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The Spectator podcast: Isis’s last stand

16 February 2017

11:28 AM

16 February 2017

11:28 AM

On this week’s podcast, we discuss what the end of Isis means for a fragile Middle East, debate whether John Bercow should be packing his bags, and ask if the days of the Bullingdon Club have finally ended.

First, the attempt by ISIS to establish a Caliphate has been on the rocks for some time, and with President Trump now at the tiller of the US military, its days may be numbered. Trump wants to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa quickly, but, in order to do so, he might have to rewrite the cautious approach of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Paul Wood writes about the situation in this week’s magazine cover piece, and he joined the podcast from Washington, along with the Conservative MP and Iraq War veteran, Tom Tugendhat. As Paul writes in the magazine:

“The clash of civilisations is as important an idea to the Islamic State as to the Trump administration. Such boasting is absurd, but the fall of the Isis by the hand of America will be the ‘just cause’ for a new generation of jihadis. The end of the physical territory of the caliphate will not be the end of the idea of the ‘Islamic State’. That might be just as dangerous.”


On the subject of Russia, Tom Tugendhat adds that:

“The reality is, Russia’s military might in Syria has been more in the demonstration than in the reality, in the sense that they’ve made an awful lot of noise but they haven’t really been important in the fight against Isis. They’ve been focused on keeping Assad in power, and that means fighting Kurdish groups and other groups further in the West, rather than being terribly bothered about these Islamist movements in the East.”

Next, John Bercow has been a controversial Speaker, ever since his appointment to the role back in 2009, but he has hit headlines twice this week, first for saying that Donald Trump would not be welcome to speak in the Palaces of Westminster, and second, for revealing to a group of students that he had voted to Remain in the EU. A motion of no confidence against him has been filed, by a fellow Tory MP, and joining the podcast to debate Bercow’s future were Matthew Parris, whose column this week offers the embattled Speaker some tentative support, and the Spectator’s political editor, James Forsyth.

Matthew writes that:

“John Bercow has been both outstanding as a Speaker, and seriously flawed. You would need to be a sixth-former or Westminster habitué to know of the impact he’s made on public access, on engaging with the voters and with young people, on the lecture evenings to which he’s opened his Speaker’s House home, and the endless dog-hangings, so important for public-spirited people, on which he tirelessly drops in. He misspoke at Reading — but he was at least there at Reading, talking to students. His motivating idea, that a Parliament fit for the 21st century must invite and engage the world outside, and the Speaker is its ambassador, is true and strong.”

But not everyone agrees, and James Forsyth tells the podcast that:

“My issue isn’t so much him saying which way he voted in the referendum, which is, after all, a kind of extra-parliamentary matter. But him in that same appearance opining on which EU laws should be incorporated into UK law, something he knows is going to be debated in Parliament. Maintaining order in the House of Commons relies on MPs on both sides accepting that the Speaker is acting honourably and impartially, now, when he selects an amendment or chooses who to speak, people will know what his views are on this matter, and I think that will make it very hard for him to do the job.”

And finally, what do David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson all have in common? Other than a ruddy complexion and proximity to power, all three men were members of Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club. As was Harry Mount, the new editor of The Oldie, who this week writes the club’s obituary, and he joins the podcast. He writes that:

“It isn’t quite dead — but it is down to its last two members. That’s barely enough people to trash each other’s bedrooms, let alone a whole restaurant, as the Bullingdon was wont to do, according to legend — not that we ever did that sort of thing in my time in the club, from 1991 to 1993.”

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