The Tories needs to resolve divisions soon because divided parties struggle at election time

July 27th, 2017

One of the things that we know from previous elections is that parties that are seen to be divided can get punished by the voters. That was John Major’s fate at GE1997 after five difficult years of one split after another.

The current situation, as seen in the recent YouGov polling illustrated in the chart and touched on in this week’s podcast, looks challenging and could be hugely problematical if there is the need for an early election. This, of course, is something that’s made more likely with the current Commons arithmetic. That just 8% of the sample and only 15% of CON voters felt able to describe the the party as “united” is extraordinary.

What’s really striking about the poll is that when this was asked two weeks before GE17 43% said the thought to Tories were united with just 29% against. That’s a whopping turnaround.

Public splits are going to be magnified simply because of the threat to the government’s position.

Labour, as we’ve seen in the reaction within the movement to Corbyn’s weekend comments on BREXIT on the Marr show, is nearly as bad but interestingly there’s been a huge effort in the past few days to create a semblance of a unified position. I put that down to the Corbyn’s comment being poorly prepared for the Marr interview.

There’s a great article by Marie Le Conte on Vice news about the current state of thinking within the blue team and how a before the recess senior Tory figures were briefing against TMay only a few yards away from where the PM was standing at some events. It is here under the provocative heading “An Insider’s Guide to Tory In-Fighting”.

My view is that the Tory splits will continue as long as the leadership position remains uncertain.

Mike Smithson


NEW PB/Polling Matters podcast: End of term review

July 27th, 2017

As Westminster heads on its summer holidays, Keiran is joined by Polling Matters regulars Leo Barasi and Rob Vance to review the year-to-date.

The trio discuss polling showing that the Tories are now seen as more divided than Labour and they also discuss Chuka Umunna’s recent tweet that seemingly challenged the Labour leadership’s position on Europe. Keiran, Rob and Leo then look at what the myriad of polling on Brexit tells us about public opinion on the subject and indeed whether it matters considering the relative lack of difference in policy on Europe shared by the two main parties in Westminster.

The podcast concludes with each of the panellists explaining what they will be looking out for when Westminster returns in the autumn.

Listen to the episode here:

Follow this week’s guests:


Please note: The podcast will now take a three week break for the summer unless a major political story breaks.


If CON, LAB, and the SNP each got 30% of the Scottish vote Sturgeon’s party would be down to just 6 MPs

July 26th, 2017

The Times

Why the SNP could be in trouble

There’s a fascinating analysis in the Times by James Kanagasooriam of Populus of what would happen in Scotland’s 59 seats if the hree main parties there CON, LAB and the SNP each secured 30% of the vote. The projected seat totals are in the chart.

The balance of the 59 Scottish seats would go to the LDs which would once again return to its historical position as the third party st Westminster.

The reason is, of course, the first past the post voting system which favours those with large variations in support in different seats and penalises those parties whose support is more evenly spread.

Kanagasooriam notes:

“..Labour’s “youthquake” delivered surprising levels of support for the party. This was especially true in Glasgow and Edinburgh; particularly when comparing the Labour 2017 general election performance (27 per cent) with the Scottish parliament election the previous year (19 per cent on the constituency vote). It’s clear that younger voters, and those more inclined to want an independent Scotland defected to Labour in large numbers during the general election campaign. The Tory surge was, to a degree, expected. The return of Scottish Labour less so. Both together lead to losses that SNP politicians and advisers could scarcely believe on election night.

… a large number of 2015 SNP supporters simply stayed at home this year. Areas with the highest SNP vote share in 2015’s general election experienced the biggest decline in turnout in 2017…”

Back at GE2015, on 26 months ago the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats north of the border which was reduced to 35 at GE2017. Given the volatility of UK politics big changes can happen in short period as we saw with UKIP between 2015 and June 8th.

With so many rich picking apparently available in Scotland with the SNP’s decline the UK parties, as I was suggesting last week, should select leaders who are Scottish. LAB under Gordon Brown increased its Scottish vote share at GE2010 while falling back sharply elsewhere.

Mike Smithson


Today’s move against petrol and diesel vehicles will move the narrative on from Brexit

July 26th, 2017

This morning’s big political news is that the Government is set to announce that petrol and diesel vehicles will no longer be sold in the UK from 2040.

It represents a big change but the environmental and health benefits are strong and the change won’t happen for 22 years.

Given the parliamentary arithmetic and the overwhelming obsession with BREXIT this has some strong political benefits for ministers. It moves the main talking point on and it looks to have wide support. The VW group diesel scandal has brought to the fore the very real problem of air pollution in the cities which is killing people.

With the nature of the BREXI deal becoming increasingly controversial and Farage going on the attack this looks like smart politics. It at least shows that the government is doing sonething and will be widely talkied about.

The development also coincides with the news from BMW that an electric version of the Mini will be assembled at its Oxford plant.

Another interesting development in the past 24 hours is that Toyota, the firm that pioneered the hybrid, is working on an all-electric car that can be charged “within moments“.

Mike Smithson


Brace yourselves for the impending train wreck of the Brexit negotiations

July 25th, 2017

Alastair Meeks on the similarities with 1914

The biggest avoidable catastrophe of the twentieth century was the outbreak of the First World War.  A single act of terrorism emanating from a small pre-modern state was allowed by mishandling by several different nations to escalate into a war that devastated a continent.  Historians continue to argue to this day about the causes.  It is often observed that the Russian mobilisation plans entailed rigid planning.  The steps that the Russians took that were necessary to undertake war became steps that made war almost inevitable.  The process became the plan.

An avoidable catastrophe of the twenty-first century is looming.  From Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the EU last year, mishandling by both Britain and the EU is escalating a tricky but potentially soluble problem into a potentially devastating fiasco.  Once again, the rigid advance planning is the problem.

You could hardly accuse the British of rigid advance planning.  The Cabinet itself is riven over the approach that should be adopted.  As a result, its institutional planning is paralysed.

No, the problem lies with the EU.  It has defined its process as follows:

“The main purpose of the negotiations will be to ensure the United Kingdom’s orderly withdrawal so as to reduce uncertainty and, to the extent possible, minimise disruption caused by this abrupt change.

To that effect, the first phase of negotiations will aim to:

provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible to citizens, businesses, stakeholders and international partners on the immediate effects of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union;

settle the disentanglement of the United Kingdom from the Union and from all the rights and obligations the United Kingdom derives from commitments undertaken as Member State.

The European Council will monitor progress closely and determine when sufficient progress has been achieved to allow negotiations to proceed to the next phase…

… an overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship should be identified during a second phase of the negotiations under Article 50 TEU….

… To the extent necessary and legally possible, the negotiations may also seek to determine transitional arrangements which are in the interest of the Union and, as appropriate, to provide for bridges towards the foreseeable framework for the future relationship in the light of the progress made…

The two year timeframe set out in Article 50 TEU ends on 29 March 2019.”

This is very prescriptive.  But almost all of this process has nothing to do with Article 50’s requirements and instead it has been conjured up by bureaucrats.  In fact, it is doubtful whether this phased approach is aligned with Article 50, since Article 50 requires the EU to act “taking account of the framework for [the departing state’s] future relationship with the Union”, an obligation which is only referenced in the second phase and not at all in the main purpose of the negotiations.  If the second phase is not reached (which has to be a distinct possibility), the EU will have failed to meet its obligations.

Worse, the process is designed to eat up time.  The EU’s Article 50 train lines look rigid and cumbersome.  The items in phase 1 are hardly free from controversy and progress might be slow.  But the matters to be dealt with in phase 2 are also highly important to both sides, and the time to consider them may be very compressed indeed.  Perhaps the idea was that the EU can impose its take on a Britain that by then might be desperate to get a bad deal rather than no deal.  If so, that always looked like a risky gamble but with a hung Parliament it now looks reckless.  If the EU sticks to its agreed plan, the risk of a disorderly departure must be very substantial.  As with the Russian mobilisation arrangements, the process is becoming the plan.

Another similarity with July 1914 also presents itself.  No nation actively wanted a continent-wide war.  But no one wanted peace enough to take the steps necessary to avoid a full conflagration.  Both the EU and Britain want a deal.  But neither at present looks willing to compromise enough to make a deal achievable.  So right now it looks more likely than not that no deal will be achieved.  Brace yourselves.

Alastair Meeks


Mr. Corbyn is playing a dangerous game with the majority of LAB voters who want to remain

July 25th, 2017


He’s got away with it so far but that could end abruptly

One of the extraordinary features about the current febrile political situation is that Corbyn is taking a totally different line on Brexit from the vast majority of Labour voters. His ambivalence survived the GE2017 campaign because, frankly, no one believed his party stood an earthly and it didn’t receive the critical attention Team TMay had to deal with.

Now LAB is leading in the polls (2% up in today’s YouGov) and the leader is coming under greater scrutiny.

The latest YouGov Brexit polling tracker is above and shows the party splits and highlights the vast gap between the rhetoric from the LAB leadership and those who actually support the party.

There’s a good article from Hugo Rifkind in the Times (£) this morning about the widespread misconceptions about Corbyn. This is what he notes on Brexit.

“…..Another misconception, albeit one that may have somewhat hit the skids this weekend past, is the idea that Corbyn, at heart, is sad that we are leaving the European Union. “So what,” his Remainer supporters shrug, “if he voted to leave the common market (1975), voted against the single market (1986), opposed Maastricht (1992), opposed Lisbon (2007), and campaigned for Remain (last year) with all the keen enthusiasm of a chap with vicious haemorrhoids having his annual prostate check-up? He’s still one of us!”

This misconception survived even his sacking of three shadow ministers for backing a pro-single market amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which led Nigel Farage, of all people, to declare “he’s almost a proper chap”. Billy Bragg, the folk singer, immediately declared that Corbyn must be playing a cunning “long game”, with a plan to soften Brexit once the Tories had self-destructed over it. Hey, it’s a theory. This weekend, the Labour leader told the BBC that his party would leave the single market so as to end “wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe”. Is this the great antidote to Tory Brexit? Is it the politics that the crowds of Glastonbury gathered to cheer? Doubtless, some will be frenetically triangulating, right now, to find a way to insist that it was…”

The LAB leader has got away with it so far but I get a sense that the pro-Corbyn media narrative is starting to fade and when that happens things can change very quickly. His explanation on on what appeared to be a campaign promise on student fees looked feeble.

Mike Smithson


The Premiership will be more dominated by teams from REMAIN areas next season

July 24th, 2017

Not long now before the big kick-off and I’ve updated my chart showing the referendum vote in the local authority areas where the 20 teams have their grounds.

Last season the EPL was spit between 10 REMAIN areas teams and 10 LEAVE ones. The relegation of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull and their replacement by Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield means that the split is now 12-8 to Remain.

The pattern is not really surprising given that most of the big clubs are inevitably from the big cities which were much more Remain focused than others.

Mike Smithson


TMay doesn’t need reminding. Within a month of making his CON 2003 conference speech IDS was ousted.

July 24th, 2017

And he hadn’t lost an election

According to the Indy 15 CON MPs have sent no confidence letter to the the Chair of the 1922 committee. This is part of the party’s formal process for ousting a leader. If 48 such letters are received then there would have to be a confidence vote amongst the parliamentary party.

All this is reminiscent of what happened to Iain Duncan Smith in October 2003. Sufficient letters went in and there was a vote which saw the end of his leadership and the election, without having to face a contest, of Michael Howard.

    What looks decidedly challenging for the prime minister is the Conservative conference in the first week in October. This ends with the leader’s speech and what could be crucial for her future is how well that is received

IDS’s speech, as in the clip above, was very well received by the conference with more than a dozen standing ovations and applause that lasted for a staggering eight minutes afterwards – which is something of a record.

That was no guide, however, to what was going to happen. His fate was sealed.

She is at her best when she is talking TO an audience and far worse when she is having to interact as we saw during the general election campaign.

Based on the Duncan Smith experience in 2003 we should not take too much notice of the number or length of standing ovations. At the end of that speech the audience applauded the leader for more than eight minutes which I believe was a record that has never been exceeded.

This did not prevent the letters going in and the formal challenge and ultimate end of his leadership.

I tend to agree with Nick Palmer’s post before the weekend that TMay will probably survive but this is far from certain.

Mike Smithson