By NOAH KEATE
Satire’s purpose in politics is one that has never been fully established. Programmes like ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Spitting Image’ have long involved making fun of the political system and taking ideas to their logical extreme. The portrayals of politicians, media PR disasters and parliamentary chaos causes widespread amusement and, terrifyingly, is often closer to reality than people believe.
Where controversy has stepped in however is whether politics in real life should be amusing. The use of humour, for example, during Prime Minister’s Questions, is often derided as Punch and Judy politics that doesn’t help anyone. Debates over whether politicians are, or should even attempt to be, funny are ones that will carry on long after the pandemic is over.
Matt Forde is an individual who has managed to tread both paths with regard to humour and politics. As an impersonator for ‘Spitting Image’ and stand-up comedian, he is clearly intelligent at thinking on his feet and creating new ideas. However, he used to also work for the Labour Party. As an individual who has experienced both paths, he is therefore the perfect expert to recognise how far politics in humour, and vice versa, should go.
His resulting book ‘Politically Homeless’ is therefore a half-memoir, half-polemical analysis into what he believes is going wrong with contemporary British politics. His loyalties are openly and refreshingly placed on the table. We know he is an ardent Blairite opposed to Brexit, Scottish independence and the incarnation of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. While such transparency is admirable, it can mean he is far too willing to slide over the numerous flaws of the New Labour - and particularly Blair’s - time in power.
Forde repeatedly turns to the Labour Party’s purpose: being a party of government to represent working people. With this inevitably comes the pursuit of power through winning elections, something nobody could deny Tony Blair was effective at. Little examination however is given to the sacrifices Labour made to its core ideology in the pursuit of office. Forde also regards politics as a process where politicians have to move towards what the public are thinking, rather than politicians putting forward an ideology and bringing the public to them.
I regarded the memoir at its best when Matt Forde referred to his time working for the Labour Party’s regional office in Stoke. The book highlighted a fact often forgotten: that the actions of politicians in Westminster have a deep impact, positive or negative, on all of us. Those who think politics can simply be reserved to parliamentary matters in London are deeply mistaken. Forde movingly and frustratingly highlights the failure of local politicians and the political system to work together in agreeing a new schools programme. In the end, the schools weren’t built and, under the new coalition government, the funding allocated to them was scrapped entirely.
Throughout the book, there runs a clear theme regretting the collapse of the centre. This is a frequently used, but ill-defined, term within politics. Viewing Brexit, for example, as a left-right issue is far too binary and reductive for understanding the numerous complex factors that shaped the referendum result. Similarly, even though there are numerous individuals on the right of the Conservative party within Boris Johnson’s cabinet, the Prime Minister himself is remarkably liberal on most political issues.
Interspersed with the political reflections are juicy, entertaining anecdotes of Forde’s time working in politics directly and indirectly. While I’ve never been able to understand the purpose of the party conference season, ‘Politically Homeless’ makes obvious the entertaining time that party politicos can enjoy. Similarly, Forde highlights the rich experience he has gained from hosting the ‘Political Party’ podcast. Allowing him to speak to politicians of all affiliations, it has clearly opened his mind to individuals he might previously have found difficult to get along with.
Whether Forde still feels politically homeless by the end of the book is unresolved. It’s unclear whether he can ever tie his ideology to one party again or whether he will have to embrace his political independence. This is not a rich in-depth book of political philosophy and nor does it sell itself in this way. What it does manage to achieve however is peering into how someone’s belief system can be intrinsically linked to a specific political party. More importantly, it uncovers what happens when that party loyalty, perhaps irreversibly, disappears.