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If there was a CON leadership contest tomorrow my money would go on Javid and Hunt

June 18th, 2018

Betdata.io

Theresa’s travails on Brexit over the past week have made it that bit less possible that she’ll survive as leader and PM to Brexit and beyond. I thought John Rentoul summed this up right in the Indy:

Until this week, I assumed May would be the prime minister who took us out of the EU in March. Her strategy of delay, procrastination and attrition isn’t pretty, and risks cutting the Brexit deadline fine, but it seemed to be working. This week, it didn’t. ..

Rentoul is talking up the prospects of the new HomeSec, Sajid Javid:

“..This week Javid lifted the cap on immigration for NHS doctors and nurses, and .. he helped to change government policy to allow a boy in Northern Ireland to import cannabis oil to treat a life-threatening condition. May’s distraction by Brexit means he can make popular policy changes and take the credit for them.

He has only been at the Home Office for six weeks and already he has ended the “hostile environment” policy on illegal immigration that gave us the Windrush scandal, made his peace with the Police Federation, the toughest trade union after the British Medical Association, and promised to deliver a law against upskirting after a maverick Tory MP blocked it.”

Michael Gove is the current betting favourite, see the chart above, and, of course, there is still Rees-Mogg who has fallen out of favour with punters of late. I think that the former long-term favourite, Johnson, is now out of it and he no longer appears to be the Tory who can reach groups of voters that other leading figures couldn’t. His tenure at the Foreign Office hasn’t helped.

Then there is the HealthSec, Hunt, who has been in the cabinet without break right from the formation of the coalition in May 2010. He’s a survivor and could be the safe pair of hands that the party turns to.

Of course everything in CON contests depends on first being able to make one of the top two places in the voting amongst party MPs for it only their names that go forward to the membership.

Mike Smithson





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LAB continues to have double digit lead on the NHS but the gap is narrowing

June 17th, 2018

Will TMay’s latest move make it even better for her?

A few weeks ago at PMQs Jeremy Corbyn reminded the PM that in the 1947/48 period when the NHS legislation was going through parliament it had been opposed by the Tories. That such a line can still resonate 70 years on is really quite remarkable and highlights the ongoing vulnerability that the Conservatives have on the National Health Service.

The National Health Service has always been a LAB issue and will always be raised whenever the pressure is placed upon them. In the recent Lewisham East by-election the main message from the successful Labour candidate was that they were the party of the NHS and that they would protect services better.

Quite what the Tories can do about this is hard to say. My general view in the past is that the best thing for the blue team is that they all is keep off the subject because it’s one on which they can never win.

The above polling table from YouGov shows how the firm’s best party on the NHS tracker has moved since the general election. The positive news for the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is that the gap is closing which is good for him and his party. In fact he is now the longest serving Health Secretary ever and I think that his manner has played a part in the Conservatives recovery on the matter. I like the fact that he does a simple things like always wears an NHS badge in his buttonhole whenever he appears in public.

Now we have got this morning’s announcement from Mrs May fleshing out the promise to put more money into the service and that might reinforce the trend the fact that it is going to be paid for buy resume, presumably, higher taxes is irrelevant period there seems to be a public attitude appetite4 more going out for better services.

The real problem, of course, is that the pressure gets so much greater as each year goes by because of the proportion of elderly in the population. So the 3.4% that Mrs May is now talking about will really only enable the NHS to stand still.

The most that the Tories can ever really hope for on the NHS is that it is not a big and negative for the party and political liability as it could be.

Mike Smithson




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Tipping point. Why Scotland’s ultimate independence now looks inevitable

June 17th, 2018

Wednesday was not one of those days when it was difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance.  The SNP launched a choreographed flounce from the House of Commons following a spat between their leader Ian Blackford and the Speaker over the treatment of Scotland’s position in the Brexit debates.

The government was quick to accuse the SNP of pulling a stunt and of manufacturing discontent.  It’s certainly true that the SNP haven’t exactly gone out of their way to seek concord with Westminster in the past.  When copies of the SNP’s staging notes were discovered, the Conservatives claimed that the stunt had backfired. 

The following day, however, the SNP announced that they had signed up 5,085 new members in the previous 24 hours.  The former editor of the Daily Record, Murray Foote, who had been instrumental in 2014 in putting together the unionist Vow in the last week of the referendum campaign, announced that he was now a supporter of independence.  Stunt or no stunt, the SNP have struck a chord with some.

What’s the deal?  Well, the Speaker had allotted just 15 minutes in the Brexit debates on Tuesday to discuss post-Brexit devolution concerns.  Given that the Scottish Parliament had not accepted the Westminster government’s approach to devolved matters in Brexit, the SNP felt that this was wholly inadequate.  Ian Blackford had asked the Speaker to extend the debate, and the Speaker had refused: hence the walkout.

We now enter constitutional niceties that are of no interest at all to the English.  (This uninterest, incidentally, is an important point that I will come back to.)  Devolution, as the word suggests, is a devolving of power from Westminster to Holyrood.  It means that in theory at least Westminster can overrule Holyrood when push comes to a shove.  This makes Holyrood’s power contingent on Westminster’s goodwill.

At the time, it was recognised by the government that devolution needed more entrenchment.  So a constitutional convention was created at the instigation of Lord Sewel, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at the time of the passage of the Scotland Act 1998, under which the UK government would not normally seek to legislate on devolved matters except with the agreement of the devolved legislature.  

This convention, which applies to the devolved assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland as well, was reaffirmed by the UK government as recently as 2013.  Unusually for a constitutional convention, it is referred to in legislation.  Section 28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998 provides:

“But it is generally recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”

In practice, the devolved assemblies have rarely refused consent. So far they have done so just ten times in aggregate.  The Scottish Parliament has done so only twice (the Welsh have been much more awkward in practice).  The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the second time on which it has done so.  So it can hardly be said in reality that the SNP government in reality has been fomenting discontent on a routine basis.

The Scots took a very different view of the EU referendum from the English. The Scottish government has a genuine concern that Westminster might seek to use the repatriation of powers from Brussels as the opportunity for a power grab at Holyrood’s expense. 

Theresa May’s government has been desultory in addressing these concerns.  No doubt its attention span for Scottish matters has been sharply diminished, given its need to negotiate with the EU, the hardline Brexiters, the rebellious Remainers and the DUP and, for that matter, to reach an agreed position itself.  Nevertheless, the strong impression has been given of a government that is intending to steamroller its way past the rebellious Scots by the use of its residual power and forcing a settlement on its terms.

It is against this background that the battle between Holyrood and the UK government came to be considered this week in Parliament.  For English MPs, this is a complete sideshow.  For the Scots, however, it goes to the heart of devolution.  For Parliament to allocate just 15 minutes to discuss the impact of Brexit on the constitutional framework of devolution was an insult to the Scots.

At such points it is usual to say that the optics of such a dismissive approach to devolution are appalling.  But that wouldn’t be correct on this occasion: it is the dismissive approach itself that is appalling.  

The fact that devolution throws up some very difficult problems in relation to Brexit does not mean that devolution should be treated as a disposable luxury: those difficult problems should have been engaged with and considered properly by the House of Commons.

It is this fundamental unseriousness of the English towards devolution which is going to doom the current constitutional settlement.  When the architect of the Vow gives up on unionism, it is likely that many others will follow.

The economics of Scottish independence continue to look daunting.  But where there’s a will there’s a way.  Scots will not indefinitely accept a grace-and-favour devolution.  This week may well have been the week when Scottish independence became an inevitability.

Alastair Meeks




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Lady Chope and their daughter must be so proud of Sir Christopher

June 16th, 2018

Is TMay having second thoughts about giving him a knighthood?

One thing’s for sure – the MP for Christchurch who was knighted in the last New Year’s Honours, is going to get a lot more media coverage following his blocking on Friday of the private member’s bill to stop what’s known as upskirting.

It is being argued on his behalf that this was more than about the issue itself but that he, and fellow CON MP, Phillip Davies took their action on Friday because they hate private members’s bills and the two have a long record of blocking such moves.

    It is even being said that he didn’t know what up-skirting was.

That maybe the case but that makes the optics look even worse for Chope and his party. Those CON MPs who were WhatsApping their concerns about in the immediate aftermath were absolutely right. This is bad news for the party and is one of those things that will be remembered.

Ministers have, quite rightly from a political standpoint, made clear that legislation will be brought in and that will mitigate to a certain extent some of the damage. No doubt those debates will see one Tory MP after another dissociating themselves from Chope.

As for the 71 year old Christchurch MP this looks set to be the on thing he’ll be most remembered for. More fool him.

Mike Smithson




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Britain’s brittle stalemate

June 16th, 2018

Lewisham East reveals the essential weakness of all three national parties

Interpreting by-election results is very much in the eye of the beholder. Some, it’s true, are unambiguous in their outcome for one party or another. Lewisham East is not one such.

Labour can happily chalk up that they got the job done without fuss. They won the seat and no clear challenger arose. However, it was nothing like a ringing endorsement. The turnout was dire (only the 16th occasion since WW2 that the turnout in a by-election was less than half the previous general election, as Matt Singh notes in his excellent summary of the by-election). That alone is good evidence that there was no great enthusiasm for any of the competing parties (nor of any great desire to punish any of them either). With Labour’s vote share slumping by more than 15%, this was no great result to write home about. Much has been written about the gains by the Lib Dems but it should also be noted that the Greens and WEP took about 6% between them. Corbyn’s Labour should not be shipping votes to those sort of parties.

Not that the Tories can celebrate. There was the potential to do reasonably well in Lewisham, where the Party’s vote has been solid over the years. A low turnout combined with a 35% Leave share to go at while Labour and the Lib Dems fought on strongly Remain platforms should have formed the basis for holding more share than they did and for making a better fist of fighting for second place. As it happened, Labour’s troubles meant that there was a nominal Lab-to-Con swing of more than 4% but that’s small comfort (that said, Rod Crosby, once of this parish, would have said that fact pointed to a Con majority next election; I remain of the view that such methodology is overly deterministic). The best that can be said of the Tory performance is that there was no embarrassment, which is a low bar.

And the Lib Dems? Surely they had an outstanding result? Well, it depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, yes, they gained a swing of nearly 20% – the largest for 35 years against a Labour defence while Labour was in opposition – and they quintupled their vote share. However, on the other, these achievements were a consequence of not quite reversing the disasters of 2015 and 2017. Despite throwing the kitchen sink at the campaign, the Lib Dem vote share failed to match their general election share in the seat in 2010. A resurgence, yes, but expensively bought and not one that holds many lessons for broader elections.

The simple truth is that all the parties have serious weaknesses; something which shows up equally well in the opinion polls. There’s surely little doubt that were Labour led by a Blair, not only would the Conservatives not be polling in the forties but they wouldn’t even be in the thirties. Likewise, against a government easily comparable to John Major’s beleaguered administration, Labour doesn’t even have a lead and the Lib Dems are in single figures.

Digging below the voting intention questions gives even better evidence for the general lack of enthusiasm in the options on offer. In the most recent YouGov poll (11-12 June; Con lead +3), some 66% responded that they thought the government’s Brexit negotiations were going badly, including 40% of Tory voters; the net score of -45 for the well/badly balance was the worst yet recorded. Despite that, the Conservatives still had a lead of 10% over Labour as to which party would handle Brexit best.

On the face of it, the impression is of two immutable blocks of voters stuck in mutual hostility: the voting intention figures have barely shifted since the 2017 general election (there was a small swing to Labour immediately after it, which gave Labour a small lead, but that has now dissipated). However, to the extent that that’s true, it’s surely only so because of the number who are locked in because of fear of the other. Were that fear to lessen, not only would some be attracted directly but others, who felt the need to back the Tories out of fear of Corbyn, or Labour out of fear of the Tories and Brexit – for example – could explore other parties or abstaining. The stalemate is hard but brittle.

David Herdson

 



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Local By-Election Review : June 14th 2018

June 15th, 2018

Town on Doncaster (Lab defence)
Result: Labour 1,084 (47% +8% on last time), Yorkshire 570 (25% -1% on last time), Green 294 (13% -1% on last time), Conservative 260 (11% -11% on last time), Liberal Democrat 66 (3%, no candidate last time), Independent 43 (2%, no candidate last time)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 514 (22%) on a swing of 4.5% from Yorkshire to Labour

London Bridge and West Bermondsey on Southwark (New wards)
Emboldened denotes elected
Liberal Democrats 1,340, 1,281, 1,270 (44%)
Labour 1,239, 1,215, 1,171 (41%)
Conservatives 221, 219, 205 (7%)
Green Party 215, 191 (7%)
Three Liberal Democrat WINS
Southwark Council: Labour 49, Liberal Democrats 14
Labour HOLD with a majority of 35

Compiled by Harry Hayfield



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Lewisham East: Five take aways

June 15th, 2018

Voters tend to avoid avoidable by-elections

The most striking statistic from the overnight result was the turnout which dropped from 69% at the general election just over a year ago to 33% yesterday. This is one of the biggest falls compared with the previous General Election on record and simply underlines what has been observed before. If a vacancy is avoidable, the incumbent MP has not died or become incapacitated, then voters tend to be less keen to participate and also punish the incumbent party. This effect was exacerbated here because the former LAB MP went less than a year after the general election.

The Tory vote is hard to squeeze
The LDs put a lot of effort into trying to persuade Tory voters to vote for them as the party most likely to beat Labour. Although the blue team saw a decline it was nothing like on the scale LAB in Richmond Park in December 2016 when the total Labour vote was fewer than the number of members in the constituency.

The LD canvas projection yet again proved to be remarkably predictive

When the party first issued one of these, before the Richmond by-election, I thought it would undermine their credibility if the result proved it to be wrong. Well Lewisham East has given further credence to this means of working out how the by-election will go. I put this down to the sheer size of the party’s voter contact effort and their skill at processing it.

Getting 50%+ is not too bad for Corbyn

All the talk beforehand was that Labour voters might wish to punish the leadership for having a broadly different view on Brexit to what most of them feel. Well Corbyn’s party vote went down a fair bit but nothing on the scale of that which was predicted and maybe we are overstating the impact on brexit on party allegiances.

The LDs have got their by-election mojo back
Being 65 percentage points behind Labour at the June 2017 election meant that the task facing the party was pretty massive and the chances of a shock victory were really very remote. But they did well pulling up 21 points on GE2017 most of it at the expense of LAB. The campaign A-team was running this election and this will give them a lot of encouragement.

Mike Smithson



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The lastest Lewisham East odds and expectations

June 14th, 2018

TSE