Archive for April, 2011

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Where does the coalition go after Thursday?

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Is this the big story of the night?

The full story by the Observer’s Toby Helm can be found here.

He writes: “…..In a joint article in the Observer, signed by Labour’s shadow business secretary, John Denham, and the leader of the Green party, Caroline Lucas, Huhne and the others argue that the Conservatives were able to monopolise power for much of the 20th century because of an “unfair” first-past-the-post system.

“Britain consistently votes as a centre-left country, and yet the Conservatives have dominated our politics for two-thirds of the time since 1900,” the three say. “On only two occasions in that long century – 1900 and 1931 – have the Tories won a majority of the votes. No wonder David Cameron says the current system has ‘served us well’.”

They add: “For those who weren’t well served by the Tory 20th century, fair votes matter. They matter for the millions of voters who suffered the worst excesses of the Thatcher government despite more than 54% repeatedly voting against her.

The remarks from Huhne amount to a declaration of war by one of Nick Clegg’s most senior ministers on the Tories’ record in government under Margaret Thatcher – but also an attack on a political philosophy the trio suggest still drives Cameron’s party.

They will provoke fury in Conservative ranks, particularly among rightwing Tories who already resent the Lib Dems’ presence in the coalition and their influence over policy….”

It might all settle down once the elections are out of the way – but it might not. There’s fury and anger on both sides of the coalition but it’s not clear where will this lead.

Are we heading to a loveless marriage where neither partner is able to leave?

Tonight’s polling: I’ll do a full round-up tomorrow.

Mike Smithson



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Any regrets about your Willliam Hill/PB AV prediction?

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Who’s going to be the winner of our biggest prize?

In early February the bookmakers, William Hills agreed to provide a competition prize of £1,000 of free bets to the PBer who makes the closest prediction to the AV referendum result.

All you had to do was record what you thought the YES percentage would be to within two decimal points. The prize will got to the one who gets closest to the figure reported on the BBC website after all the counting has been completed and tabulated.

So how confident are you about your prediction now that we’ve seen all the recent polls showing very similar figures? What percentage would you put on it now?

Check out the thread from February to see what you and others predicted.

You cannot make amendments to your prize competition entry – those stand and cannot be altered but you can put forward a new prediction below for the fun of it and for the honour of getting it right second time round.

So with just five days to go what do you think the YES percentage will be?

Mike Smithson



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What drew in the millions beyond the seas?

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Do the royals enable Britain to still punch above its weight?

When Bruno Mars sang in ‘Billionaire’ that he wanted to “be on the cover of Forbes magazine / smiling next to Oprah and the Queen”, there could be little doubt that of all the world’s queens regnant or consort his definite article applied to Her Britannic Majesty.

Yesterday’s wedding provided proof once again of the enduring ability that British royalty has to engage not just the country but large sections of the entire world. But why? Why did so many people feel the pull to tune in to what for them was a foreign event involving people whose lifestyles are remote, at an awkward time of day or day of the week? There are many reasons, some of which overlap and not all of which will apply to everyone. Here are ten for starters:

1. Celebrity

Celebrity magazines make good money recording and displaying the lives of the rich, famous and beautiful, so that the average person who is none of those things has a glimpse into their world and maybe even gets to feel a part of it. It’s not uncommon for film- or music-stars to sell the media rights for big money because of this popular demand. Royalty is uber-celebrity.

2. Rarity

Celebrity weddings happen often enough to pad out magazines on a monthly basis. By contrast, this was just the eighth wedding since 1800 involving the British monarch or a direct heir to the throne, and that includes two for Charles.

3. Style

As public theatre goes, this was huge, inclusive to an extent and done with the style the royals carry off so well: carriages, processions, cheering crowds and the rest of it. Even some of those not bothered about the implications of the wedding just like the spectacle of it all. It doesn’t do any harm that the two at the centre of it all are young and good enough looking. Combined with their rarity, these events retain an ability to punch a big impression on the national and international memory.

4. Fantasy

For women especially, there’s the fairy-tale aspect to it: in the new Duchess of Cambridge’s case, she was a commoner (albeit one from a moderately wealthy family, though nothing like Diana‘s never mind the royals) for whom a prince really did come. There’ll have been more than a few women dreaming that but for whatever, it could have been them. Every woman wants to feel like a princess on her wedding day; she was.

5. History

This is a bit of a bogus one as unlike coronations and funerals, royal weddings as spectaculars are a relatively recent event, barely predating the TV age. Arguably, it was the TV age that was the making of them. Still, even if the ceremonial is of recent vintage, the institution that the marriage of a direct heir goes a long way to ensure the future of is much more ancient. It binds a people with its past but also many other people with their past and their peoples’ past. William’s grandmother, who still reigns, ruled over a substantial empire when she came to the throne. Her father was the last Emperor of India. His great-grandmother was Victoria. Her grandfather was George III. These are people whose names are tied into the history books across the world. Six American states are named after members of his family.

6. The future.

As things stand, William will in due course become king of 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Kate their queen. The likelihood is that not all will retain the British monarch as their head of state but despite that, they are significant figures on the world stage now and their importance will grow.

7. Authenticity

Unlike some mega-budget weddings of the rich and famous which consciously try to evoke the atmosphere of a royal wedding, this is the real deal (not least because in comparison with William and Kate, those imitations involve people who aren’t that rich and aren’t that famous). We’re only a little over a year in but it’ll take something for this not to have been the wedding of the decade.

8. Comprehensibility

Everything took place in English, the global Lingua Franca.

9. No better substitute

The combination of all the above factors is something no other institution can match, or at least, none that could, does. Japan’s monarchy is too remote; the Arab kingdoms and sultanates do not have the internal heritage or global historic links; the other European monarchies don’t have the spectacle (and operate in languages most people don’t understand, except perhaps the Spanish); the Vatican is too political and insufficiently celebrity (and by definition, does not do marriages!); political leaders cannot exist in the world-apart that royalty has to, nor do their careers have the endurance.

Despite the advent of democracy in so many aspects of public life, there is still an innate desire among many for the certainty and continuity that dynasty and heredity brings, even if not in their own country. Perhaps especially not in their own country. By default, the British royal family best fulfils the role and is close to having been adopted as the global royal family.

10. It’s a good news story

At a time when the news is full of wars, natural disasters and economic difficulties, a good-news story is a welcome relief. Everyone likes a wedding, which is by its nature an optimistic event, with happy people surrounding a young couple in love. What’s not to like?

As for curmudgeons begrudging the cost of yesterday’s events, could any other institution have matched the tremendous ‘soft power’ that the British monarchy so effectively demonstrated yesterday, and could a marketing budget of even £1bn have bought such widespread positive coverage for the country? Arguing for a scaled-down monarchy completely misses the point: it is the scale that gives it its value.

Which is why William and Kate’s first child will probably lead it into the next century.

David Herdson



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Marf on the Royal Wedding

Friday, April 29th, 2011

More of Marf’s work can be found at LondonSketchBook.com.



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Is this why politicians should be very careful with Twitter?

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Was this a wise point for Hain to raise today?

Twitter can become a very dangerous facility as Peter Hain is no doubt reflecting this lunchtime. His Tweet, featured above, clearly reflects his feelings about the wedding coverage but wouldn’t it have been better if he had just kept this to himself for today at least?

The problem with Twitter is that it’s so easy to publish. Sometimes it can take only seconds.

Now Hain’s Tweet is going to get quoted back at him and his party – not a good thing just six days before the crucial May 5th elections.

Update: Polly joins in as well

Mike Smithson



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What are the best bets for the Royal Wedding?

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Is there money to be made from the big day?

Novelty bets are rarely worth looking at. Frequently there are huge overrounds in markets more designed for publicity than serious punting. Still, unlike more mainstream markets, there can be large disparities between the different bookies, so where’s the best value for today?

The first market to be settled should be that of their title. The sons of the monarch or heir apparant usually receive a dukedom when they marry (which in this case would prevent Kate becoming Princess William). The dukedom of Cambridge is a strong possibility but not attractive at the 4/7 Paddy Power is offering (and no-one else seems to be). Sussex at 11/2 has more going for it, although it’s worth remembering that while it’s traditional for a title to be conferred, it’s not guaranteed.

One market for which ‘form’ may offer some guide is the colour of the Queen’s hat. Yellow seems to be overwhelming favourite and there’s justice in that. Even so, green at 12/1 with Ladbrokes and turquoise at 20/1 with Coral are worth considering.

The time of Kate Middleton’s arrival offers some attractions, though the various firms have different definitions. Bet365 are offering 4/1 that she will set foot outside the Abbey before 11am. As she’s arriving by car, the whole thing is choreographed in great detail and arriving outside the Abbey early isn’t the same as going into the Abbey early, there may be some value there. Alternatively, Ladbrokes have 100/30 that she will enter the Abbey ‘on time’.

There are various markets on the length of her train. While it’s unlikely to be on the scale of Diana’s, the setting and the occasion lend themselves to spectacle. The 9/2 Paddy Power’s offering on 5.01m to 8m looks quite interesting and I could well see it towards the lower end of that range.

Finally, one ‘special’ I’d pick out is for Kate to get William’s names in the wrong order, available at 16/1 with Paddy Power. Diana famously did this and William, like his father, has four names. I’m not sure there’s much value in that but nerves can do strange things to even the most accomplished public speakers – as Barack Obama demonstrated when he fluffed his inaugural oath.

Good luck, and enjoy.

David Herdson



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A guest slot from Tim with advice to the PM

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Dave, stop trying to curb your Etonianism dear, it doesn’t wash

The recent kerfuffle over the PM’s “Calm down, dear” comments seems to me to have to have rather missed the point. Cameron exposed a weakness at PMQ’s, but it wasn’t a weakness for rather camp Michael Winner impressions, it was a failure to control himself when he’s not on top of his brief . A trait that is particularly obvious when he’s discussing the NHS. This is something that the Prime Minister clearly needs to work on.

There is of course another weakness which Cameron has displayed since becoming Conservative Party leader, and that is his desire to portray himself as one of the people, a normal middle class bloke – something he clearly isn’t, but something he seems determined to work at relentlessly.

It’s five years ago this week that the “Fake Dave” meme was born, with the memorable story of the cycling young Conservative leader, polishing his green image, wind in his hair, unfortunately with chauffeur and briefcase in his rear view mirror.

That image stuck. Four years later, before the last election as PR week reported: “..Worryingly for the Conservatives, 37 per cent of people also rem­embered the 2006 story of leader David Cameron cycling to work, trailed by a chauffeur-driven car, in a botched attempt to display his green credentials..Some 18 per cent believe this story aff­ected the party’s current reputation.”

Cameron appears not to have learnt from this, indeed his attempts to redefine his class background, which he assumes is a political weakness, run the risk of turning something which the public are not overly bothered about, into one of sincerity, which can be very damaging..

Rather than learning from this, Daves attempts to portray himself an ordinary bloke appear to be accelerating. Recently we’ve had the lounge suit at the wedding story, discovered Daves tangles with IKEA flatpack furniture and been briefed about his use of low cost airlines in Departuregate,

Perhaps we should have spotted the signs last autumn with the “vanity photographer” own goal, despite producing one of the finest examples in the genre, “A common man enjoys a hastily poured 440ml of Guinness” which appears at the top of the thread, it was obvious that putting him on the public payroll would backfire.

All politicians try to define themselves in the publics mind, Cameron runs the risk of becoming defined by his attempts to define himself.

Dave should take a leaf out of Boris’ book, and relax a bit. And get briefed on the NHS.

Tim has posted 32,618 comments on PB since his first contribution in June 2005



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ComRes makes it 60-40 to NO2AV

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

NO moves to its biggest lead of the campaign

A new poll by ComRes for tonight’s London Evening Standard has the biggest lead for NO so far seen in the referendum campaign when the actual wording was put.

So far I cannot find any further details and don’t even know whether this was online or by phone. Also ComRes has had an odd approach to turnout weighting using responses to their general elections voting certainty question.

Whatever this split is in line with all the polls we have seen in the past 11 days and there is no comfort there at all for the YES camp.

UPDATE: We’ve now got the detail from the poll which was carried out by phone with the fieldwork finishing on Easter Monday. An AV-specific turnout question was asked and the 60-40 split was based on those saying they were “certain to vote”. Amongst all those who expressed a preference the split was 58-42.

Mike Smithson