The UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), a right-wing party that advocates withdrawal from the European Union and massive cuts to immigration, has found itself in yet another racism controversy after one of its candidates suggested that the comedian Lenny Henry, who is black British, should be deported.
The party, led by Nigel Farage, has recently taken significant ground in the UK’s constituencies as it challenges the traditional conservatism of the ruling Tories but has been caught up in scandals involving Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist and racist comments on social media and in public from some of its ministers and workers. One local election candidate suggested that Lenny Henry, a popular and long-established television personality, should leave Britain for a ‘black country’. Another, who is now under investigation by UKIP, tweeted comments that Islam was a ‘satanic religion’ and that Nigerians were ‘corrupt people’ while Africans should be left to kill themselves off. The same candidate, also said that Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party, did not qualify as British but as Polish. Ed Miliband’s grandparents were Polish Jews who fled their homeland to escape Nazi persecution. Others have taken to social media to rail against Islam as “organised crime under religious camouflage” while likening the religion to Nazism, and suggesting that the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence has received a disproportionate level of attention, reports The Guardian newspaper.
William Henwood, the UKIP candidate for the area of Enfield, just north of London, allegedly made the ‘black country’ comment in response to a recent speech by Henry in which he criticised British television for not portraying more role models and characters from ethnic minority backgrounds. Henwood responded by tweeting the following comment “He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites.”
Gareth Thomas, the shadow minister for Europe (representing Labour), said the Henwood tweets, as well as racial comments and tweets from other UKIP members should be seen as evidence that the party is “not fit to represent the country in Europe“. UKIP in return have denied that they are a sounding board for racists and insist that the party is “non-racist, non-sectarian” and that members who express racist or prejudiced views would be expelled from the party. A statement from the party given to the Telegraph states: “..any comments made by members that fail to uphold these (non-racist) values will be duly investigated and acted upon“.
Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described Henwood’s comments about Lenny Henry as “absolutely disgusting”.
“I think it is for Nigel Farage to make absolutely clear that that isn’t UKIP’s official view but also to explain why so many people with those kinds of views seem to be attracted to becoming candidates for UKIP,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, a talk show by veteran BBC journalist John Pienaar.
Asked if he thought the comments were racist, he said: “Yes I do and that’s why I’d like to hear a very clear denunciation from Nigel Farage. I think it’s totally unacceptable, and he is as British as you or I are.“
UKIP’s deputy chairman Neil Hamilton, a former Conservative MP, said Henwood’s comments were being investigated by the party but he claimed they were a “complete distraction” from the upcoming European election campaign and “every party” had “unknown” activists who “who may have said something unpleasant on social media“. Roger Helmer, a UKIP MEP (Member of the European Parliament) for the East Midlands region, said Henwood’s comments did not represent his party and were only being reported because of a conspiracy campaign against it. UKIP have frequently lambasted both the Tories and the opposition Labour Party for a smear campaign against it as the two larger parties attempt to salvage electoral losses swallowed up by UKIP’s growing popularity among their ex-supporters. Some Tories have even defected to UKIP in recent months.
Henwood defended his comments in a report by the BBC, saying that the Lenny Henry and Islam tweets were not offensive. He told BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins “I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here? If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.“. This comment was made despite the fact that Henry was married to a fellow comedian of white British ethnicity and had made no suggestion that whites and blacks should lead separated lives. According to the BBC, Henwood who was preparing to stand for next month’s local council elections in Enfield, refused an interview on camera in the aftermath of his messages.
Earlier this week, UKIP ‘poster boy’ Andre Lampitt was sacked by the party after a string of racist and prejudiced comments made on Twitter in which he abused Africans and insulted the founder of Islam. He has previously appeared in UKIP television campaigns aimed at ordinary voters, as the party traded on Lampitt’s background as a house decorator. Lampitt, who was ironically born in Zimbabwe, also poured scorn on international aid organisations such as Oxfam and expressed pleasure from the AIDS epidemic in the African continent, saying: “Inner peace will come when Aids does what it should and reduce African density.”, according to the Daily Mail. The UKIP video shows the white Zimbabwean dressed in builder’s attire while railing against immigration of blue-collar workers and tradesmen from the European Union. Facing the camera, Lampitt states that British tradespeople are losing out to the ‘lads from Eastern Europe’. Meanwhile, UKIP’s advertising policy for public billboards has also been slandered for being virulently anti-European. One poster depicts the British flag, the Union Flag, catching fire and burning away while a EU flag is revealed underneath. Another shows a split view of a British woman sitting on a crowded bus while a European bureaucrat sits comfortably in his chauffeur-driven limousine. One other UKIP ad features a local builder begging for spare change after losing his job and home thanks to cheaper competition from the Continent. It later transpired that the actor who modelled for that poster was an Irish citizen from Dublin who had lived in the UK for the past decade.
UKIP has stolen ground from the big three parties as it capitalises on voters’ disgruntlement over immigration and the track record of the current ruling Coalition, with significant gains being made among former Tory voters and the undecided. A recent Observer/Optimum poll found that UKIP have made 18% shares of the decided electorate. However the recent round of gaffes and controversies reported all over the nation’s media may almost certainly destroy UKIP’s chances of gaining seats in both Westminster and Brussels.
Lenny Henry, who comes from the West Midlands city of Birmingham, has not yet given any formal comment or statement regarding the Henwood tweets.
“Ukip candidates add to Nigel Farage’s woes with a barrage of racism” – Daniel Boffey & Lucy Fisher, The Guardian/Guardian News and Media Limited (26 April 2014) LINK
“Star of Ukip advert suspended for calling Miliband ‘not British’, attacking ‘evil’ Islam and saying Africans should ‘kill themselves’… and he is from ZIMBABWE” – James Chapman & Matt Chorley, Mail Online News/Daily Mail/Associated Newspapers Ltd (24 April 2014) LINK
“Ukip in new racism row after Lenny Henry insult” – Tim Ross, The Telegraph/Telegraph Media Group Limited (26 April 2014) LINK
“UKIP candidate William Henwood defends Lenny Henry tweet” – BBC News Politics/BBC (27 April 2014) LINK
“Warren Ellis & Lenny Henry chatting” – spiritquest, Flickr (12 November 2011) LINK
“File:Nigel Farage of UKIP.jpg” – Euro Realist Newsletter, Wikimedia Commons (19 May 2008) LINK