Archive for March, 2007

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Could the 1997 pensions raid come to haunt Gordon?

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

    Times wins two year battle to force the Treasury to hand over papers

times pension.jpgWith Labour’s leadership changes only weeks away the main lead in the Times this morning has the potential to cause bother for Brown as his team try to orchestrate a succession without a real challenge.

For the “quality” paper that has become NuLab’s most loyal supporter has just won a Freedom of Information act fight to get details of the advice ahead of Gordon’s famous “pensions raid” only weeks after moving in to Number 11 in 1997.

This was a hugely controversial measure at the time and has been blamed for much of the major deterioration in pension provision over the past decade – an issue that the opposition parties could use to hurt Labour.

According to the paper “Experts claim that the move has deprived the country’s savers of at least £100 billion over the past decade, during which Britain’s private and occupational pension system has struggled to stay afloat. The changes affected the 11 million people in Britain with company pensions and the 7 million with personal pensions.”

What the Times has acquired under the act is the advice that Brown was given before moving forward. This shows that he went ahead in spite of being warned of some of the consequences. It also reinforces the “Brown acting like Stalin” comments from his former top civil servant, Lord Turnbull.

The fact that the Treasury fiercely resisted handing over material and had to be forced to do so does not help the government’s position.

    This could be dangerous because the one area of many people’s finances where they are worse off then a decade ago is in relation to their pensions.

One defined benefit scheme after another has been closed or the benefits diluted and, rightly or wrongly, much of the blame is heaped on what Gordon did in the weeks after coming into office.

The standard Labour defence on this has been to attack the Tories for the pension misselling scandals that occurred when they were in power. The trouble is that that is now a long time ago. Whatever this story will run.

Gordon’s “next Labour leader” betting price has eased a touch to 0.25/1.

Mike Smithson



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Sean Fear’s Friday slot

Friday, March 30th, 2007

    How Will the Liberal Democrats Do on May 3rd?

I’m reluctant to comment on this subject, as there are a couple of posters to this site who consider that I display my inherent Conservative bias by refusing to predict anything other than stunning success for the Liberal Democrats in local elections. Nevertheless, it is only right that I do so, given that I have posted about Labour and the Conservatives in the past two weeks.

The Liberal Democrats’ performance in opinion polls is, without doubt, disappointing from their point of view. Only one of this month’s tranche of opinion polls, Communicate Research, has placed them on as much as 20% of the vote. Personally, I had expected Ming Campbell to be much better regarded among the public than appears to be the case. Perhaps he is destined to be one of those effective second-in-commands, who prove unsuccessful when they reach the top position.

However, as Mark Senior and others have pointed out, the Liberal Democrats’ record in local by-elections has been much better. Recent weeks have seen the Liberal Democrats pull off some remarkable results in Ashfield, Burnley, and Tewkesbury, and apparently holding their own in a number of other seats.

    There are clearly a lot of people who tell pollsters they will vote Labour or Conservative nationally, but who vote Liberal Democrat locally.

When canvassing in Bushey, before the last election, it was clear that many people voted Liberal Democrat for the County Council, and Conservative at Parliamentary level. So I have no doubt at all that the Liberal Democrats’ national equivalent vote share on May 3rd will be far higher than the 18% or so that pollsters currently give the party.

I would expect it to be at least 25%, similar to that of last year, and possibly higher still, if Labour perform really badly. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that the Conservatives will probably win something close to 40% of the vote on May 3rd, and a lot of rural Liberal Democrat seats are vulnerable to a Conservative advance.

The Liberal Democrats do have a good chance of gaining from Labour though, and to a large extent, I would expect their gains and losses to cancel each other out. However, it does mean that the Liberal Democrats are unlikely to be making the headlines on the morning of May 4th.

Sadly too, for the Liberal Democrats, good local electoral performances often fail to translate into good performances at Parliamentary level.

There were four local by-elections last night.

Basingstoke and Deane BC- Rooksdown: Conservative, 156, Lib Dem 122, Labour 18. Conservative hold.
Buckinghamshire CC – Stoke Poges and Farnham Common: Conservative 875, Independent 283, Lib Dem 280, Labour 89. Conservative hold.
Powys CBC – St David Within: Independent 215, Independent 156, Lib Dem 143, Conservative 47. Independent hold.
Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC – Treorchy: Labour 1139, Plaid Cymru 849, Conservative 161. Labour hold. This is in fact a very good result for Labour, as Plaid hold the other two seats in the ward. One would have expected Labour to suffer from the news that Burberry are closing their factory here, but in fact they achieved a swing of 9% in their favour.

Sean Fear is a London Tory activist



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The betting story of Blackpool 2005

Friday, March 30th, 2007

chart tory contest 2005.jpg

    How the betting records show that Hitchens was wrong

What happened at the Tory conference at Blackpool in October 2005 has become one of those pivotal moments in UK politics and, as we saw, in the programme on Cameron on Channel 4 by Peter Hitchens, a number of myths have developed which don’t fit with the facts.

For the above chart shows the implied probabilities based on bets betting odds of the four leading candidates from the start of the party conference on October 3rd 2005 and for the following two weeks. The chronology is critical.

June – September 2005:
David Davis hardens his position as firm favourite but for almost all of the period David Cameron is the second favourite. The big question is how the contest will take place – will it be MPs or the membership which have the final decision? Michael Howard pressed for the power to be returned to the parliamentary party which arguably would have benefited Davis most. Howard lost and the system stayed the same.

Monday October 3rd: An ICM online focus group in the Guardian shows the promise of Cameron and this is reinforced on Newsnight with the famous Frank Luntz televised focus group. Davis remains a firm odds-on favourite. Cameron’s price tightens a bit but he is still miles behind Davis.

Tuesday October 4th: The day of the famous Cameron speech which sees the markets move to the young old Etonian but Davis remains an odds-on favourite.

Wednesday October 5th: The David Davis speech which bombs. When he started speaking he was still odds on – by the end you could have got better than evens. This was not the media reaction but that of punters risking their money.

Thursday October 6th: Davis greeted by poor press coverage of his speech and comparisons with Cameron – but he finishes the day still in the favourite slot but only by a small margin.

Friday October 7th:
The big news is a YouGov poll of Tory members which shows an overwhelming switch to Cameron who is now attracting getting on for two thirds of the potential vote in a membership ballot. Cameron becomes favourite but he could still be had at better than evens. The critical question is whether he would make the final two in the MPs ballot to decide which contenders be put to the mass vote.

So it wasn’t a media conspiracy or Frank Luntz which drove the markets but the Davis speech and the YouGov poll. The betting prices are important because they show graphically the collective perceptions of people prepared to back up their judgements with hard cash.

  • TV interview. A recording of the TV interview with Iain Dale on my book, The Political Punter, can be viewed by clicking this link.

  • Mike Smithson



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    The Political Punter on 18 Doughty Street at 7.30pm

    Thursday, March 29th, 2007

    book cover.JPG

    I’ve just recorded a 30 minute programme on my book, The Political Punter, which will be shown tonight at 7.30 pm on the 18 Doughty Street channel.

    I had a good discussion with fellow blogger, Iain Dale, who presents the programme.

    The book itself will be launched at the PB party on April 17th. It can be pre-ordered from here.

    UPDATE – The programme can be view by clicking this link.

    Mike Smithson



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    Are public sector workers deserting Labour?

    Thursday, March 29th, 2007

    mori public sectors workers.jpg

      What behind these big shifts in opinion?

    I’ve just come across some fascinating data on the Ipsos-Mori website which might prove to be highly significant at the next election.

    For as the charts show there has been a significant move by public sector workers away from Labour in a relatively short time. If they don’t return that could present a big challenge for Gordon Brown.

    For after the big expansion of the public sector jobs under Gordon’s management of the economy one would have expected that Labour would have been the main beneficiary. If this Ipsos-Mori data is correct then that is not the case.

    A particular challenge is that while the public sector has been expanded so too have the public’s expectations. The case that higher taxes should be levied for better public services has generally been accepted – even now by the Tory leadership if not the party. The problem is that this has led to greater pressure in all sorts of ways on those who work in the public services and maybe this is fuelling anti-government sentiment.

    It should be noted that the charts relate to Mori “all naming a party” poll numbers – not the “100% certain to vote” figures that make up the firm’s headline numbers. Given the latter are normally less favourable for Labour then this could add to the concerns.

    Mike Smithson



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    Is Charles Clarke still trying to kill the Brown bid?

    Thursday, March 29th, 2007

    clarke guns brown.JPG

      The ex-home secretary and Miliband step up the rhetoric

    Just when the Labour succession seemed to be all settled there’s another big move from the one of the chancellor’s most long-standing party opponents – the ex-home secretary, Charles Clarke.

    In a speech to the Royal Television Society Clarke, according to the Indy report, rejected ideas that there is “”broad consensus” across the party about the leadership succession. “The leadership is not a done deal to be sorted out within our party and then delivered to a grateful nation in a gleaming package. A genuine and open political contest may well be necessary”.

    In a reference to the weekend move by Brown to engage ex-Labour home secretary, Jack Straw, Clarke said attacked those who “publicly appointed their campaign managers and who prefer backroom conspiracy and plots to open discussion of the policy challenges we face”.

    What Clarke appears to be trying to touch is, as the Guardian puts it, “the anger in some circles at the way in which Mr Brown has decided to appoint Jack Straw as his campaign manager before Mr Blair has announced his intention to retire, and that Mr Brown has now started to recruit junior ministers to his cause.”

      Perhaps Brown’s biggest flaw is his undisguised desire to get the job. He could be portrayed as being presumptive and at some stage that could be damaging. The British way is, for appearances sake at least, to appear reluctant to go for high office.

    Meanwhile the Miliband mood music continues with a personal piece in the Daily Telegraph which seems to be playing a major part in promoting a challenge by the 41 year old Oxonian. Under the heading “I’m in tune with the ‘I can’ generation” the environment secretary tells us that “politics requires many virtues – organisation, ideas, resolution, luck”.

    Perhaps it also requires knowledge of which newspapers are likely to be read most and have authority in your own party and here the Telegraph must be at the bottom of the list for Labour.

    The Brown betting price remains at 0.23/1.

    Mike Smithson



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    Mori puts the Tories 8% ahead

    Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

    Mori march.jpg
    These are the figures, just published on the Ipsos-Mori website, of the first national political poll by the firm since January. As is usual the headline figures are restricted to those “certain to vote”.

    It should be noted that the survey involving 1,983 adults aged 18+ at 176 sampling points across Great Britain was conducted face-to-face on 9-15 March 2007. So the poll is a little bit old and took place before the the last CR, ICM and YouGov surveys.

      So we have only had two post-budget voting intention surveys and both pointed in different directions. YouGov showed an increased Tory lead while CR had a reduction.

    Compared with the last Mori poll in January the Tories are up 2%, Labour and the Lib Dems are each down 2%.

    The pollster does not seek to predict the General Election but rather give a barometer of what current opinion is based on their massive monthly face to face survey. So it does not adopt past vote weighting as is followed by ICM and Populus.

    Mike Smithson



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    Which poll will Gordon pick this morning?

    Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

      Tory CR lead slashed as Populus predicts a Scottish Labour collapse

    Brown nose RH.JPGThe first two of three polls which are expected today have produced good and bad news for Labour.

  • Communicate Research for the Independent has the following shares with comparisons on a month ago CON 35% (-5): LAB 31% (+2): LD 20% (+3).
  • Populus for the Times on May’s Scottish election has SNP 38%: LAB 28%: LD 15%: CON 14% in the constituency section. On the regional list it is SNP 35%: LAB 30%: LD 14%: CON 14%
  • The Indy poll will be seen as a welcome boost for Labour and should ease some of the jitters that have been prompted by the other firms in recent weeks.

    From the detailed data it looks as though the main reason for the change is a big reduction in the proportion of Tory voters saying they would be certain to vote.

    It will be interesting to compare the CR numbers with the March survey from Ipsos-Mori, due today, which only uses the “certains to vote” in its headline figures. If that pollster has picked up the same trend then we can expect a similar decline in the Tory position.

    The Populus poll from Scotland is potentially devastating for Labour and suggests that the SNP is heading for victory in the May 3rd elections for the Edinburgh parliament.

    The Times projects that the SNP will win 50 of the 129 seats against 43 for Labour, 18 for the Lib Dems, 17 for the Tories and one for the Greens.

    A new betting market on who will be Scotland’s first minister after the election has the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, at 8/11. That looks like a value bet as is the 0.73/1 that’s available on Betfair on the SNP winning most seats is 0.73/1.

    Communicate Research, it should be said, has built up a reputation for turbulence and unlike all the other pollsters has found Labour leads twice in the past five months. Its final poll before the last general election predicted an 8% Labour margin against the 3% that actually happened. All the other pollsters were closer including the firm which the Indy then used – NOP which got it spot on.

    Mike Smithson