Richard North, 06/10/2004  

Whatever else you might think about Robert Kilroy-Silk, on the media he is a real pro. Faced with Tim Sebastian on BBC News 24’s "Hardtalk" for half and hour last night, there can be no doubt about who came out the winner.

Furthermore, Kilroy put up a credible argument as to why Roger Knapman had failed in his leadership, stating that the party had gone AWOL for three months over the summer. It should have been preparing policies and getting its spokesmen organised, so that the conference, rather than being a "celebration", could have been "the way forward".

On the matter of putting a candidate up for every seat at the general election, Kilroy also had his answer prepared. Yes, some candidates might thereby be contesting Eurosceptics, but none of them were in favour of withdrawal.

Kilroy felt that the most important issue of our time was whether we governed ourselves and, on such an important issue, he also felt it important that people were given the opportunity to express their views on the issue, which they could only do at an election. Therefore, Kilroy argued, by putting a candidate up for every seat, he was giving people a choice. "You are complaining that I am extending the democratic principle," he told Sebastian.

On the question of funding, Kilroy made it clear that there were "other prospective donors". The loss of Sykes was important but it would not affect the overall plan.

Unable to dent him on the core issues, Sebastian switched the attack to Kilroy’s view on Arabs. "Did he have any regrets at the offence he caused". Kilroy was blunt, and to the point. "In a democracy, we should not be afraid of causing offence", he said. He was not sorry for telling the truth. Try as he might, Sebastian never laid a finger on him.

It is a pity really, that Kilroy has so spectacularly mismanaged his leadership bid. His comments about UKIP going AWOL for three months are right, but it has actually been missing for much longer. Since 1999, the party has had the opportunity to develop its intellectual base, but is no further forward now than it was then. To have someoneat the helm who recognises the importance of ideas would be a singular asset to a party which still operates as a pressure group.

However, Kilroy may yet surprise us. For sure, he has made a bad start but, as I have wearily observed before, a week is a long time in politics.

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