The week in audio: Clear the Air with Sadiq Khan; Today; The Open Secret; Eliza

The mayor of London kicks off his new climate crisis podcast; Nick Robinson grills Kwarteng and Truss to perfection; and Sky News resorts to actors to voice abuses in parliament

Clear the Air with Sadiq Khan (LBC) |
Today (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
The Open Secret (Sky News)
Eliza (Crowd Network)

With Cop27 round the corner, London mayor Sadiq Khan has started a new climate crisis podcast for LBC: Clear the Air. Unlike many such shows (there are loads), it’s a straightforward interview podcast; last week’s debut episode featured Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero. This week, Khan talks to Lily Cole, who does many things (model/ actor/ director/ activist), including hosting an environmental podcast, Who Cares Wins, which came out of a book she wrote on the same topic.

Two nicely high-profile guests then, and Khan is not a bad presenter. He’s been on the end of various callers for his monthly Speak to Sadiq slot, also on LBC; and he’s doing Clear the Air, he says in the show’s trailer, because he was diagnosed with asthma at 43, while training for the London Marathon. This isn’t explained in the introduction to either of the full-length shows, though, so you might be left wondering, and if I’m being picky – that’s my job – there are other tweaks needed. Still, Khan listens, he’s keen, he’s clear and chatty. (He also slightly fancies himself, judging by the visuals: LBC is big on filming its podcasts.)

So, the tweaks. First up, Khan can be fanboyish, gushing over Miliband, telling Cole she’s amazing for getting a degree. This is a tried and tested method for getting interviewees to relax, though, so we can forgive him. What is less cool is that, with the clever and articulate Cole, Khan spends far too long on her early modelling career, instead of focusing on her interesting work in sustainability. For a climate change podcast! And in the Miliband interview, more explanation was needed. Not all of the listeners are au fait with, say, who Miliband’s father was, let alone the intricacies of what the Labour party was doing 15 years ago: Khan needed to add a few points of explanation. Interviewees need to be handled and questioned carefully, or this show won’t change any minds that aren’t already changed.

Still, it was great to hear the loquacious Miliband, who’s now almost a broadcasting legend, what with his successful Reasons to be Cheerful podcast with Geoff Lloyd and his once-heard-never-forgotten Radio 2 stints as stand-in host. Plus, what a relief to listen to a competent politician, an MP absolutely on top of his brief, who gives thorough and honest answers. Can you imagine? Even the bluest of Tory stalwarts must now be dreaming of “chaos with Ed Miliband”.

Which brings me to the Today programme. Boris Johnson rarely made an appearance on it when he was PM: frit, we presume. In the week of the Tory conference, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have at least bothered to explain themselves. On Monday, Nick Robinson roasted the new chancellor with the greatest of ease, flipping him over occasionally to check he was done on both sides. “You put the prime minister through the biggest political humiliation you can imagine … I put it to you that you’re a pretty tin-eared politician.”

Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss in Birmingham last week.
Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss in Birmingham last week. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The next day, Robinson had a go at the prime minister, who tried her best to bore him into submission. Robinson was having none of it – “the interest in mortgage cost wipes out the gain from energy … how are you going to reassure the markets?” – and took a quieter approach than he had with Kwarteng, calmly slicing the dull Truss into a wafer-thin snack. Robinson has been such fun to listen to this week; he’s clearly revelling in his job, up in everyone’s grill at the conference, shouting “Are you starting a coup?” at Michael Gove. Great stuff.

Talking of our elected representatives, Sky News has been taking a look at parliamentary culture in its three-part podcast The Open Secret. So far, we’ve had two episodes examining inappropriate behaviour in Westminster, covering sexual assault and bullying. It’s a grubby listen – not because of Liz Bates, an excellent host, but because of the topic, with almost every person who speaks on record doing so anonymously, an actor saying their words. And it is, you notice, always young people who these horrible MPs treat badly: as dispensable, or useless, or snowflakes, or there to please them. Where are the unions when you need them?

Just time to mention an interesting new drama, Eliza. The story is told from the point of view of an AI robot, Eliza (played by Tanya Reynolds), who provides data and companionship for her new owner. Though, as the podcast is made in partnership with the Pankhurst Trust (incorporating Manchester Women’s Aid), an organisation that supports women who suffer domestic violence, I predict some dark moves ahead. I hope Eliza survives.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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