By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

Coronavirus! Climate! Brexit! Trump! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting: Talking Politics is the podcast that tries to make sense of it all. Every week David Runciman and Helen Thompson talk to the most interesting people around about the ideas and events that shape our world: from history to economics, from philosophy to fiction. What does the future hold?

Can democracy survive? How crazy will it get? This is the political conversation that matters.

Talking Politics is brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books, Europe's leading magazine of books and ideas.


New Podcast: These Times

UnHerd political editor Tom McTague and Cambridge professor Helen Thompson team up to investigate the history of today’s politics — and what it means for our future. Each week they will explore the great forces, ideas and events that led us to where we are, whether in Britain, the United States, Europe or beyond. It’s a politics podcast for those who want a deeper, historical understanding of the news, to understand what has really shaped our world and why. We hope you enjoy! Don’t forget to please rate, like and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts — and, of course, to get in touch with all your questions and comments so we can respond in future episodes. Email us at or tweet us at @thesetimespod 

New Podcast: Where Are You Going?

Talking Politics producer Catherine Carr returns to her role as mic-wielder in 'Where Are You Going?' a unique storytelling podcast, delivered in bite-size episodes.Called 'utterly compelling and unique' by the Financial Times, 'engrossing' by The Times and 'riveting' by The Spectator.In each episode, Catherine interrupts people as they go about their everyday lives and asks simply; "Where are you going?"The conversations that follow are always unpredictable: sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking, silly, romantic or downright 'stop-you-in-your-tracks' surprising.Be transported to places around the world and into the lives of others. What story is coming next? You just never know....'Where Are You Going?' is produced by the team at Loftus Media. New episodes are published twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday.SubscribeInstagramWebsite
24/04/233m 39s

New Podcast: Past Present Future

Past Present Future is a new weekly podcast with David Runciman, host of Talking Politics, exploring the history of ideas from politics to philosophy, culture to technology. David talks to historians, novelists, scientists and many others about where the most interesting ideas come from, what they mean, and why they matter.Ideas from the past, questions about the present, shaping the future.Brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books.New episodes every Thursday. Just subscribe to Past Present Future wherever you get your podcasts.
21/04/232m 18s


David, Helen and Catherine get together for our final episode, to reflect on podcasting through six extraordinary years of politics, and what it means to be ending at the beginning of a war. We talk about the current crisis, how it connects to the crises of the past, and where it might fit in to the crises of the future. This episode is dedicated to Finbarr Livesey and Aaron Rapport.So you don’t miss us too much…  You can follow Catherine’s work on Relatively and The Exchange on R4. She tweets @CatherineECarrRead David in the pages of the LRBOr check out his most recent book, Confronting Leviathan Helen’s new book, Disorder is now out! And she writes a column for the New Statesman and tweets @HelenHet20Our website - keep an eye out for archive curation - underway soon!In grateful memory of our colleagues Aaron Rapport and Finbarr Livesey
03/03/2239m 14s

Helen Thompson/Disorder

For our penultimate episode, David talks to Helen about her new book Disorder: Hard Times in the Twenty-First Century. It’s a conversation about many of the themes Helen has explored on Talking Politics over the years, from the energy transition to the perils of QE, from the travails of the Eurozone to the crisis of democracy, from China to America, from the past to the present to the future. In this book, she brings all these themes together to help make sense of the world we’re in.Talking Points: Suez is often seen as a crisis of British imperial hubris. But it’s also about energy.The US wanted Western European countries to import oil from the Middle East.But the US at the time was not a military power in the region.So the US essentially became a guarantor of Western European energy security, but implementation was dependent on British imperial power in the region.When Eisenhower pulled the plug on Suez, Europe panicked. The aftermath was hugely consequential.France turned to Algeria, but that went badly.Europe also embraced nuclear power to pursue energy self-sufficiency.And finally, this precipitated a turn to Soviet oil and gas and the construction of pipelines between Soviet territories and Western Europe.The shale boom was a double-edged sword: it also destabilized the alliance with Saudi Arabia and increased competition between the US and Russia.Meanwhile, Chinese demand has been increasing. The US today imports much less oil from the Persian Gulf, but the US Navy still provides energy security in the region, even though most of that oil goes to China and Japan. QE created a wholly new situation in the Eurozone.Everyone in the Eurozone game essentially understands that if QE is going to continue, there will be constraints around what can happen in Italian domestic politics.The current prime minister of Italy is the former president of the ECB.One of the risks of democracy is democratic excess. But democracies can also experience aristocratic excess.In US elections, people need a lot of money to compete. This means that there is not really an outlet for genuine democratic demands.Mentioned in this Episode:Helen’s book, DisorderJames Macdonald, A Free Nation Deep in DebtFurther Learning: More on Nord Stream 2 Helen, on how the rich captured modern democraciesHelen on Ukraine for the New StatesmanWhy the Ukraine crisis is a modern crisisAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
24/02/2246m 55s

The Meaning of Macron

David talks to Shahin Vallee and Chris Bickerton about the upcoming French presidential elections. Can anything or anyone stop Macron? Why has French politics moved so far to the right? And what do left and right still mean in the absence of economic disagreement? Plus we discuss what the Macron years - the five that have gone and the five probably still to come - have taught us about the changing character of European politics.
17/02/2245m 27s

The Meaning of Boris Johnson

David, Helen and Chris Brooke have one more go at making sense of the tangled web that is British politics. Can Johnson really survive, and even if he does, can his brand ever recover? Is this a scandal, is it a crisis, or is it something else entirely? Does history offer any guide to what comes next? Plus we explore what might be the really big lessons from the last two years of Covid-dominated politics.Talking Points: It’s obvious why Boris is a problem, but it’s not clear who would replace him.There will probably need to be a decisive marker, either the May local elections or the police report could be it.The strategic question for the Conservative party is, can it win enough seats to form a stable majority government?Boris won’t go voluntarily. But can he survive?Newer MPs are not loyal to Johnson, but older ones are more wary of defenestrating a leader who won big majorities.A lot of people have left number 10. It will be hard for him to govern.In 2015, Ed Miliband was leading in the headline polls. But there were signs of weakness.Labour wasn’t winning local elections. And Cameron was polling better on two key questions: leadership and the economy.Labour has now moved ahead on both. It would still be hard for Labour to win an overall majority, but defeat in local elections might spook the Conservatives.The politics of scandal are different from the politics of crisis.Scandals change how politics are conducted, but they don’t usually trash the party’s reputation.Helen thinks that it is a politics of chaos.This particular scandal is bound up in Johnson’s appeal. On most issues, the outrage of the other side works for Johnson.Outrage about the parties is different: Johnson was a hypocrite.He has trashed his own brand this time, but he still doesn’t think the game is over.Were the pandemic years a dress rehearsal for the politics of climate change?To reach net zero, governments will need to ask people to make sacrifices. Will future politics be a politics of limits?The pandemic has also deepened generational divides. Mentioned in this Episode: Recent polling dataFurther Learning: Isaac Chotiner asks David about hypocrisy and Partygate Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves on Labour optimismDavid on Dominic Cummings’ blogFrom the archive… Who is Boris Johnson?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
10/02/2252m 56s

Putin’s Next Move

David and Helen talk to Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor of the Economist, about what Vladimir Putin hopes to get out of the Ukraine crisis and what anyone can do to stop him. Is some sort of invasion inevitable? Is Russia’s goal to sow dissent or to achieve regime change? What leverage does the rest of world have over Putin and his allies? Plus we explore where the roots of the crisis lie: in 2014, in the end of the Cold War, or even earlier still?Talking Points: What does Putin want from Ukraine? He wants to stop Ukraine’s westward shift, which is about more than NATO. Ukraine was probably not ever going to join NATO. In that regard, Putin already has what he wants.What else is he upset about? Britain is building a naval base on the Sea of Azov. Britain and the UK are training Ukrainian troops. Weapons are flowing in, too. Putin worries about Ukraine becoming a more militarily and economically capable actor. What would Putin count as a success in the current crisis? Logistically speaking, Putin could stay there for months. But he has troops from the Eastern military district there, who can’t. And the weather will change after March. Perhaps the biggest problem is psychological: backing down would look like giving in. Does Russia want regime change?Kiev seems less convinced about the imminence of an invasion.Are they deluded? They definitely want to avoid panic, especially economic panic. What is different today from 2014? Ukraine is in an even worse economic position. Ukraine is a transit gas state; Putin has been trying to end that for a long time, and he is getting close with the near completion of Nordstream.Another difference is America’s position in the world. NATO allies should still feel reasonably secure.But in middle areas, such as Ukraine, or the countries in central Asia, things are less certain.Mentioned in this Episode: Shashank’s latest for the Economist: How big is Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine?More on Biden’s global posture reviewAn interview with Dmitri Trenin: are we on the brink of war?Further Learning: Our last episode with ShashankMore on javelin missiles in UkraineMore on the Russia-Belarus integrationAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
03/02/2250m 39s

The Next Big Thing

David talks to John Naughton about what’s coming next in the tech revolution and where it’s taking us. From quantum computing to cryptocurrency, from AI to the Internet of Things: what’s hype, what’s for real and how will it shape our politics. Plus we discuss what China understands about technology that the rest of the world might have missed.Talking Points: The metaverse is the next big thing in Silicon Valley. It feels like the logical conclusion of prevailing trends.This is not actually a radical break.The gaming industry is developing the metaverse. And big tech is investing heavily in gaming. The metaverse bypasses many elements of the real world that people like Zuckerberg are keen on, such as government regulation.What will be the next big technological shift? Are we in a kind of lull?The internet of things has not gone away.Blockchain, which enables crypto, is still a significant technology.Proponents of Web3 want to disrupt centralized control of the Internet.Does the Chinese system show us that there is another choice on technology? The general view of autocracy is that it can’t be done. The problem is imperfect information.Has technology made it possible to escape the autocrat’s trap?Technology has undeniably changed our lives, but the liberatory promise does not seem to have been realized.When will technology give us control over our own time? The kind of capitalism that drives the tech industry is unstable unless it grows.The relentlessness of consumer society is antithetical to a particular kind of creativity and a particular kind of politics.Mentioned in this Episode:John’s column for the ObserverNeal Stephennson, Snow CrashJohn on TP talking about LibraKeynes’ essay, ‘Economic possibilities for our grandchildren’History of Ideas, Hannah Arendt on ActionThe Minderoo Centre for Technology and DemocracyFurther Learning: What is the metaverse, exactly? What is Web3? More on Microsoft’s takeover of Activision BlizzardAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
27/01/2242m 33s

American Civil War?

One year on from Joe Biden’s inauguration David and Helen talk with Gary Gerstle about what’s gone wrong. What is the strategy behind this presidency? Has it tried to do too much or too little? And are the dark warnings of another American civil war really plausible? Plus we discuss whether the original American Civil War should really be used as the template for political breakdown.Talking Points: It’s hard to be a transformational president when your congressional margin is as slim as Biden’s is.Are critics being too harsh? Unemployment is down, the pandemic recovery was quicker than anticipated, and there is a broader renegotiation of work conditions for lower-paid workers. But these are not the seismic shifts many hoped for. Biden may want to be a transformational president, but the conditions do not suit transformational politics.Did an overreading of Trump’s incompetence on the pandemic inflate expectations of Biden? What would Biden’s presidency look like if Democrats did not have a majority in the Senate?The unexpected victories in Georgia have also led to heightened scrutiny of the holdout Democrats, Sinema and Manchin. Republican senators seem to be getting a free pass. Are fears about a looming American civil war overblown?What do we mean by civil war? The idea of the federal government fighting a group of secessionist states seems inconceivable. The notion of factions vying for control over the center is somewhat more plausible.The American Civil War was not just about tribalism or ideology. There were incompatible political economic systems. The very fact that the United States has had a Civil War, however, is still part of American politics. As T.S. Eliot said, ‘Serious civil wars never come to an end.’Will the burgeoning discourse around illegitimate election results actually translate into more overt political violence in the future?Mentioned in this Episode: Biden’s recent speech on voting rightsBarbara Walter’s book, How Civil Wars StartGary’s forthcoming book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal OrderFurther Learning:Is Civil War coming to America? More on Merrick Garland’s investigation Eric Foner for the LRB on the electoral collegeAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
20/01/2253m 39s

Two Topics for 2022

To kick off the new year David and Helen are joined by historian Robert Saunders to talk about two possible trends for the next twelve months. Could Labour and the Lib Dem’s really find electoral common ground to defeat the Tories? And is Netzero scepticism about to become a serious force on the British right? A conversation about history, coalitions, energy prices, populism and the return of Nigel Farage. Coming up on Talking Politics: Biden one year on.Talking Points:By-elections and opinion polls suggest that the Conservative Party might be in trouble.Labour did badly in the by-elections but it is doing better in the polls. Is there a way of getting the Tories out without some combination of Lib Dem and Labour opposition? The Lib Dems can win in seats where Labour is not competitive.There are no prospects for the Labour Party becoming the largest party, given the situation in Scotland, without the Lib Dems taking seats from the Conservatives.The Lib Dems struggle when Labour is perceived as being too far to the left. What complicates things now is the Scottish question. The prospect of a Labour-SNP coalition presents a different type of problem.Should the parties stand down candidates? Can you compel tactical voting? Should you?  Is there potential for serious opposition to climate-centric politics in the coming years?There is a growing, although still constrained, opposition to net zero politics on the right. Farage wants to stoke this.  It’s not exactly climate skepticism, but rather skepticism over the policies put forward to tackle it. This is already happening in Australia and the United States, but these are countries where fossil fuel producers have a lot of power. This is emerging now because of what is happening with energy prices. Is there an unoccupied political space between techno-utopianism and net zero skepticism?  Johnson is keen on the green-growth strategy, but so far, the evidence on green jobs is not that convincing.Covid showed us that the public can take more realism than politicians often assume.Mentioned in this Episode: Keir Starmer’s new year speechMichael Crick’s forthcoming biography of Nigel FarageRobert’s Twitter accountFurther Learning: More on Conservative opposition to Net ZeroHelen on the timid political debate over green energyAdam Tooze on realism, progressivism, and Net ZeroAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
06/01/2249m 15s

Boris: The Ghost of Christmas Present

David and Helen talk through what’s going on with the prime minister, the pandemic and the state of British politics. Is Johnson still in touch with public opinion on Covid? Why is hypocrisy more toxic than lying? What are the historical parallels - if any - for the Tories recent by-election disasters? Plus we try to decide what 2021 will be remembered for politically in the years to come.
23/12/2149m 51s

1848 and All That

David and Helen talk to historian Chris Clark about the 1848 revolutions and what they teach us about political change. What explains the contagiousness of the revolutionary moment? Is it possible to combine parliamentary reform with street politics? Where does counter-revolution get its power? The revolutions of 1848 started with a small civil war in Switzerland in 1847.In 1848, there was a cascade of simultaneous uprisings across the continent. There were the spring revolutions; then in the summer, the liberal and conservative wings began to fight each other.In the autumn, counter revolutions began in earnest. But the left revived itself, launching revolution 2.0. Finally, in the summer of 1849, the counter revolution largely prevailed.These were revolutions about political and social order, but also about national order.The Hungarians, for example, declared independence from Vienna and fought not just against the Austrians but against a range of other nationalities.What accounts for the simultaneity of these revolutions?A continent-wide socio-economic crisis began with an agrarian crisis in 1845. Food became much more expensive at a time when people spent most of their money on food.The agrarian crisis then triggered a downturn in trade and consumption. Why wasn’t there a revolution in Britain? One reason is that the country was so efficiently policed.Another is that Britain was able to export potentially problematic people to the colonies. The imperial economy also allowed them to outsource price-shock problems.The forces of counterrevolution were primarily those of monarchism and money.Europe already had an order, the order of 1815; monarchs wanted to restore it.Revolutions are spontaneous, but counterrevolutionaries can bide their time strategically.The liberal great powers didn’t support the revolutions, but the conservative ones supported the counter revolutions.You can also read this as the death throes of the counterrevolutionary order. They won’t make common cause again. The revolutions of 1848 combined radical street politics with legislative politics. The institutional side of the revolution seemed to win.Constitutions proliferated after 1848. The tense relationship between the street and representative processes is at the core of what these revolutions were about.  Chris’ lecture on the 1848 revolutions for the LRBAnd his LRB essayFrom our archives… Why Constitutions Matter with Linda ColleyIn Our Time on the Taiping RebellionOur History of Ideas series… Marx and Engels on RevolutionAnd Rosa Luxemburg on RevolutionThe TP guide to… European Union before the EU
16/12/2152m 32s

Supply Chains, Inflation & the Metaverse

In a special episode recorded live at the Bristol Festival of Economics, David and Helen talk to Ed Conway, Economics Editor at Sky News, about the biggest challenges facing the global economy. How will the supply chain crisis be fixed? Is inflation the threat it appears? Can the world economic system really wean itself off coal? Plus we discuss whether Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse will ever escape the brute facts of economic material reality.
02/12/2156m 33s

Where is China Heading?

Helen and David talk to Cindy Yu, host of the Chinese Whispers podcast, about the trajectory of Chinese politics. What is Beijing’s political strategy for Hong Kong and Taiwan? Is Xi Jinping really a socialist? Can the CCP escape its history? Plus, what’s the real reason Xi didn’t show up in Glasgow?Talking Points: Before the pandemic, the central questions about China in the West revolved around Hong Kong. Now we don’t talk about it so much.Both the West and China itself seem to think that China has the situation under control.The pandemic made protest harder. It also meant that the media on the ground was focusing on something else.Beijing called the financial companies’ bluff: they didn’t leave when the political situation got worse. China is trying to repair its territorial claims.In some ways, the situation in Hong Kong has made conflict with Taiwan more likely. One country, two systems no longer seems plausible. The window of reunification may be closing. Xi would probably not want to go in for a long, drawn-out war.This is a precarious situation: the risks of miscalculation are enormous. What would the West need to do to preemptively deter China? It’s not clear that this would actually be good for China. The CCP apparatus is incredibly opaque. That said, it appears that the party is more unified now than it was before.Xi is delivering, and if he continues to do so, he will probably not face too much pushback within the party.There was a domestic reason for Xi to skip COP: it coincided with the Sixth Plenum.How ideological is Xi’s project? China is moving away from pragmatism, not necessarily because of Xi Jinping thought.Ideology is most evident in economics.Xi is now talking about common prosperity after decades of rampant inequality.The policies associated with common prosperity probably would not fly in the West.Xi thinks that fixing economic problems is one way to head off social problems.Mentioned in this Episode:Cindy’s podcast, Chinese WhispersCindy’s podcast episode with Oriana Skylar MastroVictor Shih at UC San DiegoFurther Learning: More on the Biden-Xi virtual summitThe Talking Politics Guide to… The Chinese Communist PartyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/11/2147m 31s

Climate Ambition vs Energy Reality

David and Helen talk to Jason Bordoff, Dean of the Columbia Climate School and former Special Assistant to Barack Obama, about climate, COP26 and the enormous challenges of the energy transition. How can we balance the need for energy security with the need to wean the world off its dependency on fossil fuels? Why is China still so reliant on coal? Who will pay for the energy needs of the developing world? Plus, just how scared are the oil companies of public opinion? You can read more of Jason’s work here.Talking Points:Energy transition will require a lot of capital investment.Clean energy tends to be more capital intensive in the short term; although the long-term operating costs are lower.Private capital needs to be mobilized to make this happen. Can large financial institutions forgo significant returns if oil prices go back up?  There is a clash between climate ambition and energy reality.The reality is that, despite tremendous advances in clean energy, oil and gas usage are still going up. The more the ambition is elevated, the bigger this gap becomes. During a lockdown that shut down half of the global economy, carbon emissions only fell 6%. To reach the 1.5 degree target, emissions need to decrease much more quickly.We might start seeing more disruptive and ambitious policies on the table in coming years. Or, maybe not. When questions of energy affordability, reliability, and security come into tension with climate ambition, there is a risk that climate ambition will lose. Is increasing efficiency enough, or will energy consumption also need to go down?In many parts of the world, energy use will actually need to increase in the coming decades. What is needed to make significant investments in clean energy in the developing world financially viable?Some people, like John Kerry, hoped that the U.S. and China might find a point of consensus on climate.In practice, that has not really happened.Could economic competition be a more effective driver than cooperation?If we always see high oil prices as a political problem that we can’t afford, then how will we get to the point at which we allow high prices to reduce demand?The United States is the world’s largest oil producer, but the U.S. government has much less control over American oil and gas producers than OPEC states do.Should we be talking more about energy and less about climate? Mentioned in this Episode: The Columbia Climate SchoolJason’s recent article in Foreign Policy on energy in the developing worldJason, on why everything you think about the geopolitics of climate change is wrongJason’s podcast, Columbia Energy ExchangeFurther Learning: How much will it cost the UK to reach net zero?<a href="" rel="noopener...
04/11/2151m 55s

Hilary Mantel

In a special episode recorded in front of a live audience, Helen and David talk to Hilary Mantel about power, monarchy and political intrigue. From the Tudors to the present, from Henry VIII to Boris Johnson, from Thomas Cromwell to Dominic Cummings. A fascinating insight into politics and the writer’s imagination, from one of the greatest modern novelists.Mentioned in this Episode: Mantel Pieces, a new collection of Hilary’s LRB essays‘Royal Bodies’ (from 2013)The Wolf Hall trilogyA Place of Greater Safety David and Helen on Hilary Mantel (from April 2020)And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
28/10/2153m 36s

Free with Lea Ypi

David talks with Lea Ypi about her astonishing new memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, which tells the story of her childhood in Stalinist Albania and what came after. It’s a tale of family secrets, political oppression and the promise of liberation - and a profound meditation on what it really means to be free. From Marxism to liberalism and back again, this is a conversation that brings political ideas to life. Lea Ypi is Professor of Political Theory at the LSE and Free has been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford PrizeTalking Points: Albania was a socialist country that went through various alliances.By the time that Lea was born, it was largely isolated.The dominant narrative was that Albania was a country surrounded by empires, which stood on the moral high-ground.In other words, it was socialist and anti-imperialist but also fiercely nationalist. For Albania, the key year was not 1989 but 1990.Initially, dissidents were described as ‘hooligans.’In December 1990, protesters requested political pluralism.How do we conceptualize freedom? People in Western countries often relate to non-liberal societies by conceptualizing themselves as liberators.What does freedom mean in a limit-case like Albania? There is a risk of paternalism in the dominant liberal conceptions of freedom. There are always margins of dissidence.What does it feel like to suddenly gain freedom in the liberal sense? How does this affect relations between generations?For Lea, freedom is about being the author of your own fate, even when it seems overdetermined.Studying political ideas can make one a nihilist, or you can choose to believe that there is something about humans that is inherently moral.In other words, freedom is moral agency.Mentioned in this Episode: Lea’s new book, FreeLea on political legitimacy in Marxist perspectiveBook tickets for our upcoming event with Hilary MantelFurther Learning: Lea in the Guardian on growing up in Europe’s last communist stateMore on Albania after the fall of communism from the FTMore on Enver HoxhaMore on the Albanian-Soviet splitLea talks to David and Helen about states of emergencyTP History of Ideas on Fukuyama and the ‘End of History’
21/10/2156m 51s

German Lessons

David and Helen are joined by Politico’s chief Europe correspondent Matthew Karnitschnig to explore the consequences of the German elections. Who were the real winners and losers? Are there lessons for centre-left parties in other countries, including the Labour Party in Britain? And what are the choices facing Germany as it decides on its place in an increasingly unstable world? Plus we ask whether this was a Covid election. If not, why not?Talking Points:What was surprising about the German elections?To expect something is different from seeing it actually happen.Do campaigns make a difference to election outcomes? In this case, it looks like it did. It was pretty clear that Laschet was a poor candidate.Laschet’s response to the floods was a turning point.Scholz prevailed because of his experience—he isn’t perceived as a change candidate.The SPD base has moved to the left, but Scholz is more of a centrist. The CDU, on the other hand, was much less stable. Most German voters wanted change, and yet it is the continuity Merkel candidate who is most likely to become the next chancellor.This reflects grand coalition politics. Merkel pushed the Christian Democrats into the space of the Social Democrats. But the initiative to form this government is coming from the change parties: the Greens and the FDP. The parties seem to believe that their differences are bridgeable. The two smaller parties are more popular among younger people. Change might be driven from below. The larger party only has about 26 percent; this gives the other parties more leverage.What kind of change would be embraced by both the FDP and the Greens? Mentioned in this Episode:Peter Tiede on German schadenfreude in the TimesThe German election resultsWhat are the coalition options after Germany’s election? Further Learning: Matthew Karnitschnig on Olaf Scholz, the ‘teflon candidate’More on Merkel’s legacy for the FTMore on Germany policy towards ChinaBackground on the Scholz money-laundering scandalOur most recent episode on GermanyHear more of Matthew on Politico's podcast on European politics, EU Confidential, which he hosts.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
07/10/2153m 37s

Shutdown/Confronting Leviathan

We’re back from our summer break with David, Helen and Adam Tooze exploring what the pandemic has revealed about politics, economics and the new world order. From Covid crisis to China crisis to climate crisis: how does it all fit together? And what comes next? Adam’s new book is Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy. Plus David talks about his new book based on series one of History of Ideas: Confronting Leviathan. Talking Points:The term ‘lockdown’ can be misleading. Many aspects of the response were not top-down.Most of the reduction in mobility predated government mandate.The financial markets made huge moves and central banks then had to step in.The popular response cannot be separated from the actions of the state.The term ‘shutdown’ better captures the pandemic’s impact on the economy.Huge parts of the productive economy literally ground to a halt. It seems like central banks learned something from the last crisis.Is there still a realistic prospect of normalization? Adam and Helen are skeptical. Is there such thing as democratic money?If so, then democracy has changed.The condition of possibility for the freedom of action of central bankers is a political vacuum.Parts of the left see an opportunity in monetary politics. The entire monetary order in China is political, but there was a debate within the regime over stimulus.The conservatives won out.Some Western financial leaders used this to push back against central bankers in their own countries. The Republican party is becoming increasingly incoherent.Some, such as Mnuchin, emphasize the structural necessity of some kind of continuity. Others, such as Jay Powell, argue that the priority is confronting China. There is an ongoing de-centering from the West in a dollar-based world. The U.S.-China competition has changed. We have moved from a realm of competition over GDP growth rates to a much starker contest involving hard power.The tech sanctions are a sovereignty issue, not just an economic issue.Mentioned in this Episode:Adam’s new book, ShutdownJames Meadway on neoliberalismRudiger Dornbusch, Essays (1998/2001)Quinn Slobodian on right-wing globalistsPerry Anderson’s review of Adam’s work, and Adam’s responseMarx’s Capital Volume 1Helen’s book, Oil and the Western Economic CrisisDaniela Gabor on macrofinance <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
23/09/211h 4m

Q & A with Helen and David: Trump and Everything Else

Our final session of answering your questions, starting with Trump and moving on to where we get our ideas from and what we've learned from all our failed predictions. Plus, were the 1990s really the decade of missed opportunity? After this, Talking Politics is taking a summer break. We will be back in September with lots of new things to talk about. See you then! We hope you have a lovely summer and thank you so much for listening.
08/07/2153m 42s

Q & A With Helen and David: UK Politics and the Union

The second part of our attempt to answer your questions, this week covering British politics. Helen and David tackle whether Labour can win, what happened to the Lib Dems, where the Greens are heading and what's in store for the Union. Plus, how much is being held together by the Queen and what will happen when she is no longer around? Next week, Trump, and much more.Talking UK Politics… Our State of the Union Series: On ScotlandOn Northern IrelandOn WalesOn EnglandFrom our archives:Election Fallout (May 2021)Where is the Opposition? (December 2020)Labour and Brexit: Beyond the Crisis (May 2020)What’s the Future for Labour? (January 2020)Party like it’s 1974 (November 2019)The Party Splits! (In 1846!)Who is Jeremy Corbyn? (February 2018)And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
01/07/2158m 8s

Q & A with Helen and David: Geopolitics

In the first of a short series of episodes, Helen and David do their best to answer your questions about anything and everything. Here, it's the geopolitics of vaccines, Germany as a 'useful idiot', the Great Game in the 21st century, oil prices, green finance and the risks and rewards of 'Japanification'. Next week, they tackle UK politics and the future of the Union.Talking Geopolitics… from our archivesMichael Lewis on the Pandemic (June 2021)After Merkel… What? With Hans Kundnani (April 2021)The Tragic Choices of Climate Change with Adam Tooze (March 2021)Germany, Italy, Coalitions and Vaccines (January 2021)China, Climate, Covid: The New Energy Map with David Yergin (November 2020)Post-COVID economics… with Adam Tooze (November 2020)Adam Tooze on US vs China (May 2019)Oil! With Helen (June 2017)And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
24/06/2150m 10s

Ed Miliband's Big Ideas

David talks to Ed Miliband about the thinking behind his new book Go Big. What are the ideas that have the power to change British politics? If they have been shown to work elsewhere, why are they so hard to make happen? Is it the politicians or the public who are reluctant to make the shift? Plus, we discuss whether the Tories might be better at the politics of change than Labour.Mentioned in this Episode: Ed’s new book, Go Big: How to Fix Our WorldEd’s podcast, Reasons to be CheerfulFurther Learning: Ed on why the Labour Party should think big for the GuardianMore on the Vienna model of social housingMatthew Brown on what Preston council can teach LabourAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
17/06/2145m 10s


This week David and Helen take stock of the state of British politics, looking at how the big themes of the last year fit together. They try to join the dots between the pandemic and the fraying of the Union, the weakness of the Labour party and the fraught politics of climate change, along with the lingering impact of Brexit on everything. We are also looking for your questions on these topics too - please let us know what you would like David and Helen to discuss next: Points: Incumbents, under the conditions of vaccine politics, have done well. The next phase will be about the economy, but we aren’t out of the vaccine stage yet.When an inquiry happens, there will be some tough questions about the British state.If the economic recovery goes well, there will be space for critical reflection. But if recovery stalls or is skewed, that will be the main focus.The Northern Ireland question may pose a real challenge to the politics of the Union.This may be the government’s number one problem right now.The UK government is extremely constrained. The EU has invested a lot of its credibility in defending the single market.  The perverse consequence of Brexit is that it embroiled the EU into the politics of Northern Ireland.Is the First Past the Post system propping up a moribund Labour Party?The electoral system works to Labour’s favour when compared to continental centre-left parties.But the thing that Labour has to deal with that is unique is the Union question.Labour has always struggled to win a majority of seats in England.In 2020, Britain and the EU diverged on the question of China. Biden wants to bring the EU toward the American position. And the EU has moved a bit already.This might dilute the advantage that Johnson thought he might gain with the Biden admin by being tough on China.The geopolitics of climate change are bound up in the EU/US position on China.Merkel has been inclined to treat China as more serious about climate change.Johnson wants to put Britain at the head of ‘green finance.’Climate change is not currently an electorally contested issue in Britain. But that might not be true for much longer.Mentioned in this Episode: Our Union series… on ScotlandDavid Frost’s FT column on the Northern Ireland ProtocolFurther Learning: Helen on Labour and the ‘English Question’ for the New StatesmanMore on Johnson’s ‘green finance’ plansTalking climate change with Helen and Adam ToozeAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
10/06/2145m 56s

Why Constitutions Matter

David talks to historian Linda Colley about her new global history of written constitutions: the paper documents that made and remade the modern world. From Corsica to Pitcairn, from Mexico to Japan, it's an amazing story of war and peace, violence, imagination and fear. Recorded as part of the Cambridge Literary Festival www.cambridgeliteraryfestival.comTalking Points:Swords need words: conquest generates a demand for writing and explanation.In the mid-18th century, literacy began to increase in many societies and printing presses became more widely available. There’s not much incentive to circulate political texts if you can’t have a wider audience. The cult of the legislator fed into the idea that iconic political texts could be useful in new and divergent ways.By the mid-18th century, big transcontinental wars were becoming more common. Hybrid-warfare is expensive. Navies are hideously expensive.Shifts in warfare fed into constitutions because constitutions function as a kind of contract.Constitutions can do a lot of things. They can be used to claim territory, for example. They can extend rights, but they can also withdraw them. Once something is written down, it becomes harder to change. In addition to spreading democracy, constitutions codified exclusion and marginalization.Constitutions are sticky; even failed constitutions leave a legacy.People get used to having a written agreement.The Tunisian Constitution of 1861 only lasted until 1864 but it remains important in Tunisian political memory. The U.S. constitution had a disproportionate impact, not just—or even primarily because of its content.Because the U.S. press was so developed, hundreds of printed versions emerged very quickly and traveled across the world.When new powers started drafting constitutions, however, they looked at many constitutions, not just the American one. Most modern constitutions are a hodge-podge. Mentioned in this Episode: Linda’s new book, The Gun, the Ship, and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions, and the Making of the Modern WorldThe Meiji Constitution (Japan’s 1889 Constitution)The Second Sex, Simone de BeauvoirAlso by Linda: Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837Further Learning: The Talking Politics Guide to … the UK ConstitutionLinda on ‘Why Britain needs a written constitution’ for the FTAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
03/06/2144m 47s

England, Their England

We talk to the historians Robert Tombs and Robert Saunders about the history of England and the future of the Union. Is the size and complexity of England the real problem in holding the UK together? What can England's past teach us about the present state of British politics? Does England have a 'Northern Question' to go with its 'Scottish Question' and 'Irish Question'? This is the final episode in our series about the constituent parts of the UK. Find the others - on Scotland, NI, Wales - at Points: Is the island of Britain a natural seat of government?England is not an island; and the English are not an island people.The Norman conquest attached England to the continent; leaving Scotland outside.As a maritime power, it was useful for England to move its borders to the sea. The strategic arguments for the existence of the UK are perhaps weaker in an era of more diffuse and global security threats and frameworks.Most people probably don’t know that the Union was a Scottish creation.The lack of interest in developing ‘Britishness’ at the English center has had consequences. England is now more dominant in the Union than it used to be.Governance of the Union has changed: the leadership of both major parties in Westminster is now almost exclusively English and they compete for almost exclusively English votes. There is a separate leadership class in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The electoral politics of asymmetrical devolution lead to intense secessionist pressure from Scotland.No government in Westminster can govern without English support, but it is possible to govern while being insensitive to Scottish or Welsh opinion.The dynamics of the Union incline toward Conservative power in Westminster and SNP power in Scotland. This is an unstable dynamic.The English don’t really have a story about before the Union in part because the English have never really seen the Acts of Union as dividing lines in English history.Is the ‘Northern question’ a perennial question in English politics? Right now, this is the heart of the electoral conflict.In every part of England that isn’t London, you can find anti-London sentiment. There’s a lot of resentment toward the Union in England, but the Union is a pretty good deal for England.Mentioned in this Episode:Talking … WalesTalking … Northern IrelandTalking… ScotlandThe English and their History, Robert TombsThe Making of English National Identity, Krishan KumarFurther Learning: This Sovereign Isle, Robert TombsTim Shippey on Alfred the...
27/05/2144m 20s

Niall Ferguson on Catastrophe

We talk to the historian Niall Ferguson about the politics of catastrophe, from pandemics and famines to world wars and climate change. Have we been worrying about the right things? Why have some countries done so much better than others with Covid? And what can history teach us about the worst that can happen? Plus, how likely is it that a cold war between the US and China turns hot? Talking Points:Niall argues that COVID is more like the Asian flu in ‘57/’58 than the 1918/1919 Spanish flu.However the economic response is unprecedented; the Internet made lockdowns at this scale and duration possible.Lockdowns were a near panic response that were necessitated by initial political failures in the West.When we’re trying to assess the political impact of a disaster, the body count is not the most important thing.A disaster can kill a lot of people and be virtually forgotten if it doesn’t have cascading consequences.We will probably remember the experience of lockdown more than the mortality rates.What did we get wrong about the COVID response?Controlling travel early on made a difference, and most Western states did not do that.The network structure of a polity is the most important thing in a pandemic, especially in an era of globalized travel.The distinction between natural and manmade disasters is a false one.The scale of impact is a function of how we, collectively and our leaders, individually make decisions.Humans do not seem to be very good at thinking pragmatically about risks; we tend to ignore them in practice while simultaneously constructing apocalyptic fantasies. Mentioned in this Episode:Niall’s book, Doom: The Politics of CatastropheLarry Summers and David Cutler on the costs of COVIDGraham Allison, Destined for WarFurther Learning: More on Taiwan’s COVID responseWhy do so many people live near active volcanoes? ‘The Really Big One’ (the earthquake that will devastate the Pacific Northwest) The Talking Politics Guide to… Existential RiskAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
20/05/2136m 14s

Election Fallout

David and Helen are joined by the historian Colin Kidd to try to make sense of last week's elections in England, Scotland and Wales. What do they mean for the future of the UK? What do they mean for the future of the Labour Party? Are either (or both) in terminal trouble? Plus we explore how Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are going to resolve their standoff over a second Scottish independence referendum.Talking Points:Gordon Brown says that Scotland is a 30-30-40 nation.Scotland is pretty evenly divided on the question of union, but the polls don’t measure the depth or shallowness of commitment.In effect, there are now two Scottish Labour parties: the actual Labour party and the social democratic SNP under Sturgeon.Alex Salmond’s party lost, but it put forward a more coherent vision for an independent Scotland. Salmond and Sturgeon are now on opposite sides on both the EU question and the currency question. You can’t pursue EU membership without a currency that you could in principle put into the exchange rate mechanism.There’s a new alliance in Scottish politics between the SNP and the Greens.The Scottish Greens are more associated with independence than the environment.The Green relationship makes oil a trickier issue. The SNP’s committed to more gradual decarbonisation. Where is the SNP’s greatest weakness? Johnson’s approach to pump more money into Scotland is unlikely to work. Currency, the tax, and the border are interrelated challenges. The SNP is brilliant on politics and positioning, but it doesn’t devote enough time to political economy.A referendum could be politically risky for both Sturgeon and Johnson. This may mean a long period of shadow-boxing.How should Labour think about the basic challenge of reassembling a coalition? The basic problem that Labour faces is that its old class coalition doesn’t fit together.The Union also causes Labour big problems.Is first past the post the only thing keeping Labour alive? Mentioned in this Episode: Colin on the Anglo-Scottish UnionThe SNP’s referendumGordon Brown on Scotland and the UnionTony Blair in the New StatesmanFurther Learning: More on the SNP’s manifestoColin in the LRB on Scottish independenceAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
13/05/2141m 9s

Michael Lewis on the Pandemic

We talk to Michael Lewis about his new book The Premonition, which tells the story of the people who saw the pandemic coming and asks why they couldn't get a hearing. It's a tale of short-term failures and long-term trends in US government and it follows on from his previous book about the risks America has been running in hollowing out the administrative state. A sobering account with glimmers of hope for the future. Talking Points: Old timers at the CDC say that things began to change after the 1976 swine flu outbreak.The CDC rushed a vaccine program, and some people got sick. Then the swine flu basically vanished.After that, under Reagan, the head of the CDC became an appointed, political job. This made the CDC overall more political and less independent. Most people who interacted with the CDC before this pandemic realized that it wasn’t very good at managing disease.Doing a public health job well carries a high risk of getting fired.The experts in Michael’s story are consistently right about the trajectory of the disease; but they are often wrong about politics.Should experts pay more attention to politics? Experts can create discomfort for politicians, or they can give them cover—but that’s not their job. Michael thinks that politicians should be providing cover for the experts.Why was it so hard to learn from the experiences of other cities in the heart of the crisis?In the 1918 pandemic, the difference between Philadelphia and St. Louis was the timing of the intervention. It’s hard to see the effect of the interventions in the fog of battle.The failure of testing in the US at the start of the pandemic meant that there was no way to identify where the virus was.Just-in-time manufacturing and taut-supply changes made the ‘health industrial complex’ less able to respond quickly.Will the pandemic make Americans care more about how the government actually functions?Mentioned in this Episode: Michael’s new book, The Premonition, a Pandemic StoryRichard Neustadt and Harvey V. Fineberg, The Swine Flu AffairThe Nuclear Threat Initiative 2019 reportOur last episode with MichaelFurther Learning:David J. Spencer, ‘Reflections on the 1976 Swine Flu Vaccination Program’Lawrence Wright, ‘The Plague Year,’ The New YorkerHow some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemicMore on the San Quentin COVID epidemicAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
06/05/2146m 30s

After Merkel, What?

We talk to Hans Kundnani about the prospects for German politics in the run-up to September's federal elections, now that the cast list of possible successors to Merkel is known. Can Laschet escape from her shadow and does he want to? Would a Green led government be radically different from the alternatives? Is the age of the 'grand coalition' over? Plus we consider the historical parallels, from Bismarck to Adenauer to Kohl: do long-serving leaders ever manage a successful transition?Talking Points:To wrap up the second season of History of Ideas, on 11 May, the LRB is hosting a conversation between David and Pankaj Mishra. They’ll discuss the thinkers we did—and didn’t talk about. To book tickets, follow this link.Armin Laschet is the new CDU leader.So far, his candidacy has been underwhelming. He is generally seen as being a Merkelite candidate who would probably continue her centrist, grand-coalition style.Is the CDU pinning its hopes on the vaccine? If Germany gets it together in the next few months, the party in power will likely reap the benefits despite current polling woes.The personality of the lead candidate is less of a determining factor in German politics; you don’t vote for an individual chancellor. Is the era of grand coalition politics between the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats coming to an end?There is a real possibility that the party that has run Germany for the last four electoral periods might not get a fifth.Of course it’s still likely that the Christian Democrats will stay in power, but even the possibility that they won’t contributes to a new sense of dynamism. The German Greens hope to be in power too—with the Christian Democrats.There’s been a convergence during the Merkel Era.The Christian Democrats have moved to the center on social issues. It’s no longer clear that the Greens would prefer to be in coalition with the Social Democrats. They have moved to the right, especially on economic issues.Geopolitics may push the Greens more toward the Christan Democrats, especially re Russia.Mentioned in this Episode:Hans’ book, The Paradox of German PowerOur last episode with HansThe letter written by French generalsFurther Learning: 5 things to know about Armin LaschetThe Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel, from the New YorkerMore on the German GreensAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
29/04/2147m 11s

Union at the Crossroads

David and Helen talk to Mike Kenny about what devolution has done to the politics of the UK as seen from Westminster and Whitehall. How have we ended up with a Unionism that is both complacent and aggressive?  What lessons has the pandemic taught about the need for co-operation? And can the UK survive without a fundamental constitutional rethink?
22/04/2144m 42s

Wales, England and the Future of the UK

As part of our series about the future of the Union, David and Helen talk to Dan Wincott of Cardiff Law School about the history of Welsh devolution and the possibility of Welsh independence. How has English dominance shaped Welsh attitudes to the Union? What did the Brexit vote reveal about the different strands of Welsh and British identity? Has the pandemic made the case for more devolution and even independence for Wales stronger? Plus, what happens to Wales if Scotland votes to leave the UK?Talking Points: The Anglo-Welsh union is a story of conquest and incorporation.Wales was integrated into the English legal system under Henry VIII. There are strong cultural institutions in Wales, and the persistence of Welsh as the vernacular language limited the reach of English laws for a long time.It’s hard to understand the rise of the Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century without seeing its relationship to questions about the Union.Welsh Labour politicians played a critical role in tying the UK together during that period. Labour moved away from home rule after WWI, but as things got more complicated in the 1970s, Labour ended up struggling with devolution questions without an English majority. When Labour came back into power in 1997 it set up the first version of the devolution settlements.Labour’s weakness in England from 2010 is central to the current situation.For New Labour, Welsh devolution was an afterthought. They were more concerned with Scotland.The majority of Wales who voted in the referendum voted Leave.Wales is probably the part of Britain where patterns of national identity are most complex.In Wales, those who prioritize British identity tended to vote Leave. But in England, those who prioritize British identity generally voted Remain. People are at least curious about what more devolution might look like in Wales.Although there is still anti-devolution sentiment in Wales in a way there isn’t in Scotland.As long as the Labour Party can’t win a majority in Westminster, there is going to be curiosity about greater independence.Mentioned in this Episode: From our Union series on… Scotland From our Union series on… Northern IrelandBenedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities‘Analysing vote choice in a multinational state: national identity and territorial differentiation in the 2016 Brexit vote’Further Learning: More on COVID in Wales‘Crisis, what crisis? Conceptualizing crisis, UK pluri-constitutionalism and Brexit politics’More about Weslh independenceAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
15/04/2143m 22s

Adam Curtis

This week David talks to the celebrated film-maker Adam Curtis about his new series Can't Get You Out of My Head, which tells the history of the rise and fall of individualism. Why do so many people feel so powerless in the age of the empowered individual? How has digital technology turbo-charged our feelings of alienation? And what has all this got to do with behavioural psychology? Plus much more: Nixon, China, Dominic Cummings, complex systems, Max Weber and conspiracy theories. Points:In his newest series, Adam identifies the 1970s as the wellspring of a global system that feels irrational and beyond political control. The Nixon shock—when the dollar became detached from the gold standard—was something that Nixon, at the time, saw as temporary.But as the Watergate scandal carried on, banks realized they could start trading currencies against each other. Out of this came the global financial system.The opening to China was seen as a great stroke of statesmanship.But what was happening at that time in China was the collapse of the certainty of Mao’s revolution. What emerged was a system run by Deng Xiaoping who essentially substituted money for ideology.Deng turned China into a giant production house of cheap goods. The generation that came out of WWII was terrified of big ideologies. What replaced ideology? Money.In an age of mass democracy, where individualism reigns, states become extremely difficult to govern.By the late 70s/early 80s, politicians started to realize that you couldn’t assemble stable groups behind you. Instead of representing the people, they tried to become managers. Adam thinks that to call this neoliberalism is to oversimplify things.Under Thatcher and Reagan, industrial policy essentially failed. The politicians gave up before we realized they had given up.On the surface, behaviouralism seemed like a challenge to the notion of the rational, self-interested individual.But actually, behaviouralists concluded that if people are irrational, we need to find ways to nudge them to behave in rational ways so that the system will work better. The Internet, as it is currently constructed, is like a modern ghost story. It’s always looking at patterns in the past.The Internet as a feedback system can’t imagine something that hasn’t already happened. It’s a form of management that renders the world static and repeatable. Fake stability has led to a kind of blindness: think about the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the financial crisis, or Trump.Again and again the people in charge fail to anticipate what’s coming.Has the ability of Big Data to predict been oversold? Mentioned in this Episode: Adam’s newest series, Can’t Get You Out of my HeadMax Weber’s ‘iron cage’DId eBay just prove that paid search ads don’t work? Further Learning: The Talking Politics Guide to... 1970s (with Helen)<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
08/04/2146m 30s

How's Biden Doing

70 days into the first 100 days we take the temperature of the Biden presidency and ask how he's doing, and how he's doing so much. What made sleepy Joe such an active president? Is it him or the people around him? And how should the Republicans respond? Plus we discuss what it would take to restore America's standing in the world - does anyone want that anyway? With Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle.Talking Points: The message of Biden’s early presidency is that he understands the challenge of the moment.His first 70 days are more like FDR’s first 100 days than any recent president.This has also led to a more critical reassessment of the Obama years.Biden has put Harris in charge of the situation at the border; this is a strange move if he’s setting her up to be his successor.Biden essentially has a two year window to get things done—maybe less.Biden is betting on his legislative achievements to get him through the midterms; he’s unveiling ambitious projects that will affect all Americans.The pandemic has enabled some of this, but the stimulus and the infrastructure bill also reflect the monetary and fiscal environment.The reigning paradigm of U.S. politics since Reagan has been deregulation. There’s now a sense that this paradigm has exhausted itself.Perhaps the paradigm really shifted in 2016. Many of the things that Biden has done—for example, infrastructure—are things that Trump said he wanted to do. Biden is trying to occupy ground that Trump was unable to occupy. Most Americans will benefit from the stimulus, and the infrastructure bill will create millions of new jobs.Republicans are trying to focus on cultural issues. They are also gutting democratic institutions.What will happen when the pandemic ends? Will this create opportunities for a skillfully led opposition?Joe Biden is not backed by clear legislative majorities. The border issue might become more politically salient when the pandemic ends.Is Pax Americana over?There’s an increasing view both within and outside the United States that American leadership can’t be counted on.There were foreign policy continuities between Obama and Trump. Key differences were on Iran and climate.Biden has returned to the Paris Climate Accord and is trying to work with China on climate. Mentioned in this Episode: Biden’s recent press conference Samuel Huntington, The Crisis of DemocracyFurther Learning: More on Biden’s secret meeting with American historiansMore on Biden’s infrastructure planEvan Osnos talks about Joe Biden with Ezra KleinAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
01/04/2138m 40s


David and Helen talk to Chris Bickerton about how technocracy and populism have come together to create a new form of democratic politics. From New Labour to Macron's En Marche, from Dominic Cummings to Five Star, we discuss what these different forms of politics have in common and whether the pandemic has entrenched the hold of technopopulism or whether we are on the brink of something new. Technopopulism: The New Logic of Democratic Politics
25/03/2144m 0s

The Tragic Choices of Climate Change

David talks to Helen Thompson and Adam Tooze about the choices facing the world in addressing climate change. Can we transition away from fossil fuels while maintaining our current ways of living? Will we act in time if we also insist on taking our time? Can the West uphold its values while getting its hands dirty with China? Plus we discuss whether American democracy is the worst system of all for doing what needs to be done.Talking Points: The transition away from fossil fuels to non-carbon energy sources is, for now, constrained by the laws of physics around energy use.Converting one source of energy to another wastes a lot of energy.Do we make a bet on transcending the laws of physics via technological innovation when we have to deal with the timescales imposed by climate change? Or is this way of framing things too negative? The story of modernity is about making technological bets against existing ways of life.Is a bet with a ticking clock different? How do we actually get to carbon neutrality by 2050?Republicans in the US who take climate change seriously are betting on breakthroughs in carbon capture that will allow people to continue burning fossil fuels.The target itself is artificial. We are picking out of probabilistic outcomes of more or less dire futures. There are different timescales at play here.There’s the inexorable progression of the problem itself; there’s political time, which is choppier but has rhythms to it; and there’s innovation time, which is not smooth at all. There is no collective climate solution that doesn’t involve China. China is moving on the climate issue regardless of the West.China can do so in part because its market is so big, but also because its market is so new.The drama of the political economy of climate change right now is largely Asian. The Biden administration does not have a coherent climate change policy. The American debate seems frozen in the 1990s. In the background of the American debate about climate is geopolitics.Mentioned in this Episode: Helen’s article on the geopolitical fight to come over green energyThe Guardian on Princeton’s decarbonization by 2050 modelFurther Learning:More on the inversion of the Gulf StreamAdam Tooze talks to Gideon Rachman about the climate crisisAdam on the pandemic and the world economyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/03/2144m 25s


This week we discuss the government's post-Budget economic strategy and the new dividing lines in British politics. Have the Tories stolen Labour's clothes? Is there a new consensus emerging on tax and pend? What can Keir Starmer do to carve out a distinctive economic position? Plus we consider whether a new Labour leader in Scotland can kickstart a revival of the party's fortunes there. With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.Talking Points: Rishi Sunak’s plan in the short-term is to concentrate on economic recovery and to end pandemic support in a reasonably—but not entirely—gradualist fashion.In the medium-term, he’s saying there has to be an emphasis on paying for the pandemic and bringing the level of debt as proportion of GDP back down.Sunak wants the Conservatives to go into the next election as the party that claims to be serious about the economy, ie, cautious about debt.Both of the parties seem to be hoping that the past will come back—but it probably won’t.Starmer put a heavy bet on the competence case against Johnson. That worked well for much of 2020. The bet was that Brexit would make things chaotic. But the pandemic has gone on longer than people expected, and the vaccine rollout is going well. The furlough scheme has also been continued. In two-party politics, the two parties often tend to converge. Is this happening in the UK?Both parties have an interest in constructing the convergence as an illusion; but is it?Brexit has produced some convergence because Labour isn’t trying to rejoin Europe.Financial and monetary market conditions make it possible to sustain huge levels of debt. Most of the Western world have responded to China’s industrial strategy by calling for an industrial strategy.The Tories are now putting a big emphasis on green energy; this also brings them closer to Labour.The politics for each party are different.Labour needs to persuade people it has a plausible growth strategy because that is what they need to flourish. The big risk for the conservatives is unemployment.Labour needs to expand its electoral coalition; this won’t be easy, but the return of mass unemployment might provide one way of doing this.Further Learning: More on Rishi Sunak’s budgetJohnson’s green energy plansWhy public debt is not like credit card debtOn Starmer’s response to the budgetWho is Anas Sarwar?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
11/03/2142m 50s

Northern Ireland: Past, Present, Future

 In the latest in our series on the fate of the Union, we talk to historians Richard Bourke and Niamh Gallagher about the history of Northern Ireland's relationship to the rest of the UK. From the Anglo-Irish Union to partition to the Troubles to the Peace Process to Brexit and beyond, we discuss what makes Northern Irish politics so contentious and whether consensus is possible. Plus we ask if Irish re-unification is coming and what it might look like.Talking Points: The Anglo-Irish union was a response to the 1798 rebellion. It was a means of pacification through incorporation.The union in Ireland came before Catholic Emancipation, which took place in 1829. By then, a political movement based on disaffection had already commenced.In material terms, the union added 5 million new subjects (England at that time had a population of roughly 8 million). It also added a new dimension of grievances.The home rule movement was seeking a devolved administration, but failure to deliver that made the Irish Catholic movement more committed to independence.Meanwhile, Northern opinion became more alarmed about being subject to Southern jurisdiction.The Government of Ireland Act in 1920 formalized partition.Many politicians at the time hoped to see reunification within the context of the British Empire, but that did not come about.In Northern Ireland, proportional representation was abolished in local elections in 1923, and in general elections in 1929. In practice, Northern Ireland became a single party state with a large, disempowered minority.Political activism in the 1960s was also influenced by the civil rights movement in the US and the increase in the Catholic student body in universities. At some point during the 20th century, the dynamics of Northern Ireland became seen as a problem that didn’t apply to the rest of Britain.The 1998 solution was creative: the talks were taken out of the UK context and put into a wider context with the United States and the EU.The Good Friday left the categories of nationalists vs. unionists intact. Today, Unionism in the North has become a new phenomenon focused on its own domestic welfare and constituency. The worst nightmare of Unionism is coming true: when the Troubles started, 33% of the population was Catholic. This summer, there will probably no longer be a culturally Protestant majority.Brexit has revived talk of unification. But reunification could take many different forms.Mentioned in this Episode:Niamh’s book, Ireland and the Great War: A Social and Political HistoryRichard’s book, Peace in Ireland: The War of IdeasThe Good Friday AgreementFurther Learning: David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the TroublesAlvin Jackson, The Two UnionsMarking the centenary of Northern IrelandAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be...
04/03/2148m 10s

What Does Jeremy Think?

This week we talk to Suzanne Heywood about her memoir of her late husband, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood - the man who helped to run Britain for more than two decades, working with four different prime ministers. From Black Wednesday to Brexit, from the Blair/Brown battles to the surprising successes of the Coalition, Jeremy Heywood had a unique position at the heart of British politics. We discuss what he did, what he learned and what he wished had turned out differently. Talking Points:The book starts with the ERM crisis.This was the start of a story that arguably runs through Brexit.Jeremy told David Cameron that he would need to address immigration with Europe, but he knew that this would be difficult.Blair had a huge parliamentary majority; this meant he could do many of the things that Jeremy wanted to see done.Jeremy was positive about how much had been achieved, particularly in public services.Progress was more difficult under Brown. The financial crisis created enormous strain.Jeremy and Gordon Brown worked very closely together on the financial crisis.During political transitions, all the ‘in-flight’ initiatives pause. Any one of them may or may not land as you previously expected.As a civil servant, you also have to be able to switch your personal loyalties.The change in style between governments can be significant. New administrations come in with a new language, a new tone.Civil servants have to keep the show on the road, and also adapt.At what point do civil servants have to swallow their personal objections and get on with things? Ministers represent the electorate; civil servants support ministers in delivering on their promises.Civil servants can push and make certain arguments, but once a decision is made, they have to move forward with implementation.Jeremy’s real genius was in relationships.He inspired people; they wanted to do their best for him.Mentioned in this Episode:What Does Jeremy Think? Suzanne HeywoodFurther Learning: The Talking Politics Guide to … Being a Civil Servant‘Remembering Jeremy Heywood,’ in The GuardianBronwen Maddox reviews Suzanne’s book for the FTFrom our archives… The Next Referendum? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
25/02/2144m 8s

Is Boris Back?

David and Helen talk to Nick Timothy, former chief of staff in Downing Street under Theresa May, about the future for Boris Johnson's government. Is he now safe from leadership challenges? Can he hold together the coalition that won the 2019 election? Is Keir Starmer the one under pressure? Plus we discuss where the next big destabilising threat to this government might come from: Scotland, Northern Ireland, the EU, China?Talking Points:Is Johnson’s political position more secure now?If the government can end on a high note with the vaccine rollout, that might be what people remember.Boris probably doesn’t want to be an austerity prime minister.Sunak wants to get the economy moving and send some signals to the market that there’s fiscal responsibility.Sunak may also want to create a fiscal dividing line with Labour.But without financial market pressure, it’s hard to see how Sunak is going to win this argument about fiscal probity.Political reality, and new voters, may push the Tories toward more spending against the instincts of many MPs.Starmer still faces serious structural problems: Labour is in trouble in Scotland and the increasing importance of cultural issues create problems for Labour in the Red Wall.Although the government has made mistakes with the pandemic, public opinion has been fairly understanding.Starmer hasn’t really been able to talk about anything other than the pandemic.Who is in the biggest trouble in Scotland?Johnson faces big issues around the union, but in terms of electoral outcomes, it’s probably Starmer.What would happen if a government without an English majority has to act as an English government again due to a crisis? Johnson is particularly unpopular in Scotland. The Tories are worried about the union, but there aren’t obvious solutions. Northern Ireland is at the center of these problems. Mentioned in this Episode:Tom McTague in the Atlantic, ‘Britain’s pandemic story can still be rewritten’Nick Timothy in The TelegraphFurther Learning:Are MPs out of sync with their voters? What is the Union? On Johnson’s unpopularity in ScotlandMore on the Northern Irish Protocol And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/02/2140m 5s

Rating the Government on Covid

David talks to Bronwen Maddox, Director of the Institute for Government, about how well the Johnson government has performed over the past year of the pandemic. There have been some successes - the furlough scheme, vaccines - and plenty of failures - education policy, health outcomes. But which were the key choices? Who can claim the credit? And where does the blame really lie? Plus we discuss how much personality still matters in political decision-making.Talking Points:What has the government done well over the last year?It got financial support to a lot of people, surprisingly quickly.Building this infrastructure was inadvertent—it was for Universal Credit. Vaccines have been heralded as a success story; can the government really claim credit?It has been funneling money to some of the groups that were successful.The government did a good job in buying vaccines and choosing where to invest.In the rollout, you get something analogous to test and trace. Much of this is being done through the NHS, which makes it easier.What went the most wrong?There were at least 20,000 care home deaths in the first few months. And just about half of the deaths have happened since mid-November. These both look avoidable.The education mistakes were disastrous. A case often made against this government is that one of their key problems is timing. Johnson’s instinct to delay a decision in the middle of uncertainty might in other circumstances be more positive, but so many times the delay has been damaging. The government says it’s been following the science, but science is often uncertain too.It’s hard for politicians to communicate uncertainty.Still, people in the UK still trust scientists despite the government’s communications failures.With coronavirus, Starmer opted for a politics of competence.If your opponents start doing something competently (ie the vaccine rollout), then what do you do?The politics of competence doesn’t get people fired up in the streets.People often take competence for granted. They want something on top of that.Mentioned in this Episode:What Does Jeremy Think? By Suzanne HeywoodFurther Learning: Bronwen’s recent report, ‘Coronavirus: no going back to normal’Covid chaos: How the UK handled the coronavirus crisis, from the Guardian‘How the UK boosted its vaccine manufacturing capacity,’ from the FTThe latest on the vaccine rolloutAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
11/02/2133m 10s

The Coup in Burma

In this extra episode David catches up with Thant Myint-U to discuss the latest developments in Burma (Myanmar), following the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi's government. What prompted the generals to act? What do the protestors want? And what does it mean for the future of Burmese democracy? Thant Myint-U is the author of The Hidden History of Burma.Further Reading
09/02/2127m 0s

What is the Union?

For this first in our series looking at the future of the UK, we talk to the historian Colin Kidd about the origins of the Union and the ideas that underpin it. Is the island of Britain a natural territorial political unit? Is nationalism compatible with Unionism? What changed in the 1970s? Plus we discuss how the shifting character of the SNP has shaped the arguments for and against the Union.Talking Points:Historically, the Kings of England considered themselves rulers of the whole island.But any large community must be imagined. It’s inherently artificial.Those who have tried to impose unified rule over the island by force have historically struggled.England has served as a quasi-imperial power on the island.The union in 1707 was a product of contingency, part of a succession crisis. At the time, the real drama was Jacobitism, not the English versus the Scots.What united Britain in the 18th century is not so much positive factors, but an ongoing series of wars.The height of British consciousness came during the two world wars.What happened in the 60s and 70s that made the union look less attractive?The 70s with the election of Thatcher are the crucial decade. Asymmetrical devolution has been destabilizing for the union.Secularization led to Scots moving away from private identities being linked to denominational allegiances to a broader, more secular national identity.The SNP in the 1930s had little traction; the communists were more influential.It’s only in the 1960s that the SNP made a breakthrough. For at least a time, there was a sense of coexistence between patriotism and Britishness.The BBC from the 1920s to 1970s helped cement an authentic sense of British nationhood.Labour played an important part of this story; British patriotism was tied to collective war experiences, the welfare state. When those things came under pressure in the 1970s, finding an outlet for union patriotism became more difficult.The SNP is a curious hybrid: it includes hard-core nationalists, but also social democrats, like Sturgeon, who think the best way to preserve the welfare state in Scotland is by going it alone.The unionist/nationalist binary might not be helpful; arguably the most important binary is within the SNP itself. Mentioned in this Episode:Colin’s book, Union and UnionismsBenedict Anderson, Imagined CommunitiesLinda Colley, BritonsThe Guardian on the Labour Party’s new strategy Further Learning: Sturgeon vs Salmond (from the New Statesman) From Brexit to Scottish IndependenceAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
04/02/2148m 13s

History of Ideas S2 E1 : Rousseau on Inequality

This is episode 1 of the new HISTORY OF IDEAS series from Talking Politics. To hear the remaining 11 episodes, please subscribe to History of Ideas!Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality (also known as the Second Discourse) tells the story of all human history to answer one simple question: how did we end up in such an unequal world? David explores the steps Rousseau traces in the fall of humankind and asks whether this is a radical alternative to the vision offered by Hobbes or just a variant on it. Is Rousseau really such a nice philosopher?Free online version of textRecommended version to purchaseGoing deeper…Leo Damrosch, Jean Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (2005)David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Rousseau’s Dog (2007)Pankaj Mishra, ‘How Rousseau predicted Trump’, The New Yorker (2016)(Audio) In Our Time, The Social Contract
02/02/2147m 55s

Germany, Italy, Coalitions and Vaccines

We look at two countries where things may be changing: Germany, as it starts to imagine life beyond Merkel, and Italy, after the resignation of the prime minister. Would Armin Laschet as Chancellor mean business as usual? Can Conte cobble together a new government? Where are the biggest challenges to the established order coming from? Plus we talk about the new politics of vaccine nationalism. With Helen Thompson, Hans Kundnani and Lucia Rubinelli.Talking Points:In some ways Germany is in a state of continuity, rather than flux.Armin Laschet is a continuity candidate. Though it’s not clear that he will be the candidate for chancellor in the September election.Were Laschet to become chancellor, you would probably have a Black-Green coalition. Has the pandemic made coalition formation less difficult? If so, it would be because the Christian Democrats are in a stronger position than they were.The German Greens may be different from other Green parties.When the Greens emerged in the late 70s/early 80s, it wasn’t clearly a left-wing party.The Greens have become more centrist on economic issues, and the Christian Democrats have moved left on environmental questions.As environmental politics becomes bigger, is there a constituency that will oppose this? Anti-Americanism in Germany is now quite high.Ultimately, the Germany-US relation is more driven by structural factors; Germans don’t believe that they need the United States in the way they did during the Cold War.How committed is Germany to other European states that do feel threatened by Russia? Conte resigned yesterday; he has 72 hours to try to come back.Conte resigned because Renzi decided to recall two of his ministers plus an undersecretary.Renzi said he no longer shares the method that the government is using, and he accused Conte of undermining democratic institutions through emergency legislation.Renzi accused Conte of not having a long-term plan for economic development and criticized his statist plans for the recovery fund.He also wants the government to accept the European Stability Mechanism for healthcare.These are a lot of demands for someone polling at close to nothing. The other two coalition partners don’t want anything to do with Renzi anymore. The question is whether they will stick to it and find a different majority, which seems difficult, or, whether they decide to bring Renzi back into government and get rid of Conte.The only disciplining effect here seems to be a fear of elections—and Salvini.Conte was initially meant to be a placeholder prime minister.That changed with the second Conte government (from Summer 2019). The new coalition gave him more power. This grew with the pandemic.The conflict over how Italy spends its money is coming back in full force.Further Learning: More on Laschet and the struggle to unite the partyHans’ essay on the costs of convergence More from Hans on Germany’s democratic dysfunctionality More on Conte’s decision to quit<a...
28/01/2145m 11s

Biden Begins

David, Helen and Gary reflect on what lies ahead for American politics and for the Biden administration. Does Trump pose more of a threat from inside or outside the Republican party? Is immigration about to become the central partisan dividing line once again? How much good can calls for unity do in such a fractured country? Plus, we look at Trump's list of entrants for his garden of national heroes. From Emily Dickinson to Hannah Arendt to Woody Guthrie - but no Bruce Springsteen. What's going on?Talking Points:Many in the Republican Party, including McConnell, have never liked Trump—are they now breaking with him?Attempts to establish new parties can shake up American politics, but they rarely succeed.The Trump candidacy was a disaster for the Republican establishment from the beginning. McConnell is willing to consider impeachment because Trump still represents a threat to the mainstream Republican Party.Success in American party politics requires party organization in all 50 states.This is not the kind of work that generally appeals to Trump.He will probably want to influence the political process from the outside, to make the existing system ungovernable.The Biden administration wants to be much more ambitious on immigration.Previous attempts at immigration reform have failed.Biden has an opportunity to demonstrate government competence by focusing on vaccinations.Biden has made clear that climate is a priority.This is politically useful for holding together the Democratic party.Biden has already pledged to cancel the Keystone Pipeline; at least on some issues he’s willing to take on the oil and gas industry.This quickly gets into foreign policy issues, especially re China.Biden’s initial window is really two years, not four.Democrats should not be counting on a majority in the 2022 elections.They need to demonstrate the competence of the federal government. Though it may be difficult for any government to appear competent these days.Mentioned in this Episode:‘The Garden of American Heroes’ On Fred Trump and Woody GuthrieThe text of Joe Biden’s inaugural addressFurther Learning: More on Biden’s immigration planGreen New Deal? Talking Politics American Histories… Monopoly and MuckrakingAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
20/01/2155m 40s

The Long-term Legacy of Brexit

David and Helen are joined by Diane Coyle and Anand Menon to have another go at pinning down the long term consequences of Brexit. Now we have a deal, what are the prospects for rebalancing the UK economy? Do EU politicians want a post-Brexit UK to succeed or to fail? Can Labour really avoid re-opening the Brexit wars for the next four years? Plus, an update on the next series of History of Ideas.Talking Points: Because of Brexit there is more friction in trade with the EU. People will feel the friction more and more as we get back to normal volumes of trade.Right now the volume is relatively low both because of Covid and because of seasonal fluctuations (things slow down after the holidays).It will be hard to disentangle Brexit effects from Covid effects. We will be talking about Brexit for a long time.Future governments will be able to score easy economic wins by aligning more closely with the EU, although this may involve political trade offs. This may not be true when it comes to financial services. This trade agreement means that choices have to be made over and over again.The British economy is taking two shocks: separating from the EU but also separating from what Osborne and Cameron called a golden era of UK-China economic relations.EU policy and British policy on China are diverging.The Uk government may focus more on India and other non-Chinese Pacific economies.Brexit does create some opportunities.The UK is a world leader in AI, and there is a commitment to investing in energy technology, especially green energy.The UK is also a world leader in higher education and the creative sector; the problem is that the government has declared a sort of culture war.A German-led EU tends to treat geopolitical questions as primarily economic questions rather than long-term security questions. China is going to put that commitment, formalized in the China Investment pact, to the test.Britain is now the liberal European state when it comes to foreign policy.The institutions that have been so successful at managing intra-European imbalances now prevent the EU from being an effective actor in international relations.Mentioned in this Episode:Johnson’s piece for The Financial Times on green energyAnand on the HuffPo podcast with Rosie DuffieldThe UK in a Changing Europe‘Who Killed Soft Brexit?’ Jill Rutter and Anand for ProspectFurther Learning: EU and China agree new investment treaty (from the FT)More on Germany and EU politics on ChinaAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
14/01/2150m 57s

Jill Lepore on the Insurrection

David talks to historian Jill Lepore about what took place at the Capitol on January 6th. What should we call it? What can we compare it to? And what should happen next? Plus we ask how Biden ought to address what happened in his inaugural next week. Are we past the time for talk about reconciliation?Talking Points:Is there a word for what happened in the US on 6 Jan? Many Republicans are still defending the insurrection. The likes of Limbaugh and Gingrich are calling it a ‘march.’The American Right always wants to resurrect the American Revolution and the Left wants to resurrect the Civil War.To call it an ‘insurrection’ is to evoke the language used to bar former Confederates from holding federal office.A problem with Trump’s entire presidency has been that reporters and commentators have sought precedents in American history, but Jill thinks nothing in American history has been like this.Should we be looking to other countries, other failed democracies, for lessons? How do we balance the uniqueness of Trumpism with the familiarity of the things it draws upon?Unlike right-movements in countries like Hungary and Turkey, the Trump project did not successfully co-opt the institutions of the state.American democracy is older than some of these other examples.The Conservative movement over the last few decades has managed to capture many institutions, namely the courts—although this is not necessarily Trumpism.When Trump is out of office will it be easier for him to become a ‘martyr?’ Conviction in an impeachment proceeding could be good for mainstream Republicans. It may also make a split in the party more likely.Mentioned in this Episode:Jill in The New Yorker, ‘What Should We Call the Sixth of January’Jill on inaugural addresses for The New YorkerThe Article of Impeachment against TrumpJill in The Washington Post on letting history judge TrumpFrom our archives… Jill on the American NationAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
11/01/2127m 50s

New Year, New World?

David and Helen look at what's changed - and what hasn't - since we last spoke, from Brexit to Biden to Covid. Has the Brexit deal really given the UK a chance to do things differently? Do Democrat wins in the Georgia Senate races open up new possibilities for Biden? What is at stake in the politics of vaccination? Plus, we talk about where things now stand for the future of the Union.*Recorded before the events in Washington on Wednesday *Talking Points:What can the UK do that it couldn’t do before Brexit? From the start, the two biggest issues for Cameron were freedom of movement and financial services regulation.For the City, Brexit is a tradeoff. Although financial services will not be regulated in the EU, the American investment banks in London are unhappy about being shut out of equivalence for trading.Johnson is talking about innovation and dynamism. He doesn’t seem willing to say it’s about migration and the City of London.Northern Ireland and Scotland will both be key questions that we will talk about in greater depth this year.There will be a growing sense of Northern Ireland’s separateness. The deal creates opportunities and risks for the government in Dublin.A trade deal changes what Scottish independence would mean.Meanwhile, in the USA… the Democrats now have control of the Senate.This election could indicate the potential of a remarkable new coalition for the Democratic party.Or it could indicate a future where everything is contested.What can Biden get done before the next midterms? During the Obama years, the Republicans were extremely effective at voting as an oppositional bloc. Holding the Democratic senators together won’t be easy and Biden will not be able to blame oppositional Republicans for any failure to get things done.However a key benefit for the Democrats is that they will be able to confirm nominees.Mentioned in this Episode:Matthew Parris in the TimesDavid’s winter talk: Did Covid kill the climate? Further Learning:From December… From Brexit to Scottish IndependenceMore on the partition of IrelandMore on the Georgia election resultsMore on the European vaccine rolloutFrom November… Post-Covid Economics with Adam ToozeAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
07/01/2152m 55s

How to Fix British Democracy?

Another recent talk by David on democracy: does it make sense to talk about fixing British democracy, and if so, how? David discusses electoral reform, institutional change and he returns to the question of votes for children.
03/01/2128m 46s

Did Covid Kill the Climate?

 A recording of a recent talk by David on what we've learned in 2020 about the resilience of democratic societies in the face of disaster. Has the experience of Covid shown us how we can deal with climate change, or has it shown us what we are missing? An argument about optimism, pessimism and everything in between.
31/12/2040m 1s

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This week David, Helen and our producer Catherine Carr look back at five years of podcasting and five years of crazy politics, to pick our favourite moments and to discuss what we've learned. From the 2015 general election to the current crisis, via the Corn Laws and Crashed, the politics of abortion and super forecasting, Corbyn and nuclear weapons. Plus, we'll let you know about some of our plans for 2021.Episodes Mentioned in this Episode: Crashed with Adam ToozeAdam Tooze on post-COVID economicsThe Corn Laws with Boyd HiltonAnother Shock! (From 2017) with Finbarr LiveseyThe Talking Politics Guide… to Nuclear Weapons with Aaron RapportSuperforecasting with David SpiegelhalterAmerican Histories: The Great Abortion Switcheroo with Sarah ChurchwellCatherine’s new podcast, Relatively.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
24/12/2046m 0s

Where is the Opposition?

We look past Covid and Brexit to ask where the long-term opposition to Johnson's government is going to come from. Can Corbynism remain a force in British politics, even without Corbyn? Is there room for a challenge to the Conservatives from the right? Will climate politics drive street protest politics or can it help the Greens? Plus we consider whether Nicola Sturgeon is really the leader of the opposition. With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.Talking Points:Corbynist energy levels are low these days.There is a strong Corbynist presence on Twitter and in certain media institutions, but it’s not clear that it extends far beyond those bubbles.Much of the radical left politics in the near future will be defensive.When Starmer ran for leader, he essentially offered Corbynism without Corbyn.The manifestos of 2017 and 2019 were popular inside the Labour Party and reasonably popular with the public. Corbyn did move the party out of New Labour’s shadow. Starmer has inherited a party that is firmly outside the New Labour mainstream.Although some Corbynists fear a return to New Labour-esque politics, Labour now seems to be a social democratic party in the European mold. Will the Green Party benefit from these developments?Helen thinks that we are more likely to see increased green activism than a resurgence in Green Party politics.Many on the left are disenchanted with parliamentary politics.And over the last couple of years, the major parties have shifted on climate. If Johnson is really committed to greener politics, does that open space on the right?Farage is positioning himself in this gap.This could intersect with a rebellion against lockdown.What should Starmer do about Scotland?Could Starmer make a case that the democratic voice of the people of Scotland must be heard, and then make a social democratic case for the Union?A more federal union is going to require stronger institutions in England, which is probably to Labour’s disadvantage. Time for the SNP to weaken is probably the best way forward for both unionist parties.Mentioned in this Episode:This Land by Owen JonesFurther Learning: James Butler on the Corbyn project for the LRBMore on Macron, the constitution, and climate politicsFrom our archives… Labour’s Fault LinesA profile of Andy Burnham from The GuardianAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
17/12/2044m 30s

What's Next for France and Italy?

As we wait for a Brexit deal or no deal, we discuss what the next year might hold for French and Italian politics. What are Macron's prospects as he heads towards the next presidential election? Has Giorgia Meloni replaced Matteo Salvini as the leader of the Italian far right? And what chance of a return to political normalcy in either country? With Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points: The Italian public is fed up with Brexit—there isn’t much public debate about it.Salvini is still playing with the idea that leaving the EU is a good idea, but not as seriously now. All the signals from the government suggest that Italy is lining up with Macron, but they aren’t trying to play a central role.There are particular issues that affect different member states. The broader European unity is now being tested on certain key issues.The Irish are particularly affected by no deal.For France, the most important issue is probably the level playing field. Fishing also has a powerful symbolic element to it.It may come down to member states being willing to make compromises with each other, or not. Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and the first to lockdown. The response created a sense of pride.During summer, however, life went back to normal. It was basically a free-for-all.When cases began to climb again, the mood turned to frustration: frustration at the relationship between governments and regions, and frustration with certain policies, such as the closure of high schools.There is also the sense that Italy is lagging behind on the vaccine. Macron also went in earlier on lockdown, and came out of lockdown earlier too. The idea that Macron has authoritarian tendencies has become part of the debate over COVID. There has been an almost permanent sense of emergency stretching from the yellow vest period to today.COVID has blurred into a border debate about the balance between security and civil liberties in France.Mentioned in this Episode:Our last episode with LuciaFurther Learning: More on Johnson’s dinner with von der Leyen Why is fishing important in the Brexit trade talks?More on Article 24 in FranceA profile of Giorgia Meloni from Politico EuropeMore on France’s Green PartyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
10/12/2039m 15s

From Brexit to Scottish Independence

We try to join the dots from the final days of the Brexit negotiations to the looming prospect of another referendum on Scottish independence. Can the government really risk a no-deal outcome? Will the SNP still hold a referendum if the courts say no? What will Labour do? Plus we ask how COVID politics intersects with the fate of the Union. With Helen Thompson, Anand Menon and Kenneth Armstrong.Talking Points:Will there be a Brexit deal?We know the concessions both sides would have to make. What we don’t know whether either side is willing to make the concessions.The negotiation that matters is perhaps the one going on in the prime minister’s head.Debates over lockdown have reopened the space to the Conservative Party’s right.The Eurozone faces its own problem: trying to rescue the EU Recovery Fund from the impasse over the rule of law issue in relation to Hungary and Poland. The Union is in a more precarious position than it was before.The SNP is doing surprisingly well. That gives Sturgeon some comfort in thinking that she can seek a mandate for another referendum if she wins a majority.How will they go about the referendum? Some people are floating the possibility of the Scottish parliament legislating for another referendum without the Section 30 order that would get consent from the UK.For people like Michael Gove, Scotland is a key reason to get a Brexit deal.There is undeniably support for independence in opinion polls, but can the SNP offer a coherent independence project?Helen thinks that they still haven’t resolved the currency question. There’s also the border issue.Can the SNP accept an independent Scotland outside of the European Union? Membership has been a key part of the independence offer. Will timing favor the SNP or Westminster? Brexit and Scotland are problems for Keir Starmer too.How will Starmer whip his MP’s to vote if a Brexit deal comes back? Labour without seats from Scotland will find it hard to win another election.Ultimately, the major economic event of this parliament is going to be Brexit, not COVID, or at least it will be close, so Labour needs to come up with some kind of narrative.Labour’s strength in Scotland bound the Union together. It hasn’t come back since 2011. This makes it hard for any party other than the Conservatives to be dominant in Westminster, particularly under conditions of asymmetrical devolution.  Mentioned in this Episode:The UK in a Changing EuropeAlex Massie on the SNPFurther Learning: From the archives… Can Boris Survive Brexit? More on Starmer and the Brexit dealAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
03/12/2043m 55s

Young People vs Joe Biden

This week we talk about race and representation with Cathy Cohen of the GenForward Survey project based in Chicago. What do young Americans want from democratic politics? How do their priorities vary according to race and ethnicity? And can a Biden presidency deliver on the desire for real change? Plus we catch up with Jeevun Sandher and Michael Bankole of the Politics Jam podcast to explore a UK perspective on why young and minority voices find it so hard to be heard.Talking Points:We are seeing more racial and ethnic diversity in generations than ever before.Young people break for Biden, but for young white men, it was about 50-50.In 2012, a plurality of young whites voted for Romney. If we look only at generation we miss part of the story.The story about ‘young people’ is being driven by young people of colour.Does Biden have a problem with young people?Many young people voted against Trump rather than for Biden.They decided to vote against Trump and organize against Biden.What is the best method for achieving racial progress in the US? Young African Americans are pointing to the need for structural change.Young people are rejecting the idea that change comes from national-level voting. They are redefining what democratic practice might be.Young people broadly favor a more expansive state.The Biden agenda is more about tweaking at the edges.There is going to be a real tension. Will there be the infrastructure to mobilize young people? Can they pressure the administration?This generation is highly educated, but they are also precarious. There is an increasing mismatch between the promise of higher education and what it delivers.The younger generation is highly indebted because of higher education.In both the UK and the US, young people haven’t been represented well by the political system.There are specific issues that young people want to see addressed, including systemic racism.Ethnic differences among young people need to be taken into account in the UK too.The political class in the House of Commons is unrepresentative in many ways. It skews old and it skews white.Conservatives tend to represent white seats. The First-Past-the-Post system doesn’t incentivize serious engagement with ethnically diverse constituencies.Mentioned in this episode:The GenForward SurveyThe Black Youth ProjectPolitics JaMJeevun’s academic profileMichael’s academic profileAnne Phillips, The Politics of PresenceThomas Saalfeld on substantive representationAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
26/11/2052m 53s

James O'Brien

David talks to author and radio host James O'Brien about everything from therapy to Brexit and from educational privilege to Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party. Recorded as part of the Cambridge Literary Festival James's new book is How Not to be Wrong: The Art of Changing Your Mind.
22/11/2059m 57s

Post-Covid Economics

This week a special edition from the Bristol Festival of Economics with Helen Thompson and Adam Tooze talking about what might follow the pandemic. From vaccines to changing patterns of employment, from action on climate to new tensions with China, we explore what the long-term effects of 2020 might be. Plus we discuss what options are open to a Biden administration: with the Georgia run-offs to come and the disease still spreading, how much wriggle room has he got?Talking Points: Headlines about the COVID vaccines focus on effectiveness, but it’s also about supply chains, storage, and scale.Things are moving so quickly right now in part because so many people, especially in the US, are getting sick.After the initial financial meltdown in March, in aggregate terms there was a share market recovery—one which was at odds with what was going on with people’s lives.Surging American unemployment numbers went alongside the S&P 500’s continued rise.The biggest beneficiaries initially were big tech. Now big pharma seems to be gaining. Is there a structural conflict in the allocation of capital between big tech and big pharma? Big tech probably won’t be facing much of a challenge from the White House.The Biden administration will be embroiled in crisis politics from Day 1.The epidemic in the US right now looks terrifying, and Thanksgiving is on the horizon.The logic of economic crisis management is about time. The Democrats are going to have a hard time getting things through Congress, and the fact that things are so hard will divide them further. The Biden Administration will make early moves on climate.It will be hard for Biden to take climate seriously without some kind of detente with China, but getting there is hard to imagine. After the health crisis ends, some jobs might not come back.The effectiveness of short-term working means that the unemployment crisis has not yet hit in Europe.The US unemployment crisis is in full swing. So far, the bounce back has been relatively quick. But there will be a manifest social crisis. There are imaginably worse pandemics than this one, and yet we have responded in an almost unimaginable way.This is a highly mediatized, diffuse threat that has acquired huge salience. This is the most extraordinary thing that has happened in modern economic history. A lot of this unprecedented response was voluntary.Mentioned in this Episode: Biden’s piece in Foreign AffairsPaul Krugman’s latest piece for the NYTimesOur last episode with AdamFurther Learning:The NYTimes’ COVID vaccine trackerMore on China’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060 as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
19/11/2045m 27s

War: What Is it Good For?

We talk to the historian Margaret MacMillan about the changing character of war, from the ancient world to the twenty-first century. Do we still understand the risks? Where are the conflicts of the future likely to break out? And how can we reconcile the terrible destructiveness of war with its capacity to bring about positive change? Plus we talk about why war produces so much great art.Talking Points:Is the way we commemorate war distancing us from the reality of it? Those who have seen war tend to be wary of it.There is complacency in a number of countries that war is something that ‘we’ don’t do anymore.War is terrible, yet so much of the innovation that we value seems intertwined with it.For many people WWI exemplifies the futility of war, yet many of the things we value came out of that war, particularly political and institutional change. WWI essentially gave Europe modern welfare states and universal suffrage.The two world wars also led to much greater social equality.There seems to be a deep connection between peace and inequality, and violence and equality. But it might depend on what countries and what wars you look at.If war is connected to innovation because it is so wasteful you cannot recreate those conditions.Perhaps we are doing something similar with COVID, but climate change is the true existential crisis.Climate change does not seem to be a unifying crisis.Declaring ‘war’ on an abstraction is dangerous. How do you know when it’s over? Wars on abstractions are wars without limits.Templates from the past don’t fully apply to the US-China relationship.There is the nuclear element, which should hypothetically rule out war.There’s also the energy resource conflict question: China has been able to take responsibility for its own energy security.In the long run, it is in the interests of both the US and China to cooperate with each other. The problem is the political factor.Mentioned in this Episode:Margaret MacMillan, War: How Conflict Shaped UsGeneral Nick Carter’s interview with Sky NewsWalter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First CenturyRana Mitter, China’s Good War‘La Grande Illusion’Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried‘Apocalypse Now’Further Learning: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919Talking Politics History of Ideas: Max Weber on...
11/11/2038m 1s

President Biden

Now that we have a result, David and Helen reflect on what the next four years might hold. What issues could define a Biden presidency? Has this election indicated a possible realignment of American politics? And is it enough to restore faith in democratic politics? If Trump is not how democracy ends, where does the real danger lie?Talking Points:Biden faces three big issues: China, climate, and COVID.It’s probably not possible to go back to US-China relations pre-Trump. However, China does perceive this election as significant.Making climate a priority has implications for the China relationship.This was too close to be a realignment election. Both parties turned out their vote because they had oppositional energy.But there are shifts within. Florida went red, but people voted to increase the minimum wage. California went blue, but people voted to resist the unionization of essentially Lyft and Uber workers.Trump has opened up the possibility for a more cross-racial, working class Republican Party. These shifts are still small, but it will be hard for them to go back to being a party of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and cultural conservatism.It’s more complicated for the Democrats. There has been a shift to the left, but there are also deep divisions in the party.A lot of the ‘Trump is how democracy ends story’ didn’t add up. How can American democracy have been so vulnerable, and yet so easily restored?   The threats to democracy: COVID, climate, and China, don’t fit electoral cycles.American democracy faces huge medium to long term challenges; too much energy has gone into short term risks.Trump has allowed people to close their eyes to deeper structural problems.Trump’s presidency did have serious geopolitical implications.He changed American policy on China; most of the political class now regards China as a serious strategic rival.He changed relations with Iran, and, in doing so, relations with Europe.He pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.Mentioned in this Episode:China, climate, COVID: the new energy mapDavid’s book, How Democracy EndsDavid on TP: How Democracy EndsJoe Biden’s victory speechFurther Learning:Biden’s endorsement interview with the NYTimes (on big tech and other things)Talking Politics American Histories: Monopoly and MuckrakingStacey Abrams’ fight for a fair vote, from The New YorkerAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
09/11/2030m 40s

What Just Happened?

David, Helen and Gary convene on very little sleep to try to make sense of another extraordinary election. Though we still don't know who won, we do know that some things are going to get even harder for American democracy. What's the nightmare scenario: the loser refusing to lose, or the winner being unable to govern? Why did the pollsters get it wrong again? And what's likely to happen when the contest reaches the courts? Plus we ask if the American Constitution can cope with close elections any more.Relevant Episodes:From our Mini-Series:History of Ideas on Tocqueville and American democracyAmerican Histories: The 15th and the 19th American Histories: Deporting Mexicans American Histories: The Great Abortion Switcheroo Old Episodes on Trump:What Trump Means to UsOne-term presidents Can America CopeAmerican Fascism: Then and Now America First? Michael Lewis on Donald Trump (And Michael Lewis Updated)Trump and History A Broader Perspective on US Politics:The Talking Politics Guide to … the US Constitution Police State USAAdam Tooze on US vs. China Judith Butler: Then and Now Where Power StopsThe Talking Politics Guide to… the Gilded AgeInaugurals From the LRB<a...
04/11/2052m 20s

Are Young People Losing Faith in Democracy?

David talks to Roberto Foa about his recent report into young people's attitude to democracy around the world. Why are millennials so much less satisfied with democratic politics than older generations? Can populist politics do anything to alter that? And what does the generation divide tell us about changing attitudes to Trump? Plus we discuss the generational politics of climate change, education and wealth inequality. The report in full:
02/11/2027m 51s

China, Climate, Covid: The New Energy Map

A conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin about the new energy map of the world. What impact has the shale revolution had on global politics? Is China winning or losing the energy wars? And will the energy transition happen fast enough for climate change?Daniel's book: on oil:
01/11/2031m 32s

What Trump Means to Us

Helen and David talk about what four years of Trump - and of talking (and talking) about Trump - have meant for their thinking about America and about democratic politics. Is it possible to give a balanced picture of Trump's presidency? Have the last four years followed a pattern or has it just been chaos? What is the likely legacy of Trump's extraordinary level of global fame? Plus we discuss whether 2020 marks the beginning of the 'short' twenty-first century and what that means for Trump's place in it.Talking Points:Will historians see 2020 as the start of the ‘short’ 21st century?If so, Trump belongs to the interregnum. He’s not a dramatic break. Certainly there are continuities, for example, in the Middle East. But there are also discontinuities with China and Iran.Is the pandemic a fundamental watershed?  Is American power in decline? In some ways, the US is more powerful this decade than it was the decade before.The US has a strong domestic energy supply again.The Fed is still an international lender of last resort.One of the consequences of the pandemic was that in March the Fed effectively extended an indirect dollar credit line in principle to China. The story about rising Chinese power is not straightforwardly at American expense. The domestic political turmoil in the US is going to be consequential to the American-Chinese strategic competition.The Republican party got what they wanted out of a Trump presidency, the courts.In that sense, 2020 could be another watershed year: pre-Barrett and post-Barrett.Although history of the court suggests that partisan affiliations don’t always predict outcomes.Since the late 1960s/early 1970s, American politics has become judicialized. The crucial point is the intense politicization of these decisions.Trump invokes huge depths of revulsion in many Americans. Trying to stand back and look at his presidency historically can seem like moral indifference.The narrative about Trump as a singular evil is the lens through which many people have lived their lives in the past four years.This narrative takes a pretty distorted view of the American past as well as the state of the republic before Trump.Trump seems incapable of understanding the distinction between the president as head of state and the president as head of government.Geopolitically, the Trump presidency has made a difference, especially in relation to China.Mentioned in this Episode:Our post-election episode from 2016Our last episode with Gary GerstleOur last episode with Sarah ChurchwellOur most recent crossover with 538David’s review of David Cameron’s memoirsFurther Learning:Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
29/10/2041m 30s

Democracy for Sale

We talk to Peter Geoghegan of openDemocracy and Jennifer Cobbe of the Trust and Technology Initiative about Cambridge Analytica, money, power and what is and isn't corrupting our democracy. How easy is it to buy influence in British politics? Did Cambridge Analytica break the rules or show just how little difference the rules make anyway? Who has the power to take on Facebook? Plus we discuss why the British government's failure to handle the pandemic tells us a lot about the corrosive effects of cronyism. Points:The ICO report on Cambridge Analytica largely concluded that their tactics were not unusual.Of course, we can take issue with the fact these practices are so widespread. One of the reasons Cambridge Analytica was such a scandal was that people didn’t realise they could be targeted in this way.Cambridge Analytica and organizations like it can do is seed misinformation into a wider ecosystem. They take advantage of the lack of regulation.Sowing misinformation doesn’t require sophisticated skills; it’s easy.The conversation about micro-targeting often centers on Cambridge Analytica, but we need to look at the structures that make these practices so easy and so potent.Facebook makes all of this really easy to do. Why were we so complacent? When we think about the influence of money in politics, it’s easy to imagine nefarious people throwing around big sums, but at least in the UK a small amount can go a long way when people have the right connections. This is cronyism.The pandemic has made the tech giants unthinkably wealthy.At the same time, they’ve changed the way that money affects politics.Could Trump have won without Facebook and Twitter?The tech companies do not need to lobby politicians in the traditional sense because they are simply that powerful.Governments are dependent on these technologies, as we all are.Can we think about the tech companies as the technical infrastructure of society?Right now, these companies have a huge amount of discretion. Cronyism has been a prominent feature of the UK Government’s COVID response.There is a strain in a certain school of political thought that the state isn’t good for much. When politicians who believe that are in charge, it can be self-fulfilling.A hollowed out state creates space for more cronyism.The civil service has become a punching bag. This could have a long tail. Does the system that needs reform have the capacity to generate the necessary reforms?When it comes to tech, the biggest problem is ideological.It’s hard to get politicians to agree that changing micro-targeting is necessary because they all use it.Politicians do not want to change a system that has benefitted them even if they can recognize its flaws. Can you build a coalition that would force them to do so? Mentioned in this Episode:The UK Information Commissioner's Office report on Cambridge AnalyticaPeter’s book, Democracy for SaleJennifer’s recent piece in the Guardian<a...
22/10/2045m 35s

Trump Stress Test

David talks to the historian Sarah Churchwell about how well America's political institutions have withstood the stress of the last four years. Have we seen the limits of presidential power or have we discovered how easy it is to trash those limits? Are constitutional checks and balances still intact? Is it really Mitch McConnell who is putting American democracy under stress? Plus we talk about what will be needed to restore the social contract and the perils of political humility.Talking Points:Many of the founding institutions in political life have been put under stress during the Trump administration. Trump has said a lot, but he hasn’t done much. We’ll have a better sense of the extent of the damage after the election.Trump’s behaviour often gets more outlandish as the constraints on his power become more visible.The power of the U.S. executive has been growing, certainly since 9/11.Both Bush and Obama strengthened the executive presidency. Some have argued that Trump’s incompetence precludes authoritarianism. Strong men have to be strong.But from an institutional standpoint, the Trump presidency has revealed that the American system is vulnerable to strongmen leaders.Because congressional Republicans have sanctioned his behaviour, Trump has not been as constrained as he might have been.The other institutional check that often flies under the radar is states rights.The electoral system is bound up in local state power. Every state has a series of strong, legally required actions that go into certifying vote counts.So far, states rights has been the most effective check on Trump’s power.We focus on Trump, but the lasting legacy of the Trump presidency may be elsewhere.If the lasting legacy of Trump is in the judiciary branch, it won’t be because he created a Trumpian judiciary. In this sense, Trump is the enabler of Mitch McConnell rather than the other way around.McConnell’s agenda is about obstructing the Democrats and consolidating Republican power. Trump has not been able to totalize authoritarian control. Certain aspects of liberalism have gotten stronger during the Trump administration.There can be an authoritarian regime without an authoritarian state.Mentioned in this Episode:Sarah on impeachment for Talking Politics American HistoriesSarah on TP on American fascismKimberly Jones, ‘How Can We Win’ Ross Douthat, ‘There Will Be No Trump Coup’ Further Learning:The 538 U.S. presidential election forecast Sarah on American Fascism for NYBooksWhat is originalism?The precedent, and perils of court packing in the...
15/10/2047m 35s

Can Boris Survive Brexit?

This week we come back to Brexit and ask whether Boris Johnson has a good way out of the current negotiations with the EU over a trade deal. First we talk with Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law, about the thinking and the reality behind the government's Internal Market Bill. Then David, Helen and Chris Brooke explore the politics of success and failure in the negotiations. Can the Union survive? Does the government have a coherent strategy? And how much trouble is Johnson really in?Talking Points:Is the Internal Market Bill just a negotiating tactic, or is it a genuine safeguard for a future world in which there is no trade deal? The government is worried that the wording of the Northern Ireland Protocol risks the possibility of the EU overreaching in its interpretation in ways that would make it more difficult for the UK to pursue its own state aid policy, for example.The government is now saying that it would only invoke these provisions if the EU acts in ‘bad faith.’The problem with that argument is that the agreements already have their own safeguard mechanisms. Why do you need a domestic legal mechanism?The substance of the Internal Market Bill is also getting serious pushback from the devolved authorities.The EU has launched infringement proceedings against the UK. It’s a structured process with different phases. The imperative is to try to seek a resolution without needing to take the action before the Court of Justice.The Commission’s argument is that the UK is acting on bad faith. In the transition period, the UK is effectively treated as a member state. What happens when the UK is fully outside of the transition period? For now at least, all this political theatre isn’t immediately derailing the process of getting an agreement on a future relationship.The ultimate obstacles to a deal are existential: the UK wants to guarantee respect for its autonomy, so does the EU.The EU’s great fear is that the model of a social market economy that it has been building among its member states would be threatened if the UK could engage in regulatory competition or distorted subsidies with the EU.That’s why the level playing field rules and state aid are so important for the EU. There’s also the geopolitical question: the consequences for both sides of not reaching a deal would be significant.Johnson gave his conference speech and he barely mentioned Brexit.The stakes of the ongoing negotiations are as high as they were a year ago, but the political heat—at least for now—has gone out of it.Johnson hopes that if you can get through the next few years and stabilize the Union from the present threats then it will be possible to put the Union on more solid constitutional groundings.This is a politics of crisis. There’s not a clear strategic vision.The pandemic has made the politics of devolution even more complicated because it’s created a de facto English government, which is the UK parliament.The more the Scottish government, the Northern Irish government and the Welsh government disagree about what the rules should be, the more the fact that there is an English government comes to the surface.This becomes an electoral issue too.Is Johnson on his way out?His track record may be a liability where the Union is concerned. There may be better people to lead the Conservative party on the Scottish question.Making a deal with the EU could hurt him with the Spartans of the European Research Group.Johnson’s health could also be an issue; that’s why he’s determined to show that he doesn’t have long-COVID.Mentioned in this Episode:<a href=""...
08/10/2053m 30s

One-Term Presidents

David talks to Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle about the historical precedents for US presidents losing office after a singleterm. It doesn't happen very often, but it could be about to happen again! Can Trump use the powers of incumbency to prevent it? Can Biden use Trump's growing chaos to seal his fate? Plus we talk about the fall-out from the first presidential debate and we ask how the politics of the Supreme Court might intersect with a contested election result.Talking Points:One-term presidents are rare in American history.Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush are the only presidents in the last 100 years who have lost reelection bids.When you take out third party challengers, you’re left with Hoover and Carter, two presidents who both failed to handle a significant national disaster.The Hoover and Carter cases came at turning points in presidential cycles.1932 and 1980 signify profound shifts in political order: from Republican to Democrat, and then from Democrat to Republican. There is not a clear dominant party right now. You would expect a one-term presidency to be more likely when there isn’t a dominant party.  In the Carter case, incumbency was perhaps a disadvantage. He faced a difficult economic situation as well as the Iranian hostage crisis. Both Carter and Hoover got hit by an economic crisis for which the country was not prepared, for which there were no ideal or quick solutions.  There’s never been a Supreme Court justice appointed and confirmed so quickly or so close to an election.The Republican party thinks their future lies with controlling the courts.McConnell’s strategy might actually harm Trump in the elections; they are determined to do this even, potentially, at the cost of the presidency.If Barrett said she would recuse herself from ruling on the election, McConnell wouldn’t care, but Trump would. The debate may have been unedifying, but it clarified what was at stake.Biden did not make a positive case for himself; his pitch was that he is not Trump.The overriding impression of the debate was chaos.Trump’s attempt to frame Biden as a creature of the left fell short. Trump made the presidency look cheap. The aversion factor matters: which of the candidates do most people find unacceptable? But Trump also dragged Biden into the chaos.What would happen if a Conservative court legitimated a Biden victory? Mentioned in this Episode: The US Presidential DebateFurther Learning:‘Hating on Herbert Hoover,’ from The New YorkerWhat happened with Merrick Garland? Six takeaways from the presidential debate from The New York TimesWho won the debate? From 538Frederick Wilmot-Smith in the LRB on the US Supreme Court<a...

Michael Sandel on the Case Against Meritocracy

David and Helen talk to the philosopher Michael Sandel about the damage that the idea of rewarding people on merit has done to education, democracy and public life. Why is it wrong to try to match the best students to the best universities? What is credentialism and how has it warped the way work is rewarded? Whatever happened to the idea of the common good? Plus we discuss America's sense of itself as God's chosen nation in the age of Obama and Trump.Talking Points:Places like Stanford and Harvard have more than 40,000 applicants for 2,000 places. Most of these applicants are qualified.Michael thinks that universities should admit students based on a lottery.The meritocratic way of thinking about success and social recognition has produced and intensified an epidemic of credentialism.  Should elite universities function as arbiters of opportunity?Even going to university hasn’t delivered what people expected. How do we translate what we can see is socially and morally wrong about our society into a different way of economically living?For decades, we have been told that the solution to inequality is individual upward mobility through higher education.The ‘rhetoric of rising’ has run its course.How do we affirm and renew the dignity of work?What kind of jobs has the shift towards credentialism encouraged?There’s a concentration around law and finance, as well as public sector or public administration jobs.The financialism of the economy is an important part of this story.The divide between winners and losers has deepend.It’s not just inequality: the people on top believe that their success is their own doing.Michael thinks that the sense of elites looking down on the less credentialed has fueled the anger and resentment that authoritarian populists have exploited.Could automation displace credentialism?The money people make, or the recognition they receive, is not a measure of their contribution to the common good.It’s easy to outsource this kind of moral judgment to markets, but Michael thinks that’s a mistake.Can we reconfigure the economy to bring about a better alignment between the contributions people make and the rewards and recognition they receive?The pandemic has revealed the importance of jobs that are hugely undervalued, particularly forms of human care. There has been a structural, material transformation in Western economies since the 1980s that has gone hand and hand with the rise of credentialism and financialisation.Industrial manufacturing employment has gone overseas.We are nostalgic about an age that no longer exists, including the role of trade unions, which had power in part because they could disrupt the economy through strikes.What happened to the nation as a source of identity and belonging?The United States is a providential nation; the same forces of meritocracy can be at work at the national level.Is it possible to challenge the sense of providence in American democracy?Mentioned in this Episode:Michael Sandel, The Tyranny of MeritThomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home AgainFurther Learning:Michael in the Guardian: ‘The populist backlash has been a...
24/09/2052m 40s

Robert Harris and V2

A Sunday extra with the novelist Robert Harris to talk about the V2 campaign of terror against London during WWII and the parallels with today. Plus we discuss the big questions of counterfactual history - could Hitler really have won the war? - and we ask whether Boris Johnson is anything like his political heroes, Cicero and Churchill.
20/09/2030m 42s

Jill Lepore on the Destructive Power of Tech

David talks to the American historian Jill Lepore about the damage new technology can do to democracy, from the 1960s to the present. Who first tried to manipulate the minds of the electorate? Where did the money come from? What happened when the same technology was applied to fighting the Vietnam War? Plus we discuss US presidential elections from 1960 to 2020: do the machines really decide who is going to win, and if he does win this time, what might Joe Biden be able to do about it?Talking PointsThe Simulmatics Corporation was one of the first data analytics companies founded in 1959.They were collecting personal data, coming up with mathematical models for human behavior, making predictions, and selling that as a service.They got their big break in the 1960 election. Advertising was basically invented to defend corporations against muckraking journalists.It became something else as modern consumer society emerged.Eventually, some of the ad agencies began working for the Republican Party. The Republican Party is the party of big business, so it’s nor surprising that they’ve always had a leg up in political advertising.Was the Simulmatics Corporation for real?Their insights were not particularly startling.The Simulmatics Corporations were liberals who were trying to convince the Democratic Party to take a stronger position on civil rights by telling them that black voters could make a difference in the election.There’s something kind of creepy about the whole thing: a bunch of mid-century, white, liberal men building a machine to try to understand people of color and women.A tight election is good for huxters. There’s a huge, enabling industry of journalism to oversell this kind of technology.There’s a big gap between how we understand politics should work in the physical world and the mysteriousness and anarchy of the digital world.Democracies are bad at reforming themselves because the winners are not incentivized to do it. The monopoly today is the monopoly of the means of doing politics. The pandemic makes it worse. We are now more wedded to our devices and it is harder to conduct campaigns outside of them.Mentioned in this Episode:Jill Lepore, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future Jill’s podcast, ‘The Last Archive: Who Killed Truth?’Sue Halpern on the Trump campaign’s mobile appFurther Learning: Jill in The New Yorker, ‘How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future’Our last episode with Jill on the American NationJia Tolentino for the BBC, ‘The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams’Evan Osnos’ profile of Mark Zuckerberg for The New Yorker<a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
17/09/2042m 15s

The Incompetence of Boris Johnson

This week we talk about the politics of incompetence: when does it matter and when can politicians get away with it. Have repeated u-turns during the pandemic damaged the government? Has Nicola Sturgeon had a better crisis than Boris Johnson or is it just competence theatre? Is the government's incompetence going to be enough to get Keir Starmer into Downing Street? With Helen Thompson, Chris Brooke and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points:Competence: does it matter? What kinds of incompetence are likely to do this government the most harm?There have been a lot of u-turns in the policy and rules around COVID.Are these u-turns or is the government improvising in an unprecedented situation?The u-turns that do the most harm are those that are seen as a breach of trust.The important context for u-turns in British politics is Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 speech to the Conservative Party Conference.Her predecessor, Ted Heath, did not stick to the manifesto line in government.She actually was making a u-turn in macroeconomic policy, but she had concluded that voters saw pragmatic chopping and changing as incompetence.The difficulty for Johnson is that there’s a general perception that the government isn’t entirely on top of things. The competence issue comes back to the surface.The internal market bill is being published and it will apparently renege on some aspects of the withdrawal act.Being perceived as seeing yourself above international law is a risk for any government.In the context of Brexit, this is the consequence of how boxed in the Johnson government was when it came into power.COVID has revealed big differences between Westminster and the devolved governments.Sturgeon in particular has pitched her government as more competent than the Johnson government.Critics of the SNP say that this is theatre. But the handling of the pandemic may well feed into the SNP’s pitch heading into what appears to be an increasingly imminent referendum, which they are increasingly confident of winning.But it’s not just the pandemic; it’s also the whole Brexit process.Can Starmer use competence as a lever? Can you win power through competence?The opposition is not in a great place to set the agenda. A number of very important decisions will be made in the next year or so that change the political situation.Don’t underestimate the power of the Conservatives to replace Johnson.Many of Johnson’s ministers are creatures of his politics.What’s interesting about Sunak is that he doesn’t quite fit that template.Mentioned in this Episode:Margaret Thatcher’s 1980 speech to the Conservative Party Conference (‘the lady’s not for turning’)Scottish support for independence rises in the pandemicWho is Boris Johnson?Further Learning: More on the Internal Market BillThe Guardian’s view on the Internal Market...
10/09/2046m 14s

The Politics of Loneliness

David talks to economist and author Noreena Hertz about loneliness and its impact on all our lives. How does the experience of loneliness shape contemporary democracy? What kind of politics could make us feel more connected? Can technology bring us together or is it driving us further apart? Plus we discuss the consequences of the pandemic for the future of work and the possibility of building a better world.Loneliness has been rising among young people over recent years: 3 in 5 18-34 year olds feel lonely often or sometimes; nearly a half of 10-15 year olds.Lockdown has likely exacerbated these numbers.So much of the interaction between young people is online; parents can’t see the exclusion.Loneliness is political as well as personal, social as well as economic.Exclusion and marginalisation are also forms of loneliness.Can loneliness bridge generational divides?In the pandemic, we are all sharing a negative experience—will this produce solidarity or divisions? What solutions do politicians provide for solidarity?In recent times, the left hasn’t provided a strong alternative notion of solidarity.The diminishment of trade unions and workplace solidarity play a part here as well. What politician will speak for the lonely?Democracy produces certain kinds of visibility and excludes others. What would it look like to be more open to the lonely?There is a skillset associated with inclusive democracy that we are in danger of losing.There are inspiring examples of participatory democracy on the local level.In a lonely world, representative democracy filters out the lonely.If loneliness is the problem, and human beings are increasingly socially inept, the machines might step in.In Japan, robot-human interaction is widespread, especially among the elderly.What will increasingly intelligent robots do to our relationships with each other?Mentioned in this Episode:Noreena’s book, The Lonely Century: Coming Together in a World that's Pulling ApartNoreena on ‘Generation K’The Camden Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisisFurther Learning:The New York Times on how to manage lonelinessSolitary citizens: the politics of lonelinessMore on robotic eldercare in JapanOur episode with Yuval HarariAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
03/09/2044m 49s

Thomas Piketty: Three Years On

We revisit our interview with the economist Thomas Piketty recorded the week Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency and David and Helen ask what we have learned since. Where does Macron fit on the left/right political spectrum? What has his cult of personality done to French politics? And are we anywhere nearer knowing how to tackle the problem of inequality? The last in our series of updates from the Talking Politics archive.Show Notes:Why isn’t inequality having a more primary effect on our politics? Are ethnic and nationalist divisions trumping class divisions?Piketty’s research shows that nothing is pre-ordained, but it often takes a crisis to reorient politics.In the 20th century, war plays this role. If you take war out of it, what happens?Can democracies deal with inequality without a crisis? Is there a democratic path to redress inequality? Macron relatively quickly became a politician of the centre-right.This shouldn’t have been a surprise. What was harder to anticipate was the nature of the opposition, in particular, the Gilets Jaunes.Macron has become more preoccupied with the geopolitical than reforming the Eurozone.It’s easy to forget how contingent Macron’s rise was.Macron’s rise blew apart the French party system. The failings predated Macron, but he did inject something much more personalized into French politics.Macron created a movement that could win a majority in the French legislature. During lockdown, however, he lost his absolute majority in the lower house because various people on the left defected.The larger story about economic choices, especially macroeconomic choices, being taken out of the hands of democratic politics took a particular shape in France.Can we see Macron’s rise as an answer to France’s problems in the euro?Has COVID moved Europe any closer to answering questions about what engenders solidarity?Piketty has been an advocate of quite radical institutional reforms towards a more centralised European project.Clearly the crisis has changed notions about common European borrowing. If you have debt, what kind of political solidarity sustains that debt? For there to be meaningful solidarity where debt is concerned, you need to see meaningful taxes. So far, this has not happened.Nor has there been any institutional reform in the last few months. That part of the Piketty project seems as far off as ever.Mentioned in this Episode: Capital in the Twenty-First Century Last week’s episode with Lucia and HansFurther Learning: Piketty’s most recent book, Capital and IdeologyWill coronavirus lead to fairer societies? Thomas Piketty explores the prospect for The GuardianAn interview with Piketty in The Nation about the virus and his...
27/08/2042m 2s

Has Covid Rescued Europe?

This week we look at the big changes in European politics during the crisis and ask who has managed to turn it around. Is Italy now a model for crisis management? Has there been a reorientation in German politics under Merkel? Can the EU rescue fund really rescue the European project? Plus we discuss the long-term implications of big state politics for the future of Europe. With Helen Thompson, Lucia Rubinelli and Hans Kundnani.Talking Points:Over the summer, life—including political life—in Italy resumed some normalcy.There will be regional and local elections, as well as a constitutional referendum, at the end of September.The government now seems to be on firmer ground. This has to do with the recovery fund, and the fact that the two main parties in the coalition have decided to run together.The Five Star movement had previously said it would never run with another party. It is becoming a more establishment party.Salvini’s comeback has slowed down. Salvini has made several mistakes over COVID.The League runs the region that suffered the most during the COVID crisis. The president of that region, who is close to Salvini, is now embroiled in a corruption scandal that has to do with the process of buying PPE.Italy has stabilized the situation domestically by excluding those who are most radical about the euro and by getting ECB and wider EU external support for Italy’s debt.In Germany, there is a sense that Merkel has moved quite radically on debt mutualization in the Eurozone. But there’s some misunderstanding about what the recovery fund does: it doesn’t deal with the pre-2020 macro imbalances in the Eurozone. During the negotiations in March, Conte was hard on the EU. But once it was negotiated, the tone switched completely. The debate over the conditions of accepting money from the EU is almost completely focused on whether Italy should apply to the European Stability Mechanism. This doesn’t seem to translate to the recovery fund, which is surprising.Five Star can criticize Europe in one regard, while accepting everything else.But unhappiness with conditionality always reasserts itself in Italian politics because of Italy’s debt position and Eurozone fiscal rules.There is too much focus on Merkel. Merkel has embodied a broad consensus in German politics that has existed for the last 15 years. She tends to go with the flow of German public opinion.The shift in Germany that led to the recovery fund is an example of this: she shifted because she saw public opinion shifting.The big questions are: who will be Merkel’s successor? And who will be the junior partner in the coalition that successor leads?In both Italy and Germany, there appears to be a doubling down on grand coalition politics.In Italy’s case, this has involved co-opting a previous anti-establishment party. In fact, Five Star is now the senior partner.In Germany, it’s more about keeping out anti-establishment parties.There is a danger that the EU constrains countries from making the kind of shift toward state intervention that European governments currently want to make due to COVID.This could become a problem down the line.If EU countries were unanimous about this shift, you could imagine a remaking of the EU, but the old divides will almost certainly come back.Mentioned in this Episode: Our most recent episode with LuciaOur March...
20/08/2042m 30s

Judith Butler: Then and Now

This week two conversations with the feminist theorist and writer Judith Butler: one recorded the week Trump won the presidency in 2016 and one recorded a few days ago, as his presidency (just maybe) approaches its end. We reflect on what has changed over the last four years, what has stayed the same, and whether our worst fears were realised. Plus Judith tells us what she sees when she sees Biden and what she hopes might come next. Two linked conversations about misogyny, racism, representation, empowerment, hope, rage, and the damage one man can do to democracy.Further Learning: Judith Butler: on COVID-19, the politics of non-violence, necropolitics, and social inequalityJudith Butler for the LRB on Trump’s death drive‘Judith Butler wants us to reshape our rage,’ from The New Yorker Judith on performativity and Black Lives MatterGender Trouble, Judith ButlerPrecarious Life, Judith ButlerThe Force of Nonviolence, Judith ButlerAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
13/08/2059m 27s

Brexit, Trump and Aldershot FC

This week David and Helen talk with the historian David Kynaston about his diary of the 2016-17 season in football and in politics, when a lot happened both to the world and to his beloved Aldershot FC. It's a conversation about loyalty, identity and belonging, and about what sorts of change we can tolerate and what we can't. Plus Helen reflects on her life as a West Ham fan.Talking Points:For David Kynaston, football is about identity.We all have our personal myths.Continuity of space, even colours, is also important.Football in Britain has derived a lot of meaning from the relationship between club and place.The continuity between location and fan base broke at some point in the 1990s, maybe earlier. And then there are questions of ownership, management.For David Kynaston, football is rooted in place; politics is not.Small and medium sized towns feel ‘left behind’; these places have also been left behind in the football sense. But anger about the inequalities or the premier league doesn’t have a lot of political purchase. What is the relationship between the planning period of the 50s and 60s and Brexit voters?People who lived through that maybe had reasons to distrust people telling them what was best.There was also a coarsening of popular culture, led by Murdoch and the Sun.Mentioned in this Episode:David Kynaston’s new book, Shots in the DarkAnthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of TimeColin Shindler’s books on Manchester United and Manchester CityOur post-Trump episode David Goodhart on somewheres and anywheresLiverpool’s vote and Sun readershipThe Financial Times editorial on Trump and PortlandFurther Learning:Helen on West HamHelen on coronavirus and the Premier LeagueAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
06/08/2043m 59s

Whose Work is it Anyway?

David and Helen talk with Diane Coyle about what the pandemic has revealed about the changing nature of work. Who is doing more of it? Who is still getting paid for it? Which jobs are not coming back? Plus we explore the impact of the digital revolution on how we get rewarded for what we do and we ask whether the big tech firms can continue to hoover up so many of the rewards. Is Jeff Bezos really worth it?Talking Points: Since the post-war era, unpaid work in the home doesn’t get measured in formal economic statistics.At the time, people argued it would be too hard to measure.When women went out to work in the paid workforce, the market started growing.The digital revolution brought a lot of things we paid for back into the home, for example, online banking.The pandemic has exacerbated existing social patterns and trends.Women are more likely to have been laid off and furloughed. The hardest hit sectors, such as hospitality and retail, employ more women. All working parents have been hit hard.In a self-inflicted recession, the service sector has been hit hardest (instead of manufacturing).Key workers are not our best paid workers. Those who can work from home are, broadly speaking, more well off.Official economic statistics are analytical and statistical constructs. If we ran surveys about what households are doing, we would have measures of these things. You can’t devise good policies about social care or pensions about understanding who is doing what. The statistics we have were created in relation to a particular mode of economic management: Keynesian demand management. We no longer think that’s a sufficient way of thinking about economic activity, or the more human issues around economic activity.   The financial market economy today bears little relationship to the real productive economy.This is essentially because central banks have (intentionally or not) propped up markets with asset purchases.We will see a continuation of the trend since 2008 of greater asset inequality.  What has the pandemic done to people’s economic psychology?Fear might make recovery harder. Certain sectors like hospitality and entertainment depend on people moving from one place to another and gathering in close proximity.People’s expectations from the government may also have changed. Information technologies have become part of our fundamental economic infrastructure and often these markets are dominated by only one corporation.After 2008, large companies like Amazon that weren’t making profit at the time still had access to huge amounts of cheap credit and could engage in share buybacks. The end of people’s ability to physically go shopping has been a huge boon to Amazon in particular. Online retail doesn’t suffer like the high street.Right now, Amazon is seen to be providing a vital service. Does this make it less likely that policymakers will take it on?  There may still be a shock coming, especially when the furlough scheme winds down.Is it too late to save the brick and mortar economy?If we are moving towards a more digital economy, we’ll have to rethink taxes too.Will the pandemic take us back to an earlier version of the digital economy? Will we go back to living further apart? There’s a limit to how much you can do online. The shift towards urban centers took off in the 90s, before the tech revolution. It’s probably more about the shift away from manufacturing towards service-sector economies.Mentioned in this Episode: <a...
30/07/2042m 48s

Revisiting Yuval Harari

This week we go back to the first ever interview we recorded for Talking Politics, when David talked to Yuval Noah Harari in 2016 about his book Homo Deus. That conversation touched on many of the themes that we've kept coming back to in the four years since: the power of the big technology companies; the vulnerability of democracy; the deep uncertainty we all feel about the future. David reflects on what difference those four years have made to how we think about these questions now.Talking Points: In Homo Deus, Harari distinguishes between intelligence and consciousness.Intelligence is the ability to solve problems; consciousness is the ability to feel things.Humans use their feelings to solve problems; our intelligence is to a large extent emotional intelligence. But it doesn’t have to be like that.Computers have advanced in terms of intelligence but not consciousness.What is more important: consciousness or intelligence? This is becoming a practical, not theoretical question.Artificial intelligence could create a new class—the useless class.Institutions or mechanisms might become obsolete.In humanist politics, the feelings of individuals are the highest authority; could algorithms know your feelings better than you do?The idea of the individual is that you have an indivisible inner core and your task as an individual is to get away from outside forces and get in touch with your true, authentic self.According to Harari, this is 18th century mythology.Humans are dividuals: a collection of biochemical mechanisms. There is nothing beyond these mechanisms.In the 20th century, no one could understand these mechanisms. We haven’t abandoned humanism—the rhetoric is still there—but it is under pressure.In a long-tail world, everyone has a little bit—there’s lots of tailored, personal politics—but there’s also a huge concentration of power and wealth.Think of Google or Facebook: they are basically monopolies.Technology is not deterministic: it could still go in different ways.There is human pushback. Voters may be right in sensing that power is shifting, but are they right about where it is going? In the four years since this interview, machine intelligence hasn’t hugely advanced.Machines are more a part of our lives, but they aren’t necessarily smarter.Are we becoming less intelligent as we adapt to a world increasingly dominated by machines?Human agency is not just under threat from machines. It’s also under threat from corporate power. Amazon is much more powerful than it was four years ago. Mentioned in this Episode: Homo Deus‘Inside Out’David’s review of Homo DeusOur episode with Brett FrischmannDominic Cummings’s blogFurther Learning: The Talking Politics Guide to… FacebookOn...
23/07/2045m 56s

Twilight of Democracy

David talks to the writer Anne Applebaum about her highly personal new book, which charts the last twenty years of broken friendships and democratic failure. We start in Poland with the story of what happened to the high hopes for Polish democracy, including what we've learned from this week's presidential election. But we also take in Trump and Brexit, Hungary and Spain. What explains the prevalence ofconspiracy theories in contemporary politics? Why are so many conservatives drawn to the politics of despair? Is history really circular? And is democracy doomed?Talking Points:Yesterday, Poland’s incumbent president Andrzej Duda narrowly won re-election.Anne thinks that this shows divisive politics can succeed.A central issue was LGBT rights: Duda said that LGBT was an ideology worse than communism.The ruling party now has 3 more years to continue undermining the press and the judiciary and putting pressure on anyone the party sees as a threat.The new illiberal way of thinking is not a totalizing ideology.These are medium-sized lies, conspiracy theories.You can use conspiracy theories to undermine people’s trust in political institutions.Should we differentiate between conspiracy theories and opportunistic lying?When elections become about ‘who is really Polish,’ whoever wins gains a sense of legitimacy in excluding and discriminating against the ‘others.’Can these arguments stand when the results are this close?The Polish government has tools to harass its opponents. It’s a vengeful state.The opposition now will probably fragment—this is what happened in Hungary.How did Brexit bring together figures like Johnson, Scruton, and Cummings?Politicians, journalists, and propagandists can manipulate feelings of nostalgia into a political campaign and ride it into power.Did nostalgia have to be anti-European Union? In some ways, the EU is a bulwark against certain features of modernity.But to a certain breed of nostalgic British conservative, the EU would always be foreign. To them, the idea of negotiating, or co-deciding was fundamentally unacceptable.In places with a shorter modern democratic history like Greece and Spain, democracy has proved surprisingly robust. The degree to which these forces win or lose is dependent on the local context.History shows that democracies do fail; if you neglect rotting institutions they can bring you down.Both complacency and cynicism can threaten democracy.Mentioned in this Episode:Anne’s new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of FriendsAnne’s writing for The AtlanticWaPo’s Trump lie trackerFurther Learning: A review of Anne's book in The Guardian, ‘How my old friends paved the way for Trump and Brexit’More on Poland’s election<a href=""...
16/07/2042m 27s

Helen's History of Ideas

David talks with Helen to get her take on the history of ideas - both what's there and what's missing. Why start with Hobbes? What can we learn from the Federalist Papers? Where's Nietzsche? Plus we talk about whether understanding where political ideas come from isliberating or limiting and we ask how many of them were just rationalisations for power.Talking Points: Should we start the story of modern politics with Hobbes?Hobbes poses a stark question: what is the worst thing that can happen in politics? Civil war or tyranny?Is Hobbes’ answer utopian?What are the consequences of the breakdown of political authority—and how do they compare to the consequences of empowering the state to do terrible things? Who has the authority to decide is a fundamental question in politics.But there are lots of ways of thinking about politics that avoid this question.If you accept the notion that political authority is essential, what form should that authority take and how can it be made as bearable as possible for as many people as possible?Constant says that the worst thing that can happen isn’t civil war; it’s the tyranny of the state.To him, the French Revolution showed that when people who hold the coercive power of the state also hold certain beliefs, the damage can be much worse.Constant wants to say that the beliefs people have in the modern world are a constraint on political possibilities.What does the pluralism of beliefs mean for politics? Constant is also more direct about the importance of debt and money. From the French revolution onwards, nationalism became the dominant idea by which the authority of states was justified to those over whom it exercised power.Sieyès equated the state with its people.The idea of federalism as enshrined in the US constitution is also important: Hobbes did not think sovereignty could be divided.How do you reconcile constitutional ideals with the horrors they justified?Nietzsche forces a reckoning with the religion question.This blows up the distinction between pre-modern and modern.He presents a genealogy not just of morality, but civilization, ideas of justice, religion.For Nietzsche, Christianity is the manifestation of the will to power of the powerless.Nietzsche tells us how we became the way we are—it didn’t have to go that way.In exposing contingency, he forces us to engage with political questions we don’t really want to think about.What do ideas explain about human motivation in politics, and to what extent are they rationalizations of other motives?Helen thinks that the history of ideas can make political action seem too straightforward. How should we think about the relationship between ideas and material constraints (or opportunities)?Studying history more generally leads to at least some degree of cynicism about the relationship between ideas and power.Mentioned in this Episode: Talking Politics: the History of IdeasThe Federalist PapersThe Genealogy of MoralityOur episode on Weber’s ‘Politics as a Vocation’Further Learning: <a...
09/07/2048m 17s

James Meek on Healthcare: from WHO to NHS

David talks to the writer James Meek about what the Covid crisis has revealed about how we understand healthcare and how we think about the organisations tasked with delivering it. A conversation about hospitals and community care, about Trump's America and Johnson's Britain, and about WHO and NHS. James's writing on these themes is available on the LRB website Maxmen on Ebola, Covid and the WHO
05/07/2037m 16s

Brexit in the Age of Covid

We have passed the deadline for any extension to the Brexit trade negotiations - now it's 31 December or bust. We catch up with three of our resident experts to explore what this means, what the chances are of getting a deal and where the sticking points might be. Plus we asses the impact of the Covid crisis on the fate of Brexit and its implications for what might happen later this year. With Anand Menon,Catherine Barnard and Helen Thompson.Talking Points: The formal legal position is that it’s not possible to seek an extension of the Brexit transition period.Perhaps the most likely thing is that—if there is a trade deal before the end of the year—it has a longer transition period built into the front of it.A second COVID spike in the autumn could make no deal more likely.Are there things in the law that politics can’t fix?The COVID crisis has made the gulf between the two sides over the issue of state aid bigger than it already was, which reduces the space for fudging. You also have to deal with the Northern Ireland protocol.The UK doesn’t have a constitutional regime that protects things like workers rights and environmental standards in the way that treaty law effectively does in the EU.It’s hard to imagine that any UK government would agree constitutional rules about these matters as part of a trade agreement with the EU or any individual state.At the heart of Brexit lies a claim to reassert the more traditional UK constitution against the constitutional constraints that EU membership generated.The Johnson government is not prepared to accept the EU’s argument about it’s economic sphere of influence.This is a question for the EU as much as it is for the UK.Both sides are starting from competing premises; would more time be enough to sort this out? This begs a larger question about the EU’s relationship to its immediate neighborhood.The German constitutional court decision was a blow to the ECB and ECJ.This gives the green light to those disaffected in Hungary and Poland.Do EU divisions make it more or less likely that they will fallout over Brexit? Macron’s position seems harder than it was towards the end of last year. There is no evidence he wants to move on the question of state aid.It seems unlikely that all 27 member states will have the same attitude towards a sovereign UK. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Britain can play them off each other.Couching the debate as deal vs. no deal instead of good deal vs. bad deal may give the Johnson government some wiggle room.Even if the UK winds up making significant concessions on trade, for example.Mentioned in this Episode: Talking with Adam Tooze about the German constitutional court rulingThe UK in a Changing EuropeThe Merkel interview from June Further Learning:George Peretz on the Northern Irish ProtocolMore on state aid as a stumbling blockWhat is the level playing field? <a...
02/07/2044m 30s

Burma's Hidden History

In this extra episode David talks to Thant Myint-U about the fraught recent history of Burma (Myanmar) and asks what it can teach us about twenty-first century politics. Why did the West have so many illusions about Aung San Suu Kyi? Can democracy really rescue the country? What model of development might work in the age of Covid and climate change? A wide-ranging conversation about the forces shaping our world.Thant's website:'s book:
28/06/2047m 24s

Britain Wrestles with its Past

We talk with the writer and political commentator Fintan O'Toole about how British politics can and should deal with its imperial past in the age of Brexit. From battles over statues to fights over nationalism we explore whether history has become the new democratic divide. Why does Churchill loom so large over our politics? Can Labour reclaim the mantle of patriotism? Will the Union survive the history wars? Plus we ask whether there has been a generational shift in attitudes to race and identity. With Helen Thompson.Talking Points: Debates over statues and monuments are really more about the present than the past.They don’t necessarily lead you to a real engagement with either your history or your contemporary identity.Britain has a long history of questioning how the past is thought about in the public sphere. Is it possible to have a serious political argument about Churchill’s legacy anymore?In the age of Johnson, is everything a proxy? Churchill can’t be separated from the Second World War in British historical memory.The Churchill question goes deep into the Union question. If you take away the experience of the two world wars, it’s not clear what keeps the Union together.How do you articulate a sense of British patriotism when the state is in decline and the history it’s wrapped up in is often disgraceful? For example, you could celebrate Britain’s move to outlaw the slave trade—but almost every historian would point out that this is shot through with hypocrisy.There’s a profound problem around the history of Britishness. Over the last 10 years, two different consensuses have broken down, and these interact with each other quite lethally. First there’s consent to Britain’s membership in the EU; this broke down more in England and in Wales.Second is consent to the Anglo-Scottish union breaking down in Scotland.And the fact that the referendum produced a Leave vote meant that the Northern Ireland question came back into play.Nationalisms always want to purify themselves into victimhood.What this does is occlude the complexity of the history of the nation itself.Nationalism involves telling a story about the past that often, though not always, involves trying to break away from some larger political authority, often an empire.Part of the present moment’s attitude towards British history is not new: the sense that British history was delegitimated by Empire has been there before.Mentioned in this Episode: The FT reviews Andrew Adonis’ biography on Ernest BevinFurther Learning: Fintan’s book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of PainFintan on Boris JohnsonMore on ‘The Lost Cause’Fintan’s recent piece on Trump in the New York Review of BooksAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
25/06/2047m 22s

American Fascism: Then and Now

David and Helen talk with historian Sarah Churchwell about the origins, uses and abuses of the idea of American fascism. Where does American fascism come from? Does it follow a European model or is it something exceptional? What role do white supremacy and anti-Semitism play in its development? How close has it got to power? Plus we ask the big question for now: Does it make sense to call Trump a fascist?Talking Points: Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Tulsa on 19 June is an act of clear provocation to African Americans, especially at this moment. 19 June 1865 was the day the last slaves were emancipated, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.The symbolic deferral, the fact that white people were actively denying black people full rights and citizenship, is what Juneteenth came to represent. Tulsa is where the worst race riot in American history occurred in 1921. The white population of Tulsa descended on a thriving black community.The Trump campaign was forced to move the rally a day. It will happen on 20 June.Is fascism the right word for what has happened—and is happening in America? The second Klan rose between 1915 and 1922.The commentariat at the time pointed to Mussolini and fascism to explain the Klan’s resurgence.Hitler looked at the US and took aspects, including the legal institutionalisation of white supremacy, especially in the South, as an inspiration. But there is something quite specific about European fascism in the 1920s that has to do with the fallout of the First World War.Fascism is ultra-nationalism. It has to be different in every country: it’s highly situational, highly historicized. It can be hard to pin down because each iteration takes its own form.Is it historically accurate to call the present moment fascist? Is it useful?Is calling Trump a fascist too comforting? Does it keep us from seeing the reasons why he won?Is it useful to think about American nativist, conspiratorial, racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic gorups as being recognizably fascist going back in time? Mentioned in this Episode: Sarah and TP American Histories on the 15th and the 19th amendmentRobert Paxton, The Anatomy of FascismPhilip Roth, The Plot Against AmericaSinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen HereJonathan Shanin on Tom Cotton’s op edFurther Learning: Sarah on TP: America First? Sarah on the dark history of America FirstSarah’s book, Behold America<a href="" rel="noopener...
18/06/2047m 25s

Police State USA

We talk to Adom Getachew, Jasson Perez and Gary Gerstle about the politics of protest and the politics of policing in America. What does 'Defund the Police' mean in practice? Is the current crisis likely to empower or curtail the surveillance state? How are the current protests different from ones we've seen in the past? And where Minneapolis leads, will the world follow? Plus we talk about the implications of the protests for the November elections.Talking Points:The ‘defund the police’ movement has gained a lot of ground in the last few weeks.This movement wants to defund and disband the police and invest resources in things that get at the roots of harm and violence in communities. Minneapolis already had a successful campaign to divest. Local organizations knew how to relate to a spontaneous rebellion and use that energy to push the agenda. Other cities will have to figure out how to do this in their organizing communities. Alternatives to policing exist but they are chronically underfunded.We associate the last 30 years with state shrinkage, neoliberalism, and disinvestment from public goods, especially education, but there has been an ongoing increase in police spending.The pandemic—and a growing sense that we don’t have basic public necessities—has led people to question the normalcy of increasing police spending.Growing expenditure has not really helped the communities where violence persists. Police have failed on their own terms.Cities are also paying out a lot on police misconduct cases.There are two things going on: historically recognizable violence, but also the risk that this movement empowers the move toward technological forms of violence. Big data police tech presents itself as the solution to racist policing and police brutality.Demands to defund the police must be coupled with restrictions around private policing and surveillance. The American federal system is set up to stymie change, so moments like this are rare but important.It starts from the outside—from protests—and then the elite begin to rethink their role in the regime.Are there any useful historical analogies?Gary thinks the labour uprisings of the 1930s, which pressured FDR to make a leftward turn, more closely parallel what’s happening now than 1968. The scale and depth of this—and the level of public support—are unprecedented.The uprisings of 1968 generated a particular elite response. The movement for black lives is responding to the world that comes out of 1968 and the 50 year bipartisan consensus on policing that emerged from that moment.Trump is an incumbent and this happened on his watch. That’s different from the 1968/Nixon story.What will the Democrats do? And how far will they go to meet the demands?What is the vector through which protest politics gets channeled to become a mechanism for generating policy? In the absence of organized labour politics, there are no clear mediating institutions. The pandemic presents a risk: if there is another spike, Trump will blame protesters. Mentioned in this Episode:Eyes on the Prize (documentary)David’s LRB review of Rahm Emanuel’s book, The Nation CityThe Politics of...
11/06/2053m 46s

What Just Happened at the New York Times?

In an extra episode, we're back with last week's guest Jonathan Shainin, Head of Opinion at the Guardian, so he can talk us through the big blow-up at the NYT. What has it taught us about about the new battlegrounds in newspaper opinion? Where does power now lie in newspaper offices? And where does Jonathan draw the line between what can and can't be published? In our next episode, voices on the ground in the US.Further Reading:The Tom Cotton Op-Ed from the New York Times Goldberg in the NYT Cotton Op-Ed under review: creation of the NYT "op-ed" page, which was launched in 1970 history of the "objectivity norm" in American journalism
08/06/2029m 49s

Matt Forde

David talks to comedian and host of the Political Party podcast Matt Forde about his lockdown experiences and about his life with the Labour party: before, during and after the Corbyn years. Plus we discuss the ways in which political allegiances are (and aren't) like supporting a football team.
07/06/2045m 36s

Facts vs Opinions

David and Helen talk with Jonathan Shainin, Head of Opinion at the Guardian newspaper, about the challenges of political journalism in a deeply polarised age. Is it possible to hold the line between news and comment? Are the arguments about Covid a rerun of Brexit? What can scientists and historians add to political analysis? Plus we discuss how American journalism has changed the way it talks about race and violence and what that means for the current moment.Talking Points: The heightened state of political opinion writing around Brexit seems to have dissipated.The opinion pages became a vehicle for a kind of tribal politics. There was a relentless urgency to it: was that illusory?Technology revealed the enormous appetite for news and commentary related to Brexit.People want updates and then they want trusted voices to add to the experience and understanding of events. Is there a distinction between emotional and analytical opinion pieces?Opinion pages will always reflect partisan opinions.To what extent is an opinion piece feeding into a libidinal appetite among readers? Is there a role in either the Guardian or the Telegraph for an opinion piece that would be comprehensible to the other side?One thing John set out to do is to reduce the frequency of opinion pieces.In the early days of the pandemic, a lot of the pieces were explanatory and written by experts. Can we separate scientific expertise from political judgment?Analytical pieces aim for a different kind of persuasion.Historians and political theorists can say: can we think about things in a different way? No form of journalism can be made bulletproof against weaponised forms of skepticism or cynicism.The classical model of how the facts, the news, and the demos interact is now outdated.A new model would have to capture the chaos and instability between these elements.Journalism feels more urgent, yet the urgency is accompanied by diminished authority.Has Trump revealed the limits of the analytical mode?What happens when there isn’t room for reasonable disagreement?Mentioned in this Episode:Ian Jack on the Scottish Independence Referendum David’s piece for The Guardian, It was all a dream’William Hanage for the Guardian on COVIDMelanie Philips in the Times on COVIDAlan Finlayson on why we should stop complaining about tribalismHelen’s piece on football for the New StatesmanDavid on climate denialismFurther Learning: David and...
04/06/2045m 34s

Dan Snow on Covid History (and Cummings)

David and Helen talk to the historian Dan Snow about the parallels for the current crisis. Is it like past pandemics or is it more like a war? What has it exposed about the weak spots in our societies? And what have we learned about the role of political leadership? Plus we explore the value of Churchill comparisons on the 80th anniversary of his great WWII speeches and we dip our toes into the Cummings affair.Talking Points: Lockdown, quarantine, social distancing have been borrowed from the past.This is not as great a mortality or morbidity event as past pandemics, at least yet.But we are not as separate from past human experience as many people would like to believe.Perhaps the better comparisons are the forgotten ones: 1957 and 1968.The other main comparison is the Spanish flu, which was far more lethal.Politicians treated these past flus as background events. This crisis is all consuming.Most people in 1919 died at home. Health infrastructure changes the conversation.The politics of healthcare are central to this—especially because governments decided that protecting health systems would be the priority.This event has exacerbated existing faultlines, but also, things that we’ve assumed were facts of life have been completely halted.Can things go back to ‘normal’?There may be more homeworking, but will there be less air travel?Pandemics expose weak spots in societies. Western societies are old and increasingly unhealthy. This is a disease that targets the old and the unhealthy.Are future historians more likely to see this as an economic crisis than as a health crisis?We’ve been in monetary unknown territory since the early 1970s. When we look back at the economic narrative, we’re going to be looking at a much longer story about what happens when the world’s central banks allow polities to live with much more debt outside of wartime. Are we now health-fiscal states? The state, in Hobbesian terms, exists to keep people alive. In the modern world, that means both health and external security.We should expect the state to show itself for what it is in both war and health crises.The health side becomes more important in aging societies.Johnson is trapped between what the pandemic looks like it requires with regards to Cummings and his government’s ability to deal with Brexit.Johnson does not want to face the next phase of Brexit negotiations without Cummings.For Johnson to sacrifice Cummings now would be existential for his government; that’s why he doesn’t want to do it. Mentioned in this Episode:History HitTP with Richard Evans on choleraJohn Oxford on the Spanish Flu for BBCDemocracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry BartelsOur most recent conversation with Adam ToozeFurther Learning: More on the 1957 and 1968 pandemics<a...
28/05/2047m 21s

Bread, Cement, Cactus

David talks to the writer Annie Zaidi, winner of the Nine Dots Prize, about her remarkable memoir of life in India and the search for identity. It's s story of conflict, migration, belonging and the idea of home. We also discuss what home means for Indians now the country is under lockdown and Annie tells us how life is in Mumbai.*The sound is not great, we are sorry. It is nicer to listen through speakers than on headphones*Further Reading and listening:Annie Zaidi's book Dots Prize Zaidi speaks to Qudsiya Ahmad, Head of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press India article about the Indian migration caused by lock-down
24/05/2054m 7s

Europe Blows Up

How does a judgement of the German constitutional court threaten to explode the European project? David talk to Helen Thompson, Adam Tooze and Shahin Vallee about what the court's decision might mean for the Euro, for the response to the pandemic, for Franco-German relations and for the future of central banks. Can the great European fudge continue? And what happens if it can't?Plus a bonus chat with Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd from the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Podcast’ German Constitutional Court ruled that the ECB’s QE program is illegal. It says that the German government has failed to control the ECB’s program and its compliance with the German constitution.It ruled that the European Court of Justice made an illegal judgment.And it gives the ECB 3 months to provide a clear analysis and a new decision. If not, the German government can’t continue to participate in QE.This raises three fundamental political questions: Does EU law take precedence over national law? Has the ECB ventured too far outside of monetary policy?Should the ECB’s independence be as absolute? Monetary union rested on a sharp distinction between monetary policy, which was going to be a matter for the EU, and the rest of economic policy, where there was going to be no federal authority.The economic premise of monetary union is no longer supported by a great number of people in the monetary union.Of course the advocates of the system believe the fudge.This is a very political judgment. The ruling inadvertently opens the question not only about the financial constitution, but, more deeply, if it’s time for the monetary union to have a proper fiscal risk sharing instrument, a proper budget, and political accountability.The judgment forces a conversation about the architecture of the monetary union.Part of this judgment is about democratic control over otherwise unaccountable institutions.The German Constitutional Court is one of the anchors of the success of German democratic model since 1949.It acts as a driver of modern constitutional jurisprudence. Independent central banks were meant to reign in the inflationary tendencies of democratic governments. Now their primary role is to guard against the forces of deflation.They have changed their character while maintaining their form.The ECB’s QE was an absolutely massive bond buying scheme.The court is registering the need to start talking about re-legitimising and redefining the role of central banks.   Mentioned in this Episode:The last time we talked to AdamAdam on the death of the central bank mythFurther Learning: More on the German court’s decisionMore on the Franco-German planShahin on MacronAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
21/05/2055m 57s

Labour and Brexit: Beyond the Crisis

David is joined by Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke to try to get beyond the current crisis and work out where British politics is heading. How different is Starmer's political programme likely to be from Corbyn's? Can the Labour party become the party of the workers again? And is Brexit really going to happen without an extension and without a deal? Plus we explore the renewed influence of the trade unions and ask what it means for the political choices ahead.Talking Points:What kind of Labour Party is Keir Starmer looking to create?He never presented himself as a Corbynite, though there are some significant leftward moves policy wise.Labour is a more recognizably a social democratic party than it was during the new Labour era.We probably will see party management return to something that is more familiar from Ed Miliband’s era. Starmer seems to be moving away from a Green New Deal kind of Labour politics.Does moving back to being a workers’ party move you away from being a students’ party?Once you have enough people going to university and acquiring a lot of debt to do so, the question of separation between workers and students starts to fall away.The nature of work is changing.The current crisis may give Starmer a chance to cut across these divides. Issues about unions and workplaces go to the top of government policy at the moment.The unions will be pushing health and safety issues as far as they can.The unions can make a better case that they’re on the side of ordinary people.The universal basic income question has emerged again.Starmer doesn’t seem to be that keen.Public opinion isn’t fully behind UBI.A lot depends on the medium-term economic fallout, especially the employment damage.So far, the biggest hits have come in the service sector.Starmer is trying to move on from Brexit.Is this just tactical? The government will have to make decisions on Brexit. The virus could be easier for the government to move towards a no trade deal exit.From the point of view from the EU, negotiating a trade agreement with Britain is even less of a priority now.Mentioned in this Episode:Starmer’s column on VE dayPeter Sloman’s book, Transfer StateFurther Learning:The New Statesman on Keir StarmerUnion leaders sound warnings about the return to workIs Keir Starmer like John Smith?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
14/05/2044m 49s

Ebola, COVID and the WHO

David and Helen talk this week with Amy Maxmen, senior reporter at Nature.  Amy has covered the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa and now COVID-19 in the US. Does she see comparisons between the two? What explains the failures of the US response? Can the WHO still make a difference? Plus we explore the implications of the growing politicisation of science. When did data become so divisive?Talking Points:There are significant parallels between what is happening now and epidemics such as ebola.Outbreaks turn slight cracks into gaping holes: they reveal political and systemic issues.Politics made the ebola outbreak in DRC worse.Conspiracy theories emerged that ebola was being used to suppress the political opposition.Ultimately Tedros and other experts were able to convince both politicians and local leaders to focus on the public health response instead of the politics.The parallels to the US now are clear, but could any figure get past the politics? For Amy, the lack of tests and the failure to contact trace and quarantine made it clear that the U.S. response would be much worse than she had feared.The U.S. hasn’t faced a pandemic in a long time and there was no sense of the kind of coordination that would be required. Different states are still doing different things.There’s a lot to be said for supply chain management right now.In an ideal world, we would get a vaccine sooner rather than later. But we don’t know.Funding for vaccines is great, but the basic public health response still needs to be funded.The WHO is now getting politicized, but they still have the most experience at coordinating things like this at a global level.A lot of people misunderstand what the WHO can and can’t do. It’s pretty small in terms of both budget and power.The WHO can’t enforce things; it works through diplomacy and relationships. But there is still a lot of power in that.If you need people to stay home; you need to be sure that you can support them.Supporting people alleviates public pressure to prematurely lift the lockdown and it ensures that people can actually survive.Mentioned in this Episode: Amy on the WHO’s fight against Ebola in the DRCHow the US dropped the ball on testing and contact tracing back in MarchOn tests going unused in US labsThe NYTimes on how the Trump administration ignored WHO warningsFurther Learning:Nature on why the WHO is so important right nowMore on how low and middle income countries are responding to the crisis More on the ebola outbreak in Sierra LeoneAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
07/05/2049m 24s

David Miliband on the Crisis

We talk with David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, about the impact of the pandemic on the world's poorest countries. What happens in places where social distancing is not possible? Plus we discuss the long-term implications of the crisis for the future global co-operation and global conflict. Is this the moment for social democracy? More details of the work of the IRC can be found here: Points: By fluke or demography, the virus has not hit places such as the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa yet in full force.In places with rampant extreme poverty, the story will be different. It’s not a tradeoff between health and economic well-being in the same way. The crisis demonstrates the holes in the global safety net.There are parts of the world where social distancing is impossible.Population density heaps danger on insecurity.You’re only as strong as the weakest link in the chain—look at Singapore. They had the disease under control but it came back among migrant labour communities.Right now, there is more myopia than global thinking.Conversations about easing lockdowns are centered on what happens within the state, or maybe groups of states.There is a vacuum of global leadership.Is it possible to have institutions that can manage this kind of interconnectivity? The politics of the WHO are part of its problem.How much executive power do you want to vest in international institutions?For legitimacy, they depend on the support of nation states, but for efficacy, they depend on their ability to stand independent of nation states.Right now America is a flagship for dysfunction.The frailties that have been exposed have big implications.In the UK, the so-called populist attack on elite or establishment institutions seems to have been reversed in this crisis. Not in the US. What does this say about social trust?New inequalities in the service economy have been brought to the surface.Holes in the global safety net have also been exposed.The scale of the economic response means that issues of economic security will probably remain present.Mentioned in this Episode: David M. in The New Statesman Polling on coronavirus and decreased trust in the mediaFurther Learning: The IRC report on corona in vulnerable statesMore on privacy and coronavirus tracing appsCoronavirus in an age of inequalityAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
30/04/2042m 15s

History of Ideas: Wollstonecraft on Sexual Politics

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the most remarkable books in the history of ideas. A classic of early feminism, it uses what’s wrong with the relationship between men and women to illustrate what’s gone wrong with politics. It’s a story of lust and power, education and revolution. David explores how Wollstonecraft’s radical challenge to the basic ideas of modern politics continues to resonate today.To get all 12 talks - please subscribe to the new podcast - Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS. online version of the text: version to purchase: Going Deeper:In Our Time on Mary Wollstonecraft Wollstonecraft in the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophySylvana Tomaselli, Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020)Virginia Woolf on Mary WollstonecraftEdmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in FranceJane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
28/04/2047m 8s

History of Ideas: Hobbes on the State

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) reimagined how we could do politics. It redefined many of the ideas that continue to shape modern politics: representation, sovereignty, the state. But in Leviathan these ideas have a strange and puzzling power. David explores what Hobbes was trying to achieve and how a vision of politics that came out of the English civil war, can still illuminate the world we live in.To get all 12 talks - please subscribe to the new podcast - Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS. online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper:David Runciman, ‘The sovereign’ in The Oxford handbook of Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)Richard Tuck, Hobbes a Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)(Video) Quentin Skinner, ‘What is the state? The question that will not go away’(Video) Sophie Smith, ‘The nature of politics’, the 2017 Quentin Skinner lecture. Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)David for The Guardian on Hobbes and the coronavirus

What's Happening in Italy Now?

We catch up again with Lucia Rubinelli to discuss the latest developments in Italy. With anger against the EU on the rise and regional divisions getting more acute, can the Italian government hold it together? What is Salvini up to? And will the technocrats try another take over? Plus Lucia tells us what lockdown has been like for her.The New York Times Article mentioned:
26/04/2027m 36s

Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS

A short trailer to introduce a brand new podcast called Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS. In each episode, David Runciman focuses on one writer and one piece of writing. The series of twelve will explore some of the most important thinkers and prominent ideas lying behind modern politics – from Hobbes to Gandhi, from democracy to patriarchy, from revolution to lock down. Plus David talks about the crises – revolutions, wars, depressions, pandemics – that generated these new ways of political thinking. To hear the whole series, please subscribe to Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS. From the team that brought you Talking Politics: a history of ideas to help make sense of what’s happening today. 
23/04/202m 12s


David and Helen talk to the economist Diane Coyle about the long-term consequences of lockdown, for the economy, for society and for our well-being. How can we measure the costs? Who are likely to be the biggest losers? And what will it mean for how we structure our economies in future? Plus we discuss what will happen if we pull back from global supply chain and we ask whether inflation is on its way.Talking Points: The crisis is revealing weaknesses in the global economy.Previous events flagged vulnerabilities of global supply chains but not to this extent. And none of this seemed to be common knowledge in political circles. It has also further revealed existing inequalities.Will we have the data that allows us to track how we are doing as we come out of it? Even collecting the normal data will be difficult. For example, is an employee on furlough employed or unemployed? The Office of Budget Responsibility said that GDP might fall by a third, a generation of economic growth gone. Diane is resistant to the idea that there is a tradeoff between health and the economy. We should focus on what this will do to people’s lifetime opportunities.Research indicates that there is a scarring effect for people entering the economy in moments of crisis. The young will likely be the biggest losers here.What can policy do to mitigate this?How should policymakers respond if the economy does come roaring back?You might look to parallels such as the Weimar period. Or the financial crisis.One of the striking things after ‘07/’08 was how little changed.The mistake would be to carry on as before.If globalization was an age in which consumer interests prevailed, this is going to be an age in which producer interests prevail.This may allow for a different long-term economic approach to a number of issues over which there have been significant political issues in the last few decades. Will we come out of this crisis with a better way to value things like care? After the lockdown, will people go back to spending money? Or will they think they need to increase their savings in the event of a future crisis? What does productivity mean in an economy where ⅘ of activity is services?There’s no real way to go back to the way things were—and there are already signs of change.Mentioned in this Episode: The Vasco Carvalho study on SpainSocial capital and the Covid responseFurther Learning: The Talking Politics Guide to Economic Well-being with DianeDiane on What’s Wrong with GDPDiane’s work on measuring well-beingThe Talking Politics Guide To… the 1970sAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a...
23/04/2045m 25s

Adam Tooze/Shockwave

David and Helen talk to Adam Tooze about what we know about the crisis that we didn't know a month ago, and what we still don't have much of a clue about. From fights inside the French government to the fate of the planet, from shale gas to corona bonds, we try to join up the dots. Plus a small update recorded after news of the oil price-drop. Read 'Shockwave' by Adam Tooze in the LRB Points:The dominant reality is the scale of the unemployment rate, especially in the U.S.Michigan’s unemployment rate soared to 25% in a single month.We have often seen an extraordinary policy response. The Fed’s initial policy response was a failure: they didn’t stabilize share and bond markets. But it has now, at least in part, succeeded.It also seems to have stabilized dollar funding markets.The Fed did in about 3 days what took roughly a year in ‘07/’08.Will these actions make democratic politics more difficult in the medium term?The Fed’s ability to act in certain ways has depended on congressional cooperation. This could change if Biden were elected. Trump’s presidency enables the GOP to behave more pragmatically.The shale industry is being bailed out—this is a tricky issue for the Democratic party.Is data the new oil?The tensions between Russia and Saudi crashed into the virus. It’s hard to see how oil prices will recover any time soon.Are we entering the oil endgame? If so, seizing market share immediately is much more important.  The oil and the financial elements of this crisis are closely connected.Has anyone moved the dial on corona bonds?The Germans didn’t want the question to be put, but the French went ahead and did it.But Macron’s recent interview with the Financial Times was vague. How serious are they?How does the Eurozone engage in common borrowing without engaging in common taxation?Mentioned in this Episode:Our last episode with AdamDavid and Helen talking to Nate SilverAdam’s piece for the LRB on COVID and the global economy Macron’s interview with the Financial Times… on YouTubeThe transcript of Macron’s FT interviewFurther Learning: 538 on American unemployment numbersMore on ‘coronabonds’And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
20/04/2052m 33s

Nate Silver

David and Helen talk to 538's Nate Silver about how to read the pandemic data and what they mean for politics. What do we know now that we didn't know six weeks ago? How should we model the future trajectory of the disease? Where does it leave the election in November? A conversation about everything from death rates to spring breaks, and from Belgium to Biden.Talking Points: Are the COVID models we are using now better than they were before?People don’t always understand the conditional predictions behind different models.There is still a lot of uncertainty: almost every parameter of this disease remains unknown.It looks like the downward tail of this disease might be less steep than the upward tail.What is the true fatality rate? We are still behind on testing—we don’t know how many cases are undiagnosed.This number is important for making decisions about opening things up again.The number of deaths as a share of the population probably tells you more than deaths as a share of cases.A lot of deaths are still being missed.Places that had cases earlier before there was consensus on social distancing will have worse outbreaks.Factors such as age distribution and maybe even weather might also affect things. It’s still hard to tease out the effect of different variables, but eventually we should be able to make some better inferences.International coverage of the US doesn’t reflect how empowered state and local governments are. In some sense, they are the most important units.Despite the lack of federal response, state and local responses have been fairly good—at least in a lot of places.Most countries locked down at roughly the same point in the disease cycle. The country by country differences may be more felt in the recovery phase.How will the pandemic affect the upcoming U.S. election?Trump’s approval rating improved slightly, but only slightly. It’s a smaller ‘rally around the flag’ effect than in other countries.Will the fall bring recovery or a second wave?Will the contingencies or the fundamentals explain the outcome?Mentioned in this Episode: 538 on coronavirus pollingTrump’s approval ratingsOur Super Tuesday podcastFurther Learning: 538 on why it’s so hard to make a good COVID-19 modelAnd on the American urban/rural divideThe Atlantic on the upcoming pandemic summerAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/04/2042m 15s

British Politics: The Big Reset?

We discuss whether British politics is about to undergo a fundamental shift. Are we seeing a new role for the state? Have the lines between the parties started to blur? What will be the long-term consequences of the economic decisions taken in the last few weeks? Plus we explore whether the crisis points in the direction of more democracy, less democracy or a different kind of democracy. With HelenThompson and Tom McTague of the Atlantic.Talking Points:The government has taken on both new powers and new responsibilities. For now they are in tandem. But will that last?The role of the state has come to the fore. Some states can’t keep their citizens safe. Others can, but perhaps at the expense of privacy or other individual liberties.The state has always had coercive power, but the state has not always acted as finance or employer of last resort. Can the state retreat from this kind of economic responsibility? This crisis means something different for those who have secure employment and those who do not, at least in Britain.There will be a contested politics around who the state acted to protect economically. Has this crisis scrambled the division between the UK political parties?The Labour and Conservative bases are experiencing the crisis in different ways.Labour’s base is younger and more urban.Rural people are more insulated, but older people are more vulnerable.Younger people are more comfortable with government intervention, but they also may need the government to open sooner.Some people will want ‘normality’ back; others might not. But normality isn’t coming back. What does it mean to live in the world with a significant threat of disease?There are no good choices available politically.Distributional economic questions will be at the fore.How does Britain open up again? Starmer is pressing for more parliamentary scrutiny. Right now democracy is reduced to its bare bones: what comes next?This crisis has featured authoritarian decision-making by executives, informed by experts. And these decisions have been broadly accepted.Broadening out the executive decision making may also be important.Boris is incredibly dominant over the Conservative Party and the cabinet. When he comes back, we’re likely to have a ‘foot-to-the-floor’ Johnson government.Mentioned in this Episode: Tom’s piece on Bernie and CorbynTom recent piece on Boris’ optionsThe New Statesman profiles Keir StarmerFurther Learning:Tom’s book on the 2017 electionHelen on unknown economic consequences And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
16/04/2043m 15s

In Praise of Hilary Mantel

In an Easter special David and Helen discuss their love of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and in particular the final volume The Mirror and the Light. Kings, queens, power, patronage, ghosts, myths, geopolitics, dynasties, religion, sex, bureaucracy, cruelty, death and Machiavelli - it's all here and we try to bring it all together.
12/04/2041m 29s

Can America Cope?

David, Helen and Gary Gerstle discuss the impact of the pandemic on the fundamentals of American politics. What have we discovered about the strengths and weaknesses of the federal system? Are the states capable of learning from each other? What part will the Supreme Court play? And can the Democrats really persist with Biden? Plus we ask who has the 'police power' and what it means to use it.Talking Points: In the US, the experience of this crisis differs significantly from state to state.For the first 100 years of US history, the power to address epidemics was exclusively in the hands of the states.In the second half of the 20th century, the federal government acquired more power, including the power to deal with epidemics.The National Public Health Service Act of 1944 vested the US government with the right to impose a national quarantine. (This power has never been utilized.)But in the last 30 years, Republicans have been attacking federal power as illegitimate. In this moment of crisis, governors have been thrown back on their own resources. This has led to chaos and inefficiency. Political polarization is playing a role in how states respond to the crisis.The states that have been most resistant to implementing shelter in place measures all have Republican governors.There is also the question of where people are getting their news.Outcomes are going to vary by state.Capability is another big question.Individual states can’t handle this alone, but the systematic hollowing out of the central state means that the government doesn’t have the capacity that it used to.What are the politics of this?Will it help or hurt Trump’s chances of reelection?A federal response will require bipartisan cooperation.One area of potential bipartisan consensus is China and the revitalization of domestic manufacturing. Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. Mentioned in this Episode:  The Fifth Risk, by Michael LewisOur podcast with Michael LewisOur podcast on Super Tuesday and Biden’s comebackAnd our podcast with Gary after the Iowa CaucusGary's writing, including his book 'Liberty and Coercion' Learning: More on inequalities in death rates in the States 538 on the weaknesses in the American social safety netMore on the Wisconsin primaryAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a href="" rel="noopener noreferrer"...
09/04/2048m 32s

Michael Lewis Updated

Another chance to hear the prophetic interview we recorded with Michael Lewis late last year, when he warned about the risks to us all of what the Trump presidency was doing to the capacity of the American state to cope with a disaster. David and Helen reflect on how that warning looks today and what it means for the fate of Trump's presidency and for the future of American politics.
05/04/2056m 0s

States of Emergency

David talks to Lea Ypi in Berlin and Helen Thompson in London about the various states of emergency that have been declared around the world. We discuss the theory and practice of emergency political powers: When are they justified? How can they be legitimated? When should they end? Plus we explore what the history of Roman dictatorship can teach us about the present crisis and we ask what it means when elections start getting cancelled.Talking Points:As COVID spreads, it is ushering in states of political emergency—everywhere.Can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate emergency powers?States of emergency are, by definition, outside of the rules. Historically, emergencies were supposed to be compatible with some form of rule by the people. A legitimate emergency needs to be a public, where the public is seen as non-factional.There also needs to be an existential threat to the political community.The nature of the regime is also important: the people need to authorize the emergency.When it comes to legitimate emergency powers, there are two important criteria: time limits and proportionality.The classical Roman dictatorship was designed to meet the above criteria.A dictator was not the same as a tyrant.Dictatorship facilitated speedy crisis response.The dictator was supposed to abdicate power as soon as he could. The dictator was an outsider. Today, emergency powers are being assumed by existing governments.In this case, the emergency (and existential threat) concerns healthcare systems.Once an emergency is called, the expansion of powers can be an emergency of its own.In the Roman republic, the dictator could suspend laws; he couldn’t create new ones. Today, particularly on the economic side, the government can act in completely unprecedented ways.The real danger for representative democracy in this crisis is if consensus breaks down over how to deal with the emergency.Popular legitimation requires that politics are contestable.Britain did suspend general elections during the war. But not during the Spanish flu.The United States has never suspended national elections.We are more invested in elections now because the franchise is much more expansive.Does the emergency fade in and out as the disease comes and goes?This might not be a one off thing.The longer the emergency lasts, and the more we do things differently, the harder it becomes to connect our pre-emergency lives to our post-emergency lives.Has this crisis blurred the lines between democracies and non-democracies? Or, perhaps, brought the blurring that already existed into sharper focus?Mentioned in this Episode:Britain’s Coronavirus ActLast week’s episode with Hans Kundnani Fukuyama’s article for The AtlanticFurther Learning: Our episode with Tom Holland on the Roman RepublicLea’s op ed for the Guardian <a...
02/04/2048m 47s

Tara Westover/Educated

We catch up with Tara to reflect on what her experience of being educated without going to school means for a world where so many kids are being kept out of school. Should we be trying to replicate the education they are missing or should we be trying something new? And will the current crisis bridge or deepen existing political divides in the US? Plus another chance to hear the interview we recorded with Tara in February 2018 about her extraordinary book Educated.
29/03/201h 1m

From Cholera to Coronavirus

David talks to the historian Richard Evans about the history of cholera epidemics in the 19th century and what they can teach us for today. How did contemporaries understand the spread of the disease? What impact did it have on growing demands for democracy? And who tended to get the blame - foreigners, doctors or politicians? Plus we discuss whether the political changes being driven by the currentpandemic are likely to outlast the disease itself.Talking Points: Massive epidemics are a normal part of human history, even if they are infrequent.You can see this with the Plague, syphilis, and, in the 19th century, cholera.Cholera hit Europe in the beginning of the 1830s, and like many epidemic diseases, it was spread through increased communications.The conquest of North India opened up trade routes, and that’s how cholera traveled.The terrifying thing was the death rate: it was 50%, much much higher than coronavirus. When cholera hit, the response was heavily shaped by knowledge of the plague.‘Quarantine’ comes from 40 days, which is the period of isolation that the medieval Venetians imposed on incoming ships.It took a long time for people to realize that cholera spread through water.Cholera struck the poor. The wealthy lived on higher ground. This led to a lot of moralizing around the disease.Cholera spread through trade. Measures to stop it would also affect trade.Merchants in cities such as Hamburg suppressed the news of the spread of cholera because they were worried about the economic consequences.This is also a period of medicalisation. Doctors go from being on the front lines, politically, to being more or less neutral.What is the relationship between pandemics and xenophobia?The Hamburg cholera epidemic of the late 19th century was clearly brought by migrants, but it didn’t lead to a significant xenophobic or anti-semitic backlash.But in earlier epidemics, this was not the case. For example, conspiracy theories about The Plague led to mass pogroms of Jews.The widespread disease can trigger the possibility of social and political change.In Britain, the spread of cholera led to widespread criticism of the government. But a lot of the impetus for reform was short lived and died away until the next epidemic.The impact of cholera was differential because of wealth. Coronavirus seems to strike the old.The vulnerability of the old is medical.Yet this virus still sparks conspiracy theories.One of the main reasons for serious epidemics is the breakdown of the state, for example, Haiti in 2010.Mentioned in this Episode:Richard’s book, Death in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, 1830-1910 Richard for The Guardian about the public consequences of epidemic diseasesLucia tells TP about the view from ItalyFurther Learning: Richard’s interview with the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner on pandemicsRichard’s lecture about state responsibility and...
28/03/2038m 29s

Co-operation or Conflict?

This week we try to assess whether the Covid-19 pandemic is driving the world together or pushing it further apart. From US-Chinarelations to tensions within the EU, we discuss how coronavirus is exacerbating existing tensions and how it might overcome them. Are we going to see new forms of international co-operation? What does it mean for globalisation? And is the politics of competence making a comeback? With Helen Thomson and Hans Kundnani from Chatham House.Talking Points:The crucial issue between the US and China right now is supply chains. A huge percentage of antibiotics used in the US involve supply chains that include China. Helen thinks it’s unlikely that we will continue to live in a world in which the production of pharmaceuticals is so integrated.Will interdependence push towards cooperation or conflict?Two big things have changed since 2008: Trump is in the White House, and central relationships (US-China, US-Europe) have deteriorated.There are different degrees of globalization. There is, for example, a more moderate version, and what Dani Rodrik calls ‘hyper-globalization.’If you think of globalization as consisting of movement of goods, capital, and people, you might have different degrees in all three areas.The thing that’s come to a sudden stop in this crisis is the movement of people.China does have a dollar problem. Right now, the Fed has provided swap lines to a number of states, but not the Chinese Central Bank.At the moment there’s no need for it to do so.But this crisis may have opened up a possibility that wasn’t a possibility a month ago.Could that then become a problem for the United States? You would need to think more about exchange rate cooperation.Does Europe need to pick a side between the US and China? We were already moving in this direction already; look at the battles over 5G.The more competition there is over supply chains, the more European countries will have to choose.Transatlantic rifts tend to become intra-European rifts as well.The current crisis is an emphatic demonstration that, in the Eurozone, the coercive power of states remains the prerogative of member states. Different states use power differently. Orban is willing to go much further, for example.If some EU states deal more effectively with this than others, what happens to freedom of movement?Mentioned in this Episode: The Globalization Paradox by Dani RodrikHans’ book, The Paradox of German PowerFurther Learning:Hans’ piece for the Observer, ‘Can a nation be both open and in control? The UK is about to find out.’ The FT on Peter Navarro’s remarks about supply chains and bringing home manufacturingOur most recent episode with Adam ToozeAnd as ever recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
26/03/2045m 10s

The View from Italy

David talks to Lucia Rubinelli, who is locked down in Northern Italy, about what life is like there and what politics is like too. Do people still have faith in the government? What do they think of the British approach? How have attitudes to China switched in recent weeks? Plus: whatever happened to Salvini? More from Lucia soon.
22/03/2041m 42s

Adam Tooze Part 2

We catch up with Adam on the latest twists in the crisis: from the ECB's change of heart to new threats in emerging markets. What is happening in Germany? How vulnerable is the UK? Can anything shake the hold of the almighty dollar? Much more in the weeks to come.
19/03/2028m 31s

Adam Tooze on the Crisis

We talk to Adam Tooze in New York about the possible impact of coronavirus on the global financial and political system. How does this crisis compare to the financial crisis of 2008? What are the implications for the future of the Eurozone? And what have we learned already about the shift in power from the US to China? Plus we talk to Helen Thompson in London about how it intersects with the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The first of a series of conversations about the biggest event of our times. **Updated overnight**Talking Points: This crisis has revealed the fundamental weakness in the Eurozone. Lagarde’s initial comments re-exposed this fundamental faultline. The central question facing the ECB is ‘what is its role with regard to spreads?’ But over the course of the day, the panic in the markets seems to have led Frankfurt to reevaluate: they’ve come forward with a remarkable bond buying program steered towards buying both sovereign bonds and corporate debt.The ECB is now saying that it will lift caps if necessary. This is an effort to take the sovereign risk for the Italians out of the equation and also relieve pressure on the French and the Spanish. The fundamental weakness in the Eurozone is one of the continuities, but no one really expected it to be exposed.Italy wasn’t a causal driver of the crisis of 07/08, but it became collateral damage. It has not recovered. That failure is being exposed.There are also novel elements, for example, the explosion of corporate debt since 2008. The Eurozone banks aren’t in great shape, but it’s better than ‘07/’08. The question is whether the Eurozone has the stomach for another round of collective efforts.The inequities in the US health system are severe and will be exposed in this crisis.The current crisis is happening on a much shorter timescale than ‘07/’08.The impact on working life has been even more rapid.The spread of this disease from China is not unusual but the ability of the Chinese government to bend this curve so quickly signals the power of state capacity.Beijing’s fiscal and monetary stimulus in ‘08/09 should have been a wake up call. This was a key turning point.What happened to oil prices? OPEC Plus broke down, in particular, the relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The big question is the politics: the US shale industry can’t cope with prices this low. A lot of things that have been destabilizing over the last decade are crashing into each other right now.Mentioned in this Episode: Adam talks about Crashed with David and Helen (full transcript)Lagarde’s second statementFurther Learning: More on the recently announced ECB bond buying program from the FTAdam on Europe (from January)Adam on the global shutdown Lucia’s piece for the New York Times on Italy and bond spreads<a...
19/03/2043m 46s

Doomsday Clock

A special extra episode with Rachel Bronson, president of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, about their decision to move the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds nearer to midnight, closer that it's ever been. She explains why the world is more dangerous now than even at the height of the Cold War and what are the risks that keep her awake at night. How close really are we to the end? Scary but essentiallistening. Recorded at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.Extra listening: Aaron Rapport on Nuclear Weapons 
15/03/2035m 4s


We talk to David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, about the science of forecasting. Who or what are the superforecasters? How can they help governments make better decisions? And will intelligent machines ever be able to outdo the humans at seeing into the future?  From Cummings to coronavirus, a conversation about the knowns, unknowns and what lies beyond that.Talking Points: Tetlock discovered that some people make better predictions than others.Some of the qualities that make this possible are deeply human, such as doggedness, determinedness, and openness to new information, but others are mathematical. Superforecasters are highly numerate: they have a sense of magnitude.Good superforecasters isolate themselves emotionally from the problem: you have to be cold about it. Think about George Soros shorting the pound. There’s a difference between having more superforecasting and more superforecasters. How do you integrate people like this into existing institutions?These people are often disruptive. Probabilistic information is finely grained: what does this mean for political decision making?Superforecasters aren’t decision makers: they give you the odds. But they are better than the betting markets.Betting markets reflect what people would like to happen rather than what they should think will happen. They aren’t cold enough.Tetlock’s book places a huge emphasis on human characteristics. Algorithms can do superforecasting only in repetitive, data rich restrictive problemsTetlockian problems are much more complex. People often make a category error when they think about what AI can do. Mentioned in this Episode: Superforecasting, by Philip Tetlock and Dan GardnerDavid’s book, The Art of StatisticsRadical Uncertainty by Mervyn King and John KayThe Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas TalebRisky Talk, David’s podcastFurther Learning: Philip Tetlock’s lunch with the FTDominic Cumming’s review of SuperforecastingAre you a fox or a hedgehog?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
12/03/2047m 24s

Super Tuesday Special: Biden's Back!

A special live edition recorded on the morning after Super Tuesday: we try to make sense of where the Democratic race now stands. How did Biden pull it off? Is there a path back for Sanders? And what role was Obama playing behind the scenes? Plus we ask which strategy now makes sense for the general election and whether Trump has got the candidate he wants or the one he fears. With Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle, recorded at the McCrum Lecture Theatre in Cambridge.Talking PointsBiden, the comeback kid, is now the overwhelming favourite to be the Democratic nominee.Bernie has attracted more young people and Latinos, but does his coalition have a ceiling? Biden’s coalition seems to be bigger than Bernie’s. Turnout was up—for him.People were too quick to write off Biden. He was always going to do well with African Americans in the South.Party discipline kicked in: did the Democrats learn from what the Republicans failed to do with Trump?What was going on behind the scenes? And what has Obama been up to?  There will be bloodletting on the left. If all of Warren’s votes had gone to Bernie, he would have won more states. But Warren is a different kind of candidate than Bernie and her coalition includes a lot of college educated voters who may choose Biden over Bernie. What’s next for Biden?All eyes will be on his VP pick.His campaign was phenomenally weak for a leading candidate. He’s going to get more staff, more money, and more endorsements.Biden’s path to victory runs through suburbanites who can’t stomach voting for Trump, bue he’s also going to have to appeal to the left of the party. Trump does well against establishment politicians, but he also seems to fear Biden.The Hunter Biden story isn’t going away. Mentioned in this Episode:The real clear betting odds The full transcript of the New York Times’ Biden interviewThe Party Decides, by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John ZallerJames Carville on Elizabeth Warren, and a lot of other things for VoxCaroline Fraser’s article on Warren and the gender trap for the NYRBFurther Learning: A breakdown of the results from our friends at 538Gary’s guide to the history of monopolies in AmericaMore on Hunter BidenAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
04/03/2053m 23s

Blair's Labour and Johnson's Brexit

David and Helen catch up on the state of British politics, from Blair's advice to the Labour party on its 120th birthday to growing divisions in Johnson's Tory party. Is there really a liberal progressive coalition in Britain? Can Brexit deliver both free trade and levelling up? And what does Cummings really want? Plus we talk about Helen's lecture on Britain, the EU and geopolitics: Listen here → the 120th anniversary of the Labour Party, Tony Blair gave a speech encouraging the Labour party to 1) Move away from identity politics 2) Rebuild a progressive-liberal coalition and 3) Work out a plausible account of the future. What is Blair’s interpretation of history? Blair never reimagines the political system itself. A lot of the more compelling visions of the future are coming from the parts of the Labour party that Blair disparages. Blair did not substantially discuss Brexit, but Brexit is the most pressing future questionCan the government really reconfigure the economy? Or is the government at the mercy of forces it cannot control?The UK will have to simultaneously negotiate trade deals with the US and the EU in a moment in which trade is becoming a more geopolitical question.  China has changed things—this is now part of the lens through which the US is thinking about both trade and its relationship with the EU.For the UK, using security as a bargaining chip is a risky strategy.How much leverage does Macron have in the trade negotiations? He’s sounding a lot like De Gaulle, who said no to the UK application to join the EEC. The overall geopolitical context is less advantageous to Europe, including the UK, than it was in the 1960s.Mentioned in this Episode: Helen’s Chatham House lectureTony Blair’s recent speechOur episode with Paul Mason on the futureOur episode with Esther DufloOur most recent episode on French politicsMacron’s interview with the EconomistAdam Tooze on the US vs. ChinaIf you’re in Cambridge next Wednesday, join us for a live recording the morning after the Super Tuesday primaries. Tickets available here.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
27/02/2048m 27s

Michael Ignatieff on the Future of Democracy

A special live edition recorded in front of an audience in Cambridge: David talks to writer, broadcaster, academic and politician Michael Ignatieff about his personal experiences of democratic politics. From his bruising time as Liberal party leader in Canada to his recent confrontations with the Orban government in Hungary, from climate change to populism, from Johnson to Trump, we discuss what's happened to democracy and where he sees the grounds for hope. A wide-ranging conversation about the good and the bad of contemporary politics.Mentioned in this Episode: Michael’s book, Fire and Ashes, Success and Failure in PoliticsOur episode with Roberto Foa on his new report on global satisfaction with democracy Max Weber’s essay, “Politics as a Vocation”Isaiah Berlin, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and their HistoryFurther Learning:More on Orban and the Central European UniversityMore on the Centre for the Future of DemocracyDavid’s book on political hypocrisyHow wealthy countries export their wasteAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
23/02/2054m 35s

Macron vs Everyone

We talk to Shahin Vallee, former economics advisor to Emmanuel Macron, about the state of the Macron presidency: from the gilets jaunes to the pensions protests, from dealing with Merkel to facing off with Putin, and from now to the next presidential election in 2022. Did Macron save the centre of French politics or has he destroyed it? Can he really be sure he'll beat Le Pen next time? And what is his plan to rescue the West? Plus, we discuss what the Griveaux and Mila affairs tell us about the state of French politics. With Helen Thompson.Talking Points:How should we relate the gilets jaunes and the pensions protests? The pensions reform is a more traditional opposition to neoliberal reforms; the gilets jaunes is different and it includes a number of people who do not regularly express themselves politically.The gilets jaunes crystallize a more profound opposition to the French political system.Macron has centralized the French system to a remarkable extent.This is in part because of the collapse of the main parties.But Macron’s majority is composed of people with a limited power base. What you have is a presidential system with a weak cohort of parliamentarians. Macron has also empowered the technocrats.Macron’s claim to competence was that he was going to get reforms done.But the way he won power made it hard to achieve economic reform.Macron forgot the importance of the unions in mediating public opinion.Before Macron’s presidency, the hope was that France could get its house in order in exchange for favours from the EU.But there wasn’t much reason to believe that Europe would budge.Macron lacks a theory of change for Europe.Macron initially presented himself as above political divides, but that didn’t last too long. He chose a right-wing prime minister and then made domestic policy choices that signaled that he was on the right.For example, he ended the State of Emergency law but then brought its provisions into standard legislation.Macron destroyed the centre and divided and conquered the left, but he does have competition from the right. In the next election, left wing voters might abstain rather than vote for Macron. Macron presented himself as order versus chaos. The risk is that he now looks like the source of chaos.Mentioned in this Episode: More on Macron’s Munich speechFurther Learning: Commentary on Macron’s Munich speech from the European Council on Foreign RelationsBackground on pension reform in FranceAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
20/02/2050m 0s

Sinn Fein and Sardines

We talk about two countries going through dramatic democratic change: Ireland, where Sinn Féin came top of the vote in last weekend's general election, and Italy, where the Sardines are the latest movement trying to shake up the system. What does the Irish vote tell us about the collapse of two party politics? Does Sinn Féin's success suggest that the party has changed or that the electorate has changed? And in Italy, who or what now stands between Salvini and power? Plus we discuss whether the age of 'grand coalition' politics is now over. With Niamh Gallagher, Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points: In 1997 Sinn Féin got only 2% of the vote, in the recent Irish general election they got almost 25%. What explains this shift?In the 90s, the party was still connected to the IRA and the politics of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin voters today skew young (under 45). Their major concerns are issues such as the cost of living, rent, and healthcare. The party ran and won on a leftist platform.The leadership has also changed. Gerry Adams stepped down in 2018. The new leader, Mary Lou McDonald is less connected to the past.The electoral system also makes a difference. Sinn Féin ‘won’ with 25% of the vote; Labour lost with 40%.Brexit did not feature heavily in this election, even though Leo Varadkar had a ‘good’ Brexit by most accounts.  Meanwhile, in Italy, movements and parties are again in turmoil. Is Five Star done?A movement has less institutional heft than a traditional political party. This is both their strength and their weakness. What about the Sardines? They started as a flash mob in Bologna and call themselves a ‘phenomenon,’ rather than a movement or a party. Their objective is to counter images in the media put forward by Salvini.Meanwhile, Salvini is still inching closer to power on his own. Are we seeing the end of grand coalition politics?Coalitions today tend to destroy one of the partners (for example, the Lib Dems).Sinn Féin certainly doesn’t want to be a junior partner, but it might want to prove that it can be a party of government. Mentioned in this Episode:The David McWilliams PodcastNiamh’s book, Ireland and the Great WarFurther Learning: A profile of the Irish political partiesMore on the SardinesDavid’s lecture, Democracy for Young PeopleAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
13/02/2049m 38s

Oh Iowa!

We try to peer through the chaos in Iowa to see who won, who lost and what it means for the future of this presidential race and for American democracy. Are we heading towards a Bernie vs Bloomberg showdown? What might happen at a brokered convention? And how much damage has been done to the Democratic party brand? Plus we review Trump's State of the Union address. Great theatre - but was it great politics? With Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle.There were no winners in Iowa. We still don’t know who actually won.Pete didn’t do well enough to break out. Bernie did well, but not as well as many people thought he would. Warren had a mediocre showing. It was really bad for Biden. It was also a bad night for the Democratic Party itself. Who benefits from Biden’s collapse?Can Mayor Pete hold the center? He would need to win New Hampshire and he probably won’t.Bloomberg is going all in with an unusual strategy: gambling on a brokered convention and focusing on TV spending and mayoral endorsements. His organizational strategy may be clear, but what is his substantive strategy?It looks like Sanders will win the fight for the left.But can he translate this momentum into votes.David thinks that the problem is that there still aren’t enough young people.All the craziness has distracted from the fact that turnout in Iowa was much lower than expected.The Democrats want to frame the election as order versus chaos, but that’s hard to do when the first thing you do is produce chaos.Meanwhile, Trump delivered a fairly conventional State of the Union, the economic numbers are good, and his poll numbers are up.Can Trump stay in order mode for long?Mentioned in this Episode:Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry BartelsFurther Learning: The Iowa resultsDavid’s lecture on Democracy for Young PeopleMore on the (absolutely wild) 1924 Democratic Convention And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
06/02/2043m 40s

Are We Losing Faith in Democracy?

We talk to Roberto Foa about some of the findings in his groundbreaking new report 'Global Satisfaction with Democracy'. Where are people most dissatisfied with democracy and why? Is it being driven by economic factors or is something else going on? And why does democratic satisfaction divide Europe north/south and east/west? Plus we talk about what might happen to satisfaction with democracy in the UK post-Brexit. With Helen Thompson.Talking Points: Dissatisfaction with democracy is up by about ten percentage points worldwide.Northern Europe is more satisfied with democracy than Southern Europe.Perhaps more surprising, Eastern Europe is more satisfied with democracy than Western Europe.There has been a meltdown of satisfaction in Southern Europe since the start of the Eurozone crisis. But in Germany, satisfaction levels went up after the crisis.The internal story is more complicated: the German system was responsive to the interests of German banks, but not German savers. Backlash led to the rise of the AfD.The Eurozone constrains the ability of some governments to be responsive to popular demands.Satisfaction with democracy is not the same as belief in liberal democratic principles.People living under populist leaders, for example, in Hungary, report rising satisfaction.The majority is happy but minorities are being oppressed. Satisfaction also rose after the pink tide in Latin America, when popular lefist governments came to power.Is satisfaction a good proxy for democratic health?It can tell us something about the legitimacy of the political system: sustained dissatisfaction appears to be a harbinger of democratic failure.The new report focuses on trends from the mid-1990s to the present day. But what if the 90s are the real outlier? Is this ‘decline’ actually a return to the norm?The biggest concern in the 90s was that too much democracy leads to inflation. But the technocratic systems that emerged in this era are less responsive and create inequality.Mentioned in this Episode: Read the full report hereRoberto and Yascha Mounk’s piece on the report for The AtlanticFurther Learning:From the TP archive… Italy vs. EuropeDavid on How Democracy EndsMore on the Centre for the Future of Democracy and the new reportAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
30/01/2044m 50s

Trump vs Iran: Is it for Real?

David and Helen talk to Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor at the Economist, about the fallout from the killing of Soleimani and the future of American power. Is Trump a madman or is he a realist (or is he neither)? What sort of threat does Iran pose to American interests in the region and the wider world? And what has all this got to do with oil and climate change? Plus, in the week Trump's impeachment trial gets underway, we ask who or what can limit the power of the presidency.Talking Points: The narrative on the killing of Soleimani has changed: was this a victory for the United States?The shooting down of the Ukranian plane has put the Iranian leadership on the back foot and constrained their ability to weaponise the outrage against the United States.But when the dust settles, it might not play to America’s advantage.The Quds Force will carry on.There is a tension between the need to reassert American power in the region and the problem of Iraq.The Americans may be more disliked in Iraq now than the Iranians.The Americans are playing with a handicap; the Iraqi political class shields Iran, but not the U.S.Iran will always be in the region; America won’t be there forever. If the U.S. does withdraw, the Chinese and the Russians will get more involved. Trump wants to get out, but the collapse of the Iran Deal is pulling him back in.This is not unfamiliar: Obama wanted to pivot to Asia and get out of the Middle East, but he couldn’t do it.Americans have been obsessed with the Persian Gulf for decades.Executive power vs. American power: which one dominates?Executive power enables this kind of American power. Bush, Clinton, and Obama have all increased executive power.A key difference is that in the Trump administration there are fewer checks on the use of this power within the executive branch. Mentioned in this Episode: Helen’s piece in The New Statesman. The William Barr profile in The New YorkerThe Atlantic on ObamaThe Macron interview with The EconomistThe Economist briefing on aircraft carriersThe 2017 National Security Strategy And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
23/01/2045m 30s

Predictions for 2030 with Azeem Azhar

An extra episode with Azeem Azhar, tech entrepreneur and host of the Exponential View podcast and newsletter. We talk about Azeem's predictions for what will shape politics and technology over the next decade, from climate change to artificial intelligence. Plus we discuss the Dominic Cummings agenda: will the UK government really be able to harness the dynamism of the tech start-up mindset within the hidebound structures of Whitehall? This is the first of a two part special - you can find the other half of this conversation in a couple of days at Azeem's newsletter is here: and the blog by Dominic cummings here:
19/01/2040m 48s

What's the Future for Labour?

We are back for 2020 to talk about Labour's future after Corbyn. How can the party move the argument beyond Brexit? Does the voting system help or hinder Labour's chances of returning to power? And what to do about Scotland? Plus, we ask how much damage would be done if the next leader turns out to be the only man in the field. With Helen Thompson, Chris Brooke and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points: Electoral Reform seems to be a perennial issue for the Labour Party.Starmer says he wants to win a majority—but it’s hard to see how. Would electoral reform get Labour any closer to winning? In 1987, Tony Blair pointed out that there is a real risk of collapse for centre-left parties under proportional representation systems.We often think of alliance politics as being anti-Tory, but look at 2010: sometimes it works the other way.First Past the Post keeps Labour in place as the only alternative government.Is England a broadly conservative country or an anti-conservative country whose electoral system doesn’t reflect society?It’s hard to know—there does seem to be a core conservative voting bloc. One reason that pessimism isn’t evenly distributed in the Labour party despite the defeat is that people think the biggest problem was fighting an election with an unpopular leader.Corbyn and Brexit may have been sufficient conditions for a Labour defeat.Would Labour fare better with a different leader?The generational divide poses a challenge—how can Labour appeal to over 65’s without alienating young people.The leadership election appears to be Keir Starmer’s to lose.Will the fact that he’s facing three women be a problem?Rebecca Long-Bailey has a lot of prominent support, but she’s not a great media performer.Mentioned in this Episode:Tony Blair for The New Statesman in 1987Daniel Finkelstein’s column on Keir StarmerThe YouGov poll on the next Labour leaderThe 2019 election, broken down by ageFurther Learning: David’s lecture on the generational divide in politicsOur YouTube video on Labour leadershipAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
16/01/2047m 45s

The Great Abortion Switcheroo

 In the final episode of our American Histories series, Sarah Churchwell tells the incredible story of the politics of abortion during the 1970s. How did evangelicals go from supporting abortion to being its die-hard opponents, what did the switch have to do with the politics of race and what have been the lasting consequences for American democracy?Talking Points: A lot of people think that the U.S. abortion debate started in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, and that evangelical republicans have always been anti-abortion. Both assumptions are wrong.There weren’t many laws against abortion in the United States until after the Civil War. After the Civil War there were large waves of migration. This led to a rise of nativism. Many early abortion laws were rooted in scientific racism and anxieties over ‘race suicide.’Initially, the Democrats pandered to the Catholics by taking on a more pro-life position.Evangelicals were not particularly politically active (with a brief exception in the 1920s and 30s). Republicans wanted to change this.Roe v. Wade was fought on a right to privacy issue. Abortion was seen as a thing that white, middle class people did in their home.Evangelical Christian magazines, even in the years immediately after Roe, tended to characterize abortion as a question of indiivdual health, family welfare, and social responsibility. Yet by 1978, this had completely flipped. What happened?After Brown v. Board desegregated schools, a bunch of white Christians created whites-only Christian academies and claimed tax-exempt status. Anxiety about the federal government interfering in Christian life got caught up in itself. Abortion for many became a proxy issue: it was easier (and more politically acceptable) to oppose abortion than integration.Today the battlelines feel entrenched and we could be moving towards the repeal of Roe v. Wade.But these are not immutable dividing lines in American politics. This doesn’t mean that abortion isn’t extremely important to many evangelicals: it is. But it’s important to recognize the contingency in what questions are politically central. Further Learning: Sue Halpern on how Republicans became anti-choiceMore on the origins of the religious rightNPR ‘Throughline’ podcast issue on evangelicals and abortionAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
09/01/2032m 17s

Deporting Mexicans

Gary Gerstle explores the forgotten history of Mexican deportations from the southern United States in the 1930's and asks how it fits into the longer story of US immigration policy up until today. From open borders to 'Build That Wall': what's next?Talking Points: Immigrant labour has always been vital to U.S. economic development.The United States presented itself as being a different kind of society. This was partially ideological, and partially a labour imperative.In the early 20th century, the labour imperative became less acute. America still thought of itself as a Protestant society.In this period, the United States implemented draconian immigration restrictions, including racialized quotas.The fear of revolutionary organized labour also affected quotas. The Jews and the Italians were targeted due to anxiety over communism and anarchism.Immigration from Mexico has always been a slightly different story.The restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s excluded the western hemisphere. Mexicans were still coming in large numbers because agricultural corporate interests needed Mexican migrant labour. But because this was land-based immigration, there was more flow back and forth. Much of this migration was temporary, or at least the powers that be thought that it could be.In the 1930s, over 500,000 Mexicans were deported, mostly by state and local governments.This was mass expulsion with little due process.The idea was that Meixcan labour was driving down wages; but the forces at work were much greater than immigration, and deportation didn’t solve the agricultural crisis.The ongoing need for labour led to the creation of the first guest workers’ program in the 1940s (the Bracero Program). The United States was still treating Mexico as a controllable surplus labour pool, but there has always been seepage.In the 1960s, the immigration system was overhauled again to make things more egalitarian: but this disadvantaged Mexicans.There’s another key overhaul in the 1980s to allow for the right to asylum. If Trumpism continues, these laws will likely be reversed.Further Learning: America’s forgotten history of Mexican-American ‘Repatriation’More on illegal deportations in American historyThe archives of the Bracero program, the first Mexican guest workers systemAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
05/01/2030m 30s

The 15th and the 19th

Sarah Churchwell tells the tortured history of the campaign to secure votes for women and how it was tied up with another campaign to suppress votes for black Americans. From the 15th amendment in 1870 to the 19th amendment in 1920: why the promise of enfranchisement is often not what it seems.Talking Points: The struggle for votes for women and votes for black people have been linked from the beginning.Some activists wanted to do both at once, but slavery was deemed more urgent. Of course, in practice, white lawmakers soon stripped the 15th amendment of its practical power by passing laws such as poll taxes and grandfather clauses.Many suffragettes believed that if they supported the 15th amendment, Republicans would turn around and recognize their claims, and that black legislators in particular would argue for rights for women.It didn’t work out that way.Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Antony felt that they had been betrayed by the Republican cause.The 19th amendment is explicitly modeled on the 15th amendment.But it passes in part because people are convinced (correctly in the short term) that it won’t lead to the enforcement of the 15th amendment.Another thing that happens in this moment is the 18th amendment, or prohibition. Temperance was extremely important to many politically active women at the time.At the time, women had no rights within marriage, and no redress against domestic violence or poverty.But it was also about nativism. Drinking was associated with certain immigrant cultures, especially catholic cultures. Temperance gains traction in part as a way of criminalizing suspicious foreign conduct.Further Learning:How racism almost killed women’s right to voteBrent Staples op ed on the rift between white and black women going back to the suffrage fightsInterview with Lori Ginzberg in NPR about her biography of Elizabeth Cady StantonMore on African American women and voting rightsAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
02/01/2029m 49s

Monopoly and Muckraking

Gary Gerstle talks about the journalist who brought down a business empire, when Ida Tarbell went after the power of John D Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Corporation at the start of the twentieth century. Could anyone do the same to Facebook or Amazon today?Talking Points: America’s foundational myth is about rebelling against monopolies: a monopoly of power in the hands of the King. How does an anti-monopolistic society get dominated by monopolies?Industrialization and the free economic environment after the Civil War created different conditions. The Supreme Court interpreted the 14th amendment to mean that corporations are individuals and therefore protected by the Bill of Rights.Resistance to monopolies reached a peak during the first Gilded Age.Some of the resistance was political, but some of it was journalistic.Journalists known as ‘muckrakers’ sought to expose the practices that produced extraordinary power.The reports of journalist Ida Tarbell ultimately led to the breakup of Standard Oil of Ohio.Journalism set the tone for the progressive reform movement.The election of 1912 was about what to do about the trusts/monopolies.Debs wanted to nationalize them; Wilson wanted to break them up; Roosvevelt said regulate them; only Taft carried take a stand.Roosevelt’s approach ultimately carried the day.What can the past tell us about today? Warren is carrying forward the breakup agenda.Previous anti-monopoly movements took a long time; don’t expect much too quickly.But the sentiments haven’t gone away. And the forces that Warren and Sanders have unleashed will continue to percolate.Mentioned in this Episode: Dark Money by Jane MayerFurther Learning: More on Ida TarbellA Talking Politics Guide to … the Gilded AgeMore on Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big techAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
29/12/1930m 1s

Pornography and the Post Office

Gary Gerstle tells the story of Anthony Comstock, the man who tried to stamp out pornography in the final decades of the nineteenth century, using the US Postal Service as his weapon. Where he succeeded and how he ultimately failed still has echoes now, even in the age of the internet.Talking Points: States were exempted from the Bill of Rights from the 1790s until essentially the 1960s.Some states pursued extraordinary influence over the lives of their citizens. There were always states that were more liberal and more repressive.For many Americans, the government was the state government.Anthony Comstock was a moral crusader who used the postal service as the vehicle of anti-vice politics at the federal level.The federal government can only exercise the powers mentioned in the constitution.The constitution doesn’t give the government the power to regulate morals but it does give the government power over the post office.The post office was a large and efficacious bureaucracy.Any mail traveling between states was carried by a federal agency; Comstock seized upon this as a national censorship mechanism. Today, the dynamics have largely reversed. Instead of seeing the federal government as a way to control states, today’s moralists want to punt things back to the states.This has been particularly effective in the case of abortion.Further Learning: ‘Sex and the Constitution,’ more on Comstock and the moralistsThe history of the post officeA profile of Anthony ComstockAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
26/12/1930m 20s

Impeaching the President

In the first of our American Histories series, Sarah Churchwell explains the lessons to be learned for Trump and his opponents from what happened in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson was impeached by Congress and survived his trial in the Senate by a single vote. What are 'high crimes and misdemeanours' anyway?Talking Points: What was Reconstruction?The period immediately following the Civil War and the first attempt at civil rights in the United States.The 14th and 15th amendments gave rights to black men. There were black legislators and black senators.There was also pushback, namely from what would become the Ku Klux Klan.Johnson became president after Lincoln’s assassination: his whole presidency was about overturning the gains of Reconstruction.Johnson was a unionist but also a white supremacist: he basically pardoned the entire white South. This is the conflict that led to impeachment.The immediate act that precipitated impeachment was Johonson breaking a law designed to restrain him, the Tenure of Office Act. There were 11 articles of impeachment.He ultimately survived by 1 vote in the Senate. If he had been impeached, he would have been succeeded by Benjamin Wade, a radical Republican. The moderates didn’t like this.One of the lessons of history is that it’s almost impossible to remove the president.Johnson had clearly broken the law and the Senate was hostile. Trump has much more favorable circumstances.Mentioned in this Episode: W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in AmericaFurther Learning:How impeachment worksJill Lepore on the history of impeachmentHistorian Eric Foner on ReconstructionWhat does ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ really mean? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
22/12/1933m 44s

American Histories Trailer

Letting you know about an exciting new series: Over the holidays David is joined by historians Sarah Churchwell and Gary Gerstle for six special editions of Talking Politics looking at crucial moments in American history. From impeachment to enfranchisement, monopoly to pornography, deportation to abortion, these are the stories that help make sense of present, as we get ready for election season 2020.
20/12/193m 6s

Michael Lewis on Donald Trump

David and Helen talk to bestselling author Michael Lewis about the effect that Trump's presidency is having on the workings of the US government and the risks we are all running as a result. From wilful ignorance to breathtaking corruption, we explore the different ways that one man can change the character of an entire political system. Plus we ask what, if anything, can be done about it.
18/12/1937m 56s

Johnson Gets His Mandate

We gather the morning after the Tory triumph the night before to discuss how they did it and what it means. From Swinson's hubris to Corbyn's comeuppance, from Scottish independence to constitutional challenges, from the start of Brexit to the end of the Brexit party, we try to cover it all in a bumper edition. With Helen Thompson, Chris Brooke, Chris Bickerton, Alison Young, Peter Sloman, Kenneth Armstrong, and some overnight reflections from other TP regulars. If you want to hear more, David and Helen are also on 538 discussing the election result.Talking Points: It was a good night for the Conservatives, a bad one for Labour, and cosmically bad for the Lib Dems.The Lib Dems made a fatal mistake in backing Revoke and running a presidential style campaign.They lured fewer Tory remainers than they had hoped.Six months ago, the Conservatives were in existential crisis, and now they are like Thatcher in all her pomp.How grim are things for Labour? They lost seats they’ve held for decades. But they didn’t lose by that much. If the problems are Corbyn and Brexit, those won’t be there the next time around. Realignment in the North and Midlands may not be permanent.Labour is popular among young people and renters. There are more of them in cities, where Labour is already strong. Who can bridge the urban-rural, traditional base-new base divide? Now that there’s a clear majority, will Parliament go back to working as usual?It’s not only the two parties: there’s also the SNP.They will probably repeal the fixed term parliament act.What about the Supreme Court? Could Scotland be the next thing they weigh in on?What will happen to the Labour Party post-Corbyn? It’s not easy to separate the Corbyn factor from the Brexit factor. Corbyn’s record on security issues mattered—his support never recovered from the Salisbury poisoning. A lot of people don’t see him as a patriot. Mentioned in this Episode: Our video on Jo Swinson...and on the next Labour leaderFurther Learning: David and Helen talk about the election with our friends at 538Talking with Anand Menon before the electionsAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
14/12/191h 13m

Some Brexit Scenarios

For our last pre-election episode we talk with Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe, about what might happen to Brexit once the vote is done. What choices does Johnson face if he wins? What paths are there to a second referendum if he loses? And what will remainers do if Britain does finally leave the EU? Plus we discuss what the rest of Europe makes of it all. With Helen Thompson. Tomorrow, we talk about the result of the election as it happens.Talking Points: There are basically two scenarios: Johnson gets a majority and the withdrawal bill passes, or there’s a hung parliament.The first is slightly more probable, but the margins are getting closer.If Johnson has a majority of even one, the UK will probably leave.But we still don’t know what Johnson wants. Will he be a prisoner to the ERG or will he be a one nation Tory and go for a softer Brexit?The next crunch point will be the end of June with the extension for transition. EU leaders have been assuming a Johnson victory.There’s a conversation in Brussels about how flexible the EU should be, given Johnson’s comments on European trade.Relations within the EU have gotten more fraught.What about the UK’s security relationship with the EU? Would a hung parliament inevitably lead to a second referendum?It’s not clear that a Corbyn minority government could legislate for a referendum. You might actually get another election.The gap between Labour and the Conservatives is as wide as it has been in recent history.The Lib Dems have again fallen behind.The public seems to be uncomfortable with revoke. It’s not a vote winner.If the UK leaves, where do the remainers go? It doesn’t seem that project rejoin would have much steam in the short term.If Johnson wins, it will be on less than half of the vote. And the likelihood of a fifth Conservative victory is unlikely. There is a reason for Labour to believe that next time is their real chance.Mentioned in this Episode: On the tension between Macron and MerkelRobert Tombs in the Spectator.Further Learning: Follow Anand on Twitter hereAnand on negotiating a trade deal with EuropeAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
11/12/1943m 32s

What if Remain Had Won...?

This week Helen and David explore some counterfactuals: What if Remain had won in 2016? What if Corbyn hadn't got on the leadership ballot in 2015? What if Scotland had voted for independence in 2014? We consider whether British politics would be very different or whether a lot of what we are seeing in 2019 was coming anyway. Plus we explore if there are any circumstances in which the stranglehold of the two main parties could be broken in a general election and why the Lib Dems have so spectacularly failed to break it this time.Talking Points: What would have happened if Remain won the referendum?Cameron would have remained prime minister.UKIP probably wouldn’t have collapsed. Johnson would still have been in a good position to become prime minister.What if Corbyn hadn’t been on the ballot for Labour leadership?The membership supports him, but he almost didn’t make the ballot. The next leader probably would have been Andy Burnham.Burnham would have fought the referendum with more enthusiasm, but the problems in the base would have remained the same.Corbyn expanded the membership by being on the ballot; he didn’t rebuild the old Labour coalition.What if Scotland had voted for independence?This would have been a disaster for Cameron: he’s a unionist to the core. Negotiations would have been extremely complicated, especially over the currency question.Scottish independence would have posed an existential question for the Labour party.Can a third party break through?It looked like the Lib Dems might do it, but the two main parties have pulled away. Is this a structural problem, or a contingency problem?First Past the Post forces voters to make hard choices, often between two unpalatable options.The revoke position is tricky, even if the donors like it. There’s no real way to reach hard core remainers in this electoral system.The Remain vote is more geographically concentrated. There are also voters who prefer remain but respect the referendum result.Mentioned in this Episode:Ken Clarke talking about First Past the PostFurther Learning: David’s review of Cameron’s memoirs for the LRBWho is Jo Swinson? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
05/12/1948m 5s

Tech Election - Part 2

We talk about the impact of different online platforms on the general election campaign, from Twitter and Facebook to WhatsApp and TikTok. Is micro-targeting getting more sophisticated? Is viral messaging getting more important? Or are traditional electioneering techniques still driving voter engagement? Plus we ask whether there's any scope left for a 'December surprise'. With Charles Arthur, former technology editor of the Guardian, and Jennifer Cobbe, from the Cambridge Trust and Technology Initiative.Talking Points: In 2017, Labour ran an incredibly successful social media campaign that the mainstream media outlets missed. Is 2017 repeating itself? Facebook has gotten more transparent about the ads they are running. There doesn’t seem to be a big Labour project, at least on Facebook. The Lib Dems on the other hand have a huge operation. Labour has at least a few ads that seem extremely well calibrated.Are we more resistant to political messaging on social media now? This election isn’t a binary choice. There are few single messages that you can push. (The NHS may be the exception.)   But at the end of the day, the electoral system tends to force a binary choice. Is it old politics or new technology? The messages are relatively old school. Time spent on doorsteps may still be more valuable than a Facebook ad. But in other ways, things have changed. It’s much easier to publicly screw up. And when new candidates come onto the scene, the first thing people do is scroll through their social media history.Do we overblow the consequences of a single screw up?What is political messaging trying to achieve?Persuasion is incredibly difficult. Turnout will be key. Labour will need to get out the vote. There’s certainly been a big voter registration push on social media. Younger voters are online, but not on Facebook. YouTube, for example, is more important. The Tories don’t seem to have caught on to this. In an information economy, are people more likely to switch on right before an election, or switch off?Mentioned in this episode: Tech election… Part 1The Rob Delaney adThe Sacha Baron Cohen speech on FacebookFurther Learning: Charles’ new bookCharles’ blog, “The Overspill”Jennifer’s Talking Politics Guide to… Machine LearningAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
28/11/1951m 33s

Tech Election - Part 1

In a special live edition recorded at the Bristol Festival of Economics we discuss the impact of the technology revolution on democratic politics. Has the rise of automation contributed to the rise of populism? Is China winning the AI wars against the West? And do any democratic politicians - from Elizabeth Warren to Jeremy Corbyn - have the policies to get big tech back under control? With Rana Foroohar, author of Don't Be Evil, and Carl Frey, author of The Technology Trap, plus Diane Coyle, founder and programme director of the Bristol Festival of Economics. Next week: the Facebook election.
24/11/1954m 11s

Party like it's 1974

We talk about the current election by talking about two previous ones: the February and October general elections of 1974. A lot of 2019 politics started back then, from the rise of the SNP to Liberals getting squeezed by the electoral system. But it was different too and we have stories of campaigning by landline and hovercraft, MPs on acid, naked civil servants and experts being taken seriously. Plus we discuss how the 1974 elections led to the rise of Thatcherism and changed British politics forever. With Helen Thompson, Chris Brooke and Peter Sloman.Talking Points: The election of February 1974 was the last winter election.The Conservative Edward Heath called the election, and tried to frame it as ‘Who governs Britain?’The election took place amid the National Union of Mineworkers strike, increased oil prices after the Yom Kippur War, and concerns about inflation. Heath’s policies were not aligned with the kind of election he wanted.The bigger backdrop was a deep sense of political uncertainty. Sir William Armstrong, the head of the civil service had a nervous breakdown.Enoch Powell encouraged people to vote for Labour. This act was at least informally coordinated with Wilson. Europe was also in the background.‘74 was a Liberal surge election under the leadership of Jeremy Thorpe.The Liberals broke the two party stranglehold on voters.Northern Ireland and Scotland also became electorally distinct. The SNP significantly increased their vote share.The election, which was set up as a binary choice, created an even more fragmented government.Heath got the first go at forming a government, but he miscalculated.Wilson knew this, and called the Liberals’ bluff.Wilson and his cabinet were incredibly experienced. Corbyn and his team are less so. Wilson had the luxury of waiting for a majority, but the Brexit timetable makes this impossible for today’s Labour party.Mentioned in this episode:“A Very English Scandal” (on the Thorpe Affair)That Christopher Mayhew interview“This House,” a play about the 1970s British Parliament by James GrahamFurther Learning:Peter’s book on the Liberal partyWhat happened in the 1974 election? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
21/11/1948m 56s

One Election or Many?

We have a first look at what's happening in the election campaign by asking whether it's really one election or many. Do national vote shares mean much any more, given all the regional variations? How is the Remain Alliance meant to work? Is this a Brexit election? And is 2015 or 2017 (or neither) a better guide to 2019? Plus we discuss the recent election in Spain and explore parallels between gridlock there and possible gridlock here. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Mike Kenny.Talking Points:One month out from the election, what do we know? Why do commentators still rely on polls and betting markets? What is the appropriate unit of analysis for this election? Is it regional? National? The rural/urban divide seems to cut across the regional effects. But tactical voting pulls things down to a more granular level: you have to look at particular seats.Many people thought this would be a Brexit election, but it doesn’t really look like that.The big theme seems to be spending. The anti-Corbyn factor also complicates things. Corbyn has generated both a new base, and a backlash. The Lib-Dems tried to capitalize on this. But they’ve backed down on their anti-Corbyn stance in favour of the Remain alliance.If you look at polling on the fundamentals, Johnson is outstripping Corbyn.Conservative remainers say they won’t vote for Labour.Will this election be more like 2015 than 2017?Wider forces might overcome local variation. Lib-Dem voters in the Southwest are generally closer to the Conservatives than Labour. The SNP are now proactively in favour of a referendum, and Labour has essentially pulled out of the Unionist position. Who will speak for the Scottish unionists?There’s little scrutiny of Johnson’s deal.Farage won’t be fighting Johnson on this point. And Labour doesn’t want the election to be just about Brexit. In Spain, instead of breaking the deadlock, voters entrenched it. Could this happen in the UK?Catalonian independence also hardened far-right support. Could Scotland drive English nationalism or increase support for far right parties?Mentioned in this Episode: Betting odds for the next UK general electionFurther Learning: Mike’s new Bennett institute report on townscapes in ScotlandMore on the Spanish electionAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
14/11/1947m 53s

Esther Duflo

David and Helen talk to Nobel Prize-winning economist (the youngest ever!) Esther Duflo about how to do economics better. From investing in left-behind places to helping people adapt to change, we discuss good and bad economic ideas about some of the biggest challenges we face, and how it all connects back to politics. Plus we talk about what some of the world's richest countries can learn from some of the poorest. Esther's new book, with Abhijit Bannerjee, is Good Economics for Hard Times Points: Why do economists believe “Invest in People not Places?” And why are they wrong? The idea is that it’s better to target interventions at individual people than places, in part because people will move.But research shows that people are remarkably sticky. They don’t really move.Even faced with really high costs, and the complete freedom to move to another place, people don’t. During the Greek financial crisis, very few people left.Mobility is easier at younger ages.Why do people stick?In the U.S., one of the biggest factors is real estate. Wages may be higher on the coast, but housing is much more expensive.People are not driven only, or even primarily by financial incentivesThe U.S. has not treated people who were left behind by manufacturing very well.There is an implosion of economic activity in one place because people don’t move.The class and place categories are marred. The people who can afford to live in the big cities tend to be relatively well off.This was at the root of the Yellow Vests movement in France. Although there is also a lot of poverty in big cities.Class is no longer defining political lines in the same way.How, as a society, can we prepare better for transitions? It starts at birth: an excellent preschool education, followed by an excellent primary and secondary school education, and finally equal access to University. When shocks happen, being willing to spend.Some people will never move and we should make their lives honorable where they are.Mentioned in this Episode:Esther’s book, Good Economics for Hard Times“The Gift of Moving” (more on the Iceland case)Further Learning:Esther and Abhijit Banerjee in The GuardianAnd on economic incentives in The New York TimesAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
07/11/1947m 6s

Rory Stewart

On the night the UK parliament voted for a general election, David and Helen talk to former Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart about the state of our democracy. Is the constitution broken? Can the Union survive? Has the Tory party changed for good? And why does he want to be Mayor of London anyway? Recorded in front of a live audience at Church House in Westminster, near enough to parliament for Rory to run out halfway through our conversation to vote, and then run back in again to carry on talking. It's all here.
30/10/191h 19m

Not Over Yet

After two significant votes in the House of Commons pointing in two different directions - one towards a Brexit agreement and the other towards a general election - we discuss where we might be heading. Does Johnson have enough to persuade the wavering MPs he needs to get his Brexit deal over the line? Do his opponents have enough to stop him? Can European leaders still force the issue? And if there is an election, does it all change again? Plus we ask: what's actually in the WAB? With Helen Thompson, Catherine Barnard and Chris Brooke.Talking Points:Last night was the first time since the Brady amendment that Parliament voted positively on something.The stop Brexit MP’s seem to be implementing tactics without a strategy.Are there any conditions under which the 14 Labour MPs would vote for Johnson’s deal for real?The Labour whipping operation is still working. So it seems unlikely that a WA will go through this House of Commons.Johnson’s deal is mostly Theresa May’s deal, with the exception of some really complicated legal points around Northern Island.Until people are given an either/or choice, they’ll probably keep dancing around.Where is the EU on all of this? They are unlikely to renegotiate another deal.Macron could still force a choice between no deal and revoke, but he doesn’t want to be blamed for the UK crashing out.At some point, an election is going to become inevitable.Can anything pass without an election?Things have changed for Johnson: now he’d be campaigning with a deal.Christmas could put a wrench in things: would a winter election be bad for Labour?How effective was a Benn act?Perhaps more so than people originally thought. A shorter extension could reveal the weaknesses in the Benn act. But Macron probably won’t force the issue. Mentioned in this Episode:Keir Starmer on trap-doorsKenneth’s blog post on the Withdrawal Bill Further Learning:Catherine explains the Brexit deal in less than five minutesWhere do the EU leaders stand? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
23/10/1946m 4s

Inside the Bubble with Ayesha Hazarika: Live!

In a special live edition as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, David talks with journalist, comedian and former special adviser Ayesha Hazarika and Helen Thompson about the state of British politics. As three years of Brexit torture (maybe) reach a climax, we explore what it feels like on the inside, for politicians and for voters. What's been the psychological toll?? What's going on inside the Labour party? And is politics really worse than it's ever been? Recorded live at the Cambridge Junction on the evening of Weds 16 October, to celebrate our 3rd birthday.Talking Points: UK politics today feels different—but what explains this change?Labour’s collapse in Scotland changed the dynamics. Labour now needs the SNP to govern.Another change is that there are no longer fiscal constraints on government spending.Brexit has brought Parliament into people’s lives in a whole new way.Although, it’s important to note, that not everyone is obsessed with Brexit.Discourse within Parliament has gotten nastier. The old norms no longer seem to be holding.We are no longer in an era of interchangeable leaders.Is British political rhetoric dead? In the past, resignation speeches could bring down governments. But despite heightened public attention, the rhetoric surrounding Brexit is largely unremarkable.Mentioned in this Episode:Ayesha’s book on PMQ’sGeoffrey Howe’s resignation speechRobin Cook’s resignation speechLewis Goodall interviews Dominic CummingsFurther Learning: More on Labour in ScotlandBoiling PointAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
17/10/191h 2m

Impeach This!

We catch up with Gary Gerstle and Helen Thompson about the state of the Trump presidency, from impeachment and cover-ups to Syria and Ukraine. We ask what it would take for Republican senators to desert him and what the collateral damage is likely to be for the Democratic presidential candidates. Plus is Hillary really - really?! - back in the game?Talking Points:What are the grounds for impeaching Trump?There’s a legal argument: Trump breached campaign finance laws.There’s also a constitutional argument: that Trump is trading American interests for personal gain.More specific charges are less open to counter-attack. Politically, it may be advantageous for the Democrats to focus on Ukraine. But a too narrow charge might not resonate. The Democrats need to make the case that this matters morally and link it to a broader American narrative.Elections are a sacred event in American democracy. But the U.S. electoral system also depends on a certain amount of corruption to work.Is fear of foreign interference really just displacement?The chances of a successful conviction that passes the Senate are next to nothing, but they’re not nothing.The latest polls show a modest rise in Republican support for impeachment.Republicans might see Pence as the best way to secure the interests of the party.A foriegn policy crisis may be what dooms Trump.Republican Senators are furious about what Trump just did in Syria.The Republican establishment can’t pull Erdogan back.But during foreign policy crises, people usually rally around the president.Biden’s campaign may be collateral damage in all of this. Elizabeth Warren now appears to be the front runner.There doesn’t seem to be a centrist candidate capable of picking up Biden’s banner.Warren poses an existential threat to the Silicon Valley titans. But she fits into a long American tradition of anti-monopoly dissent. If Warren runs, and wins, as a candidate from the Democratic left, she would make history.Mentioned in this Episode:The New Yorker piece on Hunter BidenTickets to David’s upcoming event at the Cambridge UnionFurther Learning:Our friends at 538 on American support for impeachmentAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
10/10/1946m 17s

December Elections: Live Special!

A special edition recorded in front of an audience at the Podcast Live festival in London on Saturday: David, Helen and Chris Brooke discuss what we can learn from the early twentieth century about holding elections in the depths of winter. Constitutional crises, threats of civil breakdown, broken coalitions and very grumpy voters: we may have been here before.
07/10/1942m 42s

Cameron's Referendum

David and Helen take a step back to unpick the tortuous history of how we got to the Brexit referendum in the first place. Does the justification Cameron offers in his new memoirs stack up? What was he trying to achieve? And why did we end up with an in/out vote when the political risks were so great? A conversation linked to David's review of Cameron's book in the current 40th anniversary issue of the LRB. Points: Why did Cameron call for an in/out referendum?He wanted to reconfigure Britain’s relationship with the EU, not abolish it.Let’s take the story back to 2004-2005 and the new constitutional treaty.The key question was consent.In Britain, there was a push for a referendum. Although Blair was initially opposed, he made a u-turn. But the Dutch and the French voted the treaty down before it could happen.Then came the Lisbon Treaty. Brown decided that this was different than the constitutional treaty and he ratified it without a referendum.This creates a political problem. The Conservative Party opposed both the Lisbon Treaty and the way it had been legitimated.The constitutional treaty made the EU wary of using referendums to legitimate treaties.But Cameron thought there would be another treaty—was this a mistake?The European Union Act of 2011 required a referendum for any treaty that would increase the power of the EU.By December 2011, Cameron had two issues: the domestic politics of consent, and the risk of being a permanent minority on financial service matters.In 2011, it became clear that the ECB would pursue a policy that would make it more difficult for London’s clearing houses to be the center of European trading. Ultimately, Britain could not fundamentally reconfigure its relationship with the EU. Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate became a perfect example of British weakness and fueled the Leave campaign.For what is Cameron personally culpable?He knew that Leave could win, but he didn’t make contingency arrangements for leaving.When Leave won, the UK entered a constitutional crisis and Cameron just walked away.Mentioned in this Episode:David’s review of Cameron’s memoirCameron’s Bloomberg speechMacron’s 2017 Sorbonne speechMore on ChiracAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
03/10/1949m 4s

Ian McEwan

David talks to novelist Ian McEwan about his new Brexit parable, The Cockroach, and a lot else besides: counterfactual history, Labour party conferences, eighteenth-century satire, humanising judges and turning the economy on its head. But yes, it's all about the Brexit nightmare.Further Learning: You can buy The Cockroach hereAn extract from The CockroachMentioned in this Episode:Selected quotes from Johnson’s UN speechThe Children ActA Modest Proposal by Jonathan SwiftMachines like MeUpcoming Events:On 5 Oct. David, Helen, and Chris Brooke will be LIVE in London. Tickets here!And on 16 Oct. David and Helen will be LIVE at Cambridge Junction with Ayesha Hazarika. Get your tickets here.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
29/09/1928m 3s

Boiling Point

David and Helen try to lower the temperature by looking at the strategic choices behind the vitriolic clashes in the Commons this week: from the date of the next election to the prospects of a coalition government. Plus they consider the fall-out from the Labour party conference and ask what price a second Scottish referendum.
26/09/1926m 18s

Supreme Court II & Italy!

A packed episode: we catch up with Catherine Barnard on the Supreme Court's unanimous decision against prorogation and we discuss what's going on in Italian politics. Plus we explore the links and differences between the two, from fears of an election to the role played by presidents and monarchs. Boris, Berlusconi, Baroness Hale and politics on the beach: it's all here! With Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points:Is it surprising that the Supreme Court’s judgement was unanimous?There’s a strength in unanimity—it also makes it harder to attribute political motives to individual judges.This is only the beginning of what could be a series of contentious judgments, but because the decision was unanimous, it’s hard to read the room.The Supreme Court didn’t want to get into motive… or monarchy, so it focused on the effect of prorogation.If the power to prorogue were unlimited, it could be used for unconstitutional purposes.But Parliament did have an opportunity to hold the government to account and it chose not to.Are there parallels between what’s going on in Italy and the UK?The government has broken down, and the opposition is scared of an election. Both Johnson and Salvini are polling at around 30% and facing divided oppositions.But in Italy, the opposition has behaved very differently. Despite extreme contempt for each other, Renzi and De Maio are in coalition.This is in part because of Mattarella, the President, and the EU.Does going into coalition with Renzi mark the end of 5 Star’s anti-establishment credentials? They might go forward with a new leader, Di Battista, who is more left wing. Renzi is trying to position himself as a Macron-like figure.The dominant feature of Italian politics is fragmentation: if you can get even 5-10% of the vote, you can be the kingmaker.Renzi thinks he can sweep up Berlusconi’s voters.But unlike Macron, Renzi isn’t an unknown entity. And the next election might be fought in the midst of a recession.Further Learning:Our video guide to thinking about the future of Labour leadershipCatherine on the Supreme Court’s decisionMore on SalviniUpcoming Events:On 5 Oct. David, Helen, and Chris Brooke will be LIVE in London. Tickets here!And on 16 Oct. David and Helen will be LIVE at Cambridge Junction with Ayesha Hazarika. Get your tickets here.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
25/09/1945m 23s

Re-Engineering Humanity

David talks to Brett Frischmann about how so-called 'smart' machines may be producing more machine-like humans. From GPS to Fitbit to Alexa to the Internet of Things: what is our interaction with new technology doing to change the kind of people we really are?
22/09/1935m 40s

Supreme Court

In the middle of the epic prorogation battle at the Supreme Court, we ask what's at stake: for the government, for Brexit, for the constitution and for democracy. Is this a case of legal precedent, common law practice or higher constitutional principle? Is the UK constitution becoming more European in the act of leaving the EU? And what are the things lawyers on neither side can say? Plus we ask how Jo Swinson's case for revoking article 50 is going and we discuss whether we could really have a 2nd referendum without another general election. A packed episode! With Catherine Barnard, Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton.The prorogation case has reached the Supreme Court.Traditionally the courts are reluctant to second guess political decisions. The high courts of England and Wales ruled that the case wasn’t justiciable. The Scottish court took a different line.This case is really looking under the bonnet of the constitution.If there is no judicial control, the right to prorogue could be abused—this could trouble the courts. But according to the UK constitution, the recourse to the abuse of power is supposed to be political rather than legal. The current executive is a constitutional zombie: it doesn’t have the support of Parliament. How does the court see its role? What Boris did may be outrageous, but it’s not clear what he gained by doing it. He squeezed options but he didn’t wipe them out. Maybe they just did it to be provocative ahead of a general election. But neither side can say that.Who are the justices on the Supreme Court? Most of these people have worked their way up the judicial hierarchy.This is only the second time that all 11 are sitting. They know this case is a big deal.The big question is legitimacy.Common law has been seen as a central part of the UK’s constitutional history, and common law ultimately is meant to rest on an appeal to experience. What happens if it is used to assert an abstract principle?Across the board, politicians are no longer abiding by conventions.If Parliament were functioning properly, it would replace the executive.Parliament chose to legislate against no deal instead of calling for a general election.The Fixed-Term Parliaments act has been a game changer. Further Learning: The Talking Politics guide to… the UK ConstitutionThe Supreme Court and politics vs. the lawWho is Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
19/09/1945m 4s

He's Still There (Just)

David and Helen try to make sense of where we've got to, though things are moving fast (*episode recorded before the Scottish court judgment*). Can parliament force Johnson's hand in the Brexit negotiations if he is still PM? Will Labour hold together now that it's become a second referendum party? Could the revocation of article 50 become a real prospect? Next week, on to the Supreme Court. We also pay tribute to our dear friend and colleague Finbarr Livesey, who very sadly died last week.Talking Points:People have claimed moral victories and rhetorical victories this week, but what actually happened?Boris is still Prime Minister, and the opposition organized behind legislation that requires him to ask for an extension.But the EU will want a reason. And Boris wouldn’t be breaking the law if he said there was no reason, or that it was purely political.Is it possible that all this turmoil actually gives Johnson more leverage with the EU?Unless there’s movement from the Irish government, it will be extremely difficult for the EU to move.The DUP’s position is weaker now, but a Northern Ireland only backstop would be a massive crisis for the Union. There appears to be a new centrist group in Parliament with Stephen Kinnock and others trying to rally in support of a deal. But the numbers are very small and they’ll have to defend the fact that they voted against the withdrawal agreement before.What about Labour?Labour has now become the second referendum party but there are still a lot of questions.If Corbyn weren’t the leader of the opposition, would a vote of no confidence have passed?Did Labour make the wrong call on an election?Meanwhile, the Lib Dems seem to be moving towards a “revoke” position. The constitution is in uncharted waters: there’s a government with no majority that wants to call an election and Parliament is saying that the electorate cannot have a say.Do the courts have the authority to reconvene Parliament?Further Learning: How Would a Second Referendum on Brexit Work? Helen on bending the constitution for the New StatesmanIs it Legal? The Talking Politics guide to… the UK constitutionAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
12/09/1945m 54s

Adam Tooze on the Global Slowdown

Helen Thompson and Adam Tooze take us beyond Brexit to look at the global situation and the bigger threats we face. Italy, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Russia, Trump vs. the Fed, the US vs. China, Hong Kong, the dollar, the euro, climate change, oil: an amazingly wide-ranging conversation that somehow manages to connect it all up.Talking Points: Christine Lagarde will take up her post at the ECB relatively soon. Does her most recent speech fit into a narrative of a French victory in the euro struggles?Lagarde has clearly asserted the necessity of continuing the Draghi agenda, but augmenting it with fiscal action. That’s the big question mark.There are still fundamental, unresolved issues: banking union and Italy’s sovereign debt.The condition for making Italian fiscal activism safe would be some agreement to collectivize a large portion of Italy’s sovereign debt. How that’s accounted for, and whose balance sheet it would fall onto is the real issue.Do you really want to activate a major fiscal stimulus in the German economy?This might be a good moment for a political deal between the North and South because the engine of German manufacturing is slowing down.What’s happening in Germany is less to do with the Eurozone and more to do with China and to some extent the Eurodollar system. The Germany economy is export-centric. It won’t respond to stimulating domestic demand.If we accept that the status quo is dangerous, then fiscal policy has to be more transformative.Trying to figure out what is actually causing the weakness in the world economy is perhaps more important than the confrontation between Trump and the Fed.Something weird is going on in global capital markets, which means that the Americans are suffering basically no bond-market punishment despite extraordinary dysfunction. At the same time, interest rates have plunged.This allows Trump to politicize things further.It’s both a return of the past, and something entirely new.The eurozone does appear to have a disciplinary role. The idea of a euro-state leaving the eurozone still seems unconscionable.  China clearly wants to escape a dollar world. Could this deal with Iran make it possible?They want to be able to buy oil in their own currency.But the dollar and the U.S. banking system are still America’s ultimate weapons.How big is the risk of a major global economic slowdown? It’s already happening in Germany, Latin America, South Africa... The question is scope: it hasn’t yet spread to the services sector. There’s a variety of different economic ailments, but this is a real risk.Mentioned in this Episode:Adam’s recent article in the NYTimesFurther Learning: Why is Trump attacking the Fed? Adam Tooze on EuropeAdam Tooze on the US vs. ChinaAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
08/09/1948m 47s

Is It Legal?

With British politics in disarray, we try to sort out what's a stake - legally, constitutionally and electorally. Can Johnson refuse to do what parliament demands? Can Corbyn get the election he wants? What is Dominic Cummings playing at? And how much is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act to blame for the mess? Plus we explore the likely choices ahead for voters and politicians and we ask the big question lying behind all the drama: is this a question of politics or is it a matter of law? With Helen Thompson and Kenneth Armstrong.Talking Points:What was Johnson trying to achieve with prorogation? Deliberately provoking the opposition? Making it look like Parliament had been defeated to push the EU to work toward another agreement? A lot is going wrong for the government right now and it is struggling get to the general election it wants to fight.Helen thinks that the actual goal is an orderly exit from the EU.But people don’t believe Johnson when he says he is serious about getting a deal.Corbyn says that the opposition wants a general election, but only after no deal has been ruled out.But if the election takes place in mid-October and Johnson wins a majority, he could overturn any legislation outlawing a no deal.Parliament could still revoke Article 50. This might be the best case scenario for Johnson because he could then have a Parliament vs. the people election.The assumption seems to be that the government cannot be replaced, but it also can’t do what it wants to do.Everyone seems to be trying to tie someone’s hands, but how do you create the politics where you can actually do things?At some point there will be a general election: the government is framing it as a choice on Brexit. May tried to do that in 2017 and failed. But Johnson isn’t May, and he’s running on a more populist, anti-austerity platform.What does Labour want to fight this election on? Would they fare better in a Brexit or non-Brexit election?The Lib Dems are in a very different position this time.This is an unusual government: the stories about Dominic Cummings are damaging, but it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere.A referendum is very different than a general election.  Mentioned in this episode:Catherine Haddon on the Fixed Term Parliaments ActStephen Sedley on Jonathan Sumption and the rule of law for the LRBFurther Learning: Scottish Court rules that prorogation is lawfulOn challenges around a bill to prevent no dealDavid and Helen talking about prorogation on the 538 podcastAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
04/09/1947m 13s

Talking Politics Guide to ... Marriage

We talk to political philosopher Clare Chambers about marriage as a political institution. How does it reflect the power of the state?  How does it alter power relations between individuals? Should everyone be allowed to get married or should we move away from marriage altogether? A fresh, radical look at something we often take for granted.Talking Points:What makes marriage political?Marriage is an institution recognized by the state. It also structures the way people relate to each other along gendered lines, as well as those of race and class.Most of the clear legal inequalities in marriage have been reformed in contemporary Britain, but there is still significant practical and symbolic inequality.Different sex married couples tend to exhibit more gendered behavior than unmarried couples.We still view marriage as a goal, particularly for women. And for women, marriage often comes with a number of identity changes.When the state recognizes marriage, it is endorsing, or affirming the position of being married.Does making marriage more accessible make it more equal?Same sex marriage is one of the amazing succes stories of the last decade.Why are we so drawn to marriage?What marriage means for people may be out of kilter with its legal condition.There’s no official government position on the legal implications of marriage.Most people believe that common law marriage exists: it doesn’t. If you’re not married, you have no legal protections.When it comes to protecting children, it might make more sense to focus on parenthood than marriage.In countries like the UK, only about 50% of children are born to married parents. Further Learning:Clare’s websiteAgainst Marriage (Clare’s book)Clare talking about the politics of marriage at LSEClare at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas talking about marriageAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
01/09/1931m 13s

538 Cross Over Special : Is Britain In The Middle Of A Constitutional Crisis?

Special cross over episode with the FiveThirtyEight politics podcast from America, hosted by Galen Druke.On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he had asked the queen to suspend parliament in September, reducing the amount of time lawmakers will have to debate legislation related to Brexit. John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons ,called the move a “constitutional outrage.” In this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Helen Thompson and David Runciman discuss what qualifies as a constitutional crisis and whether they think Britain has reached that point.
30/08/1945m 52s

Where Power Stops

David gives another in his series of talks about democracy. This one draws on the theme of his new book Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers. From Lyndon Johnson to Boris Johnson, does power reveal the true character of politicians or do politicians reveal the true character of power? What sets the limits to what presidents and prime minsters can do? And how do we find them? books that have had the single largest influence on modern Western politicians are Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johson.These books are a love letter to politics: the glory, the grind, the graft.Johnson’s life is a tale of redemption: he was a terrible man, but he did some great things.Johnson’s life shows that individual politicians can make a difference. This is a story that a lot of politicians want to hear.Caro says that the lesson of Johnson’s life is that power corrupts, but power also reveals. David disagrees.Johnson wanted to dominate. Compassion was not who he really was, it was just another tool at his disposal.To show he deserved power, Johnson had to do what Kennedy couldn’t do: civil rights and the great society.It’s not that power reveals the person, but the person reveals the nature of the power. Politicians don’t really change. And they often don’t really hide who they are. When they get to the top, you see not who they are, but what that kind of person can do with power. Are Trump and Boris Johnson part of this pattern?We haven’t discovered anything about Trump we didn’t know before.Much more has been revealed about the institution of the presidency than the man.What makes Trump different is that he doesn’t seem to believe that his power is subject to any constraints. This could actually change the institution.Boris Johnson is different. For one thing, he is capable of shame. But he is also willing, potentially, to treat the limits of office as if they aren’t there.Further Learning:David’s new book, Where Power StopsThe Caro biographies of JohnsonCaro on chasing Johnson’s paper trailYuval Noah HarariMichael Howard on Talking PoliticsAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
29/08/1935m 56s

Talking Politics Guide to ... European Union before the EU

We talk to historian Chris Brooke about ideas of a united Europe that long pre-dated the advent of the European Union. Since the eighteenth century philosophers, lawyers, diplomats and revolutionaries have constructed schemes to bring Europe together economically, legally and politically. How do these plans compare with what actually happened?Talking Points: Where does the idea of a union of European nation states come from?The conversation about union predates the consolidation of European nation-states.In the 18th century, Britain and France are long-established, but much of the rest of Europe isn’t really what we would call nation states.The common threads in these earlier projects are the notion of “perpetual peace” and commerce.How do you create a union when some states are much more powerful than others?You can’t escape geopolitics. From the 18th century onwards a widespread theme in arguments for European union are fears of growing Russian power.The European integrationists often take themselves to be critics of the balance of power, but at some point they realize that they’re actually trying to produce a new balance of power on the global level in response to the rise of America and East Asia.The Europeans want to both counter and copy America. The key predecessor to the customs union was the German Zollverein, which linked together the Western states in the German confederation.Union became a live political issue in the 1890s after the American tariff walls.In the end, these earlier projects failed because of animosity between the French and Germans over Alsace-Lorraine.The early legal conversations about union have disturbing racial and imperial subtexts. The First World War gave rise to the League of Nations, but this was not a purely European project.To understand the contemporary European union, you really need to look at the end of the Second World War.It’s hard not to think of the 18th century schemes and 19th century proposals as antecedents to what actually happened.But many things were still contingent. For example, the French were interested in cooperating because they wanted to shore up their empire in Africa, which collapsed soon after the Treaty of Rome.Further Learning: Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisbrookeA blog by Chris on the 18th century debate on European unionJeremy Bentham’s plan for “an universal and perpetual peace”On Napoleon and the European UnionRosa Luxemburg denounces “The United States of Europe in 1911And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
25/08/1928m 30s

Talking Politics Guide to ... The UK Constitution

We talk to lawyer and constitutional expert Alison Young about the current pressures on the UK constitution, from Brexit to devolution to political polarisation. Is parliamentary sovereignty still the linchpin of the system? What changed with the arrival of the Supreme Court? Can the constitution survive in its current form?Talking Points:How should we think about parliamentary sovereignty in the UK constitutional order?The idea is that legislation enacted by parliament is the highest form of law in the land.Unlike most other systems, the UK does not have a written constitution that is above legislation.What does this mean for the Union? In a nutshell, Westminster can still override other parliaments. The civil convention is the idea that Westminster won’t legislate in the devolved areas or change the devolved structures without the consent of the devolved bodies.But this can’t be legally enforced, and Westminster doesn’t always comply with it.  The UK doesn’t have a federal system: there aren’t the same legal limits on Westminster but there are legal limits on the devolved bodies.In short, the institutions are permanent but their powers aren’t.Did Parliament limit its sovereign powers when it created the Supreme Court?Parliament could still abolish the court, but that could also trigger a constitutional crisis.It’s not necessarily the Supreme Court that has limited parliamentary sovereignty. EU law has primacy and direct effect. This is a restriction on parliamentary sovereignty.Another tension is how the courts are beginning to interpret legislation.Brexit has led to renewed focus on parliamentary sovereignty. On the one hand, we see the reassertion of parliamentary sovereignty against the executive. On the other hand, the Brexiteers see themselves as this very principle from the EU.The Gina Miller case revolved around the tension between the government and parliament—whether the government could trigger Article 50. This case actually reinforced parliamentary sovereignty. The referendum created a tension between the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of parliament.This is the problem that has not been resolved.Further Learning:The UK Constitutional Law AssociationAlison’s article on populism and the UK constitutionAlison on “The Briefing Room”Jonathan Sumption’s Reith Lectures on “Law’s expanding empire”And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
22/08/1928m 25s

Jill Lepore on the American Nation

We talk to historian Jill Lepore about the idea of nationalism in America, from the birth of the Republic through to Trump. What defines the nation? Why does the illiberal version keep getting the upper hand?  Are there any politicians in America who can rescue the idea of liberal nationalism? Plus we ask Jill what she thinks of Johnson, Brexit and nationalism in the UK.The Union won the American Civil War, but the South won the peace.The South won the peace by persuading the North both to undo the terms of Reconstruction and to remember the war as being about something different than it actually was.The Confederacy was founded on the premise of racial hierarchy.Reconstruction began as essentially a military occupation of the South to reinforce the new amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing equality for all peopleBut it was ended prematurely and the federal government wound up conceding the constitutionality of the Jim Crow laws that reenforced racial hierarchy.When did cities stop being a part of “the nation?”To some on the right, there’s no such thing as a liberal nationalism or liberal patriotism. Trump sets the nation against the government.Historically, the term “globalist” is code for antisemitism. The environmentalists may have replaced the old “internationalists.”The classic error on the left is to speak to either subgroups or the world.Looking at the Democratic presidential candidates, you don’t really see anyone talking about what the nation is.The concept of the “nation” is now one of the things that divides generations.Obama did talk about the nation a lot—this is part of what made him so powerful rhetorically.There are competing notions of nationalism. On the one hand, you have an enlightened, liberal nationalism, which is about guaranteeing equal rights to citizens. On the other, there is illiberal nationalism, which is premised on exclusion. Right now, illiberal nationalism seems to have the upper hand.Further Learning: Jill on why America needs a new national storyWhat if Reconstruction hadn’t failed?David Blight on the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1845-1877 (Open Yale Courses)America First? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/08/1939m 27s

Talking Politics Guide to ... Being a Civil Servant

We talk to public policy expert Dennis Grube about the changing character of the civil service, from Victorian mandarins and Yes, Minister to the current battles over Brexit in the age of Twitter.  Senior civil servants increasingly find themselves in the public eye, expected to communicate their views. Has this politicised the advice they give?
15/08/1930m 51s

Talking Politics Guide to ... The Euro

We talk to political economist Helen Thompson about the birth of the Euro and its tortuous recent history. Whose idea was it in the first place and how much of its current troubles were baked into its origins? A story of ambition, intrigue and unintended consequences.Talking Points:The euro was the brainchild of the French government, sometime around late 1987.The French had become extremely dissatisfied with the exchange rate mechanism. They thought the set-up benefitted Germany to the expense of everyone else.France saw monetary union as a way to Europeanize monetary policy.The French persuaded the rest of the European community to set up a committee to look into monetary union, which was chaired by the former French finance minister.He understood that union would have to be on German terms: there would be an independent central bank committed to price stability.Helmut Kohl also wanted shifts on the institutional questions within the European Community.The Maastricht Treaty was agreed in December 1991—ratification went on for two years.The treaty is about much more than monetary union.During contentious elections, Kohl started talking about monetary union as a symbol of European peace rather than a purely macroeconomic issue.The general improvement in economic conditions in the mid-1990s allowed the monetary union to proceed.This doesn’t mean that there weren’t significant issues, but there wasn’t an existential crisis like the one that would emerge in 2009 with Greece.Before the euro itself got going, there was the convergence of interest rates. Even for states like Italy and Greece, that has been a clear advantage.You also see some alignment on inflation. But you don’t get fiscal convergence. Some states run much higher deficits than others.If the euro were to end now, it would be because of an implosion not states voluntarily seceding.There is more skepticism over the euro in Eastern Europe.There is a recession coming; this will put more pressure on this system.The flashpoint may be Germany. There is going to be considerable pressure to go back to quantitative easing. Whether Draghi’s successor can secure tacit German approval is a different question. Further Learning:Helen for the LRB: Will the EU hold?
11/08/1929m 28s

Talking Politics Guide to ... Summer Reading

We ask regular TP contributors and guests to tell us about the books they've most enjoyed recently and the ones they are looking forward to reading this summer. History, science fiction, philosophy, memoirs and a little bit of politics too: it's all here.Sarah ChurchwellMy Face for the World to See, Alfred HayesIn Love, Alfred HayesChris BickertonThe Man Without Qualities, Robert MusilHans van de VenThe Great Flowing River, Chi Pang-yuanHelen ThompsonDominion, Tom HollandThe Hotel Years, Joseph RothThe Emigrants, W.G. SebaldDennis GrubeThe Fifth Risk, Michael LewisMiddle England, Jonathan CoeCatherine BernardIn our Mad and Furious City, Guy GunaratneDavid RuncimanFrom Bacteria to Bach and Back, Daniel C. Dennett Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted ChiangClare ChambersInvisible Women, Caroline Criado PerezNormal People, Sally RooneyChris BrookeOn Mercy, Malcolm BullPaul MasonLove Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, Ethan MorddenTom HollandNefertiti’s Face, Joyce Tyldesley
08/08/1920m 0s

Talking Politics Guide to ... The Chinese Communist Party

We talk to historian of China Hans van de Ven about the origins of the CCP and its extraordinary rise to power. How has it managed to adapt to the changes of the last forty years and what lessons will be drawn as it approaches its one hundredth birthday?Talking Points:The Chinese Communist Party is an incredible success story. A group of students met in Shanghai; 30 years later, they were running a vast country.A lot of luck was involved. If the Japanese hadn’t invaded, they never would have gone anywhere.The CCP didn’t become a Maoist party until the Second World War.Communist parties are supposed to thrive in cities, but Mao turned his attention to the countryside.Mao was a great tactician of violence. He was heavily influenced by Clausewitz.Mao was also able to draw in both the youth and the intellectuals.The West tends to see Mao’s death as the decisive shift, but Mao himself allowed new people to come to the fore, including Deng Xiaoping.Tiannamen was an existential threat to the Party, and it extended far beyond Beijing.The Party is still the dominant institution in Chinese life. Although Chinese life is more pluralistic under market reform, the Party still calls the final shots.China has always been highly commercialized. Viewing reform as “Westernization” may not be the best approach.A key element of the Chinese political tradition is a direct connection between the highest and the lowest rungs of society. New technology makes this easier. The leadership is extremely concerned with what people are thinking.As the 100th anniversary of the Party approaches, the leadership faces a dilemma: taking the history of the Party seriously could threaten its present legitimacy.How do you explain all of the suffering? You can’t just ignore it.Further Learning:Hans’ book, China at War: Triumph and Tragedy in the Emergence of the New ChinaChinaFileA guide to China from the Council on Foreign RelationsRecommended Reading: A Critical Introduction to Mao Zedong, Timothy Cheek, ed (CUP, 2010)Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History, Alastair Cook (CUP, 2014)Red Flags: Why Xi's China is in Jeopardy, George Magnus (Yale, 2018)
04/08/1928m 35s

Talking Politics Guide to ... The Gilded Age

We talk to historian Sarah Churchwell about the Gilded Age in late nineteenth century America and the comparisons with today. Rampant inequality, racial conflict, fights over immigration, technological revolution: is Trump's America repeating the pattern or is it something new?Talking Points:In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles W. Warner coined the term “The Gilded Age,” in their eponymous novel. The phrase was re-discovered in the 1920s and applied retrospectively to the period of the 1870s-roughly 1900.The Gilded Age satirized the way wealth and consumerism were taking over American life and showed how this move towards a “huxterist” culture was subverting America’s democratic ideals.Yet this was also a period of real growth. The major transformation of the period was the railroad. Rampant inequality characterized the era: the robber barons on the one hand, and poor immigrant communities on the other. But in the middle of this, there was also a group of people working their way into the middle class.Immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe, exploded during this period.America did not have immigration control. The first immigration laws were passed in the 1880s and 1890s, most notably the Chinese Exclusion Act.Reconstruction overlaps with the Gilded Age.There was no redistribution to the former slaves. Johnson effectively pardoned the former Confederates. The Klan emerged during this period as domestic terrorists.This ultimately leads to the Great Migration, African Americans leaving the South to seek opportunities further North.The bridge between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Period was the age of populism.William Jennings Bryan was a grassroots populist who almost became president.There are many echoes to the present moment: white working class men asserting their right to be middle America at the cost of excluding other communities.Is this a new Gilded Age?Today, the tech giants are cornering technology the way that Carneige cornered steel. But maybe the gilt is the story, and the exceptional moments are the aberrations. Further Learning:Sarah’s book, Behold AmericaChapters of Erie, Henry Adams
01/08/1931m 0s

Autumn of Chaos

Boris Johnson is off to see the Queen to become her 14th (!) Prime Minister, but where might he be taking the country this autumn?  We try to work through the various Brexit scenarios, from a renegotiated Withdrawal Agreement to a crash no-deal exit. Can the backstop be changed? What is a 'standstill' arrangement? Will Macron force the issue? Plus we explore whether an early election or a second referendum can really provide a way out of the mess. Something's got to give - what will it be? With Helen Thompson, Catherine Barnard and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points: Can you change the backstop?Deep changes seem unlikely, though maybe some changes around the edges would make it more sellable.If the DUP won’t swallow it, will Johnson have to essentially sacrifice Northern Ireland to get a deal?But cutting out the DUP presents a problem for parliamentary arithmetics. The things that Johnson wants to discuss are in the withdrawal agreement. Europe is not open to talking about these things. What is GATT Article 24 5b?This is the idea that you could have a “quick and dirty” free trade agreement ready to go on the 31 Oct. The trouble is that the law gets in the way: the EU has to agree with it.From the EU perspective, any agreement will require that the UK addresses citizens rights, money, and the backstop.The idea that there’s some kind of standstill option is a unicorn.There’s a change of leadership in the EU as well. Does it make any difference?The instability in German politics deserves more attention.The Franco-German relationship is in a worse place than it was in March.If the German position is weakened, this could strengthen Macron and the harder line.When will the moment of truth come?The sequencing here is incredibly complex.At some point, Johnson’s government will have to make a choice. Will it be over an election? Over no deal?A confidence vote isn’t a last resort for Tory remainers, but it’s very close to it.We also need to think more about the legal realities of a no deal Brexit. Mentioned in this Episode:Who is Boris Johnson? More on GATT Article 24Further Learning:Catherine on the EU and the conservative leadership raceHelen on geopolitics, the EU, and BrexitAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
24/07/1946m 13s

Waiting for Boris

Barring an act of God, Boris Johnson is going to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. We're exploring what that means in two parts. Today, Helen and David talk about the domestic implications.  Can Johnson avoid an election? Can he hold on to the seats he needs while winning others he doesn't have? Will he unite or divide his party? Will Labour be able to stop him either way? Plus we talk about what's at stake for the Tories in Johnson's relationship with Trump.  Next week: Europe and Brexit.Talking Points:What shifted to make Boris Johnson’s victory almost inevitable?We need to go back to the third attempt to get the meaningful vote through the House of Commons. That was Theresa May’s chance.After 31 March, the political calculus changed. If May had been able to pass her deal, there might have been more of an effort to stop Johnson from becoming PM.Labour is now the more divided party. And the Conservative Party has united around a very unpopular leader.There are some parallels to the United States.The Labour remainers have been emboldened since the 31 March, but Labour also looks more divided than it did a few months ago.Are there enough people in the parliamentary Conservative Party who would be willing to precipitate a general election if Johnson pursued no deal?It’s not impossible, but this would be a big deal.Could Johnson usher in a new relationship with the United States?A lot would ride on his relationship with Trump—that’s risky. Is there anything that Johnson can say that will not alienate Trump and not alienate the British public?The most important decision next week, if Johnson becomes PM, will be who he appoints as Chancellor. Whoever it is will likely have a lot of power.What happens with Brexit will be crucial to what kind of economic policy comes next.The Conservatives will need to maintain their coalition, and probably make up for seats in Scotland.Will the opposition to a Johnson prime ministership coalesce around Labour or not?Last time, the Conservatives committed an act of destruction with the social care issue.  And if the next general election happens after Brexit, there will not be the same disciplining effect.If Johnson can walk a very narrow path in the next 6 months (which is far from certain), he could be prime minister for a long time. Mentioned in this Episode: Hunt and Johnson on Trump’s tweetsSteve Baker’s tweet in response to Trump’s tweetJohn Lanchester on Universal Basic IncomeAdam Tooze on GermanyFurther Learning:Who is Boris Johnson? The Party Splits! (In 1846!)And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
18/07/1946m 57s

Hong Kong

What is happening in Hong Kong? We talk to a professor of Chinese history and a Hong Kong journalist about the recent wave of protests there and try to discover what is really at stake on all sides.  Who are the protestors? What are their core demands? Can these be met? And what will happen if they aren't? Plus we explore the parallels with other protest movements around the world and look at the possible knock-on effects, from Beijing to Taiwan. With Hans van de Ven and Angus Hui.Talking Points:The protests in Hong Kong are now in their second month. As many as half a million people have taken to the streets.There is also a smaller group of much younger people who occupied the legislative council chambers last week.The initial protests were about repealing an extradition law. But the protest now seems to be about the entire system.This is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The protesters want to show that Hong Kong is not China.Is this a threat to one country, two systems? The Umbrella Movement in 2014 was about suffrage and democracy. Is this going beyond that?One country, two systems was meant to last 50 years. We are now 22 years in. What would the protesters count as success?Independence is an unrealistic goal. The protesters want three things: 1) The withdrawal of the extradition bill 2) An independent investigation committee into police violence against the protesters and 3) protection from prosecution for the protesters.A real win would be a genuinely elected chief executive and a genuinely elected legislative council. This would involve negotiations with Beijing.Even if these protests fade, the issues remain and will only get more serious.What is happening in Hong Kong is the building up of a tradition of protests that will feed on each other.There is a broader breakdown in trust between mainland China and the people living in Hong Kong, including the fear that the social credit system may be introduced in Hong Kong.Mentioned in this Episode:English language news sources on the situation in Hong KongFurther Learning:Background from the NYTimes on the protestsMore on the umbrella revolutionMore on Christianity and the Hong Kong protestsAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
11/07/1941m 42s


What does it mean when Facebook says it wants its own currency?  We explore the power, the potential and the pitfalls of Libra. How does Facebook plan to make money out of making money? Can anyone stop it? And does this represent a fundamental shift in the model of surveillance capitalism? Plus we consider some of the rivals it faces: Bitcoin, WeChat and the good old dollar. Finally, this week we pay tribute to our dear friend and regular Talking Politics contributor Aaron Rapport (1980-2019) with some memories of his many appearances on the podcast.Talking Points:What is Libra?A digital currency that Facebook unveiled in a White Paper last monthIt aims to be a global currency that will bring the unbanked into banking and make certain transactions, such as remittances, easier.Libra itself would be managed by an association of members, including big finance companies, big tech companies, and NGOs. But Facebook would control Calibra, the wallet that would allow people to actually use the currency.How is Libra different from Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?Unlike Bitcoin, Libra would be pegged to a basket of currencies. This would make it less volatile, but more centralized.What would it mean if Facebook started issuing money?If Facebook were a state, it would have more subjects than any country on earth.Regulation remains a huge question.What will happen if Facebook has leverage over both social and economic capital?If Libra isn’t stopped before it launches, it could quickly become indispensable.There are huge potential benefits, especially in terms of facilitating remittances and increasing the efficiency of payments.But there are also risks: this could allow Facebook to go even further in accumulating new kinds of data and monetizing human behaviour. Mentioned in this Episode:Facebook’s Libra white paperJohn’s column on Libra Further Learning:TP talks to Shoshana Zuboff about Surveillance CapitalismThe Talking Politics Guide To … FacebookAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
04/07/1951m 19s

Outlasting Trump

We talk with Gary Gerstle about the big issues roiling US politics with likely aftereffects that will long outlast Trump's presidency. First up: the fight over the census. What's a stake in the citizenship question? How has American politics been shaped by people-counting in the past? And what is the Supreme Court likely to decide? Plus we look at constitutional reform, the environment and impeachment. These are the battles that could have consequences for decades to come. With Helen Thompson.Talking Points:The Trump administration wants to put the “citizenship question” on the U.S. census.Lines are being drawn between personhood and citizenship.If immigrants avoid the census, there could be consequences for Democrats.The Republicans know that demographics are against them.Trump probably wouldn’t have won the Republican primary without the backlash against immigration.The United States was the first country to put a census in its constitution.  The census is not connected to citizenship: it’s connected to personhood. Counting for the purposes of elections becomes complicated when you have a significant number of people in the country who are not citizens.The census gives you the numbers, but what happens is up to the states. This is why state-level offices are so important. If Trump wins a second term, he will likely appoint two justices to the Supreme Court.He has promised that he will only appoint people approved by the Federalist Society, which promotes an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.There can still be meaningful differences when people get on the court: Gorsuch, for example, has been more willing to side with liberal justices than Kavanaugh.But Kavanaugh and Gorsuch both are unlikely to uphold environmental regulations. If a Democrat wins, he or she will have to contend with a court that opposes the regulatory state.What about the impeachment question?Is there a principle at stake here? If not now, when?The Mueller report is damning—it emphasizes that the fact that they are not indicting the president does not mean they are exonerating him.Mueller’s July testimony will be significant: if impeachment is going to happen, the next few months are crucial.Mentioned in this Episode:The GOP gerrymandering architect and what his daughter found when she died.Further Learning:What are the conditions at the U.S. border?President Bernie?Trump after MuellerAmerica First?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
27/06/1945m 56s

The Party Splits! (In 1846!)

The current crisis for the Conservatives is often described as the worst since the party split over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. So we talk to historian Boyd Hilton about what really happened back then and what it meant for British politics. Why were the Corn Laws so divisive? How did public opinion impact on the politicians?  Did Peel betray his party or did he do what needed to be done? And what are the real lessons for Brexit and for the Conservative Party today?  With Helen Thompson. * We have extra show notes below, with a guide to the historical timeline and some further reading suggestions.Talking Points: What were the Corn Laws? From 1815-1846, a series of tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported grains kept prices artificially high to favor domestic producers. The laws were controversial from the beginning (but there wasn’t sizeable, collective opposition until later). The Corn Laws benefited those who owned land, but they increased food prices and the costs of living for most of the British public. Manufacturers also opposed the Corn Laws, which they saw as inhibiting free trade.Scarcity and self-sufficiency were part of the motivating ideology behind these laws. But in practice, they made Britain vulnerable to bad harvests. In 1846, under increasing pressure, Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel went against his own party to repeal the Corn Laws with the support of the Whigs. This split the Party, and kept it out of power for almost a generation.A Corn Laws Timeline:1815: Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the first Corn Laws were introduced to protect British grain production from outside competition.1832: The first Reform Act partially extends the franchise to include certain segments of the population who do not own landed property. It also redistributes seats from the agricultural south and west to the industrializing north. 1834: A new poor law is passed, establishing workhouses and leading to the effective criminalization of poverty.1836: The Anti Corn Law Association is founded (in 1839 it becomes the Anti-Corn Law League).1841: Peel’s Conservatives take control of the House of Commons. This is the first time that a majority government is thrown out by the electorate since 1708.1844: As part of Peel’s deflationary program, the Bank Charter Act restricts the powers of British banks and gives the Bank of England the exclusive right to issue banknotes. This act creates a ratio between gold reserves and currency circulation.1845: The great famine in Ireland begins.1846: The Corn Laws are repealed, leading to a split in the Conservative Party and Peel’s resignation.1848: A series of revolutions and uprisings take place across Europe, including, most notably, in France. Anxiety over revolution leads to the repression and ultimate destruction of Chartism.1850s: Britain enthusiastically embraces free trade, this appears to be validated by the economic boom of the 1860sKey Terms and Figures:Sir Robert Peel: The two-time, technocratic Conservative Prime Minister who repealed the Corn Laws. Although he was elected on a protectionist platform, Peel played a key role in Britain’s embrace of free trade. In 1846, he bucked his own party to join the Whigs and the Radicals to repeal the Corn Laws. This led to his resignation that year.Benjamin Disraeli: A two-time Conservative Prime Minister who played a key role in the creation of the modern Conservative Party. He clashed with Peel over the repeal of the Corn Laws.The Anti-Corn Law League: A highly successful, predominantly middle-class political movement that opposed the Corn Laws. Chartism: A working class parliamentary reform movement...
20/06/1952m 20s

Who is Boris Johnson?

We try to work out what the current favourite to be next Tory leader actually stands for. Can his time as Mayor of London tell us what kind of PM he might be? Will his journalistic past come back to haunt him? Does he have a political philosophy beyond 'doing Brexit'? Plus we discuss whether the Johnson-Trump comparisons really stand up. With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.Talking Points:What does Boris Johnson stand for?He’s emphasizing is his experience as Mayor of London, especially his ability to assemble a good team (of course this can be debated). But the other side of his pitch is about Brexit, and the politics of that are going to overshadow everything that a Johnson cabinet could do. He would need a chancellor to do a lot of heavy lifting. Who would that person be? And is Johnson self-aware enough to see this?Johnson wallows in imperial nostalgia. This puts him in direct opposition to Corbyn. Could this lead to more public sparring over foreign policy?Could Johnson’s journalistic past create problems for him? On the one hand, the people he offends aren’t likely to vote for him anyways. It’s hard to imagine a skeleton that would cut across political divides.Michael Gove is clearly being held to a different standard right now. In some ways, Johnson has set himself outside of the traditional boundaries of political morality.At the end of the day, however, the Conservative Party needs someone who can appeal to the Brexiteers, even if it might lose them some support elsewhere.Does Johnson have a political philosophy?He’s not particularly ideological.His best pitch might be tax cuts plus Brexit, which looks a lot like Trump.A lot of Conservative MP’s don’t like Johnson at all—they think he’s only out for himself.Hunt is saying that the one thing we cannot have is an election; Johnson is saying the one thing that we cannot do is stay in the EU. Which is riskier?The Conservative Party is in a bind, and it’s not clear how it will get out of this crisis.But the problems run deeper than the Party.Part of the reason for this impasse is that politicians keep postponing the moment of reckoning. Nothing that has happened so far has changed the fundamental issues.Mentioned in this Episode:Johnson recites Kipling in MyanmarConstitutional BreakdownFurther Learning:Brexit LessonsMore on Boris Johnson, political satire, and “Have I Got New For You”On Johnson’s mayoral recordAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
13/06/1947m 42s

Constitutional Breakdown

We ask whether the UK constitution is cracking up - and if so, where's the breakpoint going to come? Is Brexit at the heart of the current crisis or does it go deeper than that? What's the role of the Supreme Court? And the Queen? Could the Bank of England play a part? And where does Scotland fit in? We try to piece it all together with Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Kenneth Armstrong.Talking Points: The British constitution is under big strain right now, and not just because of Brexit.The British constitution is a political one, and If there is a crisis it is a crisis of politics. Fundamentally, this is about representation.What happens if the next Conservative leader doesn’t command the confidence of Parliament?Right now, the constitution is facing multiple sources of strain including the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Brexit, and problems within the Union.To survive, the constitution has to adapt to all of these things simultaneously.Would things be better if the constitution were codified?If elections have been played down as a political tie breaker because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, is there space for something else?The rise of the Brexit party could create a real complication.At a certain point, it becomes difficult to disentangle the party dynamics and constitutional issues.Where are the pressure points in Scottish politics now?The most immediate one was the other week when the Scottish government published the referendum bill. It doesn’t provide for a second referendum.This is a way of trying to corral politics toward a second referendum without pushing a button immediately.Scotland is itself a vexed constitutional question.Mentioned in this Episode:The Economist on Britain’s constitutional time on the odds of having four prime ministers in four yearsFurther Learning:David’s series on rethinking representation for the BBCDavid on representation in UK democracyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
06/06/1944m 28s

Jared Diamond

We talk to the author of Guns, Germs and Steel about his new book on nations in crisis. Jared Diamond argues that personal crises are a good way of thinking about national ones. He tells us about one of his own personal crises and we see whether the lessons really apply to politics. Plus we discuss what's gone wrong with political leadership in the US and we explore what it would take to tackle the global environmental crisis.Talking Points:The premise of Jared’s new book is that the outcome predictors for personal crises can also be applied to national crises.How much does timing matter? Are early life crises different from late life crises?National crises, like personal crises, might begin with a sudden shock or unfold slowly.Individuals are biased: that can make thinking about the arc of a life hard. But collective action problems do not necessarily map onto personal crises.A key example is leadership: it matters for nations, but not individuals.In a globalized world, we don’t have the luxury of an isolated collapse.What happens when the system that needs change also has to affect that change?It’s impossible to get away from politics.Jared thinks that this is where leadership comes in. Leaders make a difference under some (but not all) circumstances.Democratic politics has a tendency to defer difficult decisions. But the world does have a track record of dealing with really tough problems.Mentioned in this Episode:UpheavalDemocracy for Young PeopleFurther Learning:Jared Diamond on his new bookTalking Politics with Yuval Noah HarariAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
30/05/1937m 15s

Split Down the Middle

David and Helen catch up with the European election results and the Tory leadership race - there's lots to talk about. How can the Tories compete with the Brexit Party? Are the Liberal Democrats a real threat to Labour? What does it all mean for Ireland? And for Scotland?  Plus, is the surge in support for Greens across Europe a signal that it's time to take environmental politics seriously?
28/05/1926m 22s

The Next PM

As Theresa May's premiership gets very close to the end, we talk about who and what might be coming next. Can her successor re-establish the authority she has lost? Can anyone govern in this parliament or do we need a general election? Is the age of long-serving prime ministers also coming to an end? Plus we discuss what lessons can be drawn from the recent election in Australia: what does it tell us about the politics of climate change? With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.Talking Points:Theresa May’s prime ministership is nearing its last week. She has no authority left.Is it about her and her mismanagement, or has something happened to the office?Will her successor have any more luck? (It seems unlikely)It doesn’t seem like there was any realistic scenario in which May could have peeled off significant numbers of Labour MP’s. But the fight over the people’s vote within Labour could have turned out differently. If the leadership had succumbed, Labour MP’s in Leave constituencies might have done something different. October will be a month of high drama: both the Brexit deadline and the party conferences.Also the three options will look more like two: everyone has to take no deal seriously at that point. Could there be a general election in the autumn?If Labour doesn’t want to define itself according to Brexit, is there a plausible case for the Lib Dems to become the opposition?A revival of the Lib Dems hurts the Conservatives much more than Labour. Both main parties have a clear interest in having both Remain and Leave voters in their party. The problem is it means that neither of them can deliver Brexit.The long premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair are historical exceptions. A lot of what’s going on is the absence of a parliamentary majority: that’s the norm in British politics.But on the Conservative side, it’s also about the particular way they elect a leader. In parliamentary politics there’s a pressure towards a soft Brexit, but the Conservative leadership is in the hands of the members. We don’t know that much about them, but everyone seems to think that the membership is very Brexity. That sets up the instability.There are also substantive issues that have historically driven instability in UK politics: difficult questions about the UK’s relationship with the rest of the world, and difficult questions about the UK as a multi-national state.Did Australia just have a Brexit moment? Or is this something more familiar?There are parallels to the Major/Kinnock election in 1992.But there’s also the risk that the takeaway will be that going big on climate change is not a great strategy.Mentioned in this Episode:Paul Mason in The New StatesmanFurther Learning: The End of the Party?More on Corbyn and Labour’s strategyOn climate change and the Australian electionSocialism in this Country? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a...
23/05/1946m 22s

Death of the Republic

We talk to historian Tom Holland about the fall of the Roman Republic and the parallels with today. Why does Roman history still exert such a strong pull over our imaginations? Are politicians like Trump and Berlusconi recognisable types from the ancient past? And is contemporary democracy vulnerable to the same forces that brought down the Roman Republic? Plus, we discuss Putin's claim that Russia is now the Third Rome. What is he getting at? With Helen Thompson.
16/05/1945m 12s

Adam Tooze on US vs China

An extra episode with Adam Tooze to catch up on the latest in the US/China trade wars. What's really at stake and what does Trump want?  Is this about economics or security? What does it say about the future of capitalism? And where does Joe Biden fit in? With Helen Thompson.
12/05/1929m 13s

President Bernie?

We talk about socialism in America: where it comes from, what it means, why it's so associated with Bernie Sanders and whether it can actually reach the White House. What's the difference between democratic socialism and social democracy? How would the workers gain control of businesses like Facebook and Amazon? Who are the workers these days anyway? Plus, we ask what a Sanders vs Trump contest would actually be like. With Adom Getachew, from the University of Chicago, and Gary Gerstle.Talking Points:In the U.S. context, is there a meaningful difference between democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and social democrats like Elizabeth Warren?Warren is more focused on politics: reforming the Senate, imposing taxes on corporations, etc.Sanders sees socialism as a revolution, but his actual aims are fairly modest: strengthen labor, etc.Warren wants to break up Amazon; Sanders wants to empower the workers to take on Amazon themselves.One key difference is that Sanders comes out of a grass-roots, movement-type politics. Warren does not, and she’s explicitly denied a commitment to socialism.Can you have socialism without a labor movement? What takes its place?In 1935, 35% of American workers belonged to a union. Today it’s only 11%.There have been a number of strikes during the Trump presidency, such as the teachers strike.We need to reimagine who the working class. It’s not the industrial working class anymore. It’s the service sector, and these are historically unorganized labor forces.Today it’s the precariat, not the proletariat.How does a labor movement speak to a radically altered working population?For many young people, the Occupy movement was a moment of political awakening.The establishment seemed unable to deal with the crisis, and this opened up a new sense of political possibility.For many young Americans, who have grown up in the absence of a real Left, Sanders represents an authentic commitment to a different kind of politics.There may be some problems for Sanders. For example, his reluctance to support reparations opened him up to criticism about a blindness to racial justice.A socialist in the U.S. has never become a major party nominee. The historical role of socialism in the U.S. has been disruptive, pressuring centrist candidates to move left. Can Sanders break that mold?The American political project is designed to be slow. To have big change, you need a mass movement outside of politics too.Mentioned in this Episode:Adom’s new book, Worldmaking after EmpireIsaac Chotiner interviews the editor of the Jacobin on American socialismFurther Learning:Alissa Quart on the “precariat”More on the history of American socialismThe Talking Politics Guide to… the U.S. ConstitutionGreen New Deal?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a href=""...
09/05/1952m 29s

A Mockery of Democracy?

Are the UK's looming European elections making a mockery of democracy, or is this how democracy is meant to work? Would cancelling them at the last minute make the situation worse? We talk about trust in politics, the threat to the two main parties, and the knock-on effects for the rest of Europe. Plus we discuss what can meaningfully happen before the end of October, and whether the events of the last few weeks have done permanent damage to the Tory brand. With Helen Thompson, Catherine Barnard and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points:Local elections and the European parliamentary elections are the closest that UK voters have been to getting a say on what’s going on—even if they may not actually have any consequences.Are they good or bad for democracy?People’s faith in democracy overall is declining.Because of Brexit, and the upcoming elections, the fracturing in British party politics is greater than ever before—what does this mean for British politics?We overestimate how often we’ve had a two-party system. It’s actually rare (1832-1870 and 1945-1970)You need a stable UK to have two party dynamics.Brexit has shaken up the parties in fundamental ways.Whether or not Britain leaves the EU, the next Conservative leader will likely be a leaver.With this Parliament, if it does come down to no deal or revoke article 50, what will it do?This partially depends on the EU’s position.There is still the problem of sequencing when it comes to leaving the EU.The UK has become a geopolitical issue for the EU in a way that it wasn’t before. This is why Merkel and Macron are fighting.Mentioned in this Episode:Sir John Holmes’ statement on uncertainty around European electionsThe Pew polling on people’s faith in democracyFurther Learning:On the 2019 European electionsAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
02/05/1947m 49s

David King on Climate Repair

An extra episode in our climate season: we talk to Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, about what's now known about the scale of the threat and the urgency of the need for action. What has happened since the Paris agreement? What is the Chinese government most afraid of? What is the meaning of Extinction Rebellion? And is it time to start talking about refreezing the poles to repair the damage already done?
30/04/1948m 55s

Paul Mason on the Human Future

We talk to Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future - a radical defence of the human being in the age of digital transformation and a call to political action. The book covers a lot of ground and so do we: Trump and Nietzsche, machine learning and network effects, climate change and neoliberalism, secular humanism and Christian Enlightenment. But no Brexit! A conversation about the biggest political choices we face and the deep philosophical questions that lie behind them. With Helen Thompson.Talking Points:How do we demystify technology?In his first book on mechanics, Galileo described machines as things that harness the forces of nature.Likewise, Adam Smith emphasized that labour produces value, not machines.Modern science often likens reality to a computer; but we’ve created them, not the other way around.AI has the potential to fundamentally transform industrial societies.Civil society needs to have a say in how this technology evolves.How do we introduce ethical questions earlier in the process, instead of building first and asking questions later?Information has never been more abundant, yet we feel relatively helpless because we have so little control over network effects and the information environment.Information wants to be free, but everywhere it is in chains.Information technology has not created the fourth industrial revolution; it has created social relations of production that are designed to suppress the fourth industrial revolution.Is there still space in our political discourse for difficult choices? Are we willing to lose things we value if we want things to be better?Paul thinks that civil society needs to refocus on moral philosophy.Paul takes Nietzsche to task and argues that there is a biological basis for universal human rights.Paul is critical of the effect of neoliberal practice on the human self.He argues that in America, the problem, as Arendt put it, is an alliance of the elite and the mob over “access to history.”The thing to fight for is not just the truth but the possibility of truth.According to Paul, the left needs to harness the power of the state.He calls himself a “radical social democrat.”He thinks that the left’s failure to project a holistic answer and theory of reality has left the right possessing all of the momentum.Mentioned in this Episode:Paul’s new book, coming out in May 2019Red Star by Alexander BogdanovTP with Yuval Noah HarariFurther Learning:David’s review of Paul’s earlier book, PostCapitalismGreen New Deal?Google, Deepmind, and ethical dilemmasThe Talking Politics Guide to… Machine LearningAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
25/04/1957m 45s

The Copernican Principle

David gives the third in his series of talks about the future of democracy. This one uses an idea from cosmology to work out where we might be in the story of democracy: are we at the beginning, in the middle or near the end? It all depends when and where we think the story starts. From Stonehenge to Les Miserables, from ancient Athens to Facebook, a simple idea turns out to have some surprising applications, and some important lessons for contemporary politics.Talking Points:The Copernican Principle is based on the idea that we are not the center of the universe.Because we are not inherently special, most of the time, we encounter things without a natural life expectancy somewhere in the random middle.If something has been going on for years, it will likely keep going for years. If something has been going on for weeks, it will likely keep going for weeks.What does this mean for democracy? It depends on which story you think we’re in.The long story is about 2,500 years old, going back to the principles articulated in ancient Athens. This is the idea that humans are equal in political terms and no one is uniquely capable of rule.The middle story is about 250 years old. This is the story of representative democracy. Democracies exist to protect against misrule and are based on a division of labor between professional politicians and everyone else.The short story is at most 100 years old (and in many places, shorter). This is the story of mass enfranchisement, mass communications, and administrative democracy.It’s unlikely that all of these stories will end at the same time, but it also seems fairly likely that there are people alive now who will see at least the short story end.In Eastern Europe, the short story is only 30 years old.The second story is also under pressure. People are getting tired of the safeguards, and the division of labor appears increasingly unsustainable.The old story, however, still stands. These may be the ideals that are better suited to tackle the current challenges.David on Democracy:Democracy for Young PeopleHow Democracy EndsFurther Learning:Martin Rees and the Talking Politics guide to … Existential RiskThe Talking Politics Guide to … Deliberative DemocracyTP talks to David Wallace Wells about The Uninhabitable Earth
18/04/1937m 44s

Brexit Lessons

We try to draw some wider lessons from the nightmare that the Brexit process has now become. What have we learned about the relationship between parliament and the executive? Is there any way that the Article 50 process could have worked? And what conclusions will other countries reach about how hard it is to leave the EU? Plus we talk about the recent report from the Hansard Society indicating that the British public is more open than ever to the idea of a 'strong leader'. With Helen Thompson and Kenneth Armstrong.Talking Points:The Cooper Act has been rushed through both houses—but has it really changed anything?Very little in this act actually constrains the government.No deal isn’t off the table.Even if it didn’t change much in substantive terms, in constitutional terms, Parliament may have set something in motion.The relationship between the executive and the legislature is under fire in a lot of places.Executive power tends to be more unrestrained on the international stage.Treaties take important issues out of the realm of national politics. Legislatures only get to say yes or no.The EU raises a lot of these issues because it is a treaty-based union.By all objective measures the May government should be on its last legs right now.But the Fixed-term Parliaments Act means there’s no real mechanism for getting rid of the government.Could the May government just stagger on?A lot of MP’s don’t want a general election.Even if the Labour leadership does, the parliamentary Labour party doesn’t.At every turn, Parliament seems to be trying to escape responsibility for its own actions.What is the lesson others should take from all of this?Is the problem Ireland?Or is the problem the UK parliamentary system, and coalition governance?... Or is it just really hard to leave the EU?A new report from the Hansard Society shows that a lot of people in Britain seem to have a taste for authoritarianism.What people really want is a politician who can cut through politics.There may be a substitution effect between process and personality. When process breaks down, people want a charismatic leader.Mentioned in this Episode:About that Hansard Society reportThe FT on Macron’s De Gaulle MomentFurther Learning:Kenneth’s Brexit Time blogMay rolls the diceOn the Fixed-term Parliaments Act
10/04/1943m 31s

Trump After Mueller

We catch up with Gary Gerstle in the US to assess where the Trump presidency stands after the Mueller report appeared to give him a pass.  Are there more revelations to come once the full report is available?  Can Trump take advantage of his good fortune? And who in the crowded Democratic field currently looks best placed to beat him in 2020? With Helen Thompson.
07/04/1941m 1s

May Rolls the Dice

David and Helen talk through the latest twist in the Brexit tale: Theresa May's offer to work with Labour to get some version of Brexit over the line. Can the two parties ever agree on what that version is? Could any agreement be made to stick? And if they can't agree, what happens next? Plus we talk about whether May's offer to stand down is still in effect and we ask what all this might mean for the ERG, the DUP, the SNP and the EU.Talking Points: On Tuesday night, Theresa May changed strategies: instead of courting Brexiteers and the DUP to get her withdrawal agreement through, she’s seeking Labour Party support.But she can’t form an understanding with Corbyn about the future while also promising to step down as PM if the withdrawal agreement is passed.Labour fears run deep: Since the late 80s, parts of the party have seen the EU as a constraint on the ultra-right wing side of the Conservative Party.There are only two ways the Parliament can stop no deal: pass the withdrawal agreement or revoke Article 50.The EU could still refuse another extension.Whatever the calculations Macron or Merkel might make, the European Parliament elections are a short-term contingency, and Brexit has the potential to cause chaos.The EU keep saying that they want clarity about what the UK is going to do—but British domestic politics cannot provide that right now.The only way an agreement with Labour will work is if they believe that May’s government will continue through the end of the year. Is that possible?What about the Labour leadership? When Corbyn seems to move toward accepting Brexit, he gets pulled back.In the last general election, the most irreconcilable remainers voted for a Labour party that was committed to voting to leave the EU instead of the party that represented their views (the Lib Dems). A lot of difficulties followed from this.What about the DUP?They’re more worried about betrayal at the hands of the Conservatives than a Corbyn government.Arlene Foster has admitted that the Union comes before Brexit.There is no constitutional or institutional channel for English nationalism.If Brexit is thwarted because of Northern Ireland, there will probably be some kind of backlash.The basic fact of British political life is that there is no transmission mechanism from the legislative to the executive of an expression of will.Parliament wants to say they have no confidence in the government to conduct these negotiations, but they aren’t willing to bring the government down.Could the constitution assert itself? Could the government fall?The easiest way out might be if the EU denies an extension, leading to a binary choice between the withdrawal agreement and no deal.Mentioned in this Episode:Richard Drax’s statement on the withdrawal agreementOn EU pessimism and transmission mechanismsFurther Learning:Adam Tooze on EuropeThe last time we talked Brexit...and the time before thatAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: <a href=""...
04/04/1947m 45s

Moment of Truth?

As parliament finally gets the chance to indicate its Brexit preferences - if it has any - we discuss the real choices now facing MPs and government. What is the sequence of events that would actually prevent a no-deal Brexit? Can the Withdrawal Agreement be separated from the Political Declaration? And if it can, will MPs eventually have to vote for it? Plus we ask how long we can avoid another general election and we discuss whether Theresa May's survival to this point tells us more about her resilience or about the dysfunctionality of British politics. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton, and Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law.Talking Points:What is the relationship between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration?The political declaration is about the future; the withdrawal agreement is about wrapping up the past.Article 50, which is the basis for the withdrawal agreement, does not allow discussions about the future.Anything about the future is done under separate legal provisions.The only feasible options now are no deal, May’s deal, or revoke article 50.Are we underrating the possibility of no deal? How does parliament prevent it if it can’t do anything else.Both sides seem to be sticking to the same strategy, which is to put their party first.The only thing parliament can do unilaterally is revoke Article 50—everything else depends on the EU. This is the nuclear option.There are divisions within the EU over Brexit: Merkel doesn’t want a disruptive Brexit; Macron doesn’t want Britain in the EU.A disorderly Brexit poses economic risks for Europe.It’s hard to predict what the EU would do about another request for an extension.Any form of compromise doesn’t work: it’s either too little for remainers or too much for leavers.The middle ground, which may be economically sensible, doesn’t work politically.Have we learned something about the office of the prime minister in all of this?It’s really hard to throw people out of office.Becoming prime minister now—the risk is enormous that your legacy would almost immediately be one of dramatic failure.If the withdrawal agreement passes, people will want the job. But now?The underestimated explanation of Theresa May’s resilience is the fixed-term parliament act. This is a fundamentally different constitutional arrangement.Mentioned in this Episode:Catherine Barnard on “Question Time”Further Learning:The Fate of Theresa MayAdam Tooze on EuropeMore on the Fixed-term Parliaments ActCatherine Barnard’s podcastAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
28/03/1950m 0s

Uninhabitable Earth

David talks to David Wallace-Wells about his bestselling - and terrifying - new book on the coming hellscape of climate change. When will it arrive? When will we face up to it? And what can we do about it now? 'We don't have time for a revolution.'
24/03/1937m 20s

Italy vs France vs Brexit

We take the wider European view this week, catching up with the latest developments in Italy and France. A year on from the Italian elections, who is up and who is down in the coalition between the League and Five Star? What is China up to in Italy? Has Macron really got his mojo back? Plus we ask the big question: between chaos at Westminster, riots in Paris and rabble-rousing in Rome, whose democracy is in the biggest trouble? With Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.Talking Points:What’s going on in Italian politics?In regional elections, the Five Star’s votes collapsed. The PD, the centre-left party, now has a new leader, but at the time of the regional elections it was in transition and still beat Five Star.The League has doubled its share of votes to 33-34%. The new leader of the PD got elected on a platform that would bring the party further to the left. But the Renzi faction is still quite powerful.What about France?There is something taking place in France that the national conversations don’t seem to have addressed.France has been through a lot of turmoil during the Macron presidency. Yet the polling is remarkably unchanged. It’s a very divided electorate, but it’s divided in basically the same ways as it was a few years ago.The gilets jaunes protest is targeted at Macron and the emblems of the state. Stepping back: In Italy, the anti-establishment parties are in power; in France, the centrist government is now facing radical street protests; and in Britain, you have Brexit. Which of these is the dominant crisis for this period in European politics?Brexit is a peculiarly institutional crisis. It’s not that it isn’t important, but in France, there is a more self-evidently class-war element. The Italian case is substantially different than both: it’s not an institutional crisis, at least for now. And unlike France, there isn’t opposition to what the government is doing—in fact, there’s a lot of support. In Italy, the main divide isn’t education or age, but region: it’s North vs. South.Mentioned in this Episode:Adam Tooze on EuropeRoberto Saviano on ItalyFurther Learning:Italy vs. EuropeOn the PD’s new leaderWhat is China up to in Southern Europe?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
21/03/1942m 38s

Can This Go On?

At the start of another momentous week, David catches up with Helen to explore some of the long term implications of the Brexit crisis. Is lasting damage being done to constitutional government in the UK? Can the Brexiteers still have their cake and eat it? And is the story of Theresa May ultimately a tragic one? You can also hear Helen and David this week on the 538 politics podcast*Recorded Monday the 18th March, before John Bercow's ruling on the 3rd meaningful vote*
18/03/1930m 42s


We try to cut through the Brexit fog and see what's really out there, from new deals to no deal. Plus we ask some bigger questions: What is the true role of lawyers in politics? Does the EU want regime change? And how will future historians explain this extraordinary period? With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Kenneth Armstrong.Talking Points:The concessions Theresa May secured made some difference, but if the fear on the Conservative side was about remaining “trapped,” the ways out remain limited.There’s no exit unless the EU acts in “bad faith.”The good things that came out of this were attempts to provide a path forward that would make sure the backstop is never triggered.But the problem remains: ‘What happens if you wind up in the backstop?’Finding a way to unilaterally leave the backstop was probably an impossible task.There’s a major expectation management problem here.If this were a free, anonymous vote, the deal would probably pass. But MP’s, particularly Labour MP’s aren’t going to expend political capital on a deal that won’t pass.There has to be a tippling point. The Cox letter killed the chances of that happening.Plus, no one believed that this was the last chance, in part because Juncker said there could be an extension.Politics and law keep clashing into each other.What should the role of the attorney general be?Cox was both the negotiator and the person who had to turn around and say that that this was undoable.He once said that he cares more about his reputation as a barrister than as a politician.No deal remains the default, and also the thing that Parliament will not accept.The ERG thinks this deal is worse than staying in the EU.If no deal looms into view, the government will fall.Is the EU line hardening about the terms of an extension?In 20-30 years time, will we understand what’s happening now?Chris thinks that this shows that the British political system lacked the capacity to deliver on the referendum.Helen thinks how we frame this moment will depend on two things: what happens to the EU and what happens to the UK as a multinational state.It’s about structural forces, but it’s also about contingencies.Mentioned in this Episode:Kenneth’s blog on legal clarificationsGeoffrey Cox’s letterThat Cox quoteFurther Learning:The last time we talked about BrexitHelen on the EUThe Fate of Theresa MayAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
13/03/1950m 0s

The Party Splits

We discuss the challenge posed by the Independent Group and by Tom Watson inside Labour to conventional two party-politics in Britain.  Can the system hold together? If not, what might replace it? And where are the new ideas going to come from? Plus we talk about what the ERG wants on the Tory side: is it simply Boris? With Helen Thompson and Mike Kenny.Talking Points:The Independent Group is inching toward becoming a party. What will their platform be?The only thing they seem to have in common is wanting a second referendum. They’re pitching themselves as something new, but these are all career politicians.They have to show that they can win votes. But where? How did we get here? Two major drivers:The Second Referendum issue—especially after what happened with the Cooper and Brady Amendments.The Labour antisemitism issue—especially around Luciana BergerIt’s not surprising that there are major tensions in the party system at the moment that Britain is leaving the EU, but it’s also happening at the same time as a crisis in the Labour Party. What is Tom Watson up to?Watson thinks there needs to be space for the social democratic tradition within the Labour Party.This marks the end of accomodation with Corbyn and may be a bigger threat than the Independent Group.The real point of departure between Watson and Corbyn is foreign policy. The social democratic brand is in trouble around the world. But the countries where the centre left has done poorly in Europe are eurozone countries. The centre left in Britain moved to the left in response to 2008. It might be hard for Watson to distinguish himself from Corbyn on the economic front.Mentioned in this Episode:The Independent Group’s Statement of IndependenceLuciana Berger on antisemitism in the Labour PartyFurther Learning:Labour’s Fault LinesSocialism in this Country?Chris on the decline of the social democratsBig moments in the history of the Labour PartyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
07/03/1940m 45s


We weigh up where we've reached with Brexit, now that the big choices can't be avoided for much longer. Is a second referendum any more likely than it was a week ago? What terms will the EU demand for an extension of article 50? And can May finally prevail? With Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton. Talking Points:Are we finally approaching the endgame on Brexit? The sequence became more clear this week: 1) a vote on May’s deal; 2) A vote on no deal; 3) A vote for an extensionThe case for an extension remains unclear: the EU states will want something concrete. Kenneth Armstrong thinks that the key question around an extension is whether it would last 3 months or 2 years. What the extension would mean is also an open question.What would happen if May’s deal went down? Neither side has an alternative.David thinks that there are only two possible outcomes at this point: May’s deal or a general electionAlthough Helen argues that this logic leaves the EU out of the equation.Even the Financial Times is talking about a second referendum, but how would you actually get the legislation through Parliament?Chris says that Corbyn’s strategy seems to be to edge Brexit over the line while distancing Labour and himself from it.The withdrawal and the political agreement still contain a lot of possibilities for a harder or softer Brexit. Mentioned in this Episode:Kenneth Armstrong on the Cooper-Letwin Article 50 extension proposalFurther Learning:The last time we talked about Brexit… The Fate of Theresa MayWho is Jeremy Corbyn?The Next Referendum?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
28/02/1930m 10s