In This Episode
It’s been a big week in the Tories’ war on foreigners. While efforts to resuscitate the Rwanda plan continue, Nish and Coco pick over the Government’s five-point plan to reduce legal immigration. For Nish, these are measures produced by people who clearly have no lived experience of relying on the NHS or on social care. Coco points out the cruelty of minimum income plans that could split families up, and also discriminate against women.
Former National Security Adviser to Obama, and co-host of Pod Save the World, Ben Rhodes, joins us to give us the American view on Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. As someone who’s been in the room with Benjamin Netenyahu, Ben gives us his take on the Israel Gaza crisis, and reflections on the stance taken by the UK and the US as the situation worsens. Plus, don’t miss a glorious anecdote that takes in the twin British obsessions of royalty and toilets!
Nish’s Hero of the week salutes MPs and campaigners who defeated the Government on compensation for people affected by the contaminated blood scandal. While Coco’s villain is a building contractor whose shoddy workmanship means kids are having to do their lessons in tents. Plus we want your nominations for ‘the political moment of the year’ – good or bad – email them to PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk
Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk
WhatsApp: 07514 644 572 (UK) or + 44 7514 644 572
Ben Rhodes, co-host of Pod Save the World, and former White House Deputy National Security Adviser
https://auraframes.com/PSUK (Use promo code PSUK)
Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.
Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.
Nish Kumar And I’m Nish Kumar.
Coco Khan And this week we’re saving the U.K. from a five point plan that hates foreigners.
Nish Kumar And asking if somebody is shaping up to be an Osborne and Cameron to the U.K..
Coco Khan Plus, August is a man who’s been in the room where it happens. Former White House national security adviser and co-host of Let’s Save the World, Ben Rhodes. Hey, Nish, How’s your week been?
Nish Kumar My life has been absolutely fine, Coco. I lied again.
Coco Khan Oh, did.
Nish Kumar You? Yeah. Good.
Coco Khan What did you play? Just sweet Caroline.
Nish Kumar So I. I code deejay to set up my friend Steve Minds wedding, which is a wonderful, wonderful evening. Lovely time.
Coco Khan So, what sort of songs are we playing here?
Nish Kumar Well, I was deejaying with my friend Ed Gamble, and he and I have diametrically opposed.
Coco Khan He’s Put your hands up for Detroit and you’re like, no hands in my pocket. We’re listening to Pavement.
Nish Kumar No, no, no. He’s. I’m Beyoncé and he’s be rock n o freak. So it was an interesting, an uneasy coalition, right on paper. But actually it worked amazingly. I would say we met each other in the middle and we aimed to please the majority of the audience. You know, we went from pretty fine from a white guy to Beyonce. Like we covered all of the polls. We went from, I believe, in a thing called Love by the Darkness to One Thing by Amari. The one thing I would say is that if you looked at the songs, you would be able to guess to the day the age of the two men involved. But obviously his name is that Gamble. My name is Nishikawa. Our deejay name, Childish Gambino.
Coco Khan Okay. Good mouthful, though, that one, isn’t it?
Nish Kumar Oh, finish gambling.
Coco Khan I have to say, I mean, it’s not a competition, but, like, your songs sound better. Like, objectively, you just have He wants to dance to. I believe in a thing called love. Maybe he wants people dead. Weirdly, moves sort of moves like.
Nish Kumar Sort of like high kicks.
Coco Khan Like.
Nish Kumar I’ll be honest with you. By that point, I’d had a couple of martinis, so I wasn’t. I wasn’t fully in my right mind yet. James Bond makes drinking martinis look a lot easier than it is in real life.
Coco Khan I always think that mostly about in any kind of political drama where they have like a whiskey with the senator.
Nish Kumar Unbelievable.
Coco Khan Well, now it’s 11 a.m..
Nish Kumar Well, I think based on the last decade and a half of politics, cocoa, doesn’t it make more sense if all of them were drunk, that maybe.
Coco Khan Yeah, maybe you’re right about that.
Nish Kumar It makes more sense. It’s been a massive week for new Home Secretary James Cleverly. He’s been fronting up the government’s latest push to tackle both legal and illegal migration.
Coco Khan Ever since it was revealed two weeks ago that net migration last year hit 750,000. There’s been growing pressure on the government, mainly from the right wing of the Conservative Party, to come up with a plan to bring the number down. So on Monday, Mr. Cleverly unveiled a five point plan that he said would cut arrivals by 300,000. More on that in a moment.
Nish Kumar Because barely having drawn breath cleverly was straight onto a plane to Rwanda, where he signed a new treaty alongside the Rwandan foreign minister. This does this is designed to address the Supreme Court judges who ruled three weeks ago that the government’s plans to send asylum seekers on a one way trip to Rwanda in order to deter small boat crossings they say was unlawful. Here’s Mr. Cleverly speaking at a press conference in the Rundown capital Kigali.
Clip of James Cleverly I really hope that we can now move quickly. We’ve addressed the the issues that were raised by their Lordships in this treaty and that will be reflected in domestic legislation soon because we are absolutely committed to breaking the business model of these people, smuggling gangs to create a cell from what a safe and welcoming environment with our friends and partners here in Rwanda, but also making sure that mass migration is well-managed into the future.
Nish Kumar So just in case you weren’t keeping score, that makes it number of home secretaries who sent to Rwanda three number of asylum seekers who send to Rwanda nil.
Coco Khan So I want to talk about that five point plan to tackle legal migration. Among the measures announced where foreign care workers will be banned from bringing family members into the UK. The salary threshold required for skilled foreign workers to get a visa will rise to 38,700 pounds. And a review of the graduate visa route. What are you thinking about this, Nish.
Nish Kumar In terms of this the salary threshold for a visa? We should say that there are kind of individual details that are worth examining. The minimum salary threshold for skilled work is going to rise to 38,700 pounds from the current level, which is 26,000 pounds, though health and care workers are exempt from this rise. But in addition to that, overseas care workers will no longer be able to bring family dependants, which James cleverly said is a measure that will end the abuse of the health and care visa. I think that this is an example of a policy that can only be crafted by a government that’s not living in the real world. Because if you have in any way had to deal with the health system or the social care system, you will understand that those two systems are powered by immigrants and at certain points. You. Racism and your hostility to migrants becomes an act of self-immolation, like it becomes completely self-defeating. And. Asking people to come here to work in the health and care sectors and telling them that they can’t bring their spouses is inhumane and will almost certainly decimate the numbers of people willing to come over here. Now, we’ve already damaged it by making it complicated for EU citizens to come here after Brexit. It will decimate the health and social care sectors. What they aren’t offering is a plan to put in place for how they’re going to replace these workers in the short term. They can talk about training people all they want, but that isn’t going to make up the shortfall in the short to medium term. I have family members that have recently had to use both the health and social care system. I’ve seen firsthand the extent to which, whether you’re using the NHS and the government health and social care systems or you’re using the private social care system. These are entirely industries populated by immigrants. It’s an astonishing act of. Self-harm. Yes. That the government is perpetrating. And it’s what happens if you exclusively govern based on trying to generate positive opinion pieces in the Telegraph, in the mail. And we have seen this play out already. Liz Truss as many budget was essentially designed to appeal to the five people to have newspaper columns in the telegraph in the mail and that blew up the entire country. This is setting another very, very short fuze time bomb under the health and social care sector.
Coco Khan Right. And I would be very interested to hear if there’s any real meaningful polling from the general public about this, particularly if we’re talking about NHS and and care sectors. The public generally are quite in favor of immigration into that because they recognize the need of it. And I do appreciate that there’s like exemptions for that sector, but I think there’s a good sort of case study there that when we understand the application of, you know, fresh faces, new blood to the country, we can get over any fears. I think that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is just the idea that you have to earn a certain amount of money to fall in love with someone who, like lives in a different place. And just that idea of the reality of you can’t choose who you fall in love with, how should I explain it? I just find it sort of. Just unkind, really. You know, the idea that families could be separated. I mean, this this this also people in the country at the moment who probably will now no longer now be able to get a visa extension because they don’t quite, you know, meet meet these new requirements. So those are relationships that may be severed. And there’s just something about like when you think about a person in love or a family, it just starts to really hit home. How cruel it is and unkind is. A good friend of mine is currently dating an American man, and she doesn’t earn enough for him to come over on her citizenship. And actually, like lots of women, don’t earn that amount of money, you know, depending on what sector they’re in, Women will generally earn somewhere between 7 to 15% less than a man. So, again, the limitation of opportunities. Based on, you know, just the the societal problems that we have. If you’re a woman, if you’re a person of color, if you happen to live in a certain area and and that being written into a policy that just kind of makes it clear, basically if you’ve got money, you can do what you like, you can fall in love, you can travel, you can do anything you want, but all the rest of you suck it up. Do you know what I mean?
Nish Kumar That’s absolutely the message here, right? It’s it’s freedom of movement for the wealthy. The entire world is open to somebody that earns above a certain income threshold. And I mean, we should also say, you know, this would have a hugely detrimental impact on the academic sector. You know, if you want people to come here and do their PhDs, there’s no way they’re going to earn above that income threshold. And so, again, what happened to the idea that we’re trying to attract the best and brightest, You should have serious reservations about the uses of those kinds of terms. But now it’s just morphed into we don’t want anyone, we don’t want anyone, and we want our country to essentially go to shit.
Coco Khan Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, we, we talk about in this podcast that we want to be a space for hope. But this week I’ve been feeling a bit bleak. Yeah. And I don’t just mean the weather. I mean, you know, Keir Starmer, he’s having an interesting week, isn’t he?
Nish Kumar Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Coco Khan Yeah, let’s talk about how he praised Margaret Thatcher in a Sunday Telegraph piece. The official quote is that he praised Thatcher for setting loose on natural entrepreneurial ism. It’s obviously a ploy to attract the paper’s Tory readers. He followed that up with a big speech the next day on the economy in which he seemed to be promising that Labour would give us a I mean, a cover version of Tory austerity.
Clip And anyone who expects an incoming Labour government to quickly turn on the spending taps is going to be disappointed. Inflation, debt, taxes are now huge constraints. Of course we will make different choices on the non tax status invested in cutting NHS waiting lists. On removing private school tax breaks invested in high quality teaching and our children’s mental health. But at the same time. We will be ruthless when it comes to spending every pound wisely.
Coco Khan It does. It does it feel you with with hope, Does it?
Nish Kumar Yes. This idea that we’re getting the austerity 3.0, I don’t know. I did a what? It’s about austerity. 95 austerity. I don’t know where we are with the latest iteration of austerity. I think once again, we’re back to this question of is Starmer essentially asking people to take a lot of stuff on trust and essentially saying that he’s campaigning via the medium of winking effectively. Because if what they’re committing to is sticking to what Jeremy Hunt has proposed in the most recent Autumn statement, that is completely unworkable. Right? You know, that’s that’s not my opinion. That’s the opinion of any number of respected economists and people who understand how governments of finance that what Hunt has proposed is absolutely unworkable. The cuts these proposed across government departments will essentially leave us with the Treasury being a guy called Derek with a calculator. So are we supposed to essentially take on trust, this idea that on day one, a proposed Labour government will basically go? By the way, all of that was B.S..
Coco Khan One observation from Ed talk about in The Guardian I thought was really interesting was just about like, you know, cost of living and inflation. And if you want to keep things exactly the same, the state bill will go up. Yeah, yeah. Each year. So if you keep things the same, you know it’s a real terms pay cut. Yeah, exactly. As you say, like we’re looking at austerity again. Vote Labour, get austerity. Doesn’t feel right. Yeah. Yeah. I can’t imagine there’s many parts of the Labour Party electorate who are excited or feel hopeful. I don’t remember that feeling. Hope, do you.
Nish Kumar Go.
Coco Khan Look, I had it once. I can’t recall.
Nish Kumar Well, I think this is a pitch to woo Tory voters to vote Labour. And as much as I say that I want politicians to hold their promises. If they backtrack on this one, I’d be personally very, very sensible. People who support Keir Starmer are showing me that this is, you know, part of a strategy to woo Tory voters. And then when he comes to power, it’ll changes tune fine. Just to flag up that we haven’t forgotten about the Covid inquiry. Boris Johnson as we record is has just started his two day grilling by the inquiry and on Friday will be popping up with a special bonus episode where we’ll actually be speaking to someone who lost a family member to Covid who’s at the inquiry to hear what the former prime minister has to say firsthand. So look out for that special bonus UK episode coming out on Friday. Coming up next, we got a very, very special guest. I was very, very thrilled to have the chance to earlier today interview Ben Rhodes. He’s the co-host of Pod Save the World. And we had a really great conversation, and I’m really excited for you to hear it.
Coco Khan [AD]
Nish Kumar Ho, ho, ho, ho. Christmas is rapidly approaching and Christmas is a time for family gatherings. And as such, we’ve gathered one of the Pod Save family onto the show. Ben Rhodes will be familiar to many viewers the presenter Pod Save the World. He’s also a former deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama. Welcome to Pod Save the UK, Ben.
Ben Rhodes Really good to be here in London.
Nish Kumar I’m going to ask you the first question. We under the current administration and post-Brexit ask all foreigners who come here, What are you doing?
Ben Rhodes I’m in London doing some stuff for the Obama Foundation. Yeah. So I still work for Barack Obama. I’m still on payroll. So I do some meetings with some of the young leaders in our networks and, you know, try to build out support for the Obama Foundation here. And I was just in Bratislava, Slovakia, where I attended a conference on democracy that one of the people in the Obama Foundation networks hosted. And my brother was here. So I’ll be seeing him do a little family, the Pod Save the UK family and the actual Rhodes family.
Nish Kumar It’s always really interesting to get an outsider’s view of British politics. Yeah. One of our listeners, Jan Godfrey, has got in touch on Twitter to say, Could you ask Ben how hilarious he finds British politics?
Ben Rhodes You know, the thing I’d say about British politics is as an American living through an age of complete idiocy and dysfunction in our democracy, whenever I feel really bad about myself and the politics in my country, I always know I can look to the U.K. to feel a little bit better, because if I can go through Brexit and Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and now Rishi and the Return of David Cameron, there’s always something. There’s always something I can count on over here to make me feel a little bit better.
Nish Kumar It’s very funny because one of the first meetings I had about potentially doing the show was with Your Pod, Save the World co-host, Toby Vitali Yeah, and that’s almost verbatim what he said. That’s almost verbatim why he said he wanted to do that.
Ben Rhodes We we really like covering British politics. Yes. But we now knew we had to defer to you guys to save the UK. But we loved covering because it was always ridiculous and kind of hilarious. You know, Boris Johnson was always up to something kind of insane, whether it’s partying and Covid or whatever was going on to number ten or just some stupid shit he said that day. So we still enjoy, like delving into it from time to time because it makes us feel better.
Nish Kumar Did you have any specific dealings with Johnson because you guys overlapped when he was?
Ben Rhodes We did. I really didn’t like him. So here’s the thing. So, you know, because you deal a lot. I mean, I was in for eight years. We dealt a ton with mainly the Cameron government. Yeah. The dealings with Boris Johnson. There was one thing I liked about Boris Johnson. Yeah. Which was in 2012, Mitt Romney, who was running against Obama, came here and he somehow decided that it would be a good idea to trash London because he had done the Olympics in Salt Lake City. And he kind of did their typical Republican thing, like London is not ready. It’s just crime infested. Yeah, whatever. And Boris Johnson got up into this thing where he’s like, there’s this guy, this guy called Mitt Romney. He says, We’re not ready. Are you ready? You know, and he just trashed Romney. That was actually quite helpful to us in 2012. But then when we came in 2016, at the request of the Cameron government, because they needed somebody credible to try to defend the Remain campaign, Boris Johnson wrote some insane op ed, We land and I get this op ed and it’s like, Barack Obama hates the UK.
Nish Kumar I can tell you word for it. It was the part Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike.
Ben Rhodes And it was so racist. It’s like Jesus is like this Kenyan guy. Yeah, hates us because the empire and and first of all, it kind of suggested again, like, like Donald Trump that Obama was Kenyan, not America.
Nish Kumar Yeah, that’s right.
Ben Rhodes And the idea that his identity would mean that somehow he loathes the empire. I mean, first of all, he’s kind of telling on himself there. Right? You know, like the Kenyans have been grateful to us. And it was just so grotesque. And I was like, really? This is where politics is going in the UK, Of course, that’s where politics is going. The US to like we kind of seem to go in tandem in parallel in these things. So I didn’t like deal with him personally, but he was, you know, he also was always complaining about Obama removed some bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office, which, by the way, he replaced with a bust of Martin Luther King. So somewhat understandable that the first black president be like, you know what? No slight against Churchill. It’s just let’s get some memo. Okay. But you know that he was gravely offended by that. So there was a kind of weird, like racial undertone, a lot of the criticism of Obama. So that was my impression of Boris Johnson.
Nish Kumar I think you’ve got him absolutely down. But I sort of wish more British voters had got the accurate impression you received.
Ben Rhodes It wasn’t hard, you know, to figure it out, you know, like where this guy was coming from. You know, the other thing I remember is that Cameron people loathed him, right, because they felt stabbed in the back. I think he’d led them to believe he was going to support. The Remain campaign. And then, of course, now I’m having to go through passport lines to get in and out of this country. So, yeah, we know that, you know.
Nish Kumar There’s not a huge amount to say about his immediate successor because she was prime minister for, I think, a sort of heavy bowel movement here. But the person who took over afterwards obviously, is Rishi Sunak. And what’s your first impressions?
Ben Rhodes My first impression was if you are a party that has put this country through austerity that has almost completely tanked, the economy with Liz Truss is kind of extreme preference for wealthy people and tax cuts. It’s an interesting choice to go with a technocratic, you know, Uber wealthy guy. It seemed kind of tone deaf to what their vulnerabilities might be. I understood that, you know, he’s more competent than Liz Truss. Okay. This guy, he might stabilize things a little bit because he’s not going to destroy the Bank of England yet. But but it does just seem.
Nish Kumar Like it’s a very low threshold. Yeah.
Ben Rhodes Finger on the pulse of the working man is not the vibe I get from Rishi.
Nish Kumar Bumps up from somebody who comes with the. Yes, we had kept this viable not destroy the bank. Yeah.
Ben Rhodes Yeah.
Nish Kumar Big residence. Yeah. He didn’t exactly come on the international stage. Here he is. This is a clip of him. Big rather showed up by journalists for Politico at COP28 last week.
Clip of Rishi Sunak The king has been here for two days. Other world leaders are staying into the weekend. You’ve been here a matter of hours. You’re due to leave again imminently. You’ve spent more time on the private plane than on the ground at the summit. Are you really taking COP28 seriously? And what’s so pressing that you need to leave so soon? So I can I wouldn’t I wouldn’t measure our impact here by our spend. I would measure it by the actual things that we’re doing that are making a difference. And it as I said, the conversations that I’ve been having with people are incredibly positive.
Nish Kumar I mean, it does speak to exactly what you said about his the political vulnerabilities of Rishi Sunak. I mean, it’s not a coincidence the journalist didn’t have to include private jet, but it says a lot about the way that he’s perceived because of his wealth and background.
Ben Rhodes Yeah. And the climate issue, too. Like the other thing about him is that he he seems to tack back and forth. Look, I’ll say this for him. He’s not like a comfortably far right figure or even kind of populist right wing leader like a Boris Johnson was or or Liz Truss was. But, you know, he clearly tacks in that direction on climate, for instance. You know, like he. Boris I know maybe because of his wife or something, but he was more like he least tried to kind of pay more lip service to this and, and Glasgow I think the UK could have done a lot more under the Tory government on climate change. But like Ricci’s not taking this seriously, you know, and the idea that you can parachute a private jet into the UAE and get credit for that when you don’t really have a robust climate plan. Yeah. And you know, this to me is one of the better contrasts for Labour like that. This is one area where at least they have they have a program that is in stark contrast. But but yeah, it’s, it’s hard for him to get past the the, the private jet thing sticks a little bit more to him.
Nish Kumar Just to briefly return to Labour. Obviously the whole search continues here. Starmer’s team have been meeting with Democrats. I think Rachel Reeves has been over there as well. What’s your initial perceptions of Starmer and do you think he’s somebody that maybe Joe Biden is looking at as someone he could deal with maybe more productively than the most recent couple of conservative prime ministers?
Ben Rhodes My perception is they are very intent on winning, you know, which is a good thing, by the way, Like and sometimes in the left we get uncomfortable with that. But actually you do have to win. And, you know, I think Starmer came in and his basic theory of the case was, I need to take over this party. It’s going to be a little messy with Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, but I’m just going to be full speed ahead tacking towards the center because I think that that’s the recipe for a Labour victory here and that the Tories are kind of self immolating, particularly through the Liz Truss period. So therefore I need to present myself as a smart, credible, competent alternative to these crazy people. Yeah, I think what’s been interesting and I know some people on the left have been frustrated and I understand why, that there haven’t been kind of more willingness to take riskier positions or more seemingly principled positions on some things. I think what they’ve done that’s interesting is that there is some mirroring of things that the Democratic Party and the Biden administration have done in terms of having like a significant, you know, clean energy vision, a focus on making a health care system work better and on on some form of like a UK, what we’d call in the US industrial policy, like how do we bring back kind of, you know, certain types of manufacturing jobs just in? The stories here. How do we prioritize the development of certain industries? So I think he would be like a very natural. Knock on wood, if Joe Biden gets reelected, that’s that. Keir Starmer probably is a better chance than Biden. Who’s it? Probably a 5050 chance. But yeah, I think they’d be very complimentary. I think they’d have, you know, pretty common domestic agendas and on foreign policy. You know, I don’t see a lot of daylight between the two them. Frankly, they’re both a bit out of step with probably where I would be on something like Gaza. Yeah. Keir’s like build the brand to be able to win. You have to you have to have a capacity to inspire people a bit. And so he still has more hurdles to clear here. You know.
Nish Kumar We should definitely talk about Gaza, given your kind of expertise. I hope everybody that listen to this podcast is listening to Pod Save the World, that Gaza coverage has been impeccable, but at the moment. With the resumption of hostilities. How long can the US and the UK position of unequivocal support for Netanyahu continue? I mean, the numbers are Arye altering, like the number of civilian deaths, the images we’re all seeing, the the kind of incursions now into south Gaza, which is kind of where they told the population to go. You know, the fact that they’re following them in there with kind of full military might. How tenable is the US and UK policy?
Ben Rhodes I think it’s untenable. We try to unpack this with data, but like October 7th is was absolutely horrifying and absolutely traumatizing event for Israel. And so the impulse to do something to go after Hamas, to defend Israelis is entirely understandable. I think what we’ve learned, though, is that this government under Bibi Netanyahu cannot be trusted at all to do that in a way that has any regard for Palestinian life or any regard, frankly, to even what they’re hearing from the U.S. and U.K. privately, which is, you know, you need to follow the laws of war. You need to reduce civilian casualties. You need to have a plan in the long term for a Gaza that is under a Palestinian administration. You can’t displace mass amounts of people. That’s just being ignored, you know, And so to me, that’s the reason, said Temple, is because of I don’t trust Netanyahu and I and we can see what type of military operation they’re doing. It’s a maximalist military operation. I thought that, you know, there was a pause to get hostages out. I think that part of the hope or expectation was that if they did resume the military operation, it’d be more limited, it’d be more targeted. It’s not it’s looks the same as it did before. They’ve displaced, you know, well over a million people. As you said, They told them to go from the north to the south. Now they’re bombarding the south where these people are supposed to go. And so that’s I think there should be a cease-fire because, number one, you need to just the scale of human suffering is is untenable. Number two, I actually think some people will say, well, you can ask them to go back to October 6th. They’re not going back to October 6th. Not only have they damaged a lot of Hamas infrastructure and taken out a lot of Hamas guys, but on October 6th, the IDF, the Israeli military, was not on the border like they were not securing that border. They were up in the West Bank protecting settlers who were in clashes with Palestinians. They’d let their guard down. So I actually think that Israel is much more secure even today. The danger of continuing to do what they’re doing is obviously to the Palestinians, but also to Israel, like the international horror at what’s happening is just going to build. And you saw the US defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, who’s a former general, say publicly the other day this could turn into a strategic defeat for Israel. You know, if essentially they destroyed the Gaza Strip. You’ve got 2 million homeless people. No plan for governance of Gaza. And Israel has vastly isolated itself internationally. Like whatever they destroy of Hamas could bring a different kind of cost to Israel. And so I don’t think they’re doing themselves any favors. So I think the best thing for Israel and obviously for the Palestinians is for the U.S. and the UK to be to be more critical here of what’s happening, because I don’t think what’s happening is good for anybody.
Nish Kumar You said that you would personally find yourself on a different position to the current U.S. UK position. What would that position be?
Ben Rhodes Well, number one, I’d be more willing to publicly criticize Israeli actions. I mean, there’s something tragicomic about where the Biden administration has found itself because they fully embraced, literally embrace Netanyahu after, you know, after October 7th, but even after they started to signal that they were going to put a siege on Gaza and and then they started when when it was clear that this was going in the direction was going, they started to say publicly, well, we fully embrace him in public, but we we criticize them in private. And yeah, which is kind of a weird thing to have to say because it’s like that. Like, why not just take the next step, you guys? Yeah. But I think Biden is just so instinctively as an older American politician, that that’s what you do. You embrace the Israeli government. The point is that this is this Israeli government is led by Bibi Netanyahu. So what I’d be doing is I’d be very clear about what we see publicly that we don’t agree with. I would I would be pressing for not just a cease fire, but a political strategy here. Yeah, I don’t think you can destroy Hamas militarily without having a multi-month military operation that just destroys Gaza and radicalizes the Palestinian population and isolates Israel. I think what I’d be doing is saying to the Arab states, you know, including people like the Emiratis who have a lot of money. Yeah. Hey, you’re going to come into Gaza. You’re going to be a temporary multinational kind of peacekeeping administration here. And let’s work together to build a different Palestinian leadership than Hamas. Hamas absolutely has to be sidelined. There’s no role for Hamas in the future politics of Palestine. But let’s find an alternative leadership and invest in it and build something that can become a Palestinian state. That, to me, is the only way to to really try to solve this problem in the in the long run. And you hear that language. We want a Palestinian state. We want a Palestinian Authority to take over in Gaza. But like there’s there has to be a political will to press Israel to move in that direction. And frankly, Netanyahu is very weak politically in Israel. I think this there’s a ripeness for a new Israeli government to come in. But let’s face it, Netanyahu publicly is not in favor of Palestinian state. There have been reports that I entirely believe because he did the same thing when I was in government.
Nish Kumar Yeah, I was going to say, because you’ve been in room, you’ve been in rooms with him.
Ben Rhodes What he tells the right wing in Israel is I’m the guy who can prevent a Palestinian state because I’m a good front man, like some of these more right wing people in his coalition. He says to them, let me be the front man for this effort to essentially deny the Palestinians a state. And and and I think that, you know, there needs to be a transition in Israel that is open to not just a Palestinian state, but to that kind of state building in the West Bank and Gaza. And hopefully that’s where the Biden team is. They’re evolving in that direction. But but I think they need to get there fast because, look, I’d say again, it’s the right thing to do morally. And I think for for Israel’s own security. Politically, this young voters, voters of color in the United States, obviously Arab and Muslim voters, they are they’re signaling that they will not vote for Joe Biden over this. And it’d be pretty interesting if after everything the America’s been through, Joe Biden loses the election over over this.
Nish Kumar There are much more serious issues at play here than who’s going to win our respective elections.
Ben Rhodes Yeah.
Nish Kumar We should stress that is looking appraising the situation realistically from a political perspective that it does have consequences, particularly for center left parties, Labour.
Ben Rhodes I mean, same thing I would imagine is true for Labour here. Right? And maybe even more so given the nature of potential Labour constituencies. So there’s there’s a lot of reasons for for, I think, a shift in tone on this.
Nish Kumar And we’re actually hearing from a lot of British politicians. You know, ultimately we back Israel unequivocally, but we still support in the long term, a two state solution. We see that as the only way. But what you’re saying is actually, if you talk about backing Israel, you’re talking about an Israeli led by Netanyahu government. You have to be realistic about who is in the positions of power here. And from your experience of being in these kind of, you know, on diplomatic missions, working with in Jerusalem, working in Washington, you’re the point you’re trying to make here is that it is a contradiction in terms to say that you both support the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and the two state solution.
Ben Rhodes That is not possible. Like I you know, and like like it drives me crazy when people say we unequivocally back the Israeli government and we support a Palestinian state because it is not only does this Israeli government not support a Palestinian state, their objective is to prevent a Palestinian state and to increase settlements in the West Bank and and to have some de facto control over Gaza, probably. Then this again, Hamas bears responsibility for what they did on October 7th. Hamas is not any part of any solution. But my experience in eight years, Bibi Netanyahu, is he did not want a Palestinian state. And and actually, he’s moved further to the right from even when I was in government. Yeah. And look, I would say to people that find it difficult, look, I’m Jewish. I care about deeply about the Jewish people, about Israel. What I would say is that from my perspective, because some people sometimes say to me, like, you’re used to criticizing Israel. I think backing Israel, supporting Israel is trying to support what I believe are better outcomes for Israel. And I think this is a dangerous path for Israel to go down. If you truly want to be a good friend to somebody, you don’t tell them to keep doing the bad thing that you see them doing. You try to counsel your friend to do something different. Look, there’s only three ways this goes. There’s either there’s a two state solution or the Palestinians are pushed out of their land, and it all becomes Israel, which a number of people in this coalition have said they want. Yeah. You know, this is not like me conspiracy theory. Like this is the stated position of a bunch of people in Netanyahu’s government, or it’s this status quo where Israel has this kind of de facto control over the West Bank. There’s settlements increasing. There’s a blockade in Gaza. And that status quo, we’ve learned, is not sustainable either. So to me, like, you can frame this as as as as unequivocally supporting Israel. But. I think the national government, just like the Trump government in the US, just like, you know, some of the Tory governments here are not good for the country. You know, it’s like saying that you can only be a friend of America if you fully support everything Donald Trump did when he was president. You know.
Nish Kumar Briefly, because I know we’re running out of time. I just want to quickly touch on something you’ve already alluded to, which is the possibility of another Trump presidency in 2024. And obviously, there’s a huge raft of domestic issues that that brings with it. It’s also something of a foreign policy. Hand grenade around the corner given. The situations in Gaza and in Ukraine are not likely to be resolved any time soon. Yeah, if we talk about a second potential Trump administration, is being Trump sort of unleashed? What does that look like in foreign policy terms?
Ben Rhodes What’s interesting is the domestic dystopia you described is, you know, he he when he came in the first time, he had no idea what the fuck he was doing. Yeah, he he didn’t expect to win. What they did the first couple of years is they just hired a bunch of pretty conventional people to run the government. So a lot of, you know, the chief of staff in the White House and then advisor, they were former generals, the defense secretary, the former general, the secretary of state was a fossil fuel executive. Not my choices. But these were like normal humans on a spectrum of American politics. Then they started to figure out Trump did that. These people wouldn’t do all the crazy shit he wanted them to do, right? And so they steadily replaced him. So by the end of the Trump administration, it was a bunch of lunatics running everything. Yeah. And that’s how you get January 6th. The reason I say that is those people will be in charge of everything from day one. Yeah. Domestically and on foreign policy. It’ll just be the crazy people running everything. His real, you know, focus is going to be on this kind of autocratic play at home. But the reason that interacts with foreign policy is I think it’s going to turbocharge the already very dangerous trend we see of the world reverting into just kind of nationalist, authoritarian leadership. The US support for Ukraine will just be over, period. That’s it. Like Putin will have whatever he wants to do. That’s fine with the United States. You know, the US may pull pull back from, if not out of institutions like Naito. But I think the thing I’d be more concerned about than anything is how the domestic descent of the U.S. into kind of autocratic nationalism interacts with the rest of the world. Because I think then we’d be looking at a world in which you’ve got Trump in the U.S., you’ve got Xi Jinping in China, you’ve got Narendra modi in India, you’ve got Vladimir Putin in Russia. You’ve got these big strongman nationalist, no rules. You know, you mentioned guys like Bobby Knight go displace all 2 million of those people. All 2 million. Those people pushed him into Egypt. Like we don’t care. Like Trump’s never going to criticize them for anything. It’s going to incentivize the worst impulses of all of these people globally. Yeah. And I think leave Europe in this uncomfortable place where, you know, how do they fit into that picture? You know, the EU is not like governed by some nationalist strongman who can, you know. So I think it’s going to leave the the UK and Europe kind of ducking and covering amidst this kind of. Pretty dangerous world.
Nish Kumar Before we go, we’ve received a somewhat intriguing tweet when we put a call out for questions for you from at a Mademoiselle Divina Jeannette. People use their app names.
Ben Rhodes That’s a great name.
Nish Kumar When they correspond with us. We really enjoy it. Yeah. Simply says, ask him about the time you met the Queen at a Banquet.
Ben Rhodes Oh, is this the best queen story I have? Is. I was at a D-Day commemoration, and there was a leaders only luncheon that was happening, and so there was no staff even supposed to be in there. But it was the beginning of the first Russian invasion of Ukraine. And the photographer, because the photographer could kind of be in there. Comes and kind of rushes out and he’s like, Obama’s talking to Putin. And this was a hugely important conversation, obviously impactful. And and someone needed to be there to hear what was said, you know, And so being the typically arrogant American that I am, I just run into the leaders room. I’m like, I’m literally running. Yeah. I’m like, I got to get in there. And I ignored all the protocol. I go in, find Obama and Putin. I get there just in time to kind of hear the end of this conversation, which was typically frosty, as you might imagine. But it was important to hear that because the Russians always read out these conversations their own way. And so as the guy tried to talk to the president, I do that. But I was like, I was full disclosure. I was like super hung over because I, I didn’t think it was going to work that day because, like, it’s the end of a trip.
Nish Kumar Congratulations on endearing yourself to a British audience.
Ben Rhodes Yeah, well, we’ve been out the whole night before in Paris and I was like, I’ve got an easy date in my 252 Normandy and I don’t have to go to this lunch. So I’m like, not feel. I’m sweating. I’m just like, I got to find a bathroom to just, like, run some water my face and like, catch a breath here. So I find a bathroom and I do that thing. It’s happened to all of us where you try to open the door and you can’t tell if it’s locked or not. And so you’re kind of pushing the door a few times. And then you finally I was like, Oh, it’s locked, Forget it. And right when I take a step back from having done that, the door opens. And it’s the queen of England. The queen of England. And it’s embarrassing enough when you do that. And it’s like anybody comes out, you know, and you just feel like, oh, I’m that asshole. And she comes out and she has like the handbag on her arm and she kind of looks at me and she, like, adjusts the handbag. Like. Like, I mean, literally, I felt like someone was looking through me, and I might. I thought I might die in the sight, you know, and just walks off. And so that’s my best interaction with the queen.
Nish Kumar I think you’re one of probably about, I’m going to say, ten people that has had to follow the queen into the toilet.
Ben Rhodes That doesn’t happen to me very much. And to be clear, I did go in, you know, and it smelt very regal in there. You know.
Nish Kumar That’s the real exclusive.
Ben Rhodes Yes.
Nish Kumar Queen Elizabeth left a regal aroma in the toilet, you.
Ben Rhodes No, in a good way. In a good way. I mean that in the best possible sense. So, yeah, but she was I, I met her at Buckingham Palace, too, once. And she’s, you know, incredibly I mean, you meet all these people in these jobs, she she and the pope are the very few people that you’re just intimidated to be in their presence. And she was definitely one of them.
Nish Kumar Ben, thank you so much. We really appreciate you coming down and seeing us. And it’s always a pleasure to see somebody from Pod Save family.
Ben Rhodes Yeah, no, well, if we look. Pod Save the World, our job is to save the world. But if we fail, maybe you can at least save the UK. That’s one way to look at it like that.
Nish Kumar Thanks, Ben.
Ben Rhodes Good to see you.
Nish Kumar [AD]
Nish Kumar It’s Hero and Villan of the week time and every so often we like to go against type and I get to have a break from being angry. So it’s Coco giving us our villain today. Who have you gone for, Coco?
Coco Khan So my villain of the week is the construction company Caledonian Modular. They’ve gone bust. They were brought to my attention by a pod Save the UK listener Laura. Last week, the government announced that three schools the company built across England are having to be demolished because they’re unsafe, directly impacting hundreds of school children and their families. Laura wrote in to tell us that her daughter goes to one of the schools of Frederick Gilbert College in Harlow, Essex, which was completed in 2021 at a cost of 29 million pounds. During the summer holidays, Laura was informed that the school wouldn’t be reopening in September after a survey revealed structural issues which weakened its ability to withstand extreme weather. Pupils have been in temporary classrooms under just massive marquees ever since, with Porter cabins not ready yet. Parents were told in a meeting last Friday that the building will now be knocked down and a new one wouldn’t be ready until 2027. I spoke to Laura earlier and asked her what the conditions for her daughter, who’s midway through secondary school, have been like.
Listener “Laura” From the outside, they look like the bake off tent, but they are slightly sturdier. They have been insulated. I have a hard time. They’ve put better heating in, but it’s on a field which they’ve had a bit added some tarmac to so they don’t pull over when it’s cold. My daughter said on the way home that they now have flies.
Coco Khan Wow.
Listener “Laura” And then the icing on the cake. My daughter was when the cables got nicked and they were out of power for 24 hours and she had to be at home again. And that’s when she asked if she could go to a different school.
Coco Khan How did it feel now they finally decided to demolish it?
Listener “Laura” It’s great that they’re moving on and they have made the decision and they have put a a skeleton plan in place. But it’s going to take a long time. We would like to move our daughter out. And that is not anything to do with the education she’s receiving with the staff and the head. We absolutely love them all and I would love to stay with them. And it’s just being on a building site until she’s finished her secondary education, it doesn’t seem feasible really.
Coco Khan That’s bananas isn’t it.
Nish Kumar Incredible.
Coco Khan Secondary school with hard enough without being in a wet tent. And it would you mention about this particular school they are going to get portacabin. Yes. They’re due to arrive in the spring. They can’t get them earlier because of the rack scandal.
Nish Kumar Wait. So because the schools were built with concrete filled with air bubbles and now they’re falling down. So we’ve got this fucking depressing. We’ve got a portacabin shortage because the schools are all falling down.
Coco Khan I’m quite literally waiting for a series of Bake Off where they’re like, We no longer have the tent because we donated it to a school. So alongside that school in Essex, the other schools being demolished are Buxton Primary School in Northampton and the main building of Haigh Grove School in Bridgwater, Somerset. In a statement, Minister for School Systems, Baroness Diana Barron said This has been a challenging time for each school community. We have continued to prioritize face to face learning during this time and to help schools through this transition phase. We are providing each school with high quality, long term temporary accommodation. We are also reviewing our contracts and seeking legal advice on how we can recover the costs. Where that contractor was involved. Caledonian Modular went into administration in 2022 and was bought by the JRL group. We’ve contacted them for comment, but we haven’t yet had a reply. Okay. Anyway, let’s switch it up. Let’s be a bit more hopeful. Yeah. Nish, what you got for me? I know that’s not. That’s not your usual.
Nish Kumar It’s not my modus operandi. But my hero of the week, it’s a group of campaigners and a group of MPs led by the Labour MP Diana Johnson, who’s been fighting for compensation for the thousands of people affected by the contaminated blood scandal, which has been described as the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. It’s still the subject of an ongoing public inquiry, but the background here is up to 30,000 people were infected with contaminated blood after receiving blood transfusions on the NHS in the 1970s. In the 1980s. More than 3000 people died after contracting HIV or hepatitis C as a result. Donna Johnson, who leads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on hemophilia and contaminated blood, tabled an amendment in the Commons calling for families affected to be given immediate compensation. The Government accepts that there is a case for compensation but wanted to wait for the public inquiry to end. That public inquiry is only set to end in March 2024 and this was despite the chair of the inquiry itself calling for a full compensation scheme to be set up immediately. Given that it’s estimated that one person affected by the scandal dies every four days, hence Dr. Johnson’s amendment to the Victims and prisoners bill, which on Monday night brought a historic defeat for the government.
Clip The eye’s to the right 2-4-6. The nose to the left 2-4-2.
Nish Kumar So that narrow defeat for the government by 246 votes to 242 votes came despite it whipping MPs to vote against the amendment. Now, this is actually Rishi Sunak’s first Commons defeat and a first for the Government in a whipped vote since 2019. Again, for our international listeners. I understand that is quite alarming, but the whipped vote is just when the government instructs all of its employees to vote a certain way in either direction, the government or the opposition. The government will now be legally required to set up a body to administer compensation within three months of the bill becoming law. Diana Johnson said it marked an important step forward in what has been an extraordinarily long fight for justice. So congratulations to her and all of the MPPs, including 22 conservatives who did the right thing and rebelled. And more importantly, congratulations to the thousands of affected families who have campaigned tirelessly for so many years, and they’ve been supported by organizations such as the Hemophilia Society’s. An awful situation, horrible story, and a horrible legacy for so many families living in the United Kingdom. And it’s incredible that the campaigners and then with the support of Diana Johnson and those MPs were able to get this through parliament. It’s really extraordinary.
Coco Khan So you can get in touch with us by emailing PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk. We love hearing your voices, so do send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07514 644572. Internationally that’s +44 7514 644572. We’ll also be putting out a special review of the year episode. We hope you enjoy it in the week between Christmas and the New Year, and we’d love to include your contribution, so please get in touch to vote for your political moment of the year. Maybe it was Boris Johnson finally getting his comeuppance from Commons Privileges Committee. Or maybe it was Keir Starmer getting glitter bombed at the Labour conference. Or maybe it was Suella Braverman finally getting the sack. Or maybe it was something else entirely. Got any suggestions, Nish?
Nish Kumar Well, I mean, there’s a lot to choose from. I mean, Penny Mordaunt, conference speech. I think of the forefront of my mind when. I mean, this is just a theory. I think maybe her autocue broke and she just kept saying, stand up and fight. And it really, really looked like some air had malfunctioned.
Coco Khan Yeah. Yeah.
Nish Kumar That’s definitely a moment that I think of because, you know, with a lot of the political moments, you sort of say because a bit like it was funny at the moment, but then it had terrible consequences. That was just funny. She made a speech that was absolutely unfathomable.
Coco Khan I think it’s because she held the sword at the coronation. It’s gone to her head, I reckon, because, you know, there’s that trope in so many comic book movies where you go and meet the body and they’ve always got like a sort of samurai sword just waiting. I bet you anything Morton’s got one of them.
Nish Kumar You think? You think she thought the sword would give it a magical powers So you didn’t need to write anything down?
Coco Khan I think you’d be surprised. She’s just, you know, the supermarket, you know, taking her change and just saying to the cashier, Don’t forget, stand up and fight. I think she sees herself as a warrior.
Nish Kumar Now, listen, if we’re willing things to existence by political by the was by Nigel Farage was bitten by that deadly spider in Australia and the reality TV show. I don’t want him to die, but I would like him to be very ill. Is that fight? Is that legally fight? Not dead? Just not well. Like. Like he gets bitten by a spider and has horrendous diarrhea and vomiting.
Coco Khan I hope nothing happens to him.
Nish Kumar Anyway, let’s wrap this up.
Coco Khan Yes. Don’t forget to follow Pod Save the UK on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find us on YouTube for access to full episodes and other exclusive content. And if you’re as opinionated as we are, we would like you to just consider dropping us a review. Only if it’s good. I think that’s important to say.
Nish Kumar We only want good reviews.
Coco Khan We only want, I mean, really five stars. But I will accept you for.
Nish Kumar Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.
Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.
Nish Kumar Video editing was by Will Darken and the music is by Vasillis Fotopoulos.
Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer David Dugahee.
Nish Kumar Our executive producers are Anishka Sherma, Dan Jackson, and Madeline Heringer. With additional support from Ari Schwartz.
Coco Khan Remember to hit Subscribe for new shows on Thursdays, on Amazon, Spotify or Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.