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Book Review: “Politically Homeless – how a love of politics turned into a nightmare” by Matt Forde, Quercus, £16.99.

Matt Forde is Donald Trump.  He is the voice of the POTUS on the revived Spitting Image TV show, now available on Britbox. As a mimic he’s rather good and he does a convincing Boris Johnson for the same show. He also fronts well-received political podcasts. 

Forde is following a long tradition of disillusioned politicos entering the media. “Politically Homeless” is his apologia for the years he (mostly) wasted as a Labour Party activist and organiser. He was an unreconstructed Blairite in a party that was moving rapidly to the left. 

Much of this book is very funny as you’d expect from an aspiring stand up comedian. He recalls, when he was a regional organiser in Northamptonshire, staging a photo-opportunity for the then Labour Education Minister, Jim Knight. ASBOs were a big deal so he arranged to have Mr Knight scrub some graffiti off a housing estate wall for the benefit of local journalists.  Unfortunately, Forde was spotted filling Mr Knight’s bucket with Evian bottled water which he’d secured at the last minute from Waitrose. The story became that Labour was so out of touch that they cleaned walls with mineral water.

His list of dos and donts of media management is a useful guide for MPs: Journalists are lazy; nothing is ever off the record; always offer free booze at conference fringes; never attend a meeting without knowing the outcome.

Having officiated at innumerable counts, Forde knows the electoral rules inside out. I didn’t know, for example, that it is actually quite hard to spoil a ballot paper nowadays. The Electoral Commission will accept ticks, yeses, even swear words, provided they give a clear indication of the voter’s favoured candidate. In the 2019 European Elections, he says, a voter in Leicester wrote “Wank” next to every candidate, but “Not Wank” next to the Greens. It was counted as a valid Green vote. So now you know. 

He loathes Jeremy Corbyn. Blames him for debasing Labour’s culture with antisemitism and for delivering Boris Johnson as prime minister. “The hard left are like the Terminator”, he writes. “They cannot be reasoned with. They’ll nationalise your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle”.  He has equal contempt, perhaps surprisingly, for Corbyn’s soft left predecessor, Ed Milliband. He blames him for allowing the hard left back in, but mainly for being useless. “You’d have an easier job selling Cillit Bang as gin”.

Forde utterly loathes the SNP, or at any rate the so called “cybernats” on the internet. Indeed, he blames the bullying and tribal tone of politics largely on the Scottish independence referendum. “Successive movements have copied the 2014 blueprint – unleash hell on line, say whatever it takes to win, trash the BBC and humiliate the enemy”. 

Mind you, Forde was no slouch himself when it came to doing whatever it takes, having once stalked Charles Kennedy in a chicken suit when working for Labour. He confesses to his own narrow-minded tribalism: for having said, in terms,  “I’m better than you, you Tory bastard”, even though he rather respects David Cameron.

Social media has turbocharged political tribalism and, I would argue, the self-righteous Labour left is just as guilty of debasing political discourse. Twitter has become a global version of the interminable left-wing meetings Forde recalls sitting through, dominated invariably by “old beardy guys” who “just have to be the angriest person in the room”. With their rebarbative language and robotic slogans they alienate the very working class voters they are supposed to be representing.

For all the snark, there is an undertone of sadness in this book. Matt Forde is part of Labour’s lost working class. He grew up in Nottingham raised by a single mother on benefits. He joined he Labour Party as soon as he was old enough, and then watched it became dominated by metropolitan left-wing intellectuals. He has now cashed in and joined the metropolitan left-wing media. 

You can hardly blame him.  In the December election, the Tories made sweeping gains across his old Nottinghamshire hinterland as the Red Wall collapsed.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


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