Host Christiane Amanpour interviewed former U.K. Tory minister and Member of Parliament Rory Stewart on Monday’s Amanpour & Co., which aired on CNN International and also on tax-funded PBS; they got right down to smearing Stewart’s former Conservative Party in Britain, and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular, as dangerous extremist “nationalists.”
Amanpour eagerly introduced Stewart, who in turn eagerly slimed his former party for backing the exit from the European Union (“Brexit”) and backing off the extremist environmentalism of “Net Zero.”
Stewart compared the UK Conservatives to a far-right party in Germany.
Amanpour invited Stewart to read a cued-up passage from his book bashing Boris Johnson.
They aimed fire at recently retired media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox News and owner of newspapers that have been a thorn in the side of the mainstream press for decades.
They moved to “climate change” and lamented how Prime Minister Sunak was backing off from the radical “Net Zero” goal on carbon emissions which would have banned the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2030. Amanpour even cited a recent interview with former Vice President Al Gore finding Sunak’s backtracking “shocking and really disappointing.”
Stewart found Sunak’s totally sensible actions “shocking” and ranted that it was a warning of worse to come:
Back in June Amanpour interviewed the other half of the two-person podcast, Alastair Campbell, another Boris Johnson-loathing liberal posing as a sensible centrist.
This biased segment was brought to you in part by taxpayers like you.
Amanpour & Co.
1:50:13 a.m. (ET)
AMANPOUR: My next guest, a former Tory minister and MP is not pulling punches about the state of British politics. Rory Stewart asks, what do you do when your political party loses its mind? No doubt many Republicans in America can relate when it comes to the MAGA wing of their party. “How Not to Be a Politician” is Stewart’s new memoir. He also co-hosts a popular podcast called “The Rest is Politics.” And he’s joining me now. Welcome to the program.
RORY STEWART, AUTHOR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Lots of details to get into regarding climate and Rishi and all the rest of it. But first, let’s talk about populism. I spoke with the German foreign minister and she was, you know, concerned about some of the numbers of the AFD growing in Germany, and we can see this happening. And basically, today is very much, Trump is a populous politician.
AMANPOUR: And the Tory Party has become very populous nationalist. Where does one go from here?
STEWART: Well, it’s a terrifying phenomenon. As you say, it’s global. So, we can see Narendra Modi in India, we can see far-right neofascists parties getting stronger and stronger in Europe. Astonishing, the AFD now up to almost a quarter of votes in Germany. You can see it in Sweden, you can see it in Finland.
Of course, we had our own version of Donald Trump in Boris Johnson here in the United Kingdom. And even though at the moment British politics sometimes feels as though it’s moving back a little bit more towards moderate ground, the roots of it are still there. And what broke it? Many things. 2008 financial crisis, social media, the inability of the center to provide a real vision. But I think it is the biggest problem of our age, and it will define the U.S. election and it will define the world.
AMANPOUR: And there’s going to be an election here in the U.K. Before I get to that, I want to ask you about your book, “How Not to Be a Politician.”
What exactly are you saying, that people shouldn’t go into politics or what?
STEWART: Well, I’m saying that it’s a horrible, horrible profession. I think we underestimate the damage it does to your mind, body and soul. I mean, I do slightly feel this with colleagues of mine in the United States, Congress people, senators. There are some wonderful people. I’ve got a friend called Rosa DeLauro in Connecticut who’s a real person, but so many of us become sort of robots. We cease to become private people. We become slogan spouting machines. Campaigning, fund-raising takes over everything. And there’s no real room for policy, there’s no room for reflection. And above all, my point is there’s no room for seriousness. Politics is not serious enough.
AMANPOUR: I want you to read then something that goes to that. We’ve chosen a package — sorry, a passage from our reading, which I would like you to read now, from your own book.
STEWART: Sure. Sure. Well, thank you. So, many of the political decisions, which I had witnessed, were rushed, flakey and poorly considered. The lack of mature judgment was palpable. The consequences frequently catastrophic. And yet, we had continued to win elections. Politics dominated the news, but it treated as a horse race where all that mattered was position. And to inquire after the character or beliefs of a politician was considered as absurd as to ask the same of a horse. But to put an egotistical chancellor like Boris Johnson into the heart of a system that was already losing its dignity, with strength and seriousness was to invite catastrophe.
AMANPOUR: So, I think for you — I mean, that’s pretty blunt. And I think, for you, people on your side point to Brexit as the height of the
catastrophe. How do you think Britain can roll back from that? We don’t see it happening with this government, although Rishi Sunak has tried to stabilized, he talks nicely to the Europeans, it’s a little bit less confrontational. But even the Labour leader and the Labour Party, which is moving back to a Tony Blair centrist Labour Party, it may not position party here, doesn’t want to tackle the idea of Brexit and what it’s meant to politics and what might happen in the future.
STEWART: This is classic example. So, we’ve got this problem with Brexit, we’ve got this problem with climate, we’ve got this problem with A.I. These parties essentially are chasing short-term opinion polls and marginal seats. The truth of the matter is that this Brexit deal is no good. We need something at least much more like a customs union, which would be better for an ordinant (ph) security, better for British trade. And tragically. even the Labour leader, who was first seen with the second referendum is now no longer even prepared to say he wants a softer Brexit. We can see the same criminal justice policy. Our prisons are disgustingly overcrowded. We’ve got violence, filth, escapes. And again, neither of these political leaders is prepared to reduce the prison population. So, this makes me very, very worried. We can see it with Rishi Sunak, as you say, rolling back on climate change promises. But the problem is that these are the leaders who are supposed to be guiding us in international relations and thinking through artificial intelligence. And what “How Not to Be a Politician” is about, it’s like a doctor taking you into a hospital trying to describe what it’s really like, the madness of the whole situation. I hope it’s funny. I hope that some people want to read. But above all, I want people to realize what a mess we’re in.
AMANPOUR: Well, the reviews say it’s highly readable and amusing for sure. But it’s really — you know, it’s sad that it’s amusing because it really does talk — for instance, you’re talking about, you know, the catastrophic from your perspective, Brexit deal, which really wasn’t a deal. I mean, it just — it was just Brexit and almost off a cliff. You tried to vote against that, right? You and many others when you were minister in the Theresa May’s government. What happened when you dared to go against the Brexit leadership of the party, Boris Johnson and co.?
STEWART: Well, that was an amazing moment in my career. So, I and some other very senior people said we would not accept Brexit. And Boris Johnson responded by throwing us out of the party and effectively out of parliament. It’s something that an American president would not be able to do. But it’s also something no previous British prime minister had ever tried to do. And one of the things you learn about populism is very quickly they go after the constitution. If there’s anything they don’t like, Britain is slightly more complicated, an unwritten constitution, but you can see it in Israel too. It’s very, very quick that these right-wing populous parties go after the constitution. And that’s a big problem, because right-wing parties were supposed to be conservatives, with small C’s. They were meant to stand up for constitutions. We are now in a very unstable world, and it’s pushing the left into becoming defenders of the constitution as the right becomes less and less conservative.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you to weigh in on what a lot of people have been reviewing over the last few days since he announced he was stepping sideways. He didn’t say aside, sideways. He’s going to be chairman emeritus, nobody expects Rupert Murdoch as long as he’s got breath left in him, not to influence his own corporation. Many believe — many who don’t agree with him believe that through politics, through his very powerful news organizations, here in the U.K., obviously, with News Corp. and Fox News in the United States, it has contributed to the decline in policy and the kind of politics that you’re talking about, particularly the centrist politics. Even then-British Tory prime minister, David Cameron, admitted, and we’re going to play this, back in — back after the infamous TV hacking scandal — the hacking scandal here.
DAVID CAMERON, THEN-BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: How do I think on all sides of the house, there’s a bit of a need for hand on heart? We all did too much cozying up to Rupert Murdoch. I think we would agree.
AMANPOUR: So, it’s not just Cameron, you know, I think certainly Tony Blair cozied up, before that Margaret Thatcher. All British prime ministers have cozied up to him because they believe he is what stands between them and victory or defeat. Where do you think — how do you see the influence of Murdoch press in this country?
STEWART: Well, I think it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying the way that media owners control so much. I mean, we can see this sort of played out in the drama “Succession.” But I was very struck by it. There was huge pressure on people to attend Rupert Murdoch’s parties. People would always pick up the telephone if he called. I myself, I remember, before I became an MP, I sat next to him at a dinner party. He very charmingly took me off of “The Wall Street Journal.” Made me speak to all the editors. He could be when he wanted a very, very charming man. But the problem is that it gave him an unbelievable form of power. And this is something that’s rotten at the heart of American politics, British politics. It’s true, also, we’ve had, you know, the son of a KGB officer buying the evening standard in the United Kingdom. So, we end up in a very odd position, and we must reform and deal with. And David Cameron failed. He did not follow through on that inquiry and do the things that needed to be done to try to regulate our media.
STEWART: ….All of this stuff is deeply, deeply sick but it’s getting worse now. And again, a lot of the book is about this with social media. I mean, I think it’s very tempting to think the problems that we have in Britain with Boris Johnson and Brexit are unique to Britain. But they are structural. It’s about how Twitter works. It’s about Facebook works. We can see what Elon Musk is currently trying to do with Twitter, and it’s going to get much worse with A.I. I’m terrified with the next election coming in the U.S., just how much A.I. is going to make the problem fake news far worse than anything we’ve seen.
AMANPOUR: Let’s go back to election. So, there has to be an election before 2025 or by 2025. It’s assumed that the prime minister would call one perhaps in the summer or in the fall. But at the same time, the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, seems to be at least 20 points ahead of Rishi Sunak and “Bloomberg” has recently done a poll, what do professional investors think would be the most market friendly outcome of the next election? According to “Bloomberg,” 44 percent say a Labour victory. 25 percent say a conservative victory. So, you are not a Labour politician. You’re no longer a Tory politician, because you were kicked out. What do you think a Keir Starmer victory? And I say that because —
STEWART: Yes. It’s very likely to win.
AMANPOUR: — Corbyn would be completely different.
STEWART: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
AMANPOUR: What will that do to politics and policy in this country?
STEWART: Well, I think, on the positive side, Keir Starmer is not a populous politician. He’s a pretty serious, almost boring politician. I think the problem is that a year after the election we don’t know what his economic policies are. Everybody thinks he’s going to win, but I do this big crowds around the country, you know, Royal Albert Hall and things like this, you ask the audience, anybody in this audience stick your hands up if you know what Keir Starmer’s economic policies are? Nobody will do it. So, I think there is a problem. He’s doing what we call a Ming vase strategy. He’s trying to carry the party across very carefully with taking no risk. And the problem for an investor, the problem for confidence in the British economy is people need to know what is he going to do on trade, what’s he’s going to do on investment, what’s he going to do on the European Union? And I think if the center — and I believe passionately in a moderate center, I know it’s unfashionable. I know everybody is now —
AMANPOUR: Do you think it still exists? Can it resurface?
STEWART: I think it can be rebuilt. But I’ve just come back, like you, from the U.S. —
AMANPOUR: The U.N. Assembly.
STEWART: Yes, yes. And many of my friends on the left of U.S. policy say, forget the center. We just got to kill the right, right? This is very much the modern than politics. I think it’s eccentric (ph) to have any hope. It needs ideas. And that’s where I’m frustrated —
AMANPOUR: Do you believe most people — I don’t know what the polls show, but clearly, the loudest voices are on the edges, on the extremes. Do you think most people are in the center?
STEWART: I think most believe that in the end truth is in the center, that there’s bit of truth on both side that you need to compromise. But to get the energy again, the whole Clinton-Blair tradition needs to acknowledge how much we got wrong in the past and it needs to have a very clear vision of how we’re going to deliver for people in the future.
AMANPOUR: Can I just talk to you about climate? Because that is something that many, many people, voters, especially young people around the world are very energized about. So, British prime minister, as I said in the introduction, last week on Climate Week, as it started, decided to roll back the targets for — you know, the — watering down the policies. You know, I talk — well, here’s what he said about it and then, we’ll talk about the reaction.
RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We’re confident we’re on track to deliver net zero and we can do it now in a more proportionate and pragmatic way. That’s how we’re going to bring people with us, maintain consent for it and minimize cost for working families that could have spiraled into the thousands and thousands of pounds, I don’t think that’s right.
AMANPOUR: Gosh, with the sheep in the background. Hadn’t seen that before. But this is a very old canard. Is it real? The fact that our best intentions are going to bankrupt our people?
STEWART: I think the first thing is that it’s very sad what he’s done. So, the U.K. accept these targets. We were going to be in a situation 2030 where you would not be able to buy a petrol or a diesel car. And all the automobile manufactures arrange around that, people were making investments, same with their houses, energy change in their houses. There was predictability in dates. He’s pushed those dates out. And suddenly, as soon as you get an uncertainty and wavering, all the investments change. So, it was terrible to do. He’s doing it because he’s calculating that there are votes in it. I think he’s wrong. I think it makes him look weak. But there is one bit of truth, which is to achieve environmental change, we cannot put the cost on the poorest people in our society. We must make the change and change must come from incentivizing people to change energy. But the government has to provide the cash for the poorest people to make that change. The problem at the moment is because poor people, poor people, find the larger percentage of their income going in their fuel and their heating, they end up bearing the brunt of the environmental taxes.
AMANPOUR: Now, I don’t know what — that’s very clear. But the fact of, you know, him having done that and sort of departed from most of the G7 and others on this, Al Gore, the former vice president, who’s obviously a major climate activist, I asked him about it, because it happened the day I was interviewing him in New York, And this is what he said about it and about Britain’s position in the world.
AL GORE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I will say on a personal basis, I find it shocking and really disappointing, of course. I think he’s done the wrong thing. I’ve heard from many of my friends in the U.K., including a lot of Conservative Party members, by the way, who have used the phrase utter disgust. And some of the young people there feel as if their generation has been stabbed in the back. I mean, it’s really shocking to me. But again, this is an issue for the U.K. to handle.
AMANPOUR: What does it say about Britain’s — British leadership to you?
STEWART: It’s shocking. I mean, firstly, I agree with every word. But secondly, it’s very, very sad. I mean, the Conservative Party under David Cameron was that she had quite a good environmental record, stretchy (ph). You know, introduced net zero targets. We were able to double our spend on climate, in the environment, in our international programs. It’s absolutely shocking that they would do this. And this is the way the populism takes root. It’s not just anti-immigration, it gets going on climate. And the problem with Rishi Sunak, you heard him there in front of the sheep.
STEWART: Sounds extremely reasonable, right?
STEWART: But the underlying message is essentially signaling to people who don’t believe in climate change.
AMANPOUR: I probably have only about 30 seconds left. What do you want people to take away? The first take away, not to get into politics or do it differently?
STEWART: No, I want — the first take away to be, our politics is in a mess in the U.S., the world and the U.K., and that we need to change it. And read this book in order to understand how bad it is and what it is that we need to change everywhere.
AMANPOUR: And the solutions you’ve written down?
STEWART: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Very good. Thank you. “How Not to Be a Politician,” Rory Stewart, thank you very much.