Ukip still has a problem with men in the party sometimes displaying “boorishness” and “chauvinism”, according to one of its most senior figures.
Patrick O’Flynn, the party’s economics spokesman, said it needed to work harder at challenging the minority within Ukip whose comments could put off potential female voters.
He was speaking in London on Wednesday at the launch of Ukip’s policies for women, alongside the party’s policy chief, Suzanne Evans, and justice spokeswoman, Diane James.
A long list of ideas designed to appeal to women was unveiled by James, who argued that Ukip “recognises very much the huge contribution women now make to UK society”.
The MEP for South East England said the party was fully committed to keeping maternity and paternity leave, increasing levels of free childcare and addressing the problem of female genital mutilation, which had become an “accepted cultural practice for some of our ethnic compatriots”.
Ukip would also abolish VAT on sanitary products, James said, although she suggested this was something the audience should “grin” about and not consider to be too much of a serious point.
The party has been criticised over the years for comments made by its leader, Nigel Farage, who has suggested mothers returning to work in the finance industry were worth less to employers than men, and that women could “perhaps sit in a corner” when they were breastfeeding. Two years ago, Ukip kicked out its then defence spokesman Godfrey Bloom after he jokingly referred to a room full of women as sluts – the last in a string of sexist comments.
James made a plea for people to draw a line under the Bloom incident, saying the party had moved on and she was not prepared to take further questions on the issue.
Evans said the fact that Ukip tended to be more popular among male voters was down to “pure propaganda” generated by the media and political rivals.
But O’Flynn said: “I would be slightly more self-critical than Suzanne. Nigel himself has said sometimes Ukip has resembled a rugby club on tour. That is becoming less and less true. The two absolute top-ranked female politicians sitting alongside me today are two of the main reasons for that.
“But we need to work harder and there are still occasions when people, men in the party who should know better, have occasionally resorted to boorishness or chauvinism. When that happens I make sure I express my own displeasure.”
Making the case for Ukip to broaden its appeal, he said: “We’re a very fast-growing party and increasing our attraction. It is clearly daft for us to see a political context where we’re not maximising our support in every potential group. As set out today, there is no reason why we should be lagging with women voters. We still are. We’ve got to work harder on addressing those issues and we are doing that.”
Farage was not at the event; he has been touring key seats this week.
Asked why he was not present for the launch of policies for half the population, James said: “As far as I’m concerned, he is doing exactly what the other political leaders are doing and what voters would expect him to be doing. They want to meet him, they want to discuss with him directly and he is putting himself in areas where exactly that kind of interaction could happen.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 9th April 2015 11.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010