Channel 4’s latest ‘mockumentary’ has made the po-faced right very angry
The First 100 Days, a dystopian look by Channel 4 at life under a UKIP government, has prompted more than a thousand complaints to Ofcom since it was broadcast on Monday evening. It has also been thoroughly panned by the critics. “A sad, predictable, desperate hatchet job,” was how James Delingpole described it in the Spectator. The Daily Mail is even agitating for an Ofcom investigation into how the programme got made in the first place.
And so Channel 4’s latest ‘mockumentary’ has got the po-faced right sounding off like the po-faced left, which is itself quite an achievement. It is also probably what the makers of the programme had in mind from the start, for it is hard to believe that the programme was ever meant to be taken seriously: one of its vignettes has an imagined UKIP government making morris dancing compulsory. Calm down Mr Dellingpole; I believe they are ribbing you.
Though this is not one of the best, as with the best caricatures there is an element of truth beneath the way Channel 4 sends up of Nigel Farage’s so-called peoples’ army. Indeed, self-satisfied liberals though the makers of the programme probably are, you cannot help people being right for the wrong reasons. And right they are: the first 100 days of a UKIP government probably would be the shambolic and nasty affair as depicted by Channel 4.
UKIP supporters may sound like they want to take Britain back to a bygone era of tripe shops and bread and butter pudding, but really they long to return to a place which only ever existed in their own sepia-tinged imaginations. UKIP is attractive as a political project because it effectively summons an imaginary image of the legendary Golden Age. Not that this is unusual in politics. Even the Communism of Marx and Engels relies on the idea of a primitive communist society which existed at the beginning of the thread of the dialectic.
However in contrast to the far-left, UKIP’s battalion of angry little men appear to believe that one scheme of values and way of life really can last for ever. Such an outcome is obviously unattainable, and thus ‘Kippers’ invariably exist in a perpetual state of disappointment and frustration with the world.
Most people of liberal sentiment (and for obvious reasons most young people) see through this nonsense as automatically as a cow turns grass into milk. What they usually fail to grasp, however, is just how seductive the notion of stopping the world to get off is for those on society’s periphery. It is after all easy to sit at a desk in Islington, in a job you only got because you come from a good family and espouse conventional liberal opinions, and lecture people on council estates about the merits of cheap Polish labour and polygamy. From any coddled ivory tower it never takes long for the oppressed to begin to seem a little less oppressed.
But the most common response to The First 100 Days, emanating largely from the right, does what I have done in the paragraph above but takes things further; it sees the problem not as UKIP but as a ‘liberal metropolitan elite’. So Brendan O’Neill writes in Spiked that “Ukiphobia is fuelled by something utterly unprogressive in nature: a disdain, even a disgust, for the little people, for those who still wave the national flag and eat chips”.
In this universe, the problem is not so much the casual racism of UKIP as the sneering contempt shown toward the party by moneyed and cosmopolitan liberals. Once you strip away the veneer of anti-racism and internationalism from the contemporary progressive, all you have left is a visceral contempt for the corpulent and feckless white working class – a detestation which “makes every other prejudice in 21st century Britain pale into insignificance in comparison”, as O’Neill puts it.
One can certainly detect a whiff of snobbery in portrayals of UKIP as either uncouth white trash or the Conservative Party with the lid off. But there is an awful feeling that right-wing commentators such as Mr O’Neill (Douglas Murray and Julie Burchill also deploy this shtick) have suddenly discovered the working class only because its noisiest corners reflect back at them their own hostility toward both immigration and their liberal peers.
UKIP supporters have convincingly been described by academics Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford as the ‘left behind’ voters – white face, blue collar, grey hair; yet critics in the Brendan O’Neill mould show very little interest in how the white working class were left behind in the first place; instead the latter are treated as rhetorical devices to be deployed against the multiculturalist fancies of ‘affluent’ and ‘sneering’ north Londoners.
Since the 2008 financial crash, genuine friends of the so-called ‘left behind’ classes have been busy pushing back against the alienating economic orthodoxy of the past 30 years. And yet for right-wing writers who have made careers on the back of whipping up irrational fears of the nanny state this would be like chewing on broken glass, and so we end up with futile hand-wringing directed at frivolous liberals with their khaki sandals and hemp cardigans.
The First 100 Days is plainly intended as a not-very-serious send up of what a Britain ruled by a UKIP government would look like. The chastened response on the part of the right-wing commentariat is supposed to be something far more serious; yet it is the over-earnest critics who emerge looking ridiculous.
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.