Ayesha takes a look at a nation in a proper state

Ayesha Hazarika. Picture by Steve Ullathorne.
Ayesha Hazarika. Picture by Steve Ullathorne.
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Since Ayesha Hazarika spoke with The Guide, odds are she’s had to rip up a fair bit of her show and start again.

The stand-up comic, turned political advisor, who has reverted to comedy, is on the road with her new show State of The Nation, which looks back at her own time in Westminster, while also casting a satirical eye over the current political climate.

I’m doing everything with one eye on the news and thinking how it’s going to effect the show

Ayesha Hazarika

When we spoke, in what now seems like a different era, Theresa May had only recently announced the snap election.

She says: ‘The PM has been very thoughtful in announcing a snap election as I launched my tour about politics – although I was slightly cursing her – as a stand-up I thought I had all my material locked down and then, boom.

‘I came on stage with my script that evening and just ripped it up and said: “Welcome to my day”.

‘I’m doing everything with one eye on the news and thinking how it’s going to effect the show.’

Ayesha spent nine years as a senior special advisor to Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband, and even ran, unsuccessfully, as a parliamentary candidate in 2010. But when Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership race in 2015, she decided it was time to leave.

‘That was like a natural jumping point. When a new leader comes in they want to bring in their own team and if you were closely associated with someone else, then it’s curtains for you.

‘But I had been doing that role as a political advisor for about nine years which is a pretty good innings. I didn’t really have a massive plan that I would do the commentating and stand-up thing. The political commentating has come up quite organically, I was invited to write a couple of things and appear on some shows and it’s gone from there.

‘But the stand-up thing was funny, there’s this wonderful woman, Jude Kelly who runs the South Bank Centre, and back in 2015 she made a bit of a bet with me when we were doing something for International Women’s Day. She said, look if you don’t win the general election, you should think about doing something artistic on your time in politics – there are not many women who’ve talked about their time in politics. And at the time I was like (she gives a big forced belly laugh) “Ahahaha! We’ll win the general election and I shall be in 10 Downing Street with prime minister Ed Miliband”.’

She pauses.

‘That obviously didn’t happen.’

Before taking a rather sharp turn into politics, Ayesha had been carving herself out a career as stand-up. Had she missed the stand-up while politicking?

‘I didn’t really have time to, being in frontline politics is so all consuming, but I did vicariously live out my comedy through senior politicians like Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman, I would write speeches for them and do prime minister’s questions and conference speeches. If you ever heard a dodgy joke in any of those it may have had my hand in it.’

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Ayesha found her joke-writing skills in demand from quite a few MPs.

‘Humour is really important in communication and politics – a good joke could really cut through and make a good point.

‘It makes you look good and competent, I think it’s something a lot of politicians try to do, but it does take a lot of work and sometimes let’s just say that the delivery machine doesn’t work so well.

‘I would get people say I’m off to deliver a speech, can you text me a gag? To do a good political joke though, you’ve got to work quite hard at it, and it’s got to be in your voice and have a political truth about it. We did have some good ones. When Harriet Harman did her first ever PMQs against William Hague, we worked up a good gag. She’d got herself in a bit of a pickle – she’d been pictured in her own constituency wearing a stab vest, and we knew he was going to have a go at her about it, so we came up with this joke about not taking fashion advice from a man wearing a baseball cap. It’s not the best joke, but it worked well there.

‘The stuff that went well, I’d take credit for, the stuff that didn’t was all them – but now I’m doing stand-up I can’t blame anyone else!’

And she’s looking on the bright side of the shifting political sands and its effect on her own show.

‘It’s actually quite good, given that it’s a show about politics. Although a fair bit of it is retrospective, it’s good to keep sharpening it up. It’s nice for people to come along and see something that’s current, and I’ll be reflecting on some of the things that have happened recently.’

Can she see herself going back in ‘the bubble’?

‘Never say never, but at the moment I’m very much focussed on my show and I’m actually writing a book. And having been in the Westminster bubble for nearly 20 years – I was a civil servant before I was a special advisor. It’s probably quite good to be out of it for a bit and to see things from another perspective.

‘I massively love politics and I think when you’ve done it like I have, it’s in your blood.

‘It’s a great privilege to give your opinion about politics. When you’re a background person, like I was and you’re very much behind the scenes, you craft what someone else is going to say. It’s quite nice to have my own voice after all this time. It’s quite liberating to not have to think: what is the line?’

Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham

Thursday, July 6