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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 June 2006, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
West: UKIP flower fades
Dave Harvey
Dave Harvey
Political Editor
BBC West

Roger Knapman
Roger Knapman MEP: Not standing for re-election

South West MEP Roger Knapman has told the Politics Show he is standing down as Leader of the UK Independence Party.

Mr Knapman was elected in 2002 for four years, but some had expected him to stand again in autumn 2006.

However, the deadline for nominations is the end of June 2006, and Mr Knapman told us he will not be throwing his hat in the ring.

"Too old" he joked, making light of his decision.

So what has he achieved?

Dramatic turnaround?

At first sight, he can claim a dramatic turnaround. He inherited a party that had scored just 1.5% of the vote in the 2001 General Election and had three MEPs.

In the 2004 Euro Elections, UKIP scored 16.2% and won 12 seats, surely a dramatic achievement?

"You have to remember the European Constitution was in the headlines every day, and UKIP's recruitment of the celebrity Robert Kilroy-Silk ensured maximum publicity", points out David Cowling, the BBC's head of political research.

They rode the wave, in other words. Still, a dozen MEPs cannot be sniffed at.

Robert Kilroy-Silk
Robert Kilroy-Silk: Nowhere to be seen

Shooting star

In October 2004 UKIP packed the Colston Hall in Bristol for an annual conference that felt like a Revival Meeting in the American Bible Belt.

"You can take this country back for ourselves" whispered the permatanned Kilroy as 3,000 people craned forward, "just be strong."

The following morning the superstar went on BBC One's "Breakfast with Frost" and announced he should be leader of the party, claiming Knapman had let UKIP flounder.

It is the sort of extraordinary public infighting that has made UKIP so entertaining for political spectators, but such a nightmare to lead.

Roger Knapman has always brushed off such spats. A former Tory whip, he is no stranger to bruising politics.

And soon enough, Kilroy had vanished into the mahogany sunset.

When I tried to speak to him, his wife Jan told me they had "put all that behind them".

Simon Muir
Simon Muir: Pointed criticism of leadership

Opinion divided

But others within the party make more serious charges.

"We elected them to pull down the European Parliament" remembers Simon Muir, onetime chair of the party in Bristol.

"But every press release I get is full of speeches they made in the European Parliament - and that is not what we voted for.

"They have become part of the machine they were elected to deal with."

It is not just him - here is a former chair of the party, Petrina Holdsworth:

"A lot of people in the party think the MEPs spend far too much time in Europe, not giving us a profile here in the UK."

Petrina and many others think the party needs to be led by someone not flitting off to Europe every week. Someone like Richard Suchorzewski, the Chair of UKIP Wales who I met in a West country pub this week.

"The first two years, enormous euphoria. The last two - we trod water.

"Because Roger and his colleagues have to spend so much time in Brussels."

Have Britain's fiercest critics of the Eurostate gone native?

We ask Roger Knapman on the Politics Show West.

The Politics Show

Politics Show West wants to hear from you.

Watch the programme, and let us know what you think.

Join David Garmston on the Politics Show on Sunday 18 June 2006 at 12:00 on BBC One.


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