Hell hath no fury like a Lib Dem scorned. For the uninitiated, the proprietor of Political Betting (and occasional mainstream-media election 'expert') Mike Smithson is a right-leaning Lib Dem who strongly urged his party to back the Tories after the 2010 election. I first became aware of just what a sore point that error of judgement had become to him only a matter of days after the coalition agreement was concluded, when I commented on the Lib Dems' plunging poll ratings. Smithson irritably snapped back : "So what, James? The next election is on May 7th 2015. Get used to it". It struck me that it was himself he was trying to convince, because while the new legislation on 'fixed term parliaments' makes an early election somewhat less likely, it comes nowhere close to excluding the possibility.
He was in even more touchy form yesterday, when I dared to take issue with his claim that Nick Clegg is a "strong" (!) leader. I pointed out that strong leaders generally don't let their coalition partners walk all over them, and that there could scarcely be anyone in Britain who doesn't now see this government as basically a Tory one. Knowing that I'm an SNP supporter, Smithson's response was to angrily lash out with this long-discredited (and utterly irrelevant for that matter) falsehood about Megrahi -
"Of course the SNP know about sticking up for itself when it became part of the shabby deal to free the Locherbie bomber."
(Note the rather telling spelling mistake - is there a loch called Erbie?!)
I flatly requested that he justify his allegation, or withdraw it. I pointed out that there couldn't be anything much shabbier than someone who was in a position to know better trotting out a claim like that without even the slightest shred of evidence.
Naturally, he was unable to justify his claim, and he failed to withdraw it. As I said - shabby.
Later in the discussion, I noticed he was being equally crabbit with the regular Labour poster Tim, who had predicted that Labour would pick up three or four Scottish Lib Dem seats at the next election -
"Which seats are those Tim and, in any case, the election is not decided on current polling.
On "current polling" in 1990 Kinnock would have won a landslide majority.
On "current polling" in Feb/Mar 2011 Lab was going to take control at Holyrood.
On "current polling" in May/June 1970 Harold Wilson was going to be returned with another majority.
On "current polling" in the summer of 2008 Cameron was going to win a lanslide."
Of course these are all perfectly valid points, but I couldn't help but notice the slight contradiction with Smithson's Nostradamus-like claim two years ago to know for a fact that the date of the next election was May 7th, 2015. I noted that I was glad he had finally woken up to the fact that events happen and situations change. He didn't care for that observation much...
"That was a good prediction - so good that Betfair closed their betting market on the election date and stopped people making money."
Of course when someone has forgotten to take their self-awareness pills, there's a limit to the extent you can reason with them, but I tried the following response all the same -
"A small hint, Mike - when you make a prediction you generally have to wait until it actually comes true before you assess whether it is "good" or not. Tim could just as easily make the smug, meaningless claim that his predictions about the Lib Dems are "good" - can you not spot the slight contradiction in what you're saying here?
As for the accuracy of Betfair, I seem to remember that they had Labour as overwhelming favourites to win the 2007 Scottish election at a point during the count when Labour people were practically touring the TV studios to concede defeat."
Well, that had torn it. For my trouble, I earned this stern rebuke from Smithson, which was hungrily "liked" by no fewer than sixteen of the PB Tory herd (surely some kind of record?) -
"Can I ask then that you do not sneer at my predictions until they are proved to be wrong?
I know that acting in a civilised fashion is probably alien to your nature but it helps. Also you need to read my book on political betting. Betfair don't "make odds" - that is done by other punters. It is a betting exchange."
Oh-kaaay. Well, that just leaves the following mysteries to be resolved -
1) Why is it perfectly all right to full-bloodedly sneer at Tim's prediction of Lib Dem losses at the next election, when the merest questioning of the Sacred Smithson Forecast of the election date is a crime on a par with nepalming a poodle? After all, the status of both predictions is absolutely identical - they have yet to be proved wrong.
2) What difference does the hair-splitting point about Betfair make to the indisputable fact that neither they nor anyone else can tell you in 2010 whether a prediction about 2015 is any "good" or not?
3) How does a man keep a straight face in criticising others for "sneering" and "uncivilised" behaviour, when on the very same thread he not only makes the above-mentioned comment about Lockerbie, but also these snide asides directed at others...
"Are you dumb or something?"
"This May is irrelevant. May 2015 is what counts as you and your friend Mr. Miliband know only too well."
Just askin'. (As annoying people say on Twitter.)
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I recommended a gentle song that captured my imagination at the Celtic Connections open stage last Saturday, so I thought I might as well do the same this week. This time it's Heather Young's performance of the Burns song Ca' the Ewes. Once again, it's the second song into the recording, so it's a bit pernickity to find.