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George Osborne and Ed Balls have no political currency

“Political Currency” is the new kid on the Centrist Dad podcast block. Credit: Twitter

September 15, 2023 - 11:30am

Political Currency, George Osborne and Ed Balls’s new podcast, joins an embarrassing litany of similar ventures with terrible names. The Rest is Politics was already nonsensical, The News Agents slightly sickly, and the new The Rest is Money plainly cretinous. Political Currency sort of works, though lurking behind it is the obviously more decorous “Political Capital” (which, when focus-grouped, must have seemed too much of a cognitive stretch for the general listener). But the title raises a glaring question: why name a podcast after a resource of which these men are utterly spent?

Much like The Rest is Politics, the offer is that apparently unique quantity: former opponents who have come together for the greater good. “Ed and I are frenemies!” Osborne squealed on his publicity rounds, sounding like an eight-year-old describing playground power dynamics to a bored parent. No, Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were frenemies. Separated ideologically for most of your careers by a Rizla of fiscal caution, you are both now languishing in the same political exile, robed in the obligatory polo shirt of post-parliamentary retirement.

What did they discuss in the first episode? HS2 — value for money or white elephant? Chinese spies in Parliament — what went wrong? The pension triple lock — albatross or political weapon? Most of the subject matter provided an opportunity for reminisces about their golden times in office — memories of the Coalition negotiations, say, or trips to Beijing. In between, they played the old hits (Osborne managed to get in something about Labour selling off all the gold and Liam Byrne’s “there’s no money” note). Their conversation was stuck hopelessly in 2014 — they managed to discuss the triple lock without any mention of the intergenerational inequality that is behind the campaign to abolish it.

Now, after years of punditry, Ed is by far the better talker. He speaks in full sentences, sometimes even full paragraphs. But, just as he does on one of his new showbiz larks, he manages to seem and sound simultaneously twinkly and dead-eyed. Was Celebrity Best Home Cook really what fate had in store for this obviously intelligent former Harvard Fellow? In ten years will he just be Ed Balls of “Ed Balls Day” fame?

Osborne has a less appealing manner. Jettisoning that unfortunate “Gideon” never could diminish his aristocratic sneer, that permanent-adolescent hauteur. On the podcast he hawks his one-liners from the touchline, rather than leading the conversation. But one of these interjections did give the episode its most memorable moment. Discussing Prince Andrew’s former usefulness as a trade envoy in the Gulf, Osborne quipped “Was this oil or massage oil?” You could hear Ed Balls begin to sweat.

It was a moment of rare hazard in an otherwise steady, dull affair. And the proliferation of these competently produced but inherently thin political podcasts says something depressing about the decline of the form. Podcasts, much like online blogs, lay down a gonzo challenge to radio, offering spontaneity, personality, speciality. But the arrival of BBC veterans and former secretaries of state in the studio spells an end to that moment. Who wants to listen to a podcast that sounds suspiciously close to a re-run of Treasury Questions?

In the trailer Osborne boasted that this was his and Ed’s time. That “we’re back to the kind of politics you and I would have been more familiar with: contesting the centre ground; two reasonable people who want to be prime minister but with different agendas…” It’s superficially correct, but is he serious? Has he seen the Just Stop Oil activists calling for an end to capitalism, the revivified trade union movement, the Victorian iniquities of Britain’s rentier economy and the return of war to Europe?

At the intellectual, material and extra-parliamentary level, politics is proceeding in weird and unexpected directions, not returning to some happy equilibrium. The last thing we need is another podcast that pretends otherwise.

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jonathan carter-meggs
jonathan carter-meggs
8 months ago

When they heard the naïve and irrelevant Rory Stewart makes £70k per month out of his nonsense they wanted their noses in the trough.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

Who wouldn’t for £840,000 pa!

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Rory and Gorge and Ed would make it because there are enough remainers to pay for it.
I believe in capitalist system, so good for them.
My problem is with taxpayer founded BBC pushing the same agenda.
Defund these parasites.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Agreed.
What ever happened to Tory promises to ‘discipline’ the BBC?

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

If the thought of this makes you nauseous, I recommend the Weekly Sceptic podcast with Toby Young and Nick Dixon.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

A bromance between George Osborne and Ed Balls. Osborne who wanted the UK in bed with the Chinese, and Balls who was part of the Brown government which blew away billions propping up banks.
Yes, definitely keep a bucket handy.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Which makes sense.
If you get in bed with Chinese you will be proping your banks when it all goes south.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andrew F
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago

It makes me hanker for the halcyon days when Harold Wilson quietly went off to a bungalow (although only after falling flat on his face as a chat-show host thanks to David Frost apparently).

This lot are like ageing rockstars who never go away but with zero credibility .

Where do politicians go to die ?

The podcastsphere.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Haven’t you forgotten Nancy (Botox) Pelosi?

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago

Where did she get it?
In her lips or her brain?
Second one did not work.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago

Dowager Princesses.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
8 months ago

10 years ago, Osborne was very popular amongst my old Oxford peers, certain whom viewed him as a political genius. I just took him to be an overprivileged brat who was happy to punish the poor and disabled.
Balls was completely ineffective as an opposition politician but reasonably inoffensive. He also morphed successfully to TV, Balls, whereas Osborne has just come across as an unpleasant influence in all the post-political projects he’s taken up in the newspaper trade and now public museums.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

When you see the ‘ranters’, the ‘has been’s’ and the ‘never was’s’ on GB News and Talk TV it’s hardly a surprise this couple who’ve actually held High Office cashing in a bit.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Well, I have a problem with former Chancellor making money by advancing Chinese interests.
No idea about Balls. He was on something about dancing I am told by morons who watch such things.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Yes agree on Osborne and Chinese. Clear now a generation of politicians were naive about Xi and the CCP.
As regards Balls and his dancin, it was good fun and he came out of it well. Strictly about to start so not too late to allow yourself a guilty pleasure AF.