Ukip’s new leader Henry Bolton has said the party has avoided becoming the “UK Nazi Party” with his election at the expense of a candidate who described Islam as “evil”.
The little-known candidate beat the two front-runners in the contest - controversial Sharia Watch director Anne Marie Waters and London Assembly member Peter Whittle - to win with 3,874 votes.
His shock victory avoided a potential split of the party, with a number of MEPs reportedly threatening to quit if Ms Waters won, and appeared to bring back on board Ukip big-hitters Nigel Farage and millionaire donor Arron Banks.
The former Army officer told the party’s conference in Torquay: “Brexit is our core task, however, it is not the end of the line” and signalled a softening of Ukip’s message on Islam.
Asked whether Ukip had avoided becoming the “UK Nazi Party”, referring to comments he made in the campaign, Mr Bolton told a press conference: “Absolutely, yes.”
He went on: “Absolutely, I think the party has today voted for a leader who has been very open about what he feels is the way forward, and that’s myself of course.”
Shortly after his victory was announced, Mr Farage took to Twitter to declare himself “delighted”, describing Mr Bolton as “a man of real substance”.
Insurance tycoon Mr Banks signalled he may begin backing Ukip again, which would be seen as a major coup for the new leader.
Mr Banks tweeted: “This is great news & I’m sure both myself and Nigel will want to re-engage with the party!”
Mr Bolton denied he was a caretaker for Mr Farage and said he would be speaking to the former leader in the coming days about what role he could play in the party.
He said he was not aware of the ex-leader playing a role in his election behind the scenes.
Discussing how he could replace Ukip’s talisman, Mr Bolton said: “The personality thing - I’m not Nigel, none of us are Nigel, none of you are Nigel, Nigel is Nigel and I’m not going to try and fill his boots, I have my own style, I have my own personality and I think you will see that emerge.”
He added: “When I’m standing up on the platform then I’m quite firm in my approach, but, actually, get me, like Nigel, in the bar with a beer and I like a laugh and a joke, and I’m just as convivial as he is, I think.”
Mr Bolton said he would be “very happy” to have a conversation with Mr Banks about returning to the fold as long as he supports the party’s direction under his leadership.
On policy, Mr Bolton stressed Islam was “more dominating” than Christianity but said he would ditch Ukip’s general election “integration agenda”, which focused almost entirely on Muslims, declaring: “We need to look at the integration of all immigrant communities in this country.”
He said as a former police officer there was “an issue” with face coverings but said focusing purely on banning the burka would not solve a security problem.
“Islam is of concern, the nature of Islam and the practices of the religion are such that they tend to have a more dominating effect in a community where there’s a large Muslim population than the Christian community,” he said.
He added: “I absolutely abhor the rhetoric that says we are at war with Islam.
“My platform is a broad one for delivering for the British people across the place, it is not focused on Islam.”
Mr Bolton did, however, signal he could be the latest in a long line of Ukip leaders to act as a scourge of liberals.
Commenting on the transgender debate, he said: “I think we are getting a bit far when we are encouraging children in some cases to question their own sexuality, I think that is certainly going too far.”
Mr Bolton said he would be having a conversation with Ms Waters, who appeared in the press room shortly before the announcement of the leadership result, before deciding her future in the party.
“One of my main tasks now is going to be to unite the party and move forward,” he said.
Speaking to members from the conference floor, Mr Bolton said: “I do not see myself now as simply being your leader, I see myself as serving this party.
“You are the party, not me, and this party needs to serve its country.
“There is no greater calling than that and I would call on all of you, whether you voted for me or not, to rally around the party, to be united.”