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Eight Years’ Hard Labour: Succession meets Are You Being Served in this deliciously catty podcast

Podcast review: David Aaronovitch brings voice, snark and excellent storytelling to the tale of the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer

“If you’ve ever been on a walking holiday, or like a real-ale thing, or you’ve gone to a lower-league football team, you’ve met somebody like Jeremy Corbyn,” says one of the many political insiders interviewed for Eight Years’ Hard Labour, Tortoise Media’s fascinating new podcast – someone “who has some rather odd interests and collects something and is very polite and well mannered in that very English way”.

That’s the kind of deliciously catty skewering you can find among the ponderous musings and incisive analysis on this thoroughly absorbing deep dive into the politics of the UK’s Labour Party and just how everything went so far sideways for so many years. Tortoise Media, which has been championing the “slow news” approach since its inception in 2019, shows its colours to great effect in its plunge into the Succession-meets-Are You Being Served drama inside one of England’s oldest political parties.

There’s no denying the Labour Party has had quite a run of it over the past eight years, from Corbyn’s unexpected election as leader to Brexit, the attack on the double agent Sergei Skripal on British soil, anti-Semitism accusations, the (re)ascension of Boris Johnson and the arrival of coronavirus to the muscling into centre stage of one Keir Starmer. Eight Years’ Hard Labour does a fascinating job of documenting the political stakes and players, turning what could have been a dry, arcane exploration of some insider political machinations into a Shakespearean tale of plotting, double dealing and power grabbing featuring flawed protagonists and plot twists galore.

The journalist David Aaronovitch is an expert narrator: he brings voice, snark and excellent storytelling to the subject, as well as plenty of personal investment as a longtime leftie with Jewish grandparents. His descriptive flourishes are a delight: the disaster that arrived “in the improbable and dishevelled guise of the member for Uxbridge” is a deft swipe at Johnson; “would the turkeys vote for Christmas?” is levelled at the Labour Party entire.


Aaronovitch is joined by Tortoise’s political editor, Cat Neilan, whose years reporting on British politics are drawn upon for her recollections of some of the key moments covered in the podcast and which also informed her deeply sourced reporting on the vagaries of the Labour Party’s base and membership.

The two are bolstered by interviews from all manner of party flacks, rank-and-filers, movers and shakers, bringing numerous articulate and informed voices into the mix. The drama of what they’re describing is illustrated with audio of parliamentary votes and party cheers, while crescendoing violins do their part to raise the stakes and the listener’s blood pressure.

In short – or, rather, in lengthy, salacious detail – Eight Years’ Hard Labour is an insightful and deeply researched look at the way power shifts behind the curtain of one of the oldest political parties in England. Six episodes in and we’re only at Starmer’s consolidation of power, with more goodies promised. This podcast makes for high entertainment for political junkies. Shame there’s so much at stake for everyone else.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast