Yesterday I did one of my Instagram lives, in which mainly I vent against the current regime of liars and charlatans. I do these, partly for therapy, partly to play a role in holding them to account, partly to engage in Q and A with the people who join me, who seem to find it quite good therapy too. Public service broadcasting at its finest. Why, it may even become an art form. Prospect Magazine seems to think so. Playwrights and film-makers would die for reviews as detailed as that. I took the Paul McCartney reference as a compliment, and the author later confirmed it was meant as such!
During yesterday’s I asked a question … if I was to do a podcast with a Tory, which Tory would you like me to do it with? I hadn’t planned on asking the question, it just popped into my head. What I didn’t say was that I was already planning to do one.
The suggestions poured in. Ken Clarke was the first name suggested. There were quite a few voting for David Gauke, Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Amber Rudd, Nick Soames. I quite liked the idea suggested by one woman of ‘a weekly seance with Mrs Thatcher.’ Of current rather than former or dead MPs, Tobias Elwood, Tom Tugendhat, Jonny Mercer and Jeremy Hunt all had backers. So did two ex-PMs, Theresa May and John Major, and an ex-deputy PM, Michael Heseltine. Others were keener on me locking horns with people at the other end of the Party and credibility scale. Mark Francois, Michael Fabricant, Nadine Dorries, Alison Pearson, Tim Montgomerie. No ta. At least eight or nine Cabinet ministers were mentioned, Johnson included, plus Carrie Symonds, but there is no way in the world any of them would do it. Iain Dale and Danny Finkelstein were the two serious media people suggested most. Michael Caine and Gary Barlow made me chuckle. I thought the suggestion of Laura Kuenssberg was harsh.
Dominic Cummings got a few mentions, and I confirmed that he, Dale, Finkelstein and George Osborne were among the names I had discussed when Goalhanger Films, Gary Lineker’s production company, first asked me to consider the idea of a podcast, based on me and a Tory chatting.
But, as those who were on the Live yesterday will confirm, even if you added votes for all of the above together, they did not have enough to beat the runaway winner in the AC Instagram Live Most Popular Tory Co-Podcaster Selection Contest … let’s hear it for Rory Stewart.
I must confess to enormous pleasure and relief at this. Because this was a case of crowdsourcing views after the event, for Rory and I had already agreed to do a weekly podcast, starting in early March. So it was gratifying to know there was overwhelming support for the Campbell-Stewart combo (look up The Appin Murder on wikipedia to get a sense of the possible risks when these two clans come together.) I wonder whether, if his name had not come up in my insta ramble, or had done so but with lots of thumbs down, I might have knocked it on the head.
Anyway, it didn’t, so we are all set. Goalhanger also produce the very popular The Rest Is History podcast. We don’t have a title for ours yet, but any ideas are welcome.
Rory and I did a trial run last week, he in Jordan, me in France, to make sure we jelled and the format worked. We did and it did. It is amazing how much chat you can pack into 50 minutes, and I think it is partly people’s desire for a bit of depth that has fuelled the podcast boom. It is the same impulse that has seen the book trade bucking other economic trends.
We discussed Ukraine and Afghanistan, in the context of shifting power structures in the world. We agreed that China’s rise and Russia’s aggression were shaking up the balance of power at the UN, and that a new geo-strategic dividing line is democracy v dictatorship, the latter currently exploiting the weaknesses of the former.
We talked about the importance of personal relationships in diplomacy, and Rory revealed a frightening knowledge of my diaries, which has plenty of examples of that. I am currently reading his book about walking across Afghanistan, which is weird and wonderful.
We talked about how hard it is to ‘recover’ from frontline politics, and having been through something of an emotional car crash after I left Number 10, it was fascinating – and quite moving – to hear Rory talk of how hard he took his expulsion from the Party and the loss of his seat in Parliament. It took him at least two years to find some kind of equilibrium, he said. I pointed out that I am still looking for it after almost 20 years.
We both have an interest in prison reform, so that came up, and I told the story I wrote about in The New European recently, of the prisoners joining the clap for carers at Pentonville, to show support for officers still coming in despite the risks. He talked about how much he admired prison officers. London 2012 came up, as did the current Winter Olympics and, not for the last time, I took the mickey out of his pinkie ring. What is it with Tories and pinkie rings? At least has a story. I will get him to tell it some time.
We come from different backgrounds, different generations and different political tribes. But we want to show it is possible to debate political issues home and abroad seriously but with a sense of humour, realistically whilst still having a fair bit of idealism, and where we disagree do so agreeably.
I must must must remember to get him to tell his Liz Truss story when we do the first one for real. Coming soon, to a podcast platform bear you.
P.s Yes, there were also people asking on the Live whether this means Grace and I will no longer be doing Football, Feminism and Everything In Between. For now, it is on the back burner and Grace is focusing on her stand-up. I went to her show on Thursday. My God, she is funny, but I sensed the audience had more sympathy for her 64 year old parents than she did, as we listened to stories which suggested her sex life has been a lot more wild and varied than ours. It was educational though. I honestly didn’t know gonorrhoea of the knee was a real thing. Thankfully she didn’t have it. But the doctor thought she might. Jeez … we won’t talk about that on the podcast. Rory has young children and they may be listening.