Share

TALKING POLITICS

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 ...

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
2/24/2022

Helen Thompson/Disorder

For our penultimate episode, David talks to Helen about her new book Disorder: Hard Times in the Twenty-First Century. It’s a conversation about many of the themes Helen has explored on Talking Politics over the years, from the energy transition to the perils of QE, from the travails of the Eurozone to the crisis of democracy, from China to America, from the past to the present to the future. In this book, she brings all these themes together to help make sense of the world we’re in.Talking Points: Suez is often seen as a crisis of British imperial hubris. But it’s also about energy.The US wanted Western European countries to import oil from the Middle East.But the US at the time was not a military power in the region.So the US essentially became a guarantor of Western European energy security, but implementation was dependent on British imperial power in the region.When Eisenhower pulled the plug on Suez, Europe panicked. The aftermath was hugely consequential.France turned to Algeria, but that went badly.Europe also embraced nuclear power to pursue energy self-sufficiency.And finally, this precipitated a turn to Soviet oil and gas and the construction of pipelines between Soviet territories and Western Europe.The shale boom was a double-edged sword: it also destabilized the alliance with Saudi Arabia and increased competition between the US and Russia.Meanwhile, Chinese demand has been increasing. The US today imports much less oil from the Persian Gulf, but the US Navy still provides energy security in the region, even though most of that oil goes to China and Japan. QE created a wholly new situation in the Eurozone.Everyone in the Eurozone game essentially understands that if QE is going to continue, there will be constraints around what can happen in Italian domestic politics.The current prime minister of Italy is the former president of the ECB.One of the risks of democracy is democratic excess. But democracies can also experience aristocratic excess.In US elections, people need a lot of money to compete. This means that there is not really an outlet for genuine democratic demands.Mentioned in this Episode:Helen’s book, DisorderJames Macdonald, A Free Nation Deep in DebtFurther Learning: More on Nord Stream 2 Helen, on how the rich captured modern democraciesHelen on Ukraine for the New StatesmanWhy the Ukraine crisis is a modern crisisAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
2/10/2022

The Meaning of Boris Johnson

David, Helen and Chris Brooke have one more go at making sense of the tangled web that is British politics. Can Johnson really survive, and even if he does, can his brand ever recover? Is this a scandal, is it a crisis, or is it something else entirely? Does history offer any guide to what comes next? Plus we explore what might be the really big lessons from the last two years of Covid-dominated politics.Talking Points: It’s obvious why Boris is a problem, but it’s not clear who would replace him.There will probably need to be a decisive marker, either the May local elections or the police report could be it.The strategic question for the Conservative party is, can it win enough seats to form a stable majority government?Boris won’t go voluntarily. But can he survive?Newer MPs are not loyal to Johnson, but older ones are more wary of defenestrating a leader who won big majorities.A lot of people have left number 10. It will be hard for him to govern.In 2015, Ed Miliband was leading in the headline polls. But there were signs of weakness.Labour wasn’t winning local elections. And Cameron was polling better on two key questions: leadership and the economy.Labour has now moved ahead on both. It would still be hard for Labour to win an overall majority, but defeat in local elections might spook the Conservatives.The politics of scandal are different from the politics of crisis.Scandals change how politics are conducted, but they don’t usually trash the party’s reputation.Helen thinks that it is a politics of chaos.This particular scandal is bound up in Johnson’s appeal. On most issues, the outrage of the other side works for Johnson.Outrage about the parties is different: Johnson was a hypocrite.He has trashed his own brand this time, but he still doesn’t think the game is over.Were the pandemic years a dress rehearsal for the politics of climate change?To reach net zero, governments will need to ask people to make sacrifices. Will future politics be a politics of limits?The pandemic has also deepened generational divides. Mentioned in this Episode: Recent polling dataFurther Learning: Isaac Chotiner asks David about hypocrisy and Partygate Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves on Labour optimismDavid on Dominic Cummings’ blogFrom the archive… Who is Boris Johnson?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
2/3/2022

Putin’s Next Move

David and Helen talk to Shashank Joshi, Defence Editor of the Economist, about what Vladimir Putin hopes to get out of the Ukraine crisis and what anyone can do to stop him. Is some sort of invasion inevitable? Is Russia’s goal to sow dissent or to achieve regime change? What leverage does the rest of world have over Putin and his allies? Plus we explore where the roots of the crisis lie: in 2014, in the end of the Cold War, or even earlier still?Talking Points: What does Putin want from Ukraine? He wants to stop Ukraine’s westward shift, which is about more than NATO. Ukraine was probably not ever going to join NATO. In that regard, Putin already has what he wants.What else is he upset about? Britain is building a naval base on the Sea of Azov. Britain and the UK are training Ukrainian troops. Weapons are flowing in, too. Putin worries about Ukraine becoming a more militarily and economically capable actor. What would Putin count as a success in the current crisis? Logistically speaking, Putin could stay there for months. But he has troops from the Eastern military district there, who can’t. And the weather will change after March. Perhaps the biggest problem is psychological: backing down would look like giving in. Does Russia want regime change?Kiev seems less convinced about the imminence of an invasion.Are they deluded? They definitely want to avoid panic, especially economic panic. What is different today from 2014? Ukraine is in an even worse economic position. Ukraine is a transit gas state; Putin has been trying to end that for a long time, and he is getting close with the near completion of Nordstream.Another difference is America’s position in the world. NATO allies should still feel reasonably secure.But in middle areas, such as Ukraine, or the countries in central Asia, things are less certain.Mentioned in this Episode: Shashank’s latest for the Economist: How big is Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine?More on Biden’s global posture reviewAn interview with Dmitri Trenin: are we on the brink of war?Further Learning: Our last episode with ShashankMore on javelin missiles in UkraineMore on the Russia-Belarus integrationAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
1/27/2022

The Next Big Thing

David talks to John Naughton about what’s coming next in the tech revolution and where it’s taking us. From quantum computing to cryptocurrency, from AI to the Internet of Things: what’s hype, what’s for real and how will it shape our politics. Plus we discuss what China understands about technology that the rest of the world might have missed.Talking Points: The metaverse is the next big thing in Silicon Valley. It feels like the logical conclusion of prevailing trends.This is not actually a radical break.The gaming industry is developing the metaverse. And big tech is investing heavily in gaming. The metaverse bypasses many elements of the real world that people like Zuckerberg are keen on, such as government regulation.What will be the next big technological shift? Are we in a kind of lull?The internet of things has not gone away.Blockchain, which enables crypto, is still a significant technology.Proponents of Web3 want to disrupt centralized control of the Internet.Does the Chinese system show us that there is another choice on technology? The general view of autocracy is that it can’t be done. The problem is imperfect information.Has technology made it possible to escape the autocrat’s trap?Technology has undeniably changed our lives, but the liberatory promise does not seem to have been realized.When will technology give us control over our own time? The kind of capitalism that drives the tech industry is unstable unless it grows.The relentlessness of consumer society is antithetical to a particular kind of creativity and a particular kind of politics.Mentioned in this Episode:John’s column for the ObserverNeal Stephennson, Snow CrashJohn on TP talking about LibraKeynes’ essay, ‘Economic possibilities for our grandchildren’History of Ideas, Hannah Arendt on ActionThe Minderoo Centre for Technology and DemocracyFurther Learning: What is the metaverse, exactly? What is Web3? More on Microsoft’s takeover of Activision BlizzardAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
1/20/2022

American Civil War?

One year on from Joe Biden’s inauguration David and Helen talk with Gary Gerstle about what’s gone wrong. What is the strategy behind this presidency? Has it tried to do too much or too little? And are the dark warnings of another American civil war really plausible? Plus we discuss whether the original American Civil War should really be used as the template for political breakdown.Talking Points: It’s hard to be a transformational president when your congressional margin is as slim as Biden’s is.Are critics being too harsh? Unemployment is down, the pandemic recovery was quicker than anticipated, and there is a broader renegotiation of work conditions for lower-paid workers. But these are not the seismic shifts many hoped for. Biden may want to be a transformational president, but the conditions do not suit transformational politics.Did an overreading of Trump’s incompetence on the pandemic inflate expectations of Biden? What would Biden’s presidency look like if Democrats did not have a majority in the Senate?The unexpected victories in Georgia have also led to heightened scrutiny of the holdout Democrats, Sinema and Manchin. Republican senators seem to be getting a free pass. Are fears about a looming American civil war overblown?What do we mean by civil war? The idea of the federal government fighting a group of secessionist states seems inconceivable. The notion of factions vying for control over the center is somewhat more plausible.The American Civil War was not just about tribalism or ideology. There were incompatible political economic systems. The very fact that the United States has had a Civil War, however, is still part of American politics. As T.S. Eliot said, ‘Serious civil wars never come to an end.’Will the burgeoning discourse around illegitimate election results actually translate into more overt political violence in the future?Mentioned in this Episode: Biden’s recent speech on voting rightsBarbara Walter’s book, How Civil Wars StartGary’s forthcoming book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal OrderFurther Learning:Is Civil War coming to America? More on Merrick Garland’s investigation Eric Foner for the LRB on the electoral collegeAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking