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POLITICO's Westminster Insider

Author: Jack Blanchard

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POLITICO’s weekly political series hosted by Jack Blanchard lifts the curtain on how Westminster really works, offering in-depth insight into the political issues which typically only get broad-brush treatment in the wider media.
6 Episodes
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Jack Blanchard abandons Westminster for a week and explores the hidden costs of lockdown, by delving into the postbags of two MPs in different parts of the U.K.Tory MP Robert Halfon explains the struggles families face in his corner of Essex, and warns of rising domestic abuse during lockdown. And one of his constituents explains how abuse victims are repeatedly failed by Britain's secretive family courts system. In Bristol, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire talks about the impact lockdown has had on the city's legendary nightlife, and the broader arts scene. And nightclub owner Marti Burgess tells of her fears that some of the city's premier cultural nightspots may never return.
Jack sits down with Britain's top epidemiologist, Professor Neil Ferguson, to discuss how the next few months of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to pan out — and why things went so badly wrong last year.Professor Neil Ferguson, the man dubbed "Professor Lockdown" explains his "fervent hope" that Britain's astonishing vaccine successes mean life can finally start getting back to something like normal in 2021, but that booster jabs and coronavirus passports may be with us for some time to come. Ferguson also recalls those frantic days in early March 2020 when it became clear Britain had got its initial response so badly wrong. And he discusses the trolls and the conspiracy theorists who attack scientists and deny the virus is even real.
As Boris Johnson ponders how to woo the newly-elected President Joe Biden, Jack Blanchard looks back at how past prime ministers have tried to charm their counterparts in the White House — with varying degrees of success.Theresa May's former comms chief Katie Perrior reflects on the thankless task of trying to build a relationship with the erratic Donald Trump. Historians Andrew Roberts and Richard Aldous look back at how Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher successfully charmed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan respectively. Former U.K. Ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer reflects on the key role diplomats play in oiling the wheels of a new relationship — and on the love-in between Tony Blair and George W. Bush which ended so disastrously for the British PM. And Gordon Brown's former adviser Stewart Wood mulls over the agonies of a less successful relationship with a stand-offish Barack Obama.Be sure to check out our bookshop to find more from our guests and the research for this episode.
Jack hears from former Chancellor George Osborne about how these morning memos are devoured by senior politicians and newspaper editors alike; and from current and veteran authors including Esther Webber, Paul Waugh and Benedict Brogan about their daily struggle to get the email out on time. Former government special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin discusses their impact inside the corridors of Whitehall; while New York Times media columnist Ben Smith questions whether their impact upon political coverage has really been a healthy one.
It's striking how few political leaders across the Western world can claim to have handled the coronavirus pandemic especially well. Throughout large parts of Europe and the Americas, politicians have been caught on the hop, reacting slowly and clumsily to the unfolding disaster. In their defense, these leaders have typically blamed what they insist is the unprecedented nature of the Covid catastrophe.But a glance through the history books shows just how little of this crisis is truly new. As Edith Hall, professor of classics at King's College London, tells the podcast, as long ago as 430BC Boris Johnson's great hero Pericles was himself laid low by a deadly epidemic — the disastrous Plague of Athens. This all-powerful leader of ancient Greece was wildly popular with the public and appeared untouchable, she says, until a new and deadly disease arrived at his shores. Johnson, a classics scholar in his youth, must know the tale all too well. He does not appear to have heeded its lessons.In addition to the sparkling Professor Hall, I was delighted to interview Sir Richard Evans, professor emeritus of history at the University of Cambridge, for this episode. In his role as provost of Gresham College, Professor Evans gave a wonderful series of lectures back in 2012 on the history of pandemics, which I listened to during lockdown last year. He tells the podcast how politicians began to fight back against pandemics during the Middle Ages with exactly the sorts of lockdowns and quarantines we've seen this past year — but were frequently undermined by their inability to enforce restrictions, and by an all-too-familiar slowness to react.My final guest is a genuine pandemic superstar. John M. Barry is the author of 'The Great Influenza', the seminal book on America's response to the 1918 Spanish Flu outbreak which helped inspire Bill Gates to devote so much time and resource towards pandemic research. Speaking from his home in New Orleans, Barry gives a gripping account of this shockingly brutal disease — and of the political leaders in parts of the U.S. who failed their people by putting profit before public health.If you enjoyed this pilot episode, do please subscribe to Westminster Insider via your usual channel — and leave us a rating and a review if you can.Bibliography / Further reading:These books, articles and lectures were all invaluable resources as I researched this episode of the podcast.The Great Plagues: Epidemics in History from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Richard J. Evans.Plagues and Peoples, William H. McNeillThe History of the Peloponnesian War, ThucydidesDeath in Hamburg: Society and Politics in the Cholera Years, Richard J. Evans.Small Oversights that Led to the Great Plague of Marseille (1720–1723), Christian A. DevauxThe Black Death, edited and translated by Rosemary HorroxThe Diary of Samuel PepysThe Origin of Quarantine, Philip A. MackowiakExpelling the Plague: The Health Office and Implementation of Quarantine in Dubrovnik 1377-1533, Zlata Blazina Tomic & Vesna BlazinaA Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel DefoeThe Great Influenza, John M. BarryPale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918, Laura Spinney
Westminster Insider is a weekly narrated story which lifts the curtain on how Westminster really works, and looks in-depth at political issues which typically only get broad-brush treatment in the wider media. In this new podcast, POLITICO’s Jack Blanchard meets with and shines a light on the politicians, experts and advisers who really drive decision-making in U.K. politics and policy.Unafraid to get stuck into detail but with a lightness of touch, Jack's signature voice makes this podcast a lively and engaging listen.
Comments (1)

Sabine Schnittger

Great show. Really thoughtful discussion on this anniversary.

Feb 13th
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