Archive for October, 2005

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Is time running out for Tony?

Monday, October 31st, 2005
    Should you be betting on an early departure?

With more calls for David Blunkett to resign and after a week which has seen one Cabinet row after another spilling into the public domain the chances of Tony Blair serving a full third term must be slightly lower. On top of the spats over education policy, smoking, and the reform the benefit system, the attack tbon Blunkett is particularly damaging – because he is seen as being so close to Blair.

    In addition there’s the possiblity that the troubles plaguing his partner in the Iraqi adventure, George Bush, might reopen issues in the UK and add to the pressure.

Ever since Blair made the announcement about his career intentions in September last year commentators have been predicting problems. It was almost inevitable that at some stage during the third term he would be seen as a lame duck. Following recent events that might be happening sooner rather than later.

Because his ministers know he is on the way out then, inevitably, he’s lost some of his authority. Who do aspiring Labour MPs try to impress – CampBlair or CampBrown? The answer is obvious. Add to that the ambition of the Chancellor and no obvious reluctance on his part to make trouble then these problems could continue.

On top of this there will be a new Leader of the Opposition in five weeks time. At the moment it is hard to predict how that other public school educated Oxonian, David Cameron, is going to perform. But, no doubt, it will not be long before someone points out that Cameron got a much better degree and if the opinion polls move one or two notches in the Tory direction then there will be more ammunition for the Blair dissenters.

    Until now we’ve been firmly of the view that Blair would be able to carry on as long as he wants and would find a means for a dignified exit on his own terms. Now we are not so sure.

There are a number of betting possibilities. The convention bookmakers have Blair leaving in 2006 at 4/1; 2007 at 7/4; 2008 at 2/1 and 2009 and beyond at 5/2. The Betfair exchange has a range of options in three month periods running to January 1 2008 and beyond where the price is 1.74/1.

Cantor Spreadfair has a spread of 135-165 weeks on the length of Blair’s third term starting last May.

Mike Smithson



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ICM Tory members’ poll gives Cameron 76%

Sunday, October 30th, 2005
    Punters believe that the 39 year old is a near certainty

There’s been an overnight rush to back David Cameron on the betting markets following the publication of the first poll of Tory party members since the end of the MPs’ stage of the leadership selection process.

dcThe survey by ICM for the BBC’s Politics Show involved interviews with 215 party members who went for the younger man by more than three to one. The figures were Cameron 76%: Davis 24%.

    With the ballot papers due to go out in less than a week’s time it’s hard to see how the 56 year old Shadow Home Secretary can make up such a huge gap.

The ICM results are in line with a YouGov survey of party members after the Blackpool conference which had Cameron beating Davis by 66-27. Then, of course, the MP ballots had not taken place and there were other contenders still in the race.

Methodology note. We have yet to see the details of the survey but ICM did a similar poll in August 2001 when it spoke to 229 Tory members. In an important caveat last time ICM noted “Interviews were conducted in four areas – New Forest East, Blaydon, Gateshead East & Washington and Thanet South. The results are un-weighted and the poll is NOT designed or suggested to be representative of all Conservative Party members.” That poll reported an IDS win over Ken Clarke by 76-24 – the same shares, interestingly, as this survey. The actual result was IDS by 61-39.

In another big boost for TeamCameron the Cornerstone Group of right-wingers is reported by the Sunday Telegraph to be ready to put their weight behind the old-Etonian. They had previously backed Liam Fox.

News of the poll caused a huge rush on the Betfair betting exchange. At 9pm last night the Cameron price was 0.13/1. Four hours later this was down to 0.1/1. So a £100 winning bet from last night would produce a £13 profit – now the best you could get is £10. Davis is 8.2/1.

The best conventional bookmaker prices are Cameron 1/12: Davis 13/2.

We have now got to a stage where punters are attracted by the prospect of 10% return for what appears to be a near certainty just for locking their money up for five weeks. Unless there are unexpected problems for Cameron the price will tighten even further.

Mike Smithson



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YouGov puts Labour 8 points ahead

Saturday, October 29th, 2005

Amended

    Cameron 4-1 ahead amongst Tory voters

The scale of the challenge facing the next Tory leader – whether Davis or Cameron – is reflected in the October YouGov survey for the Telegraph showing that Labour’s lead is unmoved at 8 points over the past month. The shares are LAB 40: CON 32. As yet there is no figure for the Lib Dems available on-line.

bA consolation for the Tories is that it could be worse. At this stage after the 2001 General Election just after IDS had been made leader and in the weeks after 9/11 ICM had Labour 17 points ahead while MORI was showing 32 points.

Today’s YouGov survey was carried out this week after the huge publicity boost from the Blackpool conference and leadership contest had died down. Unlike earlier polls by the firm restricted to Tory members this is YouGov’s standard monthly survey.

On Cameron versus Davis the poll confirms the evidence of other surveys that the younger man is seen as by far the best prospect for the party. His media skills are rated very highly by both Tory and all voters.

  • Tory voters split 56-16 in his favour and he is rated at 68-10 as “coming over better on TV“. The Tory supporters split 55-18 and 55-19 on Cameron “being a more formidable challenge to Blair and Brown” and “would be a better PM”.
  • All voters rate Cameron at 34-13 and 44-10 as coming over better on TV. The 39 year old has a 34-14 lead on being a more formidable challenge to Brown/Blair and 32-13 on the “better PM” question
    • What Davis needs desperately is a poll showing that his campaign is on the turn. The Tory membership is looking for a potential election winner and there’s little polling evidence to suggest that this could be him.

    The attempt to seize the news agenda following the changes to his team sees a further proposal today with him promising to “reverse Labour’s £5 billion-a-year tax grab on pension funds”. This is the main lead in the Telegraph – the paper that played a major part in the IDS campaign in 2001. This follows the tax plan announcement yesterday. Certainly having professionals running Davis’s media relations is having an impact although this has hardly showed in the betting. Maybe he ought to have brought the team in much earlier before Cameron had captured the media’s attention.

    Even so a new Davis story a day might have an impact in the week leading up to the ballot forms going out.

    The best bookie prices are 1/12 Cameron and 13/2 Davis. The betting exchanges have 0.13/1 Cameron and 7.2/1 Davis.

    Mike Smithson



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    After Libby – will Karl Rove be next?

    Friday, October 28th, 2005

      It’s 3/1 against him being indicted before December 31st

    Following tonight’s sensational news that Lewis Libby, chief-of-staff to Dick Cheney, has resigned after being charged with perjury the focus is now on Bush’s closest adviser and architect of last November’s victory, Karl Rove. He has not been charged but the case has not been closed.

    The Dublin-based international betting exchange, Tradesports, has a market on whether Rove will be indicted before the end of the year.The price is about 3/1 against this happening.

    The heart of the issue is Rove’s role in journalists being told that the wife of a prominent critic of the White House’s Iraq policy was a covert CIA agent.

    The affair began in July 2003, two months after the “ending” of the war in Iraq, when the woman’s husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote an article in the New York Times in which he accused the White House of twisting intelligence.

      This all happened at the same time as the David Kelly case exploded in the UK and has a number of similarities – the war, how intelligence was used and alleged secret briefings which revealed the identity of Government employees

    This has come at the end of a very bad week for the President. A couple of days we were just about to publish a story about a betting market on whether Bush Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, would get the job. Alas the White House announcement came just as we were completing the piece.

    Mike Smithson



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    Punters getting nervous about a Labour 4th term

    Friday, October 28th, 2005
      Chances rated at lowest level since the General Election

    After a week which has seen highly publicised cabinet splits over education policy and smoking and a month that has been dominated by the Tory leadership race there’s been a move against Labour on the betting markets.

    The chart shows the implied probability of Labour winning most seats at the next General Election based on best betting prices. A month ago Labour was rated at 66-67% – this morning the figure is down to less than 59% – the lowest point it has been since the General Election.

    Labour is still the over-whelming favourite but there has been a shift because there is little support for Labour at the price levels we have seen.

      This is being driven by two elements. The first began in the days after the Tory conference as punters assessed the likely impact of a Cameron victory – the second has been in the past week with all the reports of Cabinet splits.

    Normally the “who will win most seats” General election market is driven by opinion poll ratings and the latest, last week from ICM, had Labour three points ahead. Even if the next election ended with both parties level on votes Labour would have a very comfortable margin on seats.

    The Cantor Spreadfair spread betting exchange has the following election spreads: LAB 308-314: CON 248-249: LD 59-62 Commons seats.

    In the next few days we should see the October YouGov survey and November’s Populus poll in the Times. Solid Labour leads in both should ease the jitters. If the Tories are closing the gap then there’ll be further moves in the betting.

    Mike Smithson



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    Davis boosts his team – but is it too late?

    Thursday, October 27th, 2005

      How do they campaign now the media has lost interest

    A week ago Davis and Cameron were dominating the headlines and almost everything they said and did was being reported and analysed. Now it’s old news and it’s becoming harder and harder for either to get a message through. There will probably be renewed interest a week today when the two appear together on Question Time but it’s hard seeing that publicity boost to the contest lasting.

    It’s in this tough context that Davis appears to be making a last ditch effort to make an impact before the ballots start going out at the end of next week According to ConservativeHome two top political PRs – Nick Wood and Nick Longworth have been recruited to add fire to TeamDavis’s media relations capabilities. Wood has worked for the Express, the Times, IDS and William Hague and is known as a big hitter.

    The challenge they’ve got is formidable and the bookies continue to make Cameron the 1/10 favourite. The Betfair betting exchange price has also started to tighten in favour of the 39-year old ex-Etonian with the price moving from 0.19/1 to 0.13/1 since the weekend.

      Meanwhile it has become almost accepted wisdom to state that Cameron got where he is on the basis of one speech but looking back at the betting this is simply not the case.

    On the morning after Cameron’s famous speech Davis was still well ahead and was being traded at 0.78/1 as he walked onto the platform in Blackpool. It was while his speech was taking place that punters lost confidence in him and within an hour of it being over his betting exchange price had eased to 1.2/1.

      It was Davis’s speech and not Cameron’s that turned the market. The Shadow Home Secretary blew it in those twenty minutes.

    We guess that both sides will be watching BBC’s Question Time with a touch of nervousness tonight because on the panel is Derek Conway – the close aide of Davis who in an interview at the weekend accused David Cameron of “sucking up to the press“. Maybe Conway has been invited following his attack on the BBC for “taking leave of its senses in its support” for Mr Cameron.

    Mike Smithson



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    The Oxford stranglehold continues

    Wednesday, October 26th, 2005
      When are grads of other universities going to get a look in?

    cpThe first stop on the David Davis campaign trail was to his old university – Warwick – a move designed to make the point that he was not part of the Tory Oxford “mafia” which has been dominating leadership battles for decades.

    A month ago when Cameron seemed out of the race it looked as though the Tory showdown would be between Clarke of Cambridge and Davis. Then I was commenting that “…the one almost sure thing that you can predict about the next General Election is that Oxford University’s stranglehold on UK politics will be broken… For the first time since Stanley Baldwin in 1935 an election looks set to be won by someone who was educated at a University other than Oxford. The only exceptions in the past 70 years, Churchill and Major, were not graduates.”

    For it’s not just Tory Oxonians who have dominated – the same has happened with Labour as well. The University has had an amazing run of success starting with Attlee winning in 1945 & 1951; Eden in 1955; Macmillan in 1959; Wilson in 1964, 1966, and twice in 1974; Heath in 1970; Thatcher in 1979, 1983, 1987 and Blair , of course, won in 1997, 2001 and 2005. This comes to 15 out of 17 General Elections since the war.

      Gordon Brown, who showed his enormous interest in Oxford during the Laura Spence affair, might note that you have got to go a very long way back to find a general election when an Oxonian was beaten in a General Election by someone who went to another university.

    Whenever, like Hague-Blair in 2001, Oxford leaders have gone down in a General Election it has been to another Oxonian.

    Tory leadership battles have also been dominated by the University. The only time when an Oxford contender has been beaten by somebody who wasn’t was in 2001 when Michael Ancram came bottom in the first MP ballot and Ian Duncan Smith (Perugia) went on to victory.

    So the emergence of Cameron means that British politics is reverting to type and a big question at the 2009/10 General Election might be whether Gordon Brown can break this.

    Leadership Betting
    Best betting exchange prices; Cameron 0.15/1: Davis 6.2/1
    Best bookmaker prices; Cameron 1/10: Davis 11/2:
    IG’s Binary spread-market. Cameron 82-90: Davis 10-18

    Mike Smithson



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    How dangerous is it for Blair if the Tories agree with him?

    Tuesday, October 25th, 2005
      Could NuLab be forced into playing a different tune?

    A key part of the success of Tony Blair’s New Labour has been the way it has occupied traditional Tory policy positions thus forcing the official opposition to the right. Time and time again the Tories have found themselves with little to say on an issue because Labour has adopted their position. This might be about to change.

    For the current debate over Labour’s education reform programme is giving a glimpse of how a Cameron-led Tory party plans to deal with Tony Blair and gives a good pointer as to how UK politics could evolve in the next few years. Rather than the full frontal attacks that have characterised the Hague, IDS and Howard leaderships the Cameron plan is to agree with ministers where it is to the Tory advantage.

      As Steve Richards points out in the Independent this morning Cameron is “the first Tory to see the advantage of backing Blair when he’s at odds with his party”.

    Richards notes that Mr Cameron welcomed the Government’s proposals and his only concern was whether Tony Blair’s cabinet and party would let him carry through the reforms. “He made it clear that if Mr Blair was blocked by those old Labour dinosaurs, John Prescott and Gordon Brown, it would fall on the Conservative party to carry out the task.”

    The article goes on: “There are important differences between the Government and Mr Cameron’s approach, but the aspirant Conservative leader has seized the broader political initiative. He is the first senior Tory to recognise that it is to the Conservatives’ advantage to support Mr Blair when he is at odds with his party and most of those on the centre left. .Mr Cameron’s strategic positioning has several consequences, all of them potentially fatal for the government if it is misguided enough to give him the political space. Most dangerously it places the battle for the centre ground firmly on the right of the political spectrum. In effect Mr Cameron is stating: Conservatives approve of a market in schools. As true believers we can do it better..If Mr Cameron is allowed to pop up too often with a message of support for the Government there will be only one loser. It will not be Mr Cameron.”

    These are very early days but it does raise questions about what up until now has been the brilliant Blair approach of isolating the Tories by occupying their policy ground.

    But Blair has always been the supreme strategist and watching him deal with a new Tory approach is going to be fascinating.

    Leadership Betting
    Best betting exchange prices; Cameron 0.16/1: Davis 6/1
    Best bookmaker prices; Cameron 1/10: Davis 11/2:
    IG’s Binary spread-market. Cameron 82-90: Davis 10-18

    Mike Smithson