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Is Being a Politician the Worst Job in the World?

Is Being a Politician the Worst Job in the World?

Update: 2024-06-171
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Rory Stewart, a former Conservative MP and now co-host of the popular UK podcast "The Rest is Politics," provides insights into the upcoming UK election. He explains the unusual circumstances surrounding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's decision to call an election despite the Conservatives' expected loss to the Labour Party. Stewart attributes Sunak's decision to a combination of despair and a desire to appear bold, highlighting the pressures and complexities of political leadership. He then analyzes the Labour Party's strategy under Keir Starmer, describing it as a "Ming Vaz" approach, characterized by slow, cautious steps to avoid risks. Stewart expresses concern about the lack of excitement and optimism surrounding the Labour Party, suggesting that they may not offer a compelling alternative to the Conservatives. He also delves into the Conservative Party's decline, attributing it to the leadership of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who he believes have damaged the party's brand and credibility. Stewart argues that Brexit has been a catastrophic geopolitical bet, leading to economic and social polarization in the UK. He criticizes both the Conservatives and Labour for their lack of clear vision and bold leadership, highlighting the challenges facing the UK in the current political climate. Stewart also shares his personal experiences as a politician, detailing the soul-destroying aspects of the job and the pressures it can place on one's character. He reflects on his own struggles with vanity, insecurity, and the feeling of being a fraud, emphasizing the importance of honesty and humility in politics. Stewart's insights offer a nuanced and critical perspective on the state of British politics, highlighting the challenges and complexities of leadership in a rapidly changing world.

Outlines

00:00:00
Introduction

This Chapter introduces the episode and the guest, Rory Stewart, a former British politician and co-host of the podcast "The Rest is Politics."

00:00:15
The Upcoming UK Election

This Chapter discusses the upcoming UK election, with Stewart explaining the unusual circumstances surrounding Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's decision to call an election despite the Conservatives' expected loss to the Labour Party. He attributes Sunak's decision to a combination of despair and a desire to appear bold, highlighting the pressures and complexities of political leadership.

00:09:30
The Labour Party's Strategy

This Chapter analyzes the Labour Party's strategy under Keir Starmer, describing it as a "Ming Vaz" approach, characterized by slow, cautious steps to avoid risks. Stewart expresses concern about the lack of excitement and optimism surrounding the Labour Party, suggesting that they may not offer a compelling alternative to the Conservatives.

00:12:44
The Conservative Party's Decline

This Chapter delves into the Conservative Party's decline, attributing it to the leadership of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who he believes have damaged the party's brand and credibility. Stewart argues that Brexit has been a catastrophic geopolitical bet, leading to economic and social polarization in the UK.

00:19:42
The Challenges Facing the UK

This Chapter criticizes both the Conservatives and Labour for their lack of clear vision and bold leadership, highlighting the challenges facing the UK in the current political climate.

Keywords

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak is the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He is a member of the Conservative Party and has served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2020 to 2022. Sunak is known for his economic policies and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a controversial figure, with some praising his economic competence and others criticizing his policies as being too focused on austerity.

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer is the leader of the Labour Party and the Leader of the Opposition in the UK Parliament. He is a former lawyer and has served as Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales. Starmer is seen as a moderate and pragmatic politician, and he has sought to reposition the Labour Party as a more centrist force. He is a potential future Prime Minister of the UK.

Brexit
Brexit refers to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union. The UK voted to leave the EU in a referendum in 2016, and the process of withdrawal was completed in 2020. Brexit has had a significant impact on the UK economy, politics, and society. It has also had implications for the EU and its relationship with the UK. The debate over Brexit continues to be a major issue in British politics.

Conservative Party
The Conservative Party is one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom. It is generally considered to be a centre-right party, and its policies are typically focused on free markets, limited government intervention, and traditional values. The Conservative Party has been in power for much of the past 14 years, but it has faced increasing challenges in recent years, including the fallout from Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labour Party
The Labour Party is one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom. It is generally considered to be a centre-left party, and its policies are typically focused on social justice, economic equality, and public services. The Labour Party has been in opposition for much of the past 14 years, but it is currently seen as the frontrunner to win the next general election.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party from 2019 to 2022. He is a controversial figure, known for his charisma, his populist rhetoric, and his often-chaotic leadership style. Johnson was a key figure in the Brexit campaign, and he played a significant role in the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. He resigned as Prime Minister in 2022 following a series of scandals and controversies.

Liz Truss
Liz Truss is a British politician who served as Foreign Secretary from 2021 to 2022 and as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2022 to 2022. She is a member of the Conservative Party and is known for her right-wing views. Truss was a vocal supporter of Brexit, and she has been criticized for her handling of the UK's foreign policy.

The Rest is Politics
The Rest is Politics is a popular UK podcast hosted by Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell. The podcast covers a wide range of political topics, including current events, British politics, and international affairs. It is known for its insightful discussions and its willingness to challenge conventional wisdom.

Ming Vaz Strategy
The "Ming Vaz" strategy is a political strategy that involves taking a cautious and risk-averse approach. The term is derived from the image of a person carefully carrying a valuable piece of Chinese porcelain across a polished floor. The strategy is often used by politicians who are seeking to avoid making any major mistakes or taking any bold steps that could backfire.

Q&A

  • Why did Rishi Sunak call an election despite the Conservatives' expected loss?

    Rory Stewart believes Sunak's decision was driven by a combination of despair and a desire to appear bold. He suggests that Sunak may be tired of the job and wants to walk away, but also wants to be seen as taking a decisive action.

  • What is the Labour Party's strategy under Keir Starmer?

    Stewart describes Starmer's strategy as a "Ming Vaz" approach, characterized by slow, cautious steps to avoid risks. He argues that Starmer is taking a very safe and unambitious approach, which may not be enough to excite voters.

  • What are the main reasons for the Conservative Party's decline?

    Stewart attributes the Conservative Party's decline to the leadership of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who he believes have damaged the party's brand and credibility. He also argues that Brexit has been a catastrophic geopolitical bet, leading to economic and social polarization in the UK.

  • What are the challenges facing the UK in the current political climate?

    Stewart highlights the lack of clear vision and bold leadership from both the Conservatives and Labour. He expresses concern about the UK's economic situation, the impact of Brexit, and the need for a more united and cohesive society.

  • What are the soul-destroying aspects of being a politician?

    Stewart describes his own experiences with vanity, insecurity, and the feeling of being a fraud. He argues that the pressures of politics can be very damaging to one's character and mental health.

  • What is the lure of power in politics?

    Stewart suggests that the desire for power can be driven by a variety of factors, including competition, ambition, and a desire to make a difference. He also acknowledges the potential for power to corrupt and distort one's character.

  • Would you re-enter politics?

    Stewart expresses a sense of obligation and responsibility to his country, but also acknowledges the unpleasant and exhausting nature of the job. He suggests that he might be better equipped to handle the challenges of politics now than he was in the past, but ultimately remains hesitant to return.

  • What is the significance of the rift between Harry and William?

    Stewart declines to comment on the rift between Harry and William, citing his past role as their teacher and his close relationship with the Royal Family.

Show Notes

On July 4th—while the U.S. celebrates its break from Britain—voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls and, according to all predictions, oust the current government. The Conservative Party has been in power for fourteen years, presiding over serious economic decline and widespread discontent. The narrow, contentious referendum to break away from the European Union, sixty per cent of Britons now think, was a mistake. Yet the Labour Party shows no inclination to reverse or even mitigate Brexit. If the Conservatives have destroyed their reputation, why won’t Labour move boldly to change the direction of the U.K.? Is the U.K. hopeless? David Remnick is joined by Rory Stewart, who spent nine years as a Conservative Member of Parliament, and now co-hosts the podcast “The Rest Is Politics.” He left the government prior to Brexit and wrote his best-selling memoir, “How Not to Be a Politician,” which pulls no punches in describing the soul-crushing sham of serving in office. “It’s not impostor syndrome,” Stewart tells Remnick. “You are literally an impostor, and you’re literally on television all the time claiming to understand things you don’t understand and claiming to control things you don’t control.”

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Is Being a Politician the Worst Job in the World?

Is Being a Politician the Worst Job in the World?

WNYC Studios and The New Yorker