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Nick Pickles: Don’t worry if you’re not invited to this political party

Nick Pickles is Director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, and a music photographer whose work can be viewed here. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Matt FordeIn recent years we’ve been somewhat spoilt for political comedy – from The Thick of It to new Yes, Prime Minister, while the likes of Rory Bremner and John Culshaw have continued to deploy their skills post-Coalition.

Another trend has been the rise of the political theatre, with Steve Richards of The Independent’s Rock and Roll Politics and Matt Forde's The Political Party both taking to London’s stages.

I finally had an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about when I caught the latter’s evening with Jack Straw, who, by happy coincidence, had just published a new paperback edition of his book.

Mixing politics and comedy is not an easy task, I will be the first to admit. It takes a man far braver than I to get up on stage and try to make people laugh with jokes about ten-minute rule bills and some Labour frontbencher most of the country would struggle to pick out in a lineup.

The evening kicks off with a stand up section, with Forde riffing through the latest comings and goings in Westminster.  A novice’s introduction to PMQs follows, with the audience introduced to the battle noises of Wednesday lunchtimes – for the Tories it’s a matter of sounding like a posh Liam Gallagher, for Labour it’s Tony Blair with a cold. Audience participation ensues.

As the show I saw was soon after the Patrick Mercer episode, it was no surprise to hear his name crop up early on. What did surprise me was the routine that followed about Early Day Motions. Given the scandal at the time was about APPGs, I assumed that this was a slight detour, however the entire section of the gig then followed to be based on the premise that Mercer had been filmed discussing EDMs.

There were some other jokes about EDMs being like Facebook groups, and something about floppy-fringed prats looking like Nick Watts, but my notebook somehow managed to miss the big punch line. This may be in some way related to there not being one.  Something about the Shawshank LibDemtion and Chris Hunhe already being out did raise a laugh or two, but as some of the people sat near me remarked, in half-an-hour of comedy it’s not a good sign if you’re left debating whether there were one or two good gags.

Forde, so he told the audience, did two years in public affairs, and his Wikipedia page names him as a former political advisor for the Labour party. The shame was that the first half of his routine was underwhelming as stand-up comedy, before you take into account the basic factual error of the APPG/EDM mix-up, and the second half felt like a job interview for a former Labour advisor trying to become a current Labour advisor.

Whether it was Straw’s assertion that the Tories “lent” Labour government, and that it was “much harder for Labour” to win power, to Straw’s branding of Hans Blix as a “charlatan” or even that TOWIE is “all true” (“of course I watch it”) the entire event felt one-sided. I wasn’t expecting Paxman, but equally if I’d wanted to hear Jack Straw gently coddled through his political past I’d have gone to a Labour party fundraiser. (If it was free. And not a Labour party fundraiser.)

I asked Forde what was harder – coming up with gags for the Westminster politicos in the audience, or trying to not wind up your guests too much? His response: “Not winding my guests up. I have to bite my tongue sometimes because the interview part of the show isn’t about me. I'll ask big questions but it's not an interrogation, so I let plenty of things go unchallenged, which in the end makes for a better conversation as the guest will relax more and reveal more.”

An honorable sentiment perhaps – providing biting your tongue doesn’t cross into a free run, which for most of the evening it felt like Straw enjoyed. In fact, the only surprise from the interview with was that it is still possible for such a high-profile politician to get such an easy ride.

The Political Party is a pleasant enough evening and a polite middle ground for political geeks to enjoy a laugh or two at the Lib Dem's expense with friend less embedded in the Westminster Village, but I’d hestitate to say that anyone wanting big laughs or an insightful interview will leave satisfied.

As I left, I was handed a flyer for Steve Richards’ rival event. Apparently The Spectator described it as “excellent” and the Guardian “Unmissable”. I didn’t see any flyers promoting the next round of The Political Party, but if they were to seek out my humble opinion the only word I would offer up would be “average”.


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