Excluding 'clowns': Ukip toughens checks on candidates ready for next year's European elections

 

Ukip candidates will for the first time face tough checks by party chiefs in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing publicity that dogged it throughout the local election campaign.

Nigel Farage publicly laughed off a series of disclosures about the views of several candidates, admitting that Ukip did not have the resources to vet everyone who stood for office under its banner.

But the Ukip leader has ordered a shake-up of the party machine to enable it to scrutinise the quality of candidates in next year's European elections and the general election in 2015.

Their career records and backgrounds will be double-checked and potential candidates will be subjected to video-taped interviews to assess how they cope under pressure.

The party is also considering making it a requirement of their candidacy that they are willing to submit their credit records.

With more than 130 council seats gains for Ukip and a 23-per-cent share of the vote, the onslaught of adverse publicity over its candidates appeared not to have blunted its appeal to the electorate.

But senior party figures privately acknowledge the joke could have worn thin by next year, when Ukip is aiming to finish first in elections to the European Parliament. It also plans to field a full slate of candidates in the general election.

In addition, the party plans an overhaul of policy in a move to counter charges that its spending commitments and promises of tax cuts do not add up. Ukip's support for a flat rate of tax looks set to be abandoned.

During the campaign, Ukip was forced to suspend a candidate in Somerset after he was pictured on Facebook apparently making a Nazi salute.

It also disowned a candidate in West Sussex over a Facebook entry implying that the Holocaust was part of a Zionist plot to bring about the creation of Israel as well as a candidate in Cornwall who was a former member of the British National Party.

Each of those failed to be elected, but Ukip's successful candidates included several with colourful and controversial backgrounds.

Among them is Laurence Keeley, who was elected yesterday to East Sussex county council. He was jailed in 2003 for burning pigs' heads and cows' lungs in local woods.

Alan Preest, who was elected to Gloucestershire county council, is a former Tory councillor, but left the party in 2008 after he admitted stealing from his local Tesco branch.

Andy Moore, who was a place on Hampshire county council was a former Liberal Democrat who was disciplined by the party for sexism after he had made a remark about Carina Trimingham's legs, who is now the partner of the ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

Others have campaigned heavily - and successfully - on immigration.

Bob McAuley, elected to Lincolnshire county council, rose to prominence through the Boston Protest Group, which was planning an anti-immigration march last year until it was called off because police feared it would lead to violence.

He objects that too many shops in Boston are run by European immigrants. He said: "If someone goes to a town for diverse shopping they expect a craft shop or clothing, not a can of Polish beer and a Latvian loaf."

Alan Lay, who was elected in Cambridgeshire, provoked anger when he accused the Tories and Liberal Democrats of being to blame for allowing "free loading immigrants" into the country.

Part of the problem for Ukip is its rapid success has outstripped its ability to check the quality of its candidates as large numbers were added to ballot papers.

Ian Smith, who was elected in Dorset, only agreed to stand three weeks ago. His name did not appear on Ukip leaflets and he admitted not even owning a party rosette.

He did not attend his count and only found out he become a councillor by email yesterday. He said: "My initial reaction was 'my goodness!' I was shocked but I'm very happy."

Now it has a foothold in local government, the party will find its councillors subjected to close scrutiny by the other parties. One Tory source said: "Ukip will be held to account over its policies and its candidates."

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