Welcome to the Looking-Glass

October 17th, 2019

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.” 

Has Humpty (oops, sorry, the PM) gone and done it? Has he actually got Britain a deal to Brexit before 31 October? Well, it appears he has. Hooray! Let the church bells ring out. Boris is a genius. All those nay-sayers who said he couldn’t do it should hang their heads in shame. Of course, some of us predicted just this – here, for instance. The EU are playing their allotted part to perfection with Barnier saying that the backstop has gone.  Mind you, the bridge to NI has yet to be promised. Perhaps that will be the rabbit miraculously produced out of Boris’s hat just in time for Saturday’s debate – Ta Dah! – to get those sulky children in the DUP on board.

There are two debates going on in Britain over Brexit: one is about the facts, what the proposed deal  actually says and means. No-one cares about such dreary pedantic matters in a post-truth world. (Or maybe only wordy lawyers.) The other – and far more important – politically anyway – debate is about the appearance of things.

How does this make Boris, the Tories, the Tory rebels, the Brexit Party, Labour and the rest of the opposition look – and in that order?

  • Well, it makes him look very good indeed. The Leaver who could do what Mrs May could not and in just a few weeks. Even the EU are complimenting him.
  • It positions the Tories well for any GE – “we are doing what we promised and on time“.
  • The Tory rebels now need to decide whether they really want to stop a No Deal exit even at the cost of making Boris look like a winner.
  • The Brexit party – its leader now wanting an extension – looks churlishly idiotic.
  • Labour face the prospect of opposing what they claim to want and a GE they could well lose and lose badly.
  • And as for the poor Lib Dems: they have had their Revoke Article 50 policy nullified overnight.

There is the small matter of whether Parliament will actually vote for this new deal but this is a mere detail. If it doesn’t, Boris has another villain to tilt against. His A-G can repeat his You’re all an absolute shower act, though perhaps a little less stridently this time, eh Geoffrey? Magnanimity in victory and all that.

But let’s just for one brief moment be a little dreary and pedantic. What does this new deal mean?

When is a backstop not a backstop?  The backstop has gone. Yes – for the the UK. But not for NI. NI will formally remain within the UK Customs area but in practice will follow EU rules on customs and VAT and the Single Market. The backstop is no longer something which comes into play if an FTA is not agreed. It is now policy for NI from Day One – and likely to be permanent because of the consent provisions.

Taking Back Control?  It is the EU which will determine what customs checks there need to be in relation to goods being moved between the EU, NI and the rest of the UK.

NI as an integral part of the UK.  Not anymore. There will now be an effective border down the Irish Sea between NI and the rest of the UK in relation to trade, in consequence of the agreements reached about how customs and VAT rules will apply. It’s not annexation. No, no. Just the sort of tight hug you can’t easily extract yourself from.

No jurisdiction for the ECJ.  Not quite. It will be the ECJ which will have jurisdiction over this NI Protocol and Britain will have access to the court in exactly the same way as any other EU member state. And then there is the role the ECJ will play in relation to any future EU-Britain FTA.

Consent.  The agreement is quite clever in relation to this. A majority of NI’s representatives have to consent if any change is to be made to this arrangement.  Nota bene – not a majority of each community but a bare majority. This removes the DUP’s veto. Given that the other parties (critically, Sinn Fein) are Remain parties it is vanishingly unlikely that there will ever be consent for this arrangement to cease. NI will be in a privileged position where it gets the benefits of both the EU and the UK. Not an unfair outcome given that the province voted to Remain – and certainly a more democratic one than in the May deal. But given that the DUP’s strength has come from its ability to say “No” this considerably weakens its USP, as its statement today has recognised.

Scotland.  It will be furious. It too voted Remain but the absence of that crucial land border with the EU has not given it or whichever EU state it could have bordered the necessary leverage. Perhaps the Scots Guards could quickly invade Mont St Michel.

The Political Declaration.  Clause 77  is the crucial one: a level playing field in the areas of tax competition, state aid, environmental, social and employment standards. It is not legally binding so a future government (and the EU) could ignore this but then it would be much less likely to get an acceptable FTA – one acceptable to both Britain and the EU. Betting against the EU in future trade negotiations does not, based on the experience of the last 3 years, seem wise.

The rest of the UK.  Well, it does not get the backstop but it also loses its access to the Single Market without having to pay for it and without having to comply with one of its key pillars: Freedom of Movement. The one big advantage of Mrs May’s deal was that it provided an incentive to the EU to agree an FTA with Britain on reasonable terms in order to avoid triggering the backstop. That incentive is no longer there. The EU will undoubtedly want an FTA, as will Britain.  But the EU’s relative advantage has been improved vis-à-vis Britain. The price that Britain will pay in future in order to say “no backstop” now will be higher than it might otherwise have been. In making such a fuss about the backstop (and the date) Britain signalled to the EU exactly where its weak spots were. And the EU has used them. It has appeared to concede on the backstop (by shifting it while allowing the PM to say it has gone) while in reality getting everything that mattered to it from the previous deal – and then some.

Pah: reality! Who cares? The race is on to see if this deal can be nailed down before people have a chance to understand its implications in detail, before enough MPs ask why a deal which, on one reading is worse than Mrs May’s deal containing provisions the PM has previously described as unacceptable, should be agreed. Boris must hope that speed and urgency will help him come to a resolution. (Insert your own joke here about his personal life.)

The genius of Boris is to turn a genuine question about Britain’s relationship with the EU and the terms on which it departs solely into a question about what is good for him and the party he leads. By that standard, this deal is a triumph. Whether it will be any good for the people who voted Leave in the hope that Brexit would, in the end, make life for better for them and their families and for those hoping for an intelligent thoughtful approach to Britain’s future relationship with the EU, who can say.

Roll on Saturday. I’m still hoping for that Garden Bridge across the Irish Sea.



So a deal is there and it looks more likely to pass than TMay’s one

October 17th, 2019

Now it is up to the Commons and the meaningful vote


Post Democratic debate polling finds Klobuchar and Buttigieg getting the biggest ratings boost

October 17th, 2019


My 760/1 bet on Amy starting to look less of a loser

A couple of weeks ago on the Betfair exchange’s WH2020 winner market I noticed that there was £8 available at 760/1 on the Minnesota Senator and contender for the nomination, Amy Klobuchar who so far has had a fairly quiet race.

My view than was that anybody in the running and qualifying to take part in the next debate should have been on tighter odds than that and I made the bet. There are still three and a half months to go before the Iowa Caucuses which kick off the primary season.

Well in this week’s debate she came out well getting a fair bit of attention and demonstrating that she’s clearly capable of holding her own. As can be seen in the table above from the Fivethirtyeight/Ipsos post debate poll she saw the biggest improvement in her net favourability ratings.

She’s yet to reach the qualification threshold for the November debate but if this latest Ipsos polling is on the right track then she could see the movement that will get her over the line.

Second in the net favourability increase was 37 year old Mayor Pete who also had a very good debate. He’s sharpened up considerably.

Currently the top three in the nomination betting – Sanders/Biden/Warren – are in their seventies whilst Trump, who is heavy favourite to secure the Republican nomination is at 73 and also in that age range. I’m betting that the winner of WH2020 will be a lot younger.

A big negative ove Amy Klobuchar is that she’s said to have a furious temper and is terrible boss. If she continues to make progress that will become a bigger issue.

Mike Smithson


Another female Jewish MP is hounded out of Labour

October 16th, 2019

Why is it that the haters go for the women?

Incidents like this and the failure of the party under Corbyn to deal with it are a big reason, I’d suggest, behind the poor voting intention numbers and his disastrous record negative leader ratings.

If you plot Labour’s decline since GE2017 there was a turning point in March 2008 when the story of Corbyn and the antisemitic mural emerged. The party dropped sharply and from a period when it was in the low 40s or late 30s it is now down to barely half the share it chalked up two and a half years ago.

For some reason it is female Jewish LAB MPs who appear to be the target. Maybe the social media warriors hiding behind their anonymity feel emboldened to pursue the course they do.

A serious party leader would have taken firm action and shown real leadership. Corbyn didn’t.

Quite where it goes from here it is hard to say while the incumbent clings onto his job.

Louise Ellman’s letter above is totally damning but, no doubt, Jezza swill stay.

Mike Smithson


Elizabeth Warren drop to below 50% in the betting after the latest Democratic debate

October 16th, 2019

Betfair market tracked by Betdata.io

The big event in US politics overnight has been the latest Democratic TV debate and having now just caught up with it this was the best so far. It was great political TV and there has been some impact in the betting.

Favourite Warren has now slipped below a 50% chance after being on 54% within the past few days. Inevitably as front runner she was the focus of attacks by other contenders of who there was a total of 12. Such a number should have been unmanageable but it worked.

Warren’s achilles heel is that while she strongly advocates a universal healthcare plan she won’t explain where the money is coming from. The Oxford-educated Pete Buttiegeg did himself a power of good in attacking Warren on this point and made her position even less explicable.

Bernie was back in fine form after his heart attack last week. It seems to have done nothing impede his approach.

I thought Mayor Pete did himself the most good and he’s now clear third favourite in the betting. I agree with Robert’s thread earlier today about how he could pull off a shock result in Iowa on February 3rd coming perhaps in the top two.  He’s certainly the strongest contender under the age of 70.


Mike Smithson


As the Brexit negotiations reach a critical point the latest YouGov trackers has “Brexit wrong” with 5% lead

October 16th, 2019

The voting intentions in the same YouGov poll.

A GE constituency poll

Mike Smithson


Mayor Pete’s The One To Beat

October 16th, 2019

Iowa. Iowa. Iowa.

I keep repeating it, because it’s important. The winner (and potentially the runner up) in Iowa define the primary process. After Obama won Iowa in 2008, he saw his national polling pop more than twenty points. In a crowded a Democratic field in need of much culling, the winner’s pop could be even greater. (Simply: there are a lot of 2% candidates whose supporters will need to find new homes after they get null delegates in Iowa.)

And what’s going on in Iowa?

Well, in the last couple of days we’ve seen a couple of polls and they show one candidate surging. And that candidate’s not Elizabeth Warren.

First there was a YouGov poll last week (where the fieldwork started before Bernie’s heart attack) and that showed:

Biden 22% (-7%)
Warren 22% (+5%)
Sanders 21% (-5%)
Buttigieg 14% (+7%)

And then yesterday there was a Firehouse/Optimus poll:

Warren 25% (+2%)
Biden 22% (-1%)
Buttigieg 17% (+10%)
Sanders 5% (-6%)

The pattern from both this polls is the same: Warren and Buttigieg are on the rise while the old white men are in decline. If Sanders really is polling in single digits in a primary he won in 2016, then he will surely leave the race post Iowa.

Now, one of the curious things about Iowa is how it works. The 15% bar at the precinct level means that it is almost like an alternative vote system. Say you turn up to vote for Harris (and sit through prepared remarks and discussions for a couple of hours in a draughty church hall), but it’s clear that she won’t make the 15% mark, and your vote will be wasted… Well, then you look around for your second choice, and see if they’re well represented.

This is where organisation matters. This is retail politics at its finest. Successful candidates’ organisers cajole and persuade the newly undecided to join their groupings.

Three candidates, I would forecast, will leave Iowa with meaningful numbers of delegates: Warren, Biden and Buttigieg. The polling has Buttigieg as being very transfer friendly, which will benefit him. He also has by far the most built up ground organisation in Iowa (with Warren a little behind, and then Biden a long way behind). In many rural counties, there’s a Buttigieg office, and that’s it.

This means that Buttigieg will, I suspect outperform his poll ratings. And I suspect Biden will continue to fade. Sanders is out the race. He just doesn’t realise it yet.

So, what does that mean for Iowa? I think the delegates split something like:

Warren 40%
Buttigieg 40%
Biden 20%

(Yes, I know the numbers seem high relative to polling. That’s because most of the candidates will get zero delegates and those voters have to go somewhere.)

This means that the 15 on Buttigieg on Betfair to be the Democratic nominee is too skinny; ditto the 29 on 2020 President.

(PBers should know that I will be visiting Iowa for the first time next month. I will make sure I share my findings.)

Robert Smithson


As Johnson edges towards to the 11pm Brexit deadline the betting money’s still on a pre-Brexit general election

October 15th, 2019

Chart of Betfair movements from betdata.io

On a day when so much seems to be changing on a Brexit dale there has not been as much betting movement as you might have thought. Still the view is that Brexit’s not going to happen immediately and not before a new general election.

Tonight is just the first hurdle. If there is a draft deal that will have to be agreed by the EU27 at their meeting later in the week. And then if we have got that far Johnson will have to take it to the House of Commons at the special Saturday sitting.

From what is emerging Johnson appears to be ready to make huge concessions including having the Irish Sea as the border something that TMay turned down. I wonder if she will participate in Saturday’s debate.

Mike Smithson