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The Queen's death has drawn the venom from Britain's toxic politics. Will it last? – CNN

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London
CNN
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Liz Truss had only been prime minister of the United Kingdom for two days when she learned that Queen Elizabeth, the monarch who’d earlier that week asked her to form a government, was dead. 

After a long summer of campaigning to take over from Boris Johnson, who’d resigned in disgrace and left behind a bitterly divided and toxic political landscape, Truss was ready to hit the ground running and move on from her predecessor’s era.

During her leadership campaign, Truss presented herself as the embodiment of the Conservative right. She was a reformed Euroskeptic street fighter who would continue Johnson’s aggressive style when dealing with her opponents – both in her own party and across the political divide.

However, it was while she was presenting her plan to help Britons cope with soaring energy costs to Parliament last Thursday that Truss first discovered that  doctors were concerned for the Queen’s health and recommending medical supervision. Hours later, Buckingham Palace announced the monarch had died.

Since that moment, British politics – which has been in a near-permanent state of chaos and crisis since around 2016 – has effectively stopped. 

All the personal attacks, tribalism and bitterness that have typified the British political landscape since the 2016 Brexit referendum have gone. Politics is largely united in its grief for Her late Majesty and the idea of things going back to normal after the national period of mourning ends next week seems jarring. 

In the past few years, conservative newspapers have branded judges “enemies of the people” for opposing Brexit; the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, was falsely accused by Johnson of being responsible for the decision not to prosecute a notorious pedophile during his time as England’s chief prosecutor; and on numerous occasions, lawmakers have been thrown out of Parliament for directly calling the prime minister a liar.

The passing of the Queen has created a window that couldn’t have been constructed artificially. A moment in history that has demanded restraint from Britain’s ruling classes could provide the country with a welcome reset in its political discourse. 

“In the immediate term, her death has disrupted how Truss’s government planned to get up and running,” Catherine Haddon, a fellow at the Institute for Government, told CNN. 

“Administrations usually start with key dates and moments in mind. By the first hundred days they want to have set a tone for government and stamped their authority on politics. Truss’s team might now approach big set-piece speeches on their vision for Britain’s future very differently,” Haddon added.

Officials working for the government and the main opposition Labour party told CNN that this enforced period of quiet might encourage both sides to shift away from the type of aggression that embodied the Johnson years. 

“When Johnson was in office we had to focus on the personal because he was such an ethically flawed person, but also because he was constantly on the attack,” an adviser to Starmer told CNN. 

“What I hope will happen is a return to focusing on ideological differences, an area where I think we still comfortably beat them,” they added. 

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, left, welcomes Liz Truss during an audience at Balmoral, Scotland, where she invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative party to become Prime Minister and form a new government, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.

Multiple government sources said that they also hoped this moment will inspire a new, unifying approach to political debate, whatever their personal politics. 

They also point out that the pressure on Truss to carry out her job in an appropriately dignified manner is enormous. Allies note that in some respects, Truss will benefit from this period of quiet reflection, as she will forever be remembered as the PM who came into office just days before the biggest constitutional upheaval in the country for decades. 

It is undeniable that the hugely complex, choreographed series of events that followed the Queen’s death have so far unfolded smoothly, and that a pressure valve has been opened up in politics.

Haddon noted that “those of us who obsessively follow politics will have noticed that the briefings against opponents have stopped and the tick-tock, gossip of politics appears to have completely disappeared.” 

But others think that this period could soon be over as the bitter reality of Britain’s brutal winter kicks in, as households face soaring energy bills and rising inflation, compounding the country’s cost-of-living crisis. 

“Of course, this is a great opportunity for Truss to take a back seat and put some distance between herself and Johnson, but the energy and cost-of-living crises that were going to dominate the first days of her premiership haven’t gone away,” Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, told CNN.

He points out that Johnson’s biggest political success – the UK’s vaccine rollout – for which he could claim personal credit, only bought him a few months of goodwill before scandals brought him down.

(Front L to R) Britain's former Prime Ministers Theresa May, John Major, and Baroness Scotland, (Second row from L to R) Britain's former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, (third row from L to R) Britain's former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Boris Johnson, arrive for a meeting of the Accession Council inside St James's Palace in London on September 10, 2022, to proclaim King Charles III as the new King. - Britain's Charles III was officially proclaimed King in a ceremony on Saturday, a day after he vowed in his first speech to mourning subjects that he would emulate his "darling mama", Queen Elizabeth II who died on September 8.

“If this period continues to go smoothly, it could end up being something people remember as uneventful and certainly not something that Truss is celebrated for. If the UK then goes into recession and Labour continues to lead in the polls, politics has a habit of reverting to type and Truss will have to go on the offensive.” 

Almost everyone involved in politics who spoke to CNN said that they hoped this transition period would provide a bit of space to turn down the temperature. The divisions of the past few years, the personal attacks and nasty briefings have not made Britain a stronger or more prosperous country. 

To take a single example of how distasteful discourse had become, during the Conservative leadership contest to replace Johnson,a then-member of the Cabinet, Nadine Dorries, retweeted a doctored image of Rishi Sunak, Truss’s opponent and Johnson’s former finance minister, stabbing Johnson. 

It is worth noting that since 2016, two sitting MPs have been murdered while doing their jobs, meeting their local constituents. Any decent elected official should surely think twice before publishing such an image.

Certainly, Britain has been a calmer, more reflective place in the last week. Whether that translates into a lasting change in the nature of political discourse is hard to predict. But it would surely be no bad thing if everyone involved in UK politics took a moment to think about the purpose of democracy, and take their cue from the dignity shown in the past week by the people who they are meant to serve.

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Chinese politics has become even more of a black box under Xi Jinping – The Globe and Mail

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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16.Sergei Bobylev/The Associated Press

It should be easy to prove a coup hasn’t taken place.

Over the weekend, however, as unfounded claims Chinese President Xi Jinping had been deposed spread first from Chinese dissident outlets to Indian media and then across Twitter – based on non-existent or willfully misinterpreted evidence – even respectable China watchers were cautious in their debunking: This almost certainly isn’t happening, but we can’t say for sure.

“The inherent opacity of the system just gives these rumours more room to spread, even if not based on reality,” said Washington-based analyst Bill Bishop.

Mr. Xi hasn’t been seen for a few days, most likely because he is in quarantine after returning from a trip to Central Asia last week – he similarly disappeared from public view after a visit to Hong Kong in July. On Sunday, state news agency Xinhua included him in a list of senior cadres attending next month’s Communist Party Congress.

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At that meeting, far from being overthrown, Mr. Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as leader. There are no serious challengers, and he could yet stay in power for another decade.

Even that prediction, however – while the consensus view among analysts – is ultimately a guess based on pronouncements in Chinese state media, Mr. Xi’s own actions and perceived Party norms – many of which have already been broken during Mr. Xi’s decade in power.

“This is analysis imposed on a system by people who have no experience inside the system,” said Drew Thompson, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. “It’s a political black box at the top.”

Mr. Xi’s fate ultimately rests with the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and a handful of retired Party grandees. Outside that circle, few others know what is going on, whether Mr. Xi is truly in the position of strength he appears to be or frantically making deals and compromises to stay the course.

We may get some clarity at the Party Congress itself, but what goes on behind the scenes will remain shrouded in secrecy.

This applies both to foreigners and ordinary Chinese, who often have scant insight into how key decisions are made on their behalf. But as China faces growing challenges and the spectre of conflict rises with its neighbours and rivals, the lack of transparency becomes more dangerous.

“Beijing’s radical opacity has real-world consequences,” Richard McGregor, an expert on Communist Party politics at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, wrote recently. “How would Xi, for example, make any decision to invade Taiwan? What would happen if the military pushed back? Could the politburo vote to overrule Xi? Does Xi feel pressure from the public to take the island?

“Almost anything China does has global fallout these days, but its internal debates and its decision-making processes are almost entirely hidden,” he added.

Mr. Thompson, a former U.S. Defence Department official, said that even during the Cold War, Washington and other Western powers had greater insight into how decisions were made in the Kremlin, and what to look out for, but “we don’t have any of that with China.”

“So we’re ripe for misperception, for misunderstandings and miscalculations, because we don’t know how they’re signalling,” he said.

Nigel Inkster, a former director at British spy agency MI6, now an analyst with London-based Enodo Economics, agreed Chinese politics can be remarkably hard to parse, even for those who make a career of it.

“We have a number of areas where China seems to be saying one thing and doing another and it can be genuinely be very difficult to work out what their intentions are,” he told The Globe.

Because of the opaque nature of Chinese elite politics, theories about the Party’s functioning depend on historical analyses, which are not always good at predicting the future, or even elucidating the present.

During Mr. Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao’s two terms as Chinese leader, there was much focus on supposed factions within the Party, and a perceived tussle for power between Mr. Hu’s Communist Youth League allies and the “Shanghai gang” around former leader Jiang Zemin.

But Mr. Xi upended this model. Many of his key allies have been linked to factions believed to be in fierce opposition to each other – either he has negotiated (or forced) a peace between warring sides, or the divides were never as great as outsiders once believed.

David Shambaugh, a long-time scholar of the Communist leadership, favours the latter interpretation.

“Since 1989, I don’t think factions have been a very useful or even identifiable thing when it comes to studying Chinese politics,” he said. “We just can’t clearly identify them.”

Even settled history when it comes to China often isn’t as certain as is presented.

Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is often credited – by both Chinese and foreign sources – with kick-starting capitalist reforms and encouraging collective leadership within the Party in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Recent research has challenged both claims. Not only do many now credit Mr. Deng’s predecessor Hua Guofeng with key economic policies, but, as academic Joseph Torigian writes, “the Deng era was emphatically one of continued strongman rule.”

If we are only now understanding one of the most scrutinized periods of modern China – that which followed Mao Zedong’s death – hope of gleaning what is currently happening within the Party’s top ranks can sometimes seem next to impossible.

So inevitably, in the run-up to major events like the Party Congress, we enter the “silly season” of Chinese politics, when rumours abound – and people start shouting coup just because Xi Jinping stayed inside for a few days.

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55 Tufton Street: The other black door shaping British politics – BBC

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On a rainy afternoon earlier this month, Liz Truss walked through the famous black door of No 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister.

But under a mile away, there’s another black door that’s had a lasting effect on the previous decade in British politics – and looks like being influential under this administration too – No 55 Tufton Street.

The building houses organisations including the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Global Warming Policy Foundation – and is the former home of many others, such as Vote Leave and Brexit Central.

Just hours after Liz Truss made her first speech on the steps of Downing Street, she announced that her new economics adviser would be Matthew Sinclair, a former chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

And a couple of weeks later, the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, delivered the most consequential financial statement for a generation, ripping up decades of economic orthodoxy.

He was pictured celebrating with Mr Sinclair – a man who made his name working behind that other black door.

The influence of TaxPayers’ Alliance began in 2008, when the financial crash led to bank collapse around the world.

“If you didn’t want that to happen in the UK, you had to get growth higher,” says Andrew Lilico, chairman of Europe Economics and Matthew Sinclair’s former boss.

“One way you could get growth high was just to get spending down and it might not be a very pleasant way of getting growth higher, but needs must in these kinds of circumstances.

“There was a TaxPayers’ Alliance report called How to Save £50 billion, which to some extent breached the dike on where things were going. And very shortly after that, others all chimed in. So quite quickly there were proposals for cutting spending by £150bn and £200bn.”

In 2010, David Cameron became prime minister and ushered in a new age of austerity.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance was no longer a fringe group frustrated with the Conservatives’ approach to the economy. Instead, they became a key public backer of the government’s approach to the economy.

“The newspapers or the broadcast media would have a spokesperson from an organisation, it could be the TaxPayers’ Alliance, it could be another think tank,” says Nicky Morgan, a Treasury minister in the coalition government.

“As a minister, if you’re going to advance a difficult or a controversial idea, it’s no surprise that before you announce such a thing, what you try to aim for is that phrase ‘rolling the pitch’. You’ve got people outside saying, ‘this is what we need’. So when you announce it, one hopes that it’s going to be well received.”

Donor anonymity

But the organisations at No 55 had started to attract controversy too.

Many of them have a long-standing policy of protecting the anonymity of their donors, something the Lib Dems wanted to change.

The coalition government did change the rules on lobbying. But the BBC understands the Lib Dems wanted those changes to go further – and to include think tanks, which do not come under lobbying rules.

Few would suggest that David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne were Tufton Street’s natural allies – one senior member of Osborne’s Treasury team describes the TaxPayers’ Alliance as “a bit of a joke”. But they were useful in helping sell those austerity policies to the public.

After the 2015 election, David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership – and that’s when the relationship changed.

Vote Leave, which would go on to become the official leave campaign, was originally based at No 55 as well. Andrew Lilico, who was Vote Leave’s chief economist in the latter days of the campaign, says the think tanks there were natural Brexiteers.

“I think that they are people who are quite optimistic about what the market can achieve. And they’re quite pessimistic about grand state projects.

“So the European Union, as a supranational, multinational body would be an iconic example of something that they would be sceptical about.

“Matthew Elliott, in particular, who’s the chief executive of Vote Leave, comes directly out of that that setting. He was the chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.”

Vote Leave sign

Getty Images

After the Leave campaign won the referendum, the fight shifted again. The battle over how exactly to define Brexit had begun.

“People thought that the referendum would be the end of it, and of course in many respects it was just the beginning of the argument,” says David Jones, minister for exiting the EU from 2016.

“Vote Leave wound itself up so there was there was nobody there. A number of other organisations did spring up to fill that vacuum.

“And Brexit Central was a very important one.”

Headed up by Jonathan Isaby, another former chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Brexit Central also ended up being based at 55 Tufton Street.

“So it became almost required reading for those who were on the pro-Brexit side of the argument,” says Mr Jones. “Every day you’d check in at Brexit Central and see what they were reporting.”

Going mainstream

Boris Johnson’s victory in 2019 – and his pledge to take the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union – was another huge moment for Tufton Street.

After the financial crash, once-fringe views on public spending had become mainstream – and now the same happened with Brexit.

The apparent influence made the argument around who funds these groups rear its head again.

But while privately critical of where the money comes from, the Labour Party hasn’t made it a public priority to reform the rules governing this area of politics.

Until now.

“55 Tufton Street shouldn’t have any more influence than any other street in the UK,” says Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader.

“That street seems to dominate particular policy and what’s happening in government and legislation and it’s not transparent enough.

“Labour would consult on the wider definition of what lobby groups are – so that would include what is currently known as think tanks because we don’t believe that the definition is wide enough, but also around transparency around where their funding comes from as well.”

The BBC did ask representatives from the organisations mentioned for an interview, but no-one came forward.

Angela Rayner

Getty Images

Labour may want to change the rules – but for now, that’s not in their gift.

Instead, last week’s financial statement seemed to confirm that Liz Truss is more aligned with the ideas floating around No 55 than any of the previous recent occupants of No 10.

So what sort of new policies might the government start to enact?

The TaxPayers’ Alliance has had a long-running campaign to crack down on paid time off for trade union officials, including when Mr Sinclair was chief executive.

The new Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, met the TPA in March.

The BBC has used a freedom of information request to discover that the meeting was called to discuss paid time off for trade union officials – something Liz Truss has now pledged to crack down on.

Still, no one can be sure exactly what will take place behind the famous black door of No 10 over the next few years.

But perhaps by paying closer attention to what’s happening behind the other black door, we might get a good idea.

‘The Other Black Door’ will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20.00 BST on Monday 26 September, and will also be available on BBC Sounds.

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Politics Podcast: Why Biden’s Unpopularity Doesn’t Seem To Be Tanking Democrats – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

A president’s approval rating is traditionally tied to how his party performs in a midterm election, but Democrats have been outpacing President Biden in the polls for months. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how Biden’s approval rating may impact the midterm election and how the Democrats’ performance in November could influence the president’s 2024 reelection plans.

The team also debates whether tracking Google search terms over time is a better barometer than traditional polling when it comes to understanding the issues shaping American voting patterns. Lastly, politics reporter Alex Samuels and visual journalist Elena Mejía break down their reporting on how Black voters are changing the political landscape of Georgia.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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