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The Spectator Podcast: Desert storm

The Spectator Podcast: Desert storm
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Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown

Gerri Hirshey

Sarah Crichton Books, pp. 500, £

On this week’s episode, we turn our attention to the Middle East and the unlikely alliance of Saudi Arabia and Israel as they stare down a common enemy. We also consider whether the old adage ‘the night is always darkest just before the dawn’ holds for Theresa May, and wondering why there hasn’t been a great musical about British history.

Last week saw a massive anti-corruption push in Saudi Arabia oust a number of princes. The putsch was initiated by Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman, and in this week’s magazine cover story John R. Bradley looks at how the young prince has attempted to align his country with Israeli interests in order to squeeze out a mutual antagonist: Iran. To discuss this issue we were joined by Vali Nasr, an Iranian scholar baed at Johns Hopkins university, and Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow at Chatham House. As John writes:

"Despite his youth and inexperience, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has risen rapidly through the ranks, amassing previously unimaginable powers for a single royal. This, and his refusal to govern through consensus — as is customary — has caused deep resentment, jealousy and anger. His most prominent critics and rivals were therefore carted off on corruption charges to the Ritz-Carlton, turning it into the world’s most luxurious prison. Eleven senior princes were among them, as well as dozens of businessmen, and current and former ministers and provincial governors. Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal — the wealthiest Arab tycoon who holds significant stakes in Citigroup, Twitter and countless other companies — got caught up in the dragnet."

Next: After Tory conference, it seemed briefly as though things could get no worse for Theresa May. A month later and Westminster is sinking in a sleaze scandal, whilst the Prime Minister’s Cabinet is in disarray. Can things, in the words of New Labour, only get better? James Forsyth looks at the future of the Tory party in his column this week, and he joins the podcast along with the Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson. As James notes:

"How much longer can things go on like this? That is the question on the lips of Tory ministers and MPs this week. A government that was already facing the monumental challenge of Brexit now finds itself dealing with a scandal that has claimed one cabinet scalp and led to another Conservative MP being referred to the police. At the same time, Priti Patel has been running her own freelance foreign policy."

And finally: With Hamilton winning awards and breaking box office records across the Atlantic, why hasn’t there been a great musical about British history? Iain Hollingshead investigates in the magazine this week, and he joins the podcast along with Eleanor Shaw an actress in Iain’s musical, The End of History, which opens next week at the Tristan Bates theatre. As Iain writes:

"So where is the British Hamilton when we need one? Might it not help soothe our current Kulturkampf? And why has there never been a hit musical about any British historical event in the past 1,000 years? Perhaps the main problem is that the British nation doesn’t have a very good founding myth. As Robert Tombs points out in The English and Their History, historians cannot even agree on whether to subsume English history within a wider narrative of the British Isles. The Romans had Romulus and Remus. The Americans have their revolutionary war, in which they neatly airbrush the fact that a third of Americans were neutral and a further third fought for the British. Even the French get Les Misérables."