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TALKING POLITICS

Author: David Runciman and Catherine Carr

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Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that tries to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to his regular panel along with novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As it unfolds, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.


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

194 Episodes
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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 People - How Democracy EndsFurther Learning: - Martin Rees and the Talking Politics guide to … Existential Risk - The Talking Politics Guide to … Deliberative Democracy - TP talks to David Wallace Wells about The Uninhabitable Earth

The Copernican Principle

2019-04-1800:38:50

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 report - The FT on Macron’s De Gaulle MomentFurther Learning: - Kenneth’s Brexit Time blog - May rolls the dice - On the Fixed-term Parliaments Act

Brexit Lessons

2019-04-1000:44:143

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 agreement - On EU pessimism and transmission mechanismsFurther Learning: - Adam Tooze on Europe - The 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: lrb.co.uk/talking

May Rolls the Dice

2019-04-0400:48:438

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 May - Adam Tooze on Europe - More on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act - Catherine Barnard’s podcastAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

Moment of Truth?

2019-03-2800:50:414

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 Europe - Roberto Saviano on ItalyFurther Learning: - Italy vs. Europe - On the PD’s new leader - What is China up to in Southern Europe?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

Italy vs France vs Brexit

2019-03-2100:43:374

Impasse
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 clarifications - Geoffrey Cox’s letter - That Cox quoteFurther Learning: - The last time we talked about Brexit - Helen on the EU - The Fate of Theresa MayAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

Impasse

2019-03-1300:50:584

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 Berger - It’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 Independence - Luciana Berger on antisemitism in the Labour PartyFurther Learning: - Labour’s Fault Lines - Socialism in this Country? - Chris on the decline of the social democrats - Big moments in the history of the Labour PartyAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

The Party Splits

2019-03-0700:41:316

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Comments (7)

Andrew Browne

Disaster money man with no support from IPCC, but he likes the cash

Mar 24th
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Robin Jamieson

excellent podcast, more please!

Mar 15th
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Jason D'Cruz

solid episode

Dec 4th
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Richard Kay

Neoliberal talking shop.

Oct 27th
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Samuel Baeza

generally on the money, but sometimes it gets a little pompous

Oct 25th
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Dave Anderson

Samuel Baeza the title is a loaded question

Oct 27th
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Colin Erskine

This podcast is where I discovered podcasts and it's still the best listen. That one on the seventies I've listened to thrice and counting. I'd like to hear more on the sterling crisis?

Jul 30th
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