Tag Archives: politics

458. The Rick Thompson Report: Post-Election 2017

Talking to my Dad about the results of the UK’s general election on 8 June 2017.

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Introduction Transcript

The story of British politics continues in this episode as I talk to my Dad about the most recent developments, specifically the results of the snap general election which took place on 8 June.

A general election is when all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons are chosen by voters across the country. The party with the highest number of MPs wins the right to form a government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister, the leader of the country.

At the moment our PM is Theresa May of the Conservative party and she called this election just 5 or 6 weeks in advance. I talked about it to my Dad last month. Her reason for doing it was to make sure she had a proper mandate from the people before beginning the brexit negotiations.

Everyone expected the Tories to win a bigger majority and for Labour to lose miserably.

But the results were quite surprising.

Here’s a very quick summary. www.bbc.com/news/election/2017/results

It’s a hung parliament. No party won enough seats to gain an overall majority.
The main parties are Conservatives and Labour.
Conservatives lost 13 seats. They now have 318.
Labour gained 30. They now have 262
This is a huge failure for the Conservatives.
SNP lost 21 seats. This is significant because they won so many in the last election and the SNP are all about gaining Scottish independence.
UKIP are out completely – they lost their single seat. They were the party campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and the immigrants to leave the UK.

Since the Tories are the incumbent party they get the first opportunity to try and form a government by making a deal with one of the other parties.

That’s the position at this moment. We’ll expand on it during our conversation but the words turmoil and disarray are again being used to describe the messy and complicated condition of politics in the UK today.

So let’s talk to my Dad – the professor of broadcast journalism and former BBC news man, for some much needed clarity on this whole subject in order to find out what happened, what it all means, how Northern Ireland and Scotland are involved and how this all relates to the ongoing story of Brexit.

As ever, watch out for all the key language as it appears. There is a lot of political language in this episode, which applies mainly to political systems in the UK but also could be used to talk about politics and international relations in other countries. Also, there are the usual fixed expressions, idioms and phrasal verbs that you normally find in any natural conversation.

Remember that in episode 352 of this podcast (nearly 100 episodes ago) I explained some key concepts and vocabulary related to this whole subject. So if you need some clarification and you want a reminder of some of the important words and terms relating to all of this, check out episode 352 in the archive.

352. BREXIT: Key Vocabulary and Concepts

82. Voting / Elections / Politics / Government

But now, let’s hear from my Dad, Rick Thompson about the current state of politics in the UK, just after last week’s snap general election.


Outtro Transcript

So there you are. I hope it’s all a little bit clearer now, but equally it might even be more complicated!

It is a complicated situation but I hope you agree that we’re quite lucky to be able to listen to my Dad talking about it in his typically lucid and articulate way.

Don’t forget that you can listen to previous episodes of this podcast in which I have gone into detail about the language of politics in the UK.

Episode 352 goes into detail about the vocabulary of Brexit and you can listen to that one again in order to learn some of the key language of this subject.

Also you can listen to episode 82 from way back in January 2012 when I did an episode about voting, elections, politics and government in the UK, in which I explain and teach all the essential language you need to talk about the political process and also you can listen to a funny sketch about a general election.

That’s it for now. As ever, I remind you to join the mailing list which will mean you get an email in your inbox whenever I post new content here.

That’s new episodes of the podcast but also I sometimes post something when I’ve been featured on someone else’s podcast and recently I was invited to talk on the English Across the Pond podcast, The Earful Tower podcast and the Rock n Roll English podcast. If you’re signed up to the mailing list you will get notified of those things and will easily be able to listen to those fun conversations I’ve had and find out about some other people’s podcasts that you might not know about.

I’m going to end this episode after the jingle by playing you parts of the speeches by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the first session of Parliament since the election results came out.

Listen carefully to the voices of the PM and opposition leader as they make statements about the results and about the democratic process in Parliament over the coming months.

The cheering and jeering sounds you hear in the background are all the other MPs sitting in the House of Commons. It’s quite normal to hear them all shouting and cheering in agreement, or heckling and laughing at people they don’t agree with. I wonder if the parliament in your country is as loud and boisterous as it is in the UK.

So thanks for listening, and keep on listening after the jingle if you’d like to hear the words of Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn. (Image below, BBC.com)

Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 12.31.30

444. The Rick Thompson Report: Snap General Election 2017

Politics is back on LEP as I talk to my Dad about recent developments in the UK, specifically the General Election which is due to take place on 8 June.

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Introduction & Summary Transcript

Last week something surprising happened. The British PM Theresa May announced a “snap general election” – meaning, she called an election earlier than expected and with a short time between the announcement and the date of the election. That’s what a ‘snap’ general election is. In this case the general election is going to happen on 8 June this year.

So this is a general election, which means that all the MPs in the UK’s House of Commons in Westminster, London could change. I don’t think they will all change but we will see a different arrangement for sure, with parties either losing or gaining seats, and the government could change as well. The House of Commons is where all the MPs sit. Each seat in commons represents a different part of the country – the different constituencies. People will go out to the polling stations, vote for an MP for their constituency and the one who wins the most votes in that constituency gets that seat. The party which gets the majority of seats in the House of Commons has the right to form a government. At the moment that’s the Conservatives since they won the majority of seats by a fairly small margin in the last general election we had, which was in 2015, i talked about it on this podcast. How is our parliament and our government going to change with this election? How’s that going to affect the direction the country goes in?

So, politics is in the news (as it always is) so I think it’s time to talk some more about this subject on this podcast, so let’s talk to my dad Rick Thompson again. My dad is a journalist who worked at the BBC for years and he’s also a visiting professor at the University of Central England. Generally he’s a well-informed and articulate person and certainly he’s the one I always ask when I want to know all about something that’s happening in the news. So, let’s talk to Rick Thompson about this snap election, what it all means, and how it relates to this ongoing story of Brexit and politics in the UK.

Before we do that I think it might be necessary to give you a bit of a summary of the story so far, in terms of British politics. This will take about 10 minutes but it’s important context.

I’ve been covering politics in the UK since the 2015 election, doing episodes every now and again about the political situation and events, attempting to talk about them in a balanced way while also giving my personal take on things. You can go back and listen to them – since summer 2015.

In any case, here’s a brief summary of British politics over the last couple of decades to just make it as clear as possible because context is everything. Without context it’s just a bunch of big sounding words and events that might not seem to have any significance. Also, it’s a good chance for you to hear some of the language of politics that you might have heard on this podcast before.

You can read this introduction and summary on the page for this episode. Watch out for certain terms and language relating to politics. There’s some nice vocabulary here and you can pick it up and use it when you discuss this subject too, because I’m sure many of you are discussing these things – politics in Europe but also politics in your countries. A lot of the language is basically the same.

A Summary of British Politics – The Main Parties

So we have two main parties in the UK and some other smaller ones which are still important, especially today.

The Conservatives – centre-right to right wing
They’re often described as the party of the rich. They tend to promote free market capitalism with the belief that allowing business to flourish benefits society as a whole because the money trickles down to everyone else through the creation of jobs etc. They believe in the private sector as the solution to society’s problems and that introducing competition in the marketplace between companies seeking profit will create the best conditions in all services, rather than the government stepping in and controlling things with regulation. So the Tories believe in small government. They’re the party that says they support hard work and dynamic entrepreneurialism – the idea that you can build a business yourself and if you work hard and have good ideas you can get rich and do great things and this benefits society in general. They’re criticised for not caring about ordinary working people, just supporting their friends at the top, being out of touch with ordinary life. They currently are the governing party.

Labour – centre-left to left wing.
Believe in supporting working people and creating conditions in which everyone can have a decent life. They believe that the government needs to support people in all areas by providing welfare, guidance and regulation to keep things balanced for all. The public sector has a responsibility to take part in many areas of life in order to constantly protect the interests of all people. More public spending, and re-distribution of wealth through higher taxation on the rich and higher public spending for services for the poor, equal opportunity programs etc. Criticised as being soft, idealistic, the ‘liberal left’, politically correct, tolerant of radical islam, incapable of managing the economy due to high levels of public spending and taxation which damages business. Being too controlling, too much influence in all areas of life like in people’s business concerns, the nanny state trying to control everything and stifling entrepreneurial instincts. They are the opposition party at the moment, struggling with their leader Jeremy Corbyn who is popular with Labour voters, but unpopular within the MPs themselves.

Liberal Democrats in the middle – they almost never get power and just sit in this kind of lukewarm water where they pick up voters who don’t really agree with the other two big parties. Considered a bit vague and untrustworthy considering they made U turns on many principles in their time in coalition govt with the tories and lost loads of seats in the last election. These days they are one of the the only major parties in England which is anti-Brexit.

Green party to the left of Labour – don’t get a lot of votes because they’re just too left wing even though their policies are about fairness and environmental protection. The left is criticised for being idealistic because they believe in high public spending, and “where’s the money going to come from?” Essentially they are a bit anti-capitalist because they’d make businesses pay for their programmes.

UKIP on the right of the tories – always focused on getting out of the EU and cutting immigration. Many members deny climate change, blame immigrants and the EU for all our problems and like to think they are the party for people who are sick of the political class.

SNP – the party for Scotland. Focused on protecting Scottish interests. Generally left wing policy for Scotland. They want independence.

Smaller parties include Plaid Cymru for Wales and several parties in Northern Ireland.

British Politics Since WW2

Over the years our country has generally swung between The Conservatives and Labour.
Following WW2 a Labour government set up the Welfare State – the state took control of the big institutions and utilities like the National Health Service, the railways, water, electricity, coal, steel etc that were like massive pillars of British economic and social life. This is what the country looked like in the decades after ww2.

In the late 70s and early 80s Thatcher (Conservative) totally changed the country by pushing liberal free market economics and beginning the dismantling of the welfare state. She oversaw the privatisation of state owned institutions, letting the markets and the private sector dominate our economy, making it very hard to go back.

The left wing was badly hurt. Partly due to failures in the pre-Thatcher era with the country being dominated by the labour unions and with a lack of growth in the economy. THatcher did revitalise things but she also damaged a lot of the working communities that relied on industries like coal mining. She pushed the country towards liberal economics like Reagan in the USA and we’ve been following that ever since.

Left wing was a bit stuck for a long time, nearly 20 years of Tories.
Tony Blair in the mid-nineties revitalised the Labour party by re-branding it “New Labour”. He took a centrist position, known as the ‘third way’ or Blairism.

Essentially this was the social position of the left with the economic position of the right.
Free-market capitalism was allowed to flourish, but with redistribution of wealth, high public spending on welfare services, progressive policies.

A lot of it was funded by the financial markets, banking ‘trickery’, credit, lending and so on.

It was like a Thatcherite economic model but with the heart of the left – he claimed to represent ordinary working people and wanted to create a level playing field in society to give everyone an equal chance. He was popular in the beginning and won a landslide victory in 1997. Generally he was quite good, but it all slipped when he took the country to war in Iraq and there were questions about the way he justified that.

Also the reckless manner in which the financial markets were allowed to play with our money led to a banking crisis as all the lending backfired when basically people couldn’t pay back all the debt and banks lost a lot of money.

It came from a culture of risky investment and frankly dodgy debt trading, which is kind of what happens when you let the markets just get away with anything.
Because our society is utterly dependent on credit, our economy took a big hit, just like it did all over the world.

Tony Blair handed over to his partner Gordon Brown who inherited this mess and tried to solve things with a mix of quantitative easing and other policies. Lacking the charisma of Blair and arriving at a time when everyone was a bit sick of Labour. Brown is remembered as a bit of an unpopular guy who also had to deal with the fallout of the Blair years.

Labour took a big hit in the 2010 election and lost.

Voter apathy and general distrust in politicians led to low voter turnout in 2010. The Conservatives got more votes than the other parties but not enough to form a government so they formed a coalition with Liberal Democrats who took the opportunity to play a role in government.

The government pushed an economic policy of austerity. The Liberal Democrats compromised a lot of their principles because the govt was basically led by the tories. They lost a lot of public support.

Scotland had a referendum to leave the UK but the vote ended up being to stay, but the SNP gained a lot of support and Scotland still might vote to leave the UK in order to remain in the EU.

The Tories continued to push austerity as their solution to the economic crisis.

The next election saw a surprising win for the Tories. They managed to win an outright majority. This is mainly because the SNP stole votes from Labour in the north. The Lib Dems lost loads of seats because people had lost faith in them. Labour’s leader Ed Miliband just wasn’t convincing enough. People probably felt that the Conservatives had a plan for the economy which they had to finish. Also the usual voter apathy meant that a lot of people didn’t vote and as a result only a portion of the population got what they wanted.
So the Tories carried on with their policy without the influence of the Lib Dems. No more coalition, just the tories.
Their policy: Cut public spending and yet relieve pressure on businesses to stimulate the economy. It also looked like they were making working people pay for the economic crisis caused by rich bankers who were also their friends.

Labour, in opposition, looked for a new leader. Surprisingly an old member of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, was chosen. He’s quite radically left wing. He’s popular with the grassroots voters, but not popular with the more centrist members of the party, including many Labour MPs and the party is quite split.

Meanwhile the economic crisis, unemployment and increasing immigration caused more competition in the job market and the cut in public services caused a lot of frustration among middle class and lower class people. UKIP gained more support by campaigning to reduce immigration and make Britain great again by getting out of Europe. They posed quite a big threat to the Conservatives both among voters and within the party. David Cameron the PM and Tory leader faced quite a lot of pressure from this growing Eurosceptic faction.

He came up with a plan to satisfy those Eurosceptic members of his party and prevent UKIP from stealing too much support from them. He had to be seen to be addressing the EU situation, taking a tough position.

He called a referendum on Europe while also planning to try and renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. I think he believed he could use the referendum as a bargaining tool in Europe to get a better deal with more control of immigration and more control of business rules.

He thought the EU would say “ok you can have what you want, just don’t leave us!”

Dave imagined the referendum would be a choice between a better deal with EU or out.

He didn’t get the better deal he wanted, and you know how the anti-EU supporters campaigned hard for a leave vote by making lots of untrue claims, promises they couldn’t keep, presenting Brexit as the solution to all of the UK’s problems.

Surprise surprise, the country voted to leave the UK. 51.9% voted leave, 48.1% to remain.

Cameron, who had campaigned to remain promptly resigned, suggesting that he wasn’t the right man to lead the country into Brexit. There was a slightly messy leadership campaign, with Boris Johnson ultimately stepping down because he made a fool of himself with his leave campaign – too many promises he couldn’t keep and false claims. Theresa May was chosen by the Tories as the next leader. She was officially anti-Brexit during the referendum campaign, but she was chosen as the PM to lead the country through the Brexit negotiations. Crazy times.

A lot of people were angry with Jeremy Corbyn the Labour leader because he did not argue against Brexit strongly enough. As the leader of the left, he didn’t seem to care about Brexit that much and this probably damaged the remain campaign. It seems he doesn’t like Europe much. He lost a lot of support from shocked remain voters.

There was a high court claim by various people which argued that the government didn’t have the right to trigger article 50 (start Brexit process) without Parliament voting on it first. The claim was a success. Parliament voted to trigger article 50. In March Theresa May triggered Article 50. She also promised many times that she wouldn’t call a general election, and that “now wasn’t the time”.

Then, wow, she called a snap election and here we are. It was a surprise because we she didn’t need to do it until 2020.

Another general election on 8 June 2017.

Why has this happened? What’s the significance of this? What does it mean?

Let’s talk to my dad and see what he has to say.

 


What happened?
Theresa May has called a ‘snap’ General Election, to take place on 8 June 2017.

What does this mean?
That voters in the UK will be choosing new MPs in the house of commons.
We’ll get a new government, new arrangement in Parliament

Why did Theresa May call this election? She didn’t have to do it until 2020.
She says it’s because the country needs a united government. May needs a ‘mandate’ from the people to be able to oversee Brexit.
But really, this is just an opportunity for the Tories to grab more power because the opposition is a disaster.

How is this possible? How often do we have elections in the UK?
We have elections every 5 years more or less, but the government has the right to call elections whenever it wants. In the case of a ‘snap’ election like this, Parliament votes on it and it needs a ⅔ majority to go through. That’s going to happen because Corbyn has said Labour will back the snap election.

Why is Corbyn backing this election when it’s pretty certain that Labour will lose seats?
He’s in a Catch 22 situation. If he says no to the election it’s like admitting defeat.

What is going to happen?
Tories will gain a bigger majority, Labour will lose seats, Liberal Democrats will gain (because they’re the only ones fighting against Brexit so remainers will switch to them). But, anything can happen in politics, so let’s wait and see.

How is this related to Brexit?

What about the 48.1% that voted to remain?
Who do they have to vote for? Corbyn basically agrees with Brexit so the only party left is Lib Dem and they’re just not strong enough to win this. The Tories are bound to make big gains.

  • Some vocabulary
  • U turn
  • Voter turnout
  • Voter fatigue
  • Campaign
  • Televised debate
  • Polls
  • Brexit negotiations
  • Mandate

 

402. The Rick Thompson Report: What’s Going On? Nov. 2016 (Post-Truth Politics, Cricket and Tetris)

Last week I asked my Dad for his opinions about recent news and we talked about Brexit, post-truth politics, the US election, the right-wing press in the UK, the political landscape in the EU, the rules of international cricket and the music from Tetris. You can listen to the conversation in this episode. Introduction and and ending transcriptions available below.

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Introduction Transcript (script begins 1 minute into the episode)

My Dad is back on the podcast in this episode and in a few moments you’re going to hear our conversation which I recorded last week on Thursday 17 November 2016.

In the conversation we touch on these subjects: the weather (naturally), a bit about the rules of international cricket, then a Brexit update including details of the recent UK high court decision regarding the government’s power to trigger Article 50. Article 50 is a piece of legislation (part of the Lisbon Treaty) that when triggered begins the legal process of the UK’s exit from the EU. We’re not actually out of the EU yet, despite the result of the referendum. We have to wait for the government to ‘trigger article 50’ and then it all starts.

“Trigger article 50” – it sounds like something from Star Wars episode 3 “Revenge of the Sith”. In fact it feels like the political narrative these days is getting more and more similar to the plot to a Star Wars prequel, with lots of complex negotiations with shadowy trade federations, insidious political manoeuvring and the general sense of an impending journey towards the dark side, which is a pity isn’t it? “Trigger Article 50!” In Star Wars episode 3 it’s “Execute Order 66” which is an order by the evil emperor Palpatine to have all the Jedi assassinated by their own soldiers. “Execute order 66” “Trigger Article 50!”

But no, this isn’t Star Wars – we’ll have to wait until December for that.

You’ll also hear my Dad’s views on the presidential election result in the USA, some stuff about the UK’s right-wing press (newspapers), the OED’s word of the year – ‘post-truth’, ‘post-truth’ politics and general political trends across Europe and other regions at this time.

At one point the podcast gets interrupted when someone rings my Dad’s doorbell and it turns out to be a lost postman (which is actually quite a welcome break from all the depressing post-truth politics), then we somehow end up talking about the idea of a giant flea jumping over St Paul’s cathedral, a bit more about the joys of international cricket, the music from the classic Russian videogame Tetris and how a cup of tea is sometimes the best solution to almost any problem.

Language-wise this episode gets quite technical in places, especially when we talk about the UK’s constitutional, legal and political frameworks. So, watch out for lots of big words and big phrases relating to constitutional law, the inner-workings of government and even more complicated than both of those things: the rules of international test-match cricket.

Depending on both your level of English and your familiarity with these topics, this might be a difficult conversation to follow, but we all know that these challenges can be good for your English.

You might try transcribing some minutes of the episode (go to the transcript collaboration page to get started) or try some shadowing or any other techniques for active listening. Alternatively, just sit back, relax, have a cup of tea and enjoy the company of my Dad for a little while, as we try to work out what’s going on in the world.

I’ll talk to you again briefly on the other side of the conversation, but now you can listen to the Rick Thompson report.

*CONVERSATION*

So, there you go, that was my Dad and me going on about what’s going on. What do you think is going on? Get stuck into the comment section at teacherluke.co.uk if you’ve got something to share.

You can hear the Tetris music in the background. This one is Theme A – which I believe is a version of a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki. I’m sure many of you out there know more about it than I do, so I will let you explain the meaning of the song, and indeed the correct way to pronounce it.

For me, it reminds me of journeys in the back of my dad’s car, trying to get to level 9 on Tetris.

I actually prefer the B theme. It still gets stuck in my head to this day as I find myself humming it even when I haven’t heard it recently.

If you know about this tune as well, you can write a comment on the website.

Comments: Let me know what you think of these things

  • What do you think is going on generally in the world today?
  • On a positive note, what are you looking forward to? What are you optimistic about? Is there anything coming up that you’re impatient for? (On that note, I am looking forward to seeing the new Star Wars film, which is a prequel to the original trilogy, as many of you will know. This one isn’t a sequel to episode 7, it actually takes place between episodes 3 and 4. Yes, they still can’t count in the Star Wars universe. So far they’ve gone in this order 4, 5, 6, 1, 2, 3, 7, 3.5 and after that it will be 8. I’m looking forward to it just because I love the SW universe, and the trailer looks pretty good – although I’m a bit concerned by the script which seems a bit dodgy in places (“This is a rebellion, isn’t it? – I rebel.” It’s not Star Wars without a bit of clunky dialogue) I expect I’ll be talking more about this soon. Anyway, what are you looking forward to exactly?
  • Are you a fan of cricket? Have you ever heard of cricket? Do they play cricket where you live? Do you understand the rules at all?
  • Going back to Tetris – Did you use to play Tetris? Do you still play Tetris? What do you know about the history of this classic game? Do you have any stories to share about Tetris, including how it was developed and the people who created it? Or stories about how you played it, and how you used to get that tune stuck in your head, and how you’d play it until you got ‘Tetrisitis’?

So, feel free to get involved in the comment section.

Listen to Australian comedian Jim Jeffries trying to explain cricket to some Americans *contains rude language*

Join the mailing list

It’s the best way to get access to the page for the episode where you’ll find notes, transcripts, videos, links, other useful bits and pieces, as well as easy- access to the episode archive, the comment section and lots of other things.

Another note about the transcript collaboration team

This is now called The Orion Transcript Collaboration Team, which is cool. I didn’t name it – the name was chosen by Antonio because “Orion” is a constellation of stars in the night sky, and the members of the team are also a group of stars – so the name seems appropriate now. I like it anyway.

The team have been doing a great job. Go to the website -> (hover the mouse over TRANSCRIPTS -> TRANSCRIPT COLLABORATION and click the red, yellow or green buttons to access the google docs.

Episodes are divided up into 3 minute chunks. You transcribe your 3 minutes. Other people check your 3 minutes and make corrections. Eventually the whole episode is transcribed – it might not be completely perfect, but it’s done. Next, I have to proofread them all! So actually, this project rapidly creates more and more work for me. I am going through them *extremely* slowly, and publishing the full scripts on the website. It might be necessary to employ some proofreaders to check the finished scripts. Perhaps I should launch a kickstarter campaign for that or something, because it’ll cost money to get a pro to do the final proofreading.

I got a message from Antonio about this recently and he said this at the end:

I laugh a lot when someone corrects my chunk and I see certain mistakes I do. But I have improved a lot my understanding and can watch the BBC TV, not only the news, understanding much, much more than before I started transcribing you episodes. Maybe in this area, I am experiencing the famous breakthrough all teachers speak about. See you, Luke and thanks again for your commitment. Antonio

BENEFITS OF TRANSCRIPT COLLABORATION
Catherine Bear
Since I’ve been proof-reading a little bit of the transcripts, I have the feeling that my short term memory has improved considerably.
So, guys, I would encourage each of you to do little bit of transcribing.
Also shadowing is a nice way to improve not only the short term memory but also the sentence stress, intonation and pronunciation.
I used to speak with a kind of American accent, but since I started actively listening to Luke’s English Podcast back in August and doing lots of shadowing (like 5 minutes in one go, a couple of times a day) — my English accent suddenly started to switch towards the British RP English. :)
Guys, let’s share some personal success stories related to Luke’s English Podcast.

Yes, please do share some personal success stories of learning English!

Take care and I’ll speak to you soon.

402

389. US Presidential Election 2016 – Trump vs Clinton (with Sarah & Sebastian) Part 2

Here is part two of my conversation with Sarah and Sebastian from the USA about the upcoming presidential election. In this episode we turn our attention to Hillary Clinton.

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So, that was our conversation about the election. There were opinions flying around. There were words flying around. There was a hell of a lot in there. I could spend forever untangling it all and explaining the words, breaking it all down bit by bit so you understand it all. But frankly, that would take me hours and hours and I just can’t do that. In the end, I think perhaps the best thing to do was to play you a natural conversation about it instead, even if it was hard for you to follow.

Perhaps because we were talking rather quickly. Perhaps because we were talking over each other a bit. Perhaps it was difficult because of the American accents of Sebastian and Sarah. Perhaps because you don’t know the subject well and that made it hard to understand. So, if it was a struggle to understand everything, well done for making it through to the end of the episode here.

If it wasn’t a struggle and you feel you understood a lot of the conversation, then well done you!

I expect some Trump fans out there listening to this got triggered by some of our comments. You might have strong feelings. Can I suggest that before you do that you take a deep breath before you start writing. Also, I’m sure there are some anti-Hillary people out there. Again, don’t spread hateful comments on the website. Instead I encourage you to present a developed argument, and not the sort of hateful nonsense you find under the average YouTube video.

Whatever your thoughts and feelings, please join in the conversation and leave your comments on the page for this episode. I have a few questions for you. You can answer as many as you like.

  1. How was the conversation for you? Did you understand it all?
  2. What do you think of Hillary?
  3. What do you think of Trump?
  4. Who do you think will win?
  5. Who do you hope will win?

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the website.

Thanks for listening. Speak to you soon.

Bye.

Luke

election

301. David Cameron & The Pig / Bad Gig Story / Who is Ronnie Pickering?

In this episode I’m going to have a bit of a ramble about some stuff that’s in the news at the moment and a few other things that have come into my brain. I’m not going to teach you anything specific in this one, no language anyway – just some bits and pieces about modern day British life. So generally I’m just going to keep you company for a while and talk to you one to one for the duration of the episode. Just you and me, and perhaps a bus load of commuters.

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Download “The In Sound from Way Out” by Beastie Boys on iTunes, here.
Here’s a made-up agenda for the episode:

1. The UK political situation, and trending news relating to it – this is less boring than you might expect because it seems from recent reports that our Prime Minister David Cameron once had sex with a dead pig. Seriously. (Did PM David Cameron really have sex with a pig? What’s all this about Jeremy Corbyn? What’s going on?)
2. “Sorry, we’re English”
3. Tell a story or anecdote about something.
4. Who is Ronnie Pickering?

In the next episode:
5. A trip to the dentist in Paris.
6. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens – I can hardly contain my excitement, but I am attempting to avoid the hype.
7. OPP: The Adam Buxton Podcast
8. In my headphones recently: The Juan MacLean “A Simple Design”, The Who: “Who Are You?”, Erland Oye: “Lies become part of who you are”, DJ Krush & Ronny Jordan: “Bad Brothers”, Leyla McCalla: “Heart of Gold”. (Plus, the intro song: “Groove Holmes” by Beastie Boys)
9. Jingle news: Possible new jingle in the pipeline
10. Jarvis Cocker
11. That’s probably it, isn’t it?
301b





270. UK General Election RESULTS

In the last two episodes I went into quite a lot of detail about the context and predictions for the general election in the UK which took place just over a week ago. The results came in on the morning of Friday 8 May and a week later we now have a new government which is already getting itself ready to run the country over the next 5 years, implementing various plans, policies and legislation. Listen to this podcast episode for the full details and read the transcript below in order to follow almost all the words and phrases I use in this episode.

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Surprises
The results were pretty surprising in the end, which was a surprise in itself. Despite the fact that we knew the result would be unpredictable, nobody expected a surprise and for that reason the surprise that we got was pretty surprising. It shouldn’t have been a surprise of course, because we all knew that we didn’t know what was going to happen, and because of that, any result would have been surprising. So, what was the surprise? The Conservatives won an outright majority. There was no hung parliament, no coalition, no negotiations and no deal making. Just 5 more years of a David Cameron led Conservative government without the influence of the Liberal Democrats. Just the Tories running the whole show.

Let’s have a look at what happened, and what we can expect over the next 5 years. Of course my comments here are predictions and speculations and I don’t guarantee that it’s all going to happen as I describe it. As ever, we can’t be completely certain about what the future will bring. So, again, you can expect some more surprises. So, be ready to be surprised, if that is possible. Is that possible? Surely if you’re ready for a surprise, it won’t be a surprise. But according to last Friday’s result, that is possible, because we were all ready for an unpredictable result, and then when the actual result wasn’t predicted, we were all surprised by it. Anyway, enough of all this nonsense about surprises.

Is that confusing? Probably. Don’t worry, I’ll make it a bit clearer in a moment.

What were the predictions?
Although we knew it would be difficult to predict, most people were sure that neither of the two big parties (Con & Lab) would gain enough seats to form a majority government (326) and so we’d have another hung parliament like last time.
So, we expected there to be a period of negotiation in which firstly the Conservatives attempted to make a deal with either the Lib Dems if they won enough seats, or possibly UKIP if they won enough seats. I expected that it would be too difficult for the Tories to do this, they wouldn’t be able to make a coalition deal with anyone and then it would be up to Labour to try and make a coalition with either the Lib Dems (difficult to imagine) or the SNP (also difficult to imagine). In fact, most of the outcomes were difficult to imagine for various reasons – most of them being that the parties had ruled out almost all kinds of coalition deal with each other. So, we expected lots of political manoeuvring during the negotiation period, and then some kind of complex and unsatisfying partnership between parties that didn’t really see eye to eye on everything.

A lot of people expected Ed Miliband to be the next PM as it looked more likely that he’d be able to make a deal with one or more of the other parties.

In the end, despite the fact that we all knew the results would be unpredictable, the outcome was generally surprising for everyone. The Tories won an outright majority, with a win of 331 seats – a small majority.

What were the numbers?
Conservatives won 331 seats (up by 24 seats)
Labour won 232 (down by 26 seats)
Liberal Democrats 8 (down by a huge 47)
SNP 56 (up by a massive 50 seats)
UKIP 1 (up by 1)
Plaid Cymru 3 (no change)
Green 1 (no change)
18 seats went to other parties.

What happened to the leaders & parties?
Conservatives
It probably felt like an amazingly huge victory in comparison to what everyone expected – a hung parliament.
Apparently Cameron was surprised by the result. It must have been exciting for him, but I expect the honeymoon period is wearing off now as he faces a number of challenges as PM.
It will certainly be easier for the Tories without the influence of the Lib Dems, but Cameron faces division within his party, particularly over the EU (some Tories are keen to leave, others not), a powerful SNP who will not only block some of his plans but may also demand a Scottish referendum. He will also have to push forward with more unpopular austerity measures.
He made a speech highlighting the importance of unity. He said he plans to be a ‘one nation PM’ – meaning he hopes to appeal to everyone in the UK. He’s pushing that line because he wants to reach out to all the people who didn’t vote for him, and also he must work hard to make sure the whole of the UK doesn’t break up – mainly as a result of Scotland campaigning for more independence.
It’s quite interesting to note that London Mayor Boris Johnson is now an MP. He was a candidate in a London constituency called Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and he won it. So he’s in the House of Commons now too. That’s interesting because we know he’s ambitious and probably has his eyes on the PM position. It was probably a calculated move by the Tory high command. In the event of a possible negotiation with UKIP the Tories would have needed another option for leadership – someone who is quite Eurosceptic and popular with the electorate and Boris fits the bill quite nicely. But since the Tories won an outright majority, Boris has to keep quiet for the time being. Cameron’s leadership is not in question at this moment. However, he has promised that at the end of this term (5 years) he will stand down. Then I expect it will be time for another leadership race for the Tory party and Boris could be in pole position.

By the way, on Saturday there was already some civil unrest with protests in central London against further spending cuts by the government. People lined up near Whitehall to demonstrate, and a few people were arrested. Plenty of people are unhappy with the Conservatives and their plans to make even bigger cuts to public spending. In fact, Iain Duncan Smith has already stated plans to cut £12 billion from the welfare budget. Welfare – that’s state run programmes to provide money and services to people who need it, like sick people, the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled, single mothers and so on. £12 billion cut from welfare programme.

Labour
Labour lost loads of seats in Scotland. Their hopes of forming a government were dashed.
Ed Miliband resigned/quit/stepped down.
The party also lost a lot of other key MPs including the shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Yes that really is his name.
The party is now leaderless and is ‘licking its wounds’. The next thing for Labour to do is to find a new leader and a new direction. Essentially it’s a question of ‘go left’ or ‘aim for the centre’. Either they pursue a more traditional left wing line, in order to compete with the SNP or Green parties, or they become more populist and centrist, aiming for a similar tactic as Tony Blair in 1997, when he chose the ‘third way’, which basically means adopting some aspects of the left (the socially minded side) and borrowing some from the right (the private sector led, free market economy). It’s going to be difficult for Labour to choose their approach, and their choice of leader is vital.

Why did Labour lose?
It seems that there is a rule in UK elections – no party has ever won when the leader is less popular than his/her rivals and when people don’t fully trust the economic plan. These seem to be the crucial things – a convincing leader with a convincing economic plan. In the end, Ed was not convincing enough, and neither was the Labour plan. Perhaps the Conservative rhetoric worked – “5 years ago we were in a mess because of Labour. They borrowed too much, taxed too much, spent too much and got the country into loads of debt. Then the tories took over and we’ve been following a strict long term plan, and it’s working. Let us finish the job, and don’t let Labour mess it all up again.” In the end that worked out very well for them.

Lib Dems
Liberal Democrats lost loads of seats. It was a terrible night for them. Most of their seats went to the Tories, but also some in Scotland.
Their leader Nick Clegg quit/resigned/stepped down.
They’re now leaderless too, out of government, and suddenly much less influential in government than before.
They also lost a lot of key members.

Why did the Lib Dems lose so many seats?
Essentially, the Tories devoured them. The Lib Dems took the blame for a lot of the failings of the previous government. They didn’t stand out. Their whole message was just “you need us in any arrangement” and it wasn’t really clear what they would do other than prop up another party, and moderate them. This was a compromised position and I suppose voters aren’t fully convinced by that kind of vague rhetoric.

SNP
The SNP won a landslide victory in Scotland, even more than predicted.
They now are in a position to have a big influence on policy, legislation and the way the whole country is run.
For the Scottish, this is generally a good thing. It means more power for Scotland.
For some non-Scottish people, it’s a worrying prospect, for a few reasons.
For the Tories, they’ll have a tough time convincing the SNP to vote in favour of austerity measures. Also, the Scots may demand their influence to demand more public spending in Scotland and other things, including a possible new referendum for Scottish independence. They said they wouldn’t push for that, but there are suggestions that in fact they will. Having such a large presence in the House of Commons means that they’ll be in a much better position to get an independence referendum if they want it. With all the support they seem to have in Scotland, perhaps the result will be YES next time, and Scotland will leave the union. Goodbye the UK. United Kingdom – well, just the Kingdom (not so united) or the Divided Kingdom, or Queendom in fact, because we’ve got a Queen of course.

What’s the Queen been doing?
I expect she’s just been observing, reading the papers, watching the TV, drinking cups of tea, smoking (rumours are that she’s a smoker, but I don’t believe it), getting advice from experts at the Palace. Then, she met David Cameron last week, and since he got the mandate from the people (Well, some of the people) she invited him to form a government, which gives him the authority to run the country.

What about UKIP?
They got one seat. Not that much really. Nigel Farage lost his seat. He wasn’t elected in his constituency. It must have been either a kick in the stomach, or a relief (he’s been campaigning hard). He promptly resigned as leader of the party, suggesting he’d take the summer off before deciding if he’d apply again. The party refused his resignation. So, that’s it – he’s still the leader, even though he’s not an MP.

Why did the leaders resign?
Some people – students, listeners, seem surprised that the leaders of losing parties resigned. That’s normal in the UK. The idea is that the leaders take responsibility for the defeat, and it allows the party to then bounce back, find a new leader and move on. It’s quite common. Also, this time it’s particularly relevant because Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg failed to inspire the electorate. Their popularity is now damaged beyond repair really. It would be hard for them to come back from such a clear defeat, much of it due to them as individuals. They have to go in order to let the parties have a decent chance of succeeding next time. Ultimately, the parties are bigger than their leaders.

Some Vocabulary
(OK, I didn’t have time for this, but here is a list of some words and terms that you heard in the last episodes – do you know them all?)
the political spectrum
constituencies
MP
The House of Commons
Parliament
seat
Cabinet
ministers
ministries
parties
decentralisation
devolution
a landslide victory
voter apathy
candidates
a hung parliament
a coalition government
austerity measures
welfare payments
the welfare state
benefits
allow businesses to flourish
thrive
private sector / public sector
tuition fees
macroeconomic factors
referendum

268. UK General Election 2015 (Part 1)

This podcast contains everything you should know about the general election which is happening across the UK this Thursday 7 May 2015. This could be a long episode, but I’m so determined to cover the whole story that I don’t mind how long it takes. I feel it’s worth spending some time to cover this topic in enough detail to make it genuinely interesting and informative. I’m not there in the UK at the moment, so I’m not able to take part in the discussions, or watch all the coverage on the TV, but I care about this a lot and I’ve just got to get this stuff off my chest – which means, I’ve got a lot of things inside that I want to tell you about. This is an important election (like any election) and it’s interesting because we genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen, and the consequences of the different outcomes could be quite drastic. Voting is on May 7, but I’ve already voted – I did it by post (yes, that’s possible in the UK). No, I’m not going to tell you who I voted for – I’ll let you try and work that out if you want.

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I was on TV last week talking about this election last week. I wish I had been as prepared then as I am now! It was a live TV debate on France24. They invited me on at the last minute because they needed a guest who was British and was able to talk about the election. I knew a few things about it because I’ve been covering this topic in my classes this year, and last year and so I agreed to go on the show. Also, I think they were interested in having a comedian on the show, and so they ended up with Luke from Luke’s English Podcast in the studio! 2 hours later I was on live television, and yes I did manage to plug Luke’s English Podcast, as well as suggest to President Francois Hollande that he take English lessons with me. So, Francois – if you’re listening, the offer is still open! I did okay in the TV debate, although I was a little unprepared. Now, after having dealt with this subject in class a few times this week already I feel like I am even more prepared, and actually have a good grasp of the situation, good enough to be able to explain it to you, here, in this podcast, clearly and simply.
That is my challenge in this episode – to get across the complex facts and issues relating to this election in an understandable and engaging way. Your challenge is to just try to follow it step by step! The end result should be that you’re more well-informed about this significant moment in British life, and I’m sure you’re going to pick up plenty of language in the process.

You’ll be glad to know that you can read a lot of what I’m saying here on the page for this episode at teacherluke.co.uk. If you want to follow this, read these words, repeat it yourself, check some of vocabulary in a dictionary or whatever studying method you have, you can do it. Not every word is transcribed as I might improvise and go off script from time to time, but the main content is certainly there for you to read. :)

This subject is relevant to you
You might not think this subject is particularly relevant to you, but I’d like to try and persuade you that it is.
The UK remains one of the world’s most important countries. What happens here is in the interests of the whole world.
If you’re in a European country it is particularly relevant, because what happens in this election could dictate the UK’s relationship with the EU, including steps towards our exit from the union.
This election is fascinating because we really don’t know what’s going to happen. Usually, it’s pretty obvious. Not this time.
It could result in big changes to the UK’s constitution, including the our exit from Europe, Scotland’s exit from the UK, a fairly significant social and economic change of direction for the country, and changes to the way our government operates within Parliament. Is this the end of an age in UK politics? Maybe.
So, I think it is relevant to anyone interested in significant events beyond their borders – and I imagine that if you’re a listener to this podcast, you have some curiosity or relationship with the UK, which could make you want to know more about this big moment.

This is the number 1 story in the UK at the moment. There’s a huge buzz about it in the newspapers, on TV, all over the internet. It’s the big story – much bigger than the birth of the second royal baby, which happened on Saturday, and named yesterday (Charlotte Elizabeth Diana). So, in this episode I’ll explain the main details and nuances of this story, specifically for you as a non-native speaker, so you can understand it’s significance.

And as if that wasn’t enough you’ll get plenty of vocabulary, the opportunity to hear the leaders of 7 political parties in the UK. That’s 7 different voices from 7 different key figures in this election, including 1 Scottish accent and 1 Welsh accent. At the end of this episode, you’ll be far more informed about British politics than you were at the beginning, and we all know that knowledge is power. You may be able to impress people with your ability to chat about UK politics. Honestly, I’m often surprised at how little people understand politics, including fellow Brits. I think everyone benefits when we engage in politics. I’m certainly not cynical about this subject, and I definitely do not find it boring. Cynicism about politics is dangerous, because if we don’t care about politics, and ignore the subject – it doesn’t go away, it just gets dominated by people who do care about it – and often that means people with extreme, fringe ideas. So, let’s engage in politics because it’s not only fascinating, but vitally important.

So, are you convinced? I hope so.

The election is on Thursday, just a couple of days away. So, by the time you listen to this, the voting will probably have finished and there will probably be a new government in power. Many of you may be listening to this ages after the event. I still think it’s relevant, even some time after the election, because it’ll give you insight into not only the background story of what happened in May 2015 and the context of what’s going on in the UK at the moment, but it should also help to explain events that are happening in the future.

Context – the last 5 years
Traditionally, the UK has been dominated by two political parties – Conservatives (right) and Labour (left).
Now we’re seeing a much more diverse set of parties who not only represent different positions on the political spectrum, but also different regions in the UK. This is a story of not just right and left, but of England and Scotland, and also Wales & Northern Ireland of course. It could be the end of the two-party system, and the centralisation of Westminster.

Let’s just have a reminder of some basics of politics in the UK
The whole of the UK is divided into constituencies – these are political areas of the country. Each constituency votes for an MP to represent them in The House of Commons, which is in Parliament, which is in Westminster, which is in London, which is in England, which is in Britain, which is in the UK.
Each constituency has a seat in the House of Commons. There are 650 seats for 650 constituencies. So each seat is occupied by an MP who represents his/her constituency, including the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet (ministers of different ministries, such as the Ministry of Education, etc) members of the opposition etc.
Those MPs represent different parties of course. That includes the main ones – Conservatives (302), Labour (256), Liberal Democrats (56) and also other ones with smaller numbers of seats, particularly parties that represent specific interests of other nations in the UK, such as the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein from N.Ireland, the SNP from Scotland and Plaid Cymru from Wales.

Those MPs vote on laws that affect the whole of the UK. After the laws have been passed, and given Royal Assent by The Queen (she basically stamps them “Yes, fine” next! I don’t think she actually does it herself), they are applied in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But, thanks to a process of decentralisation of government power called ‘devolution’, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have their own parliaments which have a certain amount of independent power. They can adapt some of the laws from Westminster, and can write some new laws which apply only to those regions. This is particularly true in Scotland. England doesn’t have a devolved parliament like the other countries. We take laws from Westminster, unchanged. This arrangement has been relatively problem free for England, because the number of MPs from the other 3 countries in Westminster has been quite low, so it’s no big deal. But, if the SNP get lots of votes this year, it means the number of SNP MPs could rise by 40-50 seats, and that means that suddenly a lot of English laws are being voted on by Scottish nationalists. That’s making some English MPs freak out a bit. Do you understand that? Don’t worry if it’s a bit complex. It might make more sense later.

Basically, this is going to be a big year from the Scottish National Party and they’ll probably have a much bigger presence in Parliament than ever before, and that’s going to make a big difference to the way that government is run in the UK. The Scots will have much more influence.

What happened in the last election?
To form a majority government, one party needs to get at least 326 seats in Commons. For example, in 1997 Tony Blair’s Labour Party won 418 seats – that’s a big victory. They assembled a majority government that enjoyed a lot of support from the public (at the beginning). Labour won the next election too, but in the end, Blair lost the public’s support, mainly because he chose to get involved in the Iraq war in 2003 against public opinion. People decided that, with George Bush, he’d lied about his intentions for going to war in the middle east. He said it was about weapons of mass destruction, and it became clear that it was more about imperialism and a struggle for oil. Blair stepped down eventually, and was replaced by another Labour MP called Gordon Brown (an imposing Scottish guy who specialised in economics, was a bit more socialist in nature than Blair, had one eye and was unable to fake a smile on live TV) after a damaging power struggle within the party. Basically, Brown and Blair set up New Labour together in the 90s. They had an agreement that Blair would be the leader, and Brown the finance minister, and that after something like 8 years, Blair would step aside and let Brown have a go at leadership. I think Blair didn’t want to give up the leadership (if we can learn one thing from this episode, it’s that power is massively seductive, and when power is within reach people will be willing to change even their most important principles in order to get it). So there was an internal struggle within the party, and Brown won and became PM, but it left the Labour party divided. Blair is now generally disliked. Brown was also pretty unpopular. He didn’t have the charisma or charm of Blair, and he was PM at the time of the economic crash. A lot of people blame him and Labour for that. This is around 2008, 2009. In 2010 it was time for another election.

There was a lot of voter apathy, and there still is. This is the feeling among voters that voting is a waste of time and effort, because all the candidates are basically the same, they all lie, they don’t keep their promises, they’re corrupt and just seek power and don’t really have our interests at heart. That meant that we had a fairly low voter turnout at the election, and also the nation wasn’t particularly passionate about one candidate in particular. The three main candidates were David Cameron of the Conservatives, Gordon Brown of Labour and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. None of them did particularly well, and neither Conservatives or Labour got the magic 326 seats to form a majority government. So, the negotiations began. What negotiations? The negotiations to form a coalition government. This is when several parties get together and form a joint government. Usually a smaller party will join a bigger one if they can agree on certain policy ideas and an agenda for government. This involves the usual things you would expect from a negotiation – conditions, concessions, trading powers and so on.

The Conservatives
It was the Tories (Conservatives) and Liberal Democrats who made a deal, and formed the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition which has been in government for the last 5 years. They came into power when the UK was suffering a large budget deficit (the country just didn’t have enough money to pay for everything) as a result of the financial crisis. The Conservative solution to this was to introduce sweeping austerity measures – that means spending cuts. This is one of the key policies of The Conservatives, and part of their ideology. Stop spending money on social services. That means cutting welfare payments or cutting benefit given to people in society who need help, or anything that the state pays for. The logic there is that the state can save money by spending less on its people.

At the same time, they wanted to reduce taxes for the rich, and allow businesses to flourish (to be successful), especially the financial sector (the banks, particularly in London). Don’t tax corporations, banks or businesses too much – let them thrive. If businesses are successful, if there is wealth at the top end of society, that will benefit everyone because the money will come trickling down from top to bottom like a magical waterfall, it will lead to job creation, more people will have spending power and everything will be wonderful. This was the Tory plan. Cut public spending, promote the private sector. The Liberal Democrats, in joining the Conservatives, moved to the right (because Conservatives are a bit right-wing, and the Lib Dems were in the centre, to the left of the Tories). So the Lib Dems moved away from the left in order to get into government. Nick Clegg justified this by promising to protect certain key things – like tuition fees for example (that’s the price you have to pay to go to university in the UK). He promised to make sure the tories didn’t raise tuition fees. But he failed his promise and the government did raise tuition fees. In fact, generally, the coalition has been bad for Nick Clegg because he’s had to compromise lots of his principles, and he keeps having to apologise for it.

So, the Conservative-Liberal coalition went ahead with large spending cuts. Lots of people in the UK protested against the cuts, saying it was unfair and that the conservatives only cared about the rich, and didn’t care about ordinary working people, and they had a point. Anyway, ‘austerity’ has been the big word of this government. Spending cuts. For many people, particularly those in working class or poor communities, this was pretty bad news because suddenly they had fewer services, longer hospital waiting times and so on. So, austerity, austerity, austerity. The tories say “we have a long-term plan for the economy – it’s tough, but it’s necessary”.

Maybe they’re right, because according to lots of analysts, the UK’s economy has had more growth than most other countries in Europe. Maybe it’s been working – but it’s unclear if this growth is due to spending cuts, or if it would have happened anyway. Maybe there are macroeconomic factors which are beyond the control of the tories, which mean that the UK’s economy would grow out of recession quickly anyway, and that if they cared more about communities, then people would generally be happier and quality of life better.

Ultimately, it’s a question of values. We’ll come to that later.

This is long isn’t it! But I hope you’re keeping up!!!

So, the most recent government is David Cameron PM, Nick Clegg deputy PM – conservatives and Lib Dems together, with austerity measures their main economic policy.

The Scottish National Party
Then of course last year we had the high profile Scottish independence referendum. As part of a deal agreed by David Cameron some time before, the Scottish were given the choice to be in or out of the UK. I did a podcast about this before, which was very well received by my listeners. There were two camps – the “Yes Scotland” campaign (for independence) and the “Better Together” campaign (against independence). In the end, 55% of people voted “no” for independence. Scotland stayed in the union. Part of the reason people voted “no” was because it was still a pretty good option for them as all the MPs from England (Lab, Lib and Con) all promised to give Scotland more devolved powers as long as they stayed in the union. “We’ll give you more power – but please don’t leave us!” So, the campaign was such a great advert for Scottish political interests in the UK that the SNP have since attracted loads and loads of support in Scotland. All that campaigning for Scottish rights has been wonderfully helpful for Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of SNP. Now, the SNP are probably going to win a landslide victory in Scotland, stealing a lot of seats from Labour. 40-50 extra Scottish MPs are probably going to arrive in Westminster. How’s that going to affect UK politics?

So, tories are in government, pushing spending cuts and being accused of just looking after their rich friends in the banking industry (who appear to have got away with losing/stealing all our money). Lib Dems have been supporting them, but trying to stop them going to far.
SNP have been getting loads of support in Scotland.

What about Labour?
After losing out in the last election they changed their leader. There was a race for leadership, and it ended up being between two brothers. Ed Miliband and David Miliband. In the end, Ed won, but he had to stab his brother in the back to do it (not literally). Basically, he got ruthless and undermined his brother’s campaign, making friends with key Labour supporters, and pushing a more traditional left wing agenda. So, Ed Miliband became the new Labour leader. The thing is, he’s not particularly impressive. His party is more popular than him really. He’s a bit awkward, makes some clumsy mistakes like forgetting important details in speeches, or stumbling over his words sometimes. He also looks a bit odd, like a character from a Wallace and Gromitt cartoon, and he has a nasal sounding voice. Also, he comes from a fairly wealthy background, despite being quite left wing. All those things work against him, but nevertheless he and his party have consistently challenged David Cameron’s government over their position on social and economic issues. He’s emerged as a candidate who actually cares about ordinary people, and who has the guts to take tough decisions and lead the country. So, although he’s not quite as popular as the Labour Party itself, Miliband could be our next PM. It all depends on small details in the voting on Thursday, and whether the tories can make a coalition deal with other parties or not.

Oh, I forgot something important – UKIP and Nigel Farage.
We’ve seen from history that whenever times are tough and there’s a financial crisis, people get scared and insecure, and they look for a scapegoat to blame for all their problems. That scapegoat is often foreign people, immigrants and their damaging effect on a country. UKIP stands for the United Kingdom Independence Party, and they have, in my opinion, some slightly dangerous, reductive and simplistic solutions to the UK’s financial and social problems.
Essentially, for UKIP, all of our problems are caused by our open door policy on immigration. The government doesn’t have enough money – immigration, we’re spending too much on welfare for immigrants. You can’t get an appointment to see a doctor? Immigration. You can’t find a job? Immigration. There’s too much traffic on the road? Immigration. You’ve got a bit of a headache? Immigration. You keep losing socks in the washing machine? Immigration.
Oh and the other problem is the European Union. According to Nigel Farage, the UK needs to leave Europe. If we do that we can choose our own laws, close the open door to immigrants, and save billions of pounds a year.
Farage has quite a high number of very vocal and loyal supporters. Sometimes they’re accused of racism. Sometimes UKIP members and supporters are racist, and then Farage has to make a statement saying “I’m disappointed in this person, they don’t represent the views of UKIP etc”. I’m sure it’s a familiar story to you – I’m sure there are similar parties in your countries that tell us that the source of all our problems is the dirty, criminal, lazy, disease infected influence of ‘other people’ from across our borders. In my opinion it’s small minded, it’s distorted by prejudice, it’s backwards looking (in the mind of Nigel Farage, Britain was at it’s best when fighting against foreign invaders) and it’s dangerous.
Farage wants the UK to have an early referendum on the EU.

There are arguments for leaving the EU – like that it would save us money, and we could be free to choose other trading partners, but I wonder if there’s real truth in them. If we did leave the EU, surely we would lose billions from all the lost business, the companies that would close or pull out of the country, the trade deals we would lose with our biggest market, the bad faith that would develop between the UK and other European nations, etc etc.

But, lots of people seem to agree with him and there’s a chance that if UKIP get enough support in enough places, that they could gain enough seats to be in a position to form a coalition government with the Conservaties, and that is bound to involve one key condition – a referendum on the EU. So, watch this space – Britain’s exit from the EU (or Brexit) is more likely than you might think. Would the conservatives offer an early referendum on EU membership if it guaranteed them power? Yes, I think they would.

There are also other parties, with less influence, but who could be important in any coalition deals. This includes the left-wing Green Party, Plaid Cymru (representing Welsh interests, also quite left wing) and parties from Northern Ireland such as the Ulster Unionists (would support the conservatives).

End of Part 1 – 1hr05min
Click here to for part 2.
election1.1

247. Understanding The USA

This episode is an attempt to understand The USA in more detail, getting beyond the made-up version that we see in movies and on TV in order to get a proper understanding of the country, its culture and its people. I’m joined by an American friend of mine called Sebastian Marx, and during our conversation we go through most of the main events in the history of the USA and discuss some of the most important principles in the story of the country. The ultimate aim: to understand The United States of America. [Download]

As well as being a relaxed conversation between friends, this episode is a summary of some of the main ideas and topics that I’ve covered this semester in my university classes, and in fact our conversation deals with some of the most important issues and concepts that will help you to get a proper understanding of the USA – and you’re getting it all for free in this episode! You’re welcome of course… if you fancy making a donation to support my work you can just click this button here! Small Donate Button

Speaking to Sebastian in this episode allows me to check some of the thoughts I had about the USA with a genuine American guy, as a way of getting the inside story. Ideally I would like ask all the people of the USA for their opinions, but as I can’t do that I have decided to just ask one American guy for his input, and he isn’t even in America at the moment – but that’s more than good enough for me!

You probably know Sebastian from previous episodes of LEP. He was in 130. A Cup of Tea with Sebastian Marx and also 183. Luke’s D-Day Diary (Part 1). He’s a stand-up comic who performs a one-man show in English and French, entitled “A New Yorker in Paris”, and he’s a very funny and interesting bloke. For more info on Sebastian go to www.sebmarx.com.

As usual, I would like to know your opinions, so if anything occurs to you, please leave your comments below this episode. I’m actually quite pleased with the outcome of this one because I think there is some genuine insight in this episode, even if it is delivered by two guys just having a chat.

America

240. Politicians Avoiding Questions

In this episode we’re going to look at the way politicians deal with tough and challenging questions from TV and radio interviewers. We’ll listen to some examples of politicians avoiding questions in interviews and examine some of the ways they get themselves out of tight situations while also promoting their ideas. [Download]

Small Donate ButtonI’m not sure what you think about politics. I don’t talk about it a lot on Luke’s English Podcast. I did an episode a couple of years ago called “82. Votings, Elections, Government“, in which I talk about the political system, and various vocabulary related to politics, voting and elections. Now, a lot of people find politics to be quite boring, and I used to think that too, but more and more (perhaps because I’m growing up finally!) I think that politics is fascinating and really important. I’m particularly keen on watching debates between politicians, and watching the way in which politicians cleverly deal with challenging questions in interviews. It’s fascinating to watch them very skilfully squirm their way out of tight situations, or use all manner of linguistic and rhetorical skills to persuade people live on TV.

British journalists tend to interview politicians in an aggressive manner. Politicians are getting very good at avoiding questions. And this is what I’m particularly interested in studying in this episode of the podcast. How do politicians avoid questions? Let’s have a listen, and find out.

Here’s a clip from the satirical comedy show “The Day Today”. This programme makes fun of the news. It takes the mickey out of the way that news readers speak, and their interview style. In this clip we hear an interview with a politician who is facing allegations of ministerial misconduct – he’s being accused of lying in front of the House of Commons about a deal. The interviewer is not aggressive or challenging enough, and in the end he lets the politician get away with lying to the house. He’s too nice! Then the newsreader in the studio takes over and has a go at the interviewer for not asking challenging or tough questions. I think it’s really funny. Let’s have a listen and then consider the ways that politicians deal with tough interviews in TV.

That’s just a comedy clip, but in terms of real situations, here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Here the interviewer wants the politician to admit that he was wrong about the Euro. Clearly the politician doesn’t want to admit he was wrong, and so he pushes another line: The UK at the moment is not willing to be part of the Euro. Listen to the way the interviewer asks about his mistake over the Euro, how the politician attempts to avoid the question, and how the interviewer has to quite aggressively force him to deal with the Euro problem.

The politician: The energy secretary Chris Hune (in government)
The issue: He said that the Euro was going to be a big success and that the UK is missing out.
The politician doesn’t want to admit that he’s wrong, and instead wants to push the idea that the UK is not willing to be part of the Euro at the moment.

Some ways that politicians avoid questions
They have a pre-planned message, or line, which they have prepared carefully before going into the interview. Often this is in the form of soundbites – snappy, quotable phrases which can be used in newspapers.
Their aim is to present this line, despite the questions they will be asked.
As long as they are talking on the same topic, and they look presentable, reasonable and professional, we just don’t notice that they are not responding to the question.
Social conventions of politeness and communication make it hard for the interviewer to break this down. If the politician doesn’t really answer the question, it’s hard for the interviewer to a) identify that it has happened, b) respond to it quickly, c) find the right questions that will force the politician to really answer the question.

Smooth interviews break down when an interviewer is tough, aggressive and skeptical. The interviewer has to take an aggressive line in order to fight against the slick tactics of the politician. It’s very hard for these interviewers because they have to go against instinctive social conventions in order to break the politician’s spell. If the interviewer is too aggressive or emotional, the interviewee wins because he comes out of it better – he looks like a calm reasonable person, and the interviewer looks like a mad man. If the interviewer is not precise enough in his questions, the interviewee wins again, because the interviewer does too much talking, while the politician sits there in innocent silence.

The best politicians manage to make it very hard for the interviewer to put them on the spot. They use techniques to distract the conversation away from the tough questions, they don’t get emotional, they manage to come across as reasonable, modest, ordinary people. Likeability is vital to a politician’s career nowadays. We tend to vote for people who we like, rather than thinking purely of their policy, which is a terrible symptom of our image driven culture. So, clever politicians are able to construct a likeable image – as family oriented, hard-working, sympathetic, strong or humorous. That likeablilty acts as a kind of defence mechanism or even a distraction, so that viewers on TV let them avoid questions and so on. Research has shown (and I refer to a Harvard Business Paper called Conversational Blindness: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way Authors: Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton Publisher: Harvard Business School, Working Paper No. 09-048 Date Published:  October 2008) that we just don’t notice that a politician has avoided a question when the answer is related to the question asked and is given with confidence and conviction. So, it goes like this:
The interviewer asks a question.
The politician responds with an answer that relates to the topic of the question, but doesn’t really answer the question specifically.
We don’t notice that the question is being avoided, because the answer is on-topic.
Politicians also use the phrase “Let’s be clear…” as a way to redirect their answer towards their point, while making it look like they are clarifying and directly answering the question. “Let’s be clear…” + their point.

This all breaks down, when tough interviewers manage to put politicians on the spot. Perhaps they take them by surprise, perhaps they are willing to come across as crazy by repeating the question over and over, or perhaps they manage to keep the courage of their convictions in order to verbally spar with these master debaters. So, when interviewers bring their A game, it can be pretty fascinating to watch a politician have a really hard time. It’s like car crash TV. It’s also pretty bizarre. These kinds of conversations rarely happen in normal situations. People talking over each other without stopping. People answering direct questions with completely unrelated answers. It’s weird.

Let’s listen to some examples!

“Did you threaten to overrule him?” Paxman vs Michael Howard
The accusation: Paxman questioned Howard relentlessly about a meeting he had had with prisons chief Derek Lewis about the possible dismissal of the head of Parkhurst Prison.

Chloe Smith on Newsnight (total disaster for Chloe Smith)

Excerpt from The Thick of It. “Answer the question you fat fuck!”

Why do interviewers in the UK have such a direct style? Because we believe they should be accountable for everything they do. We don’t have much deference for people in positions of power (and The Queen is not a person in a position of power actually! If she did exercise genuine power over us, we wouldn’t have the same level of respect for her I can assure you) and this style is a way to prevent politicians avoiding the question. If you’re too soft on people (and it’s not just politicians – it’s also heads of corporations or anyone with some duty to the public) then they will just use the interview for their own purposes. Also, I think audiences in the UK (and I’m sure it’s the same in many other places) believe that these people should be given a tough time, especially the ones who are not serving us well, or who are privileged in some way.

If an interviewer is too soft on a politician, we feel that they’ll just get away with murder.

Sometimes it seems to me that interviewers have got into the habit of being tough in interviews, and sometimes they do it when it’s not appropriate or necessary.

The Day Today – Jam Festival

This is funny on two levels: On one hand, it parodies the aggressive style of BBC journalists (especially Paxman). It’s also poking fun at people who do charity work just so they can make themselves look good.

PoliticiansPIC

202. British Comedy: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

[The Constitutional Peasants Scene] Here’s another episode about Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and in this one we’re going to be covering some very interesting topics, such as medieval history, old myths legends & folklore, the British monarchy, marxism and radical politics. In terms of language we’re going to look at some old fashioned formal poetic language, some political vocabulary and also some intonation and sentence stress, and we’ll be doing all of that while understanding and hopefully enjoying a funny scene from a classic British comedy film. So, you really are getting everything in this episode (well, maybe not everything but you know what I mean). A lot of this is transcribed at teacherluke.co.uk. If you find this episode on the website you’ll also see a video, a script for that video and more information. So let’s get started. Right-click here to download this episode.

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Last time I did an episode about Monty Python we had a look at a sketch from the TV show. There are many more sketches which I hope to come back to in the future, but in this episode I’m going to focus on a scene from their first feature film, which is called “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”.

As a reminder: Do consider purchasing MP DVDs, CDs, audio & video downloads and even tickets to see live a live broadcast of their stage show. Details here: www.montypythonlive.com

Please remember – this is not a blog post, but an audio podcast episode. To get the full explanations and detail of this episode, you should listen to the whole podcast episode!

Monty Python & The Holy Grail
When was it made, who directed it, and all that stuff?
In 1975. It was written by all the Monty Python team but was directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. The two Terries were quite controlling & ambitious and decided they wanted to be in charge of the film, and in fact, during the production I think they agreed that the film could be directed by anyone called ‘Terry’, as an effort to keep control of the film.

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What’s it about?
It’s about King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail. It’s set in the 10th century – the middle ages, or ‘dark ages’, a time of mystery and legend! King Arthur is a legendary King of Britain. The legend of Arthur dates back to the 5th & 6th centuries and the story of Arthur has been told many times since. Historians disagree about whether Arthur really existed or not. In the stories, Arthur is said to be the magical leader who defended Britain against real and supernatural enemies. He carried a magical sword called Excalibur, which was given to him by a mysterious spirit known as The Lady of the Lake. The Lady of the Lake is an important figure in the Arthurian legend – she’s a kind of magical woman who got her powers from the wizard Merlin. She’s a bit like Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings stories. In Arthur’s story, This lady emerges from a lake, holding Excalibur and then presents it to Arthur, and in so doing chooses him as the rightful leader of the Britons. It’s hardly a democratic way to choose the executive commander of Britain, but that’s how things were done back in the 5th century!

The Grail in this story is another aspect of Arthurian legend. Apparently, this grail once carried the blood of Jesus, and was sent by Joseph to Britain where it would be protected. Perhaps this is true, perhaps this is just a myth, but the grail is still a potent symbol in British folklore, either as a connection to Jesus, or as a magical cup which can give magical powers to whoever drinks from it (it’s the same cup in the Indiana Jones movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”)

What happens in the film?
Arthur is sent on a mission by God to find the Holy Grail.
He travels around Britain, visiting castles and collecting a group of knights to help him on his quest.
It’s just an excuse to visit lots of old castles and film a bunch of medieval themed sketches.
Most of it was filmed in Scotland, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful.
It was filmed on a budget of just $400,000, which is tiny in comparison to today’s standards. The Hangover 3, for example, had a budget of $103 million!
The film was financed partly by rock stars Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Elton John.
It’s now considered one of the funniest British comedy films of all time, and in 2005 it was used by Eric Idle as the basis for the Monty Python musical “Spamalot” which you can see in theatres in London and around the world.
There are a few classic sketches in the film, and I’d like to play one of them for you.

“Constitutional Peasants” – King Arthur Has an Argument with Some Left-Wing Peasants
Arthur is travelling the land, trying to recruit knights to join him on his quest. He visits lots of castles. In this scene, he is approaching a castle, and meets some peasants working on the land. The peasants appear to just be collecting mud & filth from the floor in a field. They’re disgusting & dirty, and yet surprisingly articulate in the language of politics (which is part of the joke). King Arthur decides to ask them for information about the owner of the castle. The peasants don’t give him any useful information. Instead he gets into an argument with one of the peasants about the constitution, monarchy, democratic government and the oppression of the masses in an absolute monarchy.

Constitutional Peasants – Video (you’ll find a script below)

What’s So Funny About This?
One of the funny things about this scene is the anachronism (I mean, the fact that different time periods are mixed up). The king is from the medieval period, but the peasants are basically modern working class people. So it mixes up people from different time periods. The scene also mixes two different speech registers and two different political ideologies as the characters represent different political systems, and we see them argue. It’s unexpected because peasants in the middle ages were unaware of Marxist ideology, and certainly wouldn’t have been intelligent or educated enough to criticise the system in such an articulate way. Arthur speaks in a poetic & medieval way, and represents the system of absolute monarchy which was in place at the time. The peasant speaks like a modern left-wing radical using ideas founded by Karl Marx in the 19th century.

It’s also a joke about conventions of movies or stories set in medieval times in which peasants are always presented as old, dirty and inarticulate servants of the king. When these peasants speak like Marxists from the modern era, it’s quite a surprising & amusing shock.

I realise that now I’ve explained this scene, you probably won’t find it that funny, because explaining humour takes all the immediate fun out of it, but so be it. If you get the humour, good for you! The main thing is: We’re learning English aren’t we, so let’s focus on understanding the scene before trying to see the funny side. This scene is very rich in vocabulary, in either a poetic medieval register, or the language of left-wing politics. Listen to it once to see if you understand it all, and then I’ll explain it all to you afterwards. If you find any of it funny, then that’s a bonus as far as I’m concerned. :)

Vocabulary & Explanations
So, in a nutshell, King Arthur wants to know who lives in the castle, and he asks a couple of peasants, but they don’t help him. Instead he gets involved in an irritating argument about the exploitation of the working classes in this medieval monarchy.

Concepts
There are a few concepts which we need to study in order to fully appreciate this scene. Let’s look at some of those concepts before listening to the scene again. These concepts relate to different constitutional frameworks – I mean, different ways in which a country can be run. We’re talking about political systems like ‘absolute monarchy’, ‘democracy’, ‘Marxism’ and ‘anarchism’.

Absolute Monarchy – in this case a king (monarch) is not elected, but gets their supreme power by divine provenance. This means that the monarch has a special agreement with god. God has chosen the monarch to be the leader of these people. Usually, this is tied to old mythical stories which involve some supernatural intervention in which the king is chosen by god. In the case of King Arthur this was when he was given a holy sword (Excalibur) by a magical & mythical woman called The Lady of the Lake. The story goes that this lady is a kind of supernatural & mythical spirit who holds magical and religious authority. In the story she walks out of a lake and presents Arthur with his magical sword, which signifies that he is the divine ruler of Britain. Most monarchies justify their existence by suggesting they have some kind of special connection to god. In this sketch, Arthur believes he is the rightful ruler of the Britons because of his divine right given by god.

Democracy – in this case, the people give executive power (decision making power) to a representative by voting for him/her. The people give this leader a ‘mandate’ – which means a responsibility to run the country. It’s the government by the people, of the people and for the people. Churchill said that democracy is not perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. In the UK today we have a democratic monarchy, which is basically a democracy (we vote for MPs in elections) but with a monarch as head of state with almost no executive power. The Queen has very minor powers, and she doesn’t exercise them. It’s like there is an understanding between parliament and the monarchy that the monarch just lets parliament run the country. The monarch doesn’t interfere. That’s the way our country works. Some people are concerned that Prince Charles might decide to exercise his power if/when he becomes king, which could cause a constitutional crisis, but that’s another story for another time.

Marxism – this isn’t really a constitutional system, but an political ideology, or a way of understanding the way in which most industrial/post-industrial capitalist systems work. Karl Marx was a German born philosopher, economist, sociologist and historian who basically stated that the ruling classes manage to maintain control of the system by owning the means of production, and that the working classes are therefore dominated and repressed. The only way in which true equality can exist is if the people own their own land, their own factories and the means of producing goods. His ideas formed the basis of many left-wing political models including communism, and also form the basis of many criticisms of the capitalist system in general. In the UK, we sometimes associate Marxist ideologies with certain types of people. Although their views may be valid, I think most ordinary people find Marxists to be a bit extreme and even boring – banging on about politics and the class system all the time, while not necessarily doing anything about it.

Anarchism – this is the idea that there should be no leaders at all, and in fact no formalised system of government or state at all. Instead, local communities should be run by free and open groups with no leader. The idea is, that formalised governments, or power structures are essentially corrupting – that when power is given to one or several representatives, elected or not, that this ultimately will corrupt them and that this leads to inequality. So, anarchists argue that there should be no system at all, and that people should be free to govern themselves in a completely open way – without adopting any kind of political ideology or dogma. For me, in principle this sounds great, but on a practical level it sounds chaotic, confusing and impractical. Ultimately, it would be great to remove the corrupting power of government, but are we ready for it? We’d need an intelligent and activated population. Education is key. The problem, to an extent, is that many people don’t really care about these issues and instead just find political discussion boring, therefore making it very hard for true anarchy to take effect. A bit like Marxism, many people find anarchists to be either boring, confusing or somehow threatening to normal life.

Vocabulary
OK, so we’ve looked at some ideological concepts at the heart of this sketch, but we’re not finished because there’s plenty of language to deal with too. It’s complex isn’t it!? You see – British comedy is intelligent and deep, particularly Monty Python. It’s not just weird.

Here’s some vocabulary that you should know in order to understand this sketch further. Remember that Arthur speaks in old fashioned language, and Dennis the peasant speaks like a modern man with radical political opinions. Listen to the episode to hear all the bold words defined.

What knight lives in that castle over there?
– a knight is (in the Middle Ages) a man who served his sovereign or lord as a mounted soldier in armour. In this context it means a leader.
you automatically treat me like an inferior

exploiting the workers!
– exploiting means to benefit unfairly from the work of (someone), typically by overworking or underpaying them: “women are exploited in the workplace”.

hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society
-dogma = a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true: the dogmas of faith | [ mass noun ] : “the rejection of political dogma”.

Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here.

I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
– autonomous = • having the freedom to act independently: “school governors are legally autonomous”.

You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes–
– an autocracy = a system of government by one person with absolute power.

Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.

Please! Please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?

Dennis: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week,…
Arthur: Yes.
Dennis: …but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting…
Arthur: Yes, I see.
Dennis: …by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,…
Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis: …but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major–
– ratify = sign or give formal consent to (a treaty, contract, or agreement), making it officially valid. “both countries were due to ratify the treaty by the end of the year”.
– a simple majority = this candidate receives more votes than anyone else (but it doesn’t have to be more than 50% of all votes cast) e.g. if Obama, Bush & Clinton are in an election and Clinton gets 40% and Obama & Bush get 30% each, Clinton gets a simple majority. She just gets more votes than the others.
– a two-thirds majority = at least 66% of all the votes
– an absolute majority = at least 51% of all votes

Woman: Well, how did you become King, then?
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake,… [angels sing] …her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!
– samite = a rich silk fabric interwoven with gold and silver threads, used for dressmaking and decoration in the Middle Ages.

Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

I mean, if I went round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!

Dennis: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
Arthur: Bloody peasant!
Dennis: Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?

What I love about this is that it’s a well written script, with different types of English and it manages to mock both the idea of a medieval monarchy, and also the irritating verbosity of political radicals. Monty Python are making fun of history & taking the piss out of everyone, while at the same time celebrating the language. Complex language, delivered at speed by colourful characters is at the heart of the humour in this sketch.

Intonation & Sentence Stress
I really enjoy the performances in this scene – particularly Michael Palin who plays Dennis the peasant. The lines are delivered with quite exaggerated and characterful intonation and sentence stress. To highlight this, I’m going to read the script of this scene, just to make it a bit clearer. You could listen to the original version again in order to, hopefully, appreciate it a bit more.

Constitutional Peasants – Script
Arthur: Old woman!
Dennis: Man!
Arthur: Man. Sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
Dennis: I’m thirty-seven.
Arthur: I– what?
Dennis: I’m thirty-seven. I’m not old.
Arthur: Well, I can’t just call you ‘Man’.
Dennis: Well, you could say ‘Dennis’.
Arthur: Well, I didn’t know you were called ‘Dennis’.
Dennis: Well, you didn’t bother to find out, did you?
Arthur: I did say ‘sorry’ about the ‘old woman’, but from the behind you looked–
Dennis: What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior!
Arthur: Well, I am King!
Dennis: Oh, King, eh, very nice. And how do you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society. If there’s ever going to be any progress with the–
Woman: Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here. Oh! How d’you do?
Arthur: How do you do, good lady? I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?
Woman: King of the who?
Arthur: The Britons.
Woman: Who are the Britons?
Arthur: Well, we all are. We are all Britons, and I am your king.
Woman: I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Dennis: You’re fooling yourself. We’re living in a dictatorship: a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes–
Woman: Oh, there you go bringing class into it again.
Dennis: That’s what it’s all about. If only people were aware of–
Arthur: Please! Please, good people. I am in haste. Who lives in that castle?
Woman: No one lives there.
Arthur: Then who is your lord?
Woman: We don’t have a lord.
Arthur: What?
Dennis: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week,…
Arthur: Yes.
Dennis: …but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting…
Arthur: Yes, I see.
Dennis: …by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,…
Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis: …but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major–
Arthur: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
Woman: Order, eh? Who does he think he is? Heh.
Arthur: I am your king!
Woman: Well, I didn’t vote for you.
Arthur: You don’t vote for kings.
Woman: Well, how did you become King, then?
Arthur: The Lady of the Lake,… [angels sing] …her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!
Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
Arthur: Be quiet!
Dennis: Well, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
Arthur: Shut up!
Dennis: I mean, if I went round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!
Arthur: Shut up, will you? Shut up!
Dennis: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
Arthur: Shut up!
Dennis: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
Arthur: Bloody peasant!
Dennis: Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?