A senior UK Independence Party figure has rejected claims that he made sexist remarks during a debate on gender quotas for company boards.
• Ukip party treasurer Stuart Wheeler dismisses claims he made sexist comment in gender quota debate
• Mr Wheeler claimed that women were not as good at men at bridge, poker or chess when arguing against the implementation of quotas at boardroom level
• Comment on politics.co.uk was challenged by panellist and dismissed as “a disingenuous, sexist comment”
Stuart Wheeler, the party’s treasurer, argued that women are not as good as men at bridge, poker and chess as he attempted to explain why he thought it was not necessary for women always to be included in the senior ranks of businesses.
According to politics.co.uk, he told a London debate on the topic: “I would just like to challenge the idea that it is necessarily right to have a lot of women or any particular number on a board.
“Business is very, very competitive and if you take the performance of women in another competitive area, which is sport where they have no strength advantage - chess, bridge, poker - women come absolutely nowhere.”
Mr Wheeler’s views were reportedly challenged by panellist Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who described it as “a disingenuous, sexist comment” before pointing out her mother was a bridge champion.
But Mr Wheeler, a former Conservative Party donor, said later that he was trying to explain that women are better at some things while men excel at others, which meant it would be wrong to impose gender quotas on company boards.
He added that Ukip needed to attract more women and was making steps to achieve this but ruled out quotas.
Mr Wheeler told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: “I pointed out that in certain areas women did not do as well as men in an area where they don’t compete on the basis of athleticism or strength, where obviously men would have an advantage.
“Then I cited poker, bridge and chess. I pointed out in those three indoor games women were nowhere near as good as men, for whatever the reason may be.
“Then this lady Clare Gerada leapt to her feet, she was one of the panel, and said ‘Well, look, my 83-year-old mother is terribly good at bridge and a bridge champion’, and that seemed to be a reason for saying therefore my remark was sexist, which is not really a logical connection.”
Questioned if he was suggesting men were more intelligent than women, Mr Wheeler said: “No, no, certainly not.
“At universities women come out with better degrees and it’s very difficult to pin your hand on what exactly it is. In universities, engineering - 3 per cent of graduates are women and 97 per cent are men, I suppose.
“But on the other hand, in the caring profession, about two-thirds are women. So women and men make different choices. Some go into one thing and are good at one thing, some go into another and are maybe better at that.
“All I was saying was there are areas were women are not as good as men, I’m sure there are areas men are not as good as women and therefore I don’t think it’s always essential to have a minimum number of either.”
Giving examples, Mr Wheeler said it was not crucial to have a minimum number of women on an engineering board, nor should the top number of people in hospitals include a minimum of men.
He added: “Why it is men outperform women at sports or games I’ve mentioned, I don’t know. I often discuss it and we can never come to a conclusion. There are some things men are better than women at, some things women are better than men at, and you don’t necessarily want to impose a minimum of either sex at the top of any profession or any board.”
It was also reported that Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom commented at yesterday’s event that he and Ukip leader Nigel Farage wanted an invitation to a bunga bunga party hosted by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Mr Bloom suggested recently that Britain should not give aid to “bongo bongo land”.
On Mr Bloom’s latest comments, Mr Wheeler told the BBC they were clearly a joke and he hoped it did not give the impression women were not taken seriously by the party.
He said: “I can’t really see how it would and, if it did, it’s certainly the wrong impression.
“We are very keen in Ukip to increase the number of women. We haven’t got enough women, I accept that, and we are trying very hard to get more women - but not by quotas.
“We have a very rigorous system of choosing who will be our candidates next year for MEPs and although it’s very rigorous, there’s no bias one way or the other.”