The UK Independence Party was denounced as racist today by Lord Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister.
He mounted the strongest ever attack by a senior Conservative on the party amid calls from some Tory right-wingers for an electoral pact between Ukip and Eurosceptic MPs.
Lord Heseltine likened Nigel Farage’s party to supporters of Enoch Powell in the 1960s, saying: “We have seen Ukips before”. He also drew a parallel with the rise of far-Right politicians in Europe such as the Front National in France.
He said: “You always have these right-wing racist operations pandering to the lowest common denominator in politics.”
Lord Heseltine told the BBC: “Of course it is racist, who doubts that? The language, the rhetoric, the membership – who doubts it?”
He said he was not accusing Mr Farage of racism, but added: “His party is very attractive to a racist agenda.”
The former Deputy Prime Minister warned his party that any formal link with Ukip would drive “pivotal” voters in the political centre ground away from the Conservatives.
His comments follow a series of controversies to hit Ukip. Its Euro-MP Godfrey Bloom, who has now lost the party whip, attacked the provision of overseas aid to “bongo bongo land”, while its most senior press officer referred to a journalist as being of “some form of ethnic extraction”.
Ukip describes itself as “a libertarian, non-racist party” and bans supporters of the British National Party from membership.
Amjad Bashir, a Ukip candidate in next year’s European parliamentary elections, attacked Lord Heseltine for his “baseless and repugnant” accusation of racism.
“He is an ignorant, out of touch dinosaur and quite frankly horrendously flippant by throwing about the word to suit his party’s agenda,” Mr Bashir said.
He also accused the media of “behaving like ignorant and wilfully spiteful children in a playground” by throwing around “this disgusting slur”.
Lord Heseltine’s came five months after the veteran Tory minister Kenneth Clarke described some Ukip candidates as “clowns” and “indignant, angry people” and added: “Fringe-right parties do tend to collect a number of waifs and strays.”
Since his outburst senior party figures have toned down their comments about Ukip for fear of alienating natural Conservative supporters attracted by Mr Farage’s party.