Triumph of the Chuckles: Matt Forde exemplifies the worst of the 'comedy' slot on politics shows

From Question Time to Politics Live, there’s always space for gurning lightweights.

Matt Forde provides a strong argument for people appearing on television to come with mandatory labelling like foodstuffs. Just as there are ‘wine-style beverages’ and ‘cheese-flavoured cheese substitutes’, Forde should be billed as “a comedian-style talking head” as — although his speech has the cadence of comedy — it is almost entirely gag-free; perfect for anyone on a low laugh diet.

On the BBC’s Politics Live yesterday, Forde was part of a four-person panel alongside identikit Tory MP Miriam Cates, Conservative-voting comedian Geoff Norcutt, and Labour peer, barrister, human rights activist, and former director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. He conducted himself in the manner of a hooting siamang denied access to a delicious pile of bird eggs.

Norcutt threatened to demolish my thesis that ‘comedy’ slots on political talk shows are ludicrous and patronising towards viewers by actually being informed and respectful to the other speakers. But thankfully in barrelled Matt Forde like the Kool-Aid jug mascot recreated from expired ham, his vocal tics and the unshakeable certainty that he was the smartest man in the virtual room lifted entirely from his beloved T. Blair.

Forde’s cheap rubber mask began to slip after this point by Chakrabarti on the importance of vaccinating the world, not just any single country:

When we’re talking about variants, I want to remind people of the importance of vaccinating the whole planet. We haven’t done enough as an international community. And sometimes countries like the UK, and even the EU, have been a roadblock to vaccinating the planet — because we haven’t waived the patents and we haven’t done enough to make sure that capacity is built up in places like India, Africa, and elsewhere.

The development of these various mutations just demonstrates that we’re not just interconnected as a country, we’re interconnected as a planet, and we really need to be working better collaboratively at an international level…

She continued, in response to comments from other panellists, saying:

… [we should] share the patents and waive the patents and share the technology so we can boost capacity to produce vaccines across the world.

… can we support President Biden and the Pope now, and all these Nobel laureates in saying let’s have the waiver, that was recommended by the WHO and not just side with Big Pharma, but actually share knowledge, and technology, and capacity to vaccinate the world?

Forde, who had pulled faces throughout the latter part of Chakrabarti’s, was called on by the show’s host Jo Coburn, and shouted and sneered:

I just think this ‘Big Pharma’ thing is kind of an immature thing to be saying. Without pharmaceutical companies, we wouldn’t have these vaccines. And I think Astra Zeneca (and others) deserve huge credit for putting their brightest minds at the service of the planet, and this kind of weird Hard Left view that all private enterprise is negative or sinister is odd and it certainly doesn’t chime with the public who are grateful that Astra Zeneca has… [trails off] Without Astra Zeneca I wouldn’t have had two jabs, I would have the protection that I’ve got. Thank god, for pharmaceutical companies!

Chakrabarti asked to defend her “weird Hard Left view” replied:

My weird Hard Left view is apparently being supported by President Biden, the Pope, Gordon Brown, Naomi Robinson…

Viewers were unable to hear the rest of her list as she was shouted over by Forde who hooted…

… Jesus! The Easter Bunny!

… all the while gurning and laughing at Chakrabarti’s serious points. Once he’d laughed himself out, she was able to explain:

I’m supporting a temporary waiver in pandemic circumstances. I’d also say that, yes, of course, science is a collaborative thing, but governments and charitable institutions have invested a huge amount in these vaccines, including the Oxford vaccine; I think it’s over 90% of the investment in the development of the Oxford vaccine came from government and charitable purposes… I’m not here to mud sling Jo, these issues are just far too serious.

Still, Forde wanted the last word and shouted into his semi-muted mic:

You just did!

So, who was in command of the facts? A man who drove the Spitting Image reboot into the toilet and ran around Leicester dressed as a chicken chasing former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, or the woman who spent years campaigning on human rights and engages seriously with the issues?

While Forde seems to agree with Boris Johnson, who said the fast development of Covid-19 vaccines was “because of capitalism, because of greed”, the facts don’t. As Chakrabarti noted on the show, at least 97% of funding for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine came from taxpayers or charitable trusts. AstraZeneca isn’t doing anyone a favour and reserves the right to ratchet up the price when it decides that the pandemic is over.

Forde continued his I Love The ‘90s, Peter Mandelson fanboy, ‘remember when it was all Shine albums, Pogs and marching ‘thugs’ to cashpoints to pay fines around here’ act when the topic turned to the prospect of ‘Covid passports’. While the Tory MP and Labour peer on the panel managed to find rare cross-party agreement that plans that would effectively introduce ID cards are bad for a number of reasons, Forde was all for them:

We are in an imperfect situation where you are trying to do the greatest good as imperfectly as you possibly can [sic] … I don’t think it’s the huge assault on civil liberties that other people do, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a period of time, that isn’t going to be permanent, because to be fair to the government the vaccine programme is being rolled out very, very quickly, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a short amount of time… you have to do the safest possible thing that allows you to get some [economic] activity…

He was expanding his usual Tony Blair tribute act by pulling out a deep catalogue cut — defending ID cards — an old tune that even The Spin King himself doesn’t tend to sing anymore these days, having found that it failed to chart even back in the glorious ‘90s and marginally less glorious ‘00s.

It was left to Norcutt to make the point that Forde, so high on the smell of New Labour nostalgia, couldn’t grasp:

This is a threshold that you cross in terms of a power you give the government. But unfortunately, governments of both stripes don’t have a fantastic record of saying, ‘Oh, this context has changed, here’s your power back’… if we were to allow something like this to be imposed on people… I think that’s a very tricky thing to account for…

Oddly though, despite Norcutt putting forward a point that he doesn’t agree with, Forde didn’t hoot and gurn and interrupt him while he was speaking. That was a behaviour he reserved for when Shami Chakrabarti was talking. Qwhite why that might have been is a mystery…

Still, Forde continued to position himself to the right of a serving Tory MP, concluding:

There are a lot of people — a minority admittedly — who aren’t taking up the vaccine. At the moment, that’s their right, but they don’t also get the right to mix in areas with people who have been more sensible and publicly minded… that’s the price you pay for not having it…

Matt Forde: A man desperate to see border posts erected outside Pizza Express.

Later in the show, after Norcutt talked about his book about why he decided to vote Conservative rather than Labour as his family had usually done, Forde said:

One of Keir Starmer’s big strengths is his record as Director of Public Prosecutions. Labour hasn’t really talked about crime in a way that’s really connected with the public since about 2005.

Keir Starmer has a track record of prosecuting bad guys and I think that it something that you could really outflank the government on… Jeremy Corbyn drove working-class people away from the Labour Party because of the kind of comments Shami made earlier in this show… they talk about things that people just don’t identify with, they use language and phrases people just don’t identify with… using phrases like ‘Big Phrama’ isn’t helpful…

Earlier, Norcutt has said clearly and honestly “I am biased” but Forde doesn’t see himself like that. He thinks he’s ‘sensible’ and that the natural state of the Labour Party should be some form of Blairism, regardless of the political context of the current moment.

Matt Forde wants to go to sleep under his Tony Blair duvet, looking up at the poster of Tony Blair that he tacked to the ceiling, safe in the knowledge that Labour is doing all his favourite catchphrases again — “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, “Education, education, education’, and, of course, that classic: “We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

Why did Forde reach for the year 2005 as the last time Labour ‘cut through’ on crime? Because it was Tony Blair’s last election win — the date of which Forde presumably has tattooed on the underside of his scrotum — and the vast fall in the Labour vote following the Iraq War is something he doesn’t like to think about. Similarly, the fact that the majority of those in work, unemployed, or in full-time education during the 2017 election voted for Labour under Corbyn is a fact that will never stick in Matt Forde’s head.

As well as his political podcast, Forde makes one on football and is a former TalkSport host (where one caller called him, “The worst presenter on radio ever… [who made] Stephen Nolan look like Orson Welles.”). He treats politics just like football — Labour are nominally his team but he hates the recent managers and harps on about an extremely flawed gaffer from years ago. “They should get him back, he’d have us winning again,” he mithers, dreaming of shirts for goalposts and foreign wars for oil.

Forde illustrated the tyranny of the ‘funny’ slot on political shows yesterday because his fact-light, ‘funny’ face heavy contributions were allowed to steamroller Chakrabarti’s comments. Though it was apparent that he had not done his research, was being grotesquely rude to a fellow guest, and is dumber than a rock that the other rocks look down on, Coburn allowed him to steer the discussion at key points.

Norcutt — though I disagree with him on many, many, many things — not least the whole ‘voting for the Conservative Party’ bit, was able to sit on the panel and offer his opinions, bolstered by his reading of facts. He didn’t scream over other guests or pull Spitting Image gurning while they spoke.

Forde embarrassed himself and his whole political tendency — the smug, self-satisfied Labour right — but it won’t make any difference. He’ll continue to be invited onto shows with his gag-free joke-style commentary and continue to be allowed to shout down anyone on the Left because that’s just the way it works.