Sunday, October 18, 2020

Warm, welcoming and very, very funny - Matt Forde's Politcally Homeless reviewed

There are some days in your life that stick in your mind for years afterwards. July the 22nd, 2015 is one of them. As was usual back then I hot footed it down to London for an event in Moorgate at the HQ of one of my then clients, but this was different. It wasn't a business do, but a political one, and that was my world that summer. I was pleasantly surprised to be signed into the event by our former babysitter, and good family friend Ciara Hogan, a student at LSE at the time. I had a chat to Alison McGovern MP and arranged to meet up, which led to an enduring professional friendship with her husband. I was there with another pal who I'd got closer to over the summer months of the Labour leadership contest and while we were chatting he invited me to his wedding later that year (we're still good mates and he's still married, that's not where this is going). 

The occasion was Tony Blair was speaking. He was trying to get the Labour Party to come to its senses and not elect Jeremy Corbyn. The speech, the interview, the takeaway message was quite brilliant, you might remember it - he said, "if your heart says vote Corbyn, you need a transplant" - but as we all know it was, like most recent political campaigns I've ever been involved in, hopelessly doomed. 

But it was also the first time I saw Matt Forde, who interviewed TB on stage and was everything that day that he's ever been since: warm, welcoming and very, very funny.

I've since seen him do stand up twice live and he just gets better and better, Matt Forde that is, not Tony Blair. You might then have quite rightly guessed that I'm a fan. I've listened to pretty much all of his podcasts and he never ceases to surprise. His interview style is respectful, sharp, but he also invites the subject into a space where they rarely get to go, thus we are treated to rare glimpses of their character and motivations.

Last year, before a gig at The Lowry in Salford, I even managed to interview Matt for a little video I did (and have foolishly deleted) when I was standing in the Euro elections of 2019. I slipped in a podcast joke that he didn't see coming, which was a personal highlight.

He's now got a book out with a title that perfectly sums up my own status, Politically Homeless. 

I devoured it over a weekend, the Saturday of which his team (Nottingham Forest) beat mine (Blackburn Rovers), something to which I was sublimely indifferent to.  

It's more than a memoir, but it tells us a lot about his life. It's not a manifesto for the future, but it's brimming with good ideas. And it's not a handbook for political activists, but the tips are priceless. 

Paul Wright, a lovely bloke who's been selected to contest our local ward for Labour has it on his Christmas list, he told me over Twitter. I'd suggest he read it now. He'll learn not to organise a photocall to clean graffiti off a wall with only Waitrose Evian water to hand; he'll perhaps be comforted that however dysfunctional and fractious Stockport Labour Group is, at least it's not Stoke; and he'll be given a re-affirmation of why Labour activists really, really hate Liberal Democrats (though living round here he knows that already). I'd give Paul my copy but it's signed by Matt and it's going on my political bookshelf next to prized signed tomes by Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Tony Wilson and Andrew Marr. That's how much I liked it.

A few weeks after the Tony Blair event I got to interview someone on that very same stage who had lived an extraordinary life. I remember thinking, how do I get great stories out of a guy who has been played in a Hollywood film by Leonardo di Caprio? I deployed some of Matt's techniques of building a rapport with the audience and realising that sometimes the obvious question everyone is thinking is the best way in.

On top of it all the book is a powerful statement too in favour of the values of the Britain we want to be - warm, welcoming, and funny (have I said that already). So go on, buy it, read it. Whether you're a political anorak like we are, or just want a good laugh, then I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

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