CLACTON-ON-SEA, England—In 1964, as Britain experienced an influx of Asian and African post-colonial immigrants, Conservative Party member Peter Griffiths was controversially elected to parliament, winning on the slogan, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” It was a virulently racist campaign that shocked the British establishment, leading Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson to brand Griffiths a “leper,” jumpstarting the Birmingham division of the Ku Klux Klan, and evoking ire—and a whistle-stop visit—from Malcolm X.
Fast-forward 50 years, and Britain is once again engaged in a row over racism in the lead-up to a general election on May 7—this time centering on the UK Independence Party (UKIP) headed by Nigel Farage. The beer-guzzling euroskeptic leader is perpetually surrounded by scandal, whether as a result of his unabashed dislike of Romanians or his call for the abolishment of race laws aimed at preventing prejudice in the workplace. His party’s positions, which include exiting the European Union, imposing tougher laws against migration, and increasing defense spending and free trade, have cultivated criticism but also pockets of UKIP support across the country. Britain’s net migration rate—the difference between the annual number of people entering and leaving the country—has declined from nearly five people for every 1,000 in 2007, before the global financial crisis, to just over three people in 2013, which puts the U.K. rate around the EU average. But according to the University of Oxford's Migration Observatory, the percentage of the British population with an immigrant or ethnic-minority background will likely double between now and 2050. Farage, for his part, has dismissed claims that he is racist, saying his party is “color-blind.”