287 episodes

Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: 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 the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

TALKING POLITICS 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 will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: 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 the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

    Bread, Cement, Cactus

    Bread, Cement, Cactus

    David talks to the writer Annie Zaidi, winner of the Nine Dots Prize, about her remarkable memoir of life in India and the search for identity. It's s story of conflict, migration, belonging and the idea of home. We also discuss what home means for Indians now the country is under lockdown and Annie tells us how life is in Mumbai.


    *The sound is not great, we are sorry. It is nicer to listen through speakers than on headphones*


    Further Reading and listening:


    Annie Zaidi's book
    https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/bread-cement-cactus/75DCB40487D5CD8DCB772761555CF10C


    Nine Dots Prize
    https://ninedotsprize.org/


    Annie Zaidi speaks to Qudsiya Ahmad, Head of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press India
    http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/gallery/video/nine-dots-prize-winner-annie-zaidi-indian-society


    Guardian article about the Indian migration caused by lock-down
    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/19/my-angel-man-who-became-face-of-indias-stranded-helped-home-by-stranger-coronavirus
     
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    • 54 min
    Europe Blows Up

    Europe Blows Up

    How does a judgement of the German constitutional court threaten to explode the European project? David talk to Helen Thompson, Adam Tooze and Shahin Vallee about what the court's decision might mean for the Euro, for the response to the pandemic, for Franco-German relations and for the future of central banks. Can the great European fudge continue? And what happens if it can't?


    Plus a bonus chat with Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd from the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful Podcast’ https://www.cheerfulpodcast.com/




    The German Constitutional Court ruled that the ECB’s QE program is illegal. 
    - It says that the German government has failed to control the ECB’s program and its compliance with the German constitution.
    - It ruled that the European Court of Justice made an illegal judgment.
    - And it gives the ECB 3 months to provide a clear analysis and a new decision. If not, the German government can’t continue to participate in QE.


    This raises three fundamental political questions: 
    - Does EU law take precedence over national law? 
    - Has the ECB ventured too far outside of monetary policy?
    - Should the ECB’s independence be as absolute? 


    Monetary union rested on a sharp distinction between monetary policy, which was going to be a matter for the EU, and the rest of economic policy, where there was going to be no federal authority.
    - The economic premise of monetary union is no longer supported by a great number of people in the monetary union.
    - Of course the advocates of the system believe the fudge.


    This is a very political judgment. 
    - The ruling inadvertently opens the question not only about the financial constitution, but, more deeply, if it’s time for the monetary union to have a proper fiscal risk sharing instrument, a proper budget, and political accountability.
    - The judgment forces a conversation about the architecture of the monetary union.


    Part of this judgment is about democratic control over otherwise unaccountable institutions.
    - The German Constitutional Court is one of the anchors of the success of German democratic model since 1949.
    - It acts as a driver of modern constitutional jurisprudence. 


    Independent central banks were meant to reign in the inflationary tendencies of democratic governments. Now their primary role is to guard against the forces of deflation.
    - They have changed their character while maintaining their form.
    - The ECB’s QE was an absolutely massive bond buying scheme.
    - The court is registering the need to start talking about re-legitimising and redefining the role of central banks.   


    Mentioned in this Episode:
    - The last time we talked to Adam
    - Adam on the death of the central bank myth


    Further Learning: 
    - More on the German court’s decision
    - More on the Franco-German plan
    - Shahin on Macron


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 55 min
    Labour and Brexit: Beyond the Crisis

    Labour and Brexit: Beyond the Crisis

    David is joined by Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke to try to get beyond the current crisis and work out where British politics is heading. How different is Starmer's political programme likely to be from Corbyn's? Can the Labour party become the party of the workers again? And is Brexit really going to happen without an extension and without a deal? Plus we explore the renewed influence of the trade unions and ask what it means for the political choices ahead.


    Talking Points:


    What kind of Labour Party is Keir Starmer looking to create?
    - He never presented himself as a Corbynite, though there are some significant leftward moves policy wise.
    - Labour is a more recognizably a social democratic party than it was during the new Labour era.
    - We probably will see party management return to something that is more familiar from Ed Miliband’s era. 
    - Starmer seems to be moving away from a Green New Deal kind of Labour politics.


    Does moving back to being a workers’ party move you away from being a students’ party?
    - Once you have enough people going to university and acquiring a lot of debt to do so, the question of separation between workers and students starts to fall away.
    - The nature of work is changing.
    - The current crisis may give Starmer a chance to cut across these divides. 


    Issues about unions and workplaces go to the top of government policy at the moment.
    - The unions will be pushing health and safety issues as far as they can.
    - The unions can make a better case that they’re on the side of ordinary people.


    The universal basic income question has emerged again.
    - Starmer doesn’t seem to be that keen.
    - Public opinion isn’t fully behind UBI.
    - A lot depends on the medium-term economic fallout, especially the employment damage.
    - So far, the biggest hits have come in the service sector.


    Starmer is trying to move on from Brexit.
    - Is this just tactical? The government will have to make decisions on Brexit. 
    - The virus could be easier for the government to move towards a no trade deal exit.
    - From the point of view from the EU, negotiating a trade agreement with Britain is even less of a priority now.


    Mentioned in this Episode:
    - Starmer’s column on VE day
    - Peter Sloman’s book, Transfer State


    Further Learning:
    - The New Statesman on Keir Starmer
    - Union leaders sound warnings about the return to work
    - Is Keir Starmer like John Smith?


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 44 min
    Ebola, COVID and the WHO

    Ebola, COVID and the WHO

    David and Helen talk this week with Amy Maxmen, senior reporter at Nature.  Amy has covered the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa and now COVID-19 in the US. Does she see comparisons between the two? What explains the failures of the US response? Can the WHO still make a difference? Plus we explore the implications of the growing politicisation of science. When did data become so divisive?


    Talking Points:


    There are significant parallels between what is happening now and epidemics such as ebola.
    - Outbreaks turn slight cracks into gaping holes: they reveal political and systemic issues.


    Politics made the ebola outbreak in DRC worse.
    - Conspiracy theories emerged that ebola was being used to suppress the political opposition.
    - Ultimately Tedros and other experts were able to convince both politicians and local leaders to focus on the public health response instead of the politics.
    - The parallels to the US now are clear, but could any figure get past the politics? 


    For Amy, the lack of tests and the failure to contact trace and quarantine made it clear that the U.S. response would be much worse than she had feared.
    - The U.S. hasn’t faced a pandemic in a long time and there was no sense of the kind of coordination that would be required. 
    - Different states are still doing different things.


    There’s a lot to be said for supply chain management right now.
    - In an ideal world, we would get a vaccine sooner rather than later. But we don’t know.
    - Funding for vaccines is great, but the basic public health response still needs to be funded.


    The WHO is now getting politicized, but they still have the most experience at coordinating things like this at a global level.
    - A lot of people misunderstand what the WHO can and can’t do. It’s pretty small in terms of both budget and power.
    - The WHO can’t enforce things; it works through diplomacy and relationships. But there is still a lot of power in that.


    If you need people to stay home; you need to be sure that you can support them.
    - Supporting people alleviates public pressure to prematurely lift the lockdown and it ensures that people can actually survive.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Amy on the WHO’s fight against Ebola in the DRC
    - How the US dropped the ball on testing and contact tracing back in March
    - On tests going unused in US labs
    - The NYTimes on how the Trump administration ignored WHO warnings


    Further Learning:
    - Nature on why the WHO is so important right now
    - More on how low and middle income countries are responding to the crisis 
    - More on the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 49 min
    David Miliband on the Crisis

    David Miliband on the Crisis

    We talk with David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, about the impact of the pandemic on the world's poorest countries. What happens in places where social distancing is not possible? Plus we discuss the long-term implications of the crisis for the future global co-operation and global conflict. Is this the moment for social democracy? More details of the work of the IRC can be found here: https://www.rescue-uk.org/


    Talking Points: 


    By fluke or demography, the virus has not hit places such as the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa yet in full force.
    - In places with rampant extreme poverty, the story will be different. It’s not a tradeoff between health and economic well-being in the same way. 
    - The crisis demonstrates the holes in the global safety net.


    There are parts of the world where social distancing is impossible.
    - Population density heaps danger on insecurity.
    - You’re only as strong as the weakest link in the chain—look at Singapore. They had the disease under control but it came back among migrant labour communities.


    Right now, there is more myopia than global thinking.
    - Conversations about easing lockdowns are centered on what happens within the state, or maybe groups of states.
    - There is a vacuum of global leadership.
    - Is it possible to have institutions that can manage this kind of interconnectivity? 


    The politics of the WHO are part of its problem.
    - How much executive power do you want to vest in international institutions?
    - For legitimacy, they depend on the support of nation states, but for efficacy, they depend on their ability to stand independent of nation states.


    Right now America is a flagship for dysfunction.
    - The frailties that have been exposed have big implications.
    - In the UK, the so-called populist attack on elite or establishment institutions seems to have been reversed in this crisis. Not in the US. What does this say about social trust?


    New inequalities in the service economy have been brought to the surface.
    - Holes in the global safety net have also been exposed.
    - The scale of the economic response means that issues of economic security will probably remain present.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - David M. in The New Statesman 
    - Polling on coronavirus and decreased trust in the media


    Further Learning: 
    - The IRC report on corona in vulnerable states
    - More on privacy and coronavirus tracing apps
    - Coronavirus in an age of inequality


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 42 min
    History of Ideas: Wollstonecraft on Sexual Politics

    History of Ideas: Wollstonecraft on Sexual Politics

    Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the most remarkable books in the history of ideas. A classic of early feminism, it uses what’s wrong with the relationship between men and women to illustrate what’s gone wrong with politics. It’s a story of lust and power, education and revolution. David explores how Wollstonecraft’s radical challenge to the basic ideas of modern politics continues to resonate today.


    To get all 12 talks - please subscribe to the new podcast - Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS. https://tinyurl.com/ybypzokq


    Free online version of the text:
    -  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3420
    Recommended version to purchase: 
    - https://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/politics-international-relations/texts-political-thought/wollstonecraft-vindication-rights-men-and-vindication-rights-woman-and-hints?format=PB 
    Going Deeper:
    - In Our Time on Mary Wollstonecraft 
    - Wollstonecraft in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    - Sylvana Tomaselli, Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020)
    - Virginia Woolf on Mary Wollstonecraft
    - Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
    - Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
     
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    • 47 min

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