UKIP’s farcical national conference and the subsequent forced resignation of Godfrey Bloom this week have brought cheer to the party’s opponents, across the political spectrum. Mr Bloom – the most ‘colourful’ character in a technicolour party – managed an unprecedented series of gaffes in the space of a single, tumultuous day. He began with the now infamous ‘sluts’ comment and ended by hitting a journalist on live TV when asked about the party’s ‘all white’ conference brochure. A tearful Nigel Farage later took to the stage to declare that his erstwhile flatmate had single-handedly “ruined our conference”. Rarely has so much bad publicity been awarded to so many by so few.
But Mr Bloom’s departure from UKIP’s delegation in Brussels and Strasbourg (he remains a party member, apparently) is far from an isolated incident. In fact, he is now the sixth UKIP MEP (out of 13) to either leave or be kicked out since the European elections in 2009. He follows Nikki Sinclaire (expelled), David Campbell-Bannerman (defected to the Tories), Mike Nattrass (de-selected and then resigned), Trevor Coleman (quit UKIP’s European grouping) and Marta Andreasen (defected to the Tories).
This means the party has lost almost half of their original MEPs since 2009. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, losing one MEP may seem a misfortune, but to lose six seems like carelessness. It is small consolation that UKIP have in the meantime gained one Tory defector (the climate- and LGBT-sceptic Roger Helmer MEP). Only the BNP have done worse, having lost 50% of their MEPs (one out of two) since 2009.
The irony of all this is that most voters (and even other MEPs) don’t have a clue who UKIP’s MEPs are. They are rarely seen in the influential parliamentary committee meetings where EU legislation is shaped, to the extent (as Fiona Hall MEP memorably noted in Glasgow) that UKIP’s leader is known in the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg as ‘Mr Mirage’. Indeed the independent VoteWatch Europe website found that UKIP have the worst attendance, voting and work performance of any political party from any EU country.
The challenge is in getting the message out to voters: that backing UKIP means throwing away Britain’s influence. Luckily, Mr Bloom’s escapades have just helped to make our job as campaigners a little easier.
* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.