William Hill make it odds-on that none of the original LAB and CON TIGers will hold their seats

February 21st, 2019

The basic bet is whether any of the founding 11 TIGers are going to be returned as MPs at the next general election.

The names listed are Heidi Allen, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Joan Ryan, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith, Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston.

I’d reckon that Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston would be in with a fighting chance with, I’d guess. high name recognition in their constituencies. I think Heidi Allen in Cambridgeshire South might all be in with a good chance given that her main opponents when she was a CON candidate was the LibDem.

Anna Soubry has a high profile and you cannot write her off.

My reading of the bet is that they could stand in seats other than their current constituency though I’d guess they’d fare better on home turf.

The experience of the switchers to the SDP at GE1983 was that most struggled to hold on but some did. That’s possibly a good guide.

I’ve had a small bet that at least one will be returned.

Mike Smithson


The prospects for The Independent Group

February 21st, 2019

So, is The Independent Group going to break the mould of British politics? The general consensus is that it will be doing well to scrape off the top of the jam. In fact, it seems to me that it is the wrong question.

We are all bewitching ourselves with memories of the SDP. This breakaway is not like that breakaway. First, we need to ask ourselves what the group is trying to achieve. Breaking the mould does not seem particularly high on the agenda.

At present this split looks much more like the breakaway of the Adullamites in 1867, when a centrist group split away in opposition to the main policy of the Liberals at that stage (electoral reform) or like the division of the Liberals in 1916 over personality. TIG’s founders’ aims may be quite different from the Gang of Four.

What are their aims? I’m a firm believer in looking at what people say they want to do. So this is what the Labour defectors said:

“we believe that none of today’s political parties are fit to provide the leadership and direction needed by our country.

Our aim is to pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology, taking a long-term perspective to the challenges of the 21st century in the national interest, rather than locked in the old politics of the 20th century.”

This is what the Conservative defectors said:

“We believe that there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative Party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part.”

Both identify a failure of politics. The Labour defectors’ letter is better, in my view, because it focusses on pursuing policies (things that make a difference to people) rather than reforming politics (which is more of a procedural matter). Whatever, both have identified that they hate something and so they want to change something.

As chance would have it, they could not have chosen a better moment to seek to make a difference in the short term. Parliament is not just hung, the main parties have coalesced into coherent factions that are blocking progress on everything, including the touchstone of the generation, Brexit.

The DUP have shown just how much influence a small grouping can have in such a hung Parliament. If centrists hope to find a method of wrenching the steering wheel in a different direction, TIG might be it.

What do people mean by breaking the mould anyway? If they mean redefining the party system, I agree that TIG’s chances don’t look good. While there are a fair few metropolitan citizens of nowhere, they are thinly spread outside a few areas and outnumbered in most constituencies. Unless they can yoke their cause to another grouping, they look unlikely to break through. There is no sign of that yet.

If, however, by breaking the mould people mean making important changes to major policies in the here and now, their chances are excellent, especially if there are more defections from either or both main parties, as currently looks likely.

This is not 1981, when the government had an overall majority of 40. The current government is a minority government with a majority of minus 11 and a flighty partner offering confidence but not much supply. The government is scrabbling around seeking to create majorities for its policies.  

A disciplined grouping offering substantial numbers of votes will attract the Prime Minister’s attention and potentially obtain substantial concessions.

What of the longer term? To survive and thrive, TIG will need to show that they not just against something – Jew-hating, Brexit, dismal leadership – but that they are for something too.  They are going to need to offend some groups with their own vision, not just oppose the visions of others.

It is, however, entirely possible that the long-term aim is not inevitably to found a new party but rather to refound one or both of the two main parties. The Adullamites were soon reconciled with the Gladstonian Liberals and Lloyd George and Asquith patched up their differences. The Liberal Unionists and the National Liberals both (at a distance of over 40 years) were eventually absorbed by the Conservatives. Third parties are more normally absorbed by one of the original two than survive indefinitely.

If either main party can build a bridge to TIG, they may well choose to walk across that. They would certainly be wise to do so. If in the meantime TIG have managed to re-establish the voice of metropolitan pragmatic centrism in British politics, they should regard that as a profound success.

Alastair Meeks


Corbyn’s no longer the “Next PM” betting favourite as punters evaluate the week’s big developments

February 21st, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

Gove now in the number one slot

With LAB so far losing more of its MPs to TIG than CON then the ability of Corbyn to force an election though mounting a confidence vote has declined a notch. More exits mean fewer MPs who take the Labour whip puts the LAB leader in Commons arithmetic terms in a worse position.

I’ve never really seen why Corbyn should be favourite here because if things follow their predicted course then the next PM will be a Tory.

Gove, whose recent big Commons speech, had fellow MPs talking about him once again in leadership terms, has edged up a bit more.

Sajid Javid now at 9% has got a small boost from him stripping Shamima Begum of her UK citizenship. I’m not so sure on this. It made him look like a crowd pleaser – he appeared just too willing to follow the headlines.

Mike Smithson


Corbyn harking back to LAB’s GE2017 vote share is no solution to the party’s current challenges

February 20th, 2019

For many he is seen as the problem

Little noticed in this week’s political turmoil was some new polling from YouGov that had Corbyn dropping to a new low in its well/badly ratings. The trend was in line with all the other leader ratings that we’ve seen the last few weeks that whatever the pollster and whatever the question format Corbyn’s position is on the decline.

The historical record shows that for an opposition party to re-take power the leader has to have a clear ratings margin over the incumbent PM.

The 54% negative number from YouGov was not as bad as the 72% who told Ipsos MORI that they were dissatisfied but it is still the worst it has been with this particular question in this polling series

This coincided with the 8 MPs announcing their departure with their reasons all pointing to the leadership of Corbyn particularly on Brexit and his failure to address the ongoing anti-semitism within the party.

Looking back since the 2017 General Election the factors that seemed to have triggered a decline in Corbyn’s personal position have related to anti-semitism and his ambivalence on Brexit. It was the events in March last year that lead to MPs demonstrating against him outside Parliament that ended his comparative ratings honeymoon.

That Corbyn’s position is secure because of the membership base should give lots of hope to those opposed to LAB.

Labour’s fundamental problem is that it has a leader who is not popular even amongst many of those who voted for the party in 2017 but is almost totally secure in his position.

Mike Smithson


Newport West – the first electoral test for the TIGers?

February 20th, 2019


One thing that we learnt from the launch of the SDP in 1981 is that a new party has to achieve and demonstrate electoral success quickly. Although the Independent group has made great efforts not to be a political party it will achieve success faster if it can show in real elections that both LAB and CON voters and others are more inclined to it than the parties led by Mr Corbyn and Mrs, May.

Back in 1981 I remember the great sense of excitement when the new party fought for its first by-election at Warrington. The candidate was Roy Jenkins a previous LAB home secretary who had served as a European commissioner. The SDP Lost only after achieving a considerable swing against the incumbent Labour Party.

Roy Jenkins himself returned to Parliament some months later at the Glasgow Hillhead by election.

Coincidentally what is now only the second GB by election to be held this Parliament is due in the coming months at Newport West following the death of 84 of the incumbent Labour MP Paul Flynn. My guess is that Labour will seek to schedule it on the day of the local elections in early May.

A good performance there could be critical in determining the electoral potency of TIG.

A big question might be whether the Liberal Democrats will be ready to stand aside in the interests of helping the new grouping. Back in the 80s the old Liberal party and the SDP used to do that at by-elections to let the other a clear run.

These are the results from the last two general elections in Newport West.

Back at GE2010 the LDs had 17% which might be a good pointer.

Mike Smithson


Now CON MPs defect to the TIGers

February 20th, 2019

That’s four times as many who switched to the SDP

As expected The Independent Group is dominating the headlines with an announcement a few minutes ago that three women Tory MPs have decided to switch. None of them is really a surprise.

So that gives the new grouping ten MPs exactly the same as the DUP.

Back in the early eighties when the SDP was first formed just one CON MP decided to make the move – so the TIGers are ahead on this count.

Mike Smithson


Independents’ day. The implications for Jeremy Corbyn

February 20th, 2019

Let us now praise obscure women. With the launch of the Independent Group, much attention has been given to the more visible members of the seven MPs. Chuka Umunna briefly stood to be leader of the Labour party. Chris Leslie was shadow Chancellor. Luciana Berger has had the most public of battles with anti-Semitic opponents. I suggest, however, that the most significant of the defecting MPs is the least commented-upon: Ann Coffey.

I hope that Ms Coffey will not be upset if I suggest that she is not particularly well-known. She has been in Parliament for over quarter of a century, rising no higher than Parliamentary Private Secretary in all that time. I expect that she will look back at her extensive efforts made towards the protection of children as her political work that she is proudest of.

What she is not, however, is a rentagob. Media outlets have not found it difficult to find Labour MPs who have been willing to say exactly what they think of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Ms Coffey is not one of those. With Margaret Hodge, she jointly tabled the motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn in the wake of the original Brexit vote in 2016. Otherwise, she has largely kept her own counsel.

Until Monday, when she jumped ship.  Ms Coffey is 72. She will no doubt be standing down at the next election. She could easily have served out her time quietly, slipping away without fuss. She chose not to. Yes, in a sense it was cost-free. In another sense, however, in a party which still regards Ramsay MacDonald as its greatest villain, the price was enormous.

    She explained her decision to the Manchester Evening News in simple clear words. Of course antisemitism is an issue, of course the leadership is an issue and the line on Brexit. We are seeing a party that used to be a broad church in which there was a possibility to have discussions turned into a party in which any criticism of the leader or any different voice is responded to by being called a traitor. There comes a time when I have got to do something about it.

These words should terrify the Labour leadership. Instinctively paranoid, they will now be wondering how many other MPs are quietly weighing similar calculations. Some, such as Ian Murray, have not been quiet on the subject.

So far, however, the tone of the inner circle has been woefully misjudged. Jeremy Corbyn’s response, given above, was not far off “don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out”. His outriders on social media have been predictably less restrained, demanding loyalty pledges from those perceived to be unreliable, branding the group the Blair Rich Project and posting the lyrics from the Red Flag about cowards flinching and traitors sneering. The pièce de resistance was the news emerging the same day that Derek Hatton had been readmitted to the Labour party. Quite how any of this is supposed to reassure the doubters is wholly unclear.

The move has demonstrated the depth of the party divide. Tom Watson, the deputy leader, was notably much more sympathetic to those leaving, setting out his views in a soul-searching video. Yvette Cooper approvingly quoted his message in a tweet.

In a sense, it does not matter now whether other MPs also head for the exit. Whether dissident MPs remain onboard or jump into a lifeboat, they have to decide whether they can back Jeremy Corbyn as next Prime Minister. There now seems to be ample evidence that considerably more than these seven feel that they cannot.

This has two consequences, one for this Parliament and one for the next.  The consequence for this Parliament is that it looks extraordinarily hard for Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister in any circumstances without a general election. Even if the DUP were to abandon the Conservatives for Labour, these new independents would presumably not back him in a vote of confidence (and it must now be very doubtful whether all of the MPs who remain in the Labour party would do so if it came to the crunch). And that assumes that the Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru etc could all be corralled into supporting him: given that they have already said that they will not support another vote of no confidence in the government, that looks a brave assumption.

Theresa May has already indicated that she intends to step down before the next election. So his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister look slim.

Let’s assume, however, that somehow the next general election is fought between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn again. Stranger things have happened. Nothing in the polling currently suggests that Labour are going to get an overall majority. The single best chance Labour have at present to take power is in a hung Parliament.

With Labour’s leader so widely distrusted, he is going to struggle to put together a minority government with himself as Prime Minister, especially when he can place no reliance on his own Parliamentary party’s support of him. The price of Labour taking power might well be someone different as leader, just as the Lib Dems’ price for talking about a coalition with Labour in 2010 was Gordon Brown’s head. Many Labour MPs would be privately delighted.

All this points one way. It is much much harder than currently appreciated for Jeremy Corbyn to become next Prime Minister. Yet you can still lay him on Betfair at 7. (This looks like a clearcut bet to me if your market position is such that placing this bet would not be tying up money, and given Theresa May’s job security is arguably a clearcut bet anyway.) These seven MPs may well crash and burn as independents, but they may well have put the nail in the coffin of the ambitions that Jeremy Corbyn has to be Prime Minister.

Alastair Meeks


Bernie Sanders, 77, decides to take the plunge and moves to third in the nomination betting

February 19th, 2019

But how seriously should we view his campaign?

I must admit that I cannot see either 76 year old Joe Biden or 77 Bernie winning the nomination in eighteen months time. The former has yet to decide while Bernie, who ran Hillary close at WH2016, announced today that he’s going for it.

He joins an increasingly crowded field of aspiring nominees and the race will be so unlike last time when it was really just down to two.

What he has got going for him is a substantial supporter base as well as the experience of fighting a prolonged and hard primary campaign. The question is whether he has the appeal of 2016 or has the party moved on?

This is how the New York Times assesses his chances:

“A sensation in 2016, Mr. Sanders is facing a far different electoral landscape this time around. Unlike his last bid for the White House, when he was the only liberal challenger to an establishment-backed front-runner, he will be contending with a crowded and diverse field of candidates, including popular Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who have adopted his populist mantle.

Victories in the 2018 midterm election by women, minorities and first-time candidates also suggest that many Democrats may prefer fresh energy, something that skeptics believe Mr. Sanders could struggle to deliver. A 77-year-old whose left-wing message has remained largely unchanged in his decades-long career, Mr. Sanders will also need to improve his support from black voters and quell the unease about his campaign’s treatment of women that has been disclosed in recent news accounts, and that has prompted two public apologies.”

The thing that all prospective nominees have to do is demonstrate that they can beat Trump who will fight a fierce and rough campaign against them. I’m not sure he fits the bill.

Current Betfair betting – Harris 25%, Biden 14%, Sanders 11%, O’Rourke 10%, Brown 7%, Klobuchar 7%, Warren 6%.

Mike Smithson