UK Politics

UKIP holds meetings to win over British Asians

Louis Bours of UKIP meets Muslims at the Sayyida Aminah mosque in Bradford.
Image caption Louise Bours said British Asians have been "welcoming" and "lovely" to UKIP

The UK Independence Party has been accused of hostility towards ethnic minorities because of its tough stance on immigration and controversial comments from some of its members.

The party strongly denies allegations of racism and is visiting mosques and temples to convince worshippers of its sincerity.

Since its first meeting at a mosque in Leeds in June, UKIP representatives have visited 15 more Asian places of worship, most recently the Sayyida Aminah mosque in Bradford.

Monday's meeting at the mosque - which is a few miles north east of the city centre in an area with a large Muslim population - was a low-key affair with a small group of about 20 community elders there to hear what UKIP had to say.

UKIP 'myths'

"We are the only British political party who actually proscribe membership to anybody who has belonged to any far-right organisation," says Louise Bours, who is on UKIP's national executive committee.

"And if we found out if anybody belonged to any of those far-right organisations we would immediately revoke their membership."

Ms Bours says it is one of the many myths about the party it wanted to dispel.

Image caption UKIP is visiting places of worship to win over British Asian voters

Accusations of racism have been fuelled by comments from members like MEP Godfrey Bloom.

"How we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month, when we are in this sort of debt, to Bongo Bongo Land is completely beyond me," he said to a meeting of supporters in the West Midlands in July.

It was captured on film and passed to a national newspaper, and he was reportedly rebuked by the party over the comments.

Mr Bloom also caused a stir on Friday when he used the word "sluts" in relation to women, prompting UKIP leader Nigel Farage to remove the party whip.

Although it may sound unlikely because of the party's reputation for political incorrectness, some UKIP members admit privately that it has been stung by recent criticism over racism.

It is thought to be one of the reasons for the meetings in mosques and Sikh and Hindu temples.

'Nice match'

Ms Bours has attended some of these meetings and she said that at every one she met "welcoming" and "lovely" people.

"You can see for yourself today the reception we have had is so warm and welcoming and I think certainly with the British Asian community a lot of our policies and core beliefs are their beliefs really in terms of family and tradition and I think we are a really nice match."

Another "myth" UKIP wants to dispel is that Asians are opposed to strong immigration controls.

Some of the worshippers at the Sayyida Aminah mosque appeared to bear that out.

Abdul Rehman, a retired teacher, says:" I have asked them questions and they have answered rather splendidly and there is no doubt that whatever they want to do is for the good of the nation and the communities of this country."

Rajah Tariq Mahmood says: "I never heard about it before. Luckily it was the first time I was invited and I turned up here.

"I was really pleased with what I heard today. As long as they keep their words."

UKIP also appears to be trying to rewrite the language on race relations.

Its members often refer to the worshippers not as Asians but as people from the Commonwealth.

'Careful choices'

This comes from UKIP's vision of a Britain less dependant on the EU - and one working more closely with nations it had historic ties to, like India.

But Asghar Bukhari, of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, told the BBC UKIP was keeping the meetings low-key because of fears of confrontation.

"They are picking and choosing the places they go to very carefully because they know that most Asians and Muslims are opposed to them," he said.

Image caption UKIP has a "strong desire" not to be seen as racist, Dr Robert Ford said

"So they go to the places where they won't be questioned and challenged on their policies on race and immigration."

Dr Robert Ford, of Manchester University, said UKIP's true motive was to win over white voters - those who like its policies but are reluctant to back a party that has accusations of racism swirling around it.

"The racist charge carries a significant sting," he said.

"There is a large population of voters, not just ethnic minority voters, who will rule out parties if they consider them to be agents of intolerance might be one way of putting it.

"So UKIP have a strong desire to make sure they aren't seen in those terms.

"In the past they have been associated with the BNP [British National Party]. There have been cases of activists saying things that look pretty bad on this front. So you can understand it as an exercise in reassuring the electorate."

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