Dead Men Left

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Horrible thoughts about Kilroy

The launch of Veritas, Robert Kilroy-Silk’s latest political adventure, has provoked a great deal of derision. Quite rightly: if you hadn’t realised what a nasty bit of work Kilroy-Silk is, please take a look at this site. Although Kilroy-Silk spreads his muck ecumenically, he is most notorious for the Daily Express column that lost him his BBC job and relaunched his political career, in which he gave full vent to his prejudices against Arabs. (Or Muslims. Typically, Kilroy-Silk does not appear to differentiate.)

What concerns me, however, is the immediate dismissal that accompanies the derision. We all know Kilroy-Silk is a vile saloon-bar bore ("in vino veritas"); we all know his swollen ego has driven him out of two previous political parties. (Who remembers, incidentally, Kilroy-Silk’s claim on being elected Labour MP for Knowsley North in 1974 that he would be Prime Minister within fifteen years?)

So we can ignore Veritas as a harmless irrelevance, filing it alongside the English Democrats and the long-forgotten Referendum Party: every so often, the more swivelly-eyed of the swivel-eyed loons on the Right decide to abandon the holding pen of the official Conservative Party and strike out in bold fashion to the green and pleasant Promised Land they can see the distance. Few ever return.

Better yet, goes the dismissal, the swivel-eyed loon vote will now be split between UKIP and Veritas, dragging it into further obscurity during the forthcoming general election.

Some caution seems necessary. To see why, we need to remember how the UK Independence Party made its breakthrough in the European elections last year, coming third in the national result. Three things matter: first, that a UKIP suddenly found itself in possession of a large amount of cash, enough to run a credible, fully-funded national election campaign. Second, that Robert Kilroy-Silk agreed to stand as a candidate for the party, instantly symbolising everything UKIP stood for: anti-Europe, anti-migrant, anti-foreigner. Third, and most importantly, that the two-party system in Britain is entering a period of (perhaps terminal) decline, exacerbated by the PR voting system the Euro-elections use.

On this basis, and leaving aside the ego and the obnoxiousness, Kilroy-Silk presents quite a coherent critique of UKIP: that they don’t understand the splits and fractures in the wider political system, that they are identified with too narrow a set of politics, and that the leadership has absolutely no strategy for taking the party forward and were essentially a bunch of freeloading cranks. It is a criticism mirrored, from an opposite, non-racist direction by Alan Sked, one of the party’s founders, whose allegations the Daily Mail reported on last year:

THE UK Independence Party is at the centre of an extraordinary race row after one of its leaders was accused of referring to black people as niggers and nig-nogs.

Nigel Farage, regarded as the driving force of the anti-EU party, also faces allegations of visiting sleazy sex clubs and missing crucial parliamentary votes after drinking sessions.

The racism doesn’t both Kilroy-Silk, as we have seen, being grist to his mill; nor does it seem to particularly concern his supporters. But the directionless desire to piss Brussels subventions up the wall presumably infuriates a man of his peculiar ambition. On this reading, UKIP was and is in no position to seriously exploit the gap between an ailing Conservative Party and ill-concealed populist sentiments on race, crime and Europe. One prominent UKIP politician, their leader on the Greater London Assembly, has already defected on these grounds. (Again, leaving aside purely personal vanity.)

The most important element, the political context, is much the same as it was in June. The second factor still exists: Kilroy-Silk’s founding press conference already attracted an extraordinary degree of media attention, and on past experience it is likely he can maintain that focus throughout the election. The hard cash may yet be forthcoming, as the Daily Telegraph indicated some time ago:

The UK Independence Party has been thrown into crisis after its main financial backer threatened to withdraw support unless Robert Kilroy-Silk becomes leader…

In what amounts to an ultimatum, the Yorkshire businessman has told friends that he will not fund UKIP's general election campaign unless Roger Knapman, the current leader, is replaced…

Mr Sykes has reportedly given UKIP £1.4 million this year and helped mastermind the European election campaign.

I'm not certain Kilroy-Silk would have made a move without financial backing; but we shall see. Targeting the loathsome Geoff Hoon may well prove to be a masterstroke. Hated by the Left for the war on Iraq, hated by the Right for the army cuts, it is not unimaginable that Kilroy-Silk could emerge as the only credible anti-Labour candidate in his constituency facing a demoralised Labour team, unemcumbered by a no-hope Tory campaign.