In a U.K. media landscape dominated by chat shows and talking heads, Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast dives deeper into the stories that often only get the broad-brush treatment. It has become a must-listen for anyone who wants to go beyond the headlines of Westminster politics, drawing on extensive research, carefully crafted scripting, and creative sound design.
Its premier host, Jack Blanchard, was a podcast virgin when the series launched in December 2020. But what he lacked in microphone know-how he made up for in his extensive insider knowledge of British politics and his knack for storytelling.
Three years before creating the podcast, Blanchard launched and authored Politico’s London Playbook — a morning daily newsletter, which has become a must-read for political insiders and currently counts over 75,000 subscribers. Politico’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief Kate Day (then serving as U.K. editor) worked with Blanchard to channel his newsletter acumen into a new format for political podcasting.
Tackling tough topics
Throughout Westminster Insider’s first five seasons, the podcast has tackled topics ranging from the role of political advisers in Westminster to the art of political drinking. It has delved deep into the history of pandemics and told the inside story of the British referendum, sitting down with the two men behind the crucial spin campaigns for Leave and Remain.
Blanchard has told the inside story of how U.K. government officials responded to the tragic events of 9/11, and he’s given every future chancellor in charge of budgets a handy primer on how budgets can go badly wrong. He has put crucial social topics on the media’s agenda, including the struggles to build enough housing in Britain and suicide awareness.
Episodes, which are produced in partnership with Whistledown Productions, have sparked national headlines and conversations way beyond podcasting — from coverage on Sky News and the BBC to national newspapers picking news lines from the exclusive interviews with high-profile figures.
The episodes and guests — including Tony Blair, Rishi Sunak, George Osborne, Neil Ferguson, and Lee Cain — make news themselves, getting picked up regularly by The Times, Telegraph, BBC Radio 4, iNews, and many others. It also stirs conversation on social media and is tweeted by politicos and heavy hitters like George Osborne and Simon Mayo.
Changing of the guards
In May 2021 after five seasons (each consisting of eight episodes), Westminster Insider welcomed Ailbhe Rea as a host.
Rea joined Politico from the New Statesman where she was a political correspondent and co-host of their award-winning New Statesman podcast. She is already made her mark in season six, taking listeners on an intimate tour of the infamous Westminster Lobby and exploring the intricacies of Northern Ireland’s war-torn past — travelling back to her homeland to hear the emotive testimony of the families of some of those murdered during The Troubles.
To create the weekly podcast, Rea works with Blanchard, who has since been promoted to U.K. editor, a producer from Whistledown Productions — currently James Tinsdale, and in the past included Robert Nicholson, Ellie Clifford, and Emma Barnaby — and Politico’s executive producer for audio, Cristina Gonzalez.
Westminster Insider was also an honoree in the 2022 Webby awards for documentary podcasts. It’s a testament to the initial vision for the podcast, which was to tell the stories of Westminster in an in-depth, compelling way.
Our lesson is that there’s still room to be bold and distinguish yourself in a crowded media market — but you’ve got to think outside the box and be willing to put in the work because while podcasting may look easy, those who have dared to pick up a microphone know that it’s anything but.