Britain’s anti-European and anti-immigration UK Independence Party faced a growing racism storm on Tuesday ahead of local elections seen as a test of its ability to take seats off Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Leader Nigel Farage admitted “teething problems” after a UKIP candidate was suspended for apparently making a Nazi salute – but then Farage himself drew criticism for referring to “coloured people” in a radio interview.
The Conservatives have stepped up an offensive on UKIP – a party that Cameron once described as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” – fearing they could lose seats to UKIP in county council elections in England on Thursday.
UKIP gains could also help the opposition Labour party, which is leading national opinion polls ahead of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in Cameron’s coalition government.
UKIP’s efforts to change its image took a blow on Tuesday when the Daily Mirror tabloid splashed embarrassing pictures of Alex Wood, a council candidate in Somerset, apparently making a Nazi salute and clenching a knife between his teeth in front of a Union Jack.
UKIP suspended him but Wood said the page had been hacked.
Farage told BBC radio on Tuesday: “That doesn’t look very pretty, I agree with you. And we have had out of our 1700 candidates a handful that hasn’t embarrassed us.”
He said that a “a huge amount of time and money has been spent on researching every single UKIP candidate standing in these elections” and that the Conservatives and Labour had also had similar incidents.
But Farage ran into trouble when he said that “the Tory party sacked somebody last week who was a serving councillor for talking about coloured people coming into Sussex.”
The term “coloured people” is widely considered as racially offensive in Britain.
Farage later said he was merely quoting the Conservative.
UKIP nevertheless remains confident for Thursday’s elections, after scoring its best ever result in a parliamentary by-election in February when its candidate came second to the Conservatives.
The rattled Tories have stepped up a war of words with UKIP with veteran cabinet minister Ken Clarke describing Farage’s party on Sunday as a “collection of clowns”.
But Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson, widely viewed as a potential challenger to Cameron, warned that “ill-advised insults” towards UKIP were more likely to turn off voters than woo them.