Ukip’s dodgy jokes are no laughing matter

You can tell a lot by a political party from the sort of jokes it laughs at. So, if you haven't heard the one about the xenophobic, Islamophobic UK Independence party, you're in for a treat.

At a black-tie dinner wrapping up its spring conference, the standard of humour which had the Kippers rolling in the aisles was thoroughly depressing.

The jokes, as reported by yesterday's Sunday Mirror, didn't target celebrities who seek the limelight, or companies which rip off the consumer, or even other politicians.

Instead many of the minorities that live in Britain were on the receiving end.

Comedian Paul Eastwood chanted an Islamic call to prayer, calling it a "traditional Midlands folk song".

He suggested the Polish medal haul from the Winter Olympics included "bronze, silver, gold, lead, copper – anything they could get their hands on".

And he mocked three Asian women at the party, telling them that they "looked a bit lost".

Humour has its place in politics, of course it does. Any half-decent politician is capable of deploying a gag to improve their position. And it doesn't even have to be funny; for some reason the very idea of a serious-minded politician attempting to crack a joke seems to mean there's a very low bar in the Commons chamber for what deserves a laugh

Those terrible one-liners at PMQs are one thing – they are all part of the bear pit and harmless enough. Internal party gatherings don't have to be offensive either, though.

I went to a Stand Up For Labour event at the party's autumn conference in Manchester last year. Lots of the jokes were heavily barbed against the Tories, as you'd expect. There were one or two jokes targeting internal Labour divisions which prompted some pretty sharp intakes of breath, too. But the overall tone was one of good humour. Critically, the comedians on stage didn't target any non-politicians.

That's what makes the Ukip equivalent so unpleasant. When it becomes one group of people (say a bunch of right-wing grumblers who teeter on the brink of political acceptability) laughing at another group of people (say an ethnic minority), very dangerous territory is being entered into.

This matters because there remains a huge question-mark over how right-wing Ukip's soul really is.

This party is xenophobic rather than racist, certainly. But is it fair to call it far-right? Or just hard-right, which thinks is the fairest description?

Political humour is inherently ambiguous. Often it can be a way of communicating a serious meaning in a way that wouldn't be allowed otherwise. 'It's funny because it's true', when talking about the behaviour or characteristics of any ethnic minority, becomes loaded with extra meaning.

That's why these jokes, which Nigel Farage reportedly laughed at along with everyone else in the room, deserve public attention.

They reveal a side of Ukip you won't see elsewhere – and it's not a very pleasant one.