Want to be relevant? Learn how politics work -and have fun in the process

3 December 2015
Comedy about politics serves other purposes beside entertainment. They can foster a richer political environment in which think tanks may be able to make greater contributions.

Lima is being hit by what looks like an 30 degrees introduction to a new “El Niño”, I’ve been busy with the organisation of the first Batalla de Ideas (Battle of Ideas meets policy Fight Club) in Peru, and hiring a new research and communications officer for On Think Tanks, so this post promises to be slightly light-hearted.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to a podcast by Matt Forde: The Political Party. Forde is an ex-Labour party volunteer and staffer and self-confessed Blairite. He is also a stand-up comedian and his podcast is really the recording of a stand-up comedy show -with a twist.

The show is made up of two parts: during the first half (less than half really) Forde performs a politically themed routine. During the second half he interviews a politician -including a section with questions from the audience.

The podcasts are long; over 1 hour long each. But they are worth listening to.

Politics are politics are politics. The stories that Forde’s guests share are relevant for any context. They talk of the challenges of holding office, the many problems that politicians face when balancing what the voters want with what they believe in and what science/experts say, the mundaneness of leaders’ lives, etc. Michael Portillo, one of the best interviewees, for instance, confesses that few politicians have any power at all. When we call them ‘policymakers’ or ‘decision makers’ we are kidding ourselves -he’d argue. They are powerless, merely surviving between crises.

Alan Johnson’s podcast is particularly good at describing how people become politicians -although they all cover this.

I could not recommend this more.

Of course, Matt Forde owes his new career to the greatness of, possibly, one of the best political comedy TV shows: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. These are comedies but also in-depth studies of the nature of government -and politics.

What is the connection to think tanks, you might ask. Well, there are many aspects of these “comedies” that are relevant to think tanks; just three:

  1. They represent but a small taste of several other TV and Radio shows dedicated to the subject of politics. There are theatre plays and films to address politics and government seriously. Documentaries, too, offer insights into the hidden aspects of politics that enlighten our understanding. One example of this is the BBC’s recent documentary behind the scenes at Westminster. These offer a wealth of information about politics that enriches the environment in which think tanks can thrive.
  2. They entertain and inspire new generations of thinktankers to pursue careers in politics -and not just partisan politics but also policy politics.
  3. They provide a mirror on which politicians can see themselves and their world (and often their nonsense) reflected.

Enjoy the podcasts.