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Series sees Ed Balls explore rise of populism

Former politician-turned presenter Ed Balls embarks on his travels again in this new BBC/OU co-production, which this time finds him in Europe.

After the success of Travels in Trumpland, Ed heads to Europe to discover how the divisions exposed by Brexit are reflected in the rest of the EU.

The three-part series – Travels in Euroland with Ed Balls – sees him immerse himself in the lives of ordinary voters, workers and some of the poorest people in the continent, as his journey takes him through Holland, Spain, Poland, Germany, Italy and finally to France.

Ed on a fishing trip in the Netherlands

In dramatic scenes he crosses over the Mediterranean Sea to the tip of Morocco, where the Spanish enclave of Melilla lies. Here he learns how Melilla has become the latest gateway for migrants trying to come into Europe – and he spends a shift with the local police, the Guardia Civil, whose responsibility it is to stop migrants jumping over the 11ft fence which separates Africa and Europe.

In the second episode he learns about the rise of the far-right, Alternative for Germany party and later visits a gun training camp in Poland, marketed as a place where ordinary citizens can learn how to defend themselves in the event of a terrorist attack.

Episode three begins in Italy’s wealthiest city Milan, looking at the effects of tax breaks offered by former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini’s party, in a bid to gain power, on the city’s fashion multi-millionaires. Ed then sees the complete opposite side by travelling to one of the poorest regions of the country to meet supporters of a left-wing, anti-EU populist party to hear their story.

“Constantly revealing, frequently alarming and vital viewing”

The OU’s academic consultants on the programme are Alan Shipman, lecturer in economics and Professor Jo Phoenix, Chair in Criminology.

Speaking about the series Alan says:

“Ed Balls has used his exile from the ‘Westminister bubble’ to trace Europe’s rising populism back to the lives of grass-roots voters it’s attracted – his venture out of the politician’s comfort-zone is constantly revealing, frequently alarming and vital viewing for those who thought Trumpism couldn’t happen over here.”

Speaking about populist movements and the fact they have been present historically before now, he adds:

“It’s easy to blame the recent revolt against mainstream parties on Europe’s unusual problems after the Global Financial Crisis. This series shows that public discontent has been building up for much longer due to erosion of incomes and long-held identities.”

Both Alan and Jo commend the fact that Ed Balls seeks to understand the issue and speak directly to those involved and impacted.

Prof Jo Phoenix

Prof Phoenix adds:

“What is revealed through Ed’s genuine attempts to engage with populist politics is insightful and deeply worrying.”

“More than anything else, it shows the relationships between economic inequalities, political marginalisation and the capacity of a relatively small group of outsider politicians to exploit the discontents of ‘the people’ in ways that undermine the rule of law, ideas of justice and through that democracy itself. “

The three-part series, Travels in Euroland with Ed Balls starts on Thursday 23 January at 9pm on BBC2.

About Author

Christine is a manager in the Media Relations team within the Marcomms Unit at the OU. She is an experienced BBC journalist, sub-editor and news editor and has a background in regional newspapers. After moving to PR she worked as a press officer for the Zoological Society of London. She is doing an MA in Philosophy with The Open University; she focuses on FASS stories and widening access in HE. Chris swims regularly and has a pet Tortoise called Lightning.

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