POLITICO's Westminster Insider
How to U-turn and get away with it
Host Aggie Chambre explores the best and worst political U-turns of recent times — and ponders how and why certain politicians get away with abrupt changes of heart.
Former Lib Dem Cabinet Minister David Laws recalls the tuition fee furor that sunk his party, while former Downing Street chief of staff Fiona Hill discusses Theresa May's swiftly-abandoned 'Dementia Tax' of 2017. Liz Truss' close allies Simon Clarke and Sarah Ludlow relive the U-turn over her disastrous 'mini-budget' of 2022, while ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett picks over the most significant U-turns of the New Labour years. Former Thatcher aide John Whittingdale discusses what happens when your leader simply refuses to change course despite massive opposition, while Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein argue that U-turns are actually a cause for celebration in a complex world.
4. Can Rishi Sunak ‘Stop the Boats’?38:12Host Ailbhe Rea explores how and why dealing with migrants crossing the English Channel has shot to the top of the prime minister’s to-do list — and what he’s actually doing about it.Pollster Scarlett Maguire outlines the political headache for Sunak, while disgruntled Tory MP Matt Warman explains how this has now become the top issue of concern for his constituents in Boston and Skegness — hundreds of miles from the Kent coast.Ailbhe also meets an Iranian asylum seeker, Ali, who made that dangerous journey across the Channel himself — and was then left waiting years for a decision on whether he can stay.And we take Sunak’s pledge on its own terms and ask two very different experts — immigration lawyer Colin Yeo, and former head of the UK Border Force, Tony Smith — whether the prime minister really can stop the boats.
3. Westminster WAGs: Who'd marry an MP?42:11Host Aggie Chambre speaks to Westminster spouses from across the political spectrum about the ups and downs of life married to a British MP.Felicity Mercer, wife and constituency aide of Tory MP Johnny, tells of her pride in her husband's work, but also of the political abuse they receive — and what happens when that reaches your front door.Tory MP Mark Fletcher and his charity worker husband Will discuss the struggle of life in such a long-distance relationship, while vet Kate Carmichael, wife of Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair, explains how she copes with being the furthest-flung political spouse of all.Opera singer — and avid tweeter — Nevana Bridgen, wife of former Tory MP Andrew, explains why she feels the need to defend her husband's explosive comments on COVID vaccines, and opens up about extra-marital affairs in Westminster and what it's like watching women hit on your husband.And Labour MP Cat Smith and SNP MP David Linden discuss how they found love in SW1 across party lines, as they walked together hand in hand across Westminster Bridge.
2. The art of the political interview46:31POLITICO’s Ailbhe Rea takes us inside the art of the political interview.In a rare conversation on the other side of the microphone, Today programme presenter and ex-BBC political editor Nick Robinson opens up about what’s going through his mind in the middle of a high-profile grilling, politicians lying, persuading them to come on the Today programme, and what happened behind the scenes when he notoriously told Boris Johnson to “stop talking.”Rob Burley, who has plotted political interviews with the greats including Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr, Jeremy Paxman, Emily Maitlis and now Beth Rigby at Sky News, takes us through how they game-plan a big interview, the great interviews of political history — and what Paxo was thinking when he asked Michael Howard the same question 12 times.Former Westminster Hour doyenne Carolyn Quinn reveals the complex human relationships between interviewers and politicians, while former Tory comms staffer Laura-Emily Dunn reveals what’s happening on the politician side. Andrea Leadsom and Rachel Sylvester each — separately — recall Leadsom’s car crash “motherhood” interview during the 2016 Tory leadership campaign, which, of course, prompted her to drop out of the race and left Theresa May as Prime Minister.
1. Why the hell would you work for an MP?34:35In a special episode, host Aggie Chambre gathers a group of 20-something politicos who spent years working as aides and researchers for some of Britain's best-known politicians — and hears what working for an MP is really like.They tell stories of drunken sleepovers in parliament, MPs' texts at 4 a.m., and high-pressure casework for distraught constituents which changed their lives forever. And the group explains how in the world of Westminster, your MP is also your "judge, jury, and executioner" — meaning if you work for the wrong person, things can quickly go badly wrong.
8. Inside the room: The Good Friday Agreement 25 years on01:18:44In a special anniversary episode 25 years on from the agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland, host Ailbhe Rea heads home to Belfast to retell the gripping story of how a historic compromise was reached.Former British PM Tony Blair and former Irish premier Bertie Ahern explain why — and how — they decided to pursue a peace deal when they both came to power in 1997, and recall key moments of drama from inside the negotiating room.David Kerr, right-hand man to the late David Trimble — the UUP leader who would go on to win the Nobel Peace prize for his role in the talks — describes the splits and crises within unionism at the time, while chief SDLP negotiator Mark Durkan, later to become deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, explains how his boss John Hume’s thinking infused the entire peace process.Mitchel McLaughlin, spokesperson for Sinn Féin during the negotiations, describes the challenge his party’s leadership faced in trying to take the entire republican movement with them. Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to Blair, explains what it was like to face Sinn Fein across the negotiating table. And Monica McWilliams, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, shares her memories of those tense final days and hours inside Castle Buildings.Ailbhe also meets Cathy McCann and Betty Speers, two victims of an IRA bomb in 1990 — Cathy was severely injured and Betty’s brother was killed — as they reflect on what the Good Friday Agreement means to them. And Ailbhe ends the episode with Sara Canning, the partner of the late journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by dissident republicans on the 21st anniversary of the agreement, four years ago.
7. How to become an MP42:19In the week Jeremy Corbyn was blocked from running again as a Labour MP, host Aggie Chambre takes a look at the secretive world of MPs' selections — and learns how insidery cliques, funding and old-school sexism can all be barriers to entry.Aggie takes a road trip with the man who helped select Rishi Sunak for his North Yorkshire seat, and hears more about the prime minister's slick sales pitch to local members. Tory peer Anne Jenkin discusses her efforts to get more women into parliament, while Labour MP Stella Creasy recalls what it's actually like to go through the high-pressure selection process. Aggie also speaks to journalist Michael Crick about his work cataloguing the 2024 election candidates selected so far, and to author Isabel Hardman on why we get the wrong politicians. And former Momentum boss Jon Lansman has his say on Corbyn's de-selection, and explains how he believes selection 'stitch ups' in the Labour Party could lead to the rise of fascism in Britain.
6. Meet Rachel Reeves — Britain's next chancellor?44:21Westminster Insider profiles the woman who could be running Britain alongside Keir Starmer in a year's time. Host Ailbhe Rea sits down with Labour Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves to explore her background, her political instincts, her successes and failures ... and tries her hand at a game of chess against the former child star.Reeves takes us back to the south London of the 1980s where she grew up; the Oxford University of her New Labour years; her career in banking both pre-and post-global financial crisis; and her early experiences as a young female MP — and picks out the moments that made her the politician she is today.
4. Meet Fiona Hill: Inside the collapse of Theresa May’s government45:07Co-host Aggie Chambre sits down for a rare interview with former Downing Street chief of staff Fiona Hill to talk about her central role in Theresa May's first government, the astonishing highs and disastrous lows of life in No. 10, and the devastating impact of being fired after the failed 2017 general election.Hill reveals the years of secret plotting behind Theresa May's successful bid to become prime minister; the inner workings of May's dysfunctional Downing Street operation; and the surprising politician who helped her when she was floored by her departure from No. 10.