Westminster Insider


Lifting the curtain on how Westminster really works.

  • 32 minutes 33 seconds
    14 hours that changed Britain

    As Keir Starmer enters 10 Downing Street on the back of a landslide election victory, host Sascha O'Sullivan takes us inside the night power shifted in the U.K. In the final episode of the season, she brings us an hour by hour account of the most consequential general election for a generation, speaking to political insiders for their take on events as they unfolded.

    At the moment the 10 p.m. exit poll dropped, Sascha spoke to Tom Lubbock, pollster and co-founder of JL Partners, about the implications for the Labour Party and whether or not the Conservatives could save face.

    She went on to the New Statesman party to speak to an elated Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, and Rachel Cunliffe, the New Statesman's associate political editor, as major Tory scalps were claimed by Labour candidates.

    And she spoke to Lucia Hodgson, former Conservative Party adviser and partner at Charlesbye, about how it feels to leave No. 10 for the last time — and what it will be like for a generation of Conservatives tasting general election defeat for the very first time.

    From the POLITICO election night watch party, Sascha spoke to Playbook author Stefan Boscia and checked in with colleague Bethany Dawson, who was at Clacton-on-Sea as upstart Reform leader Nigel Farage was elected an MP. We also heard behind the scenes as former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn won Islington North as an independent after being booted out out by Starmer.

    And, in the final push of the evening, as dawn broke Sascha traveled to the secret Labour victory party, where Starmer addressed the party faithful, newly minted MPs and volunteers. 

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    5 July 2024, 3:27 pm
  • 41 minutes 20 seconds
    The last 10 days of an election campaign 

    As the general election reaches its final week, host Sascha O'Sullivan takes us inside the last push of the campaign. She explores how parties use every trick of the trade, from advertising to frantic leafleting, to try to capture every possible vote and travels to the BBC debate in Nottingham where the main party leaders had one final face off.

    Ayesha Hazarika, broadcaster and former adviser to Ed Miliband, explains how many voters begin tune into an election campaign only once they reach the last 10 days, and warns about the impact of gaffes during the final stretch.

    Former Conservative Party staffer Cleo Watson tells Sascha a scandalous story from the last week of the Vote Leave campaign which never made it to the press. 

    Ben Guerin, one of the advertising masterminds of Boris Johnson's 2019 election victory, relates how parties use attack ads in the last few days. And Craig Oliver, Downing Street Director of Communications for David Cameron, gives us tips for winning the "ground war" by focusing relentlessly on the constituencies which matter the most.

    Sascha also speaks to pollster James Johnson who says that in the last week, many candidates can be overcome with a misguided optimism about their prospects — and tells us what happens campaign HQs get their data wrong. 

    Also, Jeremy Corbyn's former deputy director of communications and strategy Steve Howell takes us inside Labour’s 2017 campaign, while Sean Kemp, former special adviser to Nick Clegg, gives us a run down on Lib Dem targeting tactics in the final week.

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    28 June 2024, 2:03 am
  • 42 minutes 57 seconds
    Westminster's photographers: a politician's best friend or worst enemy?

    As we approach the final lap of the 2024 general election, host Sascha O'Sullivan discovers what life is like for the photographers who trail hot on the heels of Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

    She speaks to PA photographer Stefan Rousseau, who talks about the blunders of this campaign, the photos we'll remember long after votes have been cast, and how special advisers try their hardest to frame their boss's image.

    Former Labour aide Ayesha Hazarika relives the turmoil of Ed Miliband's bacon sandwich moment, splashed across front pages in the 2015 election campaign, and the photographer who took that iconic picture, Jeremy Selwyn, tells Sascha how it looked from the other side of the lens.

    Freelance photographer Hollie Adams describes what a gift Boris Johnson was to Westminster's snappers, and Sascha finds out if the rumors really are true: did the former PM mess up his hair before facing the cameras?

    Andy Parsons, the official Downing Street photographer under several PMs, justifies No. 10 keeping a personal snapper on its staff, while Rousseau claims the practice has closed down access to the press. And former U.S. President Barack Obama's personal photographer describes capturing the famous picture of the White House Situation Room as Osama bin Laden was taken out.

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    21 June 2024, 2:02 am
  • 53 minutes 5 seconds
    Inside Nigel Farage's Reform party

    As Reform teeters close to overtaking the Conservative in the polls, Aggie Chambre goes inside Nigel Farage’s party and asks if he will could actually achieve his takeover of British politics.

    Starting in January, when Aggie first asks Farage if he’s planning to return to frontline politics, she tracks the party’s journey from small start-up to a shock poll putting it ahead of the Conservatives.

    In February, she hears from the Wellingborough candidate Ben Habib about the progress he has made on selling Reform on the street.

    With material spanning months and with help from shunted aside Leader Richard Tice, the party’s only London Assembly member and pollster Alex Wilson and Farage himself, Aggie tells the story of how Farage threw a grenade into the U.K. election, and looks at their electoral chances on July 4.

    And she spends an entertaining day with Lee Anderson, the only man to ever be a Reform MP. The former deputy chairman tells her his views on female firefighters and global warming, and admits he’d rather Keir Starmer was PM than Rishi Sunak.

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    14 June 2024, 2:02 am
  • 42 minutes 24 seconds
    What's the point of a manifesto?

    As Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer prepare to launch their manifestos, host Sascha O’Sullivan takes a look at what goes into the making of the crucial documents that spell out each party’s plan for government.

    Former Tory adviser Cleo Watson recalls how it all went wrong for Theresa May at the 2017 election when a manifesto pledge on social care blew up.

    Authors of the 2019 manifesto Rachel Wolf and Rob Colvile explain how the slogan “Get Brexit Done” got the election done for Boris Johnson.

    Stalwart of the New Labour years Patrick Diamond, who wrote manifestos for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, recalls struggling to pinning ministers down agree on policy, while Torsten Bell, 2015 manifesto author, discusses how to stick to pledges in government.

    And Sascha also speaks to Andrew Fisher, writer of the Labour Party’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos, who fesses up to historic mistakes and talks about how the leaking of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2017 plan ended up being a boon rather than a bust.

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    7 June 2024, 2:01 am
  • 44 minutes 44 seconds
    The art of the TV debate

    Days before this general election's first television debate, host Aggie Chambre looks back at the history of debates in this country and asks how politicians go about winning them. 

    ITV's Julie Etchingham, who will host the first debate Tuesday, recalls being asked to take on the gig, explains what she's thinking during these set piece events and reveals what really happens before and after the debates take place. 

    Reform's Nigel Farage, who has performed in several TV debates, gives his tips for how to get airtime and why it matters which podium you stand at. 

    BBC political correspondent Joe Pike reminisces with Aggie about pretending to be politicians in rehearsals, and talks about what candidates do to prepare, including the party leader who hid out in a barn in Kent to undergo a thorough practice.

    Former Lib Dem spinner Sean Kemp said he believed the debates in 2010 were "the reason why David Cameron didn't win a majority."

    Former Sky News boss John Ryley talks about the campaign he spearheaded to get American-style debates going in the U.K. and explains why he believes they are so important for election campaigns.

    But former No. 10 director of Comms Craig Oliver describes the idea that debates have been some great service to democracy as "nonsense."

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    31 May 2024, 2:01 am
  • 39 minutes 12 seconds
    The media and the UK election: Can Fleet Street still win it?

    Will the Sun win it? After Rishi Sunak called a shock general election, host Aggie Chambre set out to discover just how much influence newspapers will have in this campaign. 

    Former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock tells her what it was like being attacked in the press in the run up to the 1992 election.

    Former Sun editor David Yelland reminisces about Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair's relationship — and said it was like a "love affair." He says getting the backing of Fleet Street can be a "self fulfilling prophecy." 

    Sky News Political Editor Beth Rigby explains how Labour Leader Keir Starmer is going about trying to get a "fair hearing" in the press, and talks about the symbiotic relationship between broadcast and print. 

    Former News of the World editor and director of comms Andy Coulson explains how you go about securing newspaper endorsements and says everyone underestimates how much they still matter. 

    And finally, former Downing Street director of comms Lee Cain explains how the way we consume news has changed. And says he believes Brexit still would have won even without the backing of some newspapers. 

    This episode has been updated to correct the attendees of a 2005 dinner.

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    24 May 2024, 2:01 am
  • 44 minutes 7 seconds
    Is the Bank of England really a secret political player?

    Just how much power do the economists of Threadneedle Street really wield? As the Bank of England grapples with whether to keep interest rates at an all time high, host Sascha O’Sullivan goes on a mission to find out.

    In this week’s episode, she speaks to those who have been at the very heart of Westminster's relationship with the Bank for the last three decades.

    Former Prime Minister Liz Truss tells Sascha exactly why she believes Bank of England economists were attempting to pull apart her mini-budget and "take her down."

    Former shadow chancellor and Gordon Brown adviser Ed Balls explains how the Bank's independence came about in 1997, and suggests some of the people sitting on the Monetary Policy Committee have developed a spot of group think in their decision making.

    Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation and former adviser to Alistair Darling, talks about how the 2008 global financial crisis changed the powers the Bank could deploy in times of emergency.

    And Andy Haldane, the former chief economist for the Bank of England for more than 30 years, reveals how close to a political intervention the then-Governor Mark Carney came during the Brexit years and how, after the pandemic, the Bank's economists missed inflation coming down the track.

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    17 May 2024, 2:01 am
  • 44 minutes 1 second
    How to prepare a secret Tory leadership campaign

    After the Tories' drubbing in the local elections and the many, many rumors about efforts to unseat Rishi Sunak, Aggie Chambre talks us through how to prepare a secret Conservative leadership campaign.

    Former No. 10 head of political comms Adam Jones takes us inside Liz Truss's "fizz with Liz" soirees, explains why she took *that* picture in the tank, and says his former boss got "punch drunk" on love from Tory members. 

    Former adviser Lucia Hodgson, who ran Andrea Leadsom's 2019 leadership bid, explains the years of work they put into that campaign, and reveals why you need to know everything you can about your opponents. 

    Aggie speaks to former Tory contender Michael Heseltine about what he did and did not do before his infamous run in 1990 — about his regrets, supporters and missteps. 

    And former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries claims it’s nigh on impossible to get any work done in government when everyone is so obsessed with who the next leader of the Conservative Party will be.

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    10 May 2024, 2:01 am
  • 51 minutes 32 seconds
    Inside the Westminster honey trap scandal

    In the first episode of season 14, host Aggie Chambre tells the inside story of how POLITICO broke the Westminster honey trap story, and goes in search of who is really responsible.

    She hears from most of the key characters involved in the scandal that rocked SW1. 

    Two victims tell Aggie about their messages and one of them explains what happened when he organized a meeting with the catfisher. 

    POLITICO's own Dan Bloom reveals for the first time that he received a message from the mysterious catfisher and talks through his part in breaking the story. 

    The BBC's Henry Zeffman describes what it was like to be targeted and why he initially smelled a rat. 

    The Times’ Aubrey Allegretti gives behind the scenes details of his initial phone call with William Wragg, when the MP admitted some involvement in the scandal.

    And Ciaran Martin, former CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, explains how the scandal shed "a lot of light on the vulnerabilities of our political system."

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    3 May 2024, 2:01 am
  • 49 minutes 5 seconds
    The secrets of the pollsters

    Host Sascha O'Sullivan delves into the secrets of the polling industry and asks — if the polls were wrong before, could they be wrong again?

    David Cameron's former pollster Andrew Cooper tells Sascha how the Conservatives upstaged the polling industry in 2015 and pulled an unexpected election victory out of the bag.

    Labour polling stalwart Stan Greenberg, who has run the numbers for Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Ed Miliband, explains what the other side of the 2015 campaign was like.

    Tom Lubbock of JL Partners and Josh Williams of Labour Together explain why voter archetypes — from "Mondeo Man" to "Stevenage Woman" — are so beloved by the media ... and how they're actually useful for politicians seeking to win elections. Sascha also tags along to a series of focus groups — including with More in Common's Luke Tryl — to see how they really work.

    And the New Statesman's associate political editor, Rachel Cunliffe, and pollster Scarlett Maguire explain how communicating polling can be twisted or over-egged — and why we really should be talking about more than just the top line. 

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    22 March 2024, 3:01 am
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