Trump’s hardline policy on immigrant children has become a testing time for the White House

June 19th, 2018

Maintaining Republican party support looks challenging

The polling is not good for the President. According to a CNN poll two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the practice of taking undocumented immigrant children from their families and putting them in government facilities on US borders, Only 28% approve.

Among Republican voters 54% support the policy but 34% don’t.

This all comes in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.

Mike Smithson


Older voters more likely to back legalisation of cannabis for medical use than the young

June 19th, 2018

The Sajid Javid move is in line with public opinion

The big news from Westminster this afternoon is that the Home Secretary has announced a review on the legalisation of cannabis for medical use – something that has become a big issue because of the Billy Caldwell case.

The main recent poll on this comes from a YouGov survey last month and I illustrate the age splits in the chart above.

What I find really interesting is that the older age groups are more likely to back such a move than the youngest segment. I put this down to older people having more experience of relatives and friends going through the pain and misery of debilitating conditions.

What is extraordinary is that Britain seems to have a harsher regime of cannabis outlawing than other countries.

I think that Sajid Javid has read the public mood well and could get the political benefit. Proposing major policy changes at the Home Office, where Theresa May was for 7 years, is in many ways an implied criticism of the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

Mike Smithson


On Betfair 2018 is once again favourite for TMay’s exit

June 19th, 2018

Is she going to be able to survive?

Over the past year I’ve had a pretty good record with my political bets which have come to fruition. I was on the Democrats in the Alabama and Pennsylvania special elections and, of course, backed the LDs to beat the Tories in last week’s by-election. I lost on the Arizona special election and my long-shot for the Tory leadership, Damian Green, fell by the wayside earlier in the year.

My other significant losing bet was on the above market – TMay’s exit dates. I didn’t think she would survive 2017 which, much against many predictions, she did. Her resilience has been and still is remarkable.

The latest machinations over the Brexit bill and the House of Lords vote have once again pushed this year into the favourites slot on Betfair for the year when Theresa May ceases to be Prime Minister but I’ve not been tempted.

The odds, though, are not that tight and this is moving about a fair bit depending on how successful the parliamentary moves are for her.

    My reading of the prime minister is that she has no very fixed views on the sort of Brexit she would like. What she wants to do is to achieve that which she said she would and take the country out of the European Union at the end of next March as planned. Everything is about what’s expedient so deals will be done and then undone as she seeks to get from one day to the next.

Her problem remains – the massive gulf that has dominated Tory politics for a quarter of a century over Europe.

The only circumstance that would lead her to going early is if there a commonality of interest between both sides of the party for a new leader.

Mike Smithson


And so the “meaningful vote” issue gets put back into the bill by the Lords

June 18th, 2018

The problems for TMay mount

I have to say that I haven’t been following politics tonight but the battle of Stalingrad.

The problem here is that the ex-CON Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, thought he had a deal last week when the bill was before the Commons and he didn’t push his original amendment. That ministers appear to have reneged on that arrangement was always going to be tricky and Peers have made their view clear.

Thankfully we have the World Cup to entertain us.

Mike Smithson


Javid goes on the offensive at cabinet over cannabis for medical use

June 18th, 2018

TMay looks tin-eared on the Billy Caldwell case

Las month YouGov found that 75% of those polled backed allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis for medical use – with just 12% opposing. Support was fairly even across the parties with 73% of Tory voters giving their support.

In the past few days we’ve seen the heart-breaking case of Billy Caldwell and Javid has given his firm view and now has been blocked from raising it at cabinet.

Given the widespread interest in the Caldwell case and where public opinion stands on the medical use of cannabis this has the potential to develop into a serious issue for the PM. It raises all the issues about her that we saw in last year’s general election campaign.

It’s interesting that Javid, who is becoming a rising star, sought to push it.

Could it be pot that eventually bring Theresa down?

Mike Smithson


If there was a CON leadership contest tomorrow my money would go on Javid and Hunt

June 18th, 2018


Theresa’s travails on Brexit over the past week have made it that bit less possible that she’ll survive as leader and PM to Brexit and beyond. I thought John Rentoul summed this up right in the Indy:

Until this week, I assumed May would be the prime minister who took us out of the EU in March. Her strategy of delay, procrastination and attrition isn’t pretty, and risks cutting the Brexit deadline fine, but it seemed to be working. This week, it didn’t. ..

Rentoul is talking up the prospects of the new HomeSec, Sajid Javid:

“..This week Javid lifted the cap on immigration for NHS doctors and nurses, and .. he helped to change government policy to allow a boy in Northern Ireland to import cannabis oil to treat a life-threatening condition. May’s distraction by Brexit means he can make popular policy changes and take the credit for them.

He has only been at the Home Office for six weeks and already he has ended the “hostile environment” policy on illegal immigration that gave us the Windrush scandal, made his peace with the Police Federation, the toughest trade union after the British Medical Association, and promised to deliver a law against upskirting after a maverick Tory MP blocked it.”

Michael Gove is the current betting favourite, see the chart above, and, of course, there is still Rees-Mogg who has fallen out of favour with punters of late. I think that the former long-term favourite, Johnson, is now out of it and he no longer appears to be the Tory who can reach groups of voters that other leading figures couldn’t. His tenure at the Foreign Office hasn’t helped.

Then there is the HealthSec, Hunt, who has been in the cabinet without break right from the formation of the coalition in May 2010. He’s a survivor and could be the safe pair of hands that the party turns to.

Of course everything in CON contests depends on first being able to make one of the top two places in the voting amongst party MPs for it only their names that go forward to the membership.

Mike Smithson


LAB continues to have double digit lead on the NHS but the gap is narrowing

June 17th, 2018

Will TMay’s latest move make it even better for her?

A few weeks ago at PMQs Jeremy Corbyn reminded the PM that in the 1947/48 period when the NHS legislation was going through parliament it had been opposed by the Tories. That such a line can still resonate 70 years on is really quite remarkable and highlights the ongoing vulnerability that the Conservatives have on the National Health Service.

The National Health Service has always been a LAB issue and will always be raised whenever the pressure is placed upon them. In the recent Lewisham East by-election the main message from the successful Labour candidate was that they were the party of the NHS and that they would protect services better.

Quite what the Tories can do about this is hard to say. My general view in the past is that the best thing for the blue team is that they all is keep off the subject because it’s one on which they can never win.

The above polling table from YouGov shows how the firm’s best party on the NHS tracker has moved since the general election. The positive news for the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is that the gap is closing which is good for him and his party. In fact he is now the longest serving Health Secretary ever and I think that his manner has played a part in the Conservatives recovery on the matter. I like the fact that he does a simple things like always wears an NHS badge in his buttonhole whenever he appears in public.

Now we have got this morning’s announcement from Mrs May fleshing out the promise to put more money into the service and that might reinforce the trend the fact that it is going to be paid for buy resume, presumably, higher taxes is irrelevant period there seems to be a public attitude appetite4 more going out for better services.

The real problem, of course, is that the pressure gets so much greater as each year goes by because of the proportion of elderly in the population. So the 3.4% that Mrs May is now talking about will really only enable the NHS to stand still.

The most that the Tories can ever really hope for on the NHS is that it is not a big and negative for the party and political liability as it could be.

Mike Smithson


Tipping point. Why Scotland’s ultimate independence now looks inevitable

June 17th, 2018

Wednesday was not one of those days when it was difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance.  The SNP launched a choreographed flounce from the House of Commons following a spat between their leader Ian Blackford and the Speaker over the treatment of Scotland’s position in the Brexit debates.

The government was quick to accuse the SNP of pulling a stunt and of manufacturing discontent.  It’s certainly true that the SNP haven’t exactly gone out of their way to seek concord with Westminster in the past.  When copies of the SNP’s staging notes were discovered, the Conservatives claimed that the stunt had backfired. 

The following day, however, the SNP announced that they had signed up 5,085 new members in the previous 24 hours.  The former editor of the Daily Record, Murray Foote, who had been instrumental in 2014 in putting together the unionist Vow in the last week of the referendum campaign, announced that he was now a supporter of independence.  Stunt or no stunt, the SNP have struck a chord with some.

What’s the deal?  Well, the Speaker had allotted just 15 minutes in the Brexit debates on Tuesday to discuss post-Brexit devolution concerns.  Given that the Scottish Parliament had not accepted the Westminster government’s approach to devolved matters in Brexit, the SNP felt that this was wholly inadequate.  Ian Blackford had asked the Speaker to extend the debate, and the Speaker had refused: hence the walkout.

We now enter constitutional niceties that are of no interest at all to the English.  (This uninterest, incidentally, is an important point that I will come back to.)  Devolution, as the word suggests, is a devolving of power from Westminster to Holyrood.  It means that in theory at least Westminster can overrule Holyrood when push comes to a shove.  This makes Holyrood’s power contingent on Westminster’s goodwill.

At the time, it was recognised by the government that devolution needed more entrenchment.  So a constitutional convention was created at the instigation of Lord Sewel, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at the time of the passage of the Scotland Act 1998, under which the UK government would not normally seek to legislate on devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature.  

This convention, which applies to the devolved assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, was reaffirmed by the UK government as recently as 2013.  Unusually for a constitutional convention, it is referred to in legislation.  Section 28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998 provides:

“But it is generally recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”

In practice, the devolved assemblies have rarely refused consent. So far they have done so just ten times in aggregate.  The Scottish Parliament has done so only twice (the Welsh have been much more awkward in practice).  The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the second time on which it has done so.  So it can hardly be said in reality that the SNP government in reality has been fomenting discontent on a routine basis.

The Scots took a very different view of the EU referendum from the English. The Scottish government has a genuine concern that Westminster might seek to use the repatriation of powers from Brussels as the opportunity for a power grab at Holyrood’s expense. 

Theresa May’s government has been desultory in addressing these concerns.  No doubt its attention span for Scottish matters has been sharply diminished, given its need to negotiate with the EU, the hardline Brexiters, the rebellious Remainers and the DUP and, for that matter, to reach an agreed position itself.  Nevertheless, the strong impression has been given of a government that is intending to steamroller its way past the rebellious Scots by the use of its residual power and forcing a settlement on its terms.

It is against this background that the battle between Holyrood and the UK government came to be considered this week in Parliament.  For English MPs, this is a complete sideshow.  For the Scots, however, it goes to the heart of devolution.  For Parliament to allocate just 15 minutes to discuss the impact of Brexit on the constitutional framework of devolution was an insult to the Scots.

At such points it is usual to say that the optics of such a dismissive approach to devolution are appalling.  But that wouldn’t be correct on this occasion: it is the dismissive approach itself that is appalling.  

The fact that devolution throws up some very difficult problems in relation to Brexit does not mean that devolution should be treated as a disposable luxury: those difficult problems should have been engaged with and considered properly by the House of Commons.

It is this fundamental unseriousness of the English towards devolution which is going to doom the current constitutional settlement.  When the architect of the Vow gives up on unionism, it is likely that many others will follow.

The economics of Scottish independence continue to look daunting.  But where there’s a will there’s a way.  Scots will not indefinitely accept a grace-and-favour devolution.  This week may well have been the week when Scottish independence became an inevitability.

Alastair Meeks