The News Agents

Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall – three of the UK’s top journalists – host a daily news podcast: The News Agents. They’re not just here to tell you what's happening, but why. Expect astute analysis and explanation of the day's news – and a healthy dose of scepticism and the ability to laugh at it all when needed! Episodes are available every weekday afternoon. The News Agents is a Global Player Original podcast and a Persephonica production.

Elon Musk and the man who wants to take on Trump

Elon Musk and the man who wants to take on Trump

Thu, 25 May 2023 15:30

We'll be looking at sex, lies and Downing Street later in this episode with a writer who worked in Number10 - and we'll be asking if politicians REALLY want an honest conversation about Immigration - but we begin with the newest launch failure by Elon Musk.

This one involved not a rocket but a presidential candidate - who thinks he can beat Donald Trump.

If that was ever true, it feels much more unlikely today after the campaign launch went up in flames.

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This is a global player original podcast. Now we're following some breaking news. This hour. Spacex's Starship rocket suffered what the company is calling a quote rapidly unscheduled disassembly. Which means to you and me, the launch was a failure. Remember that? The SpaceX launch that crashed and burned? Well, Elon Musk did it again last night. This time it involved a man. Ron De Santis. He was going to launch his presidential campaign on Twitter with Elon Musk. It would be modern. It would be social media friendly. It would engage a new generation of people. Maybe not that interested in politics, except rather like SpaceX, it suffered a rapid, unscheduled disassembly. This is what it sounded like. 25 minutes of pure shambles. You might not think you're interested in the latest presidential campaign hopeful, but you won't want to miss this one. Welcome to the Newsagents The newsagents. It's John, It's Emily. And later in the podcast we're going to be hearing about the net migration figures and the continual promises. That they would be coming down instead of which they just continue to rise and rise. But we're going to start not with a rocket launch, but with a car crash. Because this is what happened to much fevered anticipation last night when Ron De Santis, who is in Republicans minds the only candidate so far that could take on Donald Trump for the Republican nomination next year. Went on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk. It didn't go to plan. Such a great noise. All right, sorry about that. We've got so many people here that I think we are, we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign. That was the moderator, David Sachs, who's also a big funder donor of the Ron De Santis campaign, probably wondering what on earth he's doing stuck there between these two beasts at that specific time. Elon Musk, who couldn't even get his servers to work for this huge, catastrophically awful moment, and Ron De Santis, who for some unbelievable reason chose not to be in vision for his campaign launch. Ron De Santis, as we reported on the podcast yesterday, was promising competence, professionalism, and a lack of drama. He gave us drama last night. He gave us slapstick, he gave us custard pie humor. He gave us whoops. I've fallen over the 1st 25 minutes of that were just unbelievable. All right, I'd like to welcome Governor De Santis for this historic. We're just trying, just trying to get it going because it's there's so many people. It's unfortunate. I would like to never seen this before. Just trying to get it going and make this. You'll relate to this because both of us are technically challenged at times. I thought I had done something wrong when I was listening at home 11:00 o'clock at night. That's how round there's echoing noises. There's the line drops off. There's suddenly music there's. And I thought, my God, what have I done wrong? Might have surprised many, but not those of us who've known and work with Iran for nearly 1/4 century. It's coming to freedom, into freedom. And his ways put his money in his mouth. Is upset the narratives on us by our government? No, it was all Twitter headquarters. And you thought if there was only somebody here who knew something about tech who could maybe sort this out. So what Ron De Santis gave. Last night was the biggest gift imaginable to Donald Trump, and I think it's worth reminding you that Ron De Santis comes to this as like the young guy in the race. He's trying to remind everyone that Donald Trump is 76. He's the old guy and 44, which is Ron De Santis. Age is in U.S. presidential dog ears, pretty young. And yet last night will have undermined that as a very. Simple concept, and all he's done is give Donald Trump fodder. Sound bites, humor, gifts, gifts, gifts galore. The gifts that keep on giving. So he was called Ronda Sanctimonious. If we were better at this, we'd probably work out what his new nickname is going to be. But Ronda sank. I do think it speaks, though, to a real error of judgment on the part of Ron De Santis, because Elon Musk got everything from this. Elon Musk gets to portray his sight in the middle of a presidential campaign. We know that he supports Ron De Santis. He thought that Ron De Santis was the moderate version of Trump, so he was always going to gain from this as a publicity stunt, not so much today, but Ron De Santis, Why would you do that? Why would you align yourself? TO1 medium, particularly when it has the potential to go so wrong. Yeah, we may be completely wrong about this and may be exaggerating the effects of this, but in American politics, the hoopla does matter. Getting the theatrics right does matter. And you wanted to make a splash, particularly having teased it for so long and teased it along the lines that you were going to be this really super professional, competent human being. And then you are part of an absolute Omni shambles of a launch like last night that is going to do him damage. And I honestly, I don't think Donald Trump has probably laughed so much in a very long time and those around him because it was just excruciating toe curling, Oh God, this is just and he's already 20 points behind Trump. So the point is if you are David. In the Goliath race, you can't be a **** David and lose even further. You've got to take on Goliath and show what you're capable of. He's 20 points behind Trump. Or was. I'm imagining that unless he does something absolutely mind blowing in the next 72 hours, that could be. The beginning of the end or the end of the end of the Ron De Santis campaign could be wrong. And I love being wrong about presidential elections because it makes it much more fun. But it's hard to see how there's a really solid recovery at this point. Having got that 25 minute nightmare, I I would imagine you'll have anxiety dreams about that for many years. Worse than no levels. Yeah, worse and really, really worse than waiting for your own level results. He then did the conventional thing and went on Fox News and set out his stall. In Florida we say we're the state where woke goes to die. You know, as president I'm going to make sure woke ideology ends up in the dustbin of history. You see, this was the substance of what Ron De Santis wanted to talk about last night. He wants to be the man that carries on the anti woke clamor. He thinks that there is a real space for more culture wars amongst the American right. We discussed this yesterday on the podcast. He might be right on that or he might be completely wrong because. Any Republican presidential Canada has to search for the middle ground right now. And that's not necessarily over culture wars. But at this point, no one would have heard the message about woke. Nobody would have heard the message about Florida. Nobody will be remembering his anti-gay laws or his abortion laws. They'll just be thinking, do I really want to give my vote to a man who actually can't even launch his own campaign? Look what he tried to do last night. Was to walk across the street and take the fight to Donald Trump and say I am the true representative of MAGA supporters. But in walking across the street, he slipped on a banana skin and landed on a whoopee cushion. And that is what people will take from Rhonda Santa to the chicken. Exactly. We'll be back in a moment, and this time we're close to home talking about immigration and immigrants. This is the newsagents welcome back and Lewis is in the studio with us now. And the Conservative government since it's come to power, has every year gone on about how it is going to bring down net migration to the 10s of thousands, stop the boats taking back control of our borders. Leave the EU, etc, etc, etc. And go home Vans. Yeah, and today we had net migration figures that if you're just judging it by the rhetoric of what the government has promised, it's fallen 1,000,000 miles short. Well, 600,000 short. These are the highest net migration figures ever on record and. The previous highest record was last year. So you get net migration by taking the total number of people who have left the country, immigration from the total number of people who have come into the country, immigration, and you get this figure. So that figure was half a million in 2021 and the ONS say that it rose to 606,000 last year. These are the highest net migration figures on record. Let's have a listen to what Rishi Sunak said about it a little earlier. The numbers are just too high and there's been there's been various factors and you'll read the report whether it is welcoming people here from Hong Kong or Ukraine. That's had an impact. As we saw after the pandemic, more people came back to study here who hadn't been here during the pandemic years. Look, but fundamentally the numbers are high. Important thing is this is less than the expectation management that the government had put on over the last couple of weeks. There's all this speculation in the papers. That the figure would be a million or even north of 1,000,000 and it hasn't been that So although it is the highest on record, the way this lands will be a little bit less acutely fought by the government than it might have been. But look it's still an enormous figure and we should sort of just break it down. It continues the trend that we've seen in recent years where we've seen non EU migration overtake substantially EU migration. We used to have EU migration far higher than non EU that is completely reversed. In fact we now have net EU. Emigration. More people, EU citizens, are now leaving the country than are arriving. But if you break down the total numbers, you see that beyond the headline, there are some really big substantial groups that you know, actually show that it's not completely what you might think. So you've got 235,000 students and dependents, so that's about a total third of the figure. Then you've got about 235,000 on work visas doing key jobs, 250,000 or so asylum seekers or using humanitarian. Roots So you've got those three big blocks of people who make up this overall number that you're going to hear a lot about today. I think it speaks to a real sort of mental inconsistency of the British voter that we don't know quite what our response is. Because if you ask voters, do you want to see immigration go down? 9 out of 10 Conservative voters will say yes and most Labour voters will actually agree yes, we want immigration to go down, if you ask people. If they want more nurses, or more carers, or more fruit pickers, or more agricultural workers, or more computer Wizards, or more people to work in academia or more students, they'll go yes, we want to enrich the country, or we want to make the country work, or we want people to build things. We want people to care for our elderly. And so actually what it comes down to is this really odd. Positioning, which is the immigration is this bogey, this thing that we all hate when it's high. But actually we do need the people to make the country run. And at the moment the country's not running. So this is the point, right? I think if you have a drink from now until the end of the day for all the times you listen to the media today and hear people say we need to have an honest debate. If you had a drink today, every time you heard on the media, some commentator pop up saying we need an honest. Debate on immigration, You would be completely leathered by about 3:00. O'clock. Depends what you're drinking. Well, I'm, I assume if it's anything like you, John, it's something reasonably safe. Yeah, absolutely. Point is, politicians never have an honest debate about that. But when people call for an honest debate, the honest debate we need is not the one that they say they want. When people say that, they basically mean that we should have a debate which basically says immigration is bad. What we actually really need, and we need politicians to do is have the debate that Emily has just alluded to, which is the immigration, like so much else about policy and politics is about trade-offs. You can reduce that number of 235,000 work visas, no problem. Fine. But about 100,000 or so of that over the last year has been nurses and care workers, where they're going to come from. And when you're taking your elderly relative into an NHS ward, or you're taking them into a care home and, oh, you're a farmer, Actually, try not to let your crops go rotten, right? Yeah, actually quite like somebody. Other than Suella saying, oh come on, can't we all pick fruit now all the prices go up as a result because they have to paint people high so it pushes inflation up. So yes, this is all about trade-offs and that is never the honest debate or the that we ever have because all we have politicians say and wish you soon act was saying it again today is we need to get the number down. Fine, do that. That's perfectly fine policy objective, but then explain to us. Where those workers are going to come from and how long it's going to take to train the British workers to take their place. I was struck by that phrase from Suella Bravman I think at the weekend where she said we need to train fruit pickers. And I'm thinking, I don't want to disparage fruit picking, but I've picked peas before, you know, got paid for it. It's not that sophisticated picking peas and you don't need that much training. The problem is. That in Lincolnshire or wherever it happens to be, you can't find anyone who is British who will do that work. And therefore if you want to get this stuff off the trees or wherever it happens to be or off the ground, you need to bring people into the country to get it done. And that is what is generating economic growth. It's the great myth of Brexit that suddenly they would be British jobs for British workers and we wouldn't need these numbers of people coming in from abroad because. Happy British workers would be in the fields picking the vegetables. There are British jobs, but there aren't actually the British workers. And it's interesting that you mentioned Brexit, because that figure of 606,000, today's figure is double what it was just before the Brexit referendum in 2016. That was the moment when. The Brexiteers said, look at this, 330,000 people coming in, do you like this? And the country said no. 52% of those who voted anyway decided that it was too big a #8. Years after Brexit. We are now at double the number. And it's not that the number is bad, because as you've said, a lot of them are students, a lot of them are refugees. A lot of them are the kind of people that we think as a country we very much want to welcome. But if Brexit was meant to be the answer to controlling your immigration, and you've now got a Prime Minister who is trying to show you how out of control it actually is, then on that metric it has not worked well to some extent. It sort of reveals the slight myth that the Brexit vote, when people talked about Brexit and immigration, vote Leave and others said, look, it's not about numbers, it's about control. Well. The British government that has control, The British government, not at the Channel, but certainly in terms of the vast majority of people arriving, arriving through legal routes, accessing the British labor market, The British government is choosing to let them in Now the British government could be held accountable for that. There's still a sort of fine Brexit argument to say that that is preferable to what we had before, which was a lack of control, but the state is now accountable to it and still we need these people and some of this, the ONS said today, you know, this is going to be an exceptional. This is partly the sort of. After effects of COVID-19, we've had other shocks, obviously. We've had what's happened in in Ukraine and so on, the British labour markets adjusting itself in all sorts of ways, we've probably hit the peak, but nonetheless no one is seriously expecting actually net migration next year or the year after to go back even to the figure it was in 2016. If Richard Sudan got it down to the pre Brexit figure, he'd be cavorting in the streets. So where does this play out politically? Because Lewis, you're right to point out that the government sort of set the bar expectation management at a million happy days. It's nothing like as bad as that. But on the other hand, year after year after year, as we've been saying, the government has been saying we're going to deal with this, we're going to sort this, it's going to be 10s of thousands. It's, you know, we've got this policy, we've got that policy and the numbers keep on rising. Do you think the British people think? Oh my God, they've let us down. Or do they look at Labour and think, well, you just let all these people in their boats and you, you're not really tough on migration either. I think it's absolutely corrosive for politics in the sense that it's corrosive for politics generally. Politics generally, yeah, but also for the Conservative Party. I mean, just take the Conservative Party first. It would be like us every day. So we were going to put podcast out and every day, never doing it. You know, sooner or later we're going to have no credibility for that. Well, they might do. They might. That's what he reckons. Yeah, let's not try that. Let's just not try that. But you know what my point is, is that we would just lose credibility. People at some point were just not going to believe us anymore. And the Conservative Party has repeatedly, from Cameron onwards, set itself up to fail. It's not as if they don't try. I mean Cameron said in the cabinets, you know, pre 2016 that it was only he and Theresa May were really serious about getting that migration down to the 10s of thousands, which is his target. But the problem is, is I go back to this point, it is about trade-offs. So you might have the home Secretary and the Prime Minister wants to do that. Then you have the business Secretary coming to you and say, well I've got the whole of British business coming to me saying the hospitality can't really work as I've got the education Secretary coming to me and saying higher education sector will collapse one of our huge export industries. If it isn't for all of these students coming in and keeping these universities balance sheets of people have to make these accommodations. And my point is no British politician. And then it includes the Labour Party at the moment is willing to have that straight, honest conversation about tradeoffs with the British public, and that is caustic and corrosive for politics. The flip side, of course, is we've talked on this podcast before about how difficult it is to find housing. Yeah, now, as soon as you're talking to people who say I can't get a house, why have we let another 606,000 people in who also want housing? Then it becomes a much more direct trade off, which is now I prefer to live in the village that I grew up in and I can't afford a house there now. I think that's completely right. And I do think this is the strongest argument that people who are skeptical about these numbers have. You'll hear quite a few arguments today saying, oh, British business is addicted to cheap labor, but you can make that argument. You can also conversely, and this is an argument we never hear, that it is almost a sign of British success, at least to some extent. But we do have a highly educated workforce in this country. We have a workforce. Many, many graduates they want to work on are able to work in highly skilled jobs in the services sector. Their education means effectively that they don't feel the need or want to work in a lot of these low skilled jobs. It is actually a sign of success in many industries that Britain requires these workers from elsewhere. But it is absolutely true to say that if the British government is going to pursue that model, which, let's be honest, to a greater or lesser extent government of any color is going to the failure to invest in housing in particular is catastrophic. And we just see this theme coming back political area after area that we discussed on this show it. Housing is the biggest problem because you hear about schools and you hear about hospitals. The truth is most immigrants who come to the country, particularly if their students or whatever, they tend to be young, they don't have children. So they're not a particular drain on schooling, at least not for some years. They tend to be healthy, so they're not usually a drain on the NHS housing. By contrast, obviously everybody's going to have somewhere to live and the longterm failure of British governments of every stripe to reform planning. To make the builders build enough houses and if not, step in and do it themselves. It's the biggest, biggest problem in terms of delegitimizing immigration and creating tension. Because actually if you look at the British public in terms of their views, you've already alluded to it only in terms of what they think about more carers and, you know, humanitarian routes. People are very tolerant. People are actually very comfortable with it. And it's something isn't usually about race either, it is a question usually in particular about housing. This is the newsagents, welcome back. If you were listening to us yesterday, you'd have heard we had an interview with Gitto Harry, who was Boris Johnson's last director of communications, and it was a pretty fierce, combative fair. Got hard hitting interview, robust, robust. That's a good he hit back. We had a good chat. It was a frank and candid exchange, I think is the other way of putting it. Today we're joined by Cleo Watson, now in a much more junior capacity. She worked in Downing St. initially for Theresa May but then for Boris Johnson, and was there at the start of the pandemic. She's very interesting on the personality. Of Boris Johnson, and not quite sure whether she was fired by him or whether she left and a lot of interesting things to say. But she's also written, I think, what is in the term known as a bit of a bunk Buster book. It's called Whips. And here's a little taster tonight just after 11:00 PM on a Wednesday, one office is still occupied, dimly lit by a single Lozen shaped green lamp. A man sits at a large desk with his shoulders hunched forward, palms on the table deeply absorbed in his exertions. In the few inches between his face and some documents on the leather bound surface is a woman on her back, her fit flop sliders braced against the arms of the chair, her skirt pulled up to reveal a convenient hole torn in the gusset of her flesh colored M&S tights. As ever, she is whatsapping gossip for journalists, instructions for her advisors and officials. Congratulations to an MP for a speech in the chamber. She's pretending she heard Cleo. Was there really that much sex going on? Well, there's obviously quite a lot going on that we know about because we when we see in the papers, obviously. The stuff we generally know is pretty serious, but the main thing is I think there's plenty of opportunity for it to happen. Obviously the house sits late, it's got all these kind of nooks and crannies, lots of wine between votes. So the main thing is I think there's opportunity. I'm going to put the question differently. Is this the result of your imagination or the result of stories you heard? I'm embarrassed to say this is my sick imagination, but you can definitely get inspiration, I think, from some of the stories that we know about. And like I say, the main thing is the staging is there for all this stuff to go on over Party Gate. What's astonishing, looking back on it, and you were there. It's how long it took for anything to emerge about what was going on. One of the slightly confusing things is, I believe at the time there was some stuff. Out, you know, out there published in the papers about certain gatherings happening, the event on the prime minister's birthday, you know, so that was, you know, technically out there in the public, but it wasn't necessarily dealt with. And I think that often, you know, whether these are, you know, deliberately laid sort of pipe bombs or it's just where the public goes, where the media interest goes, I generally think these things. Come to light in the end, there was quite a public falling out between the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings. What led to that? We didn't ever understand. What was the catalyst that just sort of led to the whole walkout. Well, what was kind of interesting to me was that obviously it's been seen as this huge fallout, but I remember their last meeting. I was in the room next door and they were kind of laughing and joking and talking about working together again. The following year. So it actually felt like it ended on, dare I say it, quite a good note. But then that weekend, there were all kinds of briefings into the papers. I don't know who fired the first shot, but ultimately I think it just became a bit of a race to the bottom. And do you think that was people around the Prime Minister, or do you think it was? I mean, is your sense that there were people who were trying to get their revenge on Cummings at that point? I really don't know. I mean, it felt like. You know in in the same way that obviously Johnson has his particular coterie of supporters around him now those people tend to be pretty anti Dominic Cummings as well. And I I don't think people necessarily understood when they severed ties working together that actually it had ended fairly amicably. So I'm not sure that it was sort of authorized, but you know something got going either way. Did you feel that with? Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister, that it was inevitably going to end in tears. Well, bearing in mind that when I came in to work for Theresa May, it was just after the 2017 general election. So that felt on the cusp of, yeah, So I suppose I was just quite used to like thinking might be gone next week anyway. And obviously I didn't work on his leadership contest. I came in a little bit later than everybody else. But when I did come in, it was quite a full time. He'd inherited her majority. He was, you know, determined to get Brexit done by October 31st. And he got rid of a lot of MP's in his very quickly. Yeah. And it was physically hard to get into work because there were protestors on Whitehall and he seemed very anxious that he could end up being the shortest serving Prime Minister in history. But I it's honestly knowing what would succeed. It's hard to know. And I didn't know the guy very well when I came in, and the more I think about it now, I'm not sure I ever did get to know him that well. What would you say that I think that you never quite know what like fully motivates a person and you know what that kind of incentives are. But I think particularly the terms on which I ended up leaving, I never quite understood whether I would sort of been fired or whether I had resigned. And it felt very up in the air. And then actually, and I'd felt quite close to him because obviously had this role where I was kind of physically around him a lot, and particularly when he was recovering from COVID. It required quite a lot of thinking about, you know, his schedule, his meal times and you know, rest and exercise and that kind of thing. And then I was reading some of the Anthony Selden extracts and the the bit where he and Sajjad Javad are talking and and he's saying, Saj, you can't take your advices with you if you stay as chancellor. And Sajjad obviously fights back and he said they're just people. And it's actually helped me to process that a little bit to think, oh, I was just people collateral for him. Do you think that if the fallout hadn't been so bad between Lee Kane and Dominic Cummings, we would ever have known about Party Gate? And my understanding is that kind of initial video was from Downing St. to ITV. So I mean, I don't know the kind of Infinity web where all this stuff fits in. You mean it wasn't leaked by people? Outside of government to that point, it was leaked by an insider. I assume so because I don't know how the outside of government people would have got it. You know, that video was made after they'd left already. So truthfully, I don't know. This was quite a shocking example of people really falling out this time. The stuff that we now know about the parties that went on really regularly sound crazy. I mean, wine and vomit on the walls. And also some pretty dark stories, really dark stories, even sort of allegations of sexual assault. People literally ******** on the sofas and people having sex against their will. I mean, was that happening? Well, not that I knew of. I mean, you're right. I was at one event. I was at the event in the Cabinet Room for his birthday. And, you know, basically not to kind of wriggle off the hook. But I went home as soon as I could because. You know, I've got family and that was very important to me. I think what is difficult is these, obviously all this information is in the Sue Gray report and it felt, particularly if you're, I imagine, you know, a family who has lost someone to COVID or your frontline worker in A&E. The rage they must have felt, particularly after being with pieces you lied to about it last year. They must have got some questions at least. Answered this time last year and so seeing the whole thing reopened this week and getting a sense of, so hang on, were we told the truth or is there another layer of lies on top? Must be really hurtful. But just very quickly on some of the behavior stuff. I think one of the things I really hope the eventual COVID inquiry does is look at what those civil servants were doing with the rest of their time and and advisors. And I know you know I couldn't regret being at that. Cabinet room event. More than more than I possibly do, and I completely apologize for it, but those were not the kind of strong memories of COVID in #10. And the work that these people were doing was, you know, and this isn't to to try and necessarily pivot away from these events, but they were, you know, doing quite harrowing work. They were, you know, finding sites from mass graves they were renting. Potential ice rinks as morgues and certainly at the beginning they were ringing up individual hospitals to find out how many people had died that day because we didn't have that dashboard going. And at the moment, I think the entire kind of government COVID response feels defined by party gate at the moment because that's all that's sort of publicly available. And I really hope that if this inquiry does anything, it does put some light on. What the civil servants do. Look very good luck with the book. I mean, I I can't wait to hear you is on the word do the audio book. What was they thinking? Yeah, I'm. I'm available. Weddings by mitzvahs, masonics, wet audio readings. Thanks so much for having me on. It's great. Pleasure. Thank you. It's lovely. Thanks, guys. Lewis will be back tomorrow. Making up some adventure for us. Yeah, saying I'm on a plane at 7:40 in the morning or something. Which might actually be reality. Hope it will be. Actually, yes, I'm away. You're away. You're off for half term. Have a lovely time. We'll see you in a bit. And I'll be back on Tuesday because Monday is the bank holiday and none of us will be here. Bye, bye bye. This has been a global player, original podcast and a Persephonica production.