Mark Steel in The Independent
Some people have criticised the Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, as his website claimed he lost a “personal friend” at Hillsborough, but now he accepts that isn’t true. But we should be understanding, as life can be deeply unsettling for sufferers of “Deceased Close Personal Friend/Someone I Vaguely Knew Back-to-Front Syndrome”.
It must be an awful ordeal as he breaks down every time he reads an obituary, crying, “oh no, Gabriel Santana Lopez has died, he was a close personal friend”, until it’s pointed out he was a 93-year-old Chilean jazz clarinettist who Paul had never heard of, then he calms down for a while.
We should hope he never risks seeing a Shakespeare play. He’ll be devastated for weeks, writing, “I can’t believe Tiberius has been poisoned”, on his website until he’s reminded it was a play and he had no idea who that is.
Walking through graveyards must be a dreadful trial, as he stops by each gravestone, sobbing “oh no, not Beloved Amy Chadwick 1843-1911, she was a close personal friend. Why, why, why?”
Paul’s explanation for the false claim of personal friendship is he never said it in the first place, it was just on his website. This seems reasonable, as you can hardly be expected to keep track of things you say on your own website.
My one probably says I played in the water polo final at the Olympics and I’ve got a license to pilot rockets – I’m too busy to check.
This is an exciting development in the art of responding to a suspicion you’ve said something untrue. Instead of apologising or saying you were under stress, you claim it wasn’t really you who said it. The next stage will be for a politician to say “I reject the charge that I lied because those words I said weren’t mine. They were actually someone else’s words and they were in my mouth, and I had no idea they were being said by me at the time I said them.”
Or maybe Ukip allow people to write stuff on websites by guesswork, without the person whose website it is having any say, so a random person may write “Douglas Carswell speaks Portuguese and keeps llamas” because there’s always a chance they’ll be right.
It’s also possible that when the person who writes Paul’s website applied for the job, they claimed they were well qualified as they were his close personal friend, even though they’d only met him once, in a queue at a tweed jacket store in Bootle.
Paul also claims he was at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy, and maybe he was. But teachers, friends and colleagues of his say they can’t recall him ever mentioning he was there at the time. The most likely explanation is he must have been at other places as well that day, and he can’t be expected to have recalled being in a major tragedy and popping to the Co-op for some milk.
Another reason Paul wouldn’t have been keen to mention his presence there that day is Arron Banks, Ukip’s largest donor, has said he’s “sick to death” of hearing about Hillsborough. So the last thing Paul would want is to annoy his party’s donor by mentioning he’d been there.
The reason the Ukip donor was fed up of Hillsborough, he said, is “It was a disaster and that’s it” and “milking a tragedy forever is sick”.
It’s possible the reason Arron Banks is sick of hearing about disasters is that Paul Nuttall tells him every day about all the close personal friends he lost on the Titanic and poor Arron has finally had enough.
But even though we can’t know whether Paul was there, it might not matter any more. Because this is the age of the alternative fact, when there’s no embarrassment about getting caught having lied. Farage can claim the Health Service is crippled by Aids tourists, Boris can claim leaving the EU will bring £350m a week to the NHS, and when they’re told this isn’t true, they’ll say “Well no, the reason the records show the opposite is true to what I claimed, is I lied. But that doesn’t alter the truth about the thing I made up.”
In this new world, if you disprove nonsense that’s been made up, that goes to show you’re part of the elite, with your fancy facts and la-di-da evidence.
So down-to-earth types like Paul Nuttall are at last free to put forward the working man’s case. Now, if he likes, he can write on his website that the Prime Minister of Bulgaria has been creeping round Hampshire, encouraging Bulgarians to shave British cats and smoke their fur as a legal high, or that a study has proved Muslims are thirty per cent gelignite which is why they feel the need to explode.
Or that unicorns died out because they were banned by the EU on grounds of health and safety for being too pointy.
He can clarify his outlook by writing “I object strongly to the charge that my views are in any way racist, as I was a black man for six years while I was a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War, including three months as a Rastafarian until my dreadlocks got caught in the propellers.”
None of it matters, because we’re at last liberated from the stifling constraints of truth. Rather than apologise, Paul Nuttall should make the most of this new situation, and before the election in Stoke claim he’s always felt connected to the area, since he was at the great Stoke pottery disaster of 1809, in which he lost a personal friend whose head got stuck in a Wedgwood vase.