The Charlie Hebdo shootings and the disregard for freedom of speech instilled in the ideology of the murderers has no doubt united thousands. Under the banner of expression and the right to free speech the world has responded with a vigorous two fingers up to anybody who attempts to supress their voice.
With free speech comes responsibility to use its power. In the words of Salman Rushdie ideas “deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.” To turn the issue of freedom of speech back towards a more light-hearted issue I would urge you to look back across the English Channel to Al Murray and FUKP. Under the guise of his creation, the ‘Pub Landlord’, the comic is igniting the fuse of satire in a huge way, evidencing, as ever, the power of possessing the freedom to mock power.
It would appear that amongst the stoic who are able to endure the full monotony of British politics, a comedy candidate is as much a grievance as the politicians they satirise. Leaning over the parapet of satire, Al Murray will no doubt have been met by thousands of stony-faced realists. Too serious about the state of policy to recognize the existence or function of comedy, these people will invariably have missed the point.
Like Russell Brand before him, albeit in a more flippant tone, Murray is undeniably enfranchising more people into politics. Love or loathe Brand, the sales of his book ‘Revolution’ sold 22,000 copies in 11 days. Likewise his appearance with Nigel Farage on Newsnight drew in the largest viewing figures of the series. Looking at the Newsnight Twitter response, Brand succeeded in his aims that evening, with #newsnight evidencing an outpouring of ridicule at Farage’s backwards ideology.
My issue however with Brand is that for all his beautiful, verbose, mastery of language, his ideology isn’t watertight. Herein lies the genius of the Pub Landlord’s approach. He doesn’t need watertight ideology. He is undertaking an immense task, but what he is doing is simply a brilliant satirical mission.
The utter lunacy of Murray’s Free United Kingdom Party policy serves to ‘out-UKIP UKIP’, but in a totally safe and humane way. Policies such as ‘bricking up the Channel Tunnel’ to keep out immigrants and ‘starting a war with Germany’, serves to highlight UKIP’s absurd stance without the need to appeal to its voters. Unlike the major parties Murray can openly satirise, highlighting Farage’s dangerous status as ‘a pound shop Ezra Pound’. Murray’s achievement is that the Pub Landlord is a comedy caricature of all that Farage really is, and the most valuable method of defusing Farage is to reflect just this irony.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nigel Farage failed to get just that irony. He welcomed the competition of Murray stating, “the more the merrier… especially from the man who is David Cameron’s sixth cousin.”
This is true—Murray is a distant relative of David Cameron, linked through 19th-century Vanity Fair author William Thackeray. What Farage fails to realise however is that in pointing out the link to hierarchical bloodlines, he is undercutting himself.
Murray, unlike Farage, knows he isn’t an outsider or the voice of the disenfranchised masses. Nigel Farage, pictured on Boxing Day at a hunt, publicly educated and a former broker, is genuinely founding a career on an outsider-act image. The Pub Landlord is a heavily educated and wealthy person dressed as a mock-xenophobic man of the people. Nigel Farage is, well, exactly the same.
As if on cue, Farage has spoken out in the press against Paris’s plans to sue Fox News, serving to further validate Murray’s satire. Despite being founded on incoherent nonsense and despite the station being a one-stop shop for pathological liars, Farage has supported the statement of “no-go zones” in the city. He has attributed this to the “moral cowardice” of Britain and European countries. Presumably this is the kind of all-encompassing, multicultural cowardice he will stamp out.
FUKP’s heavy-handed policy on immigration can only be compared to an anti-assimilation bulldozer. Al Murray is propping up the mirror perfectly, reflecting back Farage’s rhetoric with the added layer of comic incoherency it so deserves.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, the stony-faced amongst us have stated Murray is simply making a mockery of the political system. Patrick Kidd, a diarist at The Times, similarly pointed out Murray’s Oxford education as a failing of the campaign, showing you don’t have to be a one-brain celled bigot to miss the point.
Murray is mocking the political system to an extent. However we’re all part of a system that allows the medieval policy of Farage to be cultivated. Arguably we deserve to be mocked, maybe we need to take a long look at ourselves. In that sense he is possibly providing a greater public service than any other self-interested political party.
Where the campaign perhaps falls down is in its introversion. Whilst sat watching Great Britain, a play mocking the gutter press currently garnering rave reviews in London, I felt the same twinge I do now. As I looked around the room at the laughing audience who had paid to watch a satirical look at the media I realised that we were laughing, but that the message was one we already knew. Murray perhaps will face the same problem.
His strength is that he is in the public sphere far more than Great Britain, for example, however whether his message will be lost on those that need to recognize it remains to be seen. Whether he can truly make a UKIP supporter recognize their blindness will be the real test of his mission.
One thing that is certainly true though, is that one more person evidencing the backwardness of Farage and his backwards party is by no means a bad thing. If Murray can engage the public to even half the degree that Russell Brand has through a less serious but possibly more poignant campaign, then his contribution to the election will be a good one.
Al Murray might just provide a moral conscience often totally missing in politics.