Page last updated at 14:48 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 15:48 UK

Tory anger at 'anti-gay' claims

Timothy Kirkhope
Timothy Kirkhope said Mr Kaminski had been "absolutely straightforward"

The top UK Conservative in the European Parliament has defended his group's Polish leader over alleged homophobic comments he made nine years ago.

A video has been released of Michal Kaminski, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists, using a derogatory term for gay people.

But Tory MEP leader Timothy Kirkhope said Mr Kaminski's remarks had been taken "out of context".

Mr Kaminski said the words had a different meaning when he used them.

The Tories last month gained enough support to form a new centre right grouping in the European Parliament - the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECRG) - made up of 55 MEPs from eight countries.

But the socially conservative views of some of ECRG members have come under the spotlight, with critics claiming they are at odds with Tory leader David Cameron's efforts to modernise his party's image.

Mr Cameron has made efforts to build bridges with the gay community and was recently praised by campaigners after he apologised for Section 28, legislation brought in by his party in the 1980s banning the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities.

'Steptoe and Son'

The latest row has been sparked by a short video clip available online dated July 2000, in which Mr Kaminski - a member of Poland's Law and Justice Party - uses the word "pedal" to refer to gay rights campaigners, in a TV interview.

This is a derogatory Polish word for homosexual, usually translated into English as "fag" or "queer".

When asked by the reporter if such a term is offensive, his reply translates as: "That's how people speak, what should I say? They are fags."

Michal Kaminski (pic: Kaminski website)
Michal was one of those who fought in the underground against communism
Timothy Kirkhope MEP

A spokesman for Mr Kaminski told the BBC: "The word had different connotations a decade ago and it is not a word Mr Kaminski would use today."

'Very unfair'

Earlier this week, Mr Kaminski insisted he was not homophobic.

He told BBC News: "I'm opposing the so-called marriages for the homosexual couples but I have a deep respect for the people with a homosexual way of life.

"You can never find anything I said in my past against the homosexuals. I think that its almost impossible to find it because I'm a democrat.

"I'm a convinced Conservative and I have a liberal approach to the way of life the people are choosing."

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's The World At One, Mr Kirkhope insisted the footage was being used "very, very unfairly indeed" against Mr Kaminski.

"These remarks, that are completely out of context, were taken from something that was said about 10 years ago in Poland," Mr Kirkhope said.

He added that "what happened 10 years ago in the context of the social conservatism of Poland, in other words odd references out of context, are being used over and over again".

'Not acceptable'

Mr Kirkhope added: "Michal has been absolutely straightforward about everything. Michal was one of those who fought in the underground against communism.

"It's a bit like the BBC and the re-runs of Steptoe and Son and Alf Garnett. I mean, I don't like that language very much. Certainly it would not be acceptable today."

Mr Kirkhope also attacked former Conservative group leader Edward McMillan-Scott, who stood for vice president of the European Parliament against Mr Kaminski, the ECR group's official candidate.

Mr McMillan-Scott had the Tory whip withdraw after the move, which, according to reports, angered the Polish ECRG members and led to Mr Kaminski rather than Mr Kirkhope assuming the group's leadership.

Mr Kirkhope said: "Mr McMillan-Scott's main principle, I think, was to arrange to try and be the vice president of the European Parliament against the wishes of his own party for which he has paid a price of discipline."

Previously, Mr McMillan-Scott has opposed Mr Cameron's decision to remove Tory MEPs from the European People's Party centre right grouping, saying its federalist views were at odds with Conservative policy.

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