The opening scene of Channel 4’s mockumentary UKIP: The First Hundred Days features a disclaimer: “None of the events that follow have actually happened.” Its implied qualifier ‘yet’ is left out, but nevertheless hangs over the show.
Border raids! Far-right riots! Mass unemployment! This could yet be a vision of the potential, horrifying, future under the UKIP jackboot.
How plausible it really seems, of course, depends on where each individual viewer is standing. Like a funhouse mirror, C4’s drama doesn’t so much appear to present an absolute, but to reflect back each person’s distinct political views and prejudices.
Perhaps it was just me, but I found Priyanga Burford’s fantastic acting as Deepa Kaur, UKIP’s only female Asian MP, deeply realistic. Other bits of UKIP’s imagined political future also rang true. Their core supporters’ confusion over UKIP’s libertarian gay marriage policies, and the way in which Deepa clung to tired party rhetoric about illegal immigrants being the true source of Britain’s economic woes, even after a disastrous EU-exit, also seemed cringe-inducingly real.
What did rankle, though, were lesser details. This show is clearly striving, if not for realism, than for a kind of believability. It contains winking re-enactments of tropes from those real-life C4 Meet the Minister documentaries, along with mock-ups of Guido Fawkes’ blog.
So why did it slightly strain credulity elsewhere? Would even Nigel Farage really smoke in his car on the way to be installed in No. 10? Could there actually be an exit from the EU without a promised referendum first? Would Lockheed Martin physically even be able to pull out of the entire country within 2 days? And since when does a ‘far-right’ rally wield Israeli flags, and not English ones?
The fact that this kind of thing was done for UKIP and not for any of the other minor parties barely 77 days before the General Election also seemed slightly dubious. As UKIP’s Party Chairman for Norwich South, Eric Masters, put it when I asked him what he’d made of the whole thing, “I’m looking forward to next week’s Channel 4 mockumentary, ‘1400 days in the life of Rotherham council – a Labour special.’ ”
It was significant that by far the most damning lines in this drama came not from the imagination of some cackling, New-Labour-voting Shoreditch new-media boogeyman, but in stock footage of actual UKIP candidates themselves. Godfrey Bloom (here, horrifyingly, re-imagined as UKIP’s ‘Minister for International Affairs’) has his “bongo-bongo land” whilst Janice Atkinson has her entirely-unscripted “ting tong”.
The reaction from some in the UKIP camp – that the programme’s use of stock footage was “misleading” and “unfair” – took me back to when American celebrities got terribly offended over Ricky Gervais joshing them about their past indiscretions at the Oscars. “But you actually did do those things!” squawked the indignant voice in my head. “Surely ‘bringing them up’ can’t be worse than actually doing them?”