Brexit looks set to be the biggest non-election political betting even market ever

January 22nd, 2019

Lots of bookies of different sorts have ranges of markets on Brexit from PaddyPower’s “What foodstuffs will be rationed first in 2019?” to the above bet on whether or not the UK will leave the EU on March 29th.

What’s been very striking is the level of activity which is building up sharply as we get closer to the date. The Betfair exchange is just about the only one which publishes in real time how much has been agreed on every single market. There is no public information about other bookmakers.

    What we do know is that the Betfair market above has seen nearly £1.6m traded overall with just under half that being in the last seven days. Given it won’t be resolved for two months this is an incredible level of betting which my guess is being replicated across the industry.

I cannot recall any other non-election related betting which has seen these activity levels.

Another interesting market is this one where we are nearing crossover in the which will happen first – Brexit or TMay leaving. Charts, usual, from Betdata.io.

And then, of course, PaddyPower has this.

Mike Smithson


With “cabinet resignations” in the air who is going to be first to quit

January 22nd, 2019

TMay’s dogged resolve could lead to more exits

We are going through turbulent times and there’s little doubt that the next few weeks as we edge closer to March 29th are going to see dramatic developments which are going to be hard to predict.

The main story in the Times this morning is that possibly up to 40 ministers could resign if CON MPs are banned from voting on plans to stop a no-deal Brexit.

That such threats should be being made is no surprise given the magnitude of what is at stake. The question ministers are facing is how can they put pressure on Mrs. May who seems totally determined to stick to her plan, even if that risks a no deal Brexit. The Times report by Sam Coates notes:

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has demanded that all Tory MPs are allowed a free vote on plans that would clear the path for extending Article 50 — the mechanism by which Britain leaves the European Union.

Richard Harrington, the business minister, confirmed yesterday that he would resign if the government pursued a no-deal Brexit.

Margot James, the culture minister, and Tobias Ellwood, the defence minister, were among those said to be considering their positions. Mr Ellwood used Twitter yesterday to call for an extension to Article 50.

Ms Rudd’s intervention suggests that her position could be in doubt if she is barred from voting for the amendment, although her office refused to say whether she would regard it as a resignation issue. Those who are considering resigning include cabinet ministers, junior ministers and ministerial aides..

The one thing we’ve learned about Mrs. May is that she is incredibly rigid in her approach and she is more vulnerable to pressure from Moggsy’s ERG than other parts of the parliamentary party. So on the Ladbroke next cabinet exit list it is perhaps best to focus on those not associated with this faction.

Amber Rudd at 8/1 might be value as would David Gauke at 16/1.

If there are more than one cabinet exits in a day then all those leaving would qualify as winners with the dead heat rules applying reducing your returns. So Gauke might be the best bet.

Mike Smithson


Theresa May – the wrong woman for her time?

January 21st, 2019

So this is how constitutional settlements are brokered: not at a measured pace with Olympian detachment and the wisdom of Solomon but at high speed in a blind funk with a deal cobbled together in shadowy alcoves. It’s not pretty.

It’s also something that the Prime Minister must hate. Successful governing politicians who have to answer to the electorate often try to avoid making hard choices. Angela Merkel has been so effective at this that her name has been verbed in German. Theresa May has adopted the same approach throughout her premiership, seeking to make her own views unknowable, letting the views of others percolate through until the decision makes itself.

She started by setting out her parameters for Brexit, first in outline form in the summer of 2016 and then in more detail in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017. After that point she has simply let matters unfold before her, allowing the EU, the ERG, the DUP and anyone else who so chose to put their views forward, and then just waited. When the deal emerged from the primordial gloop of opinions, she no doubt expected it to slouch onto the statute books with a horrid inevitability.

This came to a shuddering halt last week when her deal was rejected by a majority of 230. The deal now looks very evitable: indeed, it looks hard to resuscitate. Theresa May’s entire approach has been refuted by events. She needs to rethink and fast. To fail to do so would be to make a decision by default or see the decision taken out of her hands completely by Parliament.

Unfortunately, fast thinking is not one of Theresa May’s fortes. It is her temperament to consider evidence thoroughly and slowly in order to come up with the optimal policy. Having determined that she has already come up with the optimal policy, her response is not to rethink but to decide how she can repackage it. In her mind, it seems, nothing has changed.

Something, however, has changed. Her command of Parliament has been demonstrated to be illusory and her authority has scattered across the floor of the House of Commons like pearls from a broken necklace. She should be scrambling to gather what she can back together again.

There is a hard deadline of 29 March 2019 and unless something is done, Britain is going to leave the EU without a deal. Theresa May has given no indication that she regards that as a desirable or acceptable outcome, yet it is emerging as her policy by default.

Sometimes it is better to be wrong quickly than right slowly. With a hard deadline, a House of Commons that has fractured into six or more groupings and the nerves of loyal MPs fraying, the political imperative is to provide a strong lead in a direction that has some chance of attracting new support.

Her most successful predecessors understood the importance of initiative. When David Cameron was defeated in Parliament in a vote over military action in Syria, he immediately stood up to announce that he recognised the vote and would not proceed with the idea (even though Labour had not ruled out supporting a more restricted version of military intervention). A defeat that might otherwise have been career-ending was brushed off as essentially unimportant. Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher would similarly have looked to take the bull by the horns.

Theresa May has instead simply languished in Downing Street consumed by inertia, continuing with her strategy of making her policy the only one capable of adoption. But it is not. It is now just one policy among many that could be adopted and one, moreover, that has been decisively rejected.

She seems to be relying on the possibility that her opponents will remain divided. Perhaps they will. That does not, however, seem particularly likely, especially since one thing that her opponents in the House of Commons can all agree on is that they should collectively have more say. It therefore seems more and more likely that Parliament will snatch the reins of Brexit for itself.

If that happens, the government will become curiously almost irrelevant. Conservative party discipline has been stretched beyond the limit ever since the EU referendum was first announced and despite a supposed restoration of collective Cabinet responsibility in July 2018, it has been honoured in the breach rather than the observance. It is hard to see how it can be reimposed this side of a resolution of the Article 50 departure process.

By that stage, the fissures in the Conservative party may have widened beyond the point of repair. That’s a downside of their leader not making difficult decisions. The indecision might end up consuming them all.

Alastair Meeks


Kamala Harris, betting favourite for the Democratic nomination, chooses today, Martin Luther King Day, to launch her campaign

January 21st, 2019

Will she be able to stop Trump?

The big news in the 2020 White House race is that as expected, Kamala Harris has formally announced that she is running for the Democratic nomination, and of course, the presidency.

In recent months her star has been rising within the party following some widely publicised Senate grillings in which she has given some of Trump’s nominations for high office a hard time. She’s the former Attorney General of the biggest state in the Union, California, and is of Tamil and Jamaican descent. Appropriately she chose today, Martin Luther King day, for the big announcement.

She enters a field that is already becoming crowded not the least with some of her fellow senators. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was first in on New Years Eve while New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand put hat her hat into the ring last week. Another Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, is likely to follow her. He first won his Ohio Senate seat in 2006 and only 2 months ago retained it with a majority of 6.8%. That compares with the 8% margin that Donald Trump had in the state at at the WH2016. A nominee who could win in swing-state of Ohio could be very attractive to the party.

We have yet to hear from the second favourite for the nomination, Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who had a very good result in the November Senate election against the Republican Ted Cruz.

All this is building up to a fascinating primary battle and it is hard to make predictions until you’ve seen how the first States to participate actually rate the candidates.

Remember the runaway odds on favourite Howard Dean in 2004 who apparently could do no wrong until he failed at the first step in a Ohio and made a speech afterwards that effectively knocked him out of the race.

It will be interesting to see how Trump reacts to Harris’s arrival in the field. So far, unlike with other prominent Democrats, he has failed to attach a tag line to her which has stuck.

Mike Smithson


Why HealthSec Hancock should be factored in as a potential TMay successor

January 21st, 2019

The ambitious Osborne protégé who wasn’t purged by Theresa

Over the weekend I’ve been trying to look through other possible contenders for TMay’s job which might become vacant in a matter of weeks or a few months. Who are the dark horses who might be a good punt at long odds?

Of all the Tory ministers who have been wheeled out recent weeks to argue the government’s Brexit position two of them, to my mind, stand out. One is the prisons minister who used to run a province in Iraq, Rory Stewart and the other is the ambitious Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The latter was a protégé of the the former Chancellor George Osborne and a key member of his team. He entered Parliament at the 2010 General Election. He did not have to wait too long before he got promoted to being a minister and in the chopping and changing that we’ve seen post GE2017 he is now the Health Secretary.

This is part of a ConHome profile on him written by Andrew Gimson last May.

Hancock is a modern man, and that is one reason why he has bubbled to the surface. He has a capacity, and willingness, to express unbounded, if painfully bland enthusiasm for any modish cause….

He is particularly enthusiastic about digital transformation, and is reckoned by Whitehall warriors to have done well to keep it out of the hands of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, where it could equally well belong.

In February [2018] he brought out the Matt Hancock app, which produced a burst of derision at his expense, with even the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer making jokes about it..

One of Hancock’s many useful characteristics is an ability to get people to laugh with him, rather than at him. Beneath the laughter could be detected a note of respect..”

Gimson goes on to report the observation of a mandarin who worked with him.

“I have to say I never took to the man. Clearly able in a Bank of England sort of way. But devoid of principle, transparently ambitious and pleased with himself beyond measure.

Given that none of the frontrunners has appeared to have gathered any traction I just wonder whether Hancock would be tempted to put his hat into the ring. He is good communicator with a confidence that compares so well with the incumbent.

I’ve got him at 65/1 for next leader and 90/1 for next PM.

Mike Smithson


Desperate times. A new way out of the Brexit impasse

January 20th, 2019

The train is hurtling down the track and the cliff edge of 11pm on 29 March 2019 approaches. The overwhelming majority of the House of Commons is unwilling to countenance no deal, but there is nothing approaching a majority on what they would in practice countenance. Different groups compete for power, some reaching for the brake and some arguing that we should speed up to get to 88mph to zap us back to 1955. No resolution is in sight and a terrible fate beckons.

What are the options? Britain can leave with no deal. It can sign up for a deal that has just been rejected by a majority of 230 MPs. It can try to negotiate something new, though the EU has consistently and repeatedly said that it won’t renegotiate. It can decide to remain in the EU. It can ask for extra time, which it might not get. Or it can revoke its notice to quit and do some further thinking that way. None of these options look anywhere near commanding a consensus.

Is there anything else?  There’s always something else. All you need is a little imagination. The problem essentially comes from the fixing of the deadline. Let’s work on that then.

The measurement of time has been under state control since the beginning of time, right up to the present day. Following the example of Julius Caesar and Augustus, the former president of Turkmenistan renamed the months, including one for himself and one for his mother. But I deplore his lack of ambition and think we should be raising our sights, just as the early Romans did. For what we are in urgent need of is an extra month.

There are 365 days in the year. We can reallocate these into thirteen 28 day months. (This leaves a day over and the challenge of leap years, but I’ll come back to that aspect.) The past convention of naming months after the political leader would not work, since we already have a May.  Perhaps the naming right could be auctioned in order to reduce the national debt. Amazon, for example, sounds suitably classical.

This has numerous advantages. For starters, calendars would never need to change. They can go from being throwaway items to luxury objects. Next up, if we make 1 January a Monday, paraskevidekatriaphobia will be a thing of the past. Every monthly paid worker would get a one-off 8.33% pay rise, helping to alleviate the long squeeze on wages growth at a stroke.

This leaves the question of the 365th day and leap days. This can be dealt with by adding intercalenary days, attached to no month and not being a day of the week. Britain doesn’t have enough Bank Holidays, so Meeks Days (like school inset days, I expect they will be known by the name of their creator) will serve yet another valuable function. Stick them – one, or two in a leap year – between June and July and we can hope for good weather and a day off for the Wimbledon final too.

What would this mean for Brexit? The timid might hope to buy another 28 days by inserting a new month between February and March, and hope that might be enough to sort things out. The observant will note that with each month having 28 days, the 29th of March becomes the twelfth of never. Brexit would not have been revoked or delayed. It would simply have been teleported safely into an alternate universe.

Now it might be argued, perhaps by those who have advocated that Britain should go into union with Australia Canada and New Zealand or by those who have advocated that the vote should be removed from the over 75s, that this idea is far too eccentric to be worthy of further attention. The time has come, however, to think laterally. What the country needs is more time. Parliament with its newly-rediscovered sovereignty should legislate to provide us with exactly that.

Alastair Meeks


A 16/1 tip to start off your Sunday

January 20th, 2019

Why I’m betting on Farage to become an MP in 2019

I suspect whatever the outcome on Brexit Nigel Farage will be screaming betrayal as it will not be the precise type of Brexit he wants. I expect that screaming will be heard on Jupiter if Article 50 is extended or revoked. If Parliament does what pre referendum Farage suggested in the event of 52%/48% result in 2016 and hold another referendum then Farage might be very cross.

So how does Farage channel that anger? I hope he won’t be picking up his rifle, I wonder if he might stand in the potential Peterborough by election, he has said in the past he wouldn’t but given the right circumstances he might, especially as outlined in the previous paragraph.

Peterborough seems ideal for Farage given that it voted Leave and if the current MP is disqualified for her conviction for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It isn’t hard to imagine Farage using the by election by asking the voters to send a message to a dodgy Parliament, Brexit means Brexit perhaps?

If Parliament descends into further deadlock we could see a 2019 general election which could also Farage a further opportunity to become an MP.

Now perspicacious PBers will be pointing out Nigel Farage’s lamentable record when attempting to become an MP, including the memorable occasion when he finished third in a two horse race but at 16/1 I’m happy to put a few quid on it, but not much more. After all Farage will become unemployed from elected office in a little over two months, he might need something else to fill the void.



Now we’ve got some non-YouGov polls showing CON leads the position looks a tad less good for LAB

January 19th, 2019

With three new voting intention polls out in the past couple of hours this has been the biggest evening for Westminster surveys June 7th 2017 – the day before the last general election.

One of the positive things for LAB until this evening is that no other pollster than YouGov had shown a CON lead since the first week in November. It became a little bit easier to portray YouGov as an outlier.

The big thing in polling analysis is the general direct of travel rather than one particular poll and it does appear as though the Tory position in relation to LAB has edged up a notch.

Certainly LAB ambivalence on Brexit, the biggest issue for years, had actually worked but I just wonder whether that is changing. This demonstration earlier in the week shows the tensions.

Another thought is that if this parliament does survive until the 2022 then Brexit will be done and dusted and will have much less of a political impact.

Mike Smithson