Illustration By Leyla Baxman

The Rest is Politics podcast has a simple but moreish recipe. Like all recipes of this kind, its main ingredients are pretty damn compelling. Firstly, we have Alastair Campbell, best known for being Tony Blair’s press secretary and the chief strategist of New Labour. As the first ‘spin doctor’ of politics, he was at the heart of revolutionising political communications. He also played a key role in Labour during numerous elections, the death of Princess Diana, and The Good Friday Agreement. In other words, being compelling is this man’s bread and butter.  

Next up is Rory Stewart. If you listen to the podcast, you know that ‘distinguished’ is a word that crops up frequently—usually used by Stewart himself to describe the careers of those he admires. However, one could also use it in reference to his own career, varying from diplomacy to Cabinet Minister for the Conservatives. This leads us to our third supposed ingredient: ‘disagreeing agreeably’. 

In an increasingly polarised world, The Rest Is Politics looks to debate in a civilised way, creating a bridge between the ‘political divide’ of Labour and Conservative so that meaningful conversations can be had about events of the week. The premise is good—great even—resulting in intelligent conversation which makes for easy listening. However, I would argue that the listening is a little too easy. The political divide which the podcast advertises itself as having is negligible compared to the politics of today. 

Take for example one of the few things the two men actually do disagree on, private schools. This debate is usually kept to Campbell making quips and Stewart making some rather embarrassed noises because he went to Eton College. Indeed, even when the headmaster of Eton sent in notes to defend his school, this did not lead to any substantial debate about whether private schools are inherently damaging to the rest of the country’s education system. Instead, Stewart reminded himself that he had to do more to defend his beliefs and Cambell conceded that not all private school headmasters were bad. On a weekly basis this is about as intense as it gets. It is hard to blame either one of them when their politics seems so closely aligned. 

Alistair is centre left. Stewart is centre right. Together, they have some very pleasant conversations about how clever they are for inhabiting the centre. This is not to say that the talks are not incredibly interesting, with both being able to offer the inside scoop on mechanisms behind government, or funny anecdotes about their contemporaries. Notably, Stewart talks of Truss’ ‘traumatising’ way of governing during his time under her at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Both men’s intellect is unquestionable as their vast levels of expertise, experience, and thorough thought shines through. This is showcased through the structure of the podcast, in which around six topics an episode are brought up and sapient discussion follows. This has a rather addictive consequence—when you listen and agree with them, you feel rather bright, too. However, I would maintain that this is the weakness of the podcast, not the strength. If The Rest is Politics was really about ‘disagreeing agreeable’ there would be more, well, disagreeing.