'Blood on the carpet' as Kilroy-Silk slips in leadership challenge

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Indy Politics

Talks to end a fierce row over Robert Kilroy-Silk's bid for the leadership of the UK Independence Party broke up without a deal last night, casting a shadow over the party's run-up to the general election.

Talks to end a fierce row over Robert Kilroy-Silk's bid for the leadership of the UK Independence Party broke up without a deal last night, casting a shadow over the party's run-up to the general election.

The meeting in Brussels follows growing disquiet among the party's 12 MEPs over Mr Kilroy-Silk's public declaration that he wants to lead the party, which scored a spectacular success in June Euro-elections.

Most UKIP MEPs have rallied around the existing leader, Roger Knapman, who has made it clear that he intends to remain in his post until 2006.

Many have been alarmed by Mr Kilroy-Silk's call for the party to overtake the Conservatives, and desire for it to fight all constituencies at the general election, including those held by Tory Eurosceptic MEPs.

His promise to "kill" the Conservatives is thought to have lead to the withdrawal of financial backing for UKIP from millionaire Paul Sykes. It also provoked fears that Mr Kilroy-Silk's aggressive style would deter wavering Tory supporters.

However, the party's rank and file are conscious of the fact that Mr Kilroy-Silk's celebrity status as a former daytime TV presenter helped put them on the political map.

In a statement after last night's meeting at the European Parliament, UKIP's chief whip Jeffrey Titford described the discussions as "long and amicable" but added that "strong views were expressed".

He added: "All those involved were, however, concerned that although there were legitimate differences on the direction that the party should take, nothing should be done to damage its long-term prospects. It was decided the discussions would continue in order to arrive at a position that would be in the long-term interests of the party."

Asked whether the leadership had been debated, Mr Titford replied: "We discussed certain situations that have been reported recently but did not reach any conclusions. There were strong opinions on both sides and we were not able to resolve these."

Mr Kilroy-Silk had nothing to add as he left the meeting, repeating that the talks had been amicable.

One UKIP source was unconvinced last night, arguing: "It would appear there was blood on the carpet but they cleared it up before they left the room.

"Kilroy's leadership bid has not gone down well with the MEPs who are about 10:1 against. If he ever wants to become leader the best thing he could do is to get his head down and get on with the job, and bide his time until there is a leadership contest in 2006."

Mr Kilroy-Silk argues that the vast majority of members want him as leader. Mr Knapman has argued that "nobody is bigger than the party" and added: "We are a political party and not a chat show party. He needs to be a team player."

Experts say that if he wishes to challenge for the post before then, the former daytime TV host would need the support of 10 per cent of UKIP branch secretaries - around 43 individuals - to call an extraordinary general meeting, then win a motion of no-confidence against Mr Knapman.

"If, in the elections we had gone from 12 MEPs to three then there might have been a case for that," said one critic, "but as it was the other way round it is hard to see that happening."

Mr Kilroy-Silk's enemies say that he has been offered and declined the post of deputy leader of the party and the job of running the election campaign. He is said to have rejected the latter position because he would not have had complete control of the party manifesto but would have had to liaise with UKIP's National Executive Committee.

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