Until relatively recently podcasts were considered a bit 1990s. However, in the last five or six years political podcasting has taken off, to the extent that it’s thought several million of us listen to at least one political podcast each week. However, just as the mainstream media took over the world of independent blogging in the noughties, big media is starting to dominate political podcasting. The power of BBC Sounds threatens to drown out the independent podcasters who have no marketing reach beyond word of mouth. While four of the top ten in my top fifty list can be described as independent, that figure will inevitably decline over the next couple of years.
I don’t pretend that I listen to all these 50 podcasts with any degree of regularity. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. However, the convenience of listening to what you want when you want is why so many people are listening for longer and in ever increasing numbers. Interestingly, the take-up of podcasts doesn’t seem to be affecting the hours we spend listening to live radio.
I have deliberately not included daily ‘news’ based podcasts like the highly successful ‘Today in Focus’ from The Guardian. Also excluded are podcasts of bespoke radio or TV shows or satirical podcasts like Jon Holmes’s ‘The Skewer’. Instead, I’ve concentrated on podcasts based on interviews or political commentary.
The popularity of interview based podcasts like ‘Matt Forde’s Political Party’ or Nick Robinson’s ‘Political Thinking’ is due to the revival of the long-form interview. The interviewees love having the time to talk and explain, while the listener learns far more that they ever could from a five minute, soundbite dominated interview on the Today Programme. In my ‘All Talk’ podcast I recently interviewed Andrea Leadsom for 75 minutes about her life, motivations and views. The feedback was incredible and was along the lines of “Well I certainly see her in a different light after that.” It wasn’t my interviewing skills that were the key here, it was the fact that she relaxed into the interview, it was conversational rather than confrontational, and she felt comfortable talking about things in a way she never could have in a normal interview.
Just as a book can still be a good book even if it only sells 10 copies, podcasts should never be judged by size of audience along. As in so many aspects of the internet, niche is the key, and you don’t get much more niche than some of the podcasts in the lower reaches of this list. But niches need to be catered for, and a good example of this is Mark Pack’s ‘Never Mind the Bar Charts’, which discusses all things Liberal Democrat.
Similarly, regional podcasts feature quite of then in this list, and the only surprising thing is that there aren’t more of them. ‘Pod’s Own Country’ is a superb podcast from the Yorkshire Post, and it’s a model other regional papers should follow. Scottish Independence is food for many a podcast and several feature here, as do the odd Welsh and Northern Irish political podcast.
The point of compiling a list like this is to showcase the fact that political podcasting is thriving, and also to alert you to some superb podcasts, which whatever your own political standpoint, are worth listening to, if only to broaden your horizons and to try to understand where your opponents are coming from. It’s not just ‘know thine enemy’ but also about seeing if there is any common ground to be found. Let me leave you with three podcast recommendations – podcasts you may not have heard before, but should try… ‘Triggernometry’, ‘Politics of Sound’ and ‘Acting Prime Minister’.
And with no further ado, these are the shows worth streaming.
01 | THE POLITICAL PARTY WITH MATT FORDE
Matt Forde is former political researcher- turned-stand-up-comedian-turned- impressionist-turned-radio host. A thirty- something former Blairite who recently published a very funny memoir (Politically Homeless), Forde is a master at the long- form interview and turns sometimes robotic politicians into human beings. This is without doubt the most entertaining and insightful political interview podcast of them all.
02 | POLITICAL THINKING WITH NICK ROBINSON
On the Today programme, Nick Robinson gets five to ten minutes to interview a politician. In the much more relaxed podcast environment, he gets more than half an hour. And – surprise, surprise – he gets more out of them. They’re more relaxed and run out of pre-prepared soundbites, and they know what’s expected. One of the best interviewers in the business, Robinson clearly relishes these interviews and, in all honesty, they would be even better if they lasted longer.
03 | REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL WITH ED MILIBAND AND GEOFF LLOYD
Who’d have thought Ed Miliband would have a hit podcast on his hands? This very chatty and conversational podcast is kept on the rails by radio host Geoff Lloyd and offers the listener some real depth on the different subjects its hosts tackle. It’s a podcast with “bottom” and even though it sometimes veers on the side of lefty groupthink, it can at times be quite humorous – plus Ed Miliband reveals that he is quite capable of self-deprecation.
04 | BREXITCAST ETC
Brexitcast, Coronacast, Newscast – this is a podcast searching for a new home. As Brexitcast it attracted a massive daily audience, which may have declined in the last few months, but still offers a relaxed and informative take on the news of the week. With a rolling cast of characters including Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler and Chris Mason, they let their hair down and aren’t afraid to have a laugh. All within BBC guidelines, of course.
05 | RED BOX POLITICS FROM THE TIMES
Everyone’s favourite cheeky chappy politico Matt Chorley built this podcast from scratch with original content, features and interviews. Nowadays it’s more often than not a highlights package from his Times Radio show, which he presents four mornings a week. Up to a point it works in its new format, but it’s missing something – perhaps spontaneity. Presenting a podcast and presenting a radio show are two different things. But Chorley is still one of the best informed and most engaging people in political journalism.
06 | COFFEE HOUSE SHOTS FROM THE SPECTATOR
The Spectator hosts myriad podcasts and Coffee House Shots is very much the market leader. Appearing each weekday, it’s a short, sharp 15-minute discussion on one of the main issues of the day led by editor Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth, Katy Balls, Isabel Hardman or Kate Andrews. Sometimes it’s just one of them, more often than not it’s a discussion. Informal, but well-informed, these journalists are among the best-connected in Westminster. Highly addictive.
07 | TALKING POLITICS WITH DAVID RUNCIMAN
Just as political academics were late to the blogging world, there are very few of them in the world of podcasting either. An exception is the brilliant professor David Runciman from Cambridge University. The podcast has an obvious liberal bias, but it ought to have appeal across the political spectrum with its approach to the concept of critical thinking. It’s often quite cerebral, and in tone it’s very much Radio 4 rather than LBC, but that’s the joy of the podcast world. If you look hard enough, there’s something for everyone.
08 | THE NEW STATESMAN PODCAST
A twice-weekly podcast headed up by New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush, Anoosh Chakelian and Ailbhe Rea. Running along the lines of the Spectator’s Coffee House podcast, it has a rather different outlook, as you would expect. It’s very much based around the news themes of the week and although it can be a bit serious, if you want to know what the soft left are thinking about something, this is the podcast for you. Bush is one of the best informed journalists in Westminster.
09 | FOR THE MANY WITH IAIN DALE & JACQUI SMITH
This comes with the obvious declaration of interest. This podcast resembles a natter down the pub on a Sunday evening between two mates who sit on opposite sides of the political fence. It started three years ago and was intended to show that two people with different views can disagree without falling out. The podcast contains a good dose of twice-weekly political analysis together with an increasing amount of personal anecdotage and the odd (well, perhaps more than the odd) bit of smut thrown in for good measure.
10 | TRIGGERNOMETRY WITH KONSTANTIN KISIN AND FRANCIS FOSTER
This is one of those rare audio podcasts that is also filmed and distributed on YouTube, and it’s gained a substantial following in its three-year life. Kisin and Foster are stand-up comedians and difficult to place politically. Kisin has become a pin-up for the free speech movement after being no-platformed in universities, but self-describes as on the left. Foster is a teacher by profession. They interview a guest for an hour and really get deep into whatever theme they’re discussing.
11 | CHOPPER’S POLITICS WITH CHRISTOPHER HOPE
This podcast started life as Chopper’s Brexit Podcast and like several others in this list has undergone a name change. Chris Hope is one of the most liked and respected political correspondents in Westminster, and the Telegraph have been wise to allow him his head in this must-listen interview-based podcast. He has a great nose for a story and the podcast makes headlines.
12 | PLANET NORMAL WITH LIAM HALLIGAN AND ALLISON PEARSON
Another from the Telegraph stable of podcasts, this unlikely pairing has proved to be quite a hit. They purport to represent the voice of the common man, and take on the sneering attitudes towards “normal people” that are so prevalent in large parts of the media. Pro- Brexit, anti-woke and pro-anything outside the south-east, they delight in winding up those on the other side and it’s a hugely entertaining listen.
13 | ACTING PRIME MINISTER WITH PAUL BRAND
The podcast I wish I had thought of. It’s based around a very simple premise – what you would do if you became prime minister.
It’s really an excuse to interview someone about their life and views, with a bit of “prime ministery” thrown in for good measure. Paul Brand is one of the new breed of political correspondents who completely gets the need to use all kinds of media to get newslines, and he’s very good at it.
14 | PAYNE’S POLITICS
It’s difficult to become a Westminster institution and be a successful leader writer on the Financial Times before you’re 30, but Sebastian Payne has achieved both. On his podcast he reviews the week’s politics with a panel of FT correspondents. It has
the feeling of the Radio 4 programme The Week in Westminster, and could do with a bit of a lighter touch at times given it’s a podcast rather than a radio show, but the quality of analysis is never anything less
15 | STEVE RICHARDS’ ROCK ’N’ ROLL POLITICS
Through his stage show of the same name, veteran political broadcaster and journalist Steve Richards has done more to popularise politics than most. He’s brought those skills to this superb podcast as he untangles the week’s political events. He’s a great mimic and he uses humour in a brilliant way to explain some very complicated issues to people who aren’t as obsessed by the political minutiae as Steve and me.
16 | OH GOD, WHAT NOW? (FORMERLY REMAINIACS)
They’ve tried to get away from just being a Remain-focused podcast, but it’s been a difficult transition. You get the feeling their hearts aren’t quite in it any longer, and talking about the latest policy failures on Covid aren’t exactly of the stuff which make their collective juices flow. Having said that, their banter remains of a high quality, and they haven’t lost the ability to have a laugh.
17 | THE GUARDIAN UK POLITICS WEEKLY
Despite the title, this is not a weekly podcast – there are usually two or more episodes of very varying length. There’s a rolling series of hosts from the Guardian politics and comment pages, led by political editor Heather Stewart. It’s a very professionally produced podcast, as you’d expect from the paper that pioneered podcasts more than 15 years ago, but there’s something sterile about Guardian journalists interviewing Guardian journalists and then agreeing with each other.
18 | COMMONS PEOPLE BY HUFFPOST UK
A weekly podcast with a rolling cast of Huffpost characters. Its strength is its informality, un-stuffiness and the willingness of the guests to play their part. Paul Waugh is always worth listening to, and although the podcast misses the sardonic wit of Owen Bennett it is never less than entertaining and informative. There’s far less groupthink in this podcast than on other similar-formatted ones.
19 | THE A LEVEL POLITICS SHOW
Not the snappiest title for a podcast, but it does far more than it says on the tin. It’s short in length (10-15 minutes) but no worse for it. Its chatty, engaging host, Nick de Souza, does a great job in unravelling quite complex subjects and although a single-host podcast can sometimes seem sterile, that’s not the case here. Its audience deserves to be far greater than just A-level politics students.
20 | WOMEN WITH BALLS WITH KATY BALLS
From the Spectator, this is a brilliant series led by the magazine’s deputy political editor, Katy Balls. She interviews female politicos and the occasional woman outside the political world, too. On the face of it, it’s a cosy chat, but she often gets newslines out of her guests and there’s not an episode that I’ve listened to which hasn’t made me laugh, be sad or a bit emotional. Another example of the genre of the long-form interview bringing out the best in both interviewer and guest.
21 | POLITICO WESTMINSTER INSIDER WITH JACK BLANCHARD
22 | A WORLD TO WIN WITH GRACE BLAKELEY
23 | THE BUNKER
24 | THE SPIKED PODCAST
25 | LABOURLIST PODCAST
26 | POLITICS OF SOUND
27 | WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WITH LAURA ROUND
28 | THE PRIME MINISTERS
29 | THE IMPOSTER WITH TOM HARRIS
30 | ALL OUT POLITICS WITH ADAM BOULTON
31 | A PODCAST OF ONE’S OWN
32 | GUIDO TALKS
33 | HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD WITH ALAN JOHNSON
34 | OPPOSITIONCAST 35 | POLITICS GALORE!
36 | REASONED WITH DARREN GRIMES
37 | LONDON CALLING 38 | CALLING PESTON
39 | WHAT MOST PEOPLE THINK WITH GEOFF NORCOTT
40 | RED LINES
41 | CAPX
42 | POD’S OWN COUNTRY
43 | THE LESLEY RIDDOCH PODCAST
44 | INSIDE BRIEFING IFG
45 | INFOTAGION WITH DAMIAN COLLINS MP
46 | THE MILE END INSTITUTE PODCAST
47 | NEVER MIND THE BAR CHARTS
48 | THE STOOSHIE
49 | HIRAETH
50 | THE MOGGCAST
Iain Dale is the presenter of 6 political podcasts including ‘Iain Dale All Talk’, the ‘Iain Dale Book Club’ and ‘Cross Question’.