The hold that Putin holds over Trump could be revealing that the Russians did try to fix WH2016

July 16th, 2018

Straight from Russia’s undoubted success in staging the World Cup the biggest news today will be the secret meeting in Helsinki between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Normally when leaders meet they have aides with them but not so this meeting and this has set up a whole series of rumours and speculation. There are all sorts of theories around about the hold that the Russian president has over the occupant of the White House and, of course, it has been noted widely that Mr Trump never ever publicly criticises Mr Putin unlike virtually every other world leader.

Could it be that the Russians have some hold over the President?

One of the theories I like was in a comment on the excellent US political site {$) PoliticalWire relates directly to the story that has never been totally stopped by Trump – the allegation that the Russians actively helped in his election two years ago.

“You know, maybe what Vladimir Putin has on Trump is simply, “I can make it look like you colluded.” Trump and his team were such bumblers that they repeatedly gave Putin opportunities to create evidence of collusion even if none actually occurred.

Maybe Putin can simply say, “Donald, I can provide proof that a) we swayed the election (so you’re illegitimate) and b) you and yours helped.”

Politcalwire notes:-

“Ordinarily, in preparation for such a meeting, diplomats would have established a list of “deliverables” before the high-profile summit. But in this case, as the New Yorker reported, the Russians told White House national security adviser John Bolton, “The meeting is the deliverable.”

For any other U.S. president, the political ramifications of keeping the meeting with Putin would be disastrous.

For Trump, however, the political ramifications of cancelling may be worse.”

His links with Putin are going to dog Trump for the rest of his time as President and no doubt there will be stories for years about what the two man say behind closed doors today.

Mike Smithson


The Tory leadership – an alternative view

July 15th, 2018

Ian Whittaker on why Esther McVey might be the one to watch

David’s piece yesterday was very insightful on the mechanics for how a new Conservative leader could be elected. I wanted to add a few thoughts on what has happened over the past week, and what are the betting implications on the political front.

    First of all, standing back, the last week has been, objectively, a disaster for Theresa May. That may seem harsh and it puts me odd with David and Mike. But, logically, there is no other conclusion.

In increasing order of importance, she has lost two Cabinet Ministers, seen the President of the United States give succour to Brexiteers, whatever his later comments, and clear signs those who support Brexit, the bedrock of Conservative support, see the Chequers plan as a sell out, with the Conservative vote down 6pc in the Optimum poll today with UKIP rising to 8pc. Also, ominously for May, while Remainers have praised the plan and Brexiteers have condemned it, the middle of the Conservative Party has largely kept its mouth shut, suggesting a “wait and see” attitude. If May was hoping the World Cup and the Trump visit would distract from the Plan, she has been disappointed.

Secondly, I don’t think this is the end of the resignations for May. Ironically, the lack of Brexit related resignations over the past couple of days should probably worry May more. It suggests discipline on the Brexiteers part, realising that announcing resignations when England were playing in the World Cup Semi-Final and Trump was visiting would annoy its supporters ( in fact, The Sun’s front page on Tuesday was effectively a warning not to do so). These events are now over.

And any future departures and actions are likely to be well planned to create maximum harm on May. The most important departure has not been David or Johnson but that of Steve Baker, the arch-Brexiteer. Anyone who read Tim Shipman’s magnus opus on the Brexit vote will know how effectively Baker can coordinate effective guerrilla warfare against the Government. And they are likely to play clever. For example, do we really believe Suella Fernandes staying in Government is because she is convinced of May’s plan or more a way for the Brexiteers to be kept in touch with Government thinking?

What does this mean for the likely course of events?

To me, and I run the risk of being completely wrong, the course is clear. May’s Achilles Heel is not the Brexiteers like JRM but that the priority for most Conservative MPs is keeping their seats. The chances are there will be a continuing deterioration in the Conservative poll position, especially as the EU pushes for further concessions and the likelihood May will give further ground. As that happens, those MPs will become more fearful.

What makes this situation even worse for May is the unusually high number of seats in this Parliament with wafer-thiin majorities. It does not take that many voters to switch sides or abstain for the Conservatives to be looking at its seat tally rapidly falling. And as its pro-Brexit base see May as betraying true Brexit and giving in to the “Remoaners” with some determined to punish the Tories by going for “Anyone but May” that is more than plausible. Both MPs and constituency chairs will turn their thinking to how May is putting their jobs at risk and damaging the Conservative position. And the Brexit rebels will, as that happens, find more recruits to their cause.

Hence, In effect, a re-run of what happened with Thatcher in 1990 over the Poll Tax looks likely with May trying to cling on but the party deciding she is too much of a liability and she needs to go to save their seats. Re the betting implications, I think this makes it more likely May will face a challenge (and go) in 2018, probably towards the end of the year. Several have pointed out here that the unintended consequence of the challenges to Brexit is that, in the event of no-deal being reached, then hard Brexit on WTO terms is the default. That is the “promised land” to the Hardliners. So, the logical conclusion now for the hardliners would be to feed the “Stab in the back” storyline, see the Conservative vote fall further in the polls (helped by rebellions on their part), pull in more MPs who fear for their jobs, and then strike at an optimal point in time when it would become impossible to agree any sort of deal with the EU with the timeline involved. Anytime in 2019 risks being too close to the March 2019 date that the party shirks from a contest. Striking around the time of the Party Conference or afterwards makes more sense.

What about the next Conservative leader? David made a very important point about the rules being more fluid around a contest. If a contest is triggered on the above circumstances, then the 1922 and party machine will be very aware that a selection where only Remainers or soft Brexiteers are put forward as candidates to the membership would lead to open mutiny in the party and would not solve the problem. Thus, as well as speed, the Committee will want to ensure breadth. Don’t expect either of these two groups to win machinations to rig the final selection.

So a more hardline Brexiteer has to be favourite. Who are the candidates? One of the positive aspects of the Chequers result from the next leader betting market is that it has narrowed the market considerably. Any Remainer is obviously out. Those Remainers turned Brexiteers like Hunt, Javid and Williamson are also out as they will be deemed to have put career above principle and will not be trusted. Gove has burnt his bridges by so openly supporting the deal. Mourdant and Fox are out for the same reason as is Raab.

Who does that leave? I think the next leader will have to Cabinet experience because of the tasks facing the Government. So I don’t expect JRM. Davis has ruled himself out. Boris is the obvious one given his resignation but two factors will play against him, firstly he is so associated with London, which may not play well outside the capital, and, less commented on, his seat is not exactly safe, which could be a risk.

Who is left? Notice two minor Cabinet members who have kept quiet on Chequers but who have ambitions. Liz Truss was a remainer but has reinvented herself as a low tax, smaller state, pro Brexit Conservative. For me, though, Esther McVey is the one to watch. She is a Brexiteer and her Northern Working Class roots are likely to appeal to the more Working Class Tory supporters who they are losing now. While she has not resigned, she has not vocally backed Chequers, unlike Mourdant (a mistake on the latter’s part) so may be more open to being “forgiven” on the issue. The NAO issue does not seem to have gained traction. She is 100/1 on Ladbrokes for next PM.

A few other points. If the scenario above plays out, expect 2019 as the election year. A new leader will want to claim authority and Corbyn will be keen to fight. More to the point, a hard Brexit will need to have been seen to have been supported at the polls. Secondly, I don’t understand why there is such a major difference in the odds between the next Conservative leader and the next PM (Esther McVey is 66/1 on the former, 100/1 on the latter). The transition from Cameron to May showed that the two moves are linked and, unless a new leader loses the support of the DUP, it is hard to see how they would not be the next PM.

Ian Whittaker


PB Video Analysis. Brexit: How We Got Here & What We Want

July 15th, 2018

So: Brexit.

I’ve artfully avoided addressing it in my videos so far, but the time has come. Today’s video is about Brexit. Specifically, it addresses the process through which Britain joined the EEC, and then asks what the UK government actually wants from negotiations. Why have there been all these gyrations, when the EU has proposed a CETA/South Korea type relationship already?

Be warned: this video will be equally annoying to Remainers and Leavers.

Robert Smithson

Robert tweets as ‘@MarketWarbles’


Rees-Mogg moves back into the favourite slot for next CON leader

July 14th, 2018

With the pressure on Mrs Mays leadership there has been renewed interest in who will succeed her and a change in the favourite on the Betfair exchange.

The previous long-term favourite, who was edged out by Javid, Rees-Mogg is now back there as the one the punters most fancy.

A lot of course depends on when a contest takes place and it has been interesting that Moggsy’s hard brexit faction has not been ready to “press the button” on a confidence motion in the Prime Minister.

The party rules mean they have, in their own words, “only one bullet” and the last thing they want to do is move a vote of no confidence and for Theresa May to be hanging on. They could then have to wait for a year before any movement was possible.

I agree with David Herdson’s assessment on the previous thread about this actually being a good week for Theresa May. She has coped with a huge number of difficult circumstances and apparently come out of it recently level-headed.

I still think that Moggsy’s problem is what it has been and that is securing enough backing from MPs to be in the top two on the members ballot.

He’s a very divisive figure and needs to put forward a coherent plan for Brexit not just his “vassal state” sound bite.

A problem for gamblers is that the longer Mrs May stays there in apparent impossible circumstances then the chances are that she can hold on.

Mike Smithson


If there is a Tory leadership election, it could go turbo

July 14th, 2018

We shouldn’t assume that the next one will follow the path of the previous

Theresa May has had a surprisingly good week. For one thing, she’s still prime minister. This is, admittedly, setting the bar quite low but it was nothing like a foregone conclusion that she’d still be safe in post today, this time last week. Instead, she’s being praised for handling Trump’s visit with tact and dignity despite his provocations. That comes on top of the government having finally developed and published a detailed Brexit policy – with what might in retrospect come to be seen as the added bonus of the resignations of two underperforming awkward squad members – and no particularly negative response from Brussels.

Not that May’s position is anything like secure. We know that some Tory MPs have sent letters requesting a Confidence Vote; what we don’t know is how many are sitting in Graham Brady’s safe and, hence, how close the number is to the magic figure of 48, at which point a vote is triggered.

Although May ought to be safe for now – the most dangerous times for her were immediately after the Chequers meeting, after Boris’ resignation, and after the (botched) publication of the White Paper. She has survived those so there’s nothing obvious that should prompt further letters to be sent now. But if it might only take one or two more (or it might take thirty), and in the lower case, it could well be an issue unrelated to Brexit that tips the scales.

If so, the Tory Party would be in a difficult position. The current rules are reasonably well known among practitioners and observers of politics: after the leader resigns or is No Confidenced, nominations are opened and candidates need only the support of two other MPs to stand. Ballots take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with each round knocking out the lowest-scoring candidate until there are two left; those two being then forwarded to a vote of the Party membership.

Except that’s not necessarily the case. The Party’s constitution is much less prescriptive in what’s required. These are the most important sections:

The Leader shall be elected by the Party Members and Scottish Party Members.

A candidate achieving more than 50% of the vote among the Party Membership shall be declared elected Leader of the Party.

Upon the initiation of an election for the Leader, it shall be the duty of the 1922 Committee to present to the Party, as soon as reasonably practicable, a choice of candidates for election as Leader. The rules for deciding the procedure by which the 1922 Committee selects candidates for submission for election shall be determined by the Executive Committee of the 1922 Committee after consultation of the Board.

That final clause is crucial. The great majority of procedure is not set in stone within the Party constitution but is a working document that can be amended by two short meetings, of the 1922 Committee and the Party Board respectively.

What does this mean in practice? The answer to that is that the process could, if necessary, be considerably shortened. The 2001 leadership election took over three months. The 2005 contest lasted two months officially but had a long lead-in after the general election. The 2016 contest was scheduled to last well over two months until Andrea Leadsom withdrew.

However, to take two months to resolve the election, should that eventuality be forced on the Party, would be a gross indulgence in current circumstances. In any case, if a Confidence Vote was triggered on, say, Tuesday next week, and carried, then under current rules, nominations for the subsequent leadership election wouldn’t close until 26 July – two days after the parliamentary recess begins. The first round of voting would be scheduled for the week after, which is obviously a nonsense.

In reality, the rules would have to be changed, to telescope the MPs rounds. Indeed, we should be alive to the possibility that because of the Brexit time pressures, any Tory leadership election – including one after the recess – could well be carried out under different rules anyway. What might the options be? As mentioned above, the period for nominations might have to be changed but there could well be amendments to the election itself too. In ascending order of radicalness, here are four possibilities (there are, as always, others):

1. The rounds for the MPs’ exhaustive ballot could be carried out daily, over the course of a week, rather than just on successive Tuesdays and Thursdays. This would be the closest you could get to the present system, while cramming the process as short as possible.
2. The MPs’ vote to be conducted by either STV or a form of AV to produce the two candidates to go to the members i.e. the elimination rounds all take place in the same vote. While this would strip the process of MPs being able to transfer from a candidate they lose faith in but who remains in the race, as they can now, the dynamics of the race would remain broadly similar – and it would all be done within a day.
3. The MPs’ vote to be conducted by FPTP (or F2PTP). Again, a single ballot but this time, rather than redistributing votes, the two to go through would be the top two in the first (and only) round. I think this is unlikely. The process would gain little more than hours, while there’d be a much greater risk that a marmite candidate, more loathed than loved, could reach the members’ vote.
4. Most radical of all would be to do away with the MPs’ rounds altogether. The constitution only requires that the winning candidate receive more than 50% of member votes: that could be done by forwarding three or more candidates and then conducting a vote using AV. The MPs’ could filter candidates instead by significantly upping the number of nominations required in order to stand to, say, 15% of the parliamentary party (though note that the MPs are required to put a choice to the members: they couldn’t set the nomination bar so high that only one person met it).

In all honesty, I don’t think that the two systems above that differ most from the present would be used as they’re too inherently risky and don’t really gain that much. By contrast, the first two would be viable tweaks but we shouldn’t need to adjust our thinking too much.

It may be that Theresa May faces no such challenge before the end of March next year. If that’s so, then her successor will probably be elected in much the same way as her predecessor was, and as she would have been but for Leadsom’s capitulation. On the other hand, a vote before then and we could easily be looking at some emergency meetings and a turbo-charged election.

David Herdson


So what do we make of today and what are the political implications?

July 13th, 2018

What a strange day with several massive demonstrations in London, Trump describing many of his comments in the Sun this morning as fake news and the events at Chequers and Windsor castle.

The sheer scale of the protests appears quite exceptional and, of course, there is another round of them tomorrow.

This, of course, was in sharp contrast to the pomp and Ceremony of the President’s meeting with the Queen.

I find it difficult to draw conclusions and maybe we need to wait before coming to a verdict apart from the fact that Trump appears to have no concept of how to behave.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that in less than a year’s time the WH2020 White House race will be well under way.

Mike Smithson


As the two leaders prepare for lunch Betfair punters give Trump about 40% chance of re-election TMay a 62% chance of surviving 2018

July 13th, 2018

Data and charts from Betda.io

Mike Smithson


Best of luck today Theresa – you are going to need it

July 13th, 2018

With the American President, Donald Trump, on the second day of his visit to the UK the Sun is carrying an extraordinary interview with the President in which he gives his views on how Mrs May should tackle Brexit.

Views of the occupant of the White House are so negative in the UK that I wonder whether this sort of bombastic approach might just attract a lot of sympathy to Mrs May as she seeks to steer a course through one of the most challenging situations for a prime minister that we have seen in decades.

The Trump approach appears to be to “stir shit” wherever he goes and it is hard to see how the US, or the Western alliance benefits by this.

This biting Tweet is from Robert Reich who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Here is another extraordinary Tweet coming out of the Trump visit – From ex-deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Mike Smithson