The Mekong River, Vietnam.
Purple UKIP rosettes litter the surrounding waters, float on the surface like bigoted lotus flowers. The peace is interrupted by the frothing approach of my patrol boat as it roars upstream. I am on a mission of the most crucial nature and having already endured swarms of malaria-ridden mosquitos and poor WiFi reception, there is no turning back now.
Following his recent defeat in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election to Labour candidate Gareth Snell, UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has disappeared and is rumoured to have set himself up as a god deep in the Cambodian jungle.
My objective: to locate the missing UKIP leader and satirise with extreme prejudice. At first, I thought they handed me the wrong dossier: a PhD in History (citation needed), survivor of the Hillsborough Disaster (citation needed), played professionally for Tranmere Rovers FC (citation needed), board member of North West Training Council (citation needed).
I wanted a mission and, for my sins, they gave me one.
The ship continues its tenacious chug upstream, snaking through the mangled vines and morass, deeper into the heart of darkness, where Nuttall awaits. He was close, and whatever was going to happen, it wasn’t going to be the way they called it in Stoke. Ethereal flare smoke disperses to reveal Nuttall’s temple-fortress. A vast flotilla of black and white minstrels stand on canoes, gazing passively as I approach. My battered vessel makes the final push, crawling towards the ominous stronghold like a junky mollusc, before finally coming to rest at a makeshift embankment.
Apprehended by his followers, I am marched towards the fortified headquarters. Ascending the ancient steps, we pass the decaying remnants of the infamous ‘Breaking Point’ billboard, now conquered by jungle vegetation. Nearby, boxes of duty-free Silk Cut are stacked as offerings beneath a crude effigy of Nigel Farage. Sidestepping the military sandbags and White Lightning bottles, we proceed inside the structure, where I am thrown into a dimly lit chamber.
“Are you an assassin?” a voice asks from the darkness.
“I’m a writer,” I respond.
“You’re neither. You’re an errand boy, sent by an independent culture publication to create content.”
From the shadows emerges a tweed clad and wild-eyed Nuttall, exuding an air somewhere between Pol Pot and Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown.
“Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedom from political correctness, from the EU, from the shackles of logic and reason?” asks the Liverpudlian demigod, adjusting his faux-prole flatcap in a non-existent mirror.
I remain silent.
“We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to privatise the NHS!” he proclaims. Nuttall proceeds to affirm his demented manifesto: waterboarding; capital punishment; VAT-free fish and chips; mandatory clothing for household pets. Indeed, the man is insane.
“That’s neither here nor there,” Nuttall interjects. “The point is UKIP serves to free Britain from the corrupt and undemocratic bureaucracy of the European Union.”
“But aren’t you currently under investigation by the European Parliament for alleged misuse of funds?” I ask.
Irritated by my perceived insolence, Nuttall orders two AK-47-wielding macaques to escort me to a bamboo holding cell, where I continue to write as the blazing sun disappears behind the tree line.
I awaken to The Doors’ ‘The End’ playing through a PA system installed throughout the crumbling ruins. At this point, the similarities between the ensuing events and those featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now are inescapable. However, with my article completed, and Nuttall seemingly slain by Martin Sheen, I remerge outside to a crowd of bowing natives, descending the temple steps, back to the patrol boat and onto the water.
As the ancient temple recedes into the wilderness, my thoughts return to UKIP’s current leader, a man unburdened by abstract concepts like dignity, integrity and shame, and one unlikely to rescue the party from its post-Brexit existential crisis. To label Nuttall a vacuum would be an insult to the absence of matter. Of the various atrocities witnessed during my bizarre odyssey – napalm, shrunken heads, substandard broadband – all pale in comparison with a Nuttall-occupied Westminster.
The horror! The horror!Zachary Freeman