Credit: Mattias Diesel via Unsplash

The oligarchy of “centrist dads”

By Rosie Shotton

How the “centrist dads” have taken over the political debate

Was it him? Was it that rabble-rouser, that prophet, that man of the people and voice for the voiceless, bourgeois bastion and tweeting torchbearer Gary Lineker who boldly birthed the podcast formula à la mode of the “centrist dads”? 

Goalhanger Podcasts, the company Lineker co-founded in 2022, hosts the fabulously successful The Rest is Politics podcast, starring Tony Blair’s old right-hand man, Alastair Campbell, and ex-Tory-leadership-candidate Rory Stewart. This format has been recently reiterated in the form of George Osborne and Ed Balls, who host Political Currency, many years after facing off against one another as Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor in days of yore. 

The logic is clear: two voices from across the aisle finding common ground, conciliation and calm amongst the raised voices and cutting slogans of the political battlefield; two brave soldiers worn from the fracas, who have dropped their weapons and offered a shaking, bloodied hand of respect to their opponent. What else could these men be but voices of reason?

Surely (the argument goes), this is what people need to stay invested in an increasingly toxic and unpleasant political sphere. People want a break from the trauma of modern-day politics, and two good chaps having a chat, as if over a pint in a pub, agreeing and disagreeing amiably, is a refreshingly uplifting and light-hearted take on UK politics. 

In a way, this is just a reworking of the classic formula of ex-politicians (once their disgrace has dissipated from the public eye) continuing to shape the political debate. This happens through think tanks, peerages, journalism (God forbid, a memoir) and TV appearances. But a podcast is different from a spot on Question Time: under this format the ex-politicians are the main event and their views are all we hear. Ed Balls and George Osborne, although from opposing parties, are both privately educated white men of the same age, with (broadly) similar political stances, who have both spent their last few decades as significant politicos within Westminster. Ed Balls studied PPE at Oxford; Osborne was in the Bullingdon Club. Their lives have followed similar pathways. It is disingenuous to present these two very alike men as opposing poles of political ideology (or even as the goalposts which designate the bounds of “acceptable” political opinion). 

It is a cliché to describe Westminster politics as an “echo chamber”, yet it probably applies to a podcast where two supposedly opposing figures blurt their similar views at one another, just to reassure their centrist listeners that they were right all along, and their opinions are the right ones. (“I mean, a Labour chap and a Tory agreeing? Gosh, finally some sense in the world!”) It leaves no space for differing viewpoints, including the views of women, people of colour, or young people, who may have different opinions to offer from the average “centrist dad”. Even if people of different viewpoints are invited on as guests, the most decisive opinion, which the listener is encouraged to take as the correct one, is provided by the hosts.

George Osborne, responding to being labelled a “centrist dad”, remarks: “Do we want the world run by extremist bachelors?”[3] Maybe not, George, but since you bring it up, I certainly wouldn’t want it to be run only by “centrist dads”. It’s almost as if the point of democracy is to have more than one group of people making policy, lest we risk creating an oligarchy of “centrist dads”. 

The appeal of a politics podcast is that it allows one to become informed on the day’s political developments while driving, walking, doing the shopping, or cleaning, and for many people, their favourite podcast may be their primary source of news. When my granddad reads the Daily Mail, he may be getting all his news from the same right-wing source, but at least there is a variety of writers, and therefore a variety of opinions within any one copy. I won’t go so far as to say it encourages critical thinking, but it at least provides a wider range of viewpoints than your average centrist podcast. Just because the views offered on The Rest is Politics or Political Currency converge in the centre, that doesn’t mean they are a substitute for engaging with views from across the political spectrum. Lineker, Campbell, Stewart, Balls and Osborne may have insightful, humorous, and informative political commentary – just make sure that they’re not the only voices you’re hearing. 


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