Politics

From Boris to Starmer: The man behind Jonathan Pie takes on 2023's wildest political moments

Tom Walker has turned reacting to political moments into an artform through his comic creation Jonathan Pie. He joins the Big Issue to review 2023 in politics

Jonathan Pie

Satiricial comedy act Jonathan Pie is known for skewering politicians for millions of followers on social media. Image: Supplied

It’s been another banner year for British politics.

After 2022 saw three prime ministers, an Autumn Statement that put Britain on the brink of financial meltdown and an MP actually lose his seat for watching porn in the House of Commons, 2023 has been slightly more stable. But only just.

That’s bad news for all of us, except possibly Tom Walker. The comedian’s Jonathan Pie character has racked up 1.7 million followers on Facebook for his now infamous rants as a ranting and raging disillusioned broadcast news reporter.

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Jonathan Pie, who is heading on tour with his Heroes and Villains show in 2024, has made reacting to current affairs with righteous fury a trademark.

So the Big Issue invited Walker, the man behind Jonathan Pie, to our London HQ to discuss some of the biggest political stories of the year.

Nigel Farage’s row with NatWest over his bank account

Even before his bumper pay day in I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out of Here, Nigel Farage’s bank account was big news.

The former Ukip leader claimed his bank account at NatWest-owned private bank Coutts had been closed due to his political beliefs. That caused a row that even saw NatWest Group’s chief executive Alison Rose resign in July.

The dispute escalated after Farage uncovered internal documents showing Coutts’ discussion on his alleged “xenophobic, chauvinistic and racist views”.

An independent review, published this month, found no evidence of discrimination based on political views but did uncover serious failings in how the bank failed to tell clients why their accounts were being closed.

The lawyers behind the review found two cases where NatWest had closed accounts that did not fit its “purpose” but other factors such as a reputational risk to the bank and accounts being too costly to manage were also blamed.

Walker said: “The thing with the Nigel Farage bank account debacle is Nigel Farage was in the right. Which is never never a good thing. So yeah, that was bad that he was right.”

Boris Johnson resigning as an MP

Boris Johnson left 10 Downing Street in 2022. In 2023 he left politics entirely. Sort of – his Mail columns and upcoming GB News stint mean he won’t be that far from the spotlight.

The former prime minister resigned as an MP under a cloud in June after an investigation found he misled Parliament and recommended him to be suspended from the House of Commons.

Johnson opted not to face the punishment and quit his Uxbridge constituency, slamming the government and claiming a “witch hunt” in the process.

He also gave Rishi Sunak the headache of a by-election. Ironically enough, that would be the only one the prime minister would win all year, mainly thanks to the row over London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez).

Walker said Johnson’s departure was in his trademark style.

“He’s not telling us anything we didn’t already know. But it is proof he’s just a coward,” said Walker, who created Jonathan Pie in 2015.

“Because if he’d remained an MP, they’d have probably had a by-election and then we’d have seen if people liked him or not. I think he knew the answer to that.

“So he resigned before he had a chance to get kicked out. Which is typical Boris.”

The return of David Cameron

Another former prime minister who returned to the limelight, David Cameron being back in frontline politics was not on anyone’s prediction list.

Lord Cameron was parachuted into the House of Lords in November to take up the role of foreign secretary and help Sunak navigate the stormy waters in his own party and internationally.

No one saw the man who put Britain on the road to austerity and, ultimately, Brexit coming back into the fold.

“Papering over 14 years of turmoil, horror and incompetence by just going back to the start and pretending it never happened. But it did happen. I didn’t see that one coming,” said Walker.

But the comedian does see sense in the move.

He added: “It was possibly the smartest thing Rishi has ever done, because it took Suella off the front pages. Well, not all the front pages she’s still every day on the front page of the Telegraph. They love her. Insane.”

Suella Braverman describing street homelessness as a lifestyle choice

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has hit the headlines on a few occasions in 2023.

Braverman stoked controversy before she was finally sacked in November.

“Suella Braverman as an entity is really sort of a moment for the year. I mean, it’s just sort of how low can you go?” said Walker. “Her staying for as long as she did was proof that Sunak has got absolutely no authority.” 

Braverman resigned after provoking a row over the policing of Armistice Day protests but it was her comments regarding rough sleeping which originally got her in hot water.

The ex-cabinet minister’s claim that street homelessness is a “lifestyle choice” was widely condemned, not least by Walker.

“It just, sort of, beggars belief, doesn’t it? Does anyone think that she is right about that?” He added.

“I can’t believe that anyone thinks anyone living rough on the street – chances are they are an addict, chances are they probably have some mental health issues, chances are they are destitute. It’s going to be one of one or all of those three, right? No one chooses to be born in this world and goes: ‘When I grow up, I want to be a crackhead living on the street.’ That just has never happened.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer praising Thatcher

For many Labour supporters who can remember as far back as the 80s, the idea of a party leader praising Margaret Thatcher would have been unthinkable.

But it happened in 2023.

In an article penned for the Telegraph, Keir Starmer praised the Iron Lady for bringing “meaningful change in modern British politics”.

The move was an obvious attempt to attract Tory supporters ahead of the general election but risked alienating the Labour left even further as well as attempts to rebuild the Red Wall lost in 2019.

“That’s quite a curveball for a Labour leader. I didn’t see that coming. Full of surprises! But I also understand why Starmer has to go in the Telegraph and try and remove some Tory voters. He’s got to win the next election,” said Walker.

“I hate it when people go: ‘Oh, why’s he writing a column in The Sun?’ Do you want their vote or don’t you? And if you’re going to be a snob about it then you don’t want people’s vote because they read a different paper to you and then you’re going to continue to lose elections. So he should be willing these people but I’m not sure saying Thatcher was a good force for change is going to win many hearts and minds of the Labour heartland.”

The COP president is accused of saying there’s no science behind reducing gas and oil

It wasn’t just events in Britain that captivated Jonathan Pie creator Walker in 2023.

COP28 in Dubai may have finished with a commitment to phase out fossil fuels, but it was a bumpy road to get there.

The climate change summit kicked off with COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber allegedly insisting there was no science behind the need to phase out fossil fuels, according to The Guardian.

Al Jaber, the chief executive of UAE state oil company Adnoc, is reported to have said: “There is no science out there that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5C.”

Al Jaber later denied making the point and said he was surprised by the constant and repeated attempts” to undermine his presidency.

But the reports were enough to leave a mark on Walker, who questioned the progress made on saving the planet so far.

“We had another COP – so planet saved,” said Walker. “The president of COP said phasing out gas and oil won’t help. Basically there is a climate denier running the nearest chance we’ve got to may reversing some of the worst of climate change. And he’s just kind of saying it doesn’t really exist. it’s always been a waste of time.

“I suppose there is something to be said for at least the truth being revealed that there aren’t any politicians, no will to actually do anything. And at least that is not even hidden anymore. They have given up on humanity.”  

Jonathan Pie: Heroes and Villains’ runs from 23rd January-24th March 2024. Tickets at jonathanpie.com.

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