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Why I booked Ken Livingstone (and George Galloway and Jacob Rees-Mogg) for my West End Show

Jewish groups reacted with dismay when satirist Matt Forde invited Ken Livingstone onto his West End Christmas show. Here he explains why he did it

    Nearly five years ago I created a monthly event called The Political Party, a show which seeks to widen understanding of politics and politicians. Not only that, it is a political show deliberately underpinned by respect.

    Too much of our political discourse is poisonous and abusive. As an antidote to this growing toxicity, I’ve been keen to interview as wide a range of politicians as possible in a civil manner, which means frequently sitting opposite individuals who many would disagree with. As anyone who’s listened to the show will tell you, the interviews may be civil but they are not a walk in the park, I don’t shy away from difficult areas or questions. Guests also have to contend with audience questions too.

    The list of previous guests shows every shade of the political spectrum, from George Galloway on the left, through Clive Lewis, Jess Phillips, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, Tim Farron, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Michael Heseltine, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Suzanne Evans, Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson. On both sides of the Scottish independence debate I interviewed Jim Murphy and Angus Robertson.

    Some guests are more controversial than others. Nigel Farage raised eyebrows among my friends and Tommy Robinson was the first guest we needed security for. These are people whose politics I absolutely stand against, but individuals I was keen to interview and scrutinise. The same is true for one of my guests in December – Ken Livingstone. Booking him has been controversial and I obviously understand why, just as I understand why Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson were. For some, Tony Blair was controversial, for others so was Jacob Rees-Mogg.

    This isn’t about whether I agree with my guests or not. This is about my desire to have conversations in public, not brushed under the carpet. In a previous career I worked for the Labour party - back when I was still a member. For 2 years I fought the BNP in Stoke-on-Trent. When I arrived they had 9 seats on the council.

    No-platforming them didn’t work. We had to tackle them head on and in the light. Eventually, they were driven out of town. It was an early lesson for me – politics is best done in full view, allowing the public to decide for themselves when given a fair account of all perspectives.

    There’s a view that political interviews should be left to the serious political programmes and that they have no place anywhere near comedy. I think the tone of some of those interviews alienates people.

    I’m trying to use comedy to bring politics to a wider and a different audience, many of whom have never engaged in politics before. I want to shine a light on politics, to demystify it and bring people in. Audiences are sophisticated enough to judge when the tone is appropriate and what the intent is. I would never seek to offend, but in comedy, as in life, that’s not always possible.

    Over the last week or so I’ve had a lot of angry messages on Twitter. I haven’t replied to these yet as 140 characters, or even 280 characters, don’t give enough space to handle serious subjects effectively. Followers of American politics will appreciate the sentiment.  

    I’ve been pressured to remove Ken Livingstone from the bill, but it’s something I won’t do. Not only would it prevent me from interviewing someone I’m interested in, it would undermine my belief in free speech and openness. 

    Matt Forde’s Political Party Podcast Christmas Special 2017 will be recorded at the Leicester Square Theatre on December 6th and 7th. For bookings, click here.