Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that tries to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to his regular panel along with 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 it unfolds, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It?s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.
Talking Politics is brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books, Europe's leading magazine of books and ideas.
We ask whether the UK constitution is cracking up - and if so, where's the breakpoint going to come? Is Brexit at the heart of the current crisis or does it go deeper than that? What's the role of the Supreme Court? And the Queen? Could the Bank of England play a part? And where does Scotland fit in? We try to piece it all together with Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Kenneth Armstrong.
The British constitution is under big strain right now, and not just because of Brexit.The British constitution is a political one, and If there is a crisis it is a crisis of politics. Fundamentally, this is about representation.What happens if the next Conservative leader doesn?t command the confidence of Parliament?
Right now, the constitution is facing multiple sources of strain including the Fixed Term Parliament Act, Brexit, and problems within the Union.To survive, the constitution has to adapt to all of these things simultaneously.Would things be better if the constitution were codified?
If elections have been played down as a political tie breaker because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, is there space for something else?The rise of the Brexit party could create a real complication.At a certain point, it becomes difficult to disentangle the party dynamics and constitutional issues.
Where are the pressure points in Scottish politics now?The most immediate one was the other week when the Scottish government published the referendum bill. It doesn?t provide for a second referendum.This is a way of trying to corral politics toward a second referendum without pushing a button immediately.Scotland is itself a vexed constitutional question.
Mentioned in this Episode:The Economist on Britain?s constitutional time bombPoliticalBetting.com on the odds of having four prime ministers in four years
Further Learning:David?s series on rethinking representation for the BBCDavid on representation in UK democracy
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
We talk to the author of Guns, Germs and Steel about his new book on nations in crisis. Jared Diamond argues that personal crises are a good way of thinking about national ones. He tells us about one of his own personal crises and we see whether the lessons really apply to politics. Plus we discuss what's gone wrong with political leadership in the US and we explore what it would take to tackle the global environmental crisis.
The premise of Jared?s new book is that the outcome predictors for personal crises can also be applied to national crises.How much does timing matter? Are early life crises different from late life crises?National crises, like personal crises, might begin with a sudden shock or unfold slowly.
Individuals are biased: that can make thinking about the arc of a life hard. But collective action problems do not necessarily map onto personal crises.A key example is leadership: it matters for nations, but not individuals.In a globalized world, we don?t have the luxury of an isolated collapse.
What happens when the system that needs change also has to affect that change?It?s impossible to get away from politics.Jared thinks that this is where leadership comes in. Leaders make a difference under some (but not all) circumstances.Democratic politics has a tendency to defer difficult decisions. But the world does have a track record of dealing with really tough problems.
Mentioned in this Episode:UpheavalDemocracy for Young People
Further Learning:Jared Diamond on his new bookTalking Politics with Yuval Noah Harari
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
David and Helen catch up with the European election results and the Tory leadership race - there's lots to talk about. How can the Tories compete with the Brexit Party? Are the Liberal Democrats a real threat to Labour? What does it all mean for Ireland? And for Scotland? Plus, is the surge in support for Greens across Europe a signal that it's time to take environmental politics seriously?
As Theresa May's premiership gets very close to the end, we talk about who and what might be coming next. Can her successor re-establish the authority she has lost? Can anyone govern in this parliament or do we need a general election? Is the age of long-serving prime ministers also coming to an end? Plus we discuss what lessons can be drawn from the recent election in Australia: what does it tell us about the politics of climate change? With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.
Theresa May?s prime ministership is nearing its last week. She has no authority left.Is it about her and her mismanagement, or has something happened to the office?Will her successor have any more luck? (It seems unlikely)It doesn?t seem like there was any realistic scenario in which May could have peeled off significant numbers of Labour MP?s. But the fight over the people?s vote within Labour could have turned out differently. If the leadership had succumbed, Labour MP?s in Leave constituencies might have done something different.
October will be a month of high drama: both the Brexit deadline and the party conferences.Also the three options will look more like two: everyone has to take no deal seriously at that point. Could there be a general election in the autumn?
If Labour doesn?t want to define itself according to Brexit, is there a plausible case for the Lib Dems to become the opposition?A revival of the Lib Dems hurts the Conservatives much more than Labour. Both main parties have a clear interest in having both Remain and Leave voters in their party. The problem is it means that neither of them can deliver Brexit.
The long premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair are historical exceptions.A lot of what?s going on is the absence of a parliamentary majority: that?s the norm in British politics.But on the Conservative side, it?s also about the particular way they elect a leader. In parliamentary politics there?s a pressure towards a soft Brexit, but the Conservative leadership is in the hands of the members. We don?t know that much about them, but everyone seems to think that the membership is very Brexity. That sets up the instability.There are also substantive issues that have historically driven instability in UK politics: difficult questions about the UK?s relationship with the rest of the world, and difficult questions about the UK as a multi-national state.
Did Australia just have a Brexit moment? Or is this something more familiar?There are parallels to the Major/Kinnock election in 1992.But there?s also the risk that the takeaway will be that going big on climate change is not a great strategy.
Mentioned in this Episode:Paul Mason in The New Statesman
Further Learning:The End of the Party?More on Corbyn and Labour?s strategyOn climate change and the Australian electionSocialism in this Country?
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
We talk to historian Tom Holland about the fall of the Roman Republic and the parallels with today. Why does Roman history still exert such a strong pull over our imaginations? Are politicians like Trump and Berlusconi recognisable types from the ancient past? And is contemporary democracy vulnerable to the same forces that brought down the Roman Republic? Plus, we discuss Putin's claim that Russia is now the Third Rome. What is he getting at? With Helen Thompson.
An extra episode with Adam Tooze to catch up on the latest in the US/China trade wars. What's really at stake and what does Trump want? Is this about economics or security? What does it say about the future of capitalism? And where does Joe Biden fit in? With Helen Thompson.
We talk about socialism in America: where it comes from, what it means, why it's so associated with Bernie Sanders and whether it can actually reach the White House. What's the difference between democratic socialism and social democracy? How would the workers gain control of businesses like Facebook and Amazon? Who are the workers these days anyway? Plus, we ask what a Sanders vs Trump contest would actually be like. With Adom Getachew, from the University of Chicago, and Gary Gerstle.
In the U.S. context, is there a meaningful difference between democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and social democrats like Elizabeth Warren?Warren is more focused on politics: reforming the Senate, imposing taxes on corporations, etc.Sanders sees socialism as a revolution, but his actual aims are fairly modest: strengthen labor, etc.Warren wants to break up Amazon; Sanders wants to empower the workers to take on Amazon themselves.One key difference is that Sanders comes out of a grass-roots, movement-type politics. Warren does not, and she?s explicitly denied a commitment to socialism.
Can you have socialism without a labor movement? What takes its place?In 1935, 35% of American workers belonged to a union. Today it?s only 11%.There have been a number of strikes during the Trump presidency, such as the teachers strike.We need to reimagine who the working class. It?s not the industrial working class anymore. It?s the service sector, and these are historically unorganized labor forces.Today it?s the precariat, not the proletariat.How does a labor movement speak to a radically altered working population?
For many young people, the Occupy movement was a moment of political awakening.The establishment seemed unable to deal with the crisis, and this opened up a new sense of political possibility.For many young Americans, who have grown up in the absence of a real Left, Sanders represents an authentic commitment to a different kind of politics.There may be some problems for Sanders. For example, his reluctance to support reparations opened him up to criticism about a blindness to racial justice.A socialist in the U.S. has never become a major party nominee. The historical role of socialism in the U.S. has been disruptive, pressuring centrist candidates to move left. Can Sanders break that mold?The American political project is designed to be slow. To have big change, you need a mass movement outside of politics too.
Mentioned in this Episode:Adom?s new book, Worldmaking after EmpireIsaac Chotiner interviews the editor of the Jacobin on American socialism
Further Learning:Alissa Quart on the ?precariat?More on the history of American socialismThe Talking Politics Guide to? the U.S. ConstitutionGreen New Deal?
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
Are the UK's looming European elections making a mockery of democracy, or is this how democracy is meant to work? Would cancelling them at the last minute make the situation worse? We talk about trust in politics, the threat to the two main parties, and the knock-on effects for the rest of Europe. Plus we discuss what can meaningfully happen before the end of October, and whether the events of the last few weeks have done permanent damage to the Tory brand. With Helen Thompson, Catherine Barnard and Chris Bickerton.
Local elections and the European parliamentary elections are the closest that UK voters have been to getting a say on what?s going on?even if they may not actually have any consequences.Are they good or bad for democracy?People?s faith in democracy overall is declining.
Because of Brexit, and the upcoming elections, the fracturing in British party politics is greater than ever before?what does this mean for British politics?We overestimate how often we?ve had a two-party system. It?s actually rare (1832-1870 and 1945-1970)You need a stable UK to have two party dynamics.Brexit has shaken up the parties in fundamental ways.Whether or not Britain leaves the EU, the next Conservative leader will likely be a leaver.
With this Parliament, if it does come down to no deal or revoke article 50, what will it do?This partially depends on the EU?s position.There is still the problem of sequencing when it comes to leaving the EU.The UK has become a geopolitical issue for the EU in a way that it wasn?t before. This is why Merkel and Macron are fighting.
Mentioned in this Episode:Sir John Holmes? statement on uncertainty around European electionsThe Pew polling on people?s faith in democracy
Further Learning:On the 2019 European elections
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
An extra episode in our climate season: we talk to Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government, about what's now known about the scale of the threat and the urgency of the need for action. What has happened since the Paris agreement? What is the Chinese government most afraid of? What is the meaning of Extinction Rebellion? And is it time to start talking about refreezing the poles to repair the damage already done?
We talk to Paul Mason about his new book Clear Bright Future - a radical defence of the human being in the age of digital transformation and a call to political action. The book covers a lot of ground and so do we: Trump and Nietzsche, machine learning and network effects, climate change and neoliberalism, secular humanism and Christian Enlightenment. But no Brexit! A conversation about the biggest political choices we face and the deep philosophical questions that lie behind them. With Helen Thompson.
How do we demystify technology?In his first book on mechanics, Galileo described machines as things that harness the forces of nature.Likewise, Adam Smith emphasized that labour produces value, not machines.Modern science often likens reality to a computer; but we?ve created them, not the other way around.
AI has the potential to fundamentally transform industrial societies.Civil society needs to have a say in how this technology evolves.How do we introduce ethical questions earlier in the process, instead of building first and asking questions later?
Information has never been more abundant, yet we feel relatively helpless because we have so little control over network effects and the information environment.Information wants to be free, but everywhere it is in chains.Information technology has not created the fourth industrial revolution; it has created social relations of production that are designed to suppress the fourth industrial revolution.
Is there still space in our political discourse for difficult choices? Are we willing to lose things we value if we want things to be better?Paul thinks that civil society needs to refocus on moral philosophy.Paul takes Nietzsche to task and argues that there is a biological basis for universal human rights.
Paul is critical of the effect of neoliberal practice on the human self.He argues that in America, the problem, as Arendt put it, is an alliance of the elite and the mob over ?access to history.?The thing to fight for is not just the truth but the possibility of truth.
According to Paul, the left needs to harness the power of the state.He calls himself a ?radical social democrat.?He thinks that the left?s failure to project a holistic answer and theory of reality has left the right possessing all of the momentum.
Mentioned in this Episode:Paul?s new book, coming out in May 2019Red Star by Alexander BogdanovTP with Yuval Noah Harari
Further Learning:David?s review of Paul?s earlier book, PostCapitalismGreen New Deal?Google, Deepmind, and ethical dilemmasThe Talking Politics Guide to? Machine Learning
David gives the third in his series of talks about the future of democracy. This one uses an idea from cosmology to work out where we might be in the story of democracy: are we at the beginning, in the middle or near the end? It all depends when and where we think the story starts. From Stonehenge to Les Miserables, from ancient Athens to Facebook, a simple idea turns out to have some surprising applications, and some important lessons for contemporary politics.
The Copernican Principle is based on the idea that we are not the center of the universe.Because we are not inherently special, most of the time, we encounter things without a natural life expectancy somewhere in the random middle.If something has been going on for years, it will likely keep going for years. If something has been going on for weeks, it will likely keep going for weeks.
What does this mean for democracy? It depends on which story you think we?re in.The long story is about 2,500 years old, going back to the principles articulated in ancient Athens. This is the idea that humans are equal in political terms and no one is uniquely capable of rule.The middle story is about 250 years old. This is the story of representative democracy. Democracies exist to protect against misrule and are based on a division of labor between professional politicians and everyone else.The short story is at most 100 years old (and in many places, shorter). This is the story of mass enfranchisement, mass communications, and administrative democracy.
It?s unlikely that all of these stories will end at the same time, but it also seems fairly likely that there are people alive now who will see at least the short story end.In Eastern Europe, the short story is only 30 years old.The second story is also under pressure. People are getting tired of the safeguards, and the division of labor appears increasingly unsustainable.The old story, however, still stands. These may be the ideals that are better suited to tackle the current challenges.
David on Democracy:Democracy for Young PeopleHow Democracy Ends
Further Learning:Martin Rees and the Talking Politics guide to ? Existential RiskThe Talking Politics Guide to ? Deliberative DemocracyTP talks to David Wallace Wells about The Uninhabitable Earth
We try to draw some wider lessons from the nightmare that the Brexit process has now become. What have we learned about the relationship between parliament and the executive? Is there any way that the Article 50 process could have worked? And what conclusions will other countries reach about how hard it is to leave the EU? Plus we talk about the recent report from the Hansard Society indicating that the British public is more open than ever to the idea of a 'strong leader'. With Helen Thompson and Kenneth Armstrong.
The Cooper Act has been rushed through both houses?but has it really changed anything?Very little in this act actually constrains the government.No deal isn?t off the table.Even if it didn?t change much in substantive terms, in constitutional terms, Parliament may have set something in motion.
The relationship between the executive and the legislature is under fire in a lot of places.Executive power tends to be more unrestrained on the international stage.Treaties take important issues out of the realm of national politics. Legislatures only get to say yes or no.The EU raises a lot of these issues because it is a treaty-based union.
By all objective measures the May government should be on its last legs right now.But the Fixed-term Parliaments Act means there?s no real mechanism for getting rid of the government.Could the May government just stagger on?A lot of MP?s don?t want a general election.Even if the Labour leadership does, the parliamentary Labour party doesn?t.At every turn, Parliament seems to be trying to escape responsibility for its own actions.
What is the lesson others should take from all of this?Is the problem Ireland?Or is the problem the UK parliamentary system, and coalition governance?... Or is it just really hard to leave the EU?
A new report from the Hansard Society shows that a lot of people in Britain seem to have a taste for authoritarianism.What people really want is a politician who can cut through politics.There may be a substitution effect between process and personality. When process breaks down, people want a charismatic leader.
Mentioned in this Episode:About that Hansard Society reportThe FT on Macron?s De Gaulle Moment
Further Learning:Kenneth?s Brexit Time blogMay rolls the diceOn the Fixed-term Parliaments Act
We catch up with Gary Gerstle in the US to assess where the Trump presidency stands after the Mueller report appeared to give him a pass. Are there more revelations to come once the full report is available? Can Trump take advantage of his good fortune? And who in the crowded Democratic field currently looks best placed to beat him in 2020? With Helen Thompson.
David and Helen talk through the latest twist in the Brexit tale: Theresa May's offer to work with Labour to get some version of Brexit over the line. Can the two parties ever agree on what that version is? Could any agreement be made to stick? And if they can't agree, what happens next? Plus we talk about whether May's offer to stand down is still in effect and we ask what all this might mean for the ERG, the DUP, the SNP and the EU.
On Tuesday night, Theresa May changed strategies: instead of courting Brexiteers and the DUP to get her withdrawal agreement through, she?s seeking Labour Party support.But she can?t form an understanding with Corbyn about the future while also promising to step down as PM if the withdrawal agreement is passed.Labour fears run deep: Since the late 80s, parts of the party have seen the EU as a constraint on the ultra-right wing side of the Conservative Party.
There are only two ways the Parliament can stop no deal: pass the withdrawal agreement or revoke Article 50.The EU could still refuse another extension.Whatever the calculations Macron or Merkel might make, the European Parliament elections are a short-term contingency, and Brexit has the potential to cause chaos.The EU keep saying that they want clarity about what the UK is going to do?but British domestic politics cannot provide that right now.
The only way an agreement with Labour will work is if they believe that May?s government will continue through the end of the year. Is that possible?What about the Labour leadership? When Corbyn seems to move toward accepting Brexit, he gets pulled back.In the last general election, the most irreconcilable remainers voted for a Labour party that was committed to voting to leave the EU instead of the party that represented their views (the Lib Dems). A lot of difficulties followed from this.
What about the DUP?They?re more worried about betrayal at the hands of the Conservatives than a Corbyn government.Arlene Foster has admitted that the Union comes before Brexit.There is no constitutional or institutional channel for English nationalism.If Brexit is thwarted because of Northern Ireland, there will probably be some kind of backlash.
The basic fact of British political life is that there is no transmission mechanism from the legislative to the executive of an expression of will.Parliament wants to say they have no confidence in the government to conduct these negotiations, but they aren?t willing to bring the government down.Could the constitution assert itself? Could the government fall?The easiest way out might be if the EU denies an extension, leading to a binary choice between the withdrawal agreement and no deal.
Mentioned in this Episode:Richard Drax?s statement on the withdrawal agreementOn EU pessimism and transmission mechanisms
Further Learning:Adam Tooze on EuropeThe last time we talked Brexit...and the time before that
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
As parliament finally gets the chance to indicate its Brexit preferences - if it has any - we discuss the real choices now facing MPs and government. What is the sequence of events that would actually prevent a no-deal Brexit? Can the Withdrawal Agreement be separated from the Political Declaration? And if it can, will MPs eventually have to vote for it? Plus we ask how long we can avoid another general election and we discuss whether Theresa May's survival to this point tells us more about her resilience or about the dysfunctionality of British politics. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton, and Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law.
What is the relationship between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration?The political declaration is about the future; the withdrawal agreement is about wrapping up the past.Article 50, which is the basis for the withdrawal agreement, does not allow discussions about the future.Anything about the future is done under separate legal provisions.
The only feasible options now are no deal, May?s deal, or revoke article 50.Are we underrating the possibility of no deal? How does parliament prevent it if it can?t do anything else.Both sides seem to be sticking to the same strategy, which is to put their party first.The only thing parliament can do unilaterally is revoke Article 50?everything else depends on the EU. This is the nuclear option.
There are divisions within the EU over Brexit: Merkel doesn?t want a disruptive Brexit; Macron doesn?t want Britain in the EU.A disorderly Brexit poses economic risks for Europe.It?s hard to predict what the EU would do about another request for an extension.
Any form of compromise doesn?t work: it?s either too little for remainers or too much for leavers.The middle ground, which may be economically sensible, doesn?t work politically.
Have we learned something about the office of the prime minister in all of this?It?s really hard to throw people out of office.Becoming prime minister now?the risk is enormous that your legacy would almost immediately be one of dramatic failure.If the withdrawal agreement passes, people will want the job. But now?The underestimated explanation of Theresa May?s resilience is the fixed-term parliament act. This is a fundamentally different constitutional arrangement.
Mentioned in this Episode:Catherine Barnard on ?Question Time?
Further Learning:The Fate of Theresa MayAdam Tooze on EuropeMore on the Fixed-term Parliaments ActCatherine Barnard?s podcast
David talks to David Wallace-Wells about his bestselling - and terrifying - new book on the coming hellscape of climate change. When will it arrive? When will we face up to it? And what can we do about it now? '
We don't have time for a revolution.'
We take the wider European view this week, catching up with the latest developments in Italy and France. A year on from the Italian elections, who is up and who is down in the coalition between the League and Five Star? What is China up to in Italy? Has Macron really got his mojo back? Plus we ask the big question: between chaos at Westminster, riots in Paris and rabble-rousing in Rome, whose democracy is in the biggest trouble? With Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.
What?s going on in Italian politics?In regional elections, the Five Star?s votes collapsed. The PD, the centre-left party, now has a new leader, but at the time of the regional elections it was in transition and still beat Five Star.The League has doubled its share of votes to 33-34%. The new leader of the PD got elected on a platform that would bring the party further to the left. But the Renzi faction is still quite powerful.
What about France?There is something taking place in France that the national conversations don?t seem to have addressed.France has been through a lot of turmoil during the Macron presidency. Yet the polling is remarkably unchanged. It?s a very divided electorate, but it?s divided in basically the same ways as it was a few years ago.The gilets jaunes protest is targeted at Macron and the emblems of the state.
Stepping back: In Italy, the anti-establishment parties are in power; in France, the centrist government is now facing radical street protests; and in Britain, you have Brexit. Which of these is the dominant crisis for this period in European politics?Brexit is a peculiarly institutional crisis. It?s not that it isn?t important, but in France, there is a more self-evidently class-war element. The Italian case is substantially different than both: it?s not an institutional crisis, at least for now. And unlike France, there isn?t opposition to what the government is doing?in fact, there?s a lot of support. In Italy, the main divide isn?t education or age, but region: it?s North vs. South.
Mentioned in this Episode:Adam Tooze on EuropeRoberto Saviano on Italy
Further Learning:Italy vs. EuropeOn the PD?s new leaderWhat is China up to in Southern Europe?
At the start of another momentous week, David catches up with Helen to explore some of the long term implications of the Brexit crisis. Is lasting damage being done to constitutional government in the UK? Can the Brexiteers still have their cake and eat it? And is the story of Theresa May ultimately a tragic one? You can also hear Helen and David this week on the 538 politics podcast https://53eig.ht/2FaPkJz
*Recorded Monday the 18th March, before John Bercow's ruling on the 3rd meaningful vote*
We try to cut through the Brexit fog and see what's really out there, from new deals to no deal. Plus we ask some bigger questions: What is the true role of lawyers in politics? Does the EU want regime change? And how will future historians explain this extraordinary period? With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Kenneth Armstrong.
The concessions Theresa May secured made some difference, but if the fear on the Conservative side was about remaining ?trapped,? the ways out remain limited.There?s no exit unless the EU acts in ?bad faith.?The good things that came out of this were attempts to provide a path forward that would make sure the backstop is never triggered.But the problem remains: ?What happens if you wind up in the backstop??Finding a way to unilaterally leave the backstop was probably an impossible task.There?s a major expectation management problem here.
If this were a free, anonymous vote, the deal would probably pass. But MP?s, particularly Labour MP?s aren?t going to expend political capital on a deal that won?t pass.There has to be a tippling point. The Cox letter killed the chances of that happening.Plus, no one believed that this was the last chance, in part because Juncker said there could be an extension.
Politics and law keep clashing into each other.What should the role of the attorney general be?Cox was both the negotiator and the person who had to turn around and say that that this was undoable.He once said that he cares more about his reputation as a barrister than as a politician.
No deal remains the default, and also the thing that Parliament will not accept.The ERG thinks this deal is worse than staying in the EU.If no deal looms into view, the government will fall.Is the EU line hardening about the terms of an extension?
In 20-30 years time, will we understand what?s happening now?Chris thinks that this shows that the British political system lacked the capacity to deliver on the referendum.Helen thinks how we frame this moment will depend on two things: what happens to the EU and what happens to the UK as a multinational state.It?s about structural forces, but it?s also about contingencies.
Mentioned in this Episode:Kenneth?s blog on legal clarificationsGeoffrey Cox?s letterThat Cox quote
Further Learning:The last time we talked about BrexitHelen on the EUThe Fate of Theresa May
We discuss the challenge posed by the Independent Group and by Tom Watson inside Labour to conventional two party-politics in Britain.
Can the system hold together? If not, what might replace it? And where are the new ideas going to come from? Plus we talk about what the ERG
wants on the Tory side: is it simply Boris? With Helen Thompson and Mike Kenny.
The Independent Group is inching toward becoming a party. What will their platform be?The only thing they seem to have in common is wanting a second referendum. They?re pitching themselves as something new, but these are all career politicians.They have to show that they can win votes. But where?
How did we get here? Two major drivers:The Second Referendum issue?especially after what happened with the Cooper and Brady Amendments.The Labour antisemitism issue?especially around Luciana BergerIt?s not surprising that there are major tensions in the party system at the moment that Britain is leaving the EU, but it?s also happening at the same time as a crisis in the Labour Party.
What is Tom Watson up to?Watson thinks there needs to be space for the social democratic tradition within the Labour Party.This marks the end of accomodation with Corbyn and may be a bigger threat than the Independent Group.The real point of departure between Watson and Corbyn is foreign policy. The social democratic brand is in trouble around the world. But the countries where the centre left has done poorly in Europe are eurozone countries. The centre left in Britain moved to the left in response to 2008. It might be hard for Watson to distinguish himself from Corbyn on the economic front.
Mentioned in this Episode:The Independent Group?s Statement of IndependenceLuciana Berger on antisemitism in the Labour Party
Further Learning:Labour?s Fault LinesSocialism in this Country?Chris on the decline of the social democratsBig moments in the history of the Labour Party
We weigh up where we've reached with Brexit, now that the big choices can't be avoided for much longer. Is a second referendum any more likely than it was a week ago? What terms will the EU demand for an extension of article 50? And can May finally prevail? With Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton.
Talking Points:Are we finally approaching the endgame on Brexit? The sequence became more clear this week: 1) a vote on May?s deal; 2) A vote on no deal; 3) A vote for an extensionThe case for an extension remains unclear: the EU states will want something concrete. Kenneth Armstrong thinks that the key question around an extension is whether it would last 3 months or 2 years. What the extension would mean is also an open question.What would happen if May?s deal went down? Neither side has an alternative.David thinks that there are only two possible outcomes at this point: May?s deal or a general electionAlthough Helen argues that this logic leaves the EU out of the equation.Even the Financial Times is talking about a second referendum, but how would you actually get the legislation through Parliament?Chris says that Corbyn?s strategy seems to be to edge Brexit over the line while distancing Labour and himself from it.The withdrawal and the political agreement still contain a lot of possibilities for a harder or softer Brexit.
Mentioned in this Episode:Kenneth Armstrong on the Cooper-Letwin Article 50 extension proposal
Further Learning:The last time we talked about Brexit? The Fate of Theresa MayWho is Jeremy Corbyn?The Next Referendum?
A break from Brexit this week: we talk to the novelist Richard T. Kelly, author of Crusaders and The Knives, about what makes great political fiction. We discuss the research needed to make a political novel authentic, how to get inside the head of a politician and we ask whether May or Trump would make good fictional heroes. Plus we pick some of our favourite political novels, with literary critic Kasia Boddy.
Don't worry: more Brexit soon!
How does a novelist know what it?s like to be a Conservative Home Secretary?It?s about research and empathy.Novelists should understand and contain forces of both revolution and counter-revolution within themself.
The best political novels often extend forward into dystopia but also backward into history to explain how you got to that outcome.Writing the present is extremely difficult.Political novels need human drama and conflict.The human elements allow you to get beyond Washington or Westminster.The challenge is to capture both powerful and ordinary people with equal verisimilitude.Politics today are increasingly schematic, which presents problems for the novelist.
At their core, political novels are political because they deal with question of the legitimate and illegitimate use of force.Controlling the killing machines is what makes a politician?s job different. What does it mean to live with the consequences of that kind of power?
Books come and go because of things that happen in the world.U.S. publishers are currently reprinting a lot of old dystopias?but not many new novels.Fiction sales are down. People are too engrossed in the daily news cycle.
The Panel?s Favourite Political Novels:All the King?s Men, Robert Penn WarrenThe Book of Daniel, E.L. DoctorowAmerican Wife, Curtis SittenfeldThe Palliser Novels, Anthony Trollope
Also on the TP Bookshelf:The Knives, Richard T. KellyMargaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Charles MooreThe Line of Beauty, Alan HollinghurstThe Information, Martin AmisLa Comédie Humaine, Honoré de BalzacHarlot?s Ghost, Norman MailerThe Great Melody, Conor Cruise O?BrienCrusaders, Richard T. KellyThe Ghost, Robert HarrisThe U.S.A. Trilogy, John Dos PassosMiddle England, Jonathan Coe?Tell the truth but tell it slant?,? Emily DickinsonThe Secret Agent, Joseph ConradDemons (or The Devils), Fyodor DostoevskyThe Plot Against America, Philip RothGilead, Marilynne RobinsonCorridors of Power, C.P. SnowIt Can?t Happen Here, Sinclair LewisThe Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
This week we talk about another side of capitalism: the innovation economy. Can capitalism deal with climate change? How much depends on the role of the state? And who will pay? We compare the Green New Deal to FDR's original version: does history show us how to get this done? With Bill Janeway, author of Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, Diane Coyle and Helen Thompson. Plus: David and Helen catch up with the latest comings and goings in British politics: are the two main parties starting to break apart? More - much more - next week.
The basic idea behind the Green New Deal is that an innovation economy faced with an existential crisis will need massive state investment. Is it being pitched right?Putting climate change on the agenda is an important first step.How do you make this a legitimate political mission? The language of war has been debased; you can?t use that. We don?t have the technologies needed to allow 50% or more of the grid anywhere in the world to be supplied by intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind. The mission needs to allow the state the latitude to experiment and build this technological base.
The state has longer time horizons and has to be a part of fundamental investments in technology.The time horizons for venture capitalism aren?t appropriate for tackling climate change. The idea of industrial strategy/industrial policy is coming back. State coordination is also necessary to set technical standards and figure out how infrastructure will be funded.
Eventually, the productivity benefits of technical changes comes through, but it can take decades. Are we on the cusp of that with digital technology?It?s not just about using a new technology to do what you?re already doing, but using the new technology to change what you?re doing.This requires infrastructure investments and corporate reorganization.It can take a long time to see the full benefits because it?s not just about technical change, it?s also about social change.
These are all international issues, but the frameworks are still domestic.To what extent will politics constrain progress?Technological innovation has been heavily politicized: there is no way to do this kind of innovation on a global scale that would escape geopolitics.
What about the independent group?When it was just the Labour MPs, it was more a critique of Corbyn?s leadership. With the defection of 3 conservative MPs, it looks more like an anti-Brexit formation.It may be more difficult for Labour MPs to defect now. But these groupings don?t change the parliamentary arithmetic.
Mentioned in this Episode:Bill Janeway?s book, Doing Capitalism in the Innovation EconomyDiane Coyle?s blog, The Enlightened EconomistSimon Wren-Lewis on funding the new deal for The New StatesmanThe Solow productivity paradox
We talk to Shoshana Zuboff about The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, her game-changing account of what's gone wrong with the world of big tech and how to fix it. What is surveillance power and why is it destroying the things we value? How have we allowed this to happen? Where will the resistance come from? Plus we ask whether the real problem here is technology or capitalism itself. With John Naughton.
In her new book Zuboff writes, ?"surveillance capitalists know too much to qualify for freedom.?What is the relationship between knowledge, freedom, and capitalism?The neoliberal argument is that markets must be free because they are so complex that they are ineffable. No one knew anything, so everyone must be free.Today, the major tech companies are claiming the same thing. But in fact, these same arguments are the opposite of what Hayek and Smith intended because surveillance capitalists make it their business?literally?to know everything.Surveillance capitalism is a radical asymmetry of knowledge, and this knowledge creates a new and unique form of power.
Surveillance capitalists have succeeded in part because of an ideology of inevitablism. Blame the networks, this is just how they are.This is insidious because it threatens free will and human autonomy.Democratic society is impossible without the notion that individuals have the capacity to choose their actions and shape the future.
What can be done?Lifting the veil: naming what?s going on allows us to deem it intolerable. We need a sea change in public opinion.Building better systems: people do not want to be trapped in the current environment. There is space for someone to forge an alternative path to the digital future.Collective Action: Power is not just exerted in the economic domain?it?s everywhere all the time. How do we come together to tame this kind of capitalism?
Will this be enough? The excesses of raw capitalism during the Gilded Age were tempered by the World Wars. The historical conditions today are different. Democracy was in trouble before Facebook.Thomas Paine says that every generation needs to fight for democratic values. These principles are never won for all time.
In surveillance capitalism, we are not the customers or the employees. This is rogue capitalism that is cut loose from society.Are predictions of human behavior legitimate products that should be sold in the marketplace? Should we have markets that trade in human futures?Information technology always produces more information. Who gets to know, who decides who knows, and who decides who decides who knows?
The Chinese state sees in surveillance capitalism the means to its own political ends.The conflation of authoritarian power and instrumentarian power is the ultimate nightmare?and this is a realistic prospect for the future of humanity.A happy ending is not inevitable, nor is it impossible.
Mentioned in this episode:Shoshana Zuboff?s new book, The Age of Surveillance CapitalismEric Schmidt in 2009 on privacyDemocracy Hacked: David talks to Alan Rusbridger and Martin Moore about fake news, democracy, and the changing information environmentToronto, Google, and resistance to the...
This week David talks to John Lanchester about his new novel depicting Britain after a climate catastrophe and encircled by a vast wall that must be defended at all costs. Where does this nightmarish vision come from? How closely does it track what we know about climate change? And what does it tell us about our political choices now and in the future? Plus we discuss the relationship between climate and capitalism. https://amzn.to/2Sx7PAD
An extra episode as David and Helen try to work out where we've got to with Brexit after this week's votes in the Commons. Can Tory unity hold? Can EU unity hold? Something's got to give - but what? And when?
Is there a contradiction in offering to renegotiate the backstop?If a no deal means a hard border and economic chaos, then maybe there is a good argument for reopening the backstop?If you?re sitting in Dublin right now, you might be nervous because the chance that Britain leaves without a deal seems higher than it was.Would the other EU states abandon Ireland?
The big loser of the week was the second referendum. There does not seem to be stomach in parliament for stopping Brexit.The massive tactical problem that May now faces is that Feb. 14 is way too soonAn extension of Article 50? For what purpose? 60% of the UK electorate sees extending Article 50 as stopping Brexit.Does this mean that events are leading toward either a deal or no deal Brexit?A general election seems like the logical way out.But both Labour and the Tories would have a lot of problems in a general election.
There could be some common group between the ERG position and the EU position if all parties could be 100% confident that the backstop would not materialize.But it is also possible that we are totally trapped.
Mentioned in this Episode:New numbers on the EU economy
Further Learning:The FT on Germany?s current positionOur recap of Theresa May?s crushing Commons defeatCan May get her deal over the line?
This week marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most influential lectures ever given on politics: Max Weber's 'Politics as a Vocation', first delivered in Munich on 28 January 1919. David and Helen talk with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, about some of its lessons for the age of Brexit. Where have all the good leaders gone? Is the party system to blame? Are we suffering from an excess of conviction or a lack of conviction? And who will be responsible if we see a return to violence? Recorded before a live audience at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
The British two-party system, which Weber admired, was intended to organize political divisions; however the plebiscitary politics of the Brexit referendum introduced another set of divisions.Divisions over Brexit cut across the parties.This demonstrates the danger of mixing different types of politics. Another problem is that the UK is a multinational state.
Is the current failure of leadership about the leaders we have chosen or the dilemmas they face?Right now, there doesn?t seem to be an opposition that is ready to take over. Does this suggest the need for a new party, or parties? In many ways, Tony Blair represented Weber?s ideal of charismatic leadership. But he also discredited that model for many people.Regardless of what you think of May or Corbyn, it?s clear that neither of them is in it for the money. May and Corbyn are a generational step back; right now, there aren?t any new leaders emerging.
When Weber wrote his lecture, the stakes of politics were remarkably high?there was a real risk of civil war.In a world in which large-scale violence is unlikely, is charismatic leadership still the answer?
Mentioned in this episode:Max Weber, ?Politics as a Vocation?Jonathan Powell?s essay in the New Statesman, ?The Rise and Fall of Britain?s Political Class?
Further Learning:Jonathan Powell on the backstop David on how divisions between the old and the young are threatening democracy.The Talking Politics guide to? the 1970s, in which Helen explains the turbulent decadeWho is Jeremy Corbyn?
With the US government still shut, we compare this standoff to shutdowns of the past and try to work out what happens next. What is Trump's game? Can the two parties hold together? And why aren't the workers taking to the streets? Plus we weigh up where things stand with the Mueller investigation, the race for the Democratic nomination and Trump's shifting policy on Syria. It's all connected! With Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle.
A special extra episode for this week with Adam Tooze, author of Crashed and one of our most popular previous guests. He takes us through the wider political and economic context for Britain's Brexit crisis, from Italy to France to Germany, and beyond to China and the US. Plus he explains why Brexit is one of the great calamities of his lifetime.
After the crushing defeat for Theresa May's deal in the Commons, we try to work out where we go from here. How and when can Article 50 be extended? What would it mean for parliament to take control of the process? Do we need another general election? Can this government survive? It's all connected and we search for the path through the maze. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Kenneth Armstrong.
David talks to Martin Rees about how we should evaluate the greatest threats facing the human species in the twenty-first century. Does the biggest danger come from bio-terror or bio-error, climate change, nuclear war or AI? And what prospects does space travel provide for a post-human future?
Existential risk is risk that cascades globally and is a severe setback to civilization. We are now so interconnected and so empowered as a species that humans could be responsible for this kind of destruction.There are natural existential risks too, such as asteroids. But what is concerning about the present moment is that humans have the ability to affect the entire biosphere.This is a story about technology, but it?s also about global population growth and the depletion of resources.
There are four categories of existential risk: climate change, bioterror/bioerror, nuclear weapons, and AI/new technology.Climate Change has a long tail, meaning that the risk of total catastrophe is non-negligible.Bioterror/bio-error is becoming more of a risk as technology advances. It?s hard to predict the consequences of the misuse of biotech. Our social order is more vulnerable than it used to be. Overwhelmed hospitals could lead to a societal breakdown.Machine learning has not yet reached the level of existential risk. Real stupidity, not artificial intelligence, will remain our chief concern in the coming decades. Still, AI could make certain kinds of cyber-attacks much worse.The nuclear risk has changed since the Cold War. Today there is a greater risk that some nukes go off in a particular region, although global catastrophe is less likely.
These threats are human-made. Solving them is also our responsibility.We can?t all move to Mars. Earth problems have to be dealt with here.There are downsides to tech, but we will also need it. Martin describes himself as a technical optimist, but a political pessimist.
Mentioned in this episode:Martin Weitzman on long tail risks and climate changeThe Stern Review on climate change, 10 years onA review of Jared Diamond?s Collapse.
Further Learning:Martin?s new book, On the Future: Prospects for HumanityThe Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at CambridgeThe Talking Politics Guide to Nuclear WeaponsWho wants to colonize Mars?
David talks to Helen Thompson about the economic order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. What was agreed at Bretton Woods, how did it work, why did it eventually fail, and can any of it be revived?
The Bretton Woods system:Established a system of fixed exchange rates with the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency (other currencies were pegged to the dollar, and the dollar was pegged to gold)Created the IMF and the World BankEstablished capital controls
On the surface, Bretton Woods is a success story.The following three decades were a period of economic growth and relative stability. But there are other parts of that story too, such as low oil prices. The system had to be patched up many times from 1961 onward, in part because of the misaligned role of dollars and gold. Bretton Woods also created a problem for U.S. presidents who had to balance domestic and international pressures on the dollar.
The election of Richard Nixon in 1968 marked the beginning of the end for Bretton Woods.Nixon didn?t like Bretton Woods because it imposed domestic constraints that were at odds with his protectionist message. In 1971, Nixon ended dollar/gold convertibility. By 1973, it was clear that there was no longer the will to sustain Bretton Woods.
The Bretton woods system was a function of American power?there?s no going back now.A system like Bretton Woods needs an anchoring power. China doesn?t have a currency that is convertible in the same way and the Chinese are wary of the domestic pitfalls of becoming the international currency.
Further Learning:In the Talking Politics Guide to? the 1970s: Helen discusses the decade in which the Bretton Woods system broke down.The panel speaks to Oliver Bullough about ?Moneyland,? and how a handful of London bankers helped break Bretton Woods.Why did the architect of Bretton Woods spy for the Soviets? David and Helen talk to historian Adam Tooze about the global financial crisis.
Set your alarms? for Thursday when David talks to Martin Rees about how we should evaluate the greatest threats facing the human species in the twenty-first century.
David talks to Matthew Taylor about whether more deliberation could remedy some of the defects in contemporary democracy. What can deliberative democracy add to traditional forms of political representation and how might it actually work in practice?
The key feature of deliberative democracy is the idea that in order to fully tap into citizens? views of an issue, you need to give them the time, information, and range of opinion to make an informed choice.The deliberative group should be a mini-public?it?s the same principle as a jury.Deliberative democracy allows you to see the process as well as the outcome. Many citizens change their minds.Deliberation can legitimize representative democracy and make it possible for politicians to take difficult decisions.But there are drawbacks too: it takes a lot of time and it can lead to polarization.
Deliberation leads to more long term thinking and creates a sense of shared responsibility between citizens and the government.Some people are suspicious that deliberative democracy is simply an attempt to get progressive politics in by another route.So much of contemporary politics is about crowds, charisma, and slogans. Deliberative democracy is slow and informed.
There should have been some kind of deliberative process before Brexit.There was a deliberative process before the Irish referendum, which made something that could have been incredibly divisive into a positive. But it might be too late for Brexit. Politicizing deliberative democracy could undermine it.Deliberative democracy needs to be a habit in order to work properly.
Deliberative democracy is a form of democracy that is attractive and uplifting.It could be an antidote to the ugliness of contemporary politics.Deliberation is a gateway reform: if you make it a habit, you can use deliberative methodologies to explore other kinds of democratic reforms. The main barrier is ignorance, not hostility. Once people understand what deliberative democracy is, they tend to be interested.
Mentioned in this Episode:Cass Sunstein on polarization and deliberative democracy.Deliberative democracy in Ulaanbaatar.How a citizens' assembly broke Ireland?s deadlock on abortion.
Further Learning:David discusses the future of referendums with Gisela Stuart, Jenny Watson, and Alan Renwick.Matthew gives the RSA Chief Executive?s Lecture on citizens' assemblies.
Set your alarms? for Sunday, when David talks to Helen about the economic order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. What was agreed at Bretton Woods, how did it work, why did it eventually fail, and can any of it be revived?
David talks to Ella McPherson about whether digital communication is making it easier or harder to hold human rights abusers to account. What has been the impact of the social media revolution on reporting human rights violations and does anonymity help or hinder the pursuit of justice?
Human rights activism is about analyzing information, processing it, and turning it into evidence.New technologies such as smartphones and messaging services have fundamentally changed the process of information gathering.Analysis has also changed. For example, Google Earth or new forms of modeling can help activists verify reports.Technology has also widened the human rights project. Many groups, including Amnesty International, now outsource some forms of analysis to amateurs. This allows them to process far more information and gives concerned citizens a way to get involved.
For a few years, the story about technology and human rights was mostly positive, but there are drawbacks too.Activists had an early adopter advantage (e.g. civilian witness videos), but states are starting to catch up.Technology makes it easier to organize, but it also makes activists more visible and trackable.Today, many activists are limiting or opting out of digital communications.New developments such as ?deepfakes? also make it harder to verify information. States can sow doubt by flooding the zone with misinformation.
Anonymity in human rights reporting is a mixed bag because it runs against our social understanding of how to produce knowledge.Anonymously provided information may alert fact finders to a problem, but it will rarely be sufficient.Knowing where information comes from is important in the verification process.Unfortunately, this means that vulnerable people are more likely to be silenced.
Mentioned in this Episode:Amnesty International?s digital verification projectAnd their open-source investigationsThe Forensic Architecture agency at Goldsmiths, University of London
Further Reading:?Anatomy of a Killing:? the BBC uses open-source information including Google Earth to identify and verify a horrifying video circulating on social mediaWhat are ?deepfakes? and can we still trust what we see?On blockchain and deepfakesWhat happens when war crimes are recorded on social media?
Set your alarms? for Thursday, when David talk to Matthew Taylor about whether more deliberation could remedy some of the defects in contemporary democracy.
How did Facebook get to be so powerful and what, if anything, can we do to take some of that power back? David talks to John Naughton about the rise and possible fall of Mark Zuckerberg?s social media monolith.
Facebook is a data extraction company claiming to be a social network.If the service is free, your data is the product.Advertisers, not users, are Facebook?s real customers.How do we reconcile this reality with the fact that people value it as a public service?
In some parts of the world, Facebook has become the internet.People who wouldn?t be able to afford data charges can access the internet for free via the Facebook app.If you are a monopoly platform for information, what kind of responsibility do you have?
2018 has been a tough year for Facebook, but is it really vulnerable?Investigative reporting has revealed the darker side of the social network.So far, they?ve been pretty inept at handling these scandals.This is creating a morale problem, which could affect their ability to recruit.But the company?s services have inserted themselves into people?s daily lives.We don?t have the right analytical framework for analyzing how Facebook does harm.
Facebook has become the corporate extension of Mark Zuckerberg?s personality.He has absolute control, and this means that his vision dominates.Zuckerberg appears to believe that the world would be better if everyone were on Facebook.For Facebook, it?s all about growth. What if they embraced a more self-limiting strategy?A massive revolt by a significant portion of people might shift the narrative and cause investor panic.But it?s unlikely that Facebook will be out-competed. The barrier to entry has become too high.
Mentioned in this Episode:Carole Cadwalladr?s groundbreaking reporting on Cambridge AnalyticaThe New York Times? investigation into how Facebook handled revelations about Russian interference in the 2016 electionHow Facebook enabled a genocide in Myanmar
Further Learning:From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, John?s book about the internet.The New Yorker?s Evan Osnos profiles Mark Zuckerberg.From our archive... David unpacks the Cambridge Analytica story with John and Jennifer Cobbe.Shoshana Zuboff?s new book on the age of surveillance capitalism.The U.S. Senate?s report on disinformation and Russian interference.
Set your alarms? for Sunday, when David talks to Ella McPherson about...
David talks to Diane Coyle about how we measure whether the state of the economy is actually doing us any good. Why is it so hard to capture well-being in economic statistics and what impact has the digital revolution had on our quality of life?
What does it mean when there is a disconnect between conventional economic measures and life as it is experienced?Consider the United States: economic indicators such as GDP and unemployment statistics look good, but the social indicators are terrible. Life expectancy is falling due to an epidemic of drug overdoses and suicide. Politics are practically deranged.
What are the conventional economic measures missing?There are lots of things going on that GDP doesn?t pick up, especially in the household.Technology is rapidly changing work patterns, and data collection hasn?t yet caught up.Life in cities looks very different than life elsewhere. Due to forces of agglomeration, people in big cities have more access to public services.We need better data that takes into account factors such as wealth, the state of infrastructure, geographic distribution, and human capital.Disjunction leads to distrust. Better measurement might help build trust between experts and citizens.
The 2008 Crash left deep scars, but the problems we see today go further back than that.After deindustrialization in the 1980s and 1990s, there was no meaningful policy response to the loss of jobs. This created a vicious cycle of unemployment, declining schools, and poor health.With automation on the horizon, we need better policies. We aren?t asking the right questions around automation: What kind of skills will be needed and can people acquire them? What will the adjustment costs look like?
Interconnectivity is a key challenge going forward.Societies adjust to technological changes all the time, but today, rapid changes are also interacting with trade wars and geopolitical disturbances such as Brexit.
Mentioned in this Episode:The United States is experiencing the longest sustained decline in life expectancy in a centuryA brief summary of Thomas Piketty?s CapitalAnd check out Talking Politics in conversation with PikettyThe Bennett Institute, which is trying to collect better data on some of these issues
Further Learning:If you?re interested in reading more of Diane?s work, check out her website.Diane in the FT on how we can get better at measuring economic realitiesAnd from our archives, Diane talks with David, Chris, and Helen about what?s wrong with GDPAnand Menon on the Brexit GDP heckler (?That?s your GDP, not mine?)The Cincinnati Enquirer?s
David talks to Gary Gerstle about the history of the United States Constitution and its current role in American political life. Is it still fit for purpose in the twenty-first century and what could be done to change it?
?American democracy is stuck, but because of the Constitution it also has a history of getting stuck.?
The Constitution not only divided power between the federal government and the states; it also gave each level of governance a different theory of power.The Constitution strengthened the power of the central state?this was necessary for the fledgling country to take on larger challenges.But Americans were wary about centralized power. Their solution was the enumeration of powers: the federal government would only have those powers explicitly stated in the Constitution.Non-enumerated powers remained in the hands of the states, which have, historically, legislated far more intrusively than the federal government.
The biggest changes to the Constitution are not through amendments but through interpretation and practice.Amending the Constitution is extremely difficult.Commentators often identify the Civil War as a constitutional inflection point. After the war, the Constitution was amended to abolish slavery (13th amendment) and protect the rights of citizens (14th and 15th amendments).But in the years that followed, the states successfully clawed back many of the powers they had been forced to relinquish. As a result, the force of the civil rights amendments was not felt until the 1960s when the Warren Court effectively imposed the Bill of Rights on the states.
The 1960s saw a split between those who believed in originalism versus the living constitution.The Democrats say that the Constitution only works in a radically changing society if you interpret it liberally, in a living sense, for every generation.The conservatives say that the Constitution must be interpreted according to what the founding fathers intended.The root of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans is over the proper use of federal power.
Today, federal paralysis means that there is a resurgence of activity on the state level.With a conservative court, the states could even become the vanguard of the progressive movement.In the post-Civil War, post-Warren court era, federalism may be able to work in a way that it never could before.
Further Learning:Gary Gerstle?s fascinating book about American governanceGary and the panel recap the 2018 U.S. midterm electionsHow did the U.S. Supreme Court get so polarized?More on the Warren Court and where it stood on the issues
Set your alarm clocks? next week, Diane Coyle talks to David about economic well-being. What do the statistics miss and how has the digital revolution affected our quality of life?
This week David and Helen try to make sense of everything that's going on: not just the Brexit drama, but its links to Macron's fate in France and Merkel's fate in Germany. How will history see this moment? Does Theresa May have any cards left to play? Plus David responds to some of the feedback from last week's episode about votes for children. Recorded on Weds morning before the result of the confidence vote, with a short update.
As a follow-up to last year's How Democracy Ends lecture, David talks about how divisions between young and old are threatening representative democracy. He traces the story from Ancient Greece to Brexit and beyond, and asks how the age divide connects to the education divide in contemporary politics. Plus he offers some radical suggestions for what we might do about it.
A break from Brexit! This week we talk to one of the world's leading moral philosophers Martha Nussbaum about the really big stuff: anger and disgust, trust and hope, childhood and experience. Can contemporary democracy cope with the growing fears of its citizens? What are we so afraid of? And what does Trump's election tell us about where we should look to rebuild faith in politics? Martha Nussbaum's latest book is The Monarchy of Fear https://bit.ly/2zwpLR9
As Theresa May gets closer to putting her Brexit deal before parliament, we discuss the chances of success. Was this really the best deal available? What will MPs be weighing up when they get their chance to vote on it? Have its opponents missed their chance? Plus we try to make sense of the choices facing the DUP and we consider the larger question of what this version of Brexit would mean for the future of the Union. With Kenneth Armstrong, author of Brexit Time, Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton.
We try to make sense of the big story in European politics this week: not Brexit (not yet!) but the high stakes standoff between the Italian government and the EU. Why has the proposed Italian budget produced this showdown? Who is really pulling the strings? And what does it tell us about the current prospects for populism in Europe? Plus we assess the ups and downs of the Macron project and ask what its fate means for the future of France and of the wider European project. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Lucia Rubinelli.
We try to make sense of the recent election of far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil, with the help of three experts in Brazilian politics and society. Who voted for Bolsonaro and why? What role is being played by the army? Can he deliver on his promises? And what does his election tell us about the prospects for democracy in the country and the wider world? With Nadya Araujo Guimarães, Pedro Mendes Loureiro and Graham Denyer Willis.
In a special episode recorded the morning after the midterms, we try to make sense of the results as they come in. How much trouble can a Democratic House cause for Trump's presidency? What will Republicans do with their new strength in the Senate? And when, if ever, will the South turn blue? Plus we ask what impact the Kavanaugh hearings had on the outcome and whether the Democrats have an economic message for 2020. With Helen Thompson and Gary Gerstle - in front of a live audience at Trinity College, Cambridge.
We talk to the historian Sarah Churchwell about the origins of some of the ideas churning up politics in the age of Trump: 'America First', 'Make America Great Again', 'Fake News'. Where do these phrases come from and what do they mean? We try to unpick the racism from the isolationism and the anti-immigrant from the anti-elitist sentiment. Plus we discuss whether fascism in America was a real threat in the 1930s and whether it's a real threat today. With Andrew Preston, historian of US foreign policy. Next week: the midterms!
As crunch time approaches, we talk through some worst-case Brexit scenarios: for the government, for the economy, for Remainers, for Europe. Have the negotiations been a humiliation for Britain? Is the Tory Party facing an existential crisis? And what might go wrong if the marchers for a 'people's vote' got their way? Plus we speculate about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for Britain's service economy. With Diane Coyle, Helen Thompson and Chris Bickerton.
David talks about the enduring influence of Gandhi with Ramachandra Guha, author of an epic new biography Gandhi 1914-194: The Years That Changed the World. A conversation about the politics of protest, the legacy of empire and the possibility of moral leadership. Plus, what was it like having Gandhi as your father? https://bit.ly/2OVe7VE
David talks to the author of The End of History about his new book, Identity. Can 'identity politics' really make sense of everything from populism to #MeToo? Why are liberal democracies struggling to meet their citizens' desire for recognition? And what happened to the end of history anyway? Plus we discuss the Kavanaugh hearings, 'getting to Denmark' and the challenge of an ageing population.
NB: This weekend there's a special extra edition of Talking Politics looking at the enduring legacy of Gandhi.
We try to uncover the truth about fake news with Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, and Martin Moore, director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power. Why have elections around the world been so easy to hack? Can newspapers survive the age of 'free'? And is anonymity a friend or an enemy to democracy? Big questions, big answers.
Back to Brexit: as decision-day approaches we try to work out what might happen next. Did Labour patch up its differences? Can anyone really start the negotiations again? And what would it take to get the EU to deviate from its script? Plus we explore some of the ideological roots of Tory opposition to Chequers and we ask what happened to the good old British bye-election. With Helen Thompson, Chris Bickerton and Waseem Yaqoob.