UK Politics

Labour conference: Peter Hain in UKIP 'bigotry' warning

Peter Hain
Image caption Peter Hain was addressing a Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting at Labour's annual conference

Labour's goal must be to stop UKIP winning next year's European elections, Peter Hain has said.

The Labour MP and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner said UKIP was "dangerous" because it could not be branded "fascist" or "racist".

But it "licensed bigotry" among some voters, he told a Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting.

UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall said Mr Hain's comments showed Labour's "narrow-mindedness".

UKIP came second at the 2009 European elections, behind the Conservatives, and has high hopes of winning the highest number of MEPs in the UK on the back of a strong showing in this year's local elections.

'Anti-politics mood'

The party, which campaigns for tighter immigration controls, is at pains to stress that it is a non-racist organisation, which welcomes members and candidates from all ethnic backgrounds.

It also claims to be the only party that bans former members of the British National Party from joining it and has worked with anti-fascist groups to vet potential members.

But Mr Hain said it had to do more to distance itself from the far right.

"A lot of BNP supporters, as their organisation has been in retreat, have found a home in UKIP," he told the meeting at Labour's annual conference.

"Now that is a reality. That is something UKIP have to confront and that is something they have to recognise and deal with, if they are willing to do so.

"We also need to recognise that this is a very dangerous form of populist politics.

"In an era where politicians are more despised than perhaps we have ever been, there is a very anti-politics mood around in which the rise of smaller parties, including UKIP, who I think could well win the European elections next year, in England at least, if there isn't a big mobilisation against them.

"And what that does is, it gives a licence to bigotry. It gives a licence to that kind of anti-politics organisation."

Labour, he added, had to develop a more "subtle" line of attack against Nigel Farage's party.

"And so we have a responsibility, not to label them as racist or fascist, because that's far too simple and straightforward an attack to make and easy to dispel on their part, as we have seen from their leader."

'Worldwide recession'

UKIP's deputy leader Paul Nuttall rejected the former cabinet minister's claims, saying: "This is the Labour Party once again revealing their own narrow-mindedness.

"Any voice of opposition to theirs they immediately label as bigoted.

"What we are finding however is Labour voters increasingly turning to UKIP as the one force in politics that represents them, stands up for them and is not afraid to speak on their behalf.

"If being anti-political is about representing the people rather than being more concerned with winning and political self-preservation through spin, trickery and deceit then long may UKIP continue to rise in success. "

Shadow public health minister Dianne Abbott, also speaking in Brighton, said the rise in right wing and fascist parties across Europe was the "inevitable consequence of a worldwide recession".

"It's obvious that we have to fight UKIP but we have to be careful as a movement that we give no credibility whatsoever to the UKIP narrative.

"We cannot repeat often enough that it is not immigrants that cause low wages, it is deregulation of labour markets, the absence of trade union rights and freedoms and predatory employers that cause low wages."