Page last updated at 19:27 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

MEPs attack jungle-bound Kilroy

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

Robert Kilroy Silk
Mr Kilroy Silk is hoping to be crowned king of the jungle

There is anger that former television presenter Robert Kilroy Silk - who is now an elected member of the European Parliament - has signed up to take part in the reality TV show "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here".

Mr Kilroy Silk, 66, who is an Independent and represents the East Midlands, is joining the likes of tennis star Martina Navratilova, former senior police officer Brian Paddick and TV presenter and ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen in the Australian jungle.

The eighth series of the popular ITV show started on Sunday evening with producers promising even more terrifying so-called "bushtucker trials" than ever before - where the contestants have to complete tasks such as eating mealworms, cockroaches, green ants and fish eyes in order to win food for the camp.

I think it shows a complete lack of respect for voters
Labour MEP Glenis Willmott

Fellow Euro MPs here in Brussels are furious Robert Kilroy Silk is a contestant, saying he has a job to do debating important issues and representing the people who elected him.

In the coming days MEPs will be discussing Europe's response to the G20 Summit in Washington, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"I think it shows a complete lack of respect for voters," Labour MEP Glenis Willmott tells me.

"We are in serious times and people expect their politicians to do a job of work, and you can't do that if you are in the jungle, covered in cockroaches, eating kangaroos' testicles, and swimming with crocodiles. I think it is an absolute disgrace."

Mrs Willmott's views are echoed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat MEPs too, who acknowledge they often strongly disagree with one another, but on this issue they are united.

Fringe party

But will a few weeks in the jungle really make any difference to the job Mr Kilroy Silk can do?

Tory MEP Roger Helmer smirks sardonically.

"It won't make that much difference because he does so little work anyway! Frankly if he was working his socks off I wouldn't have a problem with it. But he has given up on the job," he says.

Mr Kilroy Silk, a former Labour MP, became a household name as a BBC television presenter, hosting the chat show Kilroy for 18 years. In 2004 he joined the United Kingdom Independence Party and was elected as a UKIP MEP.

He soon left UKIP to found his own Eurosceptic party, Veritas, which means "truth" in Latin. Six months later he gave up as leader of the fringe party.

His former colleagues in UKIP are also quick to criticise his latest adventure. UKIP MEP Derek Clark suggests: "As Robert will not be attending work, I wonder if he will give his Parliamentary wage and allowances for the time he is on this show to a suitable charity?"

Mr Clark also points to a competition held in Mr Kilroy Silk's East Midlands constituency, in which local people were invited to try to find him.

"Constituents were offered champagne for proving his presence in the area, but after several months the champagne had to be given to Kilroy himself as no one had managed to find him," Mr Clark says.

Annual holiday

But Robert Kilroy Silk passionately defends his decision to go on the reality show.

In a statement, he says he has not taken a holiday this year - and while colleagues were away in July and August, he was working every day, tabling parliamentary questions and dealing with his constituents' problems. He insists he works hard on their behalf and is taking three weeks of his annual holiday to be in the jungle.

When it gets to the European elections next June, if he is standing again this will make him very, very famous
Liberal Democrat MEP Bill Newton Dunn

When he was elected in 2004, Mr Kilroy Silk said his aim was to "wreck" the European Parliament, and he would only go to Brussels when "it's important and necessary."

But he points out that since then he has asked 1,570 questions in the European Parliament, 1,470 of which have so far been answered. He claims this is three times more than all the other five East Midlands MEPs put together.

Supporters will also argue appearing on a primetime entertainment show, with an audience of millions, will do more to raise the profile of the European Parliament than many MEPs would manage in an entire career.

His critics acknowledge this - but are worried.

"When it gets to the European elections next June, if he is standing again this will make him very, very famous. I certainly hope that the public who are asked to vote for him won't be taken in by that," Liberal Democrat MEP Bill Newton Dunn says.

Others will wonder if he will repeat the antics of the last high-profile politician to appear on a reality television show.

The Respect MP George Galloway appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006 - and was filmed on all fours, purring and pretending to be a cat.

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