The founder and former chair of UKIP's group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has called the party a "cult" that is "too willing to entertain bigots". In a scathing attack on UKIP and its leadership, Tom Booker told BuzzFeed News that Nigel Farage used the existence of the LGBT group as a public relations stunt to cover the homophobic views of some of its politicians.
Booker, 24, left the group and rescinded his party membership in February, three years after setting up LGBT UKIP. The law graduate, who works with disabled people in a hydrotherapy centre, explained in a statement that he "simply couldn't defend the party any more" due to UKIP failing to "set a gay-friendly tone".
Four weeks later, he has given BuzzFeed News his perspective on what really happened.
The final straw, said Booker, after a succession of homophobic comments by UKIP politicians, came when stories emerged in early February that the Christian Soldiers, a group affiliated to UKIP, were distributing a newsletter describing Manchester's Pride event as an "annual parade of depravity" and a "display of wickedness" whose participants could be "converted".
UKIP's refusal to sever ties with the group infuriated Booker.
"They seem to be too willing to entertain the more bigoted elements within the party," he told BuzzFeed News. "They don't want to say anything for fear of losing votes. If the Christian Soldiers had put out leaflets of a white supremacist nature, I have no doubt they would have got rid of the members. There's an attitude of, 'Oh, if it's homophobia it's a lesser crime.'
"The fact that the party couldn't be bothered to act when it came to Christian Soldiers and what they were putting out was the point at which I said, 'This group I've set up, they're just using it as a defence.' And it was done in Nigel's piece in The Independent, saying, 'I'm glad to hear we've got an LGBT UKIP society; we're very inclusive,' when he's never spoken to us. We were good PR for them."
Booker said he spoke to Farage before setting up the group, but not afterwards. "The party never spoke to us. It was very much [an attitude of] 'We'll leave you to your own devices.' The party would never come to us to ask us what we thought."
Of course, the party had no obligation to take LGBT UKIP's views into account, but the result was a disconnection which became particularly pronounced in the run-up to the introduction of same-sex marriage.
"We were never consulted," Booker said. "We were not involved in any conversation about that [anti-gay-marriage] policy. Not at all. And if they had involved us, the policy would not have been what it was."
Instead, Booker claimed, the UKIP hierarchy approached David Coburn, a UKIP MEP.
"From what I understand, they asked him, 'Right, you're gay, what are your thoughts on this? Because we don't know where we stand on same-sex marriage.' And he said, 'We don't want to aggravate people. It's a tolerant country, Christians are very tolerant – why do we want to aggravate them?' Absolute crap. I was very angry about that."
Comments made by Farage last year in which he said he would stop HIV+ immigrants entering Britain further alienated Booker.
"It was completely ignorant of people with HIV and the medical advances made," Booker said. "If he says that about people from other countries who've got HIV, what about people he wants to represent in this country who have HIV? It's rhetoric like that that will set back advancement and changing perceptions of people with HIV by 20 years."
It was "one of many nails in the coffin", Booker said. Another was UKIP councillor David Silvester's comments earlier last year claiming that gay marriage was the cause of the floods in Somerset. Or when Roger Helmer MEP was found to have posted comments online suggesting same-sex marriage could lead to incest. The incident, says Booker, was "just shrugged off".
"The party says, 'These individuals are not representative of the party'," he said, "but there's only so many times they can argue that before you say, 'Well, there's a trend here.'"
This trend, believes Booker, constitutes an unwillingness to tackle the more extreme views within the party. Dovetailing with this was the party's reluctance to apologise when mistakes are made.
"The party never admitted it was wrong on same-sex marriage policy," he said. "There was no apology for the HIV comments."
Fundamentally, Booker became disillusioned with the nature and direction of the party, which he said he joined believing it to be a liberal one at heart.
"UKIP has become like a cult," he said. "Look at the support base who fawn over Farage. Any criticism is either labelled as 'media bias' or 'loony-lefty nonsense'. There seems to be no room for criticism, and there is a lot to criticise. Look at conference, how they will jump onto their feet and give lengthy rounds of applause for 15 minutes just because he walks on stage.
"Farage has made UKIP into another social democrat party, but with the added emphasis of social reactionism. We see that with the HIV comments and the opposition to same sex marriage. It's all to garner votes. It's a very cynical, a very negative way of doing politics and for a cult I think that's very dangerous."
BuzzFeed News has asked UKIP for its perspective on Booker's claims, but has yet to receive a response.
Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Strudwick at email@example.com.
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