A personal guide to the 13 most essential political podcasts

podcastsCommuting is a major part of my daily life, so I find podcasts are an essential way to make use of time I’d otherwise spend staring vacantly out the window or idly refreshing and re-refreshing Twitter. Here, in order of where they appear in my iTunes directory, are the podcasts I listen to most frequently…

The Economist’s podcasts – a good mix of audio recordings of selected articles from the print edition together with brief discussions involving the Economist’s expert correspondents. Slightly irritatingly the sound can vary between recordings, so you frequently have to adjust the volume if you listen to a batch at one sitting.

Friday Night Comedy from BBC Radio 4 – ensures you never miss an episode of the always brilliant The Now Show or the more hot-and-miss The News Quiz.

Great Lives – a fascinating biography series presented by Matthew Parris featuring an array of political and cultural figures sympathetically discussed by devotees and experts. Recent subjects include J.S. Mill, Kenny Everett and Florence Nightingale.

House of Comments – Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson spars with Labour’s Emma Burnell on the big political issues up for debate in the blogosphere and beyond.

Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America – a trove of insight into American politics over the decades as seen through the shrewdly meandering eyes of the BBC’s veteran American correspondent.

Media Show – this Radio 4 programme has been absolutely essential listening over the past year, accessibly examining the controversies surrounding Leveson and the BBC. (Though presenter Steve Hewlett really does need to learn to project audibly.)

The New Statesman podcast – a recent addition to the crowded ranks of political discussion podcasts, deputy editor Helen Lewis quizzes the Staggers’ contributors, including their excellent political analysts George Eaton and Rafael Behr.

Pienaar’s Politics – Radio 5 Live’s under-rated Jon Pienaaar hosts a lively conversation involving journalists and politicians, yet roams a little more widely than the usual Twitter/gossip-fuelled agenda of TV’s Sunday broadcasts.

Guardian’s Politics Weekly – my favourite political podcast, expertly presented by leader writer Tom Clark and featuring a mix of commentators dissecting the past week’s events, as well as contributions from Guardian correspondents.

The Report – the BBC’s Simon Cox goes in-depth into the stories most news broadcasts skate over, with recent editions focusing on the crisis in A&E, historic child abuse cases, and how the police and crime commissioners are working.

The View from 22 – The Spectator’s weekly politics programme, presented by Sebastian Payne, with a 30-minute discussion featuring voices such as Fraser Nelson and the always impressive Isabel Hardman. Probably a bit too right-leaning for most liberal tastes (I listen in small doses).

Weekly Political Review – the BBC’s Saturday 11am politics programme, presented by a roster of journalists from right and left — Steve Richards, Anne McElvoy, Peter Oborne, Sue Cameron — features frank, serious-minded, and usually non-tribal debates on the big issues of the week.

Westminster Hour – Carolyn Quinn’s Sunday 10pm show is politics at its more gently and refined. I’m a big fan, though I wouldn’t mind fewer MPs’ speak-your-party-script panels and a bit more expert analysis of what’s actually going on at Westminster.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from May 2007 to Jan 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • A fine list to which I would Witness and Hard Talk on the BBC World Serivce.

  • David Pollard 10th Jun '13 - 11:11am

    Stephen – looks like you are pretty busy with this lot, but try Bloomberg News from time to time. They are refreshingly open and honest about all things, with a business bias of course.

  • Very helpful. Thank you … although I might struggle to find the time as I do not commute (commuting has a wonderful of making us use our time more effectively!).

  • For me “From our own correspondant” from the Beeb is essential; insightful vignettes from journos on the ground in foreign parts. I no longer commute but podcasts are an essential antidote to the ennui of the gym and divers other chores.

  • Also try the Keiser Report on RT.com (freeview 85). They will give you an alternative view and get you to question more !

  • Robin Bennett 11th Jun '13 - 11:31am

    Fromthe BBC you could add In Our Time (if you have the time), Profile, Start the Week with Andrew Marr and Costing the Earth, but More or Less (Behind the Stats) is essential, as it deftly dissects many of the “facts” we hear from politicans, And for a refreshing, delightfully irreverent world view, On the Media from WYNC Public Radio, New York.

  • Good list
    I’m a bit surprised the Today programme hasn’t been mentioned yet
    The FT do helpful specialist podcasts too

  • Planet Money from NPR is superb. http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/

    Flicking through my own iPhone, Freakonomics Radio (not as good as Planet Money, but still useful)
    More Or Less: Behind the Numbers (slightly annoying as there’s a Radio 4 version and a World Service version and you get both, so some pieces appear multiple times) Really useful for working out when people are lying with statistics
    The Long View with Jonathan Freedland – really good at putting recent issues in perspective
    The Pod Delusion (geeky/atheist/skeptic perspective on the news; picks up on things I don’t hear about elsewhere)
    Today in Parliament (you probably don’t want to listen to this every day, but still…)

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