Politics on the Couch
'The world's a stage' - politics and storytelling with James Graham
In this edition, Rafael Behr talks to England's most prodigious political screenwriter and playwright - James Graham.
He's probably most well known for writing the recent BBC1 hit drama 'Sherwood', which aired on BBC One in 2022 to rave reviews, and will return for a second series.
James also wrote Quiz (ITV) in 2020, which was one of the most watched UK television dramas of the year; and Brexit: An Uncivil War, which garnered huge public attention and critical acclaim in 2019. It was broadcast on Channel 4 and HBO, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie, and a BAFTA for Single Drama.
In this episode James talks to Rafael about how narratives are fundamental to political storytelling, what they are, why recently parties on the right seem to have been better at them, where James draws his inspiration for writing from, and what his next play is about.
More about James
For theatre, James’s play Best of Enemies, about the political debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., opened at the Young Vic in 2021, and is currently playing on the West End. It has been nominated for an Olivier for Best New Play, and won a Critics’ Circle Theatre Award.
His new musical, Tammy Faye, with music from Elton John and lyrics from Jake Shears, opened at the Almeida in 2022.
Ink - about the early days of Rupert Murdoch - opened to huge praise at the Almeida before transferring to the West End in September 2017, where it played in the theatre next door to James’ other new play – political romantic comedy Labour of Love - creating theatre history.
James's breakout play This House premiered at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre in September 2012 and transferred to the Olivier in 2013 where it enjoyed a sell-out run. It garnered critical acclaim and a huge amount of interest and admiration from current and former MPs for his rendition of life in the House of Commons.
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38. 'Beyond the Red Wall'01:04:05Raf Behr talks to journalist, author and broadcaster David Aaronovitch about his recent visit to the National Conservatives conference, and what it taught him about state of the Tory party.They discuss:Was there really a re-alignment in British politics post-Brexit?What do the Nat Cons have to offer us Brits apart from hardline anti-immigration vibes?Why do some parts of the commentariat spend so much time talking about 'culture wars' when there are so many other issues to cover?If, as expected, the next government is Labour and inherits an economic mess, will it be possible for them to make all the necessary hard decisions about taxation and spending, and stay in power?About David AaaronvitchMore to follow, but in the meantime the most important bit you need to know about his work is this excellent substack updated regularly: https://davidaaronovitch.substack.comPolitics on the Couch has been chosen by Feedspot as both one of the Top 25 UK Psychology Podcasts and Political Science Podcasts on the web.https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_psychology_podcastshttps://blog.feedspot.com/political_science_podcasts
37. 'Beyond parody' - a conversation with Rob Hutton about political journalism and its complex relationship with power59:21Rafael Behr talks to Rob Hutton, parliamentary sketch writer at the Critic, about the uneasy relationship between Westminster lobby journalists and MPs.Often political journalists cultivate close relationships with politicians to find out what's really happening in the corridors of power.But does a journalist's 'insider status' cloud their judgement when working out how to write about political stories or policy ssues, or whether to cover them at all?Does it inevitably become a trade-off between, a steady stream of 'exclusives', and a fair and objective approach to reporting?If so, what does this mean for democracy?Rob Hutton is an author and freelance journalist. He spent 16 years covering the British government for Bloomberg, taking in five prime ministers, as many elections, and the odd referendum. Before that, he worked for the Mirror and the Financial Times. He now has a regular spot as sketchwriter for The Critic. His career has been a mix of seriousness and satire. While he was a reporter for Bloomberg, unquestionably The Global News Organisation Least Likely To Tell A Joke, he wrote Romps, Tots & Boffins, a satirical book about the words only journalists use. He followed that up with Would They Lie to You?, about the way politicians got around reality without actually uttering untruths (it was a more innocent age). According to Rob, his most recent book, Agent Jack, doesn’t have quite so many laughs, although he says there’s an incident with a jar of marmalade and a blueprint for a Vickers tank. 'Oh, and there’s a naked German in a wardrobe.' Here's a link to his Podcast - A Pod Too FarRafael Behr's first book was released in May, 2023**'Politics, A Survivor’s Guide,'** is all about the infuriating toxicity of politics, how it got that way and how to resist the slide into cynicism and pessimism that are so corrosive of democracy. It’s about the challenge of staying engaged without getting enraged; the need to empathise with people whose views we cannot share and how that is different to appeasement of politics we believe to be dangerous.Available from Waterstones:https://www.waterstones.com/book/politics-a-survivors-guide/rafael-behr/9781838955045Or, for those who are interested in signed copies, from City Books in Hove:https://www.city-books.co.ukPolitics on the Couch has been chosen by Feedspot as both one of the Top 25 UK Psychology Podcasts and Political Science Podcasts on the web.https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_psychology_podcastshttps://blog.feedspot.com/political_science_podcasts
36. Trapped! Democracy's struggle to cope with modern life and what we can do to help – a conversation with Professor Ben Ansell.01:18:33On this edition Rafael Behr talks to Professor Ben Ansell about his new book Why Politics Fails: The Five Traps of the Modern World & How to Escape ThemBen Ansell is Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. He was made Fellow of the British Academy in 2018, among the youngest fellows at that time. His work has been widely covered in the media, including in the World Bank's World Development Report, The New York Times, The Economist, The Times and on BBC Radio 4's 'Start the Week'. He was the Principal Investigator of the multi-million-pound ERC project 'The Politics of Wealth Inequality', is co-editor of the most-cited journal in comparative politics, and has written three award-winning academic books. Why Politics Fail is his latest book and his first for a wider audience.Link to buy Ben's new bookhttps://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/284663/ben-ansellLink to Ben's substackhttps://benansell.substack.comRafael Behr's first book was released Thursday 4 May, 2023**'Politics, A Survivor’s Guide,'** is all about the infuriating toxicity of politics, how it got that way and how to resist the slide into cynicism and pessimism that are so corrosive of democracy. It’s about the challenge of staying engaged without getting enraged; the need to empathise with people whose views we cannot share and how that is different to appeasement of politics we believe to be dangerous.Available from Waterstones:https://www.waterstones.com/book/politics-a-survivors-guide/rafael-behr/9781838955045Or, for those who are interested in signed copies, from City Books in Hove:https://www.city-books.co.ukPolitics on the Couch has been chosen by Feedspot as both one of the Top 25 UK Psychology Podcasts, and Top 25 Political Science Podcasts on the web.https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_psychology_podcastshttps://blog.feedspot.com/political_science_podcasts
35. Kindness - a conversation about political empathy, its power and its limits, with Claudia Hammond50:22Host Rafael Behr talks to Claudia Hammond about political empathy, its power and its limits.Claudia is probably best known as the presenter of BBC Radio 4's long-running show, 'All in the Mind' which covers psychology, neuroscience & mental health.She is also the Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Sussex.Her latest book, 'The Keys to Kindness,' looks at what constitutes kindness, effective strategies to build more of it into our lives and the benefits of being kind.She draws on the latest research from psychology and neuroscience, and her work in collaboration with the University of Sussex and the BBC, including the largest global survey ever undertaken into attitudes to kindness.Linkshttps://claudiahammond.com/the-keys-to-kindnesshttps://claudiahammond.com/the-kindness-testhttps://www.sussex.ac.uk/research/centres/kindness/indexhttps://www.sussex.ac.uk/schools/psychologyRafael Behr's first book is released today - Thursday 4 May, 2023'Politics, A Survivor’s Guide,' is all about the infuriating toxicity of politics, how it got that way and how to resist the slide into cynicism and pessimism that are so corrosive of democracy. It’s about the challenge of staying engaged without getting enraged; the need to empathise with people whose views we cannot share and how that is different to appeasement of politics we believe to be dangerous.The themes include migration, nationalism, family, identity, culture wars, technology, ideology, Europe, Brexit and a little bit of cardiology.Available from Waterstones:https://www.waterstones.com/book/politics-a-survivors-guide/rafael-behr/9781838955045Or, for those who are interested in signed copies, from City Books in Hove:https://www.city-books.co.ukRaf will be speaking at literary festivals, theatres, pubs all around the UK. Often he will be in conversation with fellow journalists and authors, hopefully also in conversation with you in the audience. Below is a list of places and times. Click on date for tickets. There may be more to come...10 May Brighton Festival17 May Bath Festival21 May Aye Write, Glasgow Book Festival23 May 1000 Trades, Birmingham25 May Hay Festival7 June The Elephant and Castle Pub, Lewes (no link yet)12 June Guardian Live, Kings Cross, LondonPolitics on the Couch has been chosen by Feedspot as both one of the Top 25 UK Psychology, and Political Science podcasts.https://blog.feedspot.com/uk_psychology_podcastshttps://blog.feedspot.com/political_science_podcasts
34. Contrarianism, social media and the future of culture wars - a conversation with Atlantic writer Helen Lewis01:16:54In this wide-ranging and informal conversation*, Rafael Behr chats to former colleague Helen Lewis about whether Whatsapp has changed the way politics is conducted, her favourite Tik Tok channel, the incestous nature of Scottish politics, what's really behind the UK government's immigration policy, what we can learn from Florida culture wars, why the middle ground is so hard to occupy, what we have learnt from the pandemic, and Helen's take on why so many men love listening to other men on podcasts, plus much more. *unstructured Helen Lewis Helen writes about the intersection of politics, society, and digital culture for The Atlantic. Link to Helen’s long read on DeSantis, Trump and the future of American politics for The Atlantic She is also the host of the BBC’s long-form interview series, The Spark. Her next book, The Selfish Genius, is scheduled for publication in 2023. Link to ‘The Bluestocking,’ Helen’s substack page. Rafael Behr has a book out very soon about politics If you're interested here's a link to pre-order: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Politics-Survivors-Engaged-without-Getting/dp/1838955046/ Now on with the podcast show we call Politics on the Couch. This podcast is hosted by ZenCast.fm
33. Populism, democracy and the parliamentary battle over Brexit01:10:50Rafael Behr talks to Meg Russell, Director of the Constitution Unit and co-author, along with Research Fellow Lisa James, of a new book called: The Parliamentary Battle over Brexit, a detailed account of the extraordinary way the Brexit process played out in parliament.Since the 2016 referendum, the hotly contested issue of Brexit has raised fundamental questions about the workings of British democracy. Nowhere was this more true than regarding the role of parliament. This book addresses important questions about parliament's role in the UK constitution, and the impact on this of the Brexit process. While initially intended to re-establish 'parliamentary sovereignty', Brexit wrought significant damage on the reputation of parliament, and the wider culture of UK democracy.This book is published as part of the ‘Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution’ project, funded through Constitution Unit Director Meg Russell's Senior Fellowship with the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) programme.For more about the book (and a 30% discount code) see this link:https://www.ucl.ac.uk/constitution-unit/parliamentary-battle-over-brexit
32. Party People - a stroll around the grassroots of democracy50:38Host Rafael Behr talks to Prof. Tim Bale about why people join political parties and how the members impact democracy. Topics covered inlcude: what people get from joining a political party; what parties get from their members; why membership of parties has declined; in particular why so many Conservative women joined, and then left in their droves; how membership differs between the two major parties; how the role of members has changed; and members impact on the democratic health of the nation Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London. He's the author of several books on British and European party politics, including, Footsoldiers: Political Party Membership in the 21st Century, the research for which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and generated the website http://esrcpartymembersproject.org. His most recent book, The Conservative Party after Brexit: Turmoil and Transformation is out on 30 March 2023. Tim's also a frequent contributor to broadcast and print media in the UK and abroad. This podcast is hosted by ZenCast.fm
31. The French Connection - myth and misunderstanding across the Channel52:24Ahead of the first bilateral summit between the two countries' leaders for five years, Rafael Behr talks to Georgina Wright, from the Institut Montaigne in Paris, about what the French really think about us Brits, and what we often get wrong about French discourse, customs and political culture. Quite a lot, as it happens. Georgina Wright is Senior Fellow and Director of Institut Montaigne’s Europe Program. She is also a Visiting Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, associate of the Institute for Government in London and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Britain and Europe at the University of Surrey. Before joining Institut Montaigne, she was senior researcher at the Institute for Government (2019-2020) and research associate at Chatham House (2014-2018). She has also worked for the European Commission and NATO in Brussels. Georgina regularly represents Institut Montaigne on national and international news media, and has written widely for foreign policy outlets. She studied at the University of Edinburgh and the College of Europe (Bruges). https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/experts/georgina-wright This podcast is hosted by ZenCast.fm