Alistair Meeks says that he EU is not as central an issue as many right activists think it is

February 9th, 2016


A look at the referendum’s salience

Last Monday, UKIP wandered into another of their controversies over gay rights.  Alan Craig, who has in the past called equality campaigners the Gaystapo and described gay marriage as being as bad as the Nazi invasion of Poland, has been selected as a candidate for the London Assembly.  Most UKIP supporters are frustrated by the fuss.  They don’t believe in a relationship between sexuality and meteorology but really don’t see the views of some of their number about gay rights as an important matter when it comes to deciding how to vote.  Hold that thought.

Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters sigh at the amount of attention gets given to his contacts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.  Beyond a general wish to see peace established, they are not particularly exercised by the complexities of the factions or the unsavoury views of some of these people.  They are much more interested in the social justice that he stands for.  Why bother about something relatively peripheral?  Hold that thought too.

Let’s turn to the question of the referendum on the EU.  For many of the politically committed, particularly in the Leave camp, this is the paramount question of the day.  Everything is viewed through this prism.  Members of the public who have yet firmly to make up their minds about the referendum are implicitly considered ignorant.  Politicians who have yet to commit themselves publicly are regarded as duplicitous.  How could anyone not see this as being of vital importance?

Now, return to the two held thoughts.  It should not be a revelation, but apparently it is: different people place different degrees of importance on different matters.  Some people regard respect for other people’s sexuality as of prime importance.  Some people regard it as vital not to associate with those who could be seen as terrorists or anti-Semites.  For that matter, some people regard restricting abortion rights as being of touchstone importance and find the contrary view as being not just unfathomable but wicked.

What of the EU?  Well, here we have a lot of evidence of just how important the average voter thinks it is, courtesy of the long-running Ipsos MORI monthly issues poll.  And as you can see from the table at the top of the thread, it’s hardly a burning concern.  When respondents are asked to name up to three important issues facing the country, concern about the EU hasn’t registered with more than 20% of the electorate in more than 10 years.

You sometimes hear diehard Leavers argue that when respondents name immigration as an issue it’s a proxy for the EU.  There are two problems with that.  First, respondents would be quite capable of naming the EU if that’s what they meant.  And secondly, there is no obvious correlation between the salience as an issue over time of immigration and the EU.

So it’s hard to escape the conclusion that most voters just don’t see the EU as the central subject that many right wing political activists do.

Once that is understood, the actions of those politicians who treat the subject as one to be politicked with also become readily understood.  They’re not being immoral or dishonest, simply acting logically in order to promote subjects of much greater centrality to their political ideology.  Much has been written about Michael Gove apparently agonising about his intellectual belief that Britain should leave the EU and his loyalty to the Cameroon project.  Leavers are outraged that he has anything to consider here.  But if he genuinely believes that the Cameroon project is more important, why would he not swallow his principles on EU membership in order to do his best to protect it?

So for those that do care passionately about the EU, how should they respond?  First, banging on about the EU isn’t going to change many votes.  The target-rich environments are the voters who see other subjects as more salient.  So this week we have seen David Cameron painting lurid pictures of the Garden of England converted into a Hogarthian slum by migrants if we leave the EU.  Leave, of course, have been majoring on the numbers of foreigners coming to Britain for ages.  Expect risks to the economy to be conjured up, existential threats to the NHS and increased terrorist dangers to be bandied about.

None of it will really have all that much to do with the pros and cons of EU membership – the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers from outside the EU, for example, has only a tangential connection with EU membership and in any case at present is operating largely outside the nominal EU rules that have some relevance to such matters.  It won’t stop a lot of people who really should know better huffing and puffing about it at inordinate length.

I expect I’m supposed to sigh and look severely at the poor quality of political discourse in the referendum.  But I don’t.  If you believe that membership of the EU is a fundamental matter, this will be disappointing.  But if you believe that the question of EU membership is about the best means to an end, this focus on other issues that the voters believe are more important is extremely heartening.  So the question now is which side has the more persuasive arguments about these bread and butter subjects.  And which side can most resist talking about qualified majority voting and Eurozone consolidation.

Alastair Meeks



With Rubio faltering John Kasich could be the favoured non-Trump GOP contender in today’s New Hampshire primary

February 9th, 2016

John Kasich for America   John Kasich

It’s primary election day in New Hampshire – the first full one of the 2016 campaign and the big developments over the past 24 hours have been on the Governor of Ohio John Kasich.

He made an early decision to focus all his early effort on New Hampshire and judging by the polling has been having a big impact. He was running neck and neck with Rubio to be the main GOP alternative to Trump and that looks set to be even more the case. The talk out of his camp that he could secure second place.

What makes New Hampshire so difficult to call, as is being repeatedly said, is that it has a history of independents and supporters of other parties switching on the day not just to different candidate but to which primary they cast their votes in.

One scenario that’s being discussed is that in order to impede Trump there could be cross-overs to the GOP election the only question being which of the contenders is perceived to be in the best position.

This could impact on the Democratic primary where Bernie Sanders looks solid. Some of his supporters might feel that it is safe switch to the GOP election and Kasich could well be their choice.

Ladbrokes make him favourite to be the leading non-Trump contender in the state.

Mike Smithson


On the eve of New Hampshire the Hillary campaign takes its biggest gamble: bringing in Bill to attack Bernie

February 8th, 2016

Does the former President still hold much sway?

So we are almost there in what has in past White House races been the contest that has proved to be the most crucial – the first full primary in the New England State of New Hampshire.

While much of the attention has been on the Republicans there’s a battle royal going on in the Democratic primary where the 74 year old socialist Bernie Sanders has been enjoying double digit leads over Hillary Clinton.

On paper he looks a certainty but the Hillary campaign will remember 2008 when the final polls on the state had Obama up to 13.5% up but she won.

A big factor that makes it very challenging for the pollsters is that voters, including a huge block of independents, can choose whether to caste their votes in with the Democratic election or the Republican one.

There’s a long history of primary voters there making their minds up at the last minute.

Into this potentially explosive mix the Hillary campaign has deployed its final card which could backfire – her husband the former President. His speech attacked in part the sexist and misogynist nature of the Tweets from Sanders supporters – a move designed to boost to boost turnout amongst women.

The Twitter misogyny from some Sanders backers looks very similar to that which we saw from Corbyn supporters in the Labour leadership contest.

Whatever the Sanders polling numbers are strong and it is hard to see him not doing it. The big question will be the size of his winning margin.

Mike Smithson


For their own good, it can be argued, young people should be compelled to vote

February 8th, 2016

Donald Brind on cumpulsory voting

Eddie Izzard writes his own jokes. He made that very clear when I offered him what I thought was a good line he could use in pressing young people to get out and vote. “Vote and you get stuff, don’t vote and you get stuffed.”

I was touring North London marginals with the Labour-supporting comedian and Eddie was a bit sniffy about my offering. It cut no ice when I pointed out that the author of the aphorism was the young, supersmart editor of the New Statesman Staggers blog Stephen Bush.

I was reminded of the exchange by Mike’s posting last week on the political implications of the greater propensity of older people to vote – and thereby to be given “stuff” by the Tories – a variety of benefits for pensioners are locked into the system while the you are hit by cuts in housing and , unemployment benefits and maintenance grants.

Getting young people to actually use their vote was a major preoccupation of Labour campaigners – including Eddie Izzard and leader Ed Miliband. Remember his dalliance with another comedian Russell Brand?

In the runup to the election I was reporting for The Week and I posted a piece discussing the idea of compulsory voting, as a way of involving young people. . I noted that in Australia, where registering to vote and going to the polls have been legal duties since 1924, turnout in the 2013 general election was 93%.

What I found particularly striking back in January 2015 was that two influential columnists on the activists website Conservative Home were saying nice things about a private members Bill presented by the veteran Left wing Labour MP David Winnick. It proposed a law on the Australian model.

Tim Montgomerie founder of Conservative Home and a Times columnist was clearly surprised to find himself backing the idea. He told Times readers “I’m not comfortable recommending any kind of compulsion. But I’m much more uncomfortable at the prospect of Britain becoming some sort of gerontocracy where older (and richer) people decide who is in power. This is a much greater social evil.”

Montgomerie argues that “A skewed electorate produces skewed public policy.” Older people are more likely to vote so parties woo them. “That’s one big reason why austerity has fallen so disproportionately on younger people with families.” He cited housing and benefits as examples where older people got a better deal from the Chancellor George Osborne.

Another Con Home writer Peter Hoskin was clearly uncomfortable about supporting Montgomerie.  “There’s something weird and un-British about the idea of compulsory voting, isn’t there?” But he was impressed by arguments in a report by the Left think-tank IPPR Divided Democracy which showed there was is a gap of more than 20 per cent between turnout figures for 18-24 year olds and the national average. “Unsurprisingly, it’s voters over 40, and particularly over 65, who push that average up,” says Hoskin.

Hoskin came down in favour of IPPR’s suggested half way house “that voting be made compulsory, at pain of a fine, for first-time voters only. This makes sense because voting is what they call “habit forming”; once people pop to the ballot box they just can’t stop.”

Labour’s prescription is votes at 16 strongly advocated by the London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan. He told the Independent it was part of a package to make voting easier for the young with polling stations should be set up in secondary schools, on-the-day voting registration and perhaps online polling.  “Why do elections take place on a Thursday? Why do you have to go to a cold church hall to cast your vote? Why can’t you vote by the web? Why can’t you have same-day registration? You can get a mortgage in a day – why can’t you do the same with voting registration? If the concern is fraud, we can address that.”

Khan says “If you speak candidly to a campaign manager of any of the mainstream parties they will say that they concentrate their energies disproportionately on those they know are going to vote,” he said.

The arguments are very similar to those of Montgomerie who argues that compulsory voting is really all about forcing politicians to reach beyond their comfort zones. “It’s a 20-minute burden for voters once every four or five years but it would compel our politicians to change in fundamental ways and to build much broader voting coalitions.”

Making the political parties find a way to appeal to the 16 million people who did not vote “could have a profound effect on British politics.” He adds there would need to be strict caps on political donations “so that the rich and organised cannot find back-door ways to reassert their disproportionate influence.”

Is George Osborne listening? Almost certainly not. Montgomerie is a supporter of the social justice movement in the Conservative Party. He thinks Osborne is a flop, as he makes clear in a recent must-read dissection of the Chancellor’s record on Capx.  The disdain is probably mutual.

Donald Brind


Guess who? Looking for Jeremy Corbyn’s successor

February 8th, 2016

LAB Poster (1)

Alastair Meeks on his 200/1 tip to be next Labour leader.

Pitt the Elder did not lack confidence, declaring to the Duke of Devonshire: “My Lord, I am sure I can save this country, and no one else can.”  Is there anyone who can save Labour?  It’s a good question and it’s not at all clear that there’s an answer.  The Labour party is being torn apart by a profound schism between the purist left membership and the much more centrist Parliamentary party.  Jeremy Corbyn retains the confidence of the membership and is seeking to move the power base of the party from the shadow Cabinet and Parliamentary party to the membership.  Talk of insurrection is in the air among dissident MPs, though no one has yet publicly suggested a viable mechanism for dethroning a leader elected by a landslide less than six months ago.

There are essentially three possible ways in which the Labour party leadership might be resolved.  First, Jeremy Corbyn may cement his hold on power (possibly after an unsuccessful challenge).  Secondly, his party opponents might successfully oust him.  Thirdly, he might be replaced by consent (possibly with some degree of coercion of some of the interested parties) by a unity candidate.

Both the first and the second possibilities would almost inevitably lead to further seismic upheaval within the Labour party.  The Parliamentary party is not going to become reconciled to Jeremy Corbyn and the membership are not going to accept a betrayal by the Parliamentary party.  Both of those options look utterly disastrous for Labour in the short to medium term.

This is recognised all round, so pressure will build for a suitable unity candidate.  Such a candidate would need to be someone who the grassroots respect as one of their own and who the Parliamentary party respect as being in touch with the political realities of persuading the electorate.  By definition, such a person would need to be a recognised public figure with a track record at the highest levels of the party.  They would need to be seen as a heavyweight and they would need to be willing to undertake the job.

The obvious starting point is to look at those current Labour MPs who have served in the Cabinet.  Labour only left office six years ago, so that should give a substantial pool, right?  Wrong.  By my count, there are only 12 current MPs who served as full Cabinet ministers in a Labour government: Margaret Beckett, Hilary Benn, Ben Bradshaw, Nick Brown, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman, Alan Johnson, Ed Miliband, Andrew Smith and Stephen Timms.

Stop and consider that for a minute.  Labour still has well over 200 MPs, many of fairly long standing.  But those who achieved the most in the last government have by and large deserted the field.  No wonder Labour is in so much trouble; it has suffered a serious brain drain.

So who among these contenders might be a suitable unity candidate?  Ben Bradshaw, Nick Brown, Andrew Smith and Stephen Timms, excellent though they all are, simply do not have the profile for this role.  Hilary Benn is completely unacceptable to the membership as a unity candidate.  Harriet Harman’s failure to oppose tax credit cuts probably makes her unacceptable too.  Liam Byrne forever ruled himself out with six words in a letter: “I’m afraid there is no money”.

Margaret Beckett would actually be an excellent choice of unity candidate on many grounds – she is a former deputy leader, has already been acting leader and nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership last year.  If the aim was to remain in contention rather than to win, she could fulfil the same function that Michael Howard managed in 2005 for the Conservatives.  But I discount her on the ground of age – she would be 77 by the time of the 2020 election.  At the risk of sounding ageist, that is surely just too old for the role now.

That leaves four MPs with Cabinet level experience: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Alan Johnson and Ed Miliband.  Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper stood against Jeremy Corbyn and lost crushingly.  While both are conceivable unity candidates, particularly Andy Burnham who has served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet, the fact of their crushing defeat probably rules them out.

So you can see why Alan Johnson’s name keeps coming up as a unity candidate whenever the Labour party lacks confidence in its leader.  But he keeps declining the opportunity no matter how hard he has been pressed to make a move.  He did not move against Gordon Brown and he did not move against Ed Miliband.  That’s not the track record of a man who is hungry for the role.  He’s probably also a bit too rightwing to satisfy the Labour party membership, who are going to be very suspicious of anyone who takes over from Jeremy Corbyn.

Which leaves Ed Miliband.  Well, why not?  He’s led the party so he knows what’s involved.  He managed to keep it united and was inclusive.  The membership respect him even if he is a little rightwing for their tastes.  The MPs know he understands electoral realities.  Alright, he lost the last election but given how things have gone since then Labour can’t afford to be too picky.  When he stood down, Labour were looking to find someone who could lead them back towards government.  Right now they need someone that’s going to hold them all together.  Ed Miliband has shown that he can do that job.  He’s probably their best choice to do it again now.

Would he even want the job again?  Probably not, but sometimes needs must.  I was allowed £2 by SkyBet at 200/1 to back him as next Labour leader.  That’s £2 I’ll probably never see again, but if Labour is to unite around a consensus candidate of stature, the options are very limited indeed.

Alastair Meeks


In May we might find out if Corbyn is the liability for Labour the Tories hope he is

February 7th, 2016

The London Mayoral election might help determine if Corbyn is the toxic liability for the Labour Party the Tories hope he is and many in Labour fear he is

Looking at the above tweets it is clear that the Tory plan for winning the London Mayoral contest is to portray Sadiq Khan as Corbyn’s man in London. This makes sense given the dire personal polling Corbyn has, coupled with some of his more interesting policy positions and comments should be a negative for Khan.

Cameron then upped the ante as it were, by saying Londoners will become Corbyn ‘lab rats’ if Sadiq Khan becomes Mayor, that comment earned the Prime Minister the wrath of Khan, though it probably betrayed Khan’s concern that the attacks might have an impact.

The Tories have made several unpopular missteps since winning a majority last May, something an effective opposition would have exploited  just like they should be exploiting Cameron’s EU referendum difficulties. The YouGov EU referendum poll that made painful reading for Cameron, still had the Tories with a double digit lead. All of this could be lulling the Tories into a false sense of security about the next general election, where on current boundaries, a swing of 0.44% could deny the Tories a majority.

Simply not being Jeremy Corbyn might not be enough for the Tories to win a majority in 2020, the toxic Corbyn meme could well be this parliament’s idée fixe like the last parliament’s idée fixe was a guaranteed hung parliament in 2015.

If Khan wins with a bigger than anticipated majority in May, then we might conclude that the attacks on Corbyn have no impact, just like they didn’t in the Oldham West & Royton by election which Nigel Farage dubbed as a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn. Those who say Crispin Blunt in a room full of poppers or the corpse of Sir Edward Heath could lead the Tories to a majority in 2020 against a Corbyn led Labour Party might need to re-evaluate their beliefs.

If Goldsmith does win in May, then it may spur the Parliamentary Labour Party into action against Corbyn lest they go the same way as Khan at the 2020 general election.



Rubio slips back on Betfair following what’s described as “robotic” NH debate performance

February 7th, 2016


The Twitter verdicts of leading pundits

After his surprisingly close 3rd place in Iowa all the narrative in the GOP Race has been about the young Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The polls since have been have been good and he was widely being tipped as the one who could stop Trump. That was before the final TV debate that ended a few hours ago in New Hampshire.

The Tweets above from leading commentators speak for themselves. It was alaways likely that Rubio would be the one who’d take the most flack and he flunked it.

So who will benefit? In New Hampshire that looks like be Trump and possibly Kasich who has been polling reasonably well in the state.

This ain’t over till it’s over.

Mike Smithson


The other divide in EURef polling: the more positive it looks for BREXIT if actual words not used

February 6th, 2016


The ballot format gives a significant boost for REMAIN

Since August PB has been featuring a regular table on the state of voting intentions for the referendum. For the sake of consistency the only polls that are included are those where the actual wording on the ballot, as above, is used.

Some polls have used different formats like Lord Ashcroft in December in his large sample online poll. He wrote:

“Rather than replicate the referendum question itself we asked people to place themselves on a scale between zero, meaning they would definitely vote for the UK to remain in the EU, to 100, meaning they would definitely vote to leave. Just under four in ten (38 per cent) put themselves between zero and 49, showing they were inclined to remain, and nearly half (47 per cent) gave themselves a score between 51 and 100; 14 per cent placed themselves at 50, meaning they were completely undecided.”

That suggested much stronger towards BREXIT than almost all of the polling using the actual words that will be used in the election.

Ipsos-MORI phone polls have been testing opinion on an EU referendum since 1977 and clearly wanted to continue with their original phrasing that so historical comparisons can be made. To deal with the fact that we now know the wording they are using a split sample with quite striking results as seen in the chart above.

So in each Ipsos-MORI EU referendum polling we have two completely different sets of numbers. The last two from the firm have had the actual REMAIN lead 7% greater than when their tracker format is used. In every case since the wording was finalised REMAIN does better when it is used

ORB have experienced the same difference.

All this leads me to conclude that the agreed referendum format gives REMAIN an advantage.

Mike Smithson