The UK Independence Party is facing a race row tonight after a senior official referred to a journalist as “of some form of ethnic extraction”.
Gawain Towler, who handles press for Nigel Farage, provoked anger when he used the phrase in a text referring to Kiran Randhawa of the London Evening Standard.
The episode proved an unwelcome distraction for the Ukip leader as he made several appearances at the Conservative conference in Manchester.
Mr Towler, who will be a Ukip candidate in next year’s European elections, mistakenly sent the text to a photographer instead of a party colleague.
It read: “My fault but I told the Standard that Nigel would be arriving at approx 10.30 this morning. They have called and I expect a snapper and a female journalist (of some form of ethnic extraction) at Piccadilly. Am sorry. Possible more than one snapper as they hunt in packs.”
The Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi said: “Nobody in 2013 should use language like this — especially if you want to be seen as fit to run the country.”
Mr Towler, who later apologised to Ms Randhawa, strongly denied racism when confronted by journalists, telling them that his partner was Indian.
During his conference visit, in which he addressed three fringe meetings, Mr Farage claimed more than 20 hardline Tory Eurosceptics could be sympathetic to striking local deals with Ukip at the general election.
He seized on calls from a number of Tory MPs for pacts with Ukip, as well as a survey which found more than one-fifth of Conservative chairman supported the move.
He said: “There are a couple of dozen Tory MPs who hold a range of views on several issues, not just Europe, that are very close to our own. We have had informal discussions with a handful, no more than that.”
Mr Farage clashed angrily with the Conservative Eurosceptic Bill Cash at a meeting of the right-wing Bruges Group where the Ukip leader was cheered as he arrived.
Mr Cash argued that a strong showing by the anti-EU party at the next election could deprive the Tories of 60 seats.
But Mr Farage retorted: “I’m sorry, Bill, the world has moved on. The best way to change British politics is from without, not within.”
The continuing loss of support from the Conservatives to Ukip was underlined last night by a YouGov poll for the Labour Uncut blog.
It found 22 per cent of people who voted Tory at the last general election had swapped allegiance, with 60 per cent of them intending to support Ukip. Switching on that level would cost the Conservatives dozens of seats.