Centrist dads rally at ‘The Rest is Politics Live’
Thousands flocked to the London Palladium to mourn a bygone world
Last night, at the London Palladium, two and a half thousand people attended a séance. Packed in from stalls to rafters, they were there to mourn, remember, and, however briefly, reconjure the hope of a better, smarter, more honourable politics. A montage of political villains played on the screen above the stage as the show began. Boris Johnson invited boos. Matt Hancock — jeers. And then Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell were summoned in their place, to rapturous applause.
Lending this pantomime atmosphere was the audience: the vanguard of London’s outraged, gnashing centrists. The event was The Rest is Politics Live, adapted from the crowning jewel of Gary Lineker’s podcast empire, Goalhanger. And the show cribs not only its title but its dynamic from its Goalhanger brother, The Rest is History, and ultimately from most male British double acts: bulky, direct straight-talker meets slight, effete intellectual. But it has evolved into its own beast. Goalhanger’s MD claims it’s the biggest podcast in Britain. And like all big podcasts, it has an obsessive, cultish following. Before the show, fans referred to the presenting pair with first-person intellectual solidarity, as in “Rory’s so right about…” The guy next to me had been to the live show twice.
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Most of their podcasts are relatively free-flowing, astute commentaries on the week’s events, though there is an axial theme: the moral desert of British politics, and its spineless, serpentine politicians. But this event was putatively structured around the subject of “crisis management”. This consisted of Campbell and Stewart playing clips of crises past and present, and offering their managerial advice. Lineker’s BBC row got a look in. Stewart critiqued his handling of the 2015 Storm Desmond floods. Campbell gave foot-and-mouth and the 2000 petrol protests the benefit of hindsight. But, try as they might, they couldn’t keep away from their favourite topic. Campbell tried to shoot the elephant early on: “Who thinks Boris Johnson is dishonest?” A forest of raised hands.
Campbell and Stewart both hark back to a supposed golden age of ethical clarity in government, located somewhere imprecisely in the past. Their history of the present is an inversion of Peter Hennessy’s “good chap” theory of government: the state has been overrun by bad chaps, the worst chaps. Self-serving, venal actors loosed from the bounds of normal propriety by populist political forces. The ideological gales of our time are not the product of a unique set of social and material upheavals, but of the failure of our political class to bottle and tame them. In this reading, the political transformations of post-2016 really become little more than a failed example of crisis management.
One of the more irritating aspects of the otherwise amiable Stewart-Campbell partnership is their boast that they “disagree agreeably”. The problem is they don’t disagree — their one great barney, on Northern Ireland, is remembered with fond exceptionality. Now they dwell in the same centrist wilderness, ejected from a politics that has overtaken them. The most tantalising moment of last night’s show therefore came when they revealed that the podcast’s producers had previously mooted different co-presenters, Dominic Cummings for Campbell, and Jeremy Corbyn for Stewart. The promise of either challenging, provocative pairing seemed inspired after such a show — a world where both would be forced to reckon with the changing age, instead of resenting and admonishing it from their podcast silo.
Bit rich for A Campbell to be accusing other people of less than stellar behaviour.
He’s got the self-awareness of a lobotomized goldfish.
That is very unfair to goldfish.
In fairness, I don’t mind Stewart so much. He’s a tad eccentric, sure but in my observations of him, he at least tries to understand where his opponent comes from and appeals to their better nature. Campbell is just vile and the opposite. I refuse to listen to anything he is on.
Florence of Belgravia = Jacob Rees-Mogg politesse + woke remoaner ouanker.
I admit to always been highly suspicious of whatever Mr Campbell might say or do. He was a PR agent after all. Rory Stewart seemed a good guy but then he started to do strange things and behaving like a spoilt Etonian. Early promise not fulfilled, alas
I like the Rest is History podcast but couldn’t imagine torturing myself listening to a jerk like Campbell or a bore like Stewart.
What a bumptious remark.
Not so much “bumptious” as “breathtakingly accurate”
Is Campbell your dad, Frankie?
That would explain a lot.
I can’t believe Campbell has the gall to stand there and talk about honesty. I was an infantry reservist during the Blair years. I don’t recall him turning up to the funerals I attended.
I’m getting very frustrated by the censors here at Unherd. I’ve had a comment in moderation for almost 24 hours. All of my comments are respectful. I don’t call people names. I don’t say things in anger. I use reasoned arguments. I’m only one subscriber, but I’m very close to walking, It’s beyond unprofessional.
The process might need a tweak, but that’s really down to people abusing the moderation system.
I’ve had some strong disagreements with you Robbie. Have I ever been disrespectful or unkind? It’s kinda frustrating.
Not to me, we need lively debate!
Sometimes it seems to be replies that are the issue; the whole thread disappears if someone makes a problematical comment. But I do take your point, my comments have gone into moderation a number of times and even re-reading them as critically as possible, I’ve no idea what the problem is. Some just disappeared never to return, so I must have written something really transgressive, but I don’t know what.
I have just emailed support at Unherd cancelling my subscription and asked for my money to be returned.
Moderation on this forum is intolerable.
It is erratic. I wonder if they couldn’t just turn off moderation completely. Assuming that only UnHerd subscribers can post messages, how many are going to be abusive? Couldn’t the readers just police themselves?
They use wordpress, which is a highly automated system.
One thing I’ve noticed is that highly downvoted comments will disappear, taking the replies with them. I’ve pointed this out numerous times, but nothing changes. I’d also wish people wouldn’t downvote just because they disagree with something, unless it really is egregious because it chops out conversation threads.
I didn’t know that about downvotes deleting threads Andrew. I will not do it again.
I think it just triggers the automated system. A bit like a flag that human intervention is necessary to determine whether it really should be deleted or not.
Why not comment instead of down voting (hello Brexiteers!)?
I am a “brexiteer”, of the Tony Benn variety: Workers first, bourgeois liberals a remote second ( Here’s looking at you, Dermot).
I have never downvoted a comment.
Well done, You!
Have you watched on You Tube Tony Benn debating with Roy Jenkins on membership of the EEC? Tony Benn states the vital importance of being able to vote out politicians to maintain democracy.
I never knew this.
I don’t downvote on principle – if you disagree with someone then argue your case.
But even if a comment is heavily downvoted, why should that, of itself, be a reason to remove the comment?
You do not see such nonsense at The Spectator, so it doesn’t have to be this way
Anyway, I have had enough of it and have cancelled my subscription.
Have you got on to them? They do get back on issues – not sure about moderation.
I fear they are sticking with but not defending the automatic algorithm they use so you will not get a dialogue with them on moderation. It is an important issue and I wish they would commission a decent knowledgeable article on the subject.
I’m not sure how to contact them. I’ll do this.
“Who thinks Boris Johnson is dishonest?”
Campbell should look in the mirror. He and Blair are in no position to criticise Boris on that score.
The Rest of Politics podcasts are generally superb. They give more time for a subject discussion than one usually gets on other media and from the detailed knowledge base of the two protagonists. More recently the discussion on Iraq was excellent. Stewart pressed Campbell v hard, and of course from a position of knowledge as he’d been a regional Governor and clearly has some insight into Intelligence services workings too. Both sides listened, which is the rarity and why one suspects this has captured a bit of the zeitgeist for the time-being. The idea these two are always agreeing is nonsense and just shows how much a civil discussion seems to upset those who’ve already closed down their thinking.
This all said one needs other perspectives too, such as those one will come into more regular contact with via UnHerd.
“Campbell and Stewart both hark back to a supposed golden age of ethical clarity in government, located somewhere imprecisely in the past.”
You’re so busy sneering that you’re at risk of over-simplification.
Dodgy dealings are not new, of course – but the post-factual and utterly silo-ed nature of modern politics in the internet era is.
Trump is praying to be arrested as that would boost his ratings. That would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago.
If Watergate happened now, it would barely make the front page.
Nobody did more to drag politics down than Campbell. Trump is the consequence, not the cause.
And to compare and contrast, The Rest is History is live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, next month.
Is Boris dishonest? You’d get a yes to asking that of any named politician, this was written in 1925 and holds true today:
“a politician, in other words the kind of man whose only conviction is a lack of conviction. combined with offensive impertinence and an art of lying, often developed to the point of complete shamelessness. If to the misfortune of decent people such a character gets into parliament we may as well realise at once the the essence of his politics will from now on consist in nothing but an heroic struggle for the permanent possession of his feeding-bottle for himself and his family”
I feel that applies to most of them, Campbell included
edit: wrong place
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