Julia is host to The Breakdown, a weekly podcast explaining the biggest news events and politics in an understandable way. I spoke to her about her work and her aim of making politics accessible.
What sparked your interest in politics?
It’s one of those things I fell into. I chose it at school for my A levels because I thought it would be an easy subject. To be honest I just kind of thought it would be something I could get an A in, and I hadn’t really thought about it much beyond that. In my first year doing it at A level, there were like 22 boys and 3 girls, and I thought that was really odd because I thought lots of people would have had my thought process which is this is easier than maths and science so I’ll do it – and no girls took it!
Then I realized as we learned more and more about it, no wonder lots of boys take it, it’s a boy’s topic. It’s run by boys, talked about by boys, everyone on TV who discusses it are men, and they’re all white, and they’re all old! I just thought there is this gaping hole for young, normal women to get involved with this thing. So I chose to do it at university and it just added fuel to the fire because not only did I realize that this was the case in the UK, but it was even worse internationally.
Then the way that I kind of embedded that interest into my career was I did a radio show at university, it was a funny, silly morning show but I would occasionally talk about politics without dragging the mood down. I realized that that can be done, it’s just that not many people are doing it. We can talk about politics and not all scream at each other, and we can slowly and gently introduce people to this topic that they don’t think they’re invited to.
Why do you think other people don’t take the same interest in politics?
I think as a topic, I don’t want people to think that it’s a really straightforward thing, it is actually quite hard. I worry that because I talk about making politics simple, I don’t want people to think it is simple. It’s not. And if you speak to an MP, for example, or someone who works for Downing Street, they are dealing with thick amounts of text, hard boring text all day. The stuff we hear about, it’s already been filtered, so it’s already been simplified when you hear about it in the media.
Yet I still think that there is this gap between what the media says, and what the population actually connect with. I think more people could understand it if they gave it a go, but the media has more work to do making sure that it is put forward in a way that people connect with. I don’t mean simplified because it’s hard to simplify a lot of the stuff that happens, and I know I try to, but there should be more platforms where people feel like they’re being spoken to in a way that connects with them. Not in this jargonistic, kind of elitist way.
Why did you decide to start your podcast?
Well, it started off as a blog, where I explained what was going on with Brexit. Brexit was the event that made me think ‘I’m not just going to do this for fun with my mates, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to explain it to people I don’t know because I feel like more people outside of my friendship group are going to benefit from this.’
The thing that was striking to me was there was one girl, and she said, “Julia, the reason that I can’t understand what’s going on with Brexit is that when I read an article, the person who wrote that article expects me to understand everything that’s happened up until that point. I don’t understand anything that’s happened before, and I don’t have the time to sit and research, not just the contents of this article, but why is this even happening? And who decided that?”
And she was saying to me, “I don’t understand why Brexit’s happening! I don’t understand why the referendum happened; we’ve never had a referendum about anything before. I need someone to go right back to the beginning”. So I did that blog kind of inspired by that because I thought ‘if you’re having that problem, millions of people are going to be having this problem.’ It gained some traction, I got some interest from people at the BBC, they gave me bits of work, and that caught the attention of a podcast producer who said, “this would work really well as a podcast. You are young. You’re able to communicate in a way that I think people appreciate, why don’t you try doing this in an audio way?”
But the initial concept, like I say, was to just give people all the context, all the back story. Not just explain what’s going on in the news now, but explain why it’s happening as well as what’s happening.
Is there a certain demographic that submits more questions?
Yeah, I would say women in their early twenties – just based on what I see. Partly because that is the main demographic that listens to the podcast so obviously it makes sense that they’re going to contact me and ask me things, but also the volume at which they ask them and the wording of those questions. I think I’m realizing that when you leave school you have only known being taught things on a plate to you. You go to school, you learn. Even if you don’t want to, you’re just there and you’re kind of drinking it all in. Then when you leave school or university it’s up to you to keep up with shit.
And I think women have this fear of being inadequate. Like, ‘I can’t go to work and not keep up with the boys’. The boys don’t know either! But the girls have more of a fear of inadequacy, so they want to read up on it more, I think, to make sure they don’t get caught out. I wonder if my podcast is seen as, I mean not necessarily a cheat because I am literally helping, but it’s an easy, simple, quick way to get caught up. I do think women have that fear of if, after work, you go for a pint with the rest of the men from your grad scheme or from your workplace and they all start talking about Boris Johnson, am I going to look like an idiot? I don’t want to do that, so I’m just going to ask Julia this super straightforward question.
Are there any topics people ask more questions about?
It depends on the times, right now most questions are about the American election. But I think it’s interesting, you’d be shocked how many questions are so straightforward. For example, “What’s going on in Sudan?”
That’s such a big thing, how do you even look that up? Do you type into Google ‘what’s going on in Sudan?’ Whereas at least with my podcast I can introduce you. (I’ve never done a podcast on Sudan, but that’s just one question I’ve had quite a fair bit and I’m not an expert on that so it’s not fair for me to do it). But people like my podcast because I’m like okay, let me drip feed you this, and introduce you softly into it. And I’m reading about 100 articles per podcast, so I’m filtering 100 articles worth of knowledge into you in an easy quick way. That’s saving you obscene amounts of time!
People will say, I don’t understand why Americans have a president. It’s a great question! It’s kind of the sort of thing that it’s a bit embarrassing to ask, but that’s why people can ask me! My podcast kind of goes right from the beginning. The wording of the questions is so open because people don’t even know how to penetrate politics if they’ve never tried before.
Are there any changes you think politicians need to make in order for politics to be more accessible?
Yeah, absolutely! I think they need to become more au fait with social media, and not in a planned posy way! In a “Hey guys, I’m just walking into Westminster, we’re voting on this today, I’m a bit worried because I think that the other party are going to outvote us.
Here’s why they shouldn’t…” and an “Oh, and just while I’m getting ready for the day I’ll put my phone next to the mirror and I’ll explain to you what’s on my plate this afternoon, while I’m putting my mascara on”. That’s what people connect with because that’s how we all use our devices now. So why are they not doing that? It’s so posed that you can’t connect with it. Hold the phone up, be in your pyjamas in the evening and be like “this is what I’ve got on my plate this week, I’m really worried because the opposition is trying to do this, and trust me they shouldn’t be saying that, and here’s why.”
Someone who nails it is AOC in America. She’s constant, and she even had a thing about her beauty routine and why actually it is a big deal for her to have a beauty routine in the world that she’s in, because she’s constantly under scrutiny. She was talking about that while she was talking about the different votes that were going on at the time. That’s the key! No one seems to get it!
You know, AOC’s saying “I’m going to take you through the parliament building in Washington, the House of Congress, and you can’t get through here if you’re not a member of the House of Congress. I’m going to try and get you through, and if security takes my phone off me fine.” And then she turned her phone round and showed this garden, that no member of the public could ever have seen because you physically can’t go through security if you’re a member of the public. She was like “this is actually this nice garden that you wouldn’t know about it unless…”. You thought this is her breaking down that wall and opening it up and making it accessible to all of us. Of course, people are going to vote for that! Or they’re going to hate it, and that’s what she’s seeing. But at least it’s galvanizing!
So it’s the same as speaking to your friend on social media. That’s how you galvanize people to engage with politics. It’s like if you speak to a banker, they’re not going to use their genuine work jargon if you’re not a banker. They’re going to try and put it in a language you can connect with as a nonbanker. Politicians need to do that exact same thing and I think some of them really struggle. Especially the ones who have been in the industry for like 30 years and they don’t know any different. The next generation are going to have to completely change it up if they want voting to go above 65% in the next election.