UKIP member's sexist tirade mars Kilroy's big day

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The UK Independence Party's great communicator, Robert Kilroy-Silk, yesterday found his debut in the European Parliament overshadowed as a colleague grabbed the spotlight with an extraordinary attack on women's rights.

The UK Independence Party's great communicator, Robert Kilroy-Silk, yesterday found his debut in the European Parliament overshadowed as a colleague grabbed the spotlight with an extraordinary attack on women's rights.

Nominated by UKIP for the Parliament's Women's Rights Committee, Godfrey Bloom, newly elected MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside, made a bizarre series of comments that seemed destined to dent his party's credibility as a serious political force.

Speaking on the fringes of a press conference Mr Bloom joked that women "don't clean behind the fridge enough'' adding: "I would represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you come home.''

As the episode reached a surreal climax he turned to a television camera to declare: "The more rights you have [for women] it is actually a bar on their employment. No self-respecting small business man with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age. That isn't politically correct is it? But it is a fact of life; I know because I'm a businessman.''

Amid of storm of protests, his comments were described by one political leader as "outrageous'' and the Labour Euro MP Glenys Kinnock said: "We know UKIP are Neanderthal in their attitudes but it is absolutely terrifying that Mr Bloom can fly in the face of what we have worked and fought for, to establish equal opportunities and rights for women. He cannot strut around here saying things like that.''

Although the Women's Rights Committee has not been constituted yet, officials said it would be difficult to deny Mr Bloom a place if he receives a formal nomination from his own group. However, one Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott said she is considering whether she can remain in the same political group as UKIP following Mr Bloom's outburst.

The comments detracted attention from the first visit of Mr Kilroy-Silk to Strasbourg since the party's spectacular success in June's European elections.

Mr Kilroy-Silk's first pre-scripted initiative was to tear up his ballot paper for the election of a President of the European Parliament. UKIP had never been expected to back the successful candidate Josep Borrell a Catalan Socialist and former Spanish Cabinet Minister who will serve for two and a half years courtesy of a deal between the Parliament's two biggest groups.

But all three contenders for the post were considered unworthy of support by UKIP, including Bronislaw Geremek, a renowned scholar and a founder of the Solidarnosc who emerged from prison under the Communists to become Foreign Minister of a liberated Poland.

Mr Geremek's vision of Europe, honed at the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Sorbonne was rejected by Mr Kilroy- Silk who offered an alternative view of the Continent: somewhere to go on holiday and buy clothing.

"I am very fond of Italy and Spain," said the former daytime television presenter,"I spend a lot of time in France, every single year. I like the people, I like the culture. I think I am wearing a motley collection of foreign clothes.''

On the eve of their first visit to Strasbourg, UKIP suffered a public relations disaster with the suspension of their MEP, Ashley Mote, who had campaigned to clean up sleaze in Brussels. Mr Mote neglected to mention to his colleagues that he faces charges in court over alleged housing benefit fraud.

Now down from 12 to 11 MEPs, UKIP took their seats among a group called Independence and Democracy whose members' views range from mild eurosceptism to UKIP's desire to leave the European Union.

The bloc of 33 MEPs includes the respected veteran Danish Eurosceptic, Jens-Peter Bonde but members are also drawn from Poland's ultra-right League of Families, several of whose members are on record with anti-Semitic or xenophobic comments. While hostile to Brussels the League also argues for the EU to stump up more cash for Poland's farmers.

Such inconsistencies are unlikely to trouble UKIP which yesterday moved into reverse gear on a number of its early pledges. Mr Kilroy-Silk left observers in confusion as to whether he and his 10 colleagues will play any significant role in the workings of the Parliament.

Gone was an early pledge to "wreck'' the Parliament and in its place came more measured rhetoric. He surprised many when he argued: "I respect that this is a directly elected European Parliament of 25 Nations'' and added that he did not want to "destroy or dismantle the Parliament''.

Although he does not initially intend to sit on a Parliamentary committee, that possibility has not been excluded and UKIP will take up seats on at least nine of them.

Meanwhile an early threat to boycott Strasbourg altogether appears to have disappeared. "I might attend every single plenary session'' he said prompting the joke that, if he continues to change his mind at this rate, UKIP may soon be advocating British membership of the European single currency.

Mr Kilroy-Silk's commitment to transparency appeared less than complete. When asked whether he will make public his declaration of members' financial interest he was non-committal. "If I feel I don't want to I won't,'' he said tartly.