-tray upon becoming Prime Minister.

TSE



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Why Sturgeon’s SIndy2 isn’t a gamble; it’s a necessity

March 14th, 2017

Her window of opportunity could be closing

The SNP exists to achieve independence for Scotland. This simple fact shouldn’t really need stating but keeping it at the forefront of our minds is crucial to understanding why what’s going on is going on, and how events might pan out in future.

As with other nationalist-seperationist movements across the world, including UKIP within the UK, independence is an ideological objective; one that ranks so highly that other considerations pale by comparison. Short-term pain is justified by long-term gain. To the extent that short-term pain needs to be minimised, it’s a matter of the tactics and politics necessary to gain the support that will launch independence but otherwise only a secondary consideration.

Which is why Sturgeon is going back on the once-in-a-generation/lifetime expectation given during the last referendum. Salmond, when he was making that claim, was no doubt doing so in part so as to pressurise doubtful Yes voters to stick with the cause for fear that they might otherwise miss the bus but also because he probably believed that it would indeed be a once-in-a-generation event, at best; that the SNP wouldn’t have the opportunity to call another vote for many a year.

Given the extent of the SNP’s dominance north of the border, that might sound strange but it’s not. For a start, it was far from obvious that the SNP would continue their hegemony if they lost. Losing the 1979 referendum preceded the party entering the doldrums for most of the 1980s, and that despite a more legitimate sense of grievance than this time. Labour certainly wouldn’t have acted as they did had they known how events would turn out. Without Salmond and with potential division over the way forward, with uncertainty over both the 2015 and 2016 elections, who could have known in advance when another opportunity for the SNP might come?

And that opportunity only exists because of the maths in the Scottish parliament: the crucial factor that hasn’t been much mentioned this last week. It isn’t even certain now that Sturgeon will be able to call a referendum: the SNP doesn’t have a majority in Holyrood and while the Greens might well support IndyRef2, or at least abstain (which would be good enough for the SNP), their compliance can’t be taken for granted.

Therein lies the rub, and the reason for assuming that 2014 would be a once-in-a-long-time chance: the Scottish system makes winning an outright majority very hard. To have done it once and to have come close to doing so again were extraordinary achievements but no-one – and particularly the SNP – can assume they’ll pull off a hat-trick in 2021. Even a small slip in support would drop them back to the 2007 situation: able to govern but not to impose. Fourteen years in office leaves a legacy and it’d be a highly optimistic strategist to assume that electoral gravity can be defied so long. Indeed, as mentioned, the likely thinking pre-2014 was that it couldn’t even be defied this long.

Hence why Sturgeon is agitating so strongly now. Yes, there is a sense of a win-win in that if the vote is denied, it’s good propaganda for a grievance to be nurtured into the future but that’s consolation material. The more pressing factor is that her window of opportunity remains surprisingly open and Brexit provides a saleable reason for calling a second vote. Sure, it’d be messy and rooted in confusion but those can be fertile conditions for constitutional change, and launching a new country is constitutional change on the biggest scale. Carpe diem, and all that.

David Herdson





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Your guide to betting on tomorrow’s Dutch election

March 14th, 2017

The first of the big 3 elections in EU countries this year

After the last Ice Age, Britain and the Netherlands were joined by land. The Thames and the Rhine were part of a single river system.  Following an inundation caused by a megatsunami, the two were separated, ironically, under a torrent of water.

In 2016, European politics was hit by the megatsunami of Brexit, separating Britain from the rest of Europe.  Are there previously joined political currents that have now been separated by this?

Pundits have not been shy to suggest exactly this.  Marine Le Pen’s strong showing in the French presidential election, the new highs of the AfD in Germany and the long periods during which Geert Wilders’ PVV have led the Dutch polls have all been cited as examples of part of a wider nativist anti-immigration movement sweeping world politics.

The referendum vote to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election victory were both unexpected by the betting markets.  Determined not to be caught out again, punters are putting their money behind the outsiders this time.  In France, despite every poll for many months showing that Marine Le Pen would be very soundly beaten in the second round by whoever she is remotely likely to be up against, she is shorter than 3/1 on Betfair at present to become next president.  In Germany, Angela Merkel is only just shorter than evens on Betfair to remain as Chancellor after the election in October.  And in the Netherlands, PVV are odds-on favourites to get most seats.

I don’t propose in this piece to look at the betting markets in France or Germany (though for what it’s worth I’m very happily betting against Marine Le Pen and for Angela Merkel).  Instead, I’m going to turn to the Netherlands.  Is the dyke holding out the PVV going to burst?

Very probably not.  The Netherlands operates a highly proportional system.  The PVV are getting nothing like 50% of the vote.  Their list of allies grows thin.  Even if they take the most seats in Parliament, they are going to struggle to put together a government.

The Dutch electorate, always quite fragmented, has atomised.  On current polling, the largest party, whichever that may be, will get less than 20%.  Meanwhile, six parties are regularly polling above 10%.  Up to 14 parties may get Parliamentary representation.

The polls have recently turned against the PVV.  For the last week, the VVD (the current Prime Minister’s party) has been consistently in the lead.  The PVV appear to be fading.

The election campaign has been galvanised in the last few days by a spat with the Turkish government.  It appears that bettors think that this will help Geert Wilders – the PVV have shortened markedly on Betfair in that time.

But this seems illogical.  The Turkish government’s ire was provoked by the Dutch government’s actions.  Floating voters unconvinced to date by the government’s readiness to deal with immigration will presumably have been heartened by this, which I would have thought would help government parties and hinder the PVV.

This is not to say that the VVD is home and hosed, far from it.  It’s anything up to a six horse race who is going to cross the finishing line first.  It’s certainly possible that the PVV will do it in the end.

But should the PVV be odds-on favourites? In my view clearly they shouldn’t.  The polls might be wrong or there might be a last minute swing but there is no reason why either of those considerations should necessarily benefit the PVV rather than another party.

From all this it follows that the Betfair markets look wrong.  The VVD, who are after all in the lead in all the recent polls should be favourites and probably shorter than the 2.66 which at the time of writing they were last matched at.  The PVV should definitely be longer than the 1.81 which at the time of writing they were last matched at.  In fact, those odds look roughly the wrong way round.  Bet accordingly.

Alastair Meeks




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As we edge towards the enactment of the A50 Bill Nicola has just made Theresa’s task harder

March 13th, 2017

The political price of hard brexit could be a smaller UK

TMay’s reaction to Sturgeon’s InyRef2 announcement was that the Scottish FM and SNP leader was “playing politics” – a term I generally conclude to mean that what’s been said has been highly effective.

Certainly the suggestions that TMay might defer invoking A50 until the end of the month suggests there’s a need to look again at her strategy and the rhetoric she will deploy when the formal process of extraction is triggered.

On the politics of the Sturgeon move there’s an excellent analysis by the FT’s Janan Ganesh who notes that the short timetable put formard by Sturgeon is one that is “designed to be rejected, giving her, at the very least, a grievance with which to stoke nationalism.” Ganesh goes on

“..She has also earned herself some leverage over the negotiations themselves. Mrs May cannot sign off on hard exit terms without risking the loss of Scotland, three-fifths of whose electorate voted for the EU. Such terms would not just threaten material harm to a small, trading economy, they would communicate England’s hauteur to the smaller nation. But if Mrs May softens her line, she must forgo the right to make external trade deals (to stay in the customs union) or accept free movement (to stay in the single market). The first would be death to her governing vision, the second would be unsurvivable…”

The threat of losing Scotland and thus creating a much smaller UK is a powerful one.

This is going to run.

Mike Smithson




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The opening IndyRef2 odds make it odds-on that it’ll take place and odds-on that Scotland will vote YES

March 13th, 2017

Lots of activity from the bookies following Nicola Stugeon’s announcement that the SNP is going for a second IndyRef because of the vastly changed circumstances as a result of BREXIT.

The Ladbrokes betting:

Ladbrokes latest betting
Next Independence Referendum
4/6 Before end 2020
11/10 Not before end of 2020
Year of next Independence Referendum
25 2017
7/4 2018
5/2 2019
10 2020
11/10 2021 or later
Result of next Referendum
8/11 YES
11/10 NO
(If held before end 2020)

WILLIAM HILL….

SECOND SCOTTISH INDIE REF BY END 2020..….4/6 Yes; 11/10 No

SECOND SCOTTISH INDIE REF BY END 2024……2/9 Yes; 3/1 No

OUTCOME OF NEXT SCOT INDIE REF BY END 2024.……………..4/6 Yes to Independence; 11/10 No

 

To my mind none of the above odds either way are attractive.

The First Minister hads timed her statement for this critical day as the Article 50 bill gets close to becoming an act thus allowing Theresa May to formally tell Brussels that the UK is leaving .

Mike Smithson




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The persistence of kippers – looking at where post-referendum UKIP is now

March 13th, 2017

Most polls still have the purples in double figures

They are routinely derided by others.  The press loves to print stories of their wackier examples.  They are marginalised.  Their public figures are held up to ridicule.  Yet they make up roughly one in ten of the adult population.  I write, of course, of UKIP supporters.

Who are these people?  Where do they come from?  And why, eight months after Leave won the referendum and with the vote being implemented in a hardline version by a Conservative government, do they continue to see a need for a purple perspective?

On the face of it, UKIP’s purpose is complete.  It was established to get Britain out of the EU, and that is now in train.  It campaigned arguing that restricting immigration should be the priority, and the Government is now making that its touchstone for Brexit.  Nigel Farage himself has said that “I can hardly believe that the PM is now using the phrases and words that I’ve been mocked for using for years. Real progress.”

Nor can it be said that UKIP benefits from impressive leadership.  Since the referendum it has tripped over its own shoelaces repeatedly.  It has crammed in two leadership elections, with Diane James managing just 18 days in the role, probably the shortest tenure ever of a permanent leader of a political party with Parliamentary representation since universal suffrage and only twice as long in the top spot as Lady Jane Grey managed.

Her longer term replacement Paul Nuttall has already been turned into a figure of fun among those politically unsympathetic to UKIP with his apparently loose relationship with the truth. The first of these leadership elections included a fistfight at an MEP meeting that hospitalised one of the candidates.  The second leadership election threw up a candidate who claimed that a gay donkey tried to rape his horse and who owned a fortified compound in Bulgaria: he got 18% of the vote.  Meanwhile, UKIP’s chief funder is threatening to stand against UKIP’s only MP.  Without Nigel Farage, UKIP’s representatives look a complete shower.

Yet despite all this, UKIP remains surprisingly strong in the polls.  With the exception of Ipsos MORI, every opinion pollster has found that it continues to record at least 10% poll shares since the referendum result.  So it must have some continuing appeal that the other parties cannot meet. Let’s look further.

Drawing conclusions from the cross-breaks of opinion polls is always fraught with danger, particularly when dealing with small samples.  This risk can be reduced, though not eliminated, by looking at different opinion polls.  So I have looked at the tables of the latest polls from each of ICM, YouGov and ComRes.  The broad picture that they paint is sufficiently similar to give some confidence.

All three pollsters find that the great bulk of UKIP’s current support comes from their 2015 voters.  UKIP has, it seems, succeeded in hanging onto the largest part of those voters – all three pollsters find that it is retaining roughly two thirds of its 2015 vote, give or take a few percent.  To put that into perspective, the Lib Dems had lost two thirds of their vote in 2015 and have actually retained fewer supporters from that date to now.  The kippers seem to have built a brand to last, at least with some voters.

All three pollsters also find that UKIP is attracting a reasonable number of new supporters.  All three find that between a fifth and a quarter of current UKIP supporters voted for a different party in 2015.  Now this is not one way traffic.  All three pollsters find that far more 2015 UKIP voters have headed for the Conservative party than vice versa, and, contrary to received wisdom, the net flow of voters between Labour and UKIP only is only a trickle rather than a flood.  Nevertheless, this is not the polling of a party yet in terminal decline.

So what’s driving this?  YouGov and ICM both found that roughly a fifth of Leave voters are planning to vote UKIP.  (ComRes, oddly, do not look at their respondents through the prism of the referendum vote.)  Indeed, YouGov didn’t find any Remain supporters at all who were backing UKIP.  Essentially, it seems, that UKIP have become a party for Leave supporters who don’t trust the Government to follow it through.

Viewed in that light, I have two observations.  First, the continuing lack of trust of many Leave voters in the current Government is striking.  Even UKIP’s most loyal supporters would be pushed to suggest that it has given a good account of itself in recent months, yet despite UKIP’s very public shambles it still represents a more attractive proposition for a fifth of Leave voters than a Government that is pushing through a hardline Brexit with reasonable efficiency.  This suggests that Theresa May is right to worry about her right flank.  If Brexit softens or flounders, UKIP could revive in the polls sharply as the May violets that she has currently won over might return home again.

Secondly, if a hard Brexit is seen to be implemented, that’s a large cache of votes that the Conservatives might be able to draw upon, even if they lose votes on their Remain flank.  There’s no particular reason to assume that the Conservative vote share in the polls has yet peaked.

Alastair Meeks




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Opinium: Most of those polled say 2nd Scottish IndyRef ‘not justified’ but only one in three sure of a no vote if one happens

March 12th, 2017

With Scottish Independence back on the agenda and Northern Ireland heading for crisis, Keiran Pedley argues that London is far too complacent about the future of the Union.

Following last week’s poll by Ipsos Mori showing an apparent spike in support for Scottish Independence and Jeremy Corbyn’s comments this weekend suggesting that he is ‘fine’ with a second referendum, it feels like a good time to unveil the latest Polling Matters / Opinium survey. Our latest survey focused on UK public opinion on Scottish Independence. It was conducted last weekend (3-7 March) but I held it back to now so as not to clash with the budget last week.

Our first question deals with whether or not another referendum would be justified in the context of the Brexit vote. As you can see, a majority say it would not.

  1. Do you think it is justified or not justified for Scotland to have another Independence referendum following Brexit?
Not justified – the 2014 referendum was “once in a generation” and has settled the issue for the foreseeable future and there should not be another referendum so soon after the last one.

 

51%
Justified -in 2014 many Scots voted to stay in the UK so that they could also stay in the European Union. Brexit is a significant change in circumstances and Scots should be allowed to revisit the question in another referendum.

 

34%
Don’t know 14%

 

Opposition to another referendum is strongest among Conservative voters (77%), Over 65s (74%) and Leave voters (70%). Basically Theresa May’s base. Interestingly, although among a small sample of n=170, Scottish respondents were split on the issue (46% justified, 48% not justified). This reflects a wider trend in other polls where Scots themselves do not seem to be clamouring for another vote. John Curtice explains here that typically just over a third of Scots currently tell pollsters they want another referendum.

Some will look at these numbers and think Unionists have nothing to worry about. I think this is mistaken. Nicola Sturgeon will face a lot of pressure to hold another vote and knows that she may never get more favourable conditions in which to hold one. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour is in disarray and the dynamics of what a ‘No’ campaign would look like in practice are very different to 2014. Granted Ruth Davidson is very popular north of the border but a second Independence referendum would likely be an SNP versus Tory affair. Davidson’s popularity aside I am uneasy about that. Especially considering the ‘don’t go it alone’ argument feels quite hollow in Brexit Britain.

My uneasiness seems to be shared by many Brits. When our survey asked respondents what they thought would happen if another referendum took place only 35% seemed confident Scotland would vote ‘no’. More thought they would vote ‘yes’ (40%) whilst one in four didn’t know (25%). Tory voters think Scotland would vote ‘no’ (55%) but Labour voters think they would vote ‘yes’ (57%).

 

  1. If there was another Scottish Independence referendum, do you think Scotland would vote…
Yes to independence 40%
No to independence 35%
Don’t know 25%

 

At this stage it is worth stressing that UK public opinion remains very committed to the Union. Respondents to our poll were more than twice as likely to say that they would prefer Scotland to vote ‘no’ (48%) than vote ‘yes’ (22%) in another referendum. There was no obvious demographic in support of a ‘yes’ vote either beyond (unsurprisingly) SNP voters.

  1. And what would be your preferred outcome?
I would prefer Scotland to vote ‘Yes’ to Independence 22%
I would prefer Scotland to vote ‘No’ to Independence 48%
No preference 23%
Don’t know 7%

 

UK public – Scottish Independence is unworkable and unnecessary

Our poll also asked whether respondents agreed or disagreed with a series of statements on the subject of Scottish Independence. Looking at the results, we see a clear consensus (67%) that it is ‘better for the UK as a whole if Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom’ whilst 49% disagree that Scotland would be better off financially outside the UK (just 15% agree). A majority (58%) think Scotland ‘gets more out of being in the UK than it puts in’ – a view strongly held by Conservative voters (84%) – whilst the public also think that ‘there is no need for Scottish Independence because Scotland already has its own parliament’ (50% agree, 18% disagree). British public opinion on the subject overall seems part commitment to the Union / part scepticism that Scottish Independence is necessary or viable.

  1. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements related to Scottish Independence?
Statement Agree Disagree Neither
It would be better for the UK as a whole if Scotland remained part of the United Kingdom 67% 8% 25%
Scotland gets more out of being in the UK than it puts in 58% 11% 31%
There is no need for Scottish Independence because Scotland already has its own parliament 50% 18% 32%
Scotland would be financially better off outside the UK 15% 49% 36%

 

Of course, such scepticism is not particularly relevant to the question itself. It will be Scottish public opinion that decides. That’s why I am uneasy that Unionist confidence seems to rest on Theresa May’s refusal to allow another vote. The idea of London ‘forbidding’ Scotland another vote when the Scottish Parliament has a majority for one is dangerous.  If Nicola Sturgeon asks for one, May says no and then delivers a sub-par Brexit deal in the eyes of Scots then I expect the polls to turn in favour of Independence. Scottish Independence may not feel very likely right now but it is a lot more likely than London realises. The key question is whether Nicola Sturgeon will have the guts to call another referendum – and when.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland  

Finally a brief word on Northern Ireland. On this week’s podcast (see below) I spoke to Mick Fealty of Slugger O’Toole. The situation there feels very precarious with no obvious sign that a power-sharing deal will prove successful. We seem to be heading for a ‘double whammy’ of direct rule from Westminster and a Brexit that raises the prospect of a ‘hard border’ with the Republic. Fortunately, a return to the dark days of the 70s and 80s is unlikely but we must not be complacent about how quickly events can move in the wrong direction there. In any case, with Theresa May dominant in Westminster, it feels that London is far too relaxed about the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Yet a year from now things could be difficult indeed.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Keiran Pedley is the presented of the Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley.

Listen to the latest episode on Northern Ireland, Labour leadership polling and the budget below.

Note on the above poll: Opinium interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 UK adults online between the 3rd and 7th of March, 2017. Tables will be found at http://opinium.co.uk/ early next week.