As protesters gathered in Margate to protest the UKIP spring conference, bringing with them their predictable and intellectually lazy accusations of racism and bigotry, quite a different scene unfolded inside the Winter Gardens conference venue: thousands of delegates stood and cheered as transsexual former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, a long time UKIP supporter, gave an emotional address to the party.
From her speech:
“I am delivering a message about a group of people in society that I don’t believe are fully understood. Some people see us as very brave people, some see us as freaks. I see us as neither. I see us as human beings.
I don’t see myself as a transsexual, I see myself as a woman that had a [problem at birth, I have had it all my life and I am trying to help others.
I came here to deliver a personal message, and I was given the opportunity by Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, who has previously sent me messages of support. They are the only party that have invited me to speak.”
Listen to the supportive wave of applause from the conference delegates as Maloney struggles to fight back tears while giving her speech.
Nigel Farage, in his closing remarks, then claimed with reasonable justification that “This party is open to everyone. Our only pride, our only prejudice is that we are patriotic.”
Compare this scene from the UKIP spring conference with the Republican presidential debate in 2011 where GOP delegates openly booed a gay soldier who asked whether gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. The response of that Republican audience in America betrayed a far greater level of antipathy toward equal rights for gay or transgender people than was in evidence at Margate today, and yet the perception of UKIP as a bigoted and homophobic party persists – sometimes fairly but often not so.
Is there an unwelcome, abhorrent element of racism and homophobia within UKIP? Yes, and it should be opposed and rooted out wherever it appears. But where it most definitely did not appear today was on the main stage or in the hall at the UKIP spring conference in Margate.
Racism, sexism and homophobia are problems within our society as a whole, not specific to any one political party. Hopefully we will remember this fact as the 2015 general election campaign unfolds.