We’re almost through with a general election that was supposed to have been the most predictable of modern times but which soon turned into the very opposite.
Outside events have added a whole other level of tumult to proceedings, but even without the terror attacks in Manchester and London, we’d still be looking a campaign in which expectations were confounded on a seemingly daily basis.
This has posed a problem in the land of political podcasts, which mostly appear weekly and put the emphasis on the judicious weighing of events, and on going much deeper into matters than network radio can.
But that old cliché about a week being a long time in politics has never seemed truer than since Theresa May called the election on Easter Monday (how far distant in time that now seems), and waking up in the morning has often involved a pretty major adjustment to new realities.
David Schneider, the comedian, actor and producer of new satirical podcast Strong and Stable, discovered this to his cost when the scheduled recording of the first edition coincided with the morning after the Manchester bombing. The project was put on hold for a week. “Nobody felt like discussing anything at that point,” Schneider told me.
The delay meant that the first Strong and Stable didn’t appear until last week, quite late to the election party. And between editions one and two, there was the London Bridge atrocity. In such circumstances, how can a political podcast hope to keep up, identify the key issues, stay relevant, and – in the case of Strong and Stable – still be funny?
“Events have certainly heightened the pressure,” Schneider said. “You have to be respectful of situations, and keep an eye on so much stuff. Doing satire is about being able to stand strongly behind an idea without being glib, and your jokes have to be so well placed.”
A Daily Show-type feel is what Schneider says he was after — “intelligent, smart humour, very topical, with people with strong opinions” – and I’d say he has succeeded brilliantly. Schneider himself chaired proceedings in episode one, and there were terrific contributions from fellow comedians Bob Mills (nominally on the political Right) and Josie Long (Left), with radio presenter of the moment James O’Brien playing the sort-of plague-on-both-your-houses role. The podcast includes a short burst of Rory Bremner, always a guarantee of quality.
Strong and Stable is produced by global music streaming service Deezer, and loosely modelled on a podcast that the Paris-founded operation put out during the recent French general election.
Four editions are planned altogether — the second is out now – with Dom Joly taking over hosting duties, and a panel comprising Armando Iannucci, Labour adviser-turned-commentator/comedian Ayesha Hazarika, and comedian Simon Evans.
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It’s tremendous. Discussing the panel’s election night plans, Joly observes, “We all gather round the telly to watch David Dimbleby, who covered his first general election in 1979 – which is the same year weirdly that the current Labour manifesto was written.”
As Schneider says, “humour is a Trojan horse”, and Strong and Stable smuggles in some excellent serious points. I would urge him to keep the show going beyond its allotted run. Politics isn’t going anywhere, and nor should Strong and Stable.
Most political podcasts draw listeners predisposed to the views they expect to find on them, and among the more established offerings, both the New Statesman’s podcast and The Spectator’s are excellent.
But I’d expect Strong and Stable — while not exactly music to the ears of Conservative Central Office — to have much wider appeal, and that’s true of the other political podcast I want to draw attention this week which is Talking Politics, a superb offering whose highbrow-ness is actually a breath of fresh air.
It’s a Cambridge University creation, hosted by Acast, in which politics lecturer David Runciman chairs a discussion that invariably brings together the intellectual best and brightest.
If you want names you have heard of, go back to Radio 4, but Talking Politics, which launched last September, is having a very good election, its post-Manchester edition quite outstanding. It’s a bit like sitting in on a Cambridge tutorial, and it never fails to deepen one’s understanding of what our ever shifting politics really mean.