POLITICO's Westminster Insider

31 Episodes

By: Jack Blanchard

POLITICO’s weekly political series hosted by Jack Blanchard lifts the curtain on how Westminster really works, offering in-depth insight into the political issues which typically only get broad-brush treatment in the wider media.

The next pandemic
Last Friday at 3:00 AM

Westminster — like much of the world — was caught napping by the deadly new coronavirus which emerged from China in 2019. This week Jack Blanchard speaks to experts from around the world to consider what we can do now to better prepare for the next pandemic, and avoid a similar catastrophe next time round.

Professor Julia Gog of Cambridge University explains how different types of virus spread in different ways, and the sorts of intervention we might need in response. Former U.K. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns of the dangers of Whitehall groupthink, while Dr Jason Wang of Stan...

How British towns got left behind

This week Jack explores whether Britain's provincial towns — like the town he grew up in and many places he has lived since — have been "left behind" as the economy has evolved over recent years.

Wigan MP and Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy explains why she famously put towns at the heart of her political philosophy, and how she believes places like Wigan can be transformed in the decades to come. Mansfield MP and local council leader Ben Bradley considers the shifting political forces that helped make him Mansfield's first ever Conservative MP in 2017.

FT journalist Seba...

The government vs the BBC: A Hundred Year War

This week Jack picks through the long and turbulent relationship between the government and the BBC, and asks why these two great pillars of British public life can't seem to get along.

Veteran BBC Radio 4 presenter and author Edward Stourton and BBC historian Professor Jean Seaton discuss the checkered history of government/BBC relations, from the 1926 General Strike right through to the modern day — via World War II, the Falklands and Iraq. Former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Jeremy Corbyn's former aide James Schneider offer critiques from the Right and the Left, each suggesting the Beeb struggles wi...

The history of climate change — from the Great Ice Age to COP26 and beyond

As the COP26 summit continues in Glasgow, Jack Blanchard looks back at the history of climate change, from the dramatic shifts at the end of the Ice Age to the political rows of the modern era.

Anthropologist Professor Brian Fagan takes us back to pre-historic, ancient and medieval periods to assess how past human societies coped with a changing climate. In more recent history, Margaret Thatcher's Political Secretary John Whittingdale explains why the Tory PM was among the first world leaders to campaign for a global deal on cutting greenhouse gases.

Former Labour leader — and ex...

How do you write a great political speech?

As Britain's political parties finish their annual conferences, Jack Blanchard invites a selection of top speechwriters from both sides of the Atlantic to consider what makes a great political speech.

Tony Blair's former chief speechwriter, Philip Collins, talks us through the techniques he used when penning Keir Starmer's leader's speech at this year's Labour Party conference. David Cameron's former chief speechwriter, Ameet Gill, recalls several of the ex- PM's greatest hits, including the 2007 "no notes" party conference speech which helped avert a snap general election. Ed Miliband's former speechwriter, stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazarika, explains the importance of...

Meet Lee Cain: Three chaotic years as Boris Johnson's closest aide

This week Jack Blanchard sits down with Lee Cain, who spent three years at Boris Johnson's side as his spin doctor and closest aide.

In his first major interview since leaving Downing Street, Cain recalls Johnson's extraordinary journey from U.K. foreign secretary, to backbench rebel, to all-powerful prime minister with a commanding majority in parliament. Cain reveals Johnson's campaign secrets and lifts the lid on the all-important Cabinet resignation in 2018 which helped propel him into power.

And he recalls the highs and the lows of the 18 months that followed, from a landslide general election...

From Bismarck to Merkel: Why German chancellors always matter more than we expect

As Germany goes to the polls for an historic election this weekend, Jack Blanchard looks back at some of the great pre- and post-war German chancellors and the impact they've had on Europe and on Britain.

Sir Christopher Clark, emeritus professor of history at Cambridge University, and Anglo-German historian Katja Hoyer discuss Otto von Bismarck and his role in creating a powerful new German nation, as well as his less-celebrated successors who helped lead Europe into catastrophic war. Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford University, recalls the great post-war chancellors who rebuilt and eventually...

Why doesn't Britain ever build enough homes?

As Michael Gove is appointed Britain's new housing secretary, Jack Blanchard investigates the crisis gripping the sector and asks why Britain seems forever unable or unwilling to build enough homes.

He speaks to three former ministers about their efforts to solve the crisis — including Gove's friend and ex-flatmate Nick Boles, who admits his radical planning reforms of 2013 were a failure. Tony Blair's housing minister Nick Raynsford insists New Labour were right to focus on improving social housing rather than building millions of new properties, but says a mass construction program is now needed. And Theresa May's housing mi...

'Every phone started ringing' — Remembering 9/11

In a special edition to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Jack Blanchard asks the most senior officials in Tony Blair's government to reflect on one of the seismic events of our age.

Blair's former Cabinet secretary Richard Wilson recalls the chaos in Whitehall as Britain scrambled to protect itself from possible copycat attacks. Blair's former chief of staff Jonathan Powell recalls the tense phone calls with President George W. Bush amid fears of an instant U.S. military response. Blair's ex-foreign policy adviser David Manning describes how he was in a plane flying into...

Why do politicians tell so many lies?

Jack Blanchard explores the thorny topic of political lying, and considers whether dishonesty is really getting worse in the so-called 'post-truth' era.

Labour MP Dawn Butler and maverick journalist Peter Oborne explain why they believe Boris Johnson to be more dishonest than any prime minister in recent history, while Johnson's former campaign aide Richard Holden defends the PM against all charges. The former Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken explains why he felt compelled to tell one of the most famous political lies of recent times, landing himself in jail for perjury as a result. From across the pond...

MPs' postbags: How we're failing the kids who need us most

Jack abandons Westminster politics for a week to hear about the struggles families in Sheffield face to get the support their children need. Sheffield Heeley MP and shadow Cabinet minister Louise Haigh says helping parents whose children have special educational needs has become a massive part of her weekly casework, with demand for services rocketing and councils facing a huge funding shortfall. And mother-of-three Rachael Crolla talks about her daily battle to access the basic services which her autistic son and desperately unwell daughter so urgently need.

Postcards from Afghanistan

As the chaos unfolds in Afghanistan, Jack Blanchard speaks to three politicians who devoted many months of their lives to trying to secure and rebuild the war-torn nation.

Former U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart reflects on the three years he spent trying to help people out of poverty in Kabul. Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat discusses his former role as a senior adviser to the fledgling Afghan government, and how his hopes of establishing a democratic regime in Afghanistan were dashed. South Yorkshire Mayor and MP Dan Jarvis opens up...

How to spin a referendum: The inside story of the Brexit campaign

In a special episode marking the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum, Jack Blanchard interviews the two men behind the crucial spin campaigns for Leave and Remain.

In a rare interview, Paul Stephenson, director of communications for Vote Leave, reflects on the often-controversial tactics pioneered with his friend Dominic Cummings, which convinced millions of Brits to vote to leave the EU. On the opposing side, Craig Oliver — who served as David Cameron's communications chief — considers why it all went so wrong for Remain, and whether a radically different approach might have secured a different result.

What's the point of the G7 summit?

As the G7 summit gets underway in Cornwall, Jack Blanchard speaks to Tony Blair and a host of former senior government officials about what it's like to attend these surreal events — and whether they're really still relevant in the modern age.

Blair reminisces about his first big summit — a Bill Clinton-hosted G8 in Colorado in 1997 — and the most memorable, the G8 in Gleneagles in 2005. Former diplomat Peter Ricketts explains the months of unseen work ahead of each summit, and how informal meetings in the margins can often be more important than the main event. Former Downing Street aides...

One year on — Owen Paterson on life after his wife's suicide

Jack sits down with the Tory MP and former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson, whose wife Rose killed herself last summer. Owen talks about the shock of learning that someone you love has died by their own hand, and the devastating impact it has on all those around them. He shares his favorite memories of his late wife, and reflects on the changing nature of grief. And he explains his campaign for greater suicide awareness, and for more support for those with mental health difficulties.

How special advisers took over Westminster

In the week of Dominic Cummings' jaw-dropping testimony to Parliament, Jack Blanchard takes a closer look at the role special advisers play within government, and at just how powerful these shadowy figures really are.

Theresa May's former chief aide Nick Timothy talks about his all-powerful role inside Downing Street, and what it feels like to become a magnet for unwanted press attention. Two more former Tory advisers, Salma Shah and Peter Cardwell, discuss their close relationships with their ministers, and how the high pressure and long hours can leave you exhausted and burned out. Former Labour adviser...

Presented by Klarna: The art of political drinking

As pubs and restaurants finally reopen across Westminster after lockdown, Jack Blanchard takes a closer look at the centuries-old drinking culture that pervades British politics.

Former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage discusses his favorite liquid lunches, while the journalist and author Isabel Hardman considers why some MPs drink so much. Former Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan explains the concept of "red wine diplomacy," while political columnist Camilla Tominey tells us what it's like to be teetotal in Westminster. And BBC journalist Ben Wright talks us through the greatest drinkers of the past 300 years, from Pitt...

Presented by Klarna: Meet Angela Rayner — Labour's deputy leader on winning back the North

After a tumultuous week for the U.K. Labour Party, Jack Blanchard sits down with deputy leader Angela Rayner to discuss where the party goes from here.

Rayner discusses the challenge the U.K. Labour Party faces in winning back its former heartlands, and explains the appeal of Boris Johnson to voters in the North of England. She also opens up about her relationship with Labour leader Keir Starmer following his decision to remove her as party chair, and attacks the "magnolia politics" which she says turns voters off. And she reflects on how her own troubled...

Presented by Klarna: Why by-elections matter

As the dust settles after the Hartlepool by-election, Jack Blanchard looks back at some of the great by-election contests of recent years — and ponders whether these quintessentially British political battles are always as significant as they seem.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney recalls her famous Brexit-fuelled victory over Conservative Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park in 2016, while Labour campaign chief Andrew Gwynne reveals how he masterminded a difficult win when pundits were predicting a drubbing for then party leader Jeremy Corbyn in a Labour heartland seat. Tory MP Edward Timpson and Labour MP Steve McCabe remember the epic "cl...

Presented by Klarna: A short history of Scottish separatism

With the Scottish parliament election less than a week away, Jack Blanchard looks back at the history of the Scottish nationalist movement and explains how it shifted from a fringe pursuit to perhaps the majority view in Scotland.

Former First Ministers Alex Salmond and Jack McConnell — who between them ran the Scottish government for more than 13 years — discuss the collapse of Scottish Labour in the mid 2000s and the extraordinary rise of the SNP. Scottish Cabinet Minister Mike Russell explains what first attracted him to the nationalist movement in the 1970s, while independence campaigner and columnist Lesley Ridd...

Coming soon: POLITICO's Westminster Insider season 2

The new season of Jack Blanchard’s weekly podcast on how Westminster really works kicks off on April 30. Subscribe now and never miss an episode.

A year of lockdowns — How the pandemic changed Westminster

Jack Blanchard heads back to Westminster on the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown to hear how the pandemic has changed British politics for good. Guests in this season's finale include Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, who discusses the pros and cons of a more digital parliament, and opens up about his home life during lockdown. Lord Speaker Norman Fowler laments the closure of his favorite House of Lords bar; ITV Political Editor Robert Peston muses on the joys — and frustrations — of the coronavirus press conferences; and celebrity chef Vivek Singh explains the challenge of running his legendary West...

Meet: Chancellor Rishi Sunak — beyond the Budget

Jack Blanchard sits down with Rishi Sunak to discuss his whirlwind first year as U.K. Chancellor, and hear more about his Hindu faith, his fears for the future and his love of computer games. In a wide-ranging interview, Sunak reflects on the 13 months in which he was dramatically elevated to the second-biggest job in British politics as Chancellor of the Exchequer — and then immediately plunged into the biggest global crisis since World War II. The 40-year-old Chancellor recalls how he "was barely at home, barely saw my wife and kids" as he struggled to contain the economic fallout, an...

Cabinet secretaries ... and why Sir Humphrey always wins

Jack speaks to Richard Wilson, Cabinet secretary under Tony Blair, about his years as Whitehall's top official, and his memories of crises including the 9/11 terror attacks. Suzanne Heywood, widow of the legendary Cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, reflects on her late husband's long career in government and considers the extent to which unelected officials can end up shaping government policy. The Institute for Government's Catherine Haddon explains the history behind the role of Cabinet secretary and the many different aspects to the job. And we trawl through hours of archive interviews with past Cabinet secretaries to explore how these powerful...

When Budgets go wrong

As Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, finalizes his speech ahead of next week's Budget, Jack Blanchard looks back at the pitfalls and disasters which have plagued Chancellors in years gone by.

Former Treasury aide and official Ed Balls recalls his old boss Gordon Brown's 10p tax band fiasco. Philip Hammond's former media adviser Poppy Trowbridge picks over the 2017 U-turn on national insurance. Former Chancellor George Osborne defends the 2012 pasty tax 'omni-shambles,' while former Tory MP Heidi Allen explains what it's like to lead a Budget rebellion. And Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds delves into the...

MPs’ postbags: The hidden costs of lockdown

Jack Blanchard abandons Westminster for a week and explores the hidden costs of lockdown, by delving into the postbags of two MPs in different parts of the U.K.

Tory MP Robert Halfon explains the struggles families face in his corner of Essex, and warns of rising domestic abuse during lockdown. And one of his constituents explains how abuse victims are repeatedly failed by Britain's secretive family courts system. In Bristol, Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire talks about the impact lockdown has had on the city's legendary nightlife, and the broader arts scene. And nightclub owner Marti Burgess...

Meet: Prof Neil Ferguson — life after the coronavirus pandemic

Jack sits down with Britain's top epidemiologist, Professor Neil Ferguson, to discuss how the next few months of the coronavirus pandemic are likely to pan out — and why things went so badly wrong last year.

Professor Neil Ferguson, the man dubbed "Professor Lockdown" explains his "fervent hope" that Britain's astonishing vaccine successes mean life can finally start getting back to something like normal in 2021, but that booster jabs and coronavirus passports may be with us for some time to come. Ferguson also recalls those frantic days in early March 2020 when it became clear Britain had got its in...

How to charm a US president

As Boris Johnson ponders how to woo the newly-elected President Joe Biden, Jack Blanchard looks back at how past prime ministers have tried to charm their counterparts in the White House — with varying degrees of success.

Theresa May's former comms chief Katie Perrior reflects on the thankless task of trying to build a relationship with the erratic Donald Trump. Historians Andrew Roberts and Richard Aldous look back at how Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher successfully charmed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan respectively. Former U.K. Ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer reflects on the key role diplomats pl...

Westminster's morning newsletter revolution

Jack hears from former Chancellor George Osborne about how these morning memos are devoured by senior politicians and newspaper editors alike; and from current and veteran authors including Esther Webber, Paul Waugh and Benedict Brogan about their daily struggle to get the email out on time. Former government special adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin discusses their impact inside the corridors of Whitehall; while New York Times media columnist Ben Smith questions whether their impact upon political coverage has really been a healthy one.

Pilot: The history of pandemics — and how politicians always react the same way

It's striking how few political leaders across the Western world can claim to have handled the coronavirus pandemic especially well. Throughout large parts of Europe and the Americas, politicians have been caught on the hop, reacting slowly and clumsily to the unfolding disaster. In their defense, these leaders have typically blamed what they insist is the unprecedented nature of the Covid catastrophe.

But a glance through the history books shows just how little of this crisis is truly new. As Edith Hall, professor of classics at King's College London, tells the podcast, as long ago as 430BC...

Westminster Insider Trailer

Westminster Insider is a weekly narrated story which lifts the curtain on how Westminster really works, and looks in-depth at political issues which typically only get broad-brush treatment in the wider media. 

In this new podcast, POLITICO’s Jack Blanchard meets with and shines a light on the politicians, experts and advisers who really drive decision-making in U.K. politics and policy.

Unafraid to get stuck into detail but with a lightness of touch, Jack's signature voice makes this podcast a lively and engaging listen.