TALKING POLITICS

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The Meaning of Macron

David talks to Shahin Vallee and Chris Bickerton about the upcoming French presidential elections. Can anything or anyone stop Macron? Why has French politics moved so far to the right? And what do left and right still mean in the absence of economic disagreement? Plus we discuss what the Macron years - the five that have gone and the five probably still to come - have taught us about the changing character of European politics.

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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