Thursday, 13 August 2009

Brown and out whenever he will?

One ever-present topic of political betting conversation is to speculate on when Gordon Brown might stand down. There are direct markets on this (on SPIN, Betfair and the mainstream bookies) and indirectly this question influences other markets, such as the "next Prime Minister" markets. In this post, I am going to concentrate on the Betfair market, on which you can bet by quarter on when Gordon Brown will cease to be leader of the Labour party. The favourite is for Gordon Brown to cease being leader of the Labour party in April to June 2010. Is that right?

There are effectively three possibilities: Gordon Brown stands down or is replaced before the next election; Gordon Brown stands down following the election; Gordon Brown does not stand down in the timeframe.

Before the election

Perhaps the most telling indication of Gordon Brown's failure as a leader is that it is those posters and commentators who are not irredeemably opposed to Labour who are keenest to see him replaced. Conservative posters and commentators in particular are eager to see him in place for the election. Labour loyalists who are also loyal to Gordon Brown are very few and far between. In the press, only Mary Riddell in the Telegraph seems to be truly loyal to Gordon Brown.

That in turn would suggest that Gordon Brown should be very vulnerable. There are two danger points for him: the party conference and early in the New Year with equal dangers of both.But for all that logic dictates that he should be replaced, I think that he will survive to fight the election, for the following reasons:

1) No one has the cullions

This could more politely be labelled loyalty. But the great and the good had a gilt-edged opportunity to push Gordon Brown out of the door in June when James Purnell resigned. Either Alan Johnson or David Miliband could have ensured this. Both declined to do so. There is no obvious reason why they should act now when they failed to act then. They have both missed their best chance.

2) The prisoners' dilemma

Indeed, it gets worse. While either could have acted in June without much blame attaching to them - they would have been seen as taking the tide at the flood rather than orchestrating the coup - any move now by either David Miliband or Alan Johnson will be seen as a leadership bid. If David Miliband acts, Alan Johnson probably gets the job. If Alan Johnson acts, David Miliband probably gets the job.

Alistair Darling is in a separate category since he doesn't have leadership ambitions, so far as anyone can tell. I can imagine him resigning if he thought it best for party and country, and bringing Gordon Brown down. There is no obvious reason to expect him to do so now, however.

3) The fear of something worse

The Cabinet may fear that they will head for certain defeat under Gordon Brown. But it could be even worse if the Labour party disintegrates into internal faction-fighting in advance of an election. There would surely have to be a contested election this time. It would be a brave man or woman who predicted that would pass without incident between the candidates or their proxies.

4) Peter Mandelson

Following the failed June coup, Peter Mandelson has secured for himself a position of unparalleled influence for a senior minister. Except in the unlikely event that he himself became the next Prime Minister, he will lose that position under any successor of Gordon Brown's. This means that any plotters will need either to win Peter Mandelson round (good luck with that task) or fight against him as well as Gordon Brown. I expect that Peter Mandelson would fight, fight and fight again to save the position he loves.

It follows that I see Gordon Brown stepping down before the next election only if he decides to do so of his own free will (and Peter Mandelson fails to persuade him to stay in office). If he does so, again I expect it will be at either the party conference or early in the New Year, with equal probabilities of both.

Someone clearly agrees with my conclusions, if not my logic. The "Brown days" market on SPIN has jumped sharply in the last week, suggesting that someone thinks that the odds of Gordon Brown going early have dropped markedly.

The next election

There is a subsidiary question wrapped up in this, which is when the next election will be. This post is going to be long enough, so I won't go into all those whys and wherefores, but May 2010 is the heavy favourite and in my view justly so. The rest of this post assumes that the election is in May 2010 except where explicitly stated otherwise.

Of course, Gordon Brown might win the election. Don't laugh. It's not impossible. "Winning" in this context includes Labour being the largest party in a hung Parliament. In those circumstances, Gordon Brown is almost certainly safe for the rest of the year.

While it must not be discounted, I do not place great credence on this, seeing it as much more likely that Labour will either lose or lose badly. What then?

At this point, it is important to look at the terms of the bet on Betfair. I place a high probability on Gordon Brown announcing that he is stepping down on election night if Labour lose, just as John Major did. However, the Betfair bet pays out when he ceases to lead the Labour party, not when he announces his departure. This means that the Labour party electoral timetable and Gordon Brown’s chosen date of departure are the critical elements.

I regard it as unlikely that he will immediately hand over to Harriet Harman on an interim basis. Gordon Brown would be the first former Prime Minister since the second world war to step down so abruptly after an election defeat. Even John Major served as Leader of the Opposition for a few weeks. No leader of the Opposition since the second world war has stepped down abruptly after electoral defeat either.

Gordon Brown would have an eye to his legacy and would not want to be seen to be letting the party down after leading it to defeat. Even if he decided to hand over - my expectation - I personally doubt that he would do so in a rush. He would recall that Michael Howard’s much delayed replacement was rather successful for the Tories and that Michael Howard received favourable press for how he handled it. I expect Gordon Brown would stay in office until the next party conference at the earliest and possibly longer.

If Gordon Brown announces on election night that he is standing down at the party conference, will angry Labour MPs come with pitchforks to get rid of him sooner? I simply can’t see it. Why start internecine warfare about someone who is already political history?

Even if I am wrong, if Labour lose in a May election next year, my expectation is that he’ll stay in office at least until a leadership election is held. The candidates will need to secure nominations from MPs and that will surely mean Parliament will need to sit and new MPs will need to be canvassed. Won’t that take him into July at the very earliest?

Consider this timetable:

The most likely election date is 6 May 2010. Hypothetically, Gordon Brown announces that he will stand down in the early hours of 7 May 2010. (Tony Blair announced his resignation on 10 May 2007). Looking at this timetable, that would suggest that Gordon Brown would eventually step down before the end of June 2010. However, Parliament would (I think) only return on 13 May 2010. Nominations could not close too quickly after Parliament's return, since Labour MPs would want to time to discuss properly among each other who they would nominate and candidates would want the chance to canvass the nominating electorate. I suggest that the very earliest that nominations could close is 20 May 2010, and given that there will be some new Labour MPs who would need more time than the old lags to make up their mind, I suggest that 27 May 2010 is at least as likely. In that case, Gordon Brown would step down on 1 July 2010 if the same timetable is followed - ie, Q3. Now, you may disagree with me that extending the timetable in this way is likely. But some probability must be ascribed to it and it doesn't seem that negligible to me.

I regard the chances of Gordon Brown leaving office as party leader in April-June 2010 as substantially overstated.

In my view, it is likely to occur only if:

(1) Labour suffered an election defeat in a March election and Gordon Brown decides to stand down immediately;

(2) Gordon Brown resigns with immediate effect on election night; or

(3) Gordon Brown resigns and the Labour party electoral timetable is set in motion without delay.

The third of these is the most substantial possibility to my mind, and I place no more than a 1 in 4 chance of this outcome coming to pass. The single most likely possibility in my mind is that Gordon Brown would step down at the next party conference. If that is in September, that makes Q3 2010 a clear favourite in my mind and the Betfair prices look very tempting. I have been participating when the prices looked particularly good. My view is that the prices for Q2 2010 are simply wrong.I have had the courage of my own convictions and also factored the optimal Labour course of action into my betting. My current position therefore is to lay Apr-Jun 2010 and to back later periods at the right price. I am therefore light green for periods up to and including Jan-Mar 2010, deep red for Apr-Jun 2010 and deep green thereafter.

I look forward to being told just exactly how I've got this completely wrong. But as the title of this piece suggests, Gordon Brown is in far greater control of the date when he ultimately stands down as leader of the Labour party than is commonly appreciated - he controls the date of his resignation, the date of the election, the decision whether to remain as interim leader. Anyone who doesn't factor all of this into their thinking is taking a big risk.



John O said...

Top quality stuff. I think you're 100% correct in the analysis. Are there currently betting markets to reflect your suggested timescale?

Richard Nabavi said...

A lot of good stuff there, antifrank. In particular, I agree with your point that punters are confusing the date of Brown potentially announcing he is standing down, and the date of his actual departure.

The comparison with what was seen as the timetable when Blair announced his resignation is very instructive; however, that strikes me as very much a minimum. In government, there is a strong reason for wanting to get it over with as quickly as possible, so as not to leave a power vacuum. In opposition, there is no such hurry - indeed, it is much better to take time and get it right (as the Conservatives showed last time round).

Q3 2010 is a strong possibility.

Alastair said...

John O, Betfair have the next Labour leader market, as I note, which bets in quarters (you can currently get Q3 2010 for tiny sums at 6 and over, which I still regard as good value, though better prices have been available).

Paddy Power have a market as to when Gordon Brown will cease to be Prime Minister, also arranged by quarters. Q2 is priced at 4/9, which would include any election that Labour under Gordon Brown loses in April, May or June.

William Hill have a market on the year that Gordon Brown ceases to be Prime Minister. 2010 is also 4/9, making this much better value than the Paddy Power bet. This would capture not just Labour general election defeats under Gordon Brown in 2010 but also a New Year defenestration/resignation. Having spotted this, I'm now weighing up whether to go for it, because it does look like value to me.

wibbler said...

What a fantastic post.

OGH should promote this to PB1!

Ted said...

Agree with your analysis - I do have a nagging doubt that Gordon Brown would hang on as Leader of the Opposition longer than was absolutely necessary. While Howard's example showed how a long election period could heal dissent and be a positive that was only after three leaders and election losses had bought the whole party to face the crisis and recognise the need for change.

Brown might want an accelerated leadership campaign, perhaps to advantage Balls, and so announce he'd be gone on 28th June, giving the new leader a chance to appear in Parliament for a few weeks before the summer recess. He could then resign his seat in July just before recess with a by election delayed until after the Labour Conference.

BTW Is Mary Riddell still that stuck on Gordon, her last comment piece seemed to show she had given up on him.

Anonymous said...

Ted, you forget that Labour would lose the ability to control when the by-elections are held.

Antenna Brandenburg said...

A very thorough analysis and interesting post! Not that it's likely to happen, but does a Labour leader cease to be leader if he or she loses their seat in the general election?

Easterross said...

antifrank a brilliant post and excellent analysis. A pity I dont understand how betfair works.

I am with you in that I expect Brown to stand down after June 2010 when he has a chance to ensure his least favourite candidate for successor has been seen off.

The biggest unknown question is just which possible successors might still be MPs by June 2010 but that is for another thread.

BrianSJ said...

This is great.
There will be some interesting PMQs when Brown is able to revert to being an opposition politician.

'Events, dear boy' is the question. A failed gilts auction, the IMF arriving; there is a case that his departure would be a condition of help. Throwing one too many Nokias at Alistair Darling, perhaps.

MichaelK said...

Excellent article.

Especially, I agree with your conclusion that Brown has more control over this than people allow for.

The difficulty of shifting him under the Labour constitution is very significant. It means that plotters or cabinet rebels can't point to the backbenches and say (credibly) "If you don't go you'll be forced out anyway".

Something else I'm pondering is whether he would seek to stay as leader if there were a hung parliament and Labour were not the largest party. From where we stand now, that could look like something of a success for Brown. Certainly the media focus would be on the Tories' disappointment. Would Brown necessarily have any thoughts of resigning in such a case?

Alastair said...

Thanks for all the kind comments.

Antenna Brandenburg, I'm not an expert on Labour party internal procedures. As I understand Clause 7 of the Labour rule book, the leader would then be ineligible for re-election since the leader of the Labour party must be elected or re-elected from among Commons members of the PLP. However, I do not think that Gordon Brown would immediately need to stand down.

MichaelK, you raise a good point. You should bear in mind, however, that in those circumstances, Labour might be able to form a coalition government. It might well be in those circumstances that the Lib Dems might insist on Gordon Brown being replaced (though whether he would be replaced as Labour leader would be a very interesting question). The circumstances would then become very fluid.


Peter the Punter said...

Excellent stuff, Antifrank.

Your point about Mandelson's role was particular instructive and original (i.e. I hadn't thought of it.)

In summary, you are saying the 'long' dates are the best value. I agree. It's easy to see from your analysis that there is very little advantage to any of the key players in a swift resignation. Indeed, there are very good reasons for delay, quite possibly a long delay.

I will be betting accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff Antifrank, a very good and well thought out article.

I have however always felt that Brown wont have the "cullions" st stand and face Cameron from the other side of the house after the GE, on the basis that Labour lose.. Of course that doensn't mean he wont remain leader... It'll probably fall to Hattie, that's when the ill health is likely to feature.

Thanks again for an excellent article.

Maggie Thatcher Fan

Peter from Putney said...

A brilliant thread antifrank, wasted on PB2 .... it should have been on the main site, no doubt about it.

I, too, have previously extolled the virtues of backing July-Sept as being excellent value for Brown's departure date - not such value now of course since your thread appeared, but probably the price will ease back with time.

You and I seem to share a very similar outlook when it comes to political betting.

Your thread also points up that this particular market offers far better value than, say, backing the single month of May as being the month of the next GE, where Lads' odds of 0.36/1 are the best available. Instead you can back Brown's departure date as being any time between April-Sept, i.e. over a full six month period on Betfair at combined odds of 0.65/1, a no-brainer if ever there was one.

Peter from Putney said...

I've just been reading the other comments on this thread and MTF certainly has a point.
The one problem I have with Brown remaining as party leader relates to the question of his character.
I see him as being a totally broken man on the back of a heavy election which appears very likely to be the outcome. Indeed the scale of his defeat may prove to be even greater than any of us currently contemplate.
In such circumstances, would he have the required courage to remain in place for almost 8 weeks until his successor was selected by the due process? I doubt it somehow.

John1755 said...

Your analysis is wrong. Brown will never give up the leadership voluntarily. He will see the vote as not representing either the "true" feelings of the people or not reflecting "actual" Labour party support for him.
Unfortunately you assume Brown will call an election. There is a "probability" that he will declare a "national emergency" and cancel the election for a year or two.
The stupid fool has no regard for anything or anyone except maintaining his power base at any cost. Why should he respect our right to democracy? We are very close to being ruled by a dictator, for that's what this bully would be if given an opportunity, because this is how he behaves today, in a dictatorial manner.
No, you are wrong, Brown will not go. He hasn't got the guts to behave honourably. He will hang on to the very last. This man is mad, mad men do not behave predictably. Anyone who would make Alan Sugar a lord has got to have completely lost the plot!