Ukip leader Nigel Farage says his party is opposed to racism and extremism, following Channel 4 News’s revelation that teachers at his old school accused him of being “racist” and “fascist”.
Speaking to Ukip’s annual conference in London, Mr Farage said: “We firmly, fiercely oppose racism, extremism and the sectarianism of the left or right.
“Indeed, we are the only party in Britain who have banned former BNP members from joining our party. Ukip is a free-thinking, egalitarian party opposed to racism, sectarianism and extremism.”
On Thursday, Channel 4 News revealed that there was strong evidence that teachers at Dulwich College, where Mr Farage went to school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, believed he was “racist”, “fascist” or “neo-fascist”.
A letter written by Chloe Deakin, a former English teacher at the south London school, urged a colleague to reconsider his decision to appoint Nigel Farage as a prefect in the light of teachers’ concerns about his political views.
There are also claims, denied by Mr Farage, that he “marched through a quiet Sussex village very late at night shouting Hitler Youth songs”.
In his speech, Mr Farage accepted that the media spotlight had exposed unpalatable views among its “eclectic” membership and that he had a “blistering row” with outspoken MEP Godfrey Bloom, who was caught on camera saying British overseas aid should not be sent to “bongo bongo land”.
He said: “We have some people with overactive Facebook accounts. And we have some who make public pronouncements that I would not always choose myself.
“Indeed, I had the most blistering row with Godfrey Bloom in a Strasbourg restaurant the other day. He wants to fight for his beliefs and I was saying that we need to stick to the big messages.”
Mr Farage said immigration was “the biggest single issue facing this country… but the establishment has been closing down the immigration debate for 20 years”.
He said “more people came to this country in one year, 2010 than came in the thousand years before it”, adding: “Half a million new arrivals a year! It’s just not sustainable.
“Anyone who looks at it honestly knows it’s not sustainable. Ukip talks about it honestly, directly. We’ve had a lot of stick for it. Normal, decent people have been bullied out of the debate.”
The Ukip leader said the party was on course to “cause an earthquake” by winning the 2014 European elections in what was effectively a referendum on Britain’s future EU membership.
He expressed confidence the party would see hundreds more councillors elected in May’s local elections and that it would have more members than the Liberal Democrats within 18 months.
He said: “I’m taking nothing for granted, but I think we’re going to do well in the European elections. My ambition, my conviction, is that we can come first and cause an earthquake.”
Asked about the allegations that Mr Farage sang Hitler Youth songs as a teenager, Nick Clegg said it would be an “unhealthy development” to start judging politicians by what they said when they were at school.
The deputy prime minister told LBC 97.3: “He needs to answer to those allegations, as such, but I don’t, other than in really extreme circumstances, I think it would be pretty odd if we start judging politicians by what they did at school.”