THE BBC has commissioned a comedy about Nigel Farage, a project which seems ill-advised on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.
Where, for a start, do you draw the line between satire and real life? Only this week the former leader of Ukip attended a Donald Trump rally in the US, where the Donald introduced him as the Brexit. He was faced with a crowd lacking in Nigel knowledge: they weren’t sure who he was, why he was there or exactly what this Brexit thing was (a worrying condition that afflicts many people in this country too, whether or not they voted Leave).
So what did Farage do? He just stood there with his balls of brass and did the usual Farage routine, tapping into general feelings of discontent, glossing over his own contradictions, such as pretending to be one of the ordinary little people, and raised a cheer from the adoring ranks of the Trump-addled audience.
Afterwards on the BBC news a grit-for-brains Trump supporter was enthusiastic, smiling as she said something along the lines of: “Y’all got your country back with that there Brexit and now we want one too.”
Trying to fashion a comedy out of all this seems like a bad idea, truly terrible. Yet that is what the BBC is proposing with a one-off comedy called Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back.
If the writers intend to take a satirical approach, this may prove tricky as, much like a self-basting turkey, Farage does the job for himself. The man is a walking, self-summoned skit, both real and a parody in the same beery breath.
And whatever you think of him, Farage is so uniquely Nigel that any actor tasked with pulling off an impersonation is almost certain to fall short. Yet actor Kevin Bishop is reportedly thrilled by the challenge. That’s “Porridge star Kevin Bishop” according to the report in the Guardian, four words that came wrapped in confusion for this reader. I couldn’t recall him in Porridge at all. Turns out Bishop is playing the grandson of Norman Stanley Fletcher in a one-off BBC remake of the classic prison comedy.
Well I don’t know about that either. The BBC is remaking a number of classic sitcoms in this manner – an idea as appealing to me as watching a comedy about Nigel Farage.
At this point I now wish to swerve left (or is it right) into the death of neoliberalism. It’s a bit of a jump but hopefully I won’t slip.
Last Sunday, Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism today and noted China-watcher, wrote a long and interesting article for the Observer charting the crisis in western politics. He put this down to the collapse of neoliberalism, the dominant political ideology of the age. You know, the globalisation is good one. The one that led to the financial crisis of 2007-8. The one caused by banks, bankers and business leaders who mostly escaped censure or punishment, while the rest of us bailed them out.
Jacques wrote: “For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else.”
Now though, Jacques argued, the wheels are falling off the neoliberal bus. His thesis is too nuanced to capture here (find the original online: it’s a good read).
At the heart of his argument is that globalisation has led to rising inequality and a sense that life is now no longer playing fair. And it is this strong but amorphous sense of anger and disappointment that Nigel Farage has tapped into, placing his mouth beneath and drinking straight from the barrel.
This growing evidence of inequality, something largely ignored until quite recently, also helps explain the popularity of politicians from different spheres: everyone from Trump and Farage to Bernie Saunders and Jeremy Corbyn have tapped into the same vein. They might not agree on much or even anything on the surface: but something they have in common is a belief that life as it is now constructed is unfair to too many ordinary people who have been left behind in a rush to flatten trade and turn the world into a financial roulette machine for the immensely wealthy few.
Well, that’s my take on what Martin Jacques had to say. I still don’t think I will be able to watch Nigel Farage Gets His Life Back. Much as with those old sitcoms, the original is too fresh in my mind (horribly fresh). But Farage’s bizarre Trump turn did also remind his supporters what they have lost: he might turn my stomach, but Nigel Farage is a class act in Ukip terms and will be almost impossible to replace. Most of the candidates seem too dull for words, having not yet had time to become grotesque versions of themselves in order to perform in the Punch and Judy pantomime of politics.