341 episodes

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.
Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics

TALKING POLITIC‪S‬ Talking Politics

    • News
    • 4.0 • 3 Ratings

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.
Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics

    Northern Ireland: Past, Present, Future

    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 History
    - Richard’s book, Peace in Ireland: The War of Ideas
    - The Good Friday Agreement


    Further Learning: 
    - David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles
    - Alvin Jackson, The Two Unions
    - Marking the centenary of Northern Ireland


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 48 min
    What Does Jeremy Think?

    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 Heywood


    Further Learning: 
    - The Talking Politics Guide to … Being a Civil Servant
    - ‘Remembering Jeremy Heywood,’ in The Guardian
    - Bronwen Maddox reviews Suzanne’s book for the FT
    - From our archives… The Next Referendum? 


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 44 min
    Is Boris Back?

    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 Telegraph


    Further Learning:
    - Are MPs out of sync with their voters? 
    - What is the Union? 
    - On Johnson’s unpopularity in Scotland
    - More on the Northern Irish Protocol 


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 40 min
    Rating the Government on Covid

    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 Heywood


    Further 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 FT
    - The latest on the vaccine rollout


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 33 min
    The Coup in Burma

    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


    https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v41/n22/thant-myint-u/not-a-single-year-s-peace


    https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Myanmar-should-use-COVID-crisis-to-end-30-years-of-crony-capitalism


    https://www.frontiermyanmar.net/en/myanmar-needs-to-reimagine-its-economic-future/


    http://themimu.info/sites/themimu.info/files/documents/Policy_Note_Poverty_Food_Insecurity_Social_Protection_during_COVID-19_IFPRI_Nov2020.pdf
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 26 min
    What is the Union?

    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 Unionisms
    - Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
    - Linda Colley, Britons
    - The Guardian on the Labour Party’s new strategy 


    Further Learning: 
    - Sturgeon vs Salmond (from the New Statesman) 
    - From Brexit to Scottish Independence


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
    See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
    Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics.

    • 48 min

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5
3 Ratings

3 Ratings

Top Podcasts In News

Listeners Also Subscribed To

More by Talking Politics