Why I'll be doing stand-up comedy about politics, power and the pink bus

Stories about working in politics are told largely by white men educated at Oxbridge - now I'm no longer beholden to politics full time, I decided to offer an alternative.

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The last time I appeared in these pages, I’d just stopped being a special adviser to Harriet Harman and was shouting at BBC1’s Daily Politics show in my pants and spending a lot of time thinking about spiralising stuff. I’m pleased to report that since then, I’ve progressed to appearing on the Daily Politics (fully dressed) and have managed to leave the house on more meaningful quests than buying biscuits. No spiralising of any kind has yet occurred.

Duelling solos

Anyway, as part of my political junkie rehabilitation plan, my old friend Tom Service from Radio 3’s Music Matters dragged me away from World at One and forced me to experience some lunchtime culture. “You need to step away from Labour politics,” was the stern message.

We headed to the Wigmore Hall to hear Amy Harman (Harriet’s daughter) give a wonderful bassoon recital for Young Classical Artists Trust. Tom was excited about a new piece by Olav Berg called Duomonologue. He explained that it was “about dialogue or the lack of it. The two voices, clarinet and bassoon, try to speak and listen to each other but they end up forming their own monologues, neglecting what the other has just said.” So much for trying to escape Labour politics.

Up the Women!

As 8 March was International Women’s Day, it seems a good time to reflect on gender equality. Much progress has been made: a famous lady just got married in flat shoes, for Gawd’s sake. But we all know the struggle goes on. I’ve just guest-edited Progress magazine. Progress has an excellent chair, Labour MP Alison McGovern but, like almost every political organisation, it is sometimes seen as the preserve of lots of clever chaps. So it decided to hand over the reins to a woman and do its bit to help the long-term unemployed.

We went for an all-female line-up on the guest edit, with a cross-section of ages, backgrounds and political persuasions, to show that you can have a rich mix of women’s opinions on issues from feminism to finance to something else beginning with “F”. Political debate is still dominated by the male experience of the world and we need more women’s voices to be heard.

I was keen for Progress magazine to hear from people who work in business, because Labour needs to have a credible relationship with them. We received some excellent contributions but it was telling that this was the hardest feature to commission; business is, it seems, very reluctant to engage even on a soft level with Labour. Restoring that relationship is essential if we want to return to power. And before you start trolling me as “Red Tory scum”, not all business people are tax-dodging, super-rich wrong uns: in fact, most run small and medium-sized firms, want to grow and create good jobs for people, pay their taxes and do well for themselves and their employees. What is wrong with that? Labour must become the friend and champion of the modern business as well as the self-employed – an ever- growing part of the economy.

White house

Diversity is not just about gender, it’s about letting in all the other bits of society, too – regardless of class, sexuality, religion, age, disability and race. Racial diversity is definitely one area where progress has been too slow. A week after the Oscars ceremony, I attended an event on how to improve on-screen diversity; the chair of pop music’s Brit Awards has acknowledged that they are also too white and has promised change.

I accept that things are slowly improving, but we need a new narrative for black and Asian people in our culture and politics. We don’t just want to see Asian actors doing a story about forced marriage or playing a terrorist. And we don’t want black MPs being mistaken for cleaners – as happened when the former Tory minister David Heathcoat-Amory recently questioned Dawn Butler’s status as an MP on the Commons Terrace, then muttered: “They’re letting anybody in nowadays.” He’s right, of course . . . most folk will be surprised that an outdated social dinosaur like him is allowed anywhere near parliament.

Free markets

The Labour Party used to issue worthy press releases on maternity rights or affordable childcare to mark International Women’s Day. Not any more. Instead, the Labour leader has announced that he quite fancies the idea of decriminalising men trying to buy sex. Wowsers. Who’d have thought this’d be the one free market Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would be in favour of?

There are strong arguments on both sides of the argument but, in truth, most prostitution is brutal. If there is to be a policy debate on this, let’s look at the realities, focus on safety and not just listen to the most articulate, well-organised lobby. The most ­exploited, vulnerable and marginal women in prostitution seldom have a voice or a Belle de Jour lifestyle choice.

Last laugh

Before I worked for the Labour Party (sometimes even writing gags for Ed Miliband at PMQs), I was a stand-up comedian – insert own punchline here. Now I’ve decided to clamber back on the boards (it’s the comeback no one wanted) and perform a one-woman show about politics, power and the pink bus. This is either very brave and admirable or a huge cry for help. Only time will tell. I am nervous, but Jude Kelly, who runs the Women of the World festival at the Southbank in London, made a compelling pitch for why I should do it. Stories about working in politics are told largely by white men educated at Oxbridge. I’m this beige woman from Scotland who went to our third great university, Hull. And, besides, I have a lot of time on my hands . . . 

Ayesha Hazarika performs “Where Are the Women? Tales from the Pink Bus” at the Southbank Centre, London SE1 (11-13 March). More details: wow.southbankcentre.co.uk

Ayesha Hazarika is a former special adviser to Harriet Harman

This article appears in the 10 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Psycho