Generally on days like this George Osborne improves his Betfair “Next PM” chances

November 25th, 2015


Why my money’s gone on the Chancellor this morning

Today’s the chancellor’s autumn statement – the second big set piece of Mr. Osborne’s parliamentary year. Usually, the “Omnishambles” budget of 2012 apart, he gets a good initial reaction and the betting markets respond accordingly.

So I’ve developed a little trading procedure to try to profit. I back Osbo on Betfair’s next PM markets before speeches and lay him in the months ahead when things often don’t look as good. In July I was on George at an average of 5.8 (that 4.8/1 in conventional odds) on Betfair’s next PM market and got out completely in September/October at an average 3.02 (just over 2/1). That produced a nice profit.

Clearly the market have downgraded his chances quite sharply and this morning I was back betting the Chancellor once again – this time at 3.8 or 2.8/1.

I’m in for the short term. I don’t know whether George will make it in the end but my guess is that perceptions will improve.

Back in the heady days of June and July Osbo moved to a 50% “next PM” chance on Betfair. Then he could do no wrong. Since then the tax credits saga has taken its toll and my bet was at a level that rates his chances at 26%.

One thing about Osborne is that he learns from past mistakes. There’ve been no more 2012-type budgets.

Mike Smithson


The good people of Oldham West could also be electing a future LAB leader possibly the next one

November 25th, 2015

Expect big things for Jim McMahon OBE if he wins the by-election

One thing that’s puzzled me about the Oldham by-election is why the leader of Oldham council put himself forward as candidate. He’s already a big figure within the party and, indeed, was being widely tipped as a serious contender for the second biggest elected post in England after the Mayor of London.

This is, of course, the elected mayoralty of new greater Manchester authority – the heart of George Osborne’s so called Northern Powerhouse. Whoever gets that will have a massive job and a huge amount of personal power. By comparison the role of a back bench opposition MP will seem rather small.

I cannot believe that the bright and resourceful Mr McMahon has not thought that one through and that he’s seen an opportunity for himself in moving his ambition from a regional to a national level.

It is not as though the current crop of LAB MPs contains many really talented people with leadership potential. That was, after all, the reason why Corbyn stood out in the summer contest. The pool of available top level talent in the party is so small.

One thing that those who’ve observed him during this campaign have commented on is how able he is and what a good candidate LAB has. He’s personable, articulate and engaging. He’s also said to have a real presence and he’s still in his mid-30s.

He could be a good long shot bet as Corbyn’s successor.

Mike Smithson


Statement’s like McCluskey’s on Premier League managers are usually the sign of trouble

November 24th, 2015

Union acion could be what does for Corbyn in the end

It’s been another day dominated by Mr. Corbyn and the Tories are getting an easy ride over the bullying scandal that has been developing.

Earlier UNITE boss, McCluskey, was reported as saying that the LAB leader would have to improve. Tonight there’s been a statement of support.

It mightn’t be that those who backed Corbyn in last September’s election don’t care too much about Labour winning back power but I’d guess that the unions realise that life for them will be tougher if the Tories stay in power.

    Leaders have both to deliver electorally as well as articulate a policy portfolio that satisfies their internal audience.

Whatever the YouGov LAB selectorate polling might say the union bosses are going to get mighty restless if as we get closer to the general election Labour looks as far from power as it does at the moment.

I agree with those pointing to next May’s local London, Holyrood and Welsh Assembly elections. There needs to be signs of progress because really poor performances will be used by the leader’s opponents, of whom there are many, to seek to undermine. In Scotland, where LAB dominated for so long, it is not being fanciful to talk in terms of them coming third in the Scottish Parliament election.

Oldham, a week on Thursday, looks tight but a victory is a victory however slim the margin.

Mike Smithson


Ex-LAB MP Nick Palmer says “Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival”

November 24th, 2015


How do modern political parties cope with change?

The current turbulence in Labour is part of a wider picture seen across the West. Simmering dissatisfaction with established parties and politicians is generating support for iconoclastic individuals and movements in nearly every country to an extent not seen for a long time. From Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to Syriza, Podemos, UKIP, the AfD, the FN and numerous others, merely being not part of the familiar establishment attracts a wave of interest. In Britain, it’s not clear if Labour will settle in markedly different policy positions to its previous stance, and a bad-tempered European referendum with a Leave victory or narrow defeat could leave us talking in similar terms about the Conservatives.

As punters assess how likely these trends are to stay, there is a non-trivial general question. Leave aside whether these changes are good or bad. How can political parties legitimately change their political positioning?

Traditionally, in Britain, these things are leader-driven. A leader (Blair, Thatcher) says, “Things can’t go on like this, we need to change.” The party and the wider electorate may or may not go along with it, but if they succeed the membership generally either puts up with it or leaves. However, the democratisation of leadership elections (membership rather than MPs) increases the likelihood that restless members elect a leader with different views to most MPs – who by definition were selected when the party was whatever it was before.

At this point, honest disagreement can arise, separate from any rivalries or bitterness. Say you’re  a pro-Trident Labour MP but the party votes to scrap it, or a pro-EU Tory if the party has elected a Eurosceptic leader. It’s not that you hate the leader or the membership, but you find yourself in disagreement with it. What do you do?

One answer is “defy the party and vote the other way”. But if you do that across a wide range of issues, inevitably both members and electorate will be unsure what they’re voting for.

Another is “sigh wearily and go along with it”. But what if the issues are central to your beliefs?

A third is “defect to the other side”. But that’s like getting divorced and marrying someone you’ve been feuding with for years – it goes against the grain.

A fourth is “set up a new party”, but we’ve seen where that tends to lead with FPTP – oblivion, and the end of your working life.

Don’t underestimate the interest that MPs have in survival. The number of alternative Parliaments that they could join if they lose their seats is more or less zero. It’s no more dishonourable to think about that than it is in any other walk of life, and MPs will be influenced by polling as well as personal belief.

The members have a similar problem. Mad fanatics are a rarity: most members rather like their MPs (who they chose and voted for) and make plenty of allowance for honest differences of view. But ultimately there will come a point where they get tired of their representative constantly disagreeing with them. There isn’t an iron law – legal or moral – that says that the current parliamentary membership of any party has an absolute right to determine policy forever.

What parties have to try to do is discuss possible change with as little rancour as possible (which is difficult) and a clear sense of what is a fundamental expectation and what is merely a preference.

Both MPs and members need to be frank during this process – there isn’t anything dishonourable about saying politely, “If we change to policy X I shall feel I can no longer be your MP” or “If you don’t feel able to support X then I’m afraid we need to find someone who does.”. But out of common sense everyone needs to minimise the list of such policies. For example, I know lots of people who have definite views for or against fracking, but I’ve never met anyone who changed their party over it or talked of deselecting an MP who disagreed. I’m not sure that Trident is that decisive for most Labour people either, for all the rhetoric – a weapon system that nobody can imagine using is neither quite as valuable or quite as horrific as one might suppose. Similarly, many Tories have a definite view on Europe, but I’m not sure that many would really quit the party if it moved in the opposite direction.

Two conclusions. First, it’s important that the legitimacy of disagreement is accepted. Of course an MP selected in a different time may think differently to a group of new members: it doesn’t mean either is morally wrong, and all sides need to think hard before deciding that an issue is absolutely make or break for them. Second, the pressure of personal loyalty and continuing political careers will tend to dampen down apparently irretrievable differences. Journalists like to highlight the drama, but despite Trident and Europe and whatever else comes up, I suspect that the political landscape in 2020 will look less different than we might think, with few defections or deselections and no new parties. Politicians, generally, play the long game. In Britain, it’s often the only game in town.

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010


You can get 11/8 on Corbyn being leader at general election. Why I’m not tempted

November 24th, 2015


As the national polls show LAB’s plight getting worse party members remain very loyal to their new leader

November 23rd, 2015

It’s hard to see how at this stage Corbyn can be ousted


Has there ever been a scene like this before – the opposition leader on his own on the front while the PM speaks

November 23rd, 2015


Do 1 in 5 British Muslims really ‘sympathise with Jihadis’?

November 23rd, 2015

Keiran Pedley looks at this morning’s front page of The Sun and argues that we should always check the small print when reading opinion polls.

As someone that has spent most of his professional life reading opinion polls I have always enjoyed this scene from Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey explains to Bernard how to rig an opinion poll. It’s a funny scene but does demonstrate a pretty important point that all pollsters know – opinion poll results are often as much about how the question is asked as what the question actually is.

This feels particularly relevant today as the front page of The Sun screams ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy with Jihadis’. On face value, this is a very worrying finding for obvious reasons.


However, when you look at the data behind the headline things start to unravel a bit. It should be said first and foremost that polling a representative sample of a religious group is very difficult. Tom Mludzinski of ComRes and Maria Sobolewska of the University of Manchester explain why in more detail on last week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast here and Matt Singh is good on this today here too.

However, my real complaint about this poll is the complete disconnect between the wording of the question and the way the result has been displayed in this morning’s paper. The actual question wording can be found below. Keep in mind that this is the question that has led to the headline on the front page of The Sun claiming that one in five British Muslims have sympathy with Jihadis.

So what is wrong with this question? Firstly, it sets a very low bar for support. The one in five figure that The Sun quotes includes anyone that expresses at least ‘some’ sympathy with young Muslims that join fighters in Syria. However, I think that the words ‘sympathy’ and ‘fighters in Syria’ are the most important here. ‘Sympathy’ does not mean support. It can do but the link is not certain. It could just mean that they understand why a young person might go to Syria even if they disagree with the decision. Even more importantly, what should we suppose that ‘fighters in Syria’ actually means? Again, it ‘could’ mean ISIS or perhaps it doesn’t. Notice how the words ‘ISIS’ and ‘Jihadis’ are not mentioned in the poll question but are used in the headline and in this opening line of the supporting article.

This might sound very picky and pedantic but it is important. Let’s consider how an alternative question wording might have been answered.

Do you support or oppose young British Muslims leaving the UK to fight for ISIS in Syria?

1) Strongly support

2) Somewhat support

3) Neither support or oppose

4) Somewhat oppose

5) Strongly oppose

6) Don’t know

Not a perfect question by any means but you can see how it might have produced very different results to the one above. It makes the ‘fighting for ISIS’ point much more explicit.

Perhaps the question was not designed to elicit the headline that it did. This is a common problem for pollsters. We often have no control over how the results of our polls are presented in the public domain. However, in instances such as today – on such a sensitive topic and in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks – the media has a real responsibility to be careful with how it presents poll findings. I think The Sun has got it wrong this morning.

The average person on the street is not going to go to the trouble of scrutinising sampling techniques or question wording. What they will see is a headline on the front page of one of the most popular newspapers in the country that nudges to an ‘enemy within’ – with a giant picture of a knife-wielding ‘Jihadi John’ just in case you didn’t get the message. It leaves a sour taste to behonest.

In this piece I do not seek to play down the scale of the threat posed to our national security from Islamist terrorism. It is real and needs to be dealt with at home and abroad. However, the media has a real responsibility not to make things worse and today’s Sun splash was unhelpful in that regard and unjustified based on the data it was based on. After all, using the same data, it could just as easily have said ‘Just 1 in 20 British Muslims sympathise with those travelling to Syria’. I will leave others to judge why it did not.

Keiran Pedley tweets on polling and politics at @keiranpedley and presents the podcast ‘Polling Matters’