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David Herdson says the electoral battlefield has never favoured LAB so strongly

April 19th, 2014

Is 35% Labour’s new bedrock support?

It’s better to be lucky than to be good, so the saying goes – and in politics, success or failure frequently turns on the timing of events over which those involved have little or no control: their luck, in effect.  What they make of that luck is a different matter.

To that end, the Lib Dems going into coalition with the Conservatives delivered Ed Miliband a very great slice of luck.  Not only did it enhance his own leadership prospects (a Con minority government would have been less stable and could easily have swung the Labour electorate behind his brother as a more proven option), but it led to the biggest voter realignment since the early 1980s; one that Labour benefitted greatly from.  Indeed, so great has been that shift that the question has to be asked whether it’s enough by itself to deliver him victory next year.

On some measures, Labour is performing very poorly.  Questions of leadership perception and economic competence consistently put Cameron or the Conservatives ahead.  Labour’s own voting intention rating has steadily drifted downwards from the mid-forties in 2012 to the mid- to high-thirties now.  Indeed, were it not for the Lib Dem to Lab switchers, Labour would be frequently polling in the twenties.  As the only major Westminster party opposing a government that’s been making cuts for four years, that’s shockingly poor.

Yet that current weakness demonstrates just how strong Labour’s underlying position is.  Gordon Brown polled disastrously in 2010: only once in the previous three-quarters of a century had his party received so few votes at a general election, and then only just – so those who did turn out for them must be a pretty firm base of pro-Labour support.  Add in the Lib Dem to Lab switchers – who seem well motivated against the parties of both Clegg and Cameron – and that base rises to around 35%: only just below where Labour is right now.

So the simple question is: can Labour actually fall any further?  Bar a point or two at most, the only way the figures could decline further is if other parties start eating into those who voted Labour in 2010, or into the Yellow-to-Reds – or if people from either of those groups sit it out altogether.  That’s not impossible: Labour in 1983 and the Conservatives in 2001 both went backwards after losing power, and from a weak starting point in the case of the Tories.  However, neither election was held in circumstances as favourable to the opposition as now.

    If Labour is at or near its new rock-bottom core support, then that puts it in an extremely strong position for 2015 given how that support is distributed (assuming a Scottish ‘No’ vote in September).  The Conservatives would need to poll well into the forties just to hold their current seats.

 That’s only really possible if UKIP’s support collapses and if it goes overwhelmingly Blue: two mighty big ‘if’s.  To look at it another way, is the improving economy really likely to switch many votes from Lab to Con when Labour’s hardly gained any swing voters from the Tories since 2010 anyway?

It could have been very different.  Had Cameron won enough extra seats to form a majority government – even one with a small majority – Clegg and the Lib Dems would never have become tainted to those on the left and it’s quite possible that Labour would be scrabbling with the Lib Dems for second place in the polls.  But that’s not what happened and the consequences of what did are that lucky Ed’s been handed a solid electoral coalition on a plate sufficient for him to cruise towards Downing Street.

David Herdson




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In 1974 British politics moved from a 2-party system to a 3-party one: GE2015 might hearld the start of 4-party politics

April 18th, 2014

Just look at the chart above showing the aggregate CON+LAB vote in all general elections since 1950. GE2010 saw the big two share down to its lowest level. Now with the emergence of UKIP it could edge down even more.

What this means is that it is possible for a party to win a general election with little more than a third of the GB vote. At GE2005 Tony Blair’s Labour came home with a 60+ majority on just 36.2% of the GB vote. That is slightly higher than the UK vote with also includes Northern Ireland.

It is important to note that all opinion polls are based the GB shares only.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble




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GE2015 becomes even more like Premiership football where the top teams rely on highly-paid foreigners

April 18th, 2014

Welcome to Axelrod versus Crosby

How much can Ed’s new hire bring that’s relevant to the UK?

There’s no doubt that the overnight news on Labour’s Axelrod appointment will cheer the party faithful but I just wonder what Axelrod will be able to bring.

Axelrod’s great strength is that he’s good at messaging but he’ll be without the central communication tool – paid for TV ads – that he’s used to. Also big data, so beloved by everyone, is simply not available here on the same scale as in the US.

But there’s no doubt he’s a hugely impressive operator who was crucial to Obama becoming president and retaining it four years later. He certainly should have it within him to adapt quickly and make a key contribution.

    My guess is that his big contribution will be to steady Labour’s nerves and come up with the right strategy when it gets really personal against Ed. Axelrod has plenty of experience of doing that and turning it.

Whatever GE2015 just got a bit more interesting.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble




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The Euro elections are being totally overshadowed by Scotland and that could have an impact on May 22nd

April 17th, 2014

Maybe it is because I’m on my way home from Edinburgh after being immersed totally in Scottish politics for two days but I am convinced that the immensity of what will be decided on September 18 is overshadowing everything.

    The very idea that the Union that has been in place since 1707 might come to an end is what everybody is focusing on to the exclusion of almost everything else in current politics.

This means, for starters, that the Euro elections and locals on May 22nd are going to get nothing like the attention that you’d expect from the final national Electoral test before GE2015.

Look at the political stories that we are seeing at the moment – the bickering between the three parties that make up NO, the speculation over Cameron’s future should it go the wrong way and the analysis of what rUK politics could look like.

What I can’t work out is who will benefit five weeks from today. Will the possible lack of attention make UKIP’s task hard or easier in reaching its stated goal of “winning”?

Would a third place for the Tories be less damaging because all the attention is elsewhere?

Who knows? But I’m pretty certain that this totally exceptional period will have an impact on the local and Euro results.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble




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The Scottish IndyRef totally dominates current political betting activity with virtually no interest in the May 22 Euros

April 17th, 2014

Do punters think that May 22 is not very important?

One of the great things about the Betfair exchange is the amount of data that’s available on each of its markets.

The chart above is of the total amount of matched bets in £ on the current live UK election markets. As can be seen both the GE 2015 markets, which have been up for nearly four years, attract a lot of interest but not on the scale of the September 18th referendum in Scotland when the nation’s future will be decided.

If the Indy Ref polling continues to get closer I can see the total amounts bet jumping into the millions making it, by far, the biggest political betting event outside the general election and the White House race.

This really does suggest that the people of Scotland, where I am at the moment, are taking a huge interest in September’s vote. Their future is at stake.

    What I find really surprising is the comparative lack of interest in the May 22nd Euro elections. Given that there’s a possibility that the purples could come out on top I’d have expected to see much more betting interest.

There are, of course, many other places to bet but we don’t get information like that published and constantly updated by Betfair. Inthe past these numbers have proved to be a good pointer to overall betting interest.

DATES FOR YOUR DIARY. The next Dirty Dicks (opposite Liverpool Street station in London) gathering will be at 6.30pm on Friday May 2. An event for Yorkshire and the north is planned for Ilkley on Monday July 7th

Mike Smithson

Ranked in top 33 most influential over 50s on Twitter




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Corporeal asks: Will the dog bark

April 16th, 2014

Sex and politics is an explosive mix and one that has driven a lot of scandals in British history, from Parnell’s divorce through the Profumo affair, Jeremy Thorpe, and up to the present day scandals to not even scratch the surface. The most recent rumours (that I happily don’t know enough about to make any troublesome innocent faces) aren’t either as influential or as shocking (the Duchess of Argyll’s divorce case is inexplicably obscure now) as the most infamous historical episodes, but sit comfortably on the lower level of dirty laundry that comes around regularly.

Actually regularly is an understatement, the rumours or stories are constant and familiar to almost anyone with any familiarity with politics, and particularly the world of young activists or staffers. It’s not even an open secret, it’s just open.

It’s tempting to suggest that this is just the revelations of close observation, the only difference with politicians is the microscope applied to them. No doubt if you trained a magnifying lens on any sector of society you’d find plenty of ongoing goings-on, but there is far more to it than that, a confluence of factors that breed a particular type of environment.

Power is its own particular type of aphrodisiac, but political power brings an extra ideological edge to it. If power is sexy then righteousness mixed with power is another level again, and a sense of shared righteousness is beyond even that.

So much for attraction, politics also provides opportunity (or risk, depending on your perspective). Frequent stays away from home at a second address, leaving aside the intense communality of election campaigns or party conferences  (and by-elections are notorious for people being thrown together and then getting together).

So much for the backroom party gossip, there is also a darker more unsavoury side to it.

Politics also places a lot of young and comparatively powerless people close alongside older, more elevated and revered persons and this kind of structure lends itself unpleasant results. Rennard-gate was disheartening (particularly for Lib Dems) not just because of the allegations themselves, or the “investigation”, but that certain older Lords suggested that low level sexual harassment, the not-that-occasional grope is expected and also nothing to worry about.

They are utterly and disgustingly wrong on the second point, and depressingly accurate on the first one. As with expenses, politics is often at the back of the line for modernisation, the culture still hangs over a lot of Westminster and this is especially true of the Lords with its older membership.

Sarah Wollaston MP passed police contact details to people who came to her with allegations, since the acquittal she’s faced everything from apology demands to House of Cards style conspiracy theories. Whatever you think of the investigation itself helping someone who wishes to contact the police do so is surely the correct action here. That she has been vilified in some quarters reflects badly on the critics rather than on her.

The unique nature of political parties is itself a contributing factor, not least in its inherent discouragement of reporting. The victims of the harassment have a personal commitment to the party and so a vested interest in avoiding any public relations damage. Equally there aren’t really any alternative parties to shift to, allegiance is largely defined by personal principle so a shift of organisations is both harder than moving companies and comes with a certain stigma.

Alongside that there is the notoriously murky world of party advancement, something so subjective that it defies transparency. Nepotism scratches the back of cronyism behind principle compatibility, personal rapport and political alliance where a good word in the right ear goes a long way, and a reputation for kicking up a fuss can follow you even further. It all adds up to pressure to keep quiet, smile, and get along.

The traditional method of discipline is the party whip, whose role of enforcing party loyalty to maintain a positive public image leaves them in a less than ideal (to say the very least, and not even mentioning their personal working relationship with the MPs) position to act in such cases,

The unusual nature of politics means it is more vulnerable to these kind of incidents, but the protections have traditionally been far laxer than other workplaces.

The Rennard allegations were one of the most disappointing things I’ve heard as a Lib Dem, not least for the comments by some of the Lords excusing them. Nigel Evans was acquitted, but the spotlight on his behaviour has brought an anonymous wave of stories detailing various levels of sexual harrassment.

What depresses me further is my conviction that whatever the truth (or not) of those two sets of high profile allegations, what they have brought is attention into a culture of harassment puttering along below the surface, while the circumstances that allow it to perpetuate are largely still in place. This is not all MPs by any means, but it seems reasonable to call it a significant number.

The question now is whether anyone is actually going to do anything. Will the party hierarchies fear what they might find if they went looking, or rather do they fear what they might have to admit to already knowing about if they stopped looking the other way? Will the Commons authorities feel strongly enough about the ‘integrity and honour of the House’ to get really involved? Many of the tales after all are taking place literally on their turf in the Parliamentary bars.  How hard and for how long will the media investigate and keep the story going?

Westminster was rocked by the expenses scandal, not that it was going on, but that the media informed the public about it (and the public really cared). Will anyone care as much about widespread allegations of sexual harassment?

So far we have a third of young men and women working in parliament reporting suffering sexual harassment, and the party whips have been told to tighten things up, opening of hotlines and independent complaints processes, and a promise to look into reform of procedures.

I hope the commitments are followed through on, proper reforms, pathways, structures, and all the rest of it are put into place, I hope they work. Although the Chairman of the 1922 committee has already pointed out problems in the Conservative plans there are improvements being made, or at least touted. But if I’m honest I’m sceptical, and cynical, and doubting of how much of a cultural change will happen and how long it will take. I doubt in the hope of being proven wrong.

I (and I should mention I’ve never been more than on the very humble outer fringes of politics) have heard for years now that this is a hurricane just waiting to touch down, and when it breaks it’ll be a massive scandal. So far, still up in the air. Isolated cases come and go but the big picture stays under wraps.

Will this be the time everything breaks open? I hope so, but sadly I doubt it. I’d encourage you to read the articles that are written with more anonymous anecdotes but don’t worry if you miss them, I suspect they’ll all get written again next year when he have another isolated incident that happens to make the news.

Corporeal



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Betting on the number of Lib Dem MEPs

April 16th, 2014

Ladbrokes have a market on how many MEPs the Lib Dems will have after the Euros.

If we apply UNS to the ICM poll for the Guardian, they will end up with zero MEPs. Now this election is conducted in regions under the d’Hondt  method so a straight UNS calculation may not be apt.

That said, the poll fits is a continuation of of dire European Election polling for the Lib Dems, and the trend isn’t in their favour. The polling may get worse for them, as there’s very little opportunities for them to do so  and increases the likelihood of them getting zero MEPs, on that basis, and the expectation that the price wont last, (It was at 5/1 this morning) I’ve gone for the zero MEPs option.

TSE



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Are we really only five months away from Dave’s resignation?

April 16th, 2014

Benedict Brogan wrote the other day

David Cameron will resign if he loses Scotland. A Prime Minister who allows the break-up of the United Kingdom cannot suffer such a statement of no confidence and continue in office.

That much is understood in Downing Street, where a gnawing doubt about the referendum gets worse by the day. The vote takes place in five months this Friday. Angst rather than panic describes the feeling apparent among those involved – but is it just a momentary loss of nerve, or a dawning realisation that something is seriously wrong?

That’s a pretty sensational revelation. I have my doubts, but iff Brogan is right, then it maybe worth reviewing the next Prime Minister market. If Cameron does resign in the wake of a Yes vote, then I think the next Tory leader (and ergo next Prime Minister) will come from the following four.

William Hague – I’ve always viewed him as the if Dave ever fell under a bus candidate. Will he want it? I suspect he may not, but in the scenario of Scotland seceding from the Union, he may.

Theresa May – Who has been quietly impressive at the Home Office, which had turned into a political graveyard for others, as a result, the bookies make it between her and Boris as favourites for the next Tory leader. (As an aside, given the scenario outlined above, I can’t see Boris being able to run in this leadership election)

George Osborne – Two years ago following the omnishambles budget, I would have thought Larry the Cat had a better chance at being next Tory Leader than George. But times change, his personal ratings and the economy have improved, as well at the Tory polling in the aftermath of the budget, it is not as outlandish as it seemed a few years ago.

Philip Hammond – If UKIP maintains or improves on its current polling, then some Tories will conclude their best chance of getting back those Con to UKIP switchers, is to back one of the two Tory cabinet ministers who would vote to leave the EU. (The other Michael Gove, I suspect will be on team Osborne.) Hammond like Theresa May has impressed quietly. That said, he was accused of undermining the No campaign earlier on this week.

Looking at the odds on the next Prime Minster, I’ve backed the above four, they are in some way, proxies for a Yes vote, and at odds of 16/1 and higher, they in my opinion represent better value than the 11/4 you can get on Yes winning in September if Brogan is right.

Odds on the next Prime Minister (as at midnight)

TSE

UPDATE