A Conservative Party candidate has stepped down after a row over his comments, in a newspaper, that Enoch Powell was “right” on immigration.
Nigel Hastilow, who was to stand in Halesowen and Rowley Regis, resigned after meeting the Tory party chairman.
Party chairman Caroline Spelman said “he chose to resign”, adding that it was a “very honourable decision”.
Labour minister Hazel Blears accused the Tories of “dithering” over whether to sack Mr Hastilow before he resigned.
The communities secretary said: “David Cameron has still not condemned Mr Hastilow’s words, and he must do so without further dithering.”
Following her meeting with the former candidate, Mrs Spelman said: “Nigel says in his letter of resignation that he’s sorry that his remarks about immigration have undermined the good work that David Cameron has done on this sensitive issue, and also on other issues.”
She went on: “He himself felt that if these remarks had caused offence, he was concerned, having made a mistake before of this kind as a parliamentary candidate that it might happen again, and he felt himself that it was better that he should go.”
But the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) said Mr Hastilow had simply been expressing views held by “millions” of voters.
Mike Nattrass, who represents the West Midlands area for the party, said: “It is important that this debate on immigration is taken further so we can have an open and honest discussion on this issue.”
Enoch Powell was sacked from the Conservative shadow cabinet after a controversial speech in 1968 bemoaning the effects of immigration.
Mr Hastilow made the comments in a column for the Express and Star newspaper in Wolverhampton—where Mr Powell had been the MP at the time of his 1968 speech.
The Parliamentary candidate, a former editor of the Birmingham Post, wrote: “When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most say immigration.
“Many insist: ‘Enoch Powell was right’. Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South-West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech, warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably.
“He was right. It has changed dramatically.”
Following his meeting with Mrs Spelman he said he was “very sorry” if his remarks had undermined “the progress David Cameron has made on the issue of migration”.
He has been in the news before for his outspoken comments—in 2001, when he was the Tory candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston, he wrote on his website that the party was a “lost cause”—and was quoted by then Labour PM Tony Blair in the Commons.
In his resignation statement on Sunday, Mr Hastilow said: “I have been here once before when William Hague was party leader and I have no wish to go there again.”
“So, with regret and my continuing support for the future, I hereby tender my resignation as parliamentary candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis.
“I thank my friends in the constituency association for their support.”
A Conservative spokesman said: “We have accepted Mr Hastilow’s resignation and wish him well for the future.”
Asked about Mr Hastilow’s comments earlier, shadow chancellor George Osborne told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Candidates of any party—Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat—have to exercise great caution in the language they use about immigration.”
And speaking to ITV1’s Sunday Edition, shadow home secretary David Davis said the comments were “very unwise” and the constituency party should “think very hard” about how they expected their candidate to behave.
“You cannot just stumble around throwing out comments which are insensitive or inflammatory,” he said.
But Mary Docker, chairwoman of Mr Hastilow’s local Conservative association, said earlier she did not think he had done anything wrong.
She told BBC News 24: “He’s basically just raising issues that have been raised with him when he has been canvassing the area.
“All he is doing is just relaying the views of the public, which is what a politician should do.”
Liberal Democrat chief of staff Edward Davey said the incident raised “serious questions, both about the Conservative Party’s selection procedures and the views of at least some of their grass roots members”.
David Cameron was drawn into a row over race last night after a candidate in a high-profile Parliamentary seat praised Enoch Powell for his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech, which warned that Britain was ‘literally mad’ to allow widespread immigration.
Days after Cameron was praised by the head of the Equality Commission for tackling the issue of immigration in a non-racial way, Labour called on the Tory leader to remove Nigel Hastilow as a prospective Conservative candidate for declaring that Powell was ‘right’.
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears told The Observer: ‘It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about the impact of immigration, but it is unacceptable to say Enoch Powell was right. David Cameron should reconsider his support for this candidate.’
Hastilow has been summoned to a meeting today with Caroline Spelman, the Tory chairman, to explain his column in the Wolverhampton Express and Star newspaper in which he complained about how immigration has changed Britain and placed great strains on housing and public services.
A Conservative party spokesman said: ‘Candidates of all parties should take great care when discussing what can be a sensitive and even inflammatory issue. Politicians and those seeking to be politicians have a responsibility in this area that they must observe. Mr Hastilow has been required to see the party chairman tomorrow, where he will be told this in clear terms.’
The row broke out after Hastilow, who last year accused Muslims of using terror attacks to ‘issue demands’ for their own bank holidays and schools, wrote of special treatment offered to immigrants. He wrote that ‘we [Britain] roll out the red carpet for foreigners while leaving the locals to fend for themselves’. Hastilow, a former editor of the Birmingham Post, added: ‘When you ask most people in the Black Country what the single biggest problem facing the country is, most say immigration. Many insist: “Enoch Powell was right”.
‘Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South-West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 “rivers of blood” speech, warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably. He was right. It has changed dramatically.’
Cameron was irritated by the behaviour of Hastilow, who will contest the marginal seat of Halesowen and Rowley Regis, which the Tories must win if they are to regain power, after he mounted a strong defence of his article. ‘It is in line with Conservative policy,’ he told The Observer. ‘Uncontrolled immigration will do this country great damage. In the last 10 years we have had more or less uncontrolled immigration.’
But Hastilow won strong support from his local Tory association. ‘Most certainly, yes,’ said Mary Docker, chairman of the Halesowen and Rowley Regis association, when asked by The Observer if she would stand by Hastilow. ‘He is a down-to-earth man who talks to people and doesn’t talk at them. He is representative of the views of many Black Country people.’
But some of Hastilow’s language may be regarded as controversial. He opens his article with the story of ‘a granny’ who has had to house her single-parent daughter and two young children because all council housing has been taken by immigrants. He writes: ‘They have more or less given up complaining about the way we roll out the red carpet for foreigners while leaving the locals to fend for themselves.’
This is not the first time Hastilow has strayed into this area. Last year his blog said that Muslims ‘are seizing the opportunity not just to reject the idea of singling out potential terrorists for special attention, they’re using the latest crisis to demand their own bank holidays, their own schools, even their own laws. They want an Islamic state within a state.’