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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 05:28 GMT 06:28 UK
Kilroy celebrates showbiz victory
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News Online in Northampton

Robert Kilroy-Silk arrives at the count in Northampton
Kilroy-Silk took centre stage for the East Midlands election count
It was to be Robert Kilroy-Silk's night from start to finish - and ever the professional man of the people, he did not let his audience down.

From the moment he arrived at a slightly shabby leisure centre on the outskirts of Northampton, the UKIP's best known candidate took centre stage.

Before he had made it into the building, television crews pulled him to one side for pre-count interviews.

And so it continued all night - with Kilroy-Silk speaking the anti-Europe mantra loud and clear.

The element of star quality he brought to an otherwise unremarkable election hall was unmistakeable.

Even speaking to the cameras outside, in the somewhat unlikely setting of a DIY superstore car park, he exuded a practised chatshow charm.

I think a very large proportion of the British electorate want their country back
Robert Kilroy-Silk

Conservatively dressed in a dark blue suit and the purple and yellow rosette of his newly adopted party, his trademark silver hair barely quivered in the breeze.

A teenage girl passing with a pram paused to watch the show - perhaps her first brush with the process of European democracy.

As the night wore on, dragged out by delays in concluding the counts in the 44 wards making up the East Midlands constituency, the man and his entourage maintained an air of easy confidence.

The former Labour MP admitted he had expected it to be a night of success for the UKIP - and a warning shot across the government's bows.

Election-winning patter

He told BBC News Online: "I think it's a clear message that when Tony Blair talks about wanting to be at the heart of Europe, the people here are saying very clearly 'Tone, if you want to be at the heart of Europe fine, you go - we don't want to.

"I think a very large proportion of the British electorate want their country back and they don't want to be governed by a remote, corrupt bureaucracy in Brussels.

"We want good relations and good neighbours but we want to be in charge of our own destiny."

Robert Kilroy-Silk and wife Jan await the result
The ex-chatshow host was supported by a large contingent

For a man absent from politics for the best part of two decades, the old election-winning patter seems to have come back easily.

He said: "It doesn't seem as if I've been away from politics.

"I've obviously attracted a lot of attention and that has been, I hope, good for the profile of the party.

"But it's about the issue - not me. People are voting for the issue."

It was Mr Kilroy-Silk's claim that his was the only party never to have engaged in "personality politics" which provoked the loudest outburst of heckling from his rivals as he made his acceptance speech.

There's huge ignorance and my guess is he's capitalised on that
Lib Dem MEP Bill Dunn
Having overheard the odd politician mutter "primadonna" as the chatshow host passed, it became clear not everyone appreciated the "Kilroy Factor" in the run-up to the result.

Green Party candidate Brian Fewster said: "What we've noticed with a certain degree of resentment has been the amount of coverage Kilroy has got just by being Kilroy."

And Liberal Democrat MEP Bill Dunn, who kept his seat, said the publicity surrounding the UKIP campaign had simply fed the public's fear of Europe.

He said: "In my opinion - Kilroy of course wouldn't agree at all - the public has no idea about how Europe works and what it does.

No ambitions

"There's huge ignorance and my guess is he's capitalised on that."

In his acceptance speech, Labour MEP Phillip Whitehead warned his new colleague not to "play the demagogue" or work the "politics of paranoia".

But as for Mr Kilroy-Silk, he denied any hint of political ambition beyond his party's aim to pull Britain out of Europe.

He insisted he knew nothing about the rumours suggesting he plans to depose party leader Roger Knapman - or stand in a by-election this year.

I would be quite happy to get back to my garden and reclaim my herbaceous border
Robert Kilroy-Silk

He said he would go to Brussels "when it's necessary" to aid UKIP's campaign to win Britain's independence from Europe.

"I'm not getting elected to get bogged down in corridors there," he said.

"This for me is a single issue. It's the biggest single issue there is - we cannot have a bigger one than who governs us."

And should the UKIP succeed in its aim of withdrawal from Europe, what next for the man who has earned a reputation as the comeback king?

"I will have done my job," answers Mr Kilroy-Silk. "I have lots of things to do. I would be quite happy to get back to my garden and reclaim my herbaceous border."

Charlie Dimmock, Diarmuid Gavin, be warned - you could be next to feel the Kilroy Factor.




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