The favourite always wins the Tory leadership race – eventually

June 17th, 2019

It’s all about the timing

Conventional wisdom has it that the favourite never wins Tory leadership races. In one sense, this is probably true. I don’t have the historic figures but before every leadership election since the Party moved away from the old Magic Circle method of leaders ‘emerging’, there’s a good case that the person who emerged the winner was not the one seen as most likely to succeed in the period before the election was called.

However, that rule only holds good for so long and in truth, it’s not really a rule at all; more a guideline. Several elections could easily have developed differently, to the favourite’s advantage, but for chance and happenstance. Heseltine would probably have won in 1990 had Thatcher contested the second round (indeed, that’s precisely why she didn’t), or would have done so in 1992 had Howe not resigned when he did, for example.

But while the long-term favourite might have no record of coming out the winner, that’s not the case once the election is underway, as this one is now. Once you move past that mark, favourites have a much stronger record.

Even ignoring the unusual cases of 1989 and 1995, and of 1965 (which required only one round), Thatcher in 1975 and May in 2016 were clear favourites to win after the first round, and went on to do so. There is absolutely no reason based on precedent to believe that Boris won’t follow in their footsteps.

On the contrary, precedent – as well as common sense – suggests that he’s well-set to stroll over the line. The smallest share of the vote that any winner received in any round was the 23.5% support that Duncan Smith won in the first round of the 2001 contest. If anyone other than Boris is to take the crown this time, they will do so having polled little more than half that, as best: Jeremy Hunt, who finished runner-up last Thursday, secured the support of only 13.7% of his colleagues.

By contrast, Johnson appears to be continuing to gain support and if Raab is knocked out before the round-of-three, is likely to be backed by more than half the Conservative parliamentary party before the vote goes to the members: a formidable campaigning asset his team will no doubt play up, even before considering that such polling of Tory members as there has been suggests they both like and trust Boris (despite copious evidence as to why they shouldn’t).

Boris could screw it up but the overwhelming likelihood is that he won’t. I don’t expect any new (large) skeletons to fall out of his closet given how the best that those who would like to discredit him can do is to recycle old ones, and as the firmest Brexiteer on the ballot-paper once Raab is knocked out, would stand a strong chance on that fact alone, even before his other electoral assets.

In short, this will be the election that puts paid to a rule that should never have been taken too seriously in the first place.

David Herdson


With Johnson looking a near certainty the big betting focus is on who’ll join him in the final 2

June 17th, 2019

My 13/1 “final 2” bet on Stewart looking promising

Last week I placed a small bet with Ladbrokes on Rory Stewart at 13/1 making the final two in the Conservative leadership contest. The response I got on Twitter was interesting and with most saying I was wasting my money.

Almost whenever I publicise a bet people interpret this a prediction which is not the case. Like all these things it is worth repeating that bets are assertions of value. You have a flutter if you think that chances of something happening are greater than the odds on offer. Given the Ladbrokes price at the time rated him as about a 7% chance my gut instinct that it was greater than that has been shared by others.

After last night’s performances in the Channel 4 debate the price on Stewart getting to the members’ ballot stage has been tightened to 2/1 He’s level pegging with Gove while the favourite to make the postal ballot is Hunt at 6/4. Javid is 12/1 while Raab has eased to 16/1.

Interestingly punters on the Betfair exchange rate Rory better than that.

Given the MP declarations that we know about he has a massive challenge just to stay in the race beyond tomorrow lunchtime. He’s now claiming to have the backing of 33 MPs.

My guess looking forward is that a lot depends on how well Gove does and whether he will shed votes.

I do love Tory leadership races because of the step by step approach.

Mike Smithson



Meanwhile in that other leadership race…

June 17th, 2019

Dr Foxy on how the Swinson Davey battle is shaping up

Understandably the focus of political interest and betting is on the contest to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party, and most likely Prime Minister. This does rather overshadow the ongoing contest for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat Party, which finds itself in the rather unfamiliar position of rude health. Having had some excellent results in both Local Elections and in the recent Euro elections, Vince Cable contrasts sharply with Theresa May by leaving the role on a high, with the party polling at its best for nearly a decade, and united over the major issues of the day.

The choice facing the Liberal Democrats is between the strong favourite Jo Swinson, current Deputy Leader, and Ed Davey who is rated by punters as the outsider. There were around 200 in the audience for the East Midlands hustings with a significant minority of members who had joined in the last few weeks amongst the more veteran members.

The differences of policy direction between the two were modest and nuanced rather than the gaping chasms afflicting the Labour and Conservative Parties. Discussion ranged over a broad range of topics as a result, from environmental issues, fracking, restoring trust in politics and government, support for marginalised communities, the role of positive discrimination in promoting diversity, campaigning support for local parties and the integration of new members such as Chuka Umunna.

PBers would be either disappointed or relieved to find the important topics of Scottish Independence and Proportional Representation were as untouched as a pineapple topped pizza. Perhaps surprisingly, Brexit was little discussed, with both candidates strongly pro-EU membership. The differentiation between the two was subtle on policy, but quite different in style and presentation.

Ed Davey was on home turf, having been born and schooled in Nottinghamshire with a backstory of being orphaned at the age of 11. He was clearly proud of his work in the 2010-15 Coalition, particularly for his time as Secretary of State for the Environment and Climate Change.

Similarly he cited other achievements such as introducing the clause that repealed the homophobic Section 28, and the abolition of compulsory retirement ages. His background as an economist seems to give him a stronger leaning to market mechanisms and more inclination to incentives than heavy handed state intervention.

His points were well supported by evidence, and well argued in an assertive but not bombastic style that comes over well in more weighty interviews and debates. He rather reminded me of Clem Attlee in his ability to achieve change rather than just talk. In his closing speech he did rather give in to hubris by talking of being Prime Minister rather than just party leader.

Jo Swinson has been particularly active in the #PeoplesVote campaign, speaking to the mass rally in Parliament Square, and working closely with other parties on this. She clearly works well on common platforms, and this may be important both for integrating new members and for electoral strategy and in a hung parliament. She seemed a little stiff initially, but warmed up as the evening progressed, and was particularly passionate about environmental issues and reaching new audiences and voters. While also a member of the Coalition government, she did not emphasise this as much as Davey. She seemed to model herself more in terms of Jacinta Arden as a political heroine.

In all, I left the hustings in good spirits and would be happy with either as leader. Both were well rooted in the party, and strongly pro-environment amongst the other Liberal Democrat values of compassion and inclusivity. Both were happy to acknowledge that they had changed their minds over issues over the years, and both had known political defeat and despair losing their seats in 2015 as well as demonstrating the grit and drive to get them back. Both were approachable and demonstrated good emotional intelligence when speaking afterwards, and having selfies with supporters. Eavesdropping other attenders on the way out, most seemed to think that the decision was finely balanced as to who would be better.

I think that the race will be closer than expected, and that while Swinson should be favourite, I would not bet on her at current odds. Ed Davey is running a good campaign and had a lot of audience support. 6/1 at the time of writing is good value and I have backed him, and will be voting for him.

Dr Foxy

Dr Foxy has been a Lib Dem member for 5 years, having previously been a member of the Labour Party 1994-2002.


The revolution will not be televised

June 16th, 2019

The sleeper topic that will corrode the government’s ratings


Allow me to tell you the most middle class joke in existence.  Q: What do gay men do in bed? A: Eat biscuits and listen to Radio 4, same as everybody else.

OK, it’s all in the delivery.  Radio 4, and the rest of the BBC, have long term concerns about the delivery of their services too: where is the money going to come from to fund them?  This is a central problem for a broadcaster that does not take paid advertisements and that is dependent on public funding.

The BBC’s funding in large part comes from the revenues for the television licence fee.  In 1999, the government made licence fees for the over 75s free. It did so by the government meeting the cost and paying that sum over to the BBC.

In an era of burgeoning deficits, George Osborne could not afford such largesse.  When the BBC’s charter came to be renewed, it secured the BBC’s agreement in 2015 that the government would phase out this subsidy by 2020, leaving it to the BBC to consider whether it would continue to offer free licence fees for the over 75s.

The BBC duly consulted and earlier this month announced that it would be discontinuing free licences for all over 75s as from June 2020.  It would continue to provide free licences for those over 75s who were in a household where one person received the pension credit benefit.  However, this excludes most of the pensioners who previously enjoyed this benefit.

The news broke, the howls of disappointment were heard and the news cycle moved on.  It is far from clear, however, that the general public is as philosophical about the matter.  A Parliamentary petition to reverse this decision has already reached more than 160,000 signatures with little publicity, putting it comfortably in the top 10 for live petitions (four of those above it relate to Brexit).  Complaints about this decision are whistling around Facebook feeds – you might well have seen posts like the one at the top of the thread.

There is a certain irony about resistance to changes to television licence fees being organised online.  For the internet is one of the essential challenges to television’s future as a medium. It is, however, now much easier than ever before to see what really motivates voters (or at least what they are talking about).

It’s not necessarily that the BBC’s decision is a bad one as a general principle.  Pensioners are on average wealthier than the average and they are much more likely to be watching television in the first place – the average age of viewers of both BBC1 and BBC2 is over 60.  It isn’t immediately clear why wealthy old people should have their entertainment subsidised by younger poorer people. You can imagine their collective choking into the ovaltine if it were proposed that Netflix subscriptions for millennials were to be paid for free from the exchequer.

This is not a cheap subsidy.  The cost of providing free licences to the over 75s accounts for roughly a fifth of the BBC’s budget.  Contrary to the message in the tweet above, the cost is roughly £750 million a year.

However, the public rightly has a special tenderness for the needs of the elderly and a sizeable proportion of the public is hostile to the idea of exposing them specifically to any aspect of austerity, whether or not those being asked to pay could in fact afford it.  And the central point of British politics should not be forgotten: old people vote.

This decision is likely to be blamed on the government and there is a real prospect that it will help lose the Conservatives votes.  No wonder some of the Conservative leadership candidates, including that fluffy dewy-eyed liberal Esther McVey, were looking to reverse it.

In the longer term, the problem of funding the BBC remains.  One of the live petitions that has the most signatories advocates scrapping the licence fee completely.  That raises the question how the BBC should in fact be funded. Fewer and fewer people are watching TV (television viewing hours are dropping steeply at present) and young people are not in the habit in the same way as earlier generations.  The BBC remains relevant to all – for example, 81% of the public get news from it in one way or another. But if the licence fee itself is becoming an anachronism, how is the BBC to continue to thrive in an increasingly multi-media world?

And what of those gay men I mentioned at the outset?  Just 1% of 16-24 year olds get news from Radio 4 (52% of them get news from Facebook).  Unless the public’s habits evolve further, those gay men are soon going to have to start doing something else in bed instead after all.


Alastair Meeks


To show they’re back in the game the LDs need the Brecon & Radnor recall petition to succeed and to win the ensuing by-election

June 16th, 2019

An early by-election test for the new CON leader?

This weekend has seen the last intensive campaigning in the Brecon and Radnor constituency to persuade those on the electoral roll to sign the petition that the sitting MP br recalled. This would create an immediate vacancy and a Westminster by-election would be called.

On Thursday evening the recall petition will be closed and should the 10% threshold be reached then there’ll be a Westminster by-election there – the largest constituency by land area in England and Wales. The petition count is expected to take place on the Friday.

Nobody knows how many have signed over the past weeks and opinion polls are banned.

If the recall happens and follows the Peterborough time-table then we could see a by-election taking place within a week or so of the new CON leader taking over.

What an opportunity for the new leader to demonstrate that their electoral prowess but what a chance for the yellows to give him (and we know now that it will be a him) a bloody nose.

Given the precariousness of the Conservative position in the Commons then losing would be a major blow and could make an early general election more likely. This is because not only will the government be one seat down but its opponents will be one seat up and the government’s majority with DUP support would be down to a single seat.

TMay, who by then will be the former leader, had a pretty good by-election record securing in Copeland the only gain from Labour while in government for nearly three decades.

A ComRes/Telegraph poll that came out earlier in the week pointed to a Johnson led Tory party achieving a 140 seat majority in a general election – a finding that must have helped in the MPs ballot.

If Johnson is leader and this survey, the format of which and presentation in the paper has been widely criticised,  is on the right lines then a CON hold should be a doddle

Brecon and Radnor was won by the LDs at GE1997 and held by the party until the current MP, Christopher Davies gained it for the Tories at GE2015. At GE2017 he retained the seat with a 19.5% majority. The LDs are keen to get it back and are already working hard.

This would be the first by-election since Richmond Park when they are the clear challengers and expect a high octane campaign which is already under way in the effort to get 10% of voters to sign the petition.

Mike Smithson



The Tories move to 21% in a YouGov poll and this is being described as a “surge”

June 15th, 2019

Politics has been turned upside down

Mike Smithson


The real driver behind Johnson’s CON MP campaign has been Gavin Williamson, not Lynton Crosby

June 15th, 2019

Marf cartoon first appeared after Williamson was sacked

A guest slot by The Kitchen Cabinet

There are some events that seem unimportant and innocuous at the time but which have far reaching consequences on the longer-term. Historically, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 is the biggest example, an event which, at first, attracted little attention but which set off World War I. Another, far less known, is the financial scandals of President Hindenburg’s son, Oskar, which many believe was a major factor in changing Hindenburg’s mind about appointing Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We may have our own version right now, not as dramatic (hopefully) in its consequences, but an event that arguably may have changed fundamentally the dynamics of UK politics for good. That event was Theresa May’s sacking of the ex-fireplace salesman extraordinaire and Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Many have ascribed Boris Johnson’s approaching coronation to the skills of Lyndon Crosby. But I would argue that it is Gavin Williamson who has done far more to being about the approach of PM Johnson as his effective campaign manager.

Williamson’s supposed gaffes as Defence Secretary are well known. However, that overlooks his time as Chief Whip, where he was incredibly effective, brokering the DUP-CON pact and ensuring that the Government kept on track. One wonders whether we would have had all the drama with the Withdrawal Agreement if Williamson had remained Chief Whip.

In the campaign for Johnson’s leadership, I would argue that it is Williamson who has won it for BJ and he has again come into his own. It is easy in hindsight to think that Johnson’s route to power was inevitable. But that is not the case. We all know from the comments on this site that Johnson was seen by most (but not all) as embodying the typical perennial pattern of favourites for the next Conservative leader falling at the fence. Few judged he could make the leap. His character was untrustworthy and he would not have the discipline for a campaign. Many of his colleagues disliked him intensely.

Moreover, Johnson’s position as the chief cheerleader for Brexit wasn’t secure. It is easy to mock their campaigns now but both Dominic Raab and Esther McVey could have provided serious competition for that block. Both had been building up their leadership campaigns for months post-their resignations and burnishing their credentials, Raab by constant public appearances, McVey by embedding herself more at the grassroots level. Both had policies that went beyond Brexit to a more overriding vision that would appeal to members – Raab with low taxation, McVey with blue-collar conservatism. Both thought they had the numbers to progress further (Raab has but McVey thought she had at least 20, including Liam Fox who signed the papers for Boris Johnson). Both had good reason to think in a campaign where many candidates would come from the pro-Remain wing that the ERG would decide that they needed to swing behind a pro-Brexit candidate to get the latter into the second round where they would probably win the membership contest and that Johnson wouldn’t be trusted.

Yet that hasn’t happened. Williamson would have realised that getting the support of the main ERG MPs was vital. As long as Johnson could get to the second round and his opponents were the likes of Gove and Hunt, he was most likely in with the membership.

I would argue that what he did phenomenally well was gain the support of this block. Having Rees Mogg, Francois and Baker quickly come out for Johnson effectively demolished any hopes of Johnson being out-Brexited. Meanwhile, his marshalling of MPs for Boris, pointing out that it is better to be on the side of the winner if you wanted a job, has been phenomenal. MPs who publicly stated their disbelief of a PM BoJo have fallen into line. As a result, we now have the situation where, unless BoJo blows up, he will be our next PM.

There are two further points from this. The first is Williamson’s role in a Johnson Government. I think he will be the classic power behind the throne type, effectively directing the new Government. I suspect his job will be more DPM / First Secretary of State than in charge of a department, where his skills would be diminished. He may even head to Brussels to head the negotiations with the EU. What it is likely to mean also is that a Johnson Government will be a lot more disciplined and focused than might be expected. And more successful. Expect an agreement with the EU which is the WA rejigged with some phrases and which can be presented as a triumph (I don’t see Williamson pushing for a No Deal and I think his skills will keep Baker et al on board). Expect more classic Conservative policies of low taxation. And, off the back of this, a GE where I would expect the Conservatives to win against a split opposition and a Brexit Party that would have been defanged.

Secondly, it may have turned out that Theresa May’s most lasting legacy may have been to, inadvertently, smooth the path for Johnson as PM. If Williamson hadn’t been sacked, then he may have been tempted to run for the PM job himself when May had stepped down. Even if he hadn’t, the fact he would have been in the Cabinet, would have made it difficult for him to build the links with the Boris camp. However, outside, he could do what he wanted and it was clear he wanted revenge for his sacking. It would be a fitting summary of Theresa May’s reign that she has smoothed the path as her successor a man she would dearly loved to have kept off the throne.

The Kitchen Cabinet


Boris will be the next prime minister. Then what?

June 15th, 2019

Airy assertions and motivational phrases do not deliver deals or organise governments

The landslide victory for Boris in the first round of the Tory leadership contest comes close by itself to assuring him of the outright win. Even at the 1/5 odds currently widely quoted, he’s still value.

Put simply, the main question is whether he’ll cruise over the line or stumble over it. His safety-first approach may well tend towards the latter outcome for lack of energy and momentum but either way, he still gains the crown.

Why? Numbers. Boris already has enough in the bag to see him through to the run-off. True, the election isn’t conducted by AV and he could lose MPs between the rounds, either for tactical reasons or because they genuinely become disillusioned with him but even if some do flake off, it’s highly unlikely to make much difference.

For one thing, other votes will continually be freed up – 50 MPs alone go into Tuesday’s vote having backed someone this week who’s now withdrawn or been eliminated – and transfers from these will mask any slippage.

Crucially, the dynamics also now work strongly for Boris. It’s very hard to see how Raab can do any better than fourth, given that the majority of votes that will be freed up before the round-of-four will come from ex-Remain MPs. If so, that means that Boris goes into the round-of-three with a huge proportion of the Leave MPs on his side, plus plenty of Remainers too, against two candidates from Gove, Hunt, Javid and Stewart.

If the Leave vote was split between Boris and Raab, against, say, Hunt, Boris’s lead among MPs might look a lot more slender. As it is, he will remain way out in front as the “MP’s choice”.

There is a risk that Boris might lose the vote among the members but it’s essentially the risk of him doing something so stupid that he kills his own campaign. Boris and his team are clearly aware of this risk and so I expect him to continue to err on the side of dullness for now. Providing he avoids potholes, I don’t see how any rival who might make the run-off beats him, especially as most postal votes are likely to be returned in the first week or so of the election.

However, winning the leadership election will be the easy part. Boris will inherit an appalling state of affairs, in policy, in parliament and in his party.

In policy, everything beyond Brexit has ground to a halt, allowing Labour to make great strides in setting the terms of debate on spending, tax, austerity, social policy, crime and so on. Witness the extent to which Tory candidates are falling over themselves to ignore, and implicitly reject, the need for sound public finances – something which will have long-lasting political effects as it becomes extremely hard for Tories to defend the austerity programme having just undermined the rationale for it, and hence becomes very easy for Labour to claim that the cuts were ‘ideological’.

On Brexit, Boris will have left himself no room for manoeuvre, having gained his victory off ERG votes on a pledge to leave on October 31 come what may. He will have to deliver on this, all the more so as he will have to repeat these pledges to the Tory Party conference at the beginning of October, to the activists who voted for him for that very reason and who are deeply spooked by their party lying in fourth place in some polls with a deficit of up to 9% against Farage’s Brexit Party. That it’s only YouGov polls that have the Tories in fourth – no other firm’s found them behind the Lib Dems – is a detail few notice when you’re panicking and with YouGov publishing most frequently.

In all probability, that means there’d be no room to compromise with with the EU anyway but it looks as if the EU is once again going to overplay their hand on the assumption that the UK will fold or at least kick the can again – an assumption that would certainly be wrong from the point of view of the government.

Would it be wrong from the point of view of parliament? That’s harder to say and for that very reason, forms another frame of Boris’ cage. There can be no doubt that parliament is very heavily set against No Deal but it may find it hard to express that opposition.

The Commons, having rejected this week the chance to repeat the process that forced the first extension in March, may have thrown away its best chance to force the government’s hand. Passing legislation in opposition to the government is extremely difficult, requiring both control of the agenda and majorities in the House that shouldn’t normally be there. Even then, the Bill might not be drawn up tightly enough (May wasn’t forced to accept the offer the EU put to her, for example).

However, if lesser options aren’t available, greater ones might be. If a Vote of No Confidence was the only means of stopping No Deal, Labour MPs, including the likes of Kate Hoey (who on Brexit votes have been fairly reliable for the government), would be down-the-line against Boris and co. Possibly the government might survive off DUP votes and some independents but none are to be relied on. Yes, they might be turkeys voting for Christmas but on an issue of this magnitude, politicians who feel strongly enough to leave their parties might well be prepared to sacrifice their careers too.

Winning the Tory leadership on an explicit pledge of No-Deal-if-Needed is bad politics on just about every level other than the briefest of timeframes. It would be to win not a gold medal but an enriched uranium one. The easy option would be to argue that Boris’s weakness for ephemeral moments of adulation, applause and self-amusement mean it will happen anyway but this wouldn’t be quite right. Boris will be chosen not despite that but because of it. He may be cynically playing to the gallery but if he is, it’s because they want to be played. Electing him will be a deeply irresponsible decision but one that is symptomatic of a current mindset that wishes away problems and indulges in fantasies and delusions; a mindset unfit for a great party and one which if not addressed will cause not only the party damage that could last decades but the country too.

David Herdson