The United Kingdom Independence Party likes to portray itself as the only real alternative to Britain’s mainstream political parties with its tough stand on immigration control and pulling Britain out of the European Union. But these days UKIP seems more intent on shooting itself in the foot than fighting its political enemies.
On Friday, the party’s annual convention turned into a fiasco when leader Nigel Farage was forced to call for the suspension of a high-profile UKIP politician after he referred to women as “sluts” during a workshop titled “Women in politics.”
The comments came from Godfrey Bloom, a UKIP Member of the European Parliament, who is known for making irreverent remarks such as suggesting foreign aid goes to “Bongo Bongo land.” (He was referring to the Third World.)
His outburst on Friday occurred during a panel discussion about how to get more women involved in politics. When two female UKIP members joked about not cleaning behind the fridge, a reference to complaints Mr. Bloom once made about women, he responded by saying: “This place is full of sluts.”
Asked later about the comment by reporters, Mr. Bloom said he was kidding and using the word’s original meaning which is “untidy.”
“I made a joke and said ‘Oh well, you’re all sluts’ and everybody laughed and all the women laughed,” he said. “Was there a single woman in there who didn’t laugh at the joke?” He then hit a reporter on the head with a booklet after the journalist asked about the lack of ethnic minorities at the conference.
Mr. Farage initially played down the remarks, saying it seemed to be a bad attempt at humour. By late afternoon, he was calling for Mr. Bloom’s suspension.
“I’ve known him for years, had a lot of good times with him, but I’m very, very unhappy with his behaviour today,” Mr. Farage told reporters adding that he had already had an argument with Mr. Bloom over his “Bongo Bongo land” remark, which he made about a month ago.
The convention had been upstaged “by the selfishness and stupidity of one man. … I think we have to remove the whip from him [a suspension] as a punishment and then have a longer think about things.” Party officials confirmed later that Mr. Bloom had been suspended.
It was the second controversy in a week for the party. UKIP officials expelled a senior local councillor in Lincolnshire for allegedly posting racist material on Facebook. The councillor has denied wrongdoing and is appealing the expulsion.
The scandals come at a critical time for UKIP. The party’s message of restricting immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe, and getting Britain out of the EU has been resonating with voters. Its public support has been rising in opinion polls and the party won 147 council seats in local elections last May.
During the convention Mr. Farage, who is also a member of the European Parliament (MEP), said the objective now is to do even better in local elections next year and in the vote to select MEPs to the European Parliament in 2014. (Britain elects 72 MEPs using a proportional system which allocates seats based on how many votes each party receives.)
Then the party will focus on the general election in 2015 and hope to elect its first members of Parliament. “If we get our ducks in a row and we target effectively in 2015, we will get good representation of MPs over there in Westminster,” he said. “Who knows, we may hold the balance of power.”
However, Mr. Farage acknowledged UKIP has had a hard time balancing the need to attract a broader base of support with the desire to differentiate itself from the traditional parties: Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
“I don’t want us to become sort of [party] partisans where we all have to be on message, but by the same token we have to have a degree of discipline,” he said. “And probably that’s the greatest dilemma I face leading this party.”