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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April 2005, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Kilroy wasn't here
Sketch
By Brian Wheeler
BBC News political reporter

Europe is the "elephant in the room" of the general election campaign, according to Nigel Farrage.

Roger Knapman

None of the big three parties - or "LibLabCon" as UKIP refers to them - wants to talk about it, the party's leader in the European parliament said.

But for many people at UKIP's manifesto launch at a Westminster restaurant, there was another potential "elephant in the room": Robert Kilroy-Silk.

UKIP's former star candidate and would-be leader had launched his breakaway party Veritas' manifesto on Wednesday with a pledge to "take our country back from those who have stolen it from us".

UKIP's manifesto slogan, unveiled a day later, is "we want our country back".

Someone was clearly going to go home empty-handed.

UKIP's party chairman Petrina Holdsworth put the similarity in message down to Veritas being "a parody of UKIP".

In-fighting

She also accused the new party of cribbing some of its ideas from a draft UKIP manifesto that had been posted on the party's website earlier this year - a charge later denied by Veritas' deputy leader Damian Hockney.

Mr Kilroy-Silk had not mentioned his former party once during his emotionally-charged manifesto launch.

New parties are bound to attract strong-minded people
Roger Knapman, UKIP leader
CPS:LINK HREF="" ID="4446673" STYLE="rightarrow">UKIP manifesto launch
UKIP, by contrast, were ready with a few one-liners and put downs for their one time star candidate.

"I recruited him, so it's all my fault," said Mr Farrage.

"He was very good for us - for a period of two or three weeks."

"He came, he saw, he did not conquer," he later added.

UKIP's leader Roger Knapman, an altogether more low key character than Mr Kilroy-Silk (his one nod to media presentation was to remove his spectacles for the cameras), was asked how he expected people to trust a party that had been beset by in-fighting since its birth.

"New parties are bound to attract strong-minded people," said Mr Knapman, adding: "sooner or later we will prevail because nothing can stop an idea that's time has come."

How did he define Britishness?

"Everyone who is living here rightly and properly is British", said Mr Knapman, and anyone entering the country had to "accept our culture", even if, he confessed, "it is difficult to define".

'Britishness test'

People entering the country would have to take a "Britishness test", on their knowledge of the UK's culture, institutions and traditions, he added.

And what if they failed the Britishness test?

"If they fail the Britishness test they have got to take it again."

It was a bit like the European referendum, he added, you kept asking the question until you got the answer you wanted.

UKIP is putting up candidates in 500 constituencies, but it is concentrating its resources on 21 target seats, where it came first in the European elections.

Mr Knapman says the party is polling about 11% nationally, so where there is a four or five way fight it believes it stands a real chance of snatching its first Westminster seats.

MG Rover

Its strongholds are mainly in the West Country, but Mr Farrage was keen to stress that it was no longer just a repository for disaffected Conservative voters.

Of its 21 MEPs, 19 won in areas which were Labour or Liberal Democrat. The party was also looking to gain votes from the ranks of the disaffected who have stopped voting.

But it admitted it did not have the same amount of cash to play with as it did at last June's European poll, when Yorkshire millionaire Paul Sykes was signing the cheques.

The party was also keen to make capital out of MG Rover's troubles.

Mr Knapman claimed he could have saved the car plant "in three days" by spending the 30m he said Britain contributes each day to the EU.

Not only that, Mr Knapman himself owned two Rovers, while Mrs Holdsworth had an MG.

Mr Farrage let the side down a bit by revealing he drove a "10-year-old. bashed-up Swedish Volvo".

But, in a bid to emphasise the party's cosmopolitan credentials, he said he had married "a German girl" and used to work for a French bank.

All this and a selection of croissants and coffee for the press corps - perhaps all those hours spent in Brussels and Strasbourg are starting to rub off...





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