WeeklyWorker

19.02.2015
Priganga Burford plays Deepa Kaur

As effective as a marzipan dildo

Chris Atkins (director) Ukip: the first 100 days Channel 4, February 16

Before this ‘docudrama’ - or ‘mockumentary’, if you prefer - was aired on Monday evening, UK Independence Party supporters had already got their Union Jack-patterned Y-fronts all bunched up about the lefty/liberal elitist bias of the media. At the time of writing, according to the Daily Mail (and they would be the first to shout about it), the number of complaints has reached over 700.1

The accusations of political bias came from a range of complainants, not just the “fruitcakes and loonies” of Ukip. The Twitteratis’ keyboards have been ablaze with righteous indignation. Of course, the show was politically biased against Ukip. It was designed to lampoon Nigel Farage et al. Though, according to The Guardian, a Channel 4 spokesman said:

The rise of Ukip’s electoral support and their prominence in opinion polls is the political phenomenon of recent years. This is a timely and innovative exploration of the effect their policies might have on Britain. As a public service broadcaster, we will comply with Ofcom rules on due impartiality within the programme. The programme is fully compliant with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code and our obligations.2

The idea that the media is unbiased is ludicrous - whether liberal or conservative, it serves the interests of the establishment. This fictional offering was so crude that it could not be seen as anything other than anti-Ukip. As satire I see no problem with that - Have I got news for you takes the piss out of Farage unsparingly, for example. However, the problem with Ukip: the first 100 days was that it was artistically dreadful in both style and content. Channel 4 claimed that it wanted to engage younger viewers in politics - hence the way the ‘docudrama’ was presented. Initially the plan was to have done something similar about the Greens - which would almost certainly have provoked a vocal protest from those of our friends in Left Unity who are pushing for an electoral alliance with the more socially acceptable face of the petty bourgeoisie.

The hour-long show spliced actual footage of Nigel Farage and Neil Hamilton (not to mention Godfrey Bloom’s “Bongo-Bongo” outburst) with fictional scenes. It envisaged the first three months after a victory for the Kippers in May’s general election. Stylistically it reeked of a combination of Channel 4 naff drama and populist documentary (an ad for The Romanians are coming was even screened in one of the breaks, in case we weren’t all titillated enough). It appeared to be trying very hard to emulate the dystopic style of Charlie Brooker’s Black mirror series, but without any of the intrigue or finesse.

The programme imagined how Ukip’s policy to quit the European Union (Brexit) would lead to companies pulling out of Britain, which in turn would produce large-scale unemployment. Eventually, as EU immigration is stopped, illegal immigrants are targeted by a huge, ex-military-staffed border force. Apparently the “same Indian restaurants” are being constantly raided - is this connected to Ukip’s anti-EU immigration policy? Is India now in the EU? Are illegal immigrants not already currently targeted by the state? I personally have witnessed in Southall, west London, the arrest of ‘illegal’ workers from India, as they waited to be picked up for a day’s labour.

Anyway, the country descends into riots featuring both the English Defence League (far-right hooligans are shown holding up an Israeli flag) and the Save Sabir campaign (Sabir is a young migrant falsely accused of assaulting the police) - which has all the appearances of Unite Against Fascism. All of this takes place on a new bank holiday, named National Pride Day, with its sinister undertones, when the naive go all warm and fuzzy for a day of street parties and Mary Berry bake-offs. It struck me as not dissimilar to the enforced patriotism surrounding the marriage of William Windsor and Kate Middleton or Liz’s latest jubilee, but I do not recall any criticism on the part of Channel 4 then.

To back up the tediously predictable plot, we are given tediously predictable characters. The primary focus being Deepa Kaur, newly elected MP for Romford, on the edges of north east London. Deepa is not only second-generation Indian and a woman, but also articulate, and is earmarked for greater things in Ukip’s leadership (that’s one criterion more than is required to be promoted in many left circles). We meet her proud, doting parents and brother, who makes no secret of his opposition to her politics. To add to this obvious racial stereotyping of British-Asians, we are treated to another scene, where Deepa is doing a bit of PR round the market to meet some white working class punters. There is little bit of - no harm meant - casual racism on the part of the stallholders, along the lines of “No offence, my brother married one of your lot. Makes a mean ruby an’ all.” It comes across as poorly observed.

Deepa is shown not as bigoted, but as having ‘conservative values’. She tells a Ukip gathering: “When I was 10 years old, my family bought its first car: not through benefits, not through getting into debt, but through saving.” Of course, we are shown the real face of bigotry later on when Deepa meets a Women’s Institute member who asks if Ukip will repeal the laws on gay marriage. Deepa is quick to defend the right of people to their own personal lives - presumably because writer and director Chris Atkins sees her as a ‘modern conservative’ who is ultimately redeemable and does not believe that gay marriage causes inclement weather.

We also meet the unacceptable face of white racism of the ‘Send ’em all home’ school of thought. Despite Deepa having been exempted from this targeting because she is “on our side”, we are none too subtly confronted with her growing realisation that Ukip might not be on the side of all that is fair and good after all. In the end, true to predictable form, Deepa witnesses brutality by border guards who attack the young illegal migrant, Sabir, and with the encouragement of her brother (who happens to lead the Save Sabir campaign) she reports the matter to the police. That costs her her ministerial post, but saves her conscience. It was pretty vomit-inducing stuff.

Ukip sources have claimed that the ‘mockumentary’ is “typical of the poppycock peddled by the public school-educated lefties who run Channel 4 and large chunks of the media”.3 Nigel Farage had initially been invited to do an interview with Jeremy Paxman and Jon Snow following the broadcast of Ukip: the first 100 days, but it was cancelled due to “scheduling issues”. Such an interview might have caused more embarrassment for Ukip (it has not been unknown for Farage’s cack-handed chauvinism to make him an easy target) than anything Atkins could come up with. After all, the programme was about as politically nuanced as a 1930s collective-farm musical comedy - it is unlikely to have changed anyone’s mind about voting for (or against) Ukip.

There are some who took the show seriously, however. The Guardian’s Zoe Williams was frightened by this seemingly plausible view of the future - so much so she was “scrabbling around in [her] brain for an exit strategy, should the scenario come true”.4 Meanwhile, The Independent’s Ellen E Jones comments: “If it had more of The thick of it’s sneer, it might have been funnier, but it would also have been less effective at the job in hand - scaring the bejesus out of mainstream voters.”5 Hmm. To quote the legendary Malcolm Tucker himself, I thought it was “about as effective as a marzipan dildo”. And if it had been more like The thick of it, it would have been funnier, sharper, politically more realistic and generally less hackneyed and infantile in terms of its plot.

If you want competent if far-fetched political satire, Alan Plater’s and Mick Jackson’s adaptation of Chris Mullin’s A very British coup is much nearer the mark, while Chris Morris’s Brass eye was far more edgy and controversial. And if you are looking for the portrayal of a dystopian, fascistic future provoked by complacency, you could do worse than Brooker’s Black mirror -not least the season two finale, The Waldo moment. By contrast Ukip: the first 100 days lacked both humour and subtlety. It may have appealed to “younger viewers” in a crass way, but at the expense of any political sophistication.

Sarah McDonald

Notes

1.Daily Mail February 17.

2. The Guardian February 16.

3. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/02/ukip-the-first-100-days-shows-the-media-finds-it-easier-to-laugh-at-than-understand-the-party.

4. The Guardian February 16.

5. The Independent February 17.