On this week’s episode, we look at the emerging ambitions of the Visegrád Four in a new Europe. We also look at whether there’s a way out of the government’s current drift, and celebrate 70 years of radio’s finest quiz.
This week’s cover story looks at growing friction between two European factions. On one side, the Macron and Merkel led federalists are looking for greater integration, whilst, on the other, the Visegrád Four are starting to reassert their anti-immigration stance. Will the alliance hold, asks John O’Sullivan in the magazine, and can it arrest the momentum of the EU project? First off, we were joined by Sean Hanley from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL to understand what’s going on, and then by John himself, from Budapest, along with Mikołaj Kunicki from the University of Oxford. As John writes:
“The political status quo that existed after the Cold War is falling apart — but it has not yet settled down into a new system of parties and ideologies. Much is still in flux. The post-1989 left is collapsing almost everywhere: Czech social democrats got only 7 per cent in the elections; Poland’s left all but disappeared in the last few Polish elections, leaving a contest between an urban Whig party and a rural Tory one — the Civic Platform and Law and Justice respectively. Three years ago, five parties on the Hungarian left formed a single coalition to maximise their vote which, in the event, maxed out at 25 per cent compared to 20 per cent for the populist-right Jobbik party and 45 per cent for the ruling Fidesz conservatives. In Slovakia, the electoral contest is between a centre-right coalition and a Babis-type ex-communist entrepreneur turned ‘populist,’ Robert Fico, whose party dominates the scene.”
Next: “#wherestheboldandbravesofaritsdulldulldull” These are the words, if they can be described as words, of Nicholas Soames, criticising his own party. Is he right? Has the Prime Minister’s government entered a state of terminal drift? That’s what James Forsyth describes in his political column this week, and he joins the podcast along with Katy Balls. As James writes:
“The latest storm was caused by Nick Boles’s criticism of Theresa May. On Friday evening, the former housing minister took to Twitter to lament the lack of a radical government agenda and to tell the Prime Minister to raise her game. Immediately, Westminster began wondering what he was up to. Who he was speaking for? After all, Boles has form. More than anyone else, he persuaded Michael Gove to break dramatically with Boris Johnson during the last leadership contest and stand in his own right. I asked one long-standing May critic if Boles was co-ordinating with others. ‘There’s no plan — as always,’ they answered.”
And finally, which national institution turns 70 this year? If you know the answer to that, you’re probably as big a nerd as Marcus Berkmann who, in the magazine this week, celebrates the anniversary of radio’s greatest competition: the Round Britain Quiz. He joins the show this week along with Mark Mason, author of Question Time: A Journey Round Britain’s Quizzes. As Marcus writes:
“Last year was a bit of a year for Radio 4 anniversaries; maybe most notably, Desert Island Discs celebrated 70 years on air. But oddly enough, so did another show. Round Britain Quiz, which you may remember vaguely from your childhood, or possibly your parents’ childhood, also reached 70 in 2017. There have been one or two breaks, but this abstruse and, let’s face it, unashamedly smart show has survived the slings and arrows of outrageous Radio 4 controllers. Every year we fret and worry, hoping beyond hope that it will be recommissioned. Every year, I’m glad to say, it is. I say ‘we’ because, for the past few years, I have been part of the merry crew that makes the programme. It’s one of the very best jobs in the world.”