THE BLOG

The Strategy Behind Godfrey Bloom's 'Bongo Bongo' Remark

08/08/2013 17:53 BST | Updated 07/10/2013 10:12 BST

Godfrey Bloom is in trouble again. This time the UKIP MEP - who has previously been accused of misogynistic remarks - was caught on video complaining about the international aid that goes to what he termed "bongo bongo land". The incident is reminiscent of Italian politician Mario Borghezio's description of his government as "bonga bonga" after MP Cecile Kyenge became Italy's first black minister. Borghezio, an MEP from the Italian Lega Nord party, was ejected from the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group in the European Parliament for his comments.

In fact, the EFD is the same political group containing UKIP's MEPs, co-chaired by UKIP leader Nigel Farage. It remains to be seen whether Bloom will suffer the same fate - so far, he has only been told not to repeat the language.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme this morning, Bloom seemed to be almost revelling in the publicity. This might seem odd for a man who has caused widespread offence.

But our latest analysis at Counterpoint - a research and advisory group that looks at the social and cultural factors behind different types of risk - suggests that Bloom's attitude fits into UKIP's wider approach in the European Parliament. UKIP has a total of 11 MEPs - originally 13 in 2009. This is by European standards a lot - due to its size, the Netherlands, for instance, has only 26 members in the European Parliament in total. UKIP MEPs form the largest part of the EFD group.

Using data from VoteWatch Europe, we found that the EFD group tends to participate less in (roll-call) voting in the plenary sessions than the other political groups. In fact, UKIP's Godfrey Bloom ranks particularly poorly on this measure, with a participation rate of 32.88%, one of the lowest in the parliament. MEPs from the EFD also tend to draft fewer reports and opinions at the committee stage of the parliament.

On the other hand, MEPs from the EFD group like to talk - they are some of the most active MEPs at giving speeches and asking questions at the plenary sessions of the parliament. This shows that, in the eyes of the EFD's MEPs, rhetoric counts for a lot. And for UKIP in particular, speeches by leader Nigel Farage are important for publicity and reaching wider audiences online. This lends credence to Guardian columnist Michael White's point today that UKIP behaves more like a campaign than a traditional political party. Its influence is indirect, more through provocative rhetoric and ideas than through the traditional levers of power.

So could it be the case, as Michael White says, that Bloom's comments are just a matter of political posturing? Perhaps, but this rhetoric is in danger of crossing a fine line. Some language, no matter the real grievances felt behind it, is perceived as unacceptable by the wider public. UKIP makes very clear on its website that it is a non-racist organisation and no doubt fears being heavily stigmatised in the press. There is always a risk that a former fringe party like UKIP will be branded toxic. This could be particularly frustrating for Farage if it happens at just the point when UKIP is starting to become recognised as a powerful mainstream force. Communication may be crucial to UKIP's success - but that does not mean that its elected representatives can get away with saying anything.