14/05/2017 Dateline London


14/05/2017

Foreign correspondents currently posted to London look at events in the UK through outsiders' eyes, and at how the issues of the week are being tackled around the world.


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Now on BBC News, Dateline London.

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Hello, welcome to Dateline London.

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This week: a sacking in Washington, a timely election leak in the UK,

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and Donald Trump's visits to the Middle East and the Vatican.

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Debating all of that are Stephanie Baker,

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from the international news agency Bloomberg News,

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Janet Daley, political columnist with Britain's Sunday Telegraph

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newspaper, Jonathan Sacredoti from i-24 News, an Israeli

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international news channel and Mustapha Karkouti

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from the Dubai-based newspaper, Gulf News.

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Donald Trump sacked plenty of would-be business moguls

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on the reality TV series "The Apprentice", barking "you're

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fired" to their face.

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James Comey received his dismissal as Director of the FBI in a note.

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Getting rid of TV contestants doesn't have many consequences;

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sacking the head of the country's key crime fighting agency when he's

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investigating those around you, well that's proving harder to forget.

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What was he thinking?

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He did not handle this well.

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He is not good at firing people.

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The messaging was incredibly messy.

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He tried it out and then various Trump surrogates argued that this

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was prompted by a memo from the Deputy Attorney General

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calling on his dismissal because of the handling

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of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

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No one was buying that because Trump had praised his handling of that

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repeatedly as had Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General.

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Then Trump contradicted his own staff, and said that he had been

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planning on firing him anyway and he was thinking about the Russia

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investigation when he decided to do it and actually the trigger had been

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watching James Comey testify last Wednesday,

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where he said that the notion of his intervention in the election

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to tilt it towards Trump was absurd.

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That enraged Trump.

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The interesting and controversial thing is the involvement of Jeff

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Sessions.

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He excused himself from the Russia investigation because he was a key

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figure in the Trump campaign and his involvement in the firing

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of Comey has raised a lot of questions and criticism from

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Congress.

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He got flack for saying he had met the Russian ambassador but had

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not mentioned it.

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Exactly.

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Lastly, Trump dug himself into a bigger problem with a veiled

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threat to James Comey that he might not leak

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because there might be tapes.

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That has set up a whole round of speculation about what kind

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of taping system he has, could the comparisons with Nixon get

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any more stark?

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You have top Democrats in Congress calling on him to release whatever

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tapes he may have.

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I think that this is getting very troubling and I think,

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his credibility is under question.

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He has appeared to calm down a little bit in Washington.

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It looked like the administration was getting into a rhythm

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of working.

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It is not just the inconsistencies and contradictions, inexperienced

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White House administrators do often screw up and contradict themselves,

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but it is the shamelessness of it, it is the preposterous

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arrogance of it.

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He contradicted his own earlier account of why he had sacked him

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and turned it on its head and he did not seem

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the slightest bit embarrassed.

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What is this bravura, narcissism, how can that possibly be credible

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in a President?

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I am old enough to remember Nixon and Watergate and there was at least

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a degree of shame and embarrassment and culpability and when those tapes

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were released, the Watergate tapes, and he was caught red handed having

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plotted the Watergate burglary and what was most shocking,

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to the American public was the language that he used.

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Everybody discovered that he spoke in the most obscene stream of four

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letter words to his aides, they talked like gangsters,

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now Trump talks like this in television interviews!

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There is something very peculiar that has happened to the American

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political consciousness, for this even to be

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not instantly impeachable.

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It gets to the whole issue of Nixon who went to great lengths to deny

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that there were any tapes and now we have Trump advertising

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that he has them.

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Perhaps making it up.

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I think what is interesting about this is that we are dealing

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with a President who plays by different rules,

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they are the rules of entertainment and television.

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He seems well versed in those in ways that other politicians

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are catching up on and while the media are on the whole

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condemning him for these sorts of behaviours and absurd things

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he is saying, it seems at odds of the way that the President

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is speaking.

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He is hiding the real issues.

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The issues that he does not want discussed, like the investigation

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into the alleged collusion with Russia is not what we have

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discussed before.

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I would also say that like him or not, we need to say there is very

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little concrete evidence that that has happened and President Obama

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was also caught in 2012 saying that he wanted a bit more time

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to get through his next election...

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These are not things that politicians have not done

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in the past.

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He is the master of distracting from them.

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The word collusion is a very strong word, which implies

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there was conscious conspiracy with a foreign power,

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and an unfriendly foreign power, that is tantamount to treason.

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The idea that you have to prove collusion makes

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the case really hard.

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You think the standard should be lower?

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Yes.

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I do not think collusion is the right word.

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I was in Washington, DC and I was talking to officials.

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The main worry is about democracy, what is happening,

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what is the impact, what will that leave of democracy itself?

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Their main worry, is that society itself, it cannot guarantee to stop

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that impact in a way.

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He is very dangerous.

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They are really scared and frightened by him.

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This is really testing US institutions.

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I think he is democratically elected as President even if people around

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this table do not like him and he is following procedures,

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other people have been fired in the same role.

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He was accused of filling his expenses.

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He went for a process that as President and he is somebody,

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Comey is someone that the Democrats wanted to have fired.

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They have looked awkward because they have gone from saying

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that this man was responsible through the election,

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one Democrat told me that James Comey is a bit of a Boy Scout.

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It is difficult for the Democrats to agree.

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They have said unfortunate things about him in the past.

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In a sense, you could read, their interpretation of this

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as having considerable integrity.

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Even though they have got a grudge against him and they have grounds

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for objecting to him, they do not like the way this

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has been done.

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That is a legitimate thing to say.

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The issue is the timing, why is he doing it now?

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If it was about Hillary Clinton, why was it not done the day

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after the inauguration?

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Comey was about to ask for more resources to pursue

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the Russian connection.

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After the week he's had, President Trump may be mightily

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relieved to get out of Washington.

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This is something much bigger and has much bigger consequences.

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I wonder if people are viewing this as a serious attempt to move

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the process forward in terms of the Israeli and the Palestinians

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or whether it is just a bit of international diplomatic theatre.

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It is extremely serious.

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That is what I hear and also from the Americans themselves.

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At the same time, being in that shaky position, I don't know how

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much that will impact on his international

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activities and policy.

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He is very serious, he has been talking to the Palestinian President

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and his people are saying that he is very optimistic,

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apparently he did tell Abbas that he was serious

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about the question of pressing Binjamin Netanyahu to come forward

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and sort this out, because at the end of the day,

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there is an agreement, there is an agreement

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between the two sides on the agreement, but the Israelis

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are hesitating in moving there.

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Just on the question of the Israeli position,

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Binjamin Netanyahu has been the dominant player in Israeli

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politics for well over a decade but he is still only the head

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of a Coalition government partly because the electoral system

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in Israel, is...

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Is he in a strong enough position to take some kind of initiative?

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Historically, it has been right wing Israeli ministers who have managed

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to make peace deals with Arab neighbours and I think

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there is plenty of optimism around and I think Donald Trump really puts

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forward a new window of opportunity for both sides.

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It seems that both leaders have visited him in DC and both have come

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out of that surprisingly saying that they got on very well with him,

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including Abbas who said that there seems to be some area

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for development and that is surprising because everyone assumes

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that Donald Trump would be firmly on the side of Israel.

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What Donald Trump has to do now is what we have been discussing

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before, turn this from being a show and being all about him,

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this is the man who prides himself on making deals,

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this is the ultimate deal and turn it into concrete action.

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He did the first step by making both sides like him,

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something that Barack Obama failed to do, he put a lot of pressure

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on Israel asking for preconditions that the Palestinians had asked for,

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including onset of building...

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If anything, it emboldened the extremists on the Palestinian

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side.

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Trump has managed in 100 days to get both sides to be favourable

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towards him and perhaps to consider new negotiations.

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The issue has always been that talks had been hobbled by preconditions,

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are there going to be preconditions, because we have been here before

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so many times?

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Preconditions are really used in order not to take action,

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it is a tactful thing and it is really ridiculous

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in a way, because the whole plan is quite clear,

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there was Oslo about 20 years ago, both sides agreed and sat together

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and agreed on peace plans, there were other meetings following that.

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It is the right wing government in Israel which is really putting

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these obstacles, the settlement question is very serious.

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There is an argument...

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The Palestinian authority is paying the murders of people

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like the British student who was stabbed.

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Soldiers who engaged in warfare.

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People who stab Christian British students are not necessarily

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peacemakers.

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It is not so little for the families who lost people

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in terrorist attacks.

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Not little for the Palestinians who lost people in military action.

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They are wrongly used to create obstacles in front of peace.

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If you remember the press conference that he gave,

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it was quite absurd in the sense that he was saying, you guys sort it

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out between yourself and whatever you agree on will be all right

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with me and I will sit here and do...

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Whatever.

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It just shows the most appalling ignorance of the difficulties

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and the complexities of the situation.

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I don't think he has a clue.

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He is not the points man, his son-in-law is.

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The reason that both sides may be feeling optimistic

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is because they think there is a vacuum in the White House

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and if they both played their cards cleverly enough they might be

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able to get...

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Isn't that what both sides really needed?

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Even though his method of saying it is absurd,

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what he is actually saying is he will not impose things

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from outside, he wants to facilitate, he has a ridiculous

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way of saying things...

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What he said was, you figure out a deal that satisfies both of you,

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there is no deal that satisfies both of them,

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that is the whole point and someone has to arbitrate

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and if he is saying, I am not interested in arbitration...

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I think he is keen to arbitrate but he is saying he will not impose

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preconditions and vote for unilateral moves at the UN.

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I suspect that what we are dealing with is a President and we do not

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understand how to read his surface appearance.

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I am hoping.

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Maybe that is all there is!

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I was in Washington, the Americans are worried

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about the whole situation, because the entire region

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is in turmoil and it is flaring up.

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This might transpire to the Palestine and Israel situation.

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Imagine if that happened there, what is going to happen?

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He is going first to Saudi Arabia which is an interesting first trip?

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The first trip of a US President is loaded with symbolism.

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Going to Saudi Arabia, he is expected to get a warm

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welcome, ironically, despite him pursuing this Muslim

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ban, Saudi Arabia escaped that ban.

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I think leaders in Saudi Arabia who are keen to reset relations,

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and were disheartened by the pursuit by Barack Obama of the Iran nuclear

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deal, we reported this week that actually the Saudi Arabians

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are prepared to invest in US infrastructure and that could be

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unveiled at the same time.

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You could sell it as a domestic thing.

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Exactly.

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Making America great again.

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The fact that he is warmly regarded in Saudi Arabia could change

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the balance of power.

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I do think largely speaking he is going on to the Vatican

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where ironically he might perceive the roughest reception.

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Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

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Pope Francis has criticised him, his immigration policies and then

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he goes on to the G-7 where we heard finance ministers expressing concern

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about the threat that his policies pose to multilateral trade

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and the possibility that his moves could harm global growth.

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In addition to the economic aspect, don't forget Iran is going

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to be the main...

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He is building a Coalition that can deal with Iran and Isis

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and for the first time those three are in relatively good terms

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with each other and with America, something which you might not like,

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but it is not gratuitous.

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It could be a moment that needs to be seized.

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It's less than a month now until Britain goes to the polls.

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The oppposition Labour Party had its manifesto leaked,

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whilst in a joint TV appearance, Prime Minister May and her husband

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lifted the - bin - lid on their marriage.

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Last time, the pundits predicted a hung parliament and got

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a Tory majority.

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This time, the talk is of a landslide.

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Janet, you and I were sitting next to each other only two years ago,

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when you were proud to have been pretty much the only person

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who predicted that the Tories were going to win and that it was not

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going to be a hung Parliament.

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Will you make a prediction?

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Absolutely.

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Everyone will make the same prediction, so I will not be unique.

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I had not met anyone who said they would vote for Ed Miliband

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and that is why I made that prediction and I have met less

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people who said they would vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

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Considering that it is a foregone conclusion, this election,

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it is surprisingly not boring.

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Partly because the Labour thing is such a Marx Brothers production,

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it has become so shambolic, so for pure entertainment value,

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it keeps you riveted.

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Everyone is also speculating about what happens after,

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what happens to Labour and the Tories afterwards,

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what does Theresa May really believe in terms of political principles.

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If she is actually a Tory or is she trying to occupy

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the centre-left left empty by Tony Blair.

0:18:440:18:46

The big question, will Jeremy Corbyn stay on as leader?

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It looks now as if he is intending to and there is a lot

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of subterranean gossip about the leak of the manifesto,

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was that intended to undermine him or was it intended to rally

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the militant faithful to make sure he is allowed to stay on afterwards?

0:18:580:19:02

What will happen to that space that used to be occupied by soft left

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opposition in this country?

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That is the most serious question.

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How are you describing this election if you are touching it

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at all to your readers?

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It is very difficult, in a way, extremely difficult,

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because the way we see it happening, the election system here,

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based on constituency, in a way, is not presidential.

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Jeremy Corbyn may have a better chance if that was a presidential

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system, because of his populism policies and all of that,

0:19:530:20:02

but we see it as extremely difficult for Labour

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to increase their seats in Parliament.

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They may lose a lot more this time around.

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It is totally difficult to explain to our readers this

0:20:250:20:28

situation in Britain.

0:20:280:20:28

There is no leadership of quality on both sides,

0:20:280:20:31

I must say, not only on Labour, the Conservative leadership

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is not that impressive.

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It is not high-quality.

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I think that is very unfair on Theresa May,

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she has played a blinder, she has managed to unite a party

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that has always been divided over Europe.

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Is that temporary?

0:20:430:20:46

Look how well she is doing, compared with other leaders and then

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we look at Jeremy Corbyn who on the other hand has been

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trying desperately to appeal to voters at the far left

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and the middle ground, offering things like extra bank

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holidays and free tuition, it is a miracle he has not offered

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everyone a free puppy or a unicorn.

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Then he said he was not a pacifist, we knew that, he has had no problem

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with the IRA or organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah

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who specialise in killing civilians.

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He would say that they were in situations they were forced

0:21:110:21:14

into where they had no choice.

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He is certainly no pacifist.

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He is not saying now that he would necessarily accept those situations

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in current circumstances.

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He said he would invite Hamas and Hezbollah for tea.

0:21:290:21:32

When someone was not leader of the party,

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that is when we see their true colours.

0:21:340:21:36

Are we seeing enough of Theresa May, what does this leadership means?

0:21:360:21:40

She's talks about strong and stable leadership but that is almost

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all we have got so far.

0:21:430:21:44

Has she done very well for a Remainer?

0:21:440:21:46

She is now coming out as Mrs Brexit, people are accusing her of wanting

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some sort of extreme Brexit, I would dispute this distinction

0:21:500:21:53

between the two.

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It is such a false dichotomy and I think Theresa May

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is proving fairly consistent.

0:21:570:21:58

She has been reliable and perhaps a little bit boring for her whole

0:21:580:22:01

career, she is the first prime minister who has not tried to play

0:22:010:22:07

it cool and she is continuing with the vicar's daughter act,

0:22:070:22:10

I think it is not an act, that is the point.

0:22:110:22:16

I think it is really her.

0:22:160:22:17

We have this manifesto leak and we might have expected more

0:22:170:22:21

hostility to it than we actually got, has something changed

0:22:210:22:23

in the political mood, when renationalising the railways

0:22:230:22:25

and restricting energy competition is something that even

0:22:250:22:27

the Prime Minister wants to do.

0:22:280:22:33

I think most people wrote off that leak of the manifesto as of no

0:22:330:22:37

consequence because he has no chance of winning.

0:22:370:22:48

In a sense, the policies do not matter.

0:22:480:22:50

That is part of the reason why I find this to be one of the most

0:22:500:22:54

boring elections I have witnessed in this country.

0:22:540:22:56

At the same time, one of the most important,

0:22:570:22:59

I think, in decades, because of the impact

0:22:590:23:01

on the country long term.

0:23:010:23:06

With the terms of Brexit being negotiated.

0:23:060:23:08

She has called the election just as Britain is teetering on the brink

0:23:080:23:11

of an economic slowdown, we do not know how severe it

0:23:120:23:15

could be, why the Eurozone is just taking off.

0:23:150:23:17

In that sense, this is the shrewd politics, get it out of the way

0:23:170:23:21

before things get messy.

0:23:210:23:23

Absolutely and it is shrewd of her to have pushed ahead

0:23:230:23:26

with it now.

0:23:260:23:27

I do wonder...

0:23:270:23:30

The reason why it is boring, it just confirmed the status quo

0:23:300:23:34

and it is a question of how big a majority she will get.

0:23:340:23:38

I wonder if she will get as big a majority as people are expecting

0:23:380:23:45

because the expectations are that it is a slam dunk

0:23:450:23:47

for the Tories, why even bother voting and there is a certain degree

0:23:470:23:51

of weariness with elections that we have had the 2015 general

0:23:510:23:54

election, 2016 referendum and that the turnout could be very

0:23:540:23:57

difficult to predict.

0:23:570:24:02

I would be inclined to agree under other circumstances

0:24:020:24:04

but the referendum politicised the country in a peculiar

0:24:040:24:07

sort of way.

0:24:070:24:10

People are politically hyperactive and they are not bored

0:24:100:24:12

with this, actually.

0:24:120:24:15

They might be bored with this particular election debate

0:24:150:24:18

but they are not bored with the idea of who might lead

0:24:180:24:21

the Brexit negotiations.

0:24:210:24:29

That is a matter that many people regard as a matter of life and death

0:24:290:24:33

and the idea that there could be any remote chance that they could be let

0:24:330:24:37

into the Brexit negotiations by Jeremy Corbyn, I think that

0:24:370:24:40

will galvanise them.

0:24:400:24:41

This is an extremely exciting political moment for British people,

0:24:410:24:44

for the first time in at least one generation they had been given

0:24:440:24:47

a direct say in the future of the country, the constitutional

0:24:470:24:50

direction it will take and they know that they will need a leader who's

0:24:500:24:54

going to carry them through that.

0:24:540:24:56

It is incredibly risky and that is why many people

0:24:560:24:58

who did not like the EU voted remain.

0:24:580:25:00

On that argument, they have that lead already, she was there

0:25:010:25:03

and they could have won.

0:25:030:25:05

She said she was planning that.

0:25:050:25:13

I am worried a little bit, we should not ignore

0:25:130:25:16

the younger generation.

0:25:160:25:18

I have three children and they all think differently.

0:25:180:25:22

And they are pro-Jeremy Corbyn.

0:25:220:25:24

They actually go out and vote?

0:25:240:25:27

They will, no doubt, I will myself.

0:25:270:25:30

These are three kids, they represent, I think,

0:25:300:25:34

a good part of the society itself.

0:25:340:25:39

That is an interesting change in the way voters vote,

0:25:390:25:44

the breakdown of the traditional alliances.

0:25:440:25:46

Instead of having class as the defining characteristic

0:25:460:25:49

of who votes for which party, it is now generations.

0:25:490:25:55

I was at Cambridge the other week and I will not say which college

0:25:550:25:59

and I was talking to a considerable number of students and almost

0:25:590:26:03

to a man they were saying they voted to support Jeremy Corbyn

0:26:030:26:06

in the leadership contest and they were ruing the day

0:26:070:26:09

and they regretted it.

0:26:090:26:11

We will all know the outcome in just under one month.

0:26:110:26:14

Thank you all very much for being with us.

0:26:150:26:17

That's it for Dateline London for this week -

0:26:170:26:20

we're back next week at the same time.

0:26:200:26:22

You can of course comment on the programme on Twitter

0:26:220:26:25

@bbcshaunley.

0:26:250:26:29

Goodbye.

0:26:290:26:35