LONDON — A senior figure in UKIP, the UK Independence Party, was in hot water Wednesday after a video emerged of him railing against foreign aid to “Bongo Bongo Land” — a fictional territory located somewhere on the border between racism and political buffoonery.
Godfrey Bloom, a member of the European Parliament from Britain’s emergent right-wing political party, made his remarks at a meeting of supporters last month in Wordsley, an English village outside Birmingham.
“How we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month when we're in this sort of debt to Bongo Bongo Land is completely beyond me,” he said, in a video leaked to the Guardian.
Residents of the aforementioned territory, Bloom surmised, were using the money “to buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid.”
“We need a new squadron of F18s,” he continued. “Who's got the squadrons? Pakistan, where we send the money.”
Quizzed about his comments Wednesday morning by Jim Naughtie, host of BBC Radio 4's 'Today' program, Bloom offered a tongue-in-cheek apology.
“Righto, sorry, sorry everybody. If I’ve offended anybody in Bongo Bongo Land, I shall write to the ambassador at the court of St. James and apologize to him personally,” he said.
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“What I’m suggesting is when a country has a trillion pounds of debt and we’re cutting our hospitals, our police force... the money should stay at home,” he said. “It’s not for the likes of [Prime Minister] David Cameron to pick our pockets and send money to charities of his choice.”
Bloom rejected notion that people might be offended by the statement, arguing that most Britons would agree with him.
“I think I’m standing up for ordinary people at the pub, the cricket club, the rugby club — the sort of people who remain completely unrepresented under the political system that we have,” he told Naughtie.
In an earlier interview with the Guardian he called the suggestion that the comments carried racial overtones “laughable,” offering the fact that he has a Polish wife and two Kashmiri staff members as evidence of his non-racistness.
News of the remark initially drew mild rebuke from Bloom’s party.
“We are asking Godfrey not to use this phrase again as it might be considered disparaging by members from other countries,” said UKIP chairman Steve Crowther, second-in-command to leader Nigel Farage. “However, foreign aid is an extremely important debate that needs wider discussion.”
The party subsequently banned its representatives from using the phrase.
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Bongo Bongo Land may not have a place in geography, but the derisive term for undeveloped countries has played a role in the history of European politics.
In 1985, the Conservative MP Alan Clark referred to sub-Saharan Africa as “Bongo Bongo Land” in a private meeting. The leaked comment nearly derailed his appointment as Minister of State for Trade. Clark claimed it was merely a reference to Omar Bongo, then president of Gabon.
More recently, and more relevant for Bloom, an Italian member of the European Parliament called Italy’s first black minister a representative from the “government of Bongo Bongo” who would impose “tribal traditions.” Farage ousted the MEP from UKIP’s European alliance.
Bloom, 63 and a member of the European Parliament since 2004, is no stranger to political scandal.
The highlight reel of his gaffes includes being carried out by an intern in 2008 after making a speech while drunk, firing off a Nazi slogan at a German MEP in 2010 and publicly asserting after his appointment to the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality: “I just don't think [women] clean behind the fridge enough."