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Pub Landlord v Farage: at last, a humane way to out-Ukip Ukip

Al Murray is bringing a brilliantly bonkers form of satire to the election campaign

I wonder when Ukip’s first legal challenge to the Pub Landlord standing against Nigel Farage in South Thanet will come? After all, the anti-establishment party’s reflexive rush to hardline establishment tactics when mocked is too little celebrated.

Across the country, graffiti on Ukip campaign boards is repeatedly made a police matter. In Cambridge, at a Ukip councillor’s behest, cops visited a blogger who merely tweeted a series of “fact-checks” of Ukip policy, despite the force admitting that “there was nothing we could actually identify that required police intervention”. And the party’s south-east chair demanded that the police arrest protesters who call Ukip members “fascists”.

So, is the logo of the Pub Landlord’s Fukp – Free United Kingdom party – unacceptably close to that of Ukip’s? Is there some arcane law preventing people standing under an assumed identity? Has Nigel not technically copyrighted pint-holding? Presumably one of Ukip’s fearless defenders of our freedoms is already on the case.

Quite how long Farage will manage to laugh sportingly along at a much funnier caricature of himself is unclear. But the decision by the Pub Landlord’s creator, Al Murray, to stand against him is as sublimely promising of hilarity as it is bravely committed. I can’t find anything not to love about it.

Politics can get ugly for showbiz people, to pervert the old adage, and Murray will need a lot of stamina (comic and otherwise), depending on how seriously he means to apply himself to the task. But he may just have alighted on a humane way to out-Ukip Ukip, at least for those wavering voters who might be laughed away from their flirtations with the party. What perfection his promise to brick up the Channel tunnel sounds – “probably have to get some Poles in to do it” – when compared with nasty (and, according to the polls, ineffective) dog-whistling by either Labour or the Tories.

It’s a brilliantly bonkers form of satire, really, and though it would be a bit of a stretch to suggest that this is the destination to which politics should be heading – for grotesquely exaggerated versions of particular politicians to stand against those politicians – there is no doubt that in skilled hands, comedy can refresh the parts other smears cannot reach. Cometh the hour, cometh the landlord.

I met Farage for a pint and newspaper feature 18 months ago, during the course of which the Ukip leader giggled that Ed Miliband would probably drink “a fruit crush”. That may well have been his slightly fumbling way of essaying the Pub Landlord’s famous insistence on “a fruit-based drink for the lady”. Either way, Nigel is going to have to sharpen up his act in a manner he can’t possibly have predicted, with his much praised gift for self-mockery finally meeting a challenge worthy of its notices.

That such a man has been able to make serious waves says everything about the smallness of our politics as opposed to the stature of Farage. A former banker, he is one of this septic isle’s two leading faux rebels – the other one being Jeremy Clarkson, the anti-establishment prime ministerial tennis partner, Murdoch columnist and key member of the soi disant Chipping Norton set, whose sole claim to rebellion is a biannual instance of casual racism.

Farage’s outsider pose is similarly comical. Someone who once had a spell of dealings with Madonna described her to me as a person who talks about sex a lot, but in the manner of a grown woman who still thinks sex is rude.

As time wears on, I can’t help feeling there is something of this to Farage, who still basically regards having a pint as looking cool. Which it is, when you’re 14 and can find somewhere to serve you, but should have lost at least a smidge of its self-admiring edge by the time you’re 50. The style of pint-toting pictures beloved of Farage really belongs on the social media accounts of the under-16s, above captions like “TRASHED DOT COM FORWARD SLASH WASTED!!!!! #bosh #ledge #howweroll”.

Do we get the rebels we deserve? I suppose so. In his splendid book The English Rebel, David Horspool points out how often rebels have come as much from within the establishment as the mob of peasants far below. Furthermore, he observes how often English rebels have tended to look nostalgically back, as opposed to radically forward. Many rebels resisted the Norman invasion for a long time, longing for 1065 and all that. “We seek no change,” declared one Chartist. “We say give us the good old laws of England unchanged.”

This yesteryear hankering is the nicer side of what Ukip does, and I was struck during my pint with Nige by how he was nostalgic even for the earlier days of Ukip. He got positively misty-eyed about high jinks at bygone party conferences, back when nobody paid attention to what they were up to – so you can only imagine how he’d get about his vision of Thanet circa 1965.

And so to Thanet. Quite what this poor district has done in a past life is unclear, but many of its residents must have been dreading the prospect of the next few months, in which politics will be done to them without mercy or respite. Even last October, a few months after Farage had confirmed he would stand, a portrait of Thanet in the London Review of Books found Ramsgate to be “infested with journalists”, which is the absolute worst type of infestation (infestations of MPs being largely confined to a couple of central London buildings for most of the year).

Consequently, the author of the LRB piece found himself interviewing an 18-year-old Ukip activist in a Caffè Nero beneath the nose of the producer of Benefits Street (there to make a film about Thanet). One can only imagine the London-sent horrors to be visited upon the constituency’s infrastructure once the election gets under way (and I speak as one of the horrors, obviously).

One of my fantasies is that the good burghers of Thanet will rightly judge that the media invasion is far more wantonly repulsive than anything eastern Europe can throw at them, and decline to send Mr Farage to Westminster.

With Ladbrokes offering odds of 66-1 on the Pub Landlord winning the seat, it looks deeply unlikely that the voters will send him instead – but then, you’d hazard that he might anyway withdraw from the ballot on the eve of the election. The real fantasy scenario, in which he is actually elected, is obviously too horrible a fate to wish upon a man who is already performing a valuable public service.