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Friday, June 18, 2004

The Return of Kilroy: Are U KIPping yet?

Now the MEP for my native East Midlands, Robert Kilroy-Silk is promising to 'wreck' the European Parliament. Critics have pointed to everything from his permatanned Spanish villa lifestyle to latent fascist tendencies as a way of opposing the UK Independence Party. In elections that invite indifference from a majority of the electorate, vague hostility to the European union has guided Kilroy back into politics. This has prompted supporters of greater European integration to suggest that the personalities of Kilroy-Silk and other UKIP supporters provide a good basis with which to campaign against them.

Without UKIP, the Tory vote might have held up better. Whoever is in office, they are now finding incumbency is a disadvantage. In this instance, having two or more parties appealing to 'Britishness' and 'common sense' at the expense of the Guardian newspaper means a split anti-Blair vote. If UKIP didn't exist, then current voter sentiment would need to invent it.

As for Kilroy-Silk, his disappearance from the screen in January 2004 (following allegations of racism) would have been welcome, if not for the circumstances. To put it mildly, his daytime TV show, while marginally more palatable than Trisha on the other side, provided a psychological incentive to avoid long-term unemployment. Jump the shark? Kilroy certainly needed cancellation through early retirement, but now we face another long spell with the oily creep in the spotlight.

Oily creep? For starters, his 'some of my best friends are black' alibi seemed cribbed from the guests on his countless shows devoted to prejudice. Secondly, in 1986 he quit as Labour MP for Knowsley North because he felt his party was too slow to silence the 'old Labour' elements in the constituency. Having played a role in further disconnecting politics from the electorate 20 years ago, he is happy to bounce back as the protest vote candidate now. (My preferred candidate finished fourth that year, but that's another story.)

Third, back in 1990 I had the misfortune of being in the Kilroy studio audience. As part of a busload of student activists from Sussex University, I arrived at the studio to make the case against student loans. But the theme of the show was something else:
Kilroy (to camera): 'Do men get broody? Do fellas want to be fathers too? Find out after the news.'
Great. Here I was providing bums on seats for more banal stuff about interpersonal relationships, before Kilroy's parliamentary colleagues made interpersonal relationships into a key political issue.

In the green room after the show, the 'flirtatious' host made a beeline for Susie, the most glamorous student activist there. (My wife recalls him doing the same with a recently widowed Gulf War widow a couple of years later.) I was left exchanging pleasantries with other audience members. 'And what do you do?' I asked one bloke. 'Usually I'm a hospital cleaner' he replied 'but today they needed a black face in the audience so I got sent here.'


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