Comments by a member of the U.K. Independence Party describing women as “sluts” overshadowed the anti-European Union movement’s annual conference as it was making the case for a leading role in British politics.
Godfrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s members of the European Parliament, was stripped of the whip, meaning he’ll no longer be a member of the party delegation. The move came after a meeting on women in politics at the gathering in London yesterday, during which he said “this room is full of sluts.” Channel 4 television then showed Bloom hitting a reporter over the head with a copy of the conference program when he was asked about the lack of pictures of non-white people on the cover.
“My opinion is Godfrey has gone beyond the pale,” UKIP leader Nigel Farage told BBC News television. “What he ought to have learned is that time and time again he says things that overshadow the whole agenda that UKIP is fighting for.”
In his speech, Farage told delegates to repeated applause that UKIP was on course to “cause an earthquake” in European and local elections next year. UKIP, now in its 20th year, is being taken increasingly seriously by older parties and by the press, after a year in which it came close to winning its first seat in the House of Commons.
“The media coverage of this conference -- it’s gone; it’s dead,” Farage told delegates after Bloom’s suspension was announced. “It’s all about Godfrey hitting a journalist. We can’t have one individual, however fun, destroying UKIP’s national conference, and that’s what he’s done.”
Bloom caused a spat last month with comments attacking foreign aid, saying Britain shouldn’t be giving to “Bongo-Bongo Land.” Those remarks drew a rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron.
“The trouble with Godfrey is that he is not a racist, he’s not an extremist or any of those things and he’s not even anti-women, but he has a sort-of rather old fashioned Territorial Army sense of humor which does not translate very well in modern Britain,” Farage told the BBC.
“We were driving an extraordinarily positive agenda, and that has gone out of the window,” the party chairman, Steve Crowther, said as he announced the decision to suspend Bloom to boos and a smattering of applause.
Farage earlier told the conference he’s confident the party will come first in the 2014 elections to the European Parliament. Both 24-hour U.K. news television channels carried his speech in full, reflecting the party’s increased influence.
“We are changing the face of British politics,” Farage said. Many House of Commons lawmakers, he said, “are now more scared of the UKIP vote in their own constituencies than they are of the whips in their own party.”
UKIP has grown in membership and popularity since the last election in 2010, drawing support from Cameron’s Conservatives. Amid increasing anti-EU sentiment in Britain, Cameron has promised a referendum on leaving the bloc in 2017, if he retains power after the next election.
A YouGov Plc poll published yesterday put UKIP support at 11 percent, the same as the Liberal Democrats, currently the junior partners in Cameron’s coalition government.
More than 1,500 delegates in Central Hall, within sight of Parliament in Westminster, applauded Farage as he listed the party’s positions: opposed to intervening in foreign wars; opposed to giving foreign aid; opposed to immigration; in favor of cutting welfare payments; and most importantly, in favor of withdrawal from the EU.
Farage blamed the bloc for uncontrolled immigration and a crime wave that he said would get worse once Romanians and Bulgarians are allowed to enter the U.K. freely to work next year. He said that his party isn’t racist.
Describing his party’s supporters as “good, decent, patriotic, hard-working, law-abiding British people,” Farage said that UKIP is “the only party that stands up and speaks for them.”
While Farage said he’s optimistic about the European elections, he said the vote for local councils on the same day will be more important for the party’s fortunes. Local lawmakers are the foot soldiers in elections to the national Parliament, helping parties connect to the issues most of concern in particular areas.
The party is making much of its opposition to unpopular government policies, such as the proposed high-speed rail line between London and northern England, disliked by many of those who live on the proposed route. UKIP has also come out against gay marriage, another issue unpopular with Conservative supporters. While opposed to intervention in foreign wars, the party is in favor of spending more on the military.
UKIP will put up a candidate for every parliamentary seat in the 2015 election in a bid to maximize support, effectively rejecting overtures from individual euro-skeptic Tory lawmakers who’d hoped to persuade UKIP not to run against them, Farage told the Daily Telegraph newspaper. UKIP candidates ran for 572 seats out of the 650 in the House of Commons in 2010.
Yesterday’s YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper put the opposition Labour Party at 35 percent support, one percentage point ahead of the Conservatives. YouGov questioned 1,878 people on Sept. 18 and yesterday for the survey, for which no margin of error was specified.