On Tuesday night, Channel 4 shows the first episode of its election comedy Ballot Monkeys. But its star Ben Miller Is worried that the programme could be eclipsed by the sheer hilarity of the real-life campaig says the actor who plays Liberal Democrat Kevin Sturridge, the campaign co-ordinator and a lifelong party man ground down by the humiliation of the Tory coalition.
“I loved it when the entire backdrop completely collapsed at a recent UKIP event. But now they’re looking a bit tame. They’ve not pushed it enough on the slapstick front. They’ll have to up their game. As Nigel Farage is talking to a factory worker, I’d like to see his tie get caught in a piece of dangerous equipment which proceeds to drag him across the factory floor. They need to go all out for the slapstick.”
However Miller believes the hilarity of the campaign proper will nevertheless provide a wealth of material for writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin to draw on.
“I’ve got such rich pickings playing a Lib Dem. Kevin is compromised on all levels, personally and politically. Keeping the campaign on the road is a major struggle for Kevin.
“I love the way the parties are not really bothering to put anything in their manifestos. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘We’ll probably do something a bit like this. But let’s face it, we’re not going to win so there’s no point saying what we’ll do in more detail. You know the kind of thing we do. If you fancy a stab at that, feel free.’ I’ve never known anything like it.”
As for the result of the real contest on 7th May, Miller is uncertain.
“We know that after the ballot all kinds of deal-making will be done. At the moment the parties are saying they’d refuse to form a coalition, but if they stuck to that, then it would be pointless having an election at all. If they won’t form a coalition, what are we bothering about? We’re in completely virgin territory for British elections, and it’s absolutely hilarious. That’s why it’s such a good subject for Andy and Guy to tackle.”
In the same way they wrote their 1990s newsroom comedy Drop the Dead Donkey, Hamilton and Jenkin will leave gaps in which to insert the highly topical material at the very last minute – something Miller believes brings a frisson to the role.
“It involves keeping your diary free and reacting to whatever happens. Shows are usually prepared months, if not years, in advance. So the immediacy of this is terrific. It’ll be such fun to watch something go out just hours after we’ve shot it.
“Hopefully it’ll be another way that people can engage with the democratic process. Much as I respect Russell Brand’s point of view, I’m in the opposite camp to him about voting. I think it’s enormously important to engage with the electoral process. I’m a voter. This show is also a chance to explore the personal lives of politicians. We so rarely get a glimpse of them. Everything in politics is so stage-managed. The machinery is so effective. But I think there is a real appetite to know what’s going on behind the scenes, and Ballot Monkeys will feed that.”
The comedy will cut between the various campaign buses of the four main parties – Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP. They are populated by an array of characters including press officers, line managers, empathy consultants, special advisers, IT wizards, social media monitors, political analysts, interns and even bus drivers.
Miranda actress Sarah Hadland is UKIP’s Kate Standen, an egotistical office support manager and ex-TV presenter.
Hattie Morahan plays Siobhan Hope, the Conservative Party’s women’s issues consultant, with Outnumbered star Hugh Dennis cast as fellow Tory Martin Frost, the party’s caustic deputy campaign manager.
Ballot Monkeys is on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm