It doesn’t seem like 13 years since I strolled down to the Cabinet Office after work on a May evening to enjoy a bit of protest tourism. A largeish crowd of the usual malcontents – students, crusties and the Socialist Workers’ party – had gathered to harangue the Tory and Lib Dem representatives who were hammering out the coalition agreement. The government that emerged from those talks made reducing the deficit its priority, and in those far-off halcyon days, before Brexit and Corbyn and Covid, when Donald Trump was still hosting The Apprentice, ‘austerity’ was the great political battleground. And for almost all of the subsequent five years, it was Ed Balls and George Osborne who fought each other over government spending.
Now, a decade on, the two men have gone the way of all middle-aged male flesh and started a podcast, which will make its debut this week. It remains to be seen whether Political Currency will be a success in such a crowded market. The central gimmick – two political foes find that they have a lot in common after all – is not new. Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell have been ploughing that particular furrow for 18 months now, with the Rest Is Politics.
The Rest is Politics lads have apparently done very well. Fair play to them if that’s the road they want to take. But in terms of the quality of their discussions – a separate issue from their popularity – they have a problem which Balls and Osborne will also have. They just don’t really disagree that much on the most fundamental and important questions, which means that there is a basic dishonesty in the framing of their conversations as a heartwarming rapprochement between enemies.