Pitfalls of UKIP's 'major party status'

Louise Stewart
Political editor, South East

image copyrightPA
image captionNigel Farage will take part in a televised debate about Europe with Nick Clegg in April

It's been a pretty good week for UKIP and Nigel Farage.

The broadcast regulator Ofcom ruled the party must be given the same coverage as the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the run up to the European elections.

And today a second victory, the BBC has confirmed that it will televise a live debate between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage. The pair will go head-to-head on Britain's future in Europe in an hour-long debate, hosted by David Dimbleby, on BBC2 at 19:00 on 2 April.

So far, so good.

But with the move into the mainstream and the recognition that goes with being granted "major party status" come possible pitfalls.

Lewes District Council UKIP councillor and South East MEP candidate Donna Edmunds has been forced to apologise after saying that business owners should be able to refuse service to women and gay people.

'Libertarian stance'

According to the Argus newspaper, Ms Edmunds posted the comments on an internet forum when she was asked whether she supported remarks made by Henley-on-Thames UKIP councillor David Silvester, who said the floods this winter had been caused by the government's support for gay marriage.

In the comments, Ms Edmunds said: "I believe that all business owners, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, should be allowed to withhold their services from whomever they choose whenever they choose.

She added: "It's their business. Why should they be forced to serve or sell to anyone?"

Ms Edmunds has since apologised, and in a statement said: "I regret what I wrote and can see how an essentially libertarian stance could be broadly misinterpreted."

She also said in no way did she "endorse any form of discrimination" but strongly believed in an "individual's personal and religious freedoms".

Ms Edmunds concluded by saying she hoped her "remark has not caused any embarrassment for the party".

Growing pains

A UKIP spokesman said: "Ms Edmund's comments appear somewhat misguided and we do not endorse the position intimated, but we believe she has apologised for the remarks."

She may have apologised but it's not the first time she's been in trouble for comments she's made.

Three years ago she had to apologise after referring to one of her constituents as "the village idiot" on Twitter.

There's no doubt the UK Independence Party has come a long way since David Cameron described it as a "a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" back in 2006.

But gaffes - like the latest one made by Donna Edmunds - show the party may still face some growing pains if it wants to be seen as a major force in British politics.

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