I felt a bit sorry for the UK Independence party last week, which is a new experience for me. It was put in the humiliating position of having to respond to a British National party overture suggesting that Ukip and the BNP co-operate at the next European election.
This is the political equivalent of being at some do stuck talking to a bigoted drunk with halitosis, who keeps scratching his arse and sniffing and then says: 'I can tell we're very much alike. I know where you're coming from, you know where I'm coming from... let's be friends.'
Not all compliments, it turns out, are worth having.
Ukip struggles to present itself as a respectable political force with a civilised agenda, rather than a bunch of grouchy extremists who haven't quite got the courage of their convictions. It has to fight hard to dismiss suggestions from the political mainstream or, as Ukip would probably call it, the left, that they're basically a little bit envious, a little bit hatey, a little bit weird. The main parties imply that there's definitely at least the suspicion of racism about them, even if it only manifests itself as limp, stand-offish xenophobia most of the time.
Ukip can reject these insinuations as exactly what the main parties are bound to say about a legitimate potential competitor from the right wing. But this argument falls down when the BNP pitches in and effectively says: 'Oh yeah, we always assumed you were basically a bunch of racists as well. Not that we mind, obviously.' When Labour, the Lib Dems, the Tories and the BNP are all agreed on something, then we'd better hope that they're right or we're going to need a new political system.
Because the BNP is clearly worried that the presence of Ukip risks splitting the arsehole vote - a vote that Ukip may not court like the BNP does, but would certainly take if it was offered. The trouble with the kind of dog-whistle politics that Ukip practises is that, every so often, it's going to cause a dog to publicly hump its leg.
The metaphorical dog in this instance is former British tennis star Buster Mottram, a man who has dabbled in politics before. He flirted with the National Front - again this is a metaphor, as to do this literally would be to run all sorts of grisly risks - tried to become a Conservative MP a few times and then joined Ukip.
And so things stood until a few days ago when Mottram turned up uninvited to a meeting of the Ukip national executive. I imagine them sitting at a huge conference table in front of a map of the world with every country except Britain crossed out. He proposed the BNP-Ukip pact and then, according to the Ukip website, 'had to be escorted out by uniformed police officers', presumably because he'd eaten all the biscuits. (Incidentally, talking of the Ukip website, I was disappointed that the link 'Ukip shop' just takes you back to the home page. I was hoping to order a Ukip English-Polish phrase book, a Ukip spaghetti server and a Ukip pen-with-a-lady-on-it-that-when-you-tip-it-the-lady-goes-nude.)
The awkward position Ukip has been put in by this public offer of undermining friendship from an embarrassing source should be familiar to us all. John McCain would recognise it as the feeling he got when Dick Cheney put the final nail in the coffin of his campaign by saying he supported it. Only the Democrats wanted to publicise that, as Cheney has used the vice-presidency to transform himself into one of the few things on Earth that a cat wouldn't piss on.
I remember it from school when a boy in my year who was being bullied - I won't disclose his real name but let's call him Buster Mottram - tried to make friends with me. Buster Mottram was not a bad child and he didn't have horrible opinions (unlike Buster Mottram) but he was social death.
I was not particularly popular, although I got by, but I was bitterly aware that my faltering prestige could not take the weight of Buster Mottram's disastrous unpopularity (I mean the boy from my school, not Buster Mottram - I hope I haven't made this confusing). The friendship of the captain of the rugby team himself, which wasn't me, you may be surprised to learn, could barely have restored Buster Mottram's reputation. He would only drag me down with him and the next thing I knew we'd both be being rolled up in a rug and stuck on top of the lockers. His friendship I could do without.
I'm aware that this story hardly makes me seem like a hero. You're probably thinking that, if my politics were different and I'd been in the Ukip meeting, I would've just sat quietly by and let Buster Mottram have his way with the custard creams (I'm talking about the former world number 15, not my contemporary from school). And there are much better reasons for shrugging off a BNP offer of friendship than merely that it's the runt of the political litter. But both stories share the same bitter taste of unwanted goodwill.
The fact that some people's endorsement is of limited value must be occurring to the supermarket chain Iceland at the moment. It emerged last week that it has arranged for Kerry Katona, who does its adverts, to have medical tests to see if she's an alcoholic. No one said whether it wants to check whether she is or she isn't, but maybe she's become a bit too 'no frills' even for Iceland's brand. It booked an accessible 'girl next door' type and has ended up with a bankrupt who loses weight by surgery. It may soon come to feel that it would be better off with Buster Mottram (either one).
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