Despite Wobbles, Theresa May Still Expected to Lead Conservative Win This Week

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Six weeks, or even a few days is a long time in politics. Theresa May, who looked oh-so-clever to have called this week’s snap elections, is now looking too clever by half. She’s managed to turn what was expected to be the opportunity to crush Labour, perhaps permanently, into display of miscalculations and personal failings: refusing to say anything new on Brexit, her supposed selling point, and an astonishingly poorly run campaign, evoking comparisons to Clinton. And to top things off, the supposedly utterly incompetent Jeremy Corbyn has metamorphosed into an effective and even likable candidate. From Foreign Policy:

May has asked voters to trust her judgment on Brexit issues without being prepared to divulge any details. Her election strategy has resembled a religious demand more than an intellectual proposition. Nearly a year on, Brexit remains an absence wrapped in a mystery….

The release of a party manifesto in British politics is a crucial moment in the election cycle….The release of the Tory manifesto this year was a disaster. It included a proposal for a new social care policy designed to put help for the elderly on a more sustainable level. People requiring care at the end of their life would pay for it with their assets after their death, up to their last $129,000. The irony is that this policy is not altogether unreasonable — it taxed those who could afford to pay to help share the burden of an elderly population. But it was translated, in tabloid-speak, as a “dementia tax” — a state effort to stop you from passing your home on to your children if you were unlucky enough to get a debilitating and drawn-out illness. It was of particular concern to the over 65s, who happen to be the group that most reliably votes Tory.

The reaction was instant and entirely predictable. The press hated it. Tory voters hated it. Tory MPs hated it. What was most telling, however, was how surprised May seemed to be about all this hate. Even the most cursory stress-testing of the policy would have established that this response was likely. But one thing we’ve learned about May since she’s become leader is that she has an obsession with control… The result was this manifesto, the product of a team deciding on policies with too little scrutiny, tucked away and insulated from criticism.

Within days there was a U-turn, with the promise of a cap on the amount that would be paid. It was an extraordinary climb-down — possibly the first time a party had reversed a policy before it had been put to voters in an election. Even the U-turn itself was handled badly. May took to the stage at a ferocious news conference and insisted repeatedly that “nothing has changed,” which was plainly nonsense and caused journalists to hound her for days.

Even with May looking wounded and hounded since this fiasco and Labour making unprecedented gains over the campaign time frame, most pollsters remain confident that not only with the Tories win, but will even gain 20 to 30 seats. How can this be?

First, it is still possible that the Conservatives could fail to secure a majority and would continue with an unstable minority government. The wild card in the polls, which historically have understate Tory performance, is turnout among the young. Older voters are reliable voters and also skew strongly Conservative. The younger Corbyn fans would need to turn out in much higher than usual levels to turn the tide Labour’s way. YouGov, which is forecasting that this election will depart from traditional norms, shows in its latest poll that the Tories fail to cinch a majority, securing only 308 seats, down from their current 330. That’s with a popular vote split of 42% for the Conservatives, 38% for Labour. A fresh poll for the Mail for Sunday by Survation shows an even more remarkable outcome, Tories at 40% v. Labour at 39%.

But the Independent points out other polls taken at the same time show very different results. ComRes has the Conservatives 12 points ahead of Labour, at 47% versus 35%. Opinionium has the Conservatives with a 6 point lead, 43% versus 37%. Express.

Second, on top of the big divergence in the popular vote is that what matters as well is the distribution. The Financial Times contends that Labour’s strong showing will not translate into commensurate results in seats, since it is doing well in London and cities like Manchester, but is expecting to lose ground in the Midlands and North:

Despite the narrowing of the opinion polls, Labour is still braced for significant losses in the Midlands and northern England, according to a survey of candidates….

On Friday a poll by Ipsos MORI showed the Conservative lead shrinking from 15 points to five points in just two weeks: at 45 per cent to 40 per cent.

By comparison, Ed Miliband — who led Labour to defeat in 2015 — was ahead in some polls in the run-up to the last general election.

Ben Page, chief executive of the polling organisation, said that the national picture was less important than the minority of seats which had a chance of changing hands. In 2015, for example, only 17 per cent of seats got a new MP.

“It’s all about those 100 or so seats which could change hands, it doesn’t matter how the Tories do in Chelsea or Labour does in South Shields,” he said.

During this election campaign few if any marginal seats have been polled. It will be in places such as Great Grimsby, Mansfield, Halifax and Middlesbrough South that the contest will be decided.

“If the Tories are 15 points ahead in marginals then it’s game over, even if the parties are close at a national level. Sir Lynton Crosby [the Tory campaign chief] could be sat in a cinema relaxing at the moment for all we know,” said Mr Page.

The Express, after featuring the YouGov poll predicting a hung Parliament, gives a round-up of more Tory-favorable polls. Electoral Calculus anticipates the Conservatives gaining 32 seats, for a total of 362 (this comes about in part by predicting that UKIP gets nearly 13% of the vote, a real outlier). Britain Elects Nowcastputs the Tory wins at 362 seats. New Statesman pegs the Conservatives at 350 seats and Lord Aschcroft, 306 seats.

All these polls took place before the terrorist attacks in London. While they would normally play to the Conservatives’ advantage, May seems to have muffed it yet again. As Politico’s daily e-mail points out:

May has been dealing with terrorism in her ministerial roles and as a senior cabinet member for seven years in government. She may argue “enough is enough,” but she can’t wash her hands of how the U.K. got here. Secondly, the premise of May’s struggling campaign is “strong and stable” government. Three deadly terror attacks in three months are many things; stable isn’t one of them.

And from UserFriendly:

Regardless how thing turn out this Thursday, keep in mind:

Corbyn has established himself as the leader of a vital Labour party and showed that the days of Third Way head-fakery are past. Before Corbyn was fighting for survival against the Blairites. He will still face many rearguard battles in rousting them out, but where the future of the party lies is now clear.

Winning this election is a poisoned chalice. The victor will be saddled with Brexit. As a cynical reader pointed out, women get the nod to become CEOs only when a company is in trouble and the same appears true for the UK. May, like many women who have long sought executive roles and get them under bad circumstances, appears to have convinced herself that she’s up to the task when she isn’t. We’ve given many examples of how enormous a project Brexit is, and how the Government appears to have no clue as to what is required. Its performance on this front manages to make Trump look good, for those who aren’t blinded by the constant cheerleading of British press barons. We’ve pointed out how deadly a few basic facts are, such as, the UK by treaty cannot negotiate any new trade deals until it has departed the EU, and that trade deals (save ones with the US, which are dictated, not negotiated) take years (as in typically 5+) to conclude and be ratified. And there is no “default to the WTO,” as the media too often misleadlingly reports. A deal with the WTO will have to be negotiated, and the WTO has already made clear that the UK will not jump ahead of countries that are already in its pipeline.

If that sort of thing hasn’t persuaded you, perhaps these extracts from a recent Financial Times story, After Brexit: the UK will need to renegotiate at least 759 treaties, will:

While Brexit is often cast as an affair between Brussels and London, in practice Britain’s exit will open more than 750 separate time-pressured mini-negotiations worldwide, according to Financial Times research. And there are no obvious shortcuts: even a basic transition after 2019 requires not just EU-UK approval, but the deal-by-deal authorisation of every third country involved.

“The nearest precedent you can think of is a cessation of a country — you are almost starting from scratch,” says Andrew Hood, a former UK government lawyer now at Dechert. “It will be a very difficult, iterative process.”…

Each agreement must be reviewed, the country approached, the decision makers found, meetings arranged, trips made, negotiations started and completed — all against a ticking clock and the backdrop of Brexit, with the legal and practical constraints that brings. Most inconvenient of all, many countries want to know the outcome of EU-UK talks before making their own commitments….


At its most granular level, the sheer administrative scale of the “third country” question is striking. Through analysis of the EU treaty database, the FT found 759 separate EU bilateral agreements with potential relevance to Britain, covering trade in nuclear goods, customs, fisheries, trade, transport and regulatory co-operation in areas such as antitrust or financial services.

Some of the 759 are so essential that it would be unthinkable to operate without them. Air services agreements allow British aeroplanes to land in America, Canada or Israel; nuclear accords permit the trade in spare parts and fuel for Britain’s power stations. Both these sectors are excluded from trade negotiations and must be addressed separately….

“The logistics are terrifying, even just to go through these commitments and treaties and scope them out,” says Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, a former trade official for Sweden and the EU now at the European Centre for International Political Economy. “Do you want revisions? Do they? Do you go there? How many visits to Chile will this take? That’s a massive logistical operation in itself.

“There will be a lot of countries with a beef with the EU or the UK and will see this as a golden opportunity to bring up a nuisance issue. They might not get anything, but they have to try,” he adds. “There will probably be an accident in areas you cannot predict.”

In other words, if Labour were to be able to put together a coalition, Corbyn too would find Brexit dominating his agenda, particularly since a falling pound and resulting inflation would constrain his ability to deficit spend. While it is true, as one Guardian source put it, that “If 50% of the Labour manifesto were implemented, it would be better than 100% of the Tory one,” it would be heroic for Corbyn to get as much as 50% done given the situation he is inheriting. His most important focus will hopefully be to strengthen the NHS.

One of May’s motives for the snap election may have been to increase her room for maneuver on Brexit. As commentators have noted, her tight-lippedness on Brexit isn’t just peculiar, it’s perverse given its supposed position in her case to voters. But there may have been method in that madness, in that she didn’t want to commit herself to a Brexit program because she wants to change course a bit, or perhaps even quite a bit.

Given the confidence the Tories has six weeks ago that the vote would be a rout for Labour, one of the advantages of a commanding win would have been both that May would have her own mandate and not be hobbled by a thin majority. One school of though it that the reason the Government has given so few details about its Brexit plans isn’t that it is incompetent or deluded about what Brexit entails, but that May intends to engineer a soft Brexit and she’s using a Trumpian “pacing” strategy. From Scott Adams:

Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on.

I’s be curious to get reader input as to whether the most favorable Tory outcome now predicted, 362 seats, would give May enough wriggle room to change tactics on Brexit, assuming she does want to do that.

A hung Parliament would make governing difficult, and be a major impediment to moving ahead with Brexit. How can a government which will probably be out in two years or less, based on historical precedents, make commitments of this magnitude? This is over my pay grade, and I suspect that UK politicians and pundits won’t have good answers either.

This race has proved to be a more gripping affair than anyone expected. And if May comes out the loser from her gambit, she will have only herself to blame.

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  1. Terry

    I ran a choice model just before the election was called (twas a coincidence – May’s decision was as much a surprise to me as anyone). I was dissecting European preferences but indirectly it has allowed me to make predictions about the general election. May’s in more trouble than people think – if she gets back in with a strong(er) majority and is using this as a way to engineer soft BREXIT she’ll keep people on side: the BREXIT majority has moved from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ since the referendum, thanks to discussions about the kind of issues raised repeatedly here and elsewhere.

    However Corbyn has – ironically – through his waffly European policy, caused me to re-evaluate my prediction since that post. I’ll go public if I’m proven right, but I’ve got a bet at the bookies on the outcome. Choice modelling won McFadden the 2000 ‘Nobel’ for accurate prediction and it works in voting when there are multi-dimensional outcomes too. It’s just a shame my model wasn’t set up to predict a general election result so I am having to add in some assumptions on what the Euro views will cause people to do in Thursday’s vote.

  2. vlade

    May has scored an own goal. In fact, she has scored a lot of own goals in last few weeks. I believe she’s incapable of dealing with fast moving complex scenarios – that’s why she was a submarine, to disappear when stuff was about to hit the fan. But as PM she can’t disappear.

    I’m still not persuaded by Corbyn as a leader, but he did get a major leverage over the rest of the party with the election. From anecdotal evidence, it was more a combination of bad Tories manifesto, extremely shabby showing from May (who didn’t have any die-hard fans, so leaving her in dust was easy), and an unusually good Labour manifesto. But anecdotes aren’t data, and it’s a result that counts. So if Corbyn happens to win, I’m ok to give him a benefit of doubt..

    On the poisoned chalice – I’m not sure it would be such a poisoned chalice. If Corbyn happens to win, he will be a target of massive hate campaign no matter what. The question is how much will the economy tank. That can be stopped relatively easily, but effectively saying “we want off the shelf Norway agreement”, and indicating, that it would be used as a starting point that would evolve over time.

    That would probably work, because the polls show that majority wants to stay in the single market, with a (thin, admitedly) majority even willing to accept freed of movement to do that. If that FoM can be built on “NHS would collapse w/o it, and to be able to use the extra money we’re going to give it, it must have access to the european labour”, I’d believe most people would buy it. The large question then would be, what would be the real impact.

    Given that French and Germans are now also looking at “labur price dumping” issues with the new EU entrants, I believe it’s not vastly impossible to get some sort of deal that would restrict the free labour movement, with some patience.

    I’m not saying it would be an easy task, but nothing I’ve seen with Tories persuades me they even understand how hard a task it would be. I actually suspect, that Corbyn with his last two years dealing with very hostile opposition, and even just not being openly hostile to all things EU, would be able to negotiate better than “strong and stable” (or weak and wobbly?) May.

    1. Terry

      the polls show that majority wants to stay in the single market, with a (thin, admitedly) majority even willing to accept freed of movement to do that.

      I can agree with the first statement. I am less sure about the second – a large number of Brits hold attitudes that they don’t realise are completely contradictory (namely having positive favourability ratings for the single market but highly negative ratings for freedom of movement). But, as you note, it’s the trade-offs that matter and since last year the relative importance weights attached to the two principles have changed – but the changes vary enormously by region (which conventional polling can’t measure since they have the wrong models). The pollsters may be right at the aggregate level that there’s a majority willing to the make the trade-off you mention but they don’t have it right at the regional level – which could make “uniform swing” assumptions even less useful in this election and helps explain the huge volatility in the polls.

    2. vlade

      I agree that on the regional basis it can – and will – differ widely. That’s why part of any solution would have to be doing more than just assuming it’s so.

      Say what I was suggesting a year or so ago was that the EU has structural fonds, which go to the weaker (economically speaking) states. What should be recongnised there is that a non-trivial part of the population wants to get a better lives now, not in a generation or two, so migrate for work. Which puts enormous pressure on social services in the host country. Even if they do better their economies, the demand on services is NOW not when the ecomies improve. So the structural fonds should be also used to deal with that – basically, to contribute to the regions with high EU immigration and low social infrastructure to increase that infra (build/fund schools/hospitals/social services). And, that the regions (I’m defining it as regions, not countries, on purpose. London can take a lot of immigrants much easier than some northern counties etc. – even though in London it creates a strain on local services) that have high unemployment rates, measures that prefer locals to immigrants should be (temporarily) acceptable.

      Europe was saying that it wasn’t Europe of countries, but Europe of regions – and that’s how it should look at the issues like these.

      1. Terry

        Agreed. My own region (the East Midlands) is a classic example. Anecdotes are, of course, not data but my family in places like Boston (closer to the ‘sharp end’ of immigration) made remarks that are entirely in keeping with the real data I collected: they don’t have a problem with immigration per se (in WW2 the polish govt/resistance in exile were heavily concentrated there) but it was the dreadful lack of investment to house and care for the current wave of people that drove them mad.

        Hence why I wasn’t entirely surprised that my model found that the East Midlands has a positive net favourability rating for migration – interestingly it’s the ONLY English region with that – but that attitude got zero importance weight when voting – they concentrated on their ‘pro-free trade area’ attitude (a hard BREXIT view, cutting immigration) when casting a vote.

        Of course a free-trade area is not the answer (as regular readers here will know) but their voting behaviour is entirely explainable and isn’t the simplistic one put forward in the media.

      2. Synoia

        large number of Brits hold attitudes that they don’t realise are completely contradictory (namely having positive favourability ratings for the single market but highly negative ratings for freedom of movement).

        That appears to to be the US position on trade.

        1. Mark P.

          Terry wrote: ‘large numbers of Brits hold attitudes that they don’t realize are completely contradictory.’

          Yeah, that’s true in 2017. But it’s not so contradictory when you remember how the EU was first sold to them, as the Common Market or EEC. There’s been a substantial amount of bait-and-switch on the politicians’ and the EU’s part over the decades.

    3. Darn

      They’re really saying “labour price dumping”? Oh man. I would love a link to something if you have one.

    4. Mark P.

      Vlade wrote: nothing I’ve seen with Tories persuades me they even understand how hard a task it would be.

      They don’t.

      Someone I know well recently visited the U.K. to interview for a high-placed position at the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is run by one Lord Prior of Brampton. Since this acquaintance probably won’t get the job, I’ll pass on three mildly interesting takeaways he picked up while talking to Lord Prior and the others present (which included one MI5 officer) ….

      [1] Prior and the others remain very much at the second stage of the Kubler-Ross five stages of dying/grief, which is Anger. They are all still angry at Cameron (and Johnson and Gove) for holding the Brexit referendum in the first place.

      [2] They expect U.K. GDP to shrink by 5 percent because of Brexit. (They may have simply pulled that figure out of their behinds, because it’s midway between the lowest and highest predictions of how badly Brexit will cost the U.K.)

      [3] Let me reiterate: this was an interview for a job at the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and my acquaintance knows a lot about different technologies, but in particular what’s possible in terms of novel industries that use synthetic biology and the new biotechnologies.

      Nevertheless, he was flatly told by Lord Prior that the U.K. is a services economy now, and doesn’t really have or do industries of any kind any more. My acquaintance didn’t push the line that, well, then the U.K. better start doing industries and manufacturing again as soon as it could. Clearly, that message hadn’t got through yet or, alternatively, Prior and the others thought that the U.K. couldn’t get there from where they are currently.

  3. JA

    May didn’t become leader because she was a woman, she got it because the other main candidates were either too close to Cameron (Osborne) or in the Brexit camp (Johnson). May was an utter failure as Home Secretary (shades of H Clinton as sec of state) and will, a la Clinton, blame everyone but herself for her poor campaigning which has consisted of two sound bite slogans ‘Strong and Stable’, when she has proved the exact opposite hitherto, and ‘Brexit means Brexit’, but without putting any flesh on that bone of what Brexit actually entails.
    The woman is a complete nightmare. I think the election is going to be very close. Apart from the very rich, no one would benefit from her winning – not pensioners, not people with school children, not anyone who will ever need the NHS, not the low paid, not the average paid, not the above average but not mega paid. I find it mindboggling that anyone could vote for her or her brand of toryism. Even brain dead tabloid readers fed a diet of Euroscepticism and red menace fears for decades are finally perhaps dimly, seeing the light.

    1. Darn

      Yes but they think Jez will ruin things anyway specifically because the IRA charge is taken to proven he is dangerous or foolish. He issued a statement saying he opposed the whole IRA campaign, not just attacks on civilians, and that they were terrorists. But it was the morning of the Manchester bomb! Since then they haven’t publicised it

      1. JA

        Corbyn specifically said he was against all bombing/terrorism, including the IRA, rather than simply parroting that he condemned (uniquely) IRA bombs. He said this on the grounds that the only way of solving the Irish conflict was by political dialogue not violence – and there was plenty of violence on both sides. He has consistently argued the same about Iraq, Syria, Israel/Palestine etc. etc.
        However Corbyn’s biggest ‘crime’ in the eyes of the western establishment and MSM, is his refusal to slavishly support the main western political line that Israel has a right (sic) to defend itself by ultra violence against Palestinians and continuous settlement building on occupied territory. For which he is regularly charged with being anti-semitic.

        1. Darn

          His past statements were not good enough — if they leave the public confused or thinking he has left wiggle room, then they will not trust him. Labour Briefing was pro-IRA when he was on its editorial board. He may be lying and still support the IRA, or have changed his position. The position in the statement was ideal, the public just hasn’t seen it.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You miss the point. It’s not “because she was a woman”. It is because capable men are nowhere to be found when sinking ships need leaders.

      1. Harry

        I’m sure there are plenty of “capable” men who are sufficiently clubable to be acceptable to their fellows to captain sinking ships. It’s the poisoned chalices that have a hard time finding men to drink them.

        Metaphor quibbling – probably the most pointless activity in the world.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Ahem, the fact that she was up against Michael Gove and Boris Johnson would seem to prove the point. And in the US, the pattern of women getting the helm of sinking corporate ships (or key posts in them, as in Erin Callan at Lehman and Marissa Mayer at Yahoo) is well known.

          1. Synoia

            Marissa Maye does not appear as a failure when you look at her personal gain.

            I’ve never seen any analysis or suggestion anywhere which suggested any strategy for Yahoo, other than being bought by Microsoft or some other.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              But women don’t get to fail profitably multiple times. Look at Carly Fiorina versus Bob Nardelli. They’d don’t get to fail upwards or even sideways to nearly the same degree. Nardelli had a turn messing up private companies for Cerberus, including one that one of my brothers works for, after his public company fiascoes.

  4. Darius

    Thanks for this. It’s so hard to get thoughtful analysis of the British election.

  5. Anthony Chambers

    I would just like to point out that at least two of the points made in this article are factually incorrect.

    1) Negotiation of new trade deals having legal effect after March 2019 are completely legal between the UK and other countries. The law is absolutely crystal clear, the EU treaties will not apply to the UK after that point and EU law is only there to protect the primacy of EU law under the treaty.

    2) WTO membership already exists for the UK, there is no queue. Schedules do not need ratification and come into force the moment the UK publishes them. Countries can only pursue damages and sanctions under WTO rules when there is an actual loss of trade. That is impossible if the UK duplicates the schedules.

    I am sure that some people have some reasonable reasons to argue that cooperation with the EU is in the best interests of the UK, but please do so on the basis of the full facts.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is typical of the lack of “factual” understanding of Brexit boosters. Separately, agnotology is against our written site Policies. You are accumulating troll points.

      Regarding your first false claim:

      Under current EU treaties, Britain can neither strike nor even begin to negotiate any trade agreement with countries outside of the Union until it has formally terminated its membership, which is expected to occur in March 2019.

      Regarding your second, the UK is not a member of the WTO. The EU is. The Financial Times has discussed this issue numerous times. For instance:

      Can the UK just go ahead and trade under WTO terms as soon as it leaves the EU?

      No. In practice, the UK would have to detach itself from the EU and regularise its position within the WTO before it could sign its own trade agreements, including with the EU. As Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO’s director-general, said recently, there is no precedent for a WTO member extricating itself from an economic union while inside the organisation. The process would not be easy and would likely take years before the UK’s WTO position was settled, not least because all other member states would have to agree.

      And before Brexit, WTO warns on tortuous Brexit trade talks:

      Britain would face tortuous negotiations to fix the terms of its membership of the World Trade Organisation if it votes to leave the EU, its director-general has warned.

      Leading campaigners for Brexit have proposed that the UK should leave the EU’s single market and could rely on WTO rules to access European and other markets if it was unable to secure replacement trade deals.

      But in an interview with the Financial Times, Roberto Azevêdo signalled this would not be straightforward. He said a British exit from the EU would lead to unprecedented negotiations between the UK and the Geneva-based institution’s 161 other members.

      Britain joined the WTO under the auspices of the EU and its terms of membership have been shaped by two decades of negotiations led by Brussels. If Britain voted to leave the EU it would not be allowed to simply “cut and paste” those terms, Mr Azevêdo said.

      Britain would have to strike a deal on everything from the thousands of tariff lines covering its entire trade portfolio to quotas on agricultural exports, subsidies to British farmers and the access to other markets that banks and other UK services companies now enjoy.

      “Pretty much all of the UK’s trade [with the world] would somehow have to be negotiated,” he said….

      An exit from the EU, for example, would cause the UK to lose the preferential access to other markets covered by 36 trade agreements with 58 countries negotiated by the EU. As a result, to remain compliant with WTO rules the UK would have to impose higher “most favoured nation” tariffs on imports from those 58 countries, while they would have to levy their own surcharges on British exports, Mr Azevêdo said. 

      A WTO analysis had calculated the cost of the additional tariffs on goods imports to British consumers at £9bn, while British merchandise exports would be subject to a further £5.5bn in tariffs at their destination. 

      “The consumer in the UK will have to pay those duties. The UK is not in a position to decide ‘I’m not charging duties here’. That is impossible. That is illegal,” Mr Azevêdo said. 

      The only other option available to the UK would be removing all barriers for all WTO members, effectively turning its economy into a duty-free one like Singapore and lifting the protections politically sensitive domestic industries enjoy under the EU. “That is possible. But that is also very unlikely,” he said. 

      Complicating things further is the fact that because the EU has negotiated trade matters on behalf of the UK for decades, the British government does not have an existing corps of trade negotiators and would have to create one in the event of Brexit. That would mean gearing up quickly for negotiations that would probably take years, Mr Azevêdo said….

      “It is extremely difficult and complex to negotiate these trade agreements. And slow as well,” he said. “Even if you are in a position to negotiate quickly with all these other members it doesn’t mean that they will be in a position to negotiate with you because they have their own priorities.

      1. vlade

        short form: Britain after Brexit depends on kindness of strangers (in many many ways). Yet it does all to either antagonise the strangers, or to put itself into a situations where the strangers can gang-rape it (i.e. having to have trade deals ASAP if it ends with no deal with EU).

      2. Mark P.

        @ Yves –

        As you say, the Financial Times has discussed these issues many times. You’re quoting from an FT article from May 2016 — in other words, it’s more than a year old, from a month before the referendum — quoting Mr Azevêdo’s position at a time when Brexit was just a terrifying possibility on his radar screen (and might still be prevented), and from another article from July 2016.

        In other words, you’re arguing citing the authority of the FT, based on articles that are a year old. The FT has now spent a lot more time and money thinking about Brexit — more than you and I can — and its account of the situation no longer agrees with yours regarding the WTO issues.

        In particular, the FT now has a competent columnist/blogger called David Allan Green who deals with nothing but Brexit, and the comments section is mainly populated by finance professionals. It’s the most reliably intelligent commentary I’ve seen on Brexit. And here’s Green from Feb 28th, 2017. I’m going to post large chunks of it for those of us who cannot penetrate the FT paywall, and I’ll underline some key sentences and phrasings —

        Brexit and the issue of the WTO schedules

        Brexit will be shaped by the World Trade Organization in at least three ways.
        First, the so-called “WTO option” would be the default position if there is no trade agreement between the UK and EU (and indeed between the UK and anywhere else) when the UK leaves the EU. The UK would then have to apply the same tariffs and other measures to all imports, including those from the EU. The extent to which this outcome is feared will affect whether any trade deals are achieved in time. The WTO option is the cold hard floor on which the UK will splat down if no safety net is in place in time.

        Second, the WTO provides rules for what can and cannot be done with trade agreements. For example, sector-specific agreements are not permitted. Agreements have to cover a substantial portion of trade. A country cannot just pick cherries, or any other item, as a specific subject for a trade deal. There can, for example, be no deals just for automobiles from Germany or anywhere else.

        And third there are the schedules, the subject of this post. In the days leading up to the referendum result last June, and afterwards, there was serious concern that the UK getting its own schedules at the WTO would be difficult and risky. Re-establishing the UK’s place at the WTO seemed to present yet another grand problem thrown up by Brexit, without any easy solution.

        The UK does not need to reapply to the WTO on leaving the EU. The UK is a member in its own right, even though it currently operates through the bloc. And so the UK’s detailed WTO commitments on tariffs and barriers to trade are set out in schedules shared with the EU. On Brexit, the UK will need to have its own schedules and for those schedules to be certified, there must be no objections by any other WTO members.

        (continued below….)

        1. Mark P.

          Green writes —
          Some have speculated that the ability of any member of the WTO to veto proposed changes would mean the UK was at the mercy of countries playing politics with ulterior motives, say by Argentina over the Falklands or by Spain over Gibraltar….

          The secretary-general of the WTO contributed to these fears. The month before the referendum, Roberto Azevêdo warned of tortuous Brexit trade talks ….

          Green then quotes the same FT article that you quote, Yves.

          But by October 2016, Mr Azevêdo appeared to have shifted his position and seemed almost nonchalant. “Brexit will not cause UK trade ‘disruption’ – WTO boss,” reported Sky News after an interview with the organisation’s secretary-general. Negotiations happen all the time at the WTO, he said. And he would “personally” work intensely to ensure that the “transition is fast and is smooth” adding:

          ‘The less turbulence the better. The global economy today is not in the best shape for us to be introducing turbulence.

          ‘Trade will not stop, it will continue and members negotiate the legal basis under which that trade is going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a vacuum or a disruption.’
          Asked about UK policy, Mr Azevêdo said:

          ‘It’s very difficult to predict but my understanding is that the UK government is fully aware of all that…I myself and the WTO secretariat will be available to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

          Green then follows this with a quote from Liam Fox, the Conservative international trade secretary, making various claims about how Brexit will be relatively easy as far as the WTO schedules go. I’m not particularly inclined to give credence here to any Conservative minister so I’ll skip Fox (though what he says has some interest) and I’ll return to Green.

          What many who were concerned at the apparent threat of veto by other WTO members may have missed was the rather narrow basis on which one country can in practice object to the new WTO schedules of another.

          As Cambridge trade law academic Dr Lorand Bartels explains ….

          The other 163 WTO Members (actually, 27 of these are EU Member States, so there are fewer voices than that) do not have a veto over the UK’s scheduled commitments.

          They do have a veto over the certification of these schedules. But certification has merely evidentiary weight. It is like coronation. The UK’s scheduled commitments exist even if they are not certified, just as a monarch is a monarch prior to coronation. Indeed, the EU itself has not traded under certified schedules since 1974. The sky has not fallen.

          The fact that some of the UK’s commitments are difficult to interpret (because they are shared, eg the tariff rate quotas and aggregate measures of support) does not change the fact that they exist.

          There are two ways disputes about the UK’s scheduled commitments can arise.

          First, if another WTO Member considers that the UK has modified its schedules to its detriment, it may be able to convince the UK to commence negotiations on compensation. Any such compensation will be limited to the harm allegedly caused. There may be none. If the other member is dissatisfied, it can unilaterally suspend concessions with respect to the UK. But this must also be limited to the alleged damage. If the UK disagrees that there has been any damage, it can bring dispute settlement proceedings. Ultimately, the matter will be decided by a panel.

          Second, another WTO Member may consider that the UK is violating its scheduled commitments with respect to a given product, service or service supplier. In this event, it can commence dispute settlement proceedings. Again, any such case must be limited to any harm caused, and the same applies to any retaliation. In the end, this will come down to dispute settlement as well.

          This is not to say that negotiations are not important. Of course they are. But bargaining happens in the shadow of the law.

          Dr Bartels … in essence contends… there is little in practice another WTO member can do to block the UK’s new WTO schedules unless it is for a particular reason, backed with evidence, that is directly related to a trade issue. Any casual veto on certification of new schedules would be a pointless and ineffective gesture.

          If this is the case then the WTO renegotiation is undoubtedly fiddly and tiresome – about as complex a technical readjustment as one can imagine – but it is ultimately not a predicament but a chore.

          (continued below….)

          1. Mark P.

            Green continues ….

            Taking a step back for a moment, the matter of Brexit takes place at an interesting moment in the history of the WTO. Since the organisation was established in 1995, as a permanent successor to the GATT rounds of negotiations, it has not been able to point to many discrete successes. The Singapore issues of 1996 were (and remain) divisive; the proposed “millennium” round of 1999 ended in disarray; and the Doha “development” round which started in 2001 has still not concluded. The WTO did not even bother to have any of its supposedly regular meetings between 2005 and 2009….
            Since 1995 it has seemed that the replacement of the GATT events in world trade – the “rounds” – by a permanent institution had not worked out.

            Of course, the WTO has done more than preside over the lack of trade deals. There is a binding dispute mechanism for member countries in dispute, which has generally worked; and the WTO provides a permanent talking-shop for trade negotiators. But most importantly it provides a quality mark of sorts for participation in the international trading system. Few nations are not members, and membership seems not to be controversial inside any major member….

            In the last few days the WTO has achieved a trade deal, of a kind. The “Trade Facility Agreement” has reached the number of ratifications by member states required so as to bring it into force. The agreement is essentially procedural rather than anything to do with actual goods and services … The greatest significance of the agreement is, however, that it exists. The WTO is not moribund as a vehicle for international trade agreements. There can be global trade agreements in this (so-called) age of globalisation. The WTO can be relevant and important, again.

            The last thing the WTO will want now is an international test which it is seen to fail. Brexit may cause many problems, some of which may be insoluble, but the WTO aspects are not the most troublesome.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          This is NOT a reported story by the FT.

          This is a blog, hence opinion.

          David Allen Green, the author, is the head of a media law firm. He has NO credentials on trade. And he cites no one in his piece.

          This is the speculation of an uninformed person. He’s repeating press baron Brexit PR.

          Please show me something from someone qualified. The head of the WTO was sending very clear warnings pre Brexit. The WTO is an independent organization with 164 members. The UK has no leverage over the WTO. I have yet to see anyone at the WTO, which is in charge of its own procedures, indicate any shift in its position.

          The other thing you forget it that international organizations, particularly ones that deal with civil law countries (as in Europeans) hew very strictly to their rule books. Anglo law types, who are used to winging it, fail to understand that they can’t force their preferred mode of operation on outside parties.

          If the WTO says the UK needs to reapply, it needs to reapply. Green can hand-wave all he wants to.

          1. Mark P.

            @ Yves –

            You write: Please show me something from someone qualified. The head of the WTO was sending very clear warnings pre Brexit … I have yet to see anyone at the WTO, which is in charge of its own procedures, indicate any shift in its position.

            How about the head of the WTO, Robert Azevedo, for someone qualified?

            Azevedo: “The UK is a member of the WTO today, it will continue to be a member tomorrow. There will be no discontinuity in membership. They have to renegotiate (their terms of membership) but that doesn’t mean they are not members.”


            Now, the October 2016 articles may represent Azevedo simply spreading happy horseshit post-Brexit. But they do postdate the earlier, pre-Brexit pieces and they do take a different tack than Azevedo’s pre-Brexit warnings. Meaningfully different? We will see, won’t we?

            You write: This is NOT a reported story by the FT. This is a blog, hence opinion. David Allen Green is the head of a media law firm … he cites no one in his piece.

            Green cites Azevedo in the October 2016 ‘reported’ articles above and also – extensively – a Doctor Lorand Bartels, who teaches international law, WTO law and EU law at Cambridge.

            Bottom line: You didn’t actually read Green’s piece, did you, Yves? Well, Bartels is worth a read.

            (continued below….)

            1. Mark P.

              You write: This is the speculation of an uninformed person. He’s repeating press baron Brexit PR.

              Come on; play the ball and not the man. If what you say were all that were the case, why would Green, a former Whitehall civil servant, be publishing pieces like, for instance, these?

              The real and worrying significance of the Downing Street dinner leaks
              ‘The real significance of the leaks from the Downing Street dinner between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker is what the detail reveals about the UK’s lack of grasp about the process and issues of Brexit, and about how weak the arguments are which UK ministers are seeking to deploy….’

              How the UK government is making a successful Brexit difficult

              ‘Here is a thought experiment: what would it take, in practice, for a UK government to self-sabotage a “successful” Brexit? And how would that differ from current policy?’

              You write: The other thing you forget it that international organizations, particularly ones that deal with civil law countries (as in Europeans) hew very strictly to their rule books. Anglo law types, who are used to winging it, fail to understand that they can’t force their preferred mode of operation on outside parties.

              Probably true. But that goes both ways, doesn’t it? In fact, Brexit has all the potential to be the start of a larger tragedy.

              In any case, a less superficial argument than generalizations about the ‘Anglo-Saxon mind’ would run thusly: the U.K. crashing out of the Brexit talks into WTO rules isn’t really a workable option for the U.K. Because if it were, you’d have lots of third countries trading with the EU using WTO rules, regulations and commitments only, wouldn’t you? The fact that the EU has approaching 800 agreements relating to trade with other members of the WTO, which sit on top of the WTO framework, but don’t form part of it, indicates fairly clearly that WTO rules aren’t viable.

              Peace and respect.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                That is the same director general I quoted. On November 2, after the date of your Business Insider piece, he said to the BBC:

                The World Trade Organisation (WTO) director general, Roberto Azevedo, has said there could be a lot of uncertainty surrounding post-Brexit trade between the UK and other WTO members, if the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement once Article 50 is triggered.

                “In two years’ time, if the UK and the EU don’t have an agreement, there will be a lot of uncertainty about the legal basis on which trade is going to be happening,” Mr Azevedo told BBC HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur.

                Trade would not have to stop and cease without an agreement, explained Mr Azevedo, but there may be challenges and uncertainty about which tariffs could apply under certain circumstances with certain partners.


                That is a toned-down version of the tariff mess scenario he described pre-Brexit.

                And on November 8:

                “As far as the WTO is concerned, we don’t come into the picture until those two have decided what the commitments they will have with the other WTO members will be and with each other. Until then, when they come to the WTO and say, ‘this is my new list of commitments’…at that point in time we then step in.”


                So as I said, there is no default to the WTO. Azevedo is trying to sound less dire since this has landed in his lap. He is also effectively saying that the UK could trade bilaterally on WTO terms, but that’s a really big finesse. The UK would have to cut bilateral deals on WTO terms outside the WTO, or get provisional agreements. Some countries that are not hugely procedural as far as their legal systems are concerned might be on with that, others would not. I have no idea outside the EU how many countries are civil law systems, as opposed to common law, but a good first order approximation is that countries that run on civil law systems have bureaucracies that are more legalistic and literal-minded, and hence more rigid.

  6. XXYY

    One school of though it that the reason the Government has given so few details about its Brexit plans isn’t that it is incompetent or deluded about what Brexit entails, but that May intends to engineer a soft Brexit and she’s using a Trumpian “pacing” strategy.

    I have no idea why Scott Adams or anyone else would a tribute any kind of advanced, 11-dimensional communications ability to Donald Trump. We saw this kind of thing during Obama’s term, where nonsensical or counterproductive actions were described by apologists as some kind of subtle ploy, too advanced for opponents, or us mere mortals, to comprehend. At least with Obama, attributions of high intelligence we’re not completely absurd. With Trump, they are.

    I don’t think Trump is using any kind of advanced “pacing” strategy. I think he’s just blundering around, saying what he thinks people want to hear, and trying to assuage his ego anyway he can.

    1. PKMKII

      Scott Adams is an iamverysmart Libertarian who has delusions of grandeur about his own intellect, hence his brag about being a “trained persuader.” So he wants to see people like Trump as playing 11D chess so he can convince himself that his own bumbling is the sign of an extra-dimensional chess master.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      He’s written at length about Trump. And this isn’t 11th dimensional chess. This is well-known persuasion strategy.

      Look, Trump managed to bulldozer the entire Republican field and beat the coronated Democrat spending half as much money as she did. And this despite him engaging in self-defeating outbursts on virtually a weekly basis. He had to have something going for him. Adams’ theory is as good as any.

      1. Synoia

        My thoughts exactly. However I am continually asked to explain and excuse his behavior, which I cannot and will not.


    If 21st century politics has taught me anything, it’s that a political party will take the most razor-thin edge in terms of having a majority of legislators, and claim a mandate on it. So even if the Tories hang on to an outright majority by the skin of their teeth, May will claim it gives her political capital to be master commander on Brexit. The audacious way she’s made patently false claims about how easy the post-brexit negotiations will be, and her pearl-clutching spinning of the EU standing up for itself as beyond the pale, show she has no shame in that regard.

    My question is, if we get a situation where neither the Tories nor Labour manage to get more than 50% of the MP’s, is anyone going to want to form a government with either of them? UKIP is going to do too poorly to contribute anything more than a token seat or two. SNP doesn’t want to attach itself to anything Brexit-related, and neither of the two major national parties are going to want to be associated with another independence referendum and potential a Scoxit. I suspect most of the other left-wing parties are loathe to tie themselves to Brexit as well. Maybe the Lib Dems, but they’ve become such a non-player, and it didn’t exactly go great for them the last time they were the minority party in a coalition government.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think a coalition government highly unlikely. SNP and PC will not go with the Tories under any circumstances, and Labour couldn’t bind with them either as this will obviously be seen as a ‘plot’ by the English mainstream to destroy the Union. The Lib Dems have provided the predictable lesson that small parties always get the blame for bad government policies. The Greens and PC won’t have enough seats. NI Unionists might be tempted to go with the Conservatives, but they would rather be ‘the power behind the throne’ rather than have a formal alliance.

      So the likeliest outcome of a hung parliament is a minority government operating on a variety of informal agreements and ‘understandings’.

      Having said that, it could be quite an incendiary situation if either the NI parties or SNP had the votes to take down any government. I could foresee a situation where the SNP try to push a vote on something (say, an independence referendum, or any cuts to welfare), and Labour are forced into the position of either voting for an unpopular Tory measure or being seen to break up the Union.

      1. Darn

        When Major lost his majority the UUP simply agreed to prop him up in exchange for absolutely nothing. Not the power behind the throne. 2015 DUP manifesto said they wanted an increase in public spending.

  8. Darn

    I hesitate to make this tiny quibble with a tour de force article… “May, like many women who have long sought executive roles and get them under bad circumstances, appears to have convinced herself that she’s up to the task when she isn’t”? May hasn’t been a party leadership candidate until this time, despite 18 years on the front benches. Johnson and Osborne always made it obvious. Maybe your frustration with Clinton has spilled over, which I can understand…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      All sorts of people see themselves in leadership roles when the people around them think they don’t have a chance. By your assessment, May is in that camp:

      Ambitious Theresa May admitted she has wanted to be Prime Minister for 18 years – ever since she joined the shadow cabinet in 1998.

      The fact that it took her 18 years and occurred on the back of a massive political miscalculation by the Tories is consistent with what I said. Separately, it’s funny to see men react to a statement that women in professional jobs would regard as obvious.

      1. Anonymous2

        Thank you, Yves , for another informed intelligent piece.

        A few thoughts on your question: would 362 seats be enough?

        I think 362 seats amounts to a majority of 74.

        Press comments I have read suggest that before Parliament was dissolved there were 50 to 60 hard-core Tory Brexiteers in the Commons who would resist significant compromise with the EU. So whether a majority of 74 is sufficient to ignore these hardliners may depend on how many more are brought in to the Commons by this election. May could probably count on some support from other parties – the DUP from Northern Ireland are the most natural allies for the Tories and may provide another 9 votes or so. UK Governments with a bare majority in recent decades have tended to benefit also from the fact that Sinn Fein have by custom refused to come to Westminster thereby reducing the likely opposition vote in any decisive moment.

        So 74 might be enough but could be tight, I suggest.

        An alternative source of danger for May could come from the Tory Party more broadly (where this whole problem largely originated in the first place). One or more of May’s colleagues, including those in her Cabinet, is probably awaiting an opportunity to launch a leadership challenge if he/she judges that May is moving in a direction which provokes sufficient opposition in the constituency parties. This could happen if a challenger felt able to say May was selling out the true gospel of Brexit in her dealings with Brussels, and got enough support among MPs. Any concession by May on freedom of movement would be an obvious issue for a challenge.

        I m no great expert on Conservative constituency party members but, like most Britons, have my impressions. They appear to be preponderantly older (average age is rumoured to be 68), often retired, frequently small business men or women. As such they tend to have the strengths and weaknesses of the sort of group this generates: entrepreneurial but not the builders of large enterprises, opposed to government bureaucracy (much of which they may have been told to blame on Brussels), unlikely to be much engaged with business outside UK borders (so not too worried about loss of access to markets outside the UK because they may not understand that adverse effects on exporters will have a knock-on effect on them). They would undoubtedly generally be loyal to their party leader but are very anti-EU on the whole so would be profoundly torn if someone many of them love, like Boris Johnson, say, was to argue that May was betraying the cause of Brexit.

        The constituency members matter because ultimately they now choose the party leader so would be the ultimate arbiters in the event of a leadership challenge. They also by repute read the Daily Telegraph so have a badly distorted view of the world.

        1. MoiAussie

          If the brits vote the tories back in even when such an attractive alternative is on offer then they utterly deserve their likely fate – Boris as PM.

          1. Mark P.

            Prediction is hard, especially about the future. But Boris will not be PM and is done, in the sense that he may hang around the UK political scene for decades but the zenith of his political career will be the Brexit referendum. No Churchill he.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          No, majority is 326 or 323 seats, depending on how you count the 5 Sinn Fein seats. So 362 is a majority of at most 39 seats.

          The issue is intra-party dynamics if she gets a good margin but way below the as much as 150 that some were predicting when she called the election.

          1. MoiAussie

            Anon2 was saying that 362 is a majority of 74, which agrees with your 326 being a majority of 2 (it’s zero-sum), allowing May to claim a solid victory and deal with Tory hardliners.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Huh? In the US, 52 seats is a majority of 2 over the Senate tie of 50/50. That is 52-50.

              If you take out the 5 Sinn Fein seats, 322.5 is the 50/50 level. So 323 is an approximation.

              362-323 is NOT 74. It’s 39. Or do you Commonwealth countries have a different meaning for this term?

              1. Terry

                I think this is simply a two nations divided by a common language issue.
                Anon should probably have used the complete term we use here which is what the overall majority is – which is 74. The rule of thumb is double the number of seats that the party went ‘over the line’ (to use the American term): in a vote where all ruling party MPs vote with the government and all others against, the difference will be 74.
                (I am ignoring the complications of Sinn Fein, the fact the Speaker doesn’t vote etc).

              2. MoiAussie

                If the tories (and firm allies) win 362 out of 650, then all the rest win 288, and the tories enjoy a majority of 362-288=74.
                That’s how a party’s “parliamentary majority” is counted here, and, I believe, in the UK. They can then win any vote provided less than half their majority defect on the vote.

                1. Anonymous2

                  I think Yves,Terry and Moi are all correct. I think there is a difference in terminology here. And I was subtracting 288 from 362.
                  On another occasion I will refer to overall majority for the sake of clarity.

                  Separately, in what may be a very significant development for the UK election, a number of tabloid headlines this morning appear to be blaming the government for security lapses before the most recent terrorist attacks. It is suggested even that one jihadi was allowed to work underneath the Houses of Parliament. Have they given up on May?

      2. JustAnObserver

        Interesting question arises. Assuming that Theresa May is an intelligent woman and has been a woman-in-a mans-world for a looong time then I’d guess she knows this just as well as anybody. And yet she decided to go for the Iron Throne in spite of knowing the dangers. So …

        o Did she simply think that in the Tory party of 2016 its was the *only* way she could get the job ?

        o Had she drunk the Boris KoolAid to the extent of thinking, even after ~40 years of ever tighter integration, Brexit would be a simple walk in the park and the rest of the EU would be falling over themselves to achieve soft-Brexit ?

        o She’s a totally committed Dacreland anti-EU ideologue from the depths of the Tory shires and, therefore, doesn’t give a flying [family blog] what damage a hard Brexit will cause; Even to that Conservative citadel of the City/Canary Wharf.

        Unfortunately my view is that its actually the last of these.

        1. Synoia

          She got the job, and the brief is (was) Brexit. To survive in the job she has to tread the Brexit part, despite the fact she was a Bremainer.

          Her highest personal priority is to remain PM. Ditching Brexit would remove that crown from her head, and politically remove her head for her shoulders, because it would give new meaning to “Revolting Tories”.

          In this situation, would you not choose the hardest path, to test the resolve of the others, and then pull a “they forced me to back down” because the costs to England are too high?

          In some ways she is still campaigning against Brexit, by taking the hard path.

          I see that as a possible win/win for May. Brexit or Bremain she could win.

      3. Harry


        Runciman who has very good connections within the nasty party has made this clear in at least two pieces.

      4. Darn

        Hmm at link — so she got in on her first try. (In that respect is very unlike Clinton!) I’m not in a professional job, either. But you think women are dissimilar to men in this way or no? If so why?

  9. ChrisAtRU

    Hoping Jezza can pull it off. You’re right in that it may be a poisoned chalice, but I’d prefer to see Labour in power regardless because of the promise of undoing decades of neoliberal onslaught against the public good by usurping the power of the public purse. Here’s to a massive youth turnout as well as an informed perspective by voters who understand that there IS an ALTERNATIVE. #GetInThereJezza #VoteLabour

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, I agree 100%. I’m just saying he’ll find it much harder than he should to implement the Labour manifesto, and to meter your expectations accordingly.

    1. Roger Smith

      I would imagine, generally speaking, that move like this is high risk, high reward. To an electorate, this might sound like whining about your opponent. This is the kind of thing I wanted to see Sanders do. I guess we will see what happens.

      1. vlade

        She has been part of the problem – as I wrote today, she was HomeSec for 7 years (I count the last year as well, since it’s clear she’s the government, and other members of the cabined don’t do anything w/o her say so), so the current situation is her responsibility. Why would anyone believe her she can fix it now when she wasn’t able to do anyting about it for 7 years? (and she consistenly failed to deliver on her HS commitments).

        So it’s just a question on whether it’ll have enough time to sink in.

        1. MoiAussie

          It’s not about whether “she can fix it”. It’s about whether she would fix it if she could. All indications to date are that she would not. May’s event show it clearly.

    2. ChrisAtRU

      Interesting. I suspect the knives are already out from within against her, so I’m less surprised in that sense. He’s within rights though, as this plays well to her ridiculous “magic money tree” allusions. Her neoliberal fallacies have come home to roost and sadly, lives are now lost because of it.

  10. Ignacio

    Hey, electoral manipulation from evil ruskies has been forgotten in this analysis. It all depends on Putin.

    Doesn’t it?

    1. JustAnObserver

      Still 4 days to go so give the whackjobs some time to get our daemon-du-jour into the frame.

  11. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t quibble with anything in this article, its an excellent summation of my understanding of whats been going on.

    I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed an election anywhere thats been harder to call. The polls and the polling aggregates are all over the place. There is a very wide spectrum of realistically forseeable results – from the Tories getting in the high 300’s, to a narrow Labour victory. I get the impression that the pollsters are at a loss as to how to address changing voting patterns and to anticipate turn-outs. I suspect that as the stakes rise as Labour goes up in the polls, turnout will rise, which will probably be good for Labour.

    One thing I have noticed, which I think may be significant is that there is no evidence from the polls of Labour neolibs defecting to the Lib Dems or not voting. There seems to be a reluctant acceptance by the Blairites that Corbyn has done well and deserves support, albeit through gritted teeth. If one can judge anything from the Guardian comment pages is that Labour neoliberals have decided that they really have no option.

    I think there is a direct parallel with the US elections. Corbyn, like Trump, has been attacked so much that the thrusts have lost their sting, so the Conservatives are just appearing shrill and hysterical the more they attack him. The Conservatives, like HRC, are in such a tight little bubble they have lost all connection with whats happening on the ground (it may be, of course, that the mid level of professional operatives are still doing what needs to be done in the marginals). They are failing to change a failing strategy and they seem to have not anticipated that Corbyn would do so well with the public.

    Corbyn seems to have finally taken some good advice on campaigning in public. I think its been quite clever that they have taken his negatives – his lefty habits like wearing no tie and cycling everywhere – and turned them into more positive loveable English eccentric stereotypes. People are warming to him, which I never thought would happen.

    I think that unless May delivers a result on the higher end of the spectrum of expectancy (around 370 seats or so), she will be seen as damaged goods. She will find it very hard to control the rebels, either hard Brexiters or possibly even more panicky Remainers. She will need a very big majority to push through whatever it is she wants (which is bound to be seen as a betrayal by someone). If she fails to get a majority though, its hard to see who would be able and willing to unseat her. She could end up like a later John Major, a very weak and embattled figure. Personally, I thought she was crazy not to go for an election in late 2016, when it really would have been a foregone conclusion of a big win. I didn’t see any sense at all in going to the country now. She has proven to have poor judgement, fatal for a PM so early in the game.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You last para was the question on which I was hoping to get some insight…how much lasting damage has May taken and how much would a high (relative to now lower expectations) margin of victory do to reduce that?

      Also the criticism of her for police cuts does seem to be getting legs as a story with the Mayor of London piling on. So she’s taking even more body blows in the final days.

      1. Darn

        Tories suddenly dumped Thatcher over the poll tax but kept the unpopular Major who led a minority govt in its last days into the ’97 election campaign so who knows how the parliamentary party would treat her.

      2. tempestteacup

        Hi Yves. Unless the Tories win by the sort of enormous margins predicted when she called the GE, she has already sustained significant damage to her reputation and, finally, the purdah drawn over her mediocrity by the media has been permanently removed. She will be subjected, even if she is returned as PM, to open criticism, ridicule and scepticism. Most importantly, this dissent has been expressed not just from those sympathetic to the Labour Party, but from within the Tories themselves. As disciplined as they are when it comes to the pursuit and retention of power, this is important – she was an asset while she was left free to perform her shabby covers of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest hits. Her soft support for Remain could be forgiven by Brexiteers just as Tory Remainers could ignore the fact that she had betrayed them in a transparent effort to absorb UKIP’s voter base. With illusions shattered, none of that will continue after the GE even if she stumbles over the finishing-line.

        With regards to her “mandate” and freedom to negotiate, much depends on the views of those who will form part of the new Tory intake of MPs. Unsurprisingly, I’ve had more pleasurable things to do with my life than examining the backgrounds of those Tory candidates with a realistic chance of gaining seats in the new parliament, but from what I’ve gleaned from the press they are more likely to be Brexiteers than Cameron-style globalists. Which would of course mean that even if May did win a large majority, she could find herself even more hostage to the fanatical anti-EU faction of her party than if she’d worked with what she had.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Oh, I love “shabby covers of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest hits”. I hope to find an excuse to use that. But the idea that the rabid Brexiters will be even better placed if the Tories win is really ugly.

      3. BruceK

        Her basic electoral strategy, to take UKIP’s vote, seems to have been sound. UKIP is polling at around a third of its 2015 level; meanwhile, the Tories are polling at 40-43%, comparable to where they were from 1983 to 1992 and above anything since.

        However, I still think she has done herself lasting damage. The dementia tax debacle was firmly her responsibility and she has shown herself to be a very poor campaigner.

        I therefore doubt that she will lead the Tories into the next election, and so it is difficult to see her lasting as PM beyond 2020, whatever her majority.

      4. PlutoniumKun

        Obviously its a hard thing to predict – and I don’t follow the right wing media in the UK so much so I don’t know what their opinion-formers are saying – but from what I’ve seen her reputation has taken a real hammering and even if she pulls off a solid win she has lost that sheen of confidence and competence any leader needs. I get the impression that – like Major – she doesn’t have a big personal power base within the party, she was always something of a compromise candidate, so there isn’t a big internal army of May-ites pushing her case.

        However, what will almost certainly save her is that she doesn’t seem to have any real competition – I doubt there is any stomach for a defenestration and leadership battle within the party. Although it is possible that the Brexit true believers would interpret a bad election as proof that only a hard liner can lead them, but they must know that this could lead to the party (and government) disintegrating at a terrible time.

  12. purplepencils

    May can only blame herself if she loses. As someone who has watched her since her stint as Home Minister (and cultivated a dislike for the Minister), her premiership has been incredible. The arrogance, go-at-it-alone-ness, kowtowing-to-Trump-cowardice, incompetence, etc. It was only a matter of time that it was laid bare. Ironically, she chose a poor time to do it; by cynically scheduling an election now instead of when she first became PM, she’s caused quite a bit of resentment even amongst friends of mine who didn’t have a very poor opinion of her beforehand. I’ve heard quite a number of complaints about how yet another summer is being ruined by the polls.

    It’s incredibly hard to call. I do think May will win. To me, the best case right now is that she wins but with a smaller majority, thus destroying her credibility, and hopefully making her open to suggestions from people who aren’t the Terrible Two. Also, excellent slap from the people.

    I didn’t think of the poisoned chalice bit. In a way, May messing Brexit up would be an excellent way of making the Tories anathema for a good decade or so… but crappy Brexit terms, or no terms at all… Which is worse? May destroying this country, or Corbyn forced to drink from the poisoned chalice? It’s a no-win situation, and who do we blame?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its probably too late to have an impact on the election, but the Qatar thing really is very big news – I don’t know whats behind it, but it looks like a really serious rift between the Gulf States that could have all sorts of unforeseen impacts. It looks to me like another huge over-reaction and over-reach by the Saudi’s – the Qatari have a lot of friends around the world thanks to their habit of throwing their cash around and their dominance of the LNG market. I wonder if the Saudi’s are convinced Trump will support them in their attempt to stomp out all Shia influence in the Middle East. They seem to think that the Qatari’s are an impediment to this (most likely, this is pure paranoia, as it is with the supposed Iranian influence in Yemen).

  13. Anonymous2

    The following is of some interest in all this. The blog linked to below is by Dr Richard North – one of the more intelligent supporters of Brexit

    I quote a passage from it which shows that even he is concerned about the direction in which matters are going

    ‘That notwithstanding, it cannot be stressed enough that a smooth transition will require the active co-operation of the EU. Without it, the FT “worst case” scenario could easily happen. Amongst other things. That could see the cessation of international flights on Brexit Day, and only a gradual resumption of services as new deals come into force.

    Anyone who doubts this merely has to look at Article 3 of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement, where each party grants to the other the right to fly across its territory without landing; to make stops in its territory for non-traffic all points in the United States and to perform international air transportation between the United States “any point or points in any member of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA)”.

    Without an agreed carry-over, on Brexit Day, the UK ceases to be part of the ECAA, and the Agreement no longer applies to UK-registered airlines. Nor indeed will US registered airlines be able to fly their aircraft to the UK. The chaos we’ve been witnessing after the British Airways IT failure will be looked upon with fondness, as a mere dress rehearsal.

    Interestingly it isn’t only the Financial Times which is waking up to this potential disaster. We also see the New Statesman point out that, if Britain leaves the EU without a deal, its right to participate in Open Skies will also end. It is hard, says Stephen Bush in the magazine, to see how for anyone in Britain who likes flying to Europe or America … ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ “‘

    My own gloss on this is that if he is right then the EU have the UK completely over a barrel – ‘Leave the EU without a deal, OK,…. but do not expect to be able to fly anywhere’. The UK has to reach a deal with the EU and that will be on terms dictated by the EU.

    Mind you there are some commentators on some websites who say ‘OK, if the EU wants to play it rough, we will play it really rough, encourage Putin to go into the Baltics, Erdogan to release more refugees, remember who has nukes etc.’ This seems to me to be very dangerous talk, seriously threatening European stability. Cameron was derided for saying Brexit could lead to war. Perhaps he was being less fanciful than people thought.

    A lot of the time I think this is all madness.

  14. UserFriendly

    Yougov was the only pollster that called brexit and their model goes constituency by constituency making sure that it gets counted when one party stands down to help another. Their update today has SNP losing some ground to the tories but the tories losing even more ground to labour in the midlands. How it stands now:
    Conservatives: 305
    Labour: 268
    SNP + Green + PC:45
    Lib Dem: 13
    NI: 18 (Unionist/torie: 10 Sinn Fein:5 SDLP: 3)
    Other: 1

    It’s hard to say with people being forced to vote strategically, I’d say the push towards labor is getting stronger but that has odd effects like giving the conservatives seats in scotland. It should make for an interesting night.

    1. Darn

      Thanks! Clutching at straws I know but one friend just observed, with the BBC not reporting a 10 000 Corbyn rally, that such rallies are no longer “news”. Well, in Trump’s case they gave rise to expectedly good ground game, so here’s hoping. (Voting reg deadline over, though)

  15. Altandmain

    What strikes me about this is how self inflicted this whole mess is for the Tories.

    They are without a plan. I think that they never had a contingency plan on what they would have to do if the Exit vote won. The totally amateurish way the government has been run in the UK leaves no other explanation. Since then it has been more and more into total chaos.

    May clearly thought that she could exploit the situation and gain a larger majority but overestimated her appeal to the public and left many potential voters who might have backed her alienated by her decision to call the election so soon.

    I am hoping that Corbyn makes a big gain. Doing so would be the ultimate dirt kicked in the face for this political opponents and the press, who thus far have dragged Corbyn through the mud.

    Maybe though as others have noted it would be best if the Conservatives won, but with a large loss in their majority. That would force a coalition-building problem and likely destroy their credibility.

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