Unofficial monster raving loonies. Decoding the Brexit customs union row

May 23rd, 2018

For a moment, let us contemplate the lower reaches of British politics and consider parties other than the big two.  Some of those political parties, like the DUP and the Women’s Equality Party, are best known for particular policies.  Some, like the Greens and the BNP, are best known for their values.

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party is best known for neither, being famous chiefly for in a minor way improving the gaiety of the nation.  Yet it has had notable policy successes in the past, being the first to advocate lowering the voting age to 18, the idea of passports for pets and all-day pub opening.  The two main parties will pilfer ideas from absolutely anyone.

The Loonies are fighting the Lewisham East by-election and have published their manicfesto online here.  At least three of their policy offerings could be rebadged by nominally saner parties: the idea of playgrounds for all ages; the idea of saving money by only painting yellow lines where you can park; and the idea that “All political and electoral leaflets will be printed on soft paper so that it may be recycled in the appropriate manner”.  They sound suspiciously sensible to me.  Less appealing to this voter, they are apparently advocates of compulsory voting.  The OMRLP are outriders for many of the bossier MPs on this subject.

The Loony ethos has permeated right to the top of government.  At present the Cabinet is riven by a split between those who advocate an agreement with the EU based on a customs partnership (which appears to be at present technically impossible and in any case has already been ruled out of hand by the EU as a basis for negotiation) and those who advocate an agreement with the EU based on “MaxFac” (which also appears to be at present technically impossible and has also already been ruled out of hand by the EU as a basis for negotiation). 

Now you might well regard the government as mediocre, filled with lazy ideologues, overpromoted lightweights and blinkered administrators.  I do.  But they are not obviously insane.  So what is going on? 

I have identified four possibilities.  First, despite the public statements made by EU negotiators, British politicians believe with no additional evidence that the EU will in practice be more flexible than indicated. 

Secondly, despite the public statements made by EU negotiators, British politicians have been given private indications that the EU will in practice be more flexible than indicated. 

Thirdly, British politicians do not believe that the EU will be more flexible and are having the argument as a proxy for a different argument. 

Fourthly, British politicians do not believe that the EU will be more flexible and are having the argument to buy (or sell) time. 

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive and different Conservative politicians may be operating on the basis of different rationales.  I don’t believe that anyone thinks the EU is ultimately going to buy either of these solutions.  But it certainly seems that some of the more extreme Leaver politicians are indeed anxious that Brexit is to be watered down too far for their red-toothed tastes and treating this battle as part of that broader fight.  They will be aware of the risk of a disruptive Brexit and regard that as a risk worth running in order to secure the degree of separation from the EU that they desire.  So they are baring their teeth on this.

Theresa May, on the other hand, will be calculating very differently.  Her pattern of behaviour since becoming Prime Minister has been consistent: to defer decisions until they make themselves.  So, for example, as late as September 2017, prominent Leavers were huffing and puffing about a Brexit bill of £40 billion.  Yet £40 billion is pretty much what was agreed in December 2017, when Leavers reluctantly accepted that was needed to get a deal struck.

In practice to date on the Brexit negotiations, that has meant caving in to the EU in time at each point, as that example demonstrates.  That means that Leavers are getting frustrated with the lack of macho confrontation.

On the question of customs, she is again running a slow bicycle race.  She does not want to be seen to be advocating a continued customs union, which is hugely unpopular with the hardliners.  Yet she needs to find a solution that enables Britain to act consistently with its Good Friday Agreement obligations, which requires far more integration on customs than many Leavers at present are countenancing.  So she is penelopising, seemingly working industriously to progress options that she secretly unravels later, looking to buy time until the ultimate decision is reluctantly accepted by all (or almost all).

But she cannot do this indefinitely.  If a deal is to be struck with the EU, it will need to be struck fairly soon – the clock is ticking down to 29 March 2019.  The crunch point is coming, which is no doubt why the government has announced that the Brexit Bills are coming back to Parliament again now.

What, assuming that a deal is reached, will the ultimate decision look like?  I suspect Theresa May is less concerned by that question than by getting there without leaving her government broken-backed.  (Seen in that light, we should not be surprised by reports that the Cabinet has never been briefed on the costs of MaxFac – the detail of the policy is irrelevant, so long as the possibility of the policy keeps the government from falling apart in the short term.)  But those of us less concerned about the future of the government than about the future of the country need to think about that question.

First, it probably won’t be called a customs union.  Theresa May has said that Britain will be leaving the customs union and so whatever the ultimate arrangement is, she won’t want it to be called that.  Secondly, it will need to be immediately workable.  That means that it is going to need to look quite like a customs union.

The government’s soft-line opponents seem confident that they can defeat it over the customs union question in the House of Commons.  If they are right to be confident, the government will know that too.  This begs the interesting question of whether Theresa May is consciously setting herself up for a Laevinic defeat.  (For those that are unfamiliar with this idea, it is the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory – a defeat that brings a reward greater than triumph would have secured.)  For if she is defeated on the floor of the House of Commons over the question of a customs union, she can seek to continue on that basis, respecting the will of Parliament over her own wishes, allying herself with the disgruntled hardline losers as she implements their strategic quietus.

There’s madness in this method, it seems.  The Loonies have taken over the asylum indeed.

Alastair Meeks


By-election punters should check the form before risking their cash

May 23rd, 2018

There have only been five Westminster by-elections which have been contested by the main parties since the Brexit referendum and the average party changes are shown in the chart above.

As can be seen there have been much bigger movements in constituencies which voted Remain than those which voted Leave. In the former, both in CON held seats seats, the LDs did particularly well picking up one gain with the Tory vote sharply down.

What we haven’t had is a by-election in a LAB seat which voted Remain as is the case in Lewisham East so we are into new territory.

What is important is that Westminster by-elections can develop dynamics which are very different from the overall political picture and comparisons with local results or what happened at the previous general election are not necessarily relevant.

I don’t buy Pulpstar’s analysis of Lewisham because the scale of the LD operation is likely to be at Witney and Richmond levels and will be far greater than that of the Tories.

Mike Smithson


Pulpstar says the Tories look value at 13-8 in the Lewisham match bet

May 23rd, 2018

The by-election in Lewisham East is attracting a lot of attention on twitter for Labour’s woes in candidate selection, and also some unfortunate tweets by the CLP chair dug up by Owen Jones.

How much attention will the average voter there pay to this ? Very little is the runaway favourite – even if it has made front page news for the Daily Osborne. Nevertheless a thoroughly uncompetitive by-election (Labour will walk it easily) needs an angle, and so Labour woes it is.

Ladbrokes have gone 13-10 the Tories and 4-7 the yellow peril in a match bet (Note not for second although realistically it is almost inconceivable someone other than these parties will finish second). I’d venture these odds are the wrong way round or at least the Lib Dems should be bigger than Even money here.

Why ?

1a) The three most recent elections (2015, 2017, 2018 locals) have all produced Conservative victories over the Lib Dems. True the 2010 result did produce a 1900 margin for the Lib Dems over the Tories, but the blues finished only 13.1% of the yellows nationally in that one. Currently that ‘gap’ is more like 30% or so.   

1b) Looking at the most recent locals the Tories managed 13,840 votes compared to the Lib Dems 9,222. I’m not sure what, if anything has particularly changed since then – indeed the local election results were encouraging for the Lib Dems not a million miles from the seat in Muswell Hill. My point is these results on their own make the Tories favourite in a match bet.

2) Vauxhall – A bit of a strange choice to emphasise a point about Lewisham East one might think but in the 2017 GE May on a very Brexity pitch managed to finish 1029 votes behind the Lib Dems in another seat where Labour are absolubtely dominant. According to Hanretty, Lewisham East voted approximately 35% leave, as opposed to Vauxhall’s 17%. The remain pool (Which is a pool fished heavily by the Lib Dems) is considerably smaller here than there. And that was just under a year after Hoey appeared on a boat with Farage*

3)  The consistency of the Tory vote from 97 onward here. From 92 to 97 the Tory vote collapsed from 18,481 to 9,694 votes. However since then the scores attained:

9694; 7157; 7512; 9850; 9574; 10859 (Note this is the most recent)

would have beaten the Lib Dems in every contest bar 2010 (See point 1a). Incidentally the shear uniformity of these results is why they don’t have a cat’s chance in hell of winning and arguably you can make the Lib Dems second favourites for the seat.

But what about Richmond, Twickenham and Surbiton ? I’d argue these are very different places and contests. The incumbents here are Labour, not the Tories and this seat does not play nearly as much to the Lib Dem’s strengths – it is not an ultra remain seat, more diverse and not as middle class or rich as SW London to be blunt.

Of course there will be a good deal of local news that ‘Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories here’ and that is probably true (The potential Lib Dem -> Labour switcher pool) is greater than the Tories immutable pool. The local Lib Dem campaigning machine may well be superior (I have no particular knowledge though) and certainly Vince Cable has a greater need to show he is competitive in this sort of seat than Theresa May does at the moment.

The Lib Dems may well do it, but for this particular match bet, bet against exceptionalism and take the 13-10 (At last check) on the Tories.


* My analysis indicates that AN Other Labour MP would have got over 40,000 votes in Vauxhall, so her massively pro Brexit views did affect her, but they were never going to lose her the seat. The ‘missing’ votes from Hoey’s should have been 40k pile to her actual one went to George Young.



A sign of LAB confidence in Lewisham East: Local party chief gets sacked days before the postals go out

May 22nd, 2018

Given that the outgoing MP, Heidi Alexander, secured 69% of the vote at GE2017 it has been very hard to predict anything other than a Labour hold. That was why, in the eyes of many, the party’s selection battle was the real fight.

That was completed on Saturday when the local party chose Lewisham’s, deputy mayor ahead of the Momentum backed candidate as well as the one supported by Unite – an outcome that’s been seen as a bit of a slap in the face for the Labour leader.

A key part in that outcome was played by Ian McKenzie, chairman of the Lewisham East constituency party, who, it turned out, had made a couple of sexist Tweets about Emily Thornberry two years ago.

McKenzie’s supporters say the Tweets had been dug out in a move to discredit him. He’s now been suspended.

Whatever the truth this is not the sort of publicity a party wants to attract at a crucial stage in a by-election. The LDs are throwing everything at getting a good result here and anything they can use to discredit Labour will be seen as helpful.

Ladbrokes make LAB a 1/50 favourite with the LDs t 20/1 and 100/1 on the Tories – betting odds, know doubt, that will be used by the yellows to make the case that only they can best Labour in he seat.

The Lib Dem effort has been focused on the LAB stance on Brexit suggesting that Team Corbyn is ignoring Remainers.

Mike Smithson


On the betting markets punters don’t buy the speculation that there’ll be a 2018 election

May 22nd, 2018


A vote this year is rated as just an 11% chance

At the weekend we saw reports in the media about the possibility of the huge divide in the Conservative over Brexit being of such a magnitude that an early, 2018, general election was the only way of ending it.

I thought the Sunday Times report was over-egged simply because Mrs. May was so scarred by her failure to retain the Tory majority last year that there were no circumstances in which she would take such a gamble again. The idea of her going into another campaign for which, as we saw, she was so psychologically unsuited to handle is hard to comprehend.

It is also hard to see another party leader being put in place this year for it is convenient for both sides within the party to leave her in the role until Brexit at the earliest. In any case the party’s processes make it difficult to oust her.

    Sure it only takes 48 CON MPs to write letters demanding a confidence vote of he parliamentary party for one to be triggered. But the other key number is that for her to lose that ballot requires 150+ CON MPs to vote against her and there isn’t that level of support.

On top of that there appears even within the parliamentary party to be a lack of appreciation of the Fixed Term Parliament Act and what is required to trigger an election.

The other factor that helps Mrs. May is that the Tories have established what is looking like a solid lead in the polls which diminishes the threat of Prime Minister Corbyn.

The Betfair exchange did see the odds on a 2018 election move to 15% but there was little to support it staying at the level and the price has slipped back.

Mike Smithson


Ken Livingstone, the ex-mayor who keeps talking about Hitler, quits the Labour party

May 21st, 2018


Of the last 22 published voting intention polls LAB has led in just one

May 21st, 2018

Now increasing CON leads have become the norm

The above table from Wikipedia shows the published national voting intention polls over the past three months.

What is very striking is how there are almost no surveys showing Corbyn’s party ahead at the moment. That compares with January when LAB led in six and was tied in two.

We are coming to a point in a parliament when oppositions need to be recording solid leads if they are to have any chance of forming a government after the next election.

    Too much of LAB thinking, it appears, is based on the hope that what happened last time will also occur next.

Maybe but maybe not. Three things are for sure – the Tories are going to run a better campaign than a year ago; Nick Timothy won’t be involved in the production of the manifesto, and the CON leader will appear in TV debates with the LAB one.

Also the campaign period, when Labour can expect equal coverage in the broadcast media, will be much shorter than the 7+ weeks of last year.

Mike Smithson


Polling boost for TMay as she takes a “best PM” lead amongst young voters for first time since GE2017

May 21st, 2018

Corbyn could be losing his advantages with the youth vote

The narrative that started following the shock general election result last June was that Corbyn and his party had managed tap into the youth vote who were turning out in greater numbers than at recent elections.

Much of this can be seen in looking at the age splits to leadership ratings and who would make the best prime minister findings from different pollsters since the election. Certainly up to now Labour and Corbyn have continued to attract the support of the young in greater numbers than the Conservatives.

But the detailed data from the Observer Opinium poll paints a very different picture. In every published survey since the election Opinium had found that the Labour leader had clear leads amongst the young segment to the “best PM” question when the options are TMay or Corbyn.

This had been narrowing, as can be seen in the chart, but Corbyn had retained a constant lead amongst the young until this latest one.

Now Theresa May is the top choice for the 18-34 year old segment with a lead of 4%. Quite why this should be is hard to say given that young voters are much more likely to be pro the EU and hostile to the referendum outcome.

It could be that Corbyn and his party are continuing to be damaged by the equivocation over Brexit and the ongoing difficulties in relation to antisemitism.

As we say with all polling analysis we need to look at further surveys before coming to firm conclusions but this is one to watch.

Mike Smithson