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Nigel Farage pyjamas, the Olivia Colman backlash and dogging with Melvyn Bragg

"I feel like such a fool. I see now that, far from being a chaotic rabble of whingeing narcissists whose only love of Britain is for its imaginary past, it’s actually a team of visionaries with a dynamic plan to serve the common good."

Monday found me still pondering how I could have got it so very wrong about Ukip.

You see, before the county council elections, I had been entirely bamboozled by a lazy misconception. I don’t know what it was – the Westminster orthodoxy, the leftwing media or just the experience of talking to the kinds of people who vote Ukip – but somehow I had allowed myself to fall under the impression that Ukip was just a tiresome bunch of reactionary old bastards.

I feel like such a fool. I see now that, far from being a chaotic rabble of whingeing narcissists whose only love of Britain is for its imaginary past, it’s actually a team of visionaries with a dynamic plan to serve the common good. There’s no excuse for my misjudgement: I grew up in Lincolnshire, the county where Ukip holds its annual conference and where it has made spectacular gains.

So I really ought to have known that the stereotype of the average Ukip member – an indignant ex-Tory who pines for the days when he could drive home after four pints’ worth of swapping jokes about women and foreigners to complain about the meal indifferently prepared by the wife who hadn’t yet divorced him and then shout at the TV news about how much more agreeable for pissartist baby boomers with no formal qualifications Britain used to be when you could watch the price of your house double every few years and say “poof” with impunity – well, I should have seen just how wide of the mark that was. No, according to serious politicians, they now deserve our respect. The concerns of their voters are real, as real as any Daily Mail headline about immigration.

So I apologise. And I’m not the only one. Bart Simpson has also expressed regret about his Nigel Farage pyjamas. His publicist said: “Of course Bart loves Mr Farage for the funny things he says. But wearing pyjamas with Mr Farage’s face on has been taken as a sign of disrespect in a way Bart never intended for such a major statesperson. He’s gone back to his Justin Bieber ones now. Bieber Fever!” So buck up, everyone. Insulting Ukip doesn’t achieve anything. Unlike voting for it.

Chancellor at the next checkout

The family trip to the supermarket has been revolutionised by the forehead-slapping insight that if you get two trolleys and put a toddler in each, then you avoid: a) high opera about who gets to sit in the trolley and b) Ian McEwansian dread about either of them just disappearing (parenting tip: do not read the first 30 pages of The Child in Time and expect cloudless dreams).             

At one point, I take our three-year-old through the concept of putting things back on the shelves if you find you don’t have enough money to buy them. This hasn’t happened to me since about 1997 but the memory of colossal inconvenience/ear-burning shame is still vivid. I won’t say that George Osborne would be a better chancellor if he’d had a similar experience. Still, the trouble with trying to imagine him not being able to afford things in a supermarket is that first you have to imagine him in a supermarket. It takes some doing.

Theory test

The recent arrests of Jim Davidson and Jimmy Tarbuck for alleged sexual abuse reminded me of Alexei Sayle’s theory of the difference between mainstream and alternative comedians of the 1980s: “An alternative comedian is a nice man pretending to be nasty; a mainstream comedian is a nasty man pretending to be nice.” Yep, I’m sold. The theory also rings true if you substitute the word “nice” with the word “funny”. The exception was Les Dawson, who was both funny and nice. And Victoria Wood. And, on the other hand, you hear a lot about Keith Allen being rude to people and Ben Elton hurting flies. So maybe it’s not such a good theory. I hate this theory! We need a new theory. Erm, “An alternative comedian is an anachronism pretending to be Frankie Boyle and Frankie Boyle is a nice man recruiting his inner demons for the service of comedy with frequent and often enjoyable lapses in taste – I mean, someone’s got to do it.” Too long? OK, “Jimmy Carr is peculiar.” Cracked it! Good theory. 

Think of the children

If it’s Thursday, I must be accepting Melvyn Bragg’s kind invitation to his famous annual Cottage Pie and Dogging Garden Charity Tombola! Sadly untrue but I’ve seen other Diary paragraphs start like that and I was trying to keep up. I do get invited to the odd glamorous shindig but I never go. I’m knackered. I’m knackered all the time. My stupid, tiny children wake me up at 5.48am every single morning. Blame them. Blame them that I can’t tell you the showbiz secrets: what Russell Brand smells like these days or what Martin Amis guardedly says about caravans. So I blame my children and I don’t care if they know. Children! Are you teenagers now? Are you reading this in the NS archive on what is currently called “the internet” but which you call “the telly”? Do your homework.

Tough justice

I was watching the Baftas on Sunday night and I thought it was about time someone started the Olivia Colman backlash. I mean, she’s in everything. And she’s brilliant in everything she’s in. And I’ve worked with her for years and she’s amazingly nice. And her husband is even nicer. And I’ve seen her being patronised by idiots and lied to by unscrupulous people and now they can all suck it up and that’s terrific. She wins. I can’t believe the justice of it. God, I’m depressed.

Robert Webb will star in Ambassadors on BBC2 this Autumn. Olivia Colman isn’t in it, though, so it probably won’t win a Bafta

Robert Webb is a comedian, actor and writer. Alongside David Mitchell, he is one half of the double act Mitchell and Webb, best known for award-winning sitcom Peep Show.

This article first appeared in the 20 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Dream Ticket