On this week’s episode of The Spectator Podcast, we look at the new Saudi Crown Prince as he visits the UK. Is he the great moderniser that some imagine, or are we sweeping the more unpleasant elements of his regime under the carpet? We also consider the many strands of Labour’s Brexit position, and look at a rocky week for British sport.
First, Mohammed bin Salman, known to some as MBS, is making his first trip to the UK this week since assuming the role of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince last year. He has been heralded by some as the radical modernising force that the country has been calling for, whilst others are concerned about lack of counsel and the ruthlessness of his course. What’s the truth? In the magazine this week, Christopher de Bellaigue urges caution when it comes to the prince’s PR machine, while John R. Bradley is more hopeful about MBS’s reforms. Christopher joins the podcast along with Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia. As Christopher writes:
“This week, Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MBS, is on his not-quite-state visit to Britain. A parade down the Mall and a state banquet could only be afforded to his father, old King Salman, who made MBS crown prince last June and has given him unprecedented latitude to liberalise Saudi society, lock up his enemies and light fireworks abroad. MBS arrived in London on Wednesday fresh from visiting one friend, Egypt’s General Sisi, and will go on to see another, Donald Trump, on 19 March. Theresa May’s aim will be to show that Britain can thrive outside the EU, but she should think twice before co-opting this new strongman who reputedly encourages his courtiers to call him Iskander — the name by which Middle Easterners know Alexander the Great.”
Next, one of the great mysteries of British politics over the past year and a half has been the exact position that Labour is taking on Brexit. At the 2017 General Election, Mr Corbyn’s party successfully pulled together pro-European and Labour leave tribes, but questions remained about how long that unlikely coalition could hold. With Brexit looming, the question is starker than ever, and in his diary this week, Paul Mason writes about the stream of vitriol he received after suggesting that it would be sensible for Labour to promote remaining in a customs union. He joins the podcast along with Andrew Adonis, a vociferous advocate of reversing the referendum decision. As Paul writes:
“At the BBC early doors for the Today programme, to preview Corbyn’s speech advocating membership of a customs union. I suggest that ‘this is something Remainers can get behind’, but come off air to a torrent of denialism and abuse on Twitter. In a parallel universe, the people who feel existentially destroyed by being halfway out of the EU would have made this case passionately before the vote, instead of trying to rely on fear and platitudes now. In quick succession, the European Commission drops its bombshell, obliging Britain to impose customs controls across the Irish sea; then Theresa May delivers her speech applying for a kind of off-peak gym membership of the EU. It’s well delivered, diplomatically calibrated, and doomed to be rejected.”
And finally, for some light relief, we look at revelations that suggest that British sport has repeatedly pushed the boundaries of fair play when it comes to drug treatments. Many legends of the past and stars of today are implicated in the findings of a new report, so are we really any better than the state-sponsored dopers of Russia? Damian Reilly writes on the sense of shame engulfing British sport and he joins us to discuss along with The Independent’s Tom Peck. As Damian writes:
“For years, sports fans in this country have been impelled to disregard the evidence our lyin’ eyes, for example, about why so many top level British endurance athletes seem to have debilitating asthma, or why the bikes used by Team Sky are heavier than those used by their rivals, or how it could be that plucky Britain with its smaller population finished higher in the medal table at the London 2012 Olympic Games than Russia, with its supposedly state-sponsored Putin-approved doping program (according to the McLaren report the London Games were “corrupted on an unprecedented scale” by those villainous Ruskies).”