Never forget that the vast majority of those who voted for Trump are happy with their President

January 15th, 2018

And the betting continues to point to his survival

Mike Smithson


The coming West Tyrone by-election would only matter if the winner took his/her seat at Westminster

January 15th, 2018


The seat will have land border with the Irish Republic and EU following Brexit

At last we have the first by-election of the 2017 Parliament. It is in West Tyrone in Northern Ireland where the sitting Sinn Fein MP has decided to resign following controversy over things that he posted on the internet.

Given that following his party’s normal practice he has never taken his seat at Westminster the margins from last June look so great that the coming battle seems largely irrelevant.

The only way that could change would be if Sinn Fein changed its boycott policy or else another Republican was allowed to stand. Clearly the numbers show that there is little potential here for the DUP or any of the protestant parties.

With Brexit getting closer by the day and the Irish issue looming large I wonder whether we could in fact see some other candidate emerge who would want to take up the seat at Westminster. Given the tightness of the Conservative position that could make things a little bit more pressured for Mrs May and her team.

It used to be that there was a range of nationalist MPs elected in Norther Ireland but over the years they have all been replaced by SF who don’t sit. The effect of this is that the Ulster Catholic community has been without a political voice in London for many years.

This could be the election to change that but I don’t think it will.

Mike Smithson


UKIP voters are the only ones who think Donald Trump is more intelligent than average

January 15th, 2018

I doubt if the occupant of the White House reads the Observer or actually look at polling that is anything other than flattering him. But if he did he is his current apparent anger with the UK would have been reinforced.

One of the questions was whether British voters thought that Mr Trump was above or below average intelligence. The findings by party splits are in the chart above.

As can be seen overall there was an extraordinary low view of Mr Trump’s intelligence almost across the board. Just 18% of those polled thought that Trump was above average intelligence and even UKIP voters, the most favourable to the president, it was just 34%.

This is the context in which British politicians have to be aware of as they deal with Trump and US related issues. I thought it was wrong, for instance, for Boris Johnson to attack Labour over the cancellation of Trump’s visit.

Mike Smithson


Mrs May’s weird plot to make Gavin Williamson her successor is likely to fail

January 14th, 2018

Mrs May is annoying far too many people in the party & that will cause her and her preferred successor problems in the future

Trying to understand Mrs May’s recent reshuffle has been a challenge, but over the weekend a few people suggested it was all part of a weird plot to make Gavin Williamson Tory leader, Iain Martin says

Theresa May’s reshuffle was rubbish for a reason it seems. In the days that followed this week’s half-hearted reconstruction of the government, MPs, ministers and aides tried to make sense of what the Prime Minister and her closest supporters thought they were doing when they kept changes to a minimum. An astonishing picture is emerging as various factions across the Tory parliamentary party compare notes.

Contrary to expectation, the party’s “young talents” – such as Rory Stewart and Dominic Raab – were deliberately not fast-tracked into the cabinet. Others were sidelined, stalled or given “hospital pass” postings. Why? So that they would not have any cabinet experience this year, deliberately handicapping them if they want to run for the leadership later this year or next.

The Mayite candidate when that contest eventually comes thus has a head start and is already in the cabinet. That is the defence secretary Gavin Williamson so vigorously promoted as the future of a grittier “Nottingham not Notting Hill” Conservatism, by Nick Timothy, May’s former chief of staff. Timothy still has a great influence on May, who has long relied on his political skills.

What is in it for May? A cabinet minister says that if her supporters prevail then she gets to stay a good bit longer than anticipated beyond 2019, supposedly redeeming her  legacy and earning a better place in history. Or if she falls early, via an emergency, Williamson is well-placed and those other youngsters outside the cabinet are left at a disadvantage. That cabinet minister thinks there will be hell to pay as more MPs realise what is going on, but we’ll see.

The Sunday Times has one minister saying ‘Damian Hinds was promoted to the post of education secretary because “he is Gavin Barwell’s best mate”. Barwell is May’s chief of staff.’  Another ‘minister who had been expecting a promotion told friends he had complained to the chief whip and was told: “Sorry, there are other agendas at work here.”’

So we have a lot of annoyed and frustrated Tory MPs and ministers, it appears that Mrs May’s government is more of chumocracy than David Cameron’s government ever was and that will lead to retribution for Mrs May and the likes of Williamson & Hinds. The Sunday Times also speculates these actions might lead to a leadership challenge against Mrs May.

If Mrs May stays for at least another two years we probably will see at least one more reshuffle, probably in the aftermath of the UK leaving the EU in March 2019. If she attempts another reshuffle like this one, she should be facing a leadership contest, you simply cannot annoy your MPs and ministers like this all in the attempt to game the next leadership race.

In the next Tory leadership contest both Gavin Williamson and Damian Hinds could be recipients of a backlash from Tory MPs for Mrs May’s actions. In the next PM/Tory leader markets I’ve been laying Gavin Williamson for quite some time, this week’s events seem to confirm the wisdom of that, his very rapid (over)promotion to Defence Secretary is seen as even more of a mistake by the week.


P.S. – Earlier on this week Michael Gove said the next Tory leadership contest final two could be between Williamson & Hinds, the interesting aspect of this is that both are Remainers. Anyone who sees the next Tory leadership contest exclusively through the prism of Remain vs Leave or think being a Remainer will be a disadvantage are making a mistake. The next Tory leadership contest will be viewed through the prism of who is best placed to win the next general election.


If Scotland has its own Secretary of State then so should London

January 14th, 2018

Graphic: The last two general election results in London via the BBC

We were promised a New Year reshuffle.  In the end, it resembled not so much a game of musical chairs as musical statues, with only Justine Greening, Patrick McLoughlin and James Brokenshire falling over.  Theresa May was unable to impose herself more fully on her Cabinet.  The chief points of interest were in the adding of social care to the Secretary of State for Health’s remit and the adding of Housing to the Communities Secretary’s remit.  All the Prime Minister seemed to be able to do is give out some stinking badges.

So let’s have a look at some of the stinking badges.  As with so many aspects of the British constitution, the role of the Secretaries of State has developed haphazardly.  The title of “Secretary of State” came into existence under Queen Elizabeth I, though the role itself dates back to at least the reign of Henry III.

Originally there was just one secretary, but from Henry VIII’s time onwards, two held the office.   The number of Secretaries of State fluctuated between two and three between 1708 and 1854.  From 1858, this increased to five.  After the First World War, grade inflation resulted in there being eight Secretaries of State.

After the Second World War, numbers were briefly reduced to five, but when Harold Wilson became Prime Minister he began the present practice of making most Cabinet ministers Secretaries of State.  The current Cabinet includes 18 Secretaries of State (the other full members of the Cabinet are the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Leader of the House of Lords and the Chairman of the Conservative Party).

It is a curiosity that while Secretaries of State are allotted different responsibilities, their powers under legislation are not usually confined by government department.  If legislation gives power to a Secretary of State it can normally be exercised, at least in theory, by any Secretary of State.  No Act of Parliament is required to create one.  This explains in part why the Prime Minister can chop and change responsibilities of Secretaries of State so freely.

The remits are not particularly obviously thought-through.  Three are geographical (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).  The rest are thematic.  Two are directly Brexit-related.  Two others (Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) are also international in theme.  The other 11 cover those areas that Prime Ministers past and present have deemed most important.  Few of the roles are of any great antiquity.

Theresa May indulged in a bit of tinkering, as noted above, but the whole layout looks ripe for a proper rethink, as and when Britain gets a Prime Minister who is strong enough to bruise egos.  Let me give a bit of help.

Devoting four different Secretaries of State to different aspects of international affairs seems extravagant, even at the time of Brexit.  But a still greater anomaly is the fact that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each allocated their own Secretary of State.  After the early decades of the 18th century, Scotland made do without a Secretary of State until 1926.  Wales didn’t get one until 1964 and Northern Ireland had to wait until 1972.  So none of them have any particularly antique constitutional claim to a dedicated Secretary of State.

All three have had extensive devolution in the last 20 years, so they now have plenty of politicians looking after them locally – or should do, in the case of Northern Ireland.  Wales and Scotland were allocated only part of Secretaries of State under Labour between 2003 and 2008.  Civilisation did not obviously crumble.  A Martian might wonder why there isn’t a single Secretary of State for Devolution.

The contrast with the governmental status of London is stark.  London is more populous than Scotland and Wales put together.  Its GDP is bigger than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.  Its Mayor has far more limited devolved powers than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.  It is disproportionately important to the economy of Britain as a whole and the tax revenues it produces keep the rest of the country in the style to which it has become accustomed. 

At the same time, some of the worst examples of deprivation are found in London and it faces very pressing social problems largely absent elsewhere.  London is more different from the rest of the country than any parts of the rest of the country are from each other.

You might have thought that London would merit a Secretary of State, given its obvious great importance, unique nature and unique problems.  But in fact it has only a part-time junior minister, who is separately expected to act as a minister of state for transport.  (Lest this be thought to be a party political point, it should be noted that Labour does not have a shadow minister for London.)  It seems that London barely registers in the government’s thinking.

As things are currently set up, the government is unthinkingly treating London as a cash cow and sending out the signal that London’s needs are of third order importance to it.  With London profoundly alienated from the present government in the wake of the Brexit vote, that looks a dangerous line to take in the long term.  There’s only so long that Londoners will put up with being taken for mugs.

Alastair Meeks


The YouGov Brexit tracker continues to show that those who think it is wrong have the edge

January 13th, 2018

The comparison with a year ago is greater than the margin of error

With all that has been going on with Donald Trump I have yet to post on PB my regular chart showing the trend in YouGov’s Brexit tracker since the referendum took place.

Because every change in every single pole be regarded as simply within the margin of error what I tried to to take the average for YouGov findings each month and reflected this in the chart.

We are seeing a situation where the trend is quite clear and that there has been a discernible though small shift from those who think that the referendum outcome was right to those who think that it was wrong.

Looking at the detail of the polling the movement is largely caused by more Leaver backers from June 2016 now saying don’t know. There have been few switchers.

Interestingly in the first poll 2017 those who thought it was right had a 4 point lead. The first poll of 2018 has those who think it was wrong how has a 4% lead.

Whatever I do not think we have seen a big enough to shift for ministers to be concerned. The critical thing in all of this is the position of Mr Corbyn who has never convinced anybody that he is a remainer. That could spell problems for him at some time given that LAB voters overwhelmingly believe the referendum outcome was wrong. He is out of step.

Hopefully we might see some more polling tonight.

Mike Smithson


Putin on a show: finding value in March’s Russian election

January 13th, 2018

The question is not whether Vlad will win but by how much

Vladimir Putin has now run Russia for longer than anyone since Stalin.* It’s all but certain that he will continue to do so after this March’s presidential election. Ladbrokes are offering odds of 1/50 that he wins a fourth full term, which are nonetheless value: probably the shortest-ever odds tipped as such on this site. Looked at another way, it might only be a 2% return in about two months but that’s a lot more than you’d get in a bank – though there is the capital risk that he might fall under a bus.

That possibility, of some external event intervening to physically prevent Putin from standing, is the most realistic scenario by which someone else wins – but even then, it’s a remote one: he’s not the kind of politician to spend half an hour presenting himself as a target, speaking on the stump. The chance of anyone beating him at the ballot box can be almost entirely discounted: no other party’s candidate has the organisation to challenge United Russia and if they did, the considerable structural advantages the incumbent possesses would be brought to bear.

However, 1/50 shots are hardly exciting. Of more interest is the associated market on Putin’s vote share. Such opinion polls as there’ve been give him gigantic leads. The raw figures routinely give him between 55-70 per cent, though once you exclude Don’t Knows and Won’t Votes, these can rise as high as 90%.

Despite Ladbrokes’ offer of 25/1 for him to win more than 90%, I’m not at all tempted. I don’t trust the polls, not least because I don’t trust the answers that people give in a society which has been long accustomed to surveillance and to the need to give the right answer to authority.

I also don’t think that Putin will want to win by the sort of margins that look like his was a rigged election. He is a realpolitik practitioner par exellence and will be well aware that his power comes not from the size of his majority but from his control of the government machine. All he needs from the people is for them to return him without establishing any credible alternative; beyond that, retaining a veneer of democracy serves a useful purpose both internationally and domestically – a purpose that would be undermined by numbers that weren’t credible.

Putin’s previous winning vote shares were 53.4 (2000), 71.9 (2004), and 63.6 (2012). In between, Medvedev won with 71.2% in 2008. These are probably a better guide. I’d discount the first result, which occurred when the Communist Party remained a genuine force and when the country was still suffering from the Wild East of the Yeltsin years – and before Putin had cracked down on civil freedoms.

On that basis, the 4/1 offered on a 70-80 per cent vote share looks to have most value to me. Russia’s success in Syria, the seizure of the Crimea and more stable domestic situation should produce some genuine popularity – and while that will be far from the determining factor in the election, it will matter in terms of where in the ‘acceptable range’ the result ends up. Having said that, cautious gamblers might want a punt on 60-70 at 5/4 as well, which taken together gives a very wide range at odds of about 4/7, if evenly balanced. Hopefully, that should leave the punter the winner. Either way, Putin will be.

David Herdson

* This is definitional. Putin is close to completing his third full term as president, from 2000-2008 and then again since 2012. He also served for three months before the 2000 election, after Yeltsin’s resignation: a total of almost exactly 14 years so far. However, it’s hard not to regard him as the dominant figure during the Medvedev presidency too, when Putin was Prime Minister; Medvedev having been a trusted lieutenant of Putin since the early 1990s, and who loyally stepped aside in 2012 to allow Putin to resume the senior office. If added in, that takes Putin’s service to a touch over 18 years. Against which, Leonid Brezhnev was without question the Soviet Union’s leader during the 1970s and through to his death in November 1982 but the start of his true leadership is harder to date. It could be argued to be October 1964, when Khrushchev was overthrown (on the same day as the UK general election, coincidentally), which would exceed Putin’s service whichever definition is chosen – though only by weeks if it’s the longer one. However, in reality, the post-Khrushchev regime was a collective and Brezhnev didn’t establish clear pre-eminence over the likes of Kosygin and Podgorny until the late 1960s. On that basis, Putin has already passed him on at least one, and perhaps both, measures of his own leadership.


Tonight’s Trump news – the payoff just before WH2016 and the Donald urinal

January 12th, 2018