Inviting Ukip leader Nigel Farage to address the ITT conference was a mistake, says Ian Taylor, and here is why

I was in two minds about attending the ITT conference this year, and talking to people around the venue I know I’m not alone. The reason is Nigel Farage.

It was a mistake to invite him to speak, not because he represents a non-mainstream political party or appeals to populism or wishes to take Britain out of the European Union.

It was a mistake because Ukip is a racist party.

That is not simply my view. A YouGov poll at the beginning of May suggested 27% of UK voters believe Ukip has racist views and racist members, and 35% that it attracts racist supporters and candidates – meaning 62% identify the party with racism.

A YouGov poll in late May, after the European elections, found the proportion believing Ukip to be outright racist had risen to 46%.

It is bad enough that Ukip candidates have been exposed as homophobic and anti-women. Farage is a clever enough politician not to display these traits openly himself, but they form part of Ukip’s policies – so far as any have been revealed.

The party opposed gay marriage and has previously advocated scrapping paid maternity leave, a pledge in its 2010 election manifesto which Farage now disowns but which he launched.

However, the main problem with Nigel is that the surge in Ukip support is making racism respectable in Britain in a way it has not been for decades.

The ITT conference programme refers to “Ukip’s controversial position on Europe” and suggests Farage “has driven the European debate to the centre of the political agenda”.

If that was all Farage had done, then by all means listen to his case. But the ‘controversy’ is due to Ukip’s stance on immigration which the party uses to push its view on Europe. And underlying talk about ‘immigration’ there is racism.

Britain was built by migrants, and not just because if you go back far enough we are all from somewhere else.

Everything from the fish and chip supper (which originated in Jewish east London) to the most popular styles of music are a legacy of migrants and their influence.

Do we want to go back to the Britain of the the 1950s and 1960s with “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs” signs in boarding houses? That is where Farage would take us.

People from the former Eastern Bloc who have moved around Europe since enlargement of the EU are no different.

Ukip’s appeal to racism has been open and deliberate. When Farage addressed Ukip’s spring conference in February he claimed Britain had become a “foreign land”.

“In scores of our cities and market towns, this country has become unrecognisable,” he said. “In many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more.

“This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.”

Appearing on LBC Radio in May, Farage suggested: “If a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned? I think you would be.”

Asked why Romanian men might be different from German children (Farage is married to a German), he told the interviewer: “You know the difference.”

It should be no surprise that support for the fascist British National Party (BNP) has moved over to Ukip or that the BNP sought an electoral pact with the party. Farage is smart enough to have rejected this.

But the academics Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in their book ‘Revolt on the Right’ describe how in Oldham, Farage and his colleagues targeted BNP voters and “sought to win over the extreme right’s intensely dissatisfied electorate. They campaigned intensively … focusing not on the EU but on crime and immigration.”

This matters for travel because the industry depends on open borders and a welcome for visitors. It depends on freedom to move around and interest in and respect for other cultures.

Many in the industry have lived and worked abroad. Travel companies depend on staff being able to come and go safely and with ease.

Who in the industry wants to see longer queues at Heathrow immigration or to be on the receiving end of similar when they travel?

Who wants to see potential visitors blocked from entering the country, like the Nigerian photographer Abraham Oghobase, denied a visa to attend an exhibition of his own photographs in London last month?

Who wants visa difficulties placed in the way of visitors from China or emerging economies?

Travel and tourism thrives on and has helped create awareness of different cultures. If Britain is perceived as a racist, increasingly closed society, how will that aid inbound tourism or the acceptance of UK visitors abroad?

If racism grows in Britain, it will harm the lives of everyone – our children, our neighbours, our visitors, our friends from overseas.

There is no guarantee Ukip will carry its new support into the general election next year. Polls suggest half those voting for the party would not do so at a general election.

But this is not the point. The level of publicity Farage now enjoys will foment increasing racism and the ITT has added to that.

If we want to argue to policy makers that travel and tourism is a force for good – as the World Travel and Tourism Council argues – the ITT should not have provided a platform for Ukip’s leader.