Images: Gareth Milner/Plashing Vole
Images: Gareth Milner/Plashing Vole

Political Currency review: unlikely duo fail to charm

From enemies to lovers: enter George Osborne and Ed Balls. These politicians of a long passed bygone age known as 2015 have gone on an interesting journey.

Back then, they were on opposite sides of the House of Commons despatch boxes, trading blows on the economy as chancellor and shadow chancellor respectively.

Now both removed from those roles (one by Theresa May, the other by his West Yorkshire electorate), the markers of difference are no more.

Both Osborne and Balls exist in a happy synchronicity (much like they did politically for their time as political foes, it must be said). Here, one is not blue and the other red, but both united in their desire to fill the podcast waves with sincere but light chat about politics. Yes, there are plenty of other outlets for this already. No, this will not stop Osborne and Balls.

The justification for this podcast is perhaps a proxy war of the podcast empires. The huge presence of Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s The Rest is Politics (produced by rival company, Gary Lineker’s Goalhanger) looms large in the background of this new offering whilst not seeking to become a mere facsimile. On the one hand, the two series are very similar: two ‘Centrist Dads’ share avuncular takes on where today’s lot are going wrong.

Brexit? Dismal public services? Lack of growth? So many political issues that shape the nation today can be traced to Osborne’s No. 11

And like Campbell and Stewart, both have enjoyed somewhat of a party political detoxification. George Osborne has flitted from one well-remunerated job to the other, including Evening Standard editor and now chair of the British Museum. His post-Parliament CV is so beefy it looks like it could be confected in the style of George Santos. Ed Balls has on the other hand tried to make everyone forget he was ever a politician. This process involves being foolishly flung across the Strictly Come Dancing floor (à la Ann Widdecombe), pretending to be a Michael Palin impersonator, and becoming a loveable teddy bear replacement to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. None of these have worked to any great effect, but it’s probably more fun than investigating the disappearance of thousands of stolen exhibit items.

Whilst Campbell and Stewart were never in direct political competition, this pair of course were. Watching the two chew the fat so amiably almost leaves me feeling duped. The Osborne-Balls division was once the clear blue line (again, pun not excused) of British politics. However, the tensions do not simmer in this new dual offering, and Political Currency is perhaps worse off for it. This podcast works on the presumption that so much political water has passed since this pair ruled Britain that the cognitive dissonance of forgetting their opposition can be pulled off.

After all, a fake and accentuated rivalry between the two is no better alternative. But surely Balls is holding it back a little bit here? The more timid and polarising subjects which filled episode one — HS2, Chinese spying and state pensions ­— are perhaps not firm ground for a humdinger of a debate. But hopefully as this show veers into more abrasive territory, we will see how the former shadow chancellor really feels. Brexit? Dismal public services? Lack of growth? So many political issues that shape the nation today can be traced to Osborne’s No. 11 and an exploration of this terrain would make Political Currency heartier indeed.

For now, this new podcast from Persephonica (producer also of The News Agents) exists in a happy and far removed bubble, where Ed Milliband and a bacon sandwich is the unlikely punchline to an unfunny joke and Boris Johnson is still the Have I Got News for You resident buffoon. Soon it may have to face the reality of its own making.


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