Laughter could help to reengage young people with politics.
Nowadays, there is often talk about young people and their disinterest in politics. Perhaps the problem is politics being disinterested in young people. Either way, it is a gap we should endeavour to permanently close. The more that young people are involved in our democracy, the healthier our democracy is likely to be. Matt Forde’s recent Edinburgh Fringe show may hold the answer to this generational issue.
An hour of stand up. Not too short, not too long, but enough time for the audience to gain an insight into contemporary British politics, albeit in a lighthearted manner. From anecdotes from his time as a Labour Party advisor and meeting various political figures to his general dislike of the current party leaders, he struck a chord with the audience straight away.
Although the Fringe does have a left-wing vibe that is apparent throughout, Forde didn’t necessarily follow suit. He made no bones about his Blairite views, to which there were a few jeers, yet he covered the whole political spectrum with his material, connecting with most of the audience and making them realise that politics isn’t as bland as BBC Parliament makes it seem.
Referring to the current party leaders as the most boring he had ever known, he rebuked them all in equal measure, much to the audiences’ amusement. Naturally the audience was slightly political to begin with, yet they still grew into the show, especially when he read Winnie the Pooh in the oratory styles of various politicians. Simple yet effective, it made current affairs seem more accessible, easier to relate to, and enjoyable to interact with. This could be the way forward when wanting to reconnect those that are disengaged.
Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Ed Miliband should crack a few jokes at conference. That could be terminal. Politicians should continue to stick to the day job. But what the disengaged youth need is more accessible means, such as comedy, that help them relate to the political issues of today. Have I Got News For You, 10 O’Clock Live and even PMQs, much to the annoyance of Bercow, are lively ways that show the disengaged that politics can be exciting, funny and enjoyable.
What makes Forde’s approach superior, however, is his addition of a political guest at his monthly shows in London, which are also available in podcast form; the method I have used to listen to them. For anyone 15 and over (it can be a bit sweary), these are the perfect way to gain an insight into politicians in a friendlier environment. His guests have already included George Galloway, Nigel Farage and Jack Straw.
However, the pick of the bunch, for Forde and myself, was Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and a former children’s minister. As a relatively right-wing eurosceptic Tory he was asked what differentiated him from UKIP. His answer was that he doesn’t own a cardigan. The most trivial and pointless answer led to laughter and applause, showing that not only do politicians have a sense of humour, but that they are also not as distant and inaccessible as they might seem at first.
The disengaged may view politicians as a group of over privileged men, and don’t get me wrong, a good few of them are. However the show with Tim Loughton showed him to be a kind, compassionate man and not a nasty Tory like many others are made out to be. Forde made similar remarks following the podcast and finished by saying it was a positive thing that we are seeing politicians in a contrasting way to how they are portrayed by the media and through our own prejudices.
Comedy doesn’t appeal to everyone, but as a young person, I know it appeals to myself and my friends. It may not work for everybody, but I believe that comedy could hold some clues in curbing the tide of political disengagement amongst young people in Britain today.
Often it’s simplicity is its beauty. Politics can often become needlessly complex. Comedy helps to unwind it and make it open and unrestricted, enabling its audiences to grasp the message without concentrating. Politics is often viewed as too serious, but it needs to be as that is the nature of the beast. But once in a while a bit of laughter could help us all view politics in a new light and perhaps even help to alter our perceptions for the better.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.