Thursday, June 20, 2019

Humiliation for Ruth Davidson as Tory leadership result proves no-one in Westminster is listening to her

What seems like a billion years ago (but in fact it was only a few months), there used to be this crazy notion that Ruth Davidson might be the next Prime Minister.  Bookies used to list her as a serious contender.  When her fans began to come to terms with the fact that wasn't going to happen, we started to hear about how she was instead going to be the "kingmaker".  Well, today has exploded that myth in rather comical fashion.  Having failed to persuade her own Scottish Tory MPs to follow her directions, her preferred candidate Savid Javid was easily eliminated at lunchtime.  She then immediately transferred her support to Michael Gove, with sources briefing that this was an opportunity for the Scottish Tory leadership to exercise some influence.  Well, if there was any influence, it somehow managed to drop Michael Gove down a place from second to third, meaning he was eliminated as well.

Having two endorsements blow up in her face in the space of one day is really quite an achievement for Ruth, and I suspect up-and-coming Tory hopefuls will be asking her to keep her distance from now on.  Let's hear no more nonsense from the media about how she has influence or leverage in the corridors of power - she clearly has none whatsoever.  Scottish voters should be under no illusions that if they vote Tory in a general election, they're voting for the Westminster Tory party in all its ugliness, and not for Ruth Davidson.

Conservative party leadership election (final ballot of MPs):

Boris Johnson 160
Jeremy Hunt 77
Michael Gove 75

Michael Gove eliminated, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt proceed to members' ballot.

What does this mean for us?  Well, in one sense it might be just as well to see the back of Gove.  Even in a contest in which all the candidates were frantically outbidding each other on who was going to crack down the hardest on Scottish democracy, Gove stood out as the most obsessed with "our precious, precious Union", which may well be why Davidson belatedly backed him.  Apparently he had been floating some madcap plan to get a "Union Guarantee" written into international law, whatever that might mean.   It's also possible that having a Tory leader with a Scottish accent might have been of some marginal help to the party in defending their north-east seats against the SNP, so at least that danger has been averted.

However, I do believe that having Boris in Number 10 is going to be a double-edged sword for the SNP.  He'd probably make it easier for Yes to win an independence referendum, but in the short term, I suspect he'll win back votes from the Brexit Party in Scotland as much as anywhere else, which will make it less challenging for the Scottish Tories to retain at least some of their seats.

Johnson v Gove in the members' ballot would have sent a powerful message to the EU, with the only question being which of the two leading members of the Leave campaign was going to be in charge during the Brexit endgame.  As it is, we have a Leaver versus a Remainer - but that may not make a whole lot of difference, because if Hunt's words can be taken at face value, he's more open to the possibility of No Deal than Theresa May was.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 21 of the fundraiser, and so far £7555 has been raised. That's 89% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A tentative forecast for the second round of the Tory leadership contest

As my 2016 track record will bear witness to, ballots of Tory MPs are notoriously hard to predict.  The classic example was Margaret Thatcher topping the first ballot in 1975 when Edward Heath was expected to easily see off her challenge.  More recently, there was the drama of 1997, when William Hague defied expectations of a virtual dead heat on the final ballot to defeat Kenneth Clarke comfortably, and 2001, when ruthlessly effective tactical voting robbed the frontrunner Michael Portillo of his place in the members' ballot by a single vote.

Nevertheless, with the health warning that everything I'm about to say is likely to be proved wrong within a matter of hours, here's how I see the state of play for each candidate going into today's second round.

Rory Stewart:  Ah, the pride of "The Middleland".  Arch-nemesis of Roman Emperors and their wicked walls.  Barking mad though he is, it's impossible to deny that Rory was the clear winner of the Channel 4 debate on Sunday night - he made Hunt and Javid look bland, he made Raab look like an extremist, and he made Gove look like an idiot.  He'll also presumably have been boosted more than the other candidates by the departure of Matt Hancock (irrespective of Hancock's opportunistic endorsement of Boris Johnson).  I expect Rory to make a big leap today and to survive the cut once again, although the million dollar question is how high up the pecking-order he'll be.  Even if he makes it to the final two, though, he doesn't have a hope in hell of actually winning the leadership, because the members' ballot is literally unwinnable for anyone who isn't a hardline Brexiteer.  So he's going for the silver medal, in the hope that will leave him well-placed for a future tilt at the leadership once the Brexit kaleidoscope has shifted.

Jeremy Hunt: Solid but unspectacular in the Channel 4 debate.  Doesn't seem to be particularly going forwards or backwards at the moment.  His hopes of reaching the final two will hinge upon no-one else having sufficient momentum to overtake him.

Sajid Javid: Of the six remaining candidates, he strikes me as being the least likely to make it to the members' ballot.  That's not to say he'll be in sixth place today - he may well be higher than that.  But it's hard to see his path to reaching the top two, because he doesn't have a big enough natural constituency.  Stewart has the pro-Europeans, Hunt has the establishment, Johnson has the careerists and some of the Brexit headbangers, Raab has the rest of the headbangers, and Gove has the kitten-who-thinks-he's-Rambo fan-vote.  Who does Javid have?

Michael Gove: I keep wondering if he realises just how ridiculous he's making himself look with the hard man routine.  I can only assume he doesn't.  But Tories react differently to that sort of thing than the rest of us, so God knows.

Dominic Raab: He's had a poor campaign so far, and he continued to be uninspiring in the Channel 4 debate.  But I just wonder if he might be on the verge of a breakthrough in spite of himself.  There's a clear incentive for the Brexit true believers to lend Raab a tactical vote in the hope of stopping Stewart, Gove and Hunt.  A No Deal v No Deal members' run-off would reduce the temptation for Johnson to "pivot", as the Americans say.

Boris Johnson: Almost certainly the next Prime Minister, and all the rest may be sound and fury signifying very little.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 19 of the fundraiser, and so far £7365 has been raised. That's 87% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Memo to Jeremy Hunt: the most recent poll shows a majority IN FAVOUR of an early independence referendum

As you probably saw yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon "slapped down" Jeremy Hunt (to use official Express terminology) and told him that the people of Scotland, rather than random Tory leadership candidates, will decide their own country's future.  Hunt's riposte was -

"Yes the Scottish people will decide. In poll after poll they’re telling you no to indyref2. So I won’t give in to your grandstanding."

Which is as much as to say: "Yes, Nicola, the Scottish people will decide, and I will be the sole arbiter of what they have decided, and regardless of what they say my adjudication will be that they have said No. Hope this helps."  But there's also another little problem (OK, massive problem) with Hunt's claim that "poll after poll" has shown that the Scottish people are opposed to an independence referendum.  The problem is simply that the claim is untrue.

The most recent published poll on independence was conducted roughly one month ago by Panelbase.  A total of 513 respondents agreed that there should be an early independence referendum, either "while the UK is negotiating to leave the EU" or "when the UK has finished negotiating to leave the EU".  508 respondents said there should not be a referendum in the next few years.  In percentage terms, that means 50.2% of the population support an early indyref, and 49.8% are opposed.  Have a look at the datasets for yourself if you don't believe me, Jeremy.  You'll find them HERE.

But even if Hunt's basic claim wasn't such an obvious falsehood, there would still be something deeply troubling about the way he and other senior Tories seem to want to make opinion polls an integral part of the British constitution.  Whatever happened to the pre-election mantra of Tory leaders down the ages: "The only poll that matters is on election day"?  If Jeremy Hunt had his way, the new rule would be "we don't need to hold an election because I've just seen a YouGov poll".  It wouldn't be so bad if there was the slightest reason to believe that opinion polls can be relied upon to estimate public opinion with an exceptionally high level of accuracy, but we know that's not the case from multiple recent examples.  Polling actually seems to be somewhat less reliable than it was a few decades ago (probably due to the demise of the landline phone).

Meanwhile, Hunt's three "tests" for being willing to consider a Section 30 order are as barking mad as might have been predicted.  Firstly, he agrees with this week's incarnation of Ruth Davidson that the SNP would have to win a single-party overall majority at Holyrood before a referendum would be a possibility.  I can't think of another parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world in which two parties who win a majority between them are not allowed to implement a policy they agree upon.  During the Tory-Lib Dem coalition years, you didn't hear John Bercow saying -

"The Ayes to the right, 327.  The Noes to the left, 308.  But as the Ayes include both Conservative and Liberal Democrat members, the vote is not valid.  So the Noes have it.  Aw-daaah, unlock."

Secondly, Hunt wants the SNP to run their currency position past him.  That's a bit like saying the opposition party will only be allowed to contest an election if the government has given the green light to its manifesto.  Hunt's Britain sounds like it would be a bit of a tinpot affair.

And thirdly, he wants Nicola Sturgeon to rule out a "wildcat vote" (sic), which is a bit of a circular argument, because if the Section 30 order was forthcoming, there'd be no conceivable need for a "wildcat vote" (sic), would there?

You know, it's amazing: before Ruth Davidson won her stunning victories in the 2016 and 2017 elections by coming a very distant second to the SNP, the complaint from both the Tories and the mainstream media used to be that Scotland had become a "one-party state".  And yet the one sure-fire effect of the Hunt/Davidson insistence that the SNP need a single-party majority will be to deter independence supporters from flirting with smaller pro-indy parties on the Holyrood list vote.  If the Tories want to restore the "one-party state", they're going absolutely the right way about it.

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2019 Scot Goes Pop Fundraiser: This is Day 18 of the fundraiser, and so far £7266 has been raised. That's 85% of the way towards the target figure of £8500. A million thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I'm also extremely grateful to all the people who have left a kind comment with their donation. You can visit the fundraising page HERE.