I’d say we hardly knew you, but, frankly, I could have done with knowing rather less.
Yesterday morning, Bloom announced he was quitting as a Ukip MEP. As a nation failed to mourn, he explained that he would continue to sit as an independent until the end of his term, and said it was time to move on from the UK Independence Party.
“I have felt for some time now that the ‘New Ukip’ is not really right for me, any more, perhaps, than New Labour was right for Dennis ‘The beast of Bolsover’ Skinner,” he remarked.
What could he possibly mean? Last week, Bloom found himself in hot water with his party after remarking to a room full of women that they were all “sluts” for failing to clean behind the fridge. It was a comment that itself pertained to an earlier boo-boo, not long after he was appointed to the European Parliament’s women’s rights committee in 2004, in which he declared that he was “here to represent Yorkshire women, who always have dinner on the table when you get home,” adding “I just don’t think they clean behind the fridge enough.” He’s a card, isn’t he? Or so the party seemed to think back then.
But perhaps the most astounding moment of last week’s encounter came not from Bloom himself, but from his press officer. When a Channel 4 journalist asked about the comment, Bloom replied that all the women who had heard him say it took it as a joke. At this point, a press officer apparently chipped in and said: “I think people don’t understand the difference between slut and slag, maybe it’s something to do with the lack of grammar schools in our education system.”
Got that? There’s nothing wrong with calling women “sluts”, silly, it’s just that you’re confusing it with another sexist demeaning word for women! Durr.
I have spent a long time trying to think of a male equivalent word for “slut” – a word that conveys female sexual promiscuity, grubbiness and domestic laziness all in one neat little syllable. But there isn’t one. Men have never had a special lexicon devoted to demeaning them and making them feel worthless. Slut, slattern, skank, slag, whore, hag, tart, bimbo – these are just a handful of the words used to describe women who do not come up to the standards prescribed for them by (male) society, who are deemed to be in some way unacceptable.
The words themselves are unacceptable. And any party trotting them out as though they were a “joke”, or trying to explain them away as OK because they don’t mean exactly what you think they mean, deserve to be treated as a joke themselves.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage was apparently livid at Bloom’s remarks – mainly because they distracted from the party’s conference. Desperate for credibility, he knows the likes of Bloom, with his out-dated sexist attitudes, do nothing for the vast majority of the populous, however hilarious some people might find them in private. Farage will, no doubt, be breathing a sigh of relief to have got rid of him. But I doubt women across the land will break into spontaneous dances of joy.
Ukip has barely a whisper of a presence north of the Border, something Farage discovered for himself on the streets of Edinburgh this year. And yet, I see it is fielding a (male) candidate in Dunfermline in the seat vacated by the disgraced MSP Bill Walker, recently jailed for 12 months for abusing women. The SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have all, incidentally, fielded female candidates, but I imagine such subtlety and sensitivity is way above the heads of Farage and Co.
There is an argument that the likes of Bloom were somehow good for British politics, because having someone make such ghastly remarks on a regular basis was a reminder of the true roots of Ukip and a constant deterrent against voting for it. I disagree. There is no place in politics for someone who calls women sluts, whether on the fringes, or in the heart of government. Believing that there is demeans us all.
Bloom had to go, and while I am glad that he has, his attitude will leave a stain on the party he represented for a long time to come.