Ukip youth wing gets on down with Neil and Christine Hamilton

Charlie Cooper parties with the rising stars of Young Independence

The words "Young Independence" evoke many things – but not necessarily Neil and Christine Hamilton.

The disgraced former Tory MP and his wife were the guests of honour this week as the little-known youth wing of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) staged its annual Christmas do, on board a battleship, moored on the Thames.

They may be few in number, and overwhelmingly white and male, but Young Independence (YI) see themselves as the saviours of British democracy. The mood in the room is festive: impressive results in recent parliamentary by-elections saw the party take second place in Middlesbrough and Rotherham.

A wave of public sympathy after Rotherham Council's decision to remove three ethnic minority children from their foster parents, ostensibly because the couple voted Ukip, helped them to that electoral success.

YI's membership policy allows anyone under 35 to join, which casts some doubt on the "Young" element of their name. A glance around the room showed a party attended by about 30 men in their 20s, only a handful of women, and only one from an ethnic minority. The rest were old-guard Ukip and party officials.

But YI claims it is making in-roads into the youth vote. Oliver Neville, the 21-year-old, newly-elected chairman of Young Independence spent the best of his student days thumping the tub at university campuses in the north of England. "When I joined two years ago, it was so cliquey, you knew everybody in the club," he said. "Now we have 700 members and counting. It's a radical party that pushes boundaries. Here you can say what you like. A lot of the younger members are more classically liberal than other elements in the party. Some are even quite pro-immigration."

Lee Allen, 20, from Derby, declared he "loves Europe" and is spending the year in Paris. "I just think we need a better relationship with Europe based on a free trade agreement," he said, adding he thought immigration was a good thing but that it should not go unchecked.

But as the night progresses another Ukip begins to emerge: and the young insurgents appear to be fully on board. Lord Monckton – or "the Monckmeister General" as he is introduced – declares that climate change is a "Marxist myth" and the EU is "a dictatorship" strangling Britain's God-given freedoms.

It all gets a bit evangelical when he begins quoting the Gettysburg Address to instil a healthy zeal for individual freedom in the hearts of his young disciples. Does that include the freedom to not particularly like foreigners or people with different- coloured skin? "It would be wrong to deny that there are racists in our party," senior party spokesman Gawain Towler admitted – before claiming this was true of "all parties".

"I think we do more to weed them out than any other party because of the level of accusations that are made against us," he said.