By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

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:

Talking 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 Protocol

Further Learning: 

Helen on Labour and the ‘English Question’ for the New StatesmanMore on Johnson’s ‘green finance’ plansTalking climate change with Helen and Adam Tooze

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

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