Biden might be topping the polls for the Democratic nomination but the questions remain

April 24th, 2019

Betdata.io chart of movement on the Betfair exchange

But is he overpriced in the betting?

As can be seen in the chart Joe Biden has moved back a bit in the betting for the Democratic nomination for WH2020 White House Race. His team is making it known that tomorrow he will formally enter the race with a specially prepared video that will be distributed.

This launch contrasts sharply with the mass rallies that he key opponents had with all the associated media coverage.

Because 76 year old Biden was Obama’s vice president for eight years he is very well known and many argue that it is this that is driving his current place in the polling rather than a real indication of what is going to happen. At this stage, of course, most primary voters have not given much thought to something that they won’t have to decide until next year.

Whatever he faces two very big obstacles which could undermine his effort. Firstly there’s a question of fundraising where other opponents, notably Sanders Harris and Mayor Pete who have raised millions. Biden starts from scratch.

Unlike the other contenders he doesn’t have a big supporter database that he can easily contact and although he has help from some of those who were behind Obama’s successful effort in this area. But quite a few of the key people from those campaigns are now working with Biden’s opponents.

He starts as the New York Times is highlighting, with zero dollars. Simply to match the amount raised already by Bernie Sanders he’s going to have to an enormous amount a day between now and Christmas something that will divert his attentions from the race itself. That’s a huge challenge.

The other big concerns over Biden are the allegations of inappropriate physical contact with women. Just go into Google or YouTube and search “Creepy Joe” and you’ll get an idea of what is involved. Chances are that after his formal announcement then more will come out and no doubt supporters of the other contenders are going to help this along.

I still think this is between Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete with just a possibility that Elizabeth Warren might get some traction. Her policy based approach could resonate.

Mike Smithson


Farage against the machine. Why the Brexit party’s chances are not as good as billed

April 23rd, 2019

Nigel Farage’s second coming has been greeted with fanfares in the media, which love someone who courts publicity and is prepared to do whatever it takes to get it. His gaping maw can be viewed wherever you look, and he has so far been given an unimpeded run for his message that Brexit has been betrayed. His credentials as a strategic genius who delivered Brexit are taken as read. His brilliance as a politician is assumed. The imminent collapse of the current political establishment is expected.  

At the time of writing, he was most recently backed on Betfair at 48 (47/1) for next Prime Minister.  This price is shorter than that for Philip Hammond, Geoffrey Cox, Amber Rudd and David Davis. Since he is not even an MP, this shows remarkable enthusiasm for his chances.

There are a few problems with this narrative. Let’s take a look at them.

Nigel Farage is a really poor political campaigner

Put the referendum to one side for now (I will be coming back to this). His track record in seeking election to Westminster is one of almost unmitigated failure, both for himself and for his party. The only successes have been obtaining the re-election at by-elections of two incumbent MPs. One of these lost his seat at the next election.

He himself has failed to be elected to Parliament on no fewer than seven occasions, including coming third in a two horse race in 2010 when campaigning in the Speaker’s constituency.

He has a better record in the EU elections. The Brexit party can be expected to do well there. For long term impact, however, they are going to need to start making inroads into Westminster. Nothing in Nigel Farage’s past suggests that they will.

His role in the referendum is being hugely overstated

Nigel Farage’s biggest contribution to the referendum was leaning on Conservative MPs to help get it called in the first place. During the referendum campaign he roamed around like a rogue elephant, trampling across the main campaign’s efforts.

He may have reached voters that the main campaign did not reach but he also risked alienating other voters who were also needed with such stunts as his Breaking Point poster. He was certainly one of the more visible figures but he was not so much Svengali as sidekick.

Certainly he did not impress Dominic Cummings, guru of Vote Leave. Among his comments:

“We recruited more active volunteers (~12,000) in 10 months than UKIP in 25 years (~7,000 according to Farage).”

“Farage put off millions of (middle class in particular) voters who wanted to leave the EU but who were very clear in market research that a major obstacle to voting Leave was ‘I don’t want to vote for Farage, I’m not like that’. He also put off many prominent business people from supporting us. Over and over they would say ‘I agree with you the EU is a disaster and we should get out but I just cannot be on the same side as a guy who makes comments about people with HIV’.”

Without Boris, Farage would have been a much more prominent face on TV during the crucial final weeks, probably the most prominent face. (We had to use Boris as leverage with the BBC to keep Farage off and even then they nearly screwed us as ITV did.) It is extremely plausible that this would have lost us over 600,000 vital middle class votes.”

Retrospectively making him into some kind of electoral babe-magnet is rewriting history.

The Brexit party, new as it is, has major problems

Considering the Brexit party is so new, it has a remarkably chequered track record already. It has lost its chief executive over blood-curdling anti-Islamic comments and its treasurer over a pot pourri of anti-semitism, xenophobia and homophobia.

If Labour are struggling with accusations of institutional anti-semitism, the Brexit party seem to have much greater structural problems.  What is it about Nigel Farage that attracts such people?

The Brexit party’s party structure is also going to be limiting unless quickly changed. The party leader is chosen by a committee that is appointed by Nigel Farage. The party supporters get no say. Party democracy is evidently something that Nigel Farage has no time for.

While it is no doubt a great comfort to Nigel Farage that he has the same job security as Arthur Scargill, it will prove a major barrier to obtaining new recruits. Disaffected Conservative MPs will be unwilling to jump ship to a party where their status will be subject to the caprices of a man who many others had fallen foul of once their profile got too high.

This may in turn explain why Nigel Farage has yet again overpromised and underdelivered. We were told that the Brexit party was going to unveil a glittering array of candidates. Instead so far we have got the sister of a backbench Conservative MP and the usual ragbag of committed EU-haters who no one else had heard of. I suppose that this was a step up from a much-touted march that ultimately had fewer than 100 participants. It still suggests that the party structures are again likely to prove an Achilles heel for him.

Nigel Farage has a host of questions to answer about himself that he won’t be able to duck forever

Then we come to the man himself. He has never shown himself particularly deft on the defence rather than on the attack. Perhaps he will break that habit. He will need to.

As Dominic Cummings noted, he has an array of past statements that are voter-repellent (Mike Smithson noted his approach to the NHS, which is far outside the mainstream, on Monday). Those will come back to haunt him – does he still believe them? If not, why did he change his mind?

He also visibly struggles over questions about funding. The ongoing questions about Leave.EU’s finances rumble on. The answers won’t sink the referendum result but the waters lap around Nigel Farage’s feet (which is no doubt why Arron Banks is not being asked to contribute to funding the Brexit party).  

It is also worth noting that the rules on disclosing MPs’ interests are more stringent than those for MEPs. Were he ever to make it eighth (or ninth, or tenth) time lucky, journalists would be queuing up to pore over them.

He will no doubt also be watching with some concern developments over the Mueller report. He was named in passing as a possible conduit to Julian Assange for wikileaks. He was indeed seen at the Ecuadorean embassy. No doubt in due course he will be asked by reporters to explain his bit part in this drama.

Most importantly, he is campaigning on the democratic need to implement Brexit and how the MPs are betraying it. But before and during the referendum campaign he made many statements on Brexit that suggest that he was expecting a much softer Brexit then than he is campaigning for now. At some point he is going to need to come up with a convincing explanation of the discrepancies if he is going to make inroads beyond the permanently aggrieved.

Ultimately, the Brexit party may well prove extremely problematic for the Conservatives, perhaps lethal up to and including the next general election. That does not mean that it will itself have much electoral success and unlike in the 2010-15 Parliament, the diehard right is in no position to impose itself on the government, which has still greater pressures from elsewhere.

All it looks set to do is hand the initiative to pro-EU forces. For all that they are being much-derided at present, CUK look more likely to achieve their policy objectives in relation to Brexit both in the short and in the long term.

Alastair Meeks


The Euro elections are all about vote shares not how many MEPs each party secures

April 23rd, 2019

Will the aggregate votes of the Brexit parties exceed those that oppose it?

Lots of talk today about the various lists that the parties are putting up for the unexpected euro elections on May 23rd. To remind ourselves in this election voters put a cross by a party name in a particular region and their votes are allocated according to a complex system that seeks to proportionately distribute the numbers of MEPs.

But what matters is surely, in the current context, will be the vote shares of the various parties. We’re going to see, whether we like it or not, efforts to aggregate the votes of those parties that are against Brexit and those parties that are for it.

The narrative on the Sunday evening after the election when the votes are counted will all be about this being a shadow referendum. Whichever side “wins” is going to argue that that represents the current position. If it is anti-Brexit then that will add to the pressure for another vote.

For this purpose UKIP+Brexit+CON+DUP will be seen as the pro-Brexit total while LAB+SNP+LD+CHK+GRN+PC the anti Brexit total.

Which group are more motivated to turnout? Will it be those who want to support the referendum outcome from 2016 or be those who want to overturn it? It will be as simple as that.

So far I cannot find a bookie who has got wise to this but it will come. The only markets I can see are those on which party will win most MEPs and how many seats each party will get.

At the moment I find it difficult to call. Maybe next week’s local elections will give us a pointer?

Mike Smithson


The CON Westminster polling looks dire as we head into next month’s local and EU elections

April 23rd, 2019

Down 15-20 on the Tory GE2017 election outcome

To get a good sense of how voting intention polls are going I always think it is best to look at all the recent surveys to spot the trend. And this April there is one big and clear message – the Tories are in a mess as we edge towards next week’s local elections and of course the Euro Parliament elections three weeks later.

Although the polls in the table above are strictly about the next general election they probably give a good pointer to fact that it is going to be a struggle for the blue team especially as we’re getting all these reports of significant part of the Conservative General Election vote from last time now saying that it will be voting for Farage brexit party.

There is little doubt that the locals will see the Tories losing a lot of council seats and the interesting question is which party will be the big gainer. ChangeUK has hardly put up any candidates and Lib Dems and Greens are working hard, sometimes quite closely together, and that could prove very promising for them.

Whether the parliamentary Conservative Party is able to change the rules to allow a further challenge to Theresa May is hard to say. But there’s little doubt that if her party has big losses on May 2nd then that will make it extremely difficult for her. The real surprise, of course, was that Tory MPs allowed her to carry on in the June 2017 after TMay into an unnecessary General Election with a majority and ended up without a majority. She’s really been on borrowed time since then.

Mike Smithson


On healthcare Farage, Trump’s biggest British cheerleader, is vulnerable

April 22nd, 2019

Those opposed the Brexit party should change the subject to the NHS

Last November Donald Trump took a beating in the midterm elections when his opponents, the Democrats, were able to make his threats to undermine what public health system there is in the United States into an issue. This is an approach that will be used at WH2020 for once something has become an an entitlement then it is exceedingly difficult and politically dangerous to take it away.

In the UK, of course, the NHS has become something of a religion and none of the mainstream parties dare to do anything but support it. Is it any wonder that successive CON Health Secretaries have made sure that wear an NHS button badge. In the referendum campaign the official Leave organisation made extra funding for the NHS their pivotal selling point.

In the past Farage has talked of the NHS being replaced  by private health insurance a move that was not supported when he was in UKIP.  A few years ago he told UKIP supporters:

“I think we are going to have to move to an insurance-based system of healthcare. Frankly, I would feel more comfortable that my money would return value if I was able to do that through the marketplace of an insurance company, than just us trustingly giving £100bn a year to central government and expecting them to organise the healthcare service from cradle to grave for us.”

If I was advising Mrs May at this difficult time I would say launch a speech defending the NHS against the Farage  threat. This would get big headlines and take the subject away from brexit.

Farage has never made any secret of his views on the NHS and in this he is treading along very tricky ground in the UK because of the very strong public support that there is there and this covers backers of all parties.

Mike Smithson


Boris could once again suffer the curse of being the long term CON leadership favourite

April 22nd, 2019

Chart betdata.io

How the betting moved ahead of the 2016 race

We all know the truism from Conservative leadership contests that the person who most likely seems to be the successor never gets it. Michael Heseltine, Michael Portillo and David Davis would no doubt attest to the difficulty of being the long-term favourite

I love looking at historical betting charts showing how punters were observing and risking their money on a big political outcome in the past where we have the betting data.

The chart is from 2016 race which was triggered after David Cameron announced his resignation on the morning after the Brexit referendum. Within hours of that announcement the money rushed onto to Boris Johnson in the successor market and at one stage he touched 54.5% on the Betfair Exchange. Clearly there were many who thought he was a certainty. In the end, of course, he didn’t run.

I set this out because once again with talk of a possible leadership contest being fairly imminent Johnson is heading the betting though not on anything like the scale that he was three summers ago.

I just wonder whether he is actually going to achieve his objective – whether he has made too many enemies on the way.  Currently this is a very delicate political situation for the Conservatives and the mood can change rapidly. There’s also the small matter of his relative lack of support amongst Tory MPs although one would assume that the hardline ERG group would give him their support.

This might be the moment for someone who’s currently not being seriously considered as a contender . There’s a little bit of a movement for James Cleverly as well as the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. There’s also said to be Esther McVey waiting in the wings. I have bets a very long odds on all three.

The big question is when is this going to take place and judging by reports it is hard to see how Mrs May can survive much longer although she is an incredibly determined woman.

There is a move to change the rule that gives her 12 months immunity following the December 2018 confidence vote which she won. There’s a strong argument for saying that these were the rules and those who forced the confidence motion at that time must have known of them.  The Tories could be moving on to dangerous ground if they  change things just because that would suit the politics of the moment.

Mike Smithson



Is it Bye-bye to by-elections?

April 21st, 2019

Sunil looks at the trend and the reasons why

This is a two-part series bringing to your attention the decline of the humble Westminster by-election over the last 100 years. In Part 1, I will discuss how the reasons for triggering by-elections have changed since 1918. In Part 2, I will discuss in more detail the phenomenon (or lack) of MPs resigning and re-contesting their seats over principle or when they change party allegiance.

Since the 1918 election, when universal suffrage was first introduced, just over 100 years ago, there have been a grand total of 1,018 Westminster by-elections (not including the most recent contest in Newport West), or an average of 10.18 by-elections per calendar year from 1919 to 2018 inclusive, according to my calculations (which are sometimes correct!). Of course this makes the Newport West by-election held on 4th April this year the 1,019th. There was actually a 1020th by-election, for Dublin University way back in 1919, but as that was on the territory of the current Irish Republic, I have excluded it. Incidentally, that by-election was the very last Westminster election that took place in “Southern Ireland”.

As you can see in the graph  showing the annual trend between 1919 and 2018, by-elections were very much more common before c.1959.

The following table shows the various causes of by-elections and how numerous they were over the last hundred years. Although one could say this is a morbid subject to touch on, the following table clearly shows that less than half of all these by-elections involved the death of the incumbent, including those murdered. Four of the murders were perpetrated by the IRA, and the fifth victim was Jo Cox, assassinated by a far right extremist. In times gone by, elevations to the peerage were far more common, including those involving succession to a family title. Also, so-called Ministerial by-elections took place until abolished in 1926, whereupon MPs had to resign and re-contest when they became Ministers or other “Offices of Profit under the Crown”. And during the time of Empire, MPs often resigned when given postings as Governors of various exotic lands, among other non-political appointments.


Reason for by-election No. of by-elections 1919-2018
Death 502
Murdered 5
Peerage 159
Resignation 279
Void/Disqualified 10
Ministerial (1919-1926) 20
Seeking re-election after resignation 25
Scandal/Expelled 18


The distribution of the various reasons changed markedly in recent decades compared to the earlier decades during previous 100 years. For simplicity’s sake, I’m counting decades from 1919-1928, 1929-1938 and so on. Elevations to the Peerage, resignations (for various reasons), and death amongst serving MPs seemed to be far more common up until 1959, plus you had those so-called “Ministerial by-elections” (abolished in 1926). For example, the peak year for by-elections was 1940, with a total of 39, followed closely by 1921 with 37.

If we go by “blocks” of 20 years, during the 20 years from 1919 to 1938, there was an average of 17.7 by-elections per year, from 1939 to 1958 there was an average of 16.1, but the rate halved from 1959 to 1978 when there was an average of only 8.9 per year. And from 1979 to 1998, the rate fell further to only 5.0 by-elections per year, despite a spike in 1986 due to the Northern Irish resignations (more on that in Part 2). And within the last twenty years, 1999 to 2018, the rate fell even further to only 3.3 per year. In fact in each of 2017 and 2018, there were only two by-elections! Including Jo Cox, only 28 MPs died between 1999 and 2018, compared with 159 between 1919 and 1938. In fact, more MPs resigned than died during 1999-2018, including a number who had to leave office after some scandal or other. Mention must also be made of uncontested by-elections: there were 122 of these in the time frame we’re discussing, but the last of these was in Armagh (a UUP hold) in 1954.

Rather more fun facts include 1998 being the only year in UK electoral history without either any Westminster by-elections or a General Election, and the General Election years of 1992 and 2010 being the only others without any by-elections. The longest “gap” between two by-elections was the 567 days between 20th November 1997 and 10th June 1999. So it would appear that nowadays MPs lead more healthy lives (only 10 incumbent MPs have died since 2009) , or they leave parliament while still relatively young. Or, in the case of Change UK, they are keeping their powder dry! That’s 11 by-elections that might have been but never were – oh , well! Anyway, more on that in Part 2….


Sunil Prasannan


ChangeUK is in danger of running out of steam and it has only itself to blame

April 21st, 2019

Having to face two big elections in a very short period of time looks as though it has taken its toll on TIG following what appear to have been a number of strategic mistakes.

The following comment by IanB2 on the PB thread last night, is a good analysis and is worthy of a full thread on its own.

“..Sad to say, I am beginning to think that TIG has blown its chance.,,They ducked the opportunity to do a policy declaration a la Limehouse, because both Tory and Labour defectors wanted to cling to the belief that “they didn’t leave their party, it left them”, which obviously doesn’t compute. So there was no call to arms for people looking for a new approach to politics.

They oversold the prospect of getting a steady flow of recruits. Even on political reform only Chuka has tried to set out a comprehensive agenda, leaving doubts as to what their MPs really think about PR or Lords reform. Their social media performance has been somewhat lame. Their choice of name doesn’t really work and their very poor logo wasn’t accepted by the EC. They gave a cold shoulder to the LibDems and don’t really seem to understand what it means to be a third party in our political system.

Now it looks like they could become merely a vehicle for former MPs who lost their seats and former MEPs rejected by the main parties to try and resurrect their careers. Candidates chosen and ordered into a list by an opaque interview process, because they don’t yet have any formal membership structure. An end point a very long way from the change they initially promised. Indeed aside from Chuka’s political reform speech and some stirring opposition to Brexit from Soubry and Leslie, it isn’t clear what they actually offer, and it certainly doesn’t appear to include very much ‘change’.

The sadness is that if they fail, it will close off the chance for others to do a better job. Leaving Farage as the only chance of ‘breaking the mould’ – and he is surely likely to lose interest once Brexit is out the way, whatever he says now about his longer term objective.”

To my mind the things that the new grouping got most wrong was its approach to the discussions with the Liberal Democrats. They seemed to start from the point that they were in a much more powerful position then they actually were.

Mike Smithson