A sudden move to the far right by the UK Independence Party, which won three seats at last year's European elections, has raised fears that extreme racists are gaining a power base in a mainstream party. The far-right British National Party has even proposed a merger with the UKIP.
In the most recent edition of the BNP's magazine Spearhead, a leader comment claims that most UKIP members share the BNP's hatred of 'mass immigration and multi-racialism'. It concludes: 'If the power of the Establishment is to be challenged and a movement of national salvation built up, the streams of popular protest represented by the UKIP and the BNP will have to come together in a single political force.'
There is growing evidence that there are an expanding number of far-right sympathisers within the UKIP who would welcome such an initiative. This month a long message praising the BNP appeared on the party's internal Internet bulletin board, under the name of a senior officer in the London UKIP.
The message describes the BNP as being well organised and having an attractive set of policies on law and order, immigration, cultural and family issues. Elsewhere on the UKIP bulletin board there are more extreme postings. A UKIP member from North-east England calls blacks an 'Equatorial African species' who 'pollute our bloodlines'. In another message a senior paid officer of the party indulges in an anti-Catholic rant which describes the European Union as a plot by the Vatican to take over the nation states of Europe.
The impression of growing support in the UKIP for far-right views is reinforced in the latest edition of The Flag, the magazine of the National Democrats, formerly the National Front. A UKIP member writes: 'In the area I come from, almost all the UKIP members I have spoken to agree with most of your policies and would probably join you if it was not for the fact that UKIP is quite a bit larger than your organisation.'
Earlier this year a virulently racist letter written by Richard Clements, who was expelled from the UKIP for his views, and signed by a number of current members, was circulating. The letter, also signed by Dennis Delderfield, leader of the avowedly racist far-right party New Britain, states that 'suburb after suburb and town after town across the land have been taken over by Asians, Africans and Afro-Caribbeans ... In the not too distant future they will have direct control in many areas.'
Michael Holmes, former leader of the UKIP and one of its three MEPs elected last June, has expressed concern about infiltration of the party by individuals with far-right connections. He lost a vote of confidence last January and was thrown out of the party.
More than 200 members are said to have followed him out of the UKIP. 'All I know is that there are now some very odd people involved,' he said last week.
In a letter this month to his supporters, Holmes, a retired newspaper publisher, said four of the party's current senior officers had once been members of Delderfield's New Britain, which advocated repatriation of immigrants. The four are the party's new leader, MEP Jeffrey Titford, chairman Michael Natrass, party secretary Bryan Smalley, and Derek Bennett, on the National Executive.
Tony Bennett, spokesman for Titford, said: 'The UKIP disassociates itself from all forms of racism. We have no links with any extremist or racist parties.' He also dismissed merger ideas. 'We wouldn't even consider talking to the BNP.'