All eyes are on UKIP this week as we head into the European and local elections with support for the party at record levels. I took a closer look at the candidate list for The Sunday Times and found dozens of former Conservative councillors (even former mayors and local Conservative party chairmen) were now swelling the UKIP ranks. Experts suggest that the electoral experience and credibility these new recruits bring could mark a crucial turning point for the party once described by the Prime Minister as “a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. The article can be found on the Sunday Times website here.
I was also surprised by the number of young candidates in the glossy ‘young Tory’ mould. Jack Duffin, chair of the party’s youth wing Young Independence, told me that membership has doubled in the last year. I’ve profiled a few of the young guns here.
The party has been attempting to rebrand itself after being dogged with claims of racism among its membership.Earlier this month, leader Nigel Farage took to the stage during a rally, flanked by black and Asian supporters, to declare: “I don’t care what you call us but from this moment on, please, do not ever call us a racist party. We are not a racist party.”
But UKIP was forced on to the defensive last week when Sanya-Jeet Thandi, 21, a prominent young supporter, announced she was leaving because because of its“racist populism”.
I also found a number of offensive posts on candidates’ social media accounts during my research. A Facebook account for Grimsby Ukip candidate Phillip Dumbrell read: “The majority of murderous Muslims [should] be burned in HELL!… ALL copies of the Quaran MUST be burnt. Because it believes in EVIL. [sic.]”
When confronted, Dumbrell’s party secretary John Stockton told me: “Frankly I find it incredible that he’d have the linguistic capability to write that… We had to write his [online] profile for him. Phillip claims this was not written by him and must have been copied onto his site.”