The Rest Is Politics

The Rest Is Politics Adelaide Festival 2024Adelaide Festival / Adelaide Writers Week. Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart with Sarah Ferguson. Adelaide Town Hall. 3 Mar 2024.


The Town Hall was packed and quivering with middle-aged anticipation at this live presentation of the insanely popular British podcast The Rest is Politics. An early ‘show of hands’ poll revealed a hearty percentage of the audience were familiar with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s show; they both eased into the presentation with confidence and charm.


For those unfamiliar with the podcast and its protagonists, The Rest is Politics brings together a leftie and a tory with a view to “disagreeing agreeably”. Campbell - erudite, opinionated, and forceful - is a former journalist and the head of political communications in Tony Blair’s Labour government. Rory Stewart was a Conservative MP after serving in the British Army and living and working in Afghanistan and the Middle East, ending up unsuccessfully challenging Boris Johnson in the pre-Brexit prime ministerial race. (Anyone listening to the podcast cannot escape the conclusion that these men were brought together by a mutual unquenchable loathing of Johnson.) They work beautifully together – sparring, chafing, and arguing, but frequently agreeing and accepting each other’s opposing viewpoints. They share a common desire for nuance beyond political slogans and hope for more seriousness in politics.


This was not a performance per se, but a Writers Weeks event writ large in a big venue: an engaging and fascinating conversation peppered with charismatic and gentle jousting, but necessarily without any in-depth discussions or insights. The topics covered international politics broadly, with an unsurprising focus on British issues; the discussions traversed populism, Brexit, the short-term focus of all political parties, the strange machinations of the UK Tories (in particular, the disastrous premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss) and the way political messaging has overtaken politics. The most interesting reflections involved the Iraq war and Blair’s involvement and potential culpability in that campaign.


It was slightly disappointing that Stewart appeared on a large video screen, which robbed the show of a measure of immediacy. That said, both Campbell and Stewart were articulate, quick-witted, funny, and illuminating. They are both powerful and inspiring communicators. The presentation was impressively moderated by the ABC’s Sarah Ferguson, whose questions and prompting expertly allowed the conversation to flow.


This evening was a perfect entrée into the world of The Rest is Politics.


John Wells


When: 3 Mar

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed