Nigel Farage has happily taken part in a men-only hustings in Kent that was boycotted by two of his election rivals because women were not invited to attend.
The Ukip leader was watched by an 150-strong exclusively male audience on Wednesday night at the hustings for the hotly contested parliamentary seat of South Thanet. The Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay and Liberal Democrat Russ Timpson also both attended.
The Green Party candidate Ian Driver refused to attend the event in Broadstairs, which was hosted by the Ramsgate Round Table.
Mr Driver said his principles did “not allow” him to take part in hustings that excluded women.
Mr Farage had trumpeted his absence on Twitter, calling him and Labour’s Will Scobie “no shows”, accompanied by a picture of the panel showing defaced pictures of the missing candidates in their empty seats.
“If Farage and the Round Table think standing up for women’s equality is funny and something to make joke about then I pity them,” Mr Driver wrote on his blog.
“It’s a well-known fact that Ukip and Farage are less than sympathetic to gender equality issues, but I am very surprised and disappointed by the actions of the Round Table… their response suggests to me that they might share Ukip's testosterone-fuelled misogyny.”
Ukip's confusing policies
Ukip's confusing policies
1/6 Deport migrants
Ukip MP Mark Reckless suggested he would deport existing EU migrants, a policy Nigel Farage rejected out of hand.
2/6 US-style NHS
Farage was caught on film in 2012 saying healthcare headed towards insurance-based system, though he has since said he would keep it free at the point of use.
3/6 Handbag tax
Ukip Economy spokesman Patrick O'Flynn said he would introduce a tax on high-price items like shoes, Nigel Farage disowned this idea.
4/6 Same-sex couple adoption
Ukip candidate Winston McKenzie likened adoption by same-sex couples to "child abuse", but the party rejects that view.
5/6 Gay marriage?
In early 2014 Ukip released a statement saying it would review its gay marriage policy, but later said that was an error.
6/6 Sex education u-turn
Nigel Farage told Leaders Live that he backed sex education for under-11s but later admitted that is not Ukip policy.
The South Thanet constituency has a slight female majority but an average gender pay gap of £107 a week, he said, and women there face some of the highest rates of domestic violence in Kent.
Matt Hudson, chairman of the Round Table branch, defended the group by saying it did invite “ladies” to some events, but “not in this occasion”.
He claimed the political row has “tarnished” the body, which raises money for charity, and that Labour jumped on the “bandwagon” after Greens were first to pull out.
“We are not a sexist group in any way, shape or form and if I’m honest many of the wives are happy as they see it as way to get the men out of the house,” he added.
Mr Scobie, who is standing for Labour in South Thanet, said: “I didn’t attend because it transpired it was a male only event and I was uncomfortable with that.”
He added: “I didn’t realise this when I first accepted the invitation but subsequently pulled out. I was shocked my rivals unashamedly took part, but that’s their decision.”
According to Mr Hudson the Ukip leader came out as the winner of the hustings, according to a makeshift exit poll, despite starting with a deficit in support.
On arrival, 49 per cent of the audience showed their support for Mr Mackinlay and 16 per cent for Mr Farage. But by the end of the debate, 37 per cent backed Mr Farage while Mr Mackinlay trailed on a third of the vote.
Mr Mackinlay, himself a former Round Table member, said he had not realised it was an all-male event. He said: “I believe in having hustings with a broad spectrum of people and encourage a broad debate with everyone in society.”
“It’s a bit of a storm being whipped up. Round Table is a fantastic organisation that’s done a lot for charity. On that night we raised £700 for the local RNLI so it might even save a life.”
The group was founded in Norwich in 1927 and is open to men aged between 18 and 45. It has a sister organisation, the Ladies Circle, which was founded five years later for women. However, there is not a Ladies Circle attached to the Broadstairs branch of the group.
A spokesperson for Nigel Farage said: “We accepted the invite as it was one of the first offers of hustings that came in. Had the Women’s Institute or Ladies Circle sent an invite last October, they would have been accepted too.
“Those complaining about Round Table are playing identity politics because they were too chicken to show up.”
It is the latest in a long line of controversies around Ukip and women voters, with the leader himself admitting that his party had a “blokeish” image, adding: “What do you want me to do? Go sell flowers?”
"I am not going to pretend to reach out to female voters or voters of all different denominations. We're one country, we're one people and this party is making huge progress," Mr Farage said in October.
“The problem with female voters and Ukip is that, over the last five to 10 years, at times, on a very bad day, we've looked a bit blokeish, a bit like a rugby club on a day out and I'm probably the most guilty person of all... the pub and everything else. It's true, it was a very male dominated party in every aspect.”
Former Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom survived almost a year in the party after famously calling a room of women “sluts” at the party’s 2013 conference.Reuse content