LONDON, Nov 4 (Reuters) A Conservative candidate stepped down today after angering senior party figures by saying Enoch Powell's notorious ''rivers of blood'' speech on immigration had been proved right.
Nigel Hastilow, who was due to contest a marginal West Midlands seat at the next election, resigned as a Tory candidate after being called to meet party chairman Caroline Spelman.
Labour ministers said his comments exposed the Tory party's ''racist underbelly'' and said party leader David Cameron had no choice but to sack him.
''I am very sorry that any remarks of mine have undermined the progress David Cameron has made on the issue of immigration,'' Hastilow said in a statement.
A Conservative spokesman said: ''We have accepted Mr Hastilow's resignation and wish him well for the future.'' Hastilow was summoned to party headquarters after writing in a newspaper that Powell was right to warn that uncontrolled immigration would change Britain forever.
''He was right,'' he wrote in the Wolverhampton Express&Star.
''It has changed dramatically.'' Powell was sacked from the shadow cabinet in 1968 after saying in a speech that Britain was ''mad, literally mad'' to allow large-scale immigration.
Hastilow later said his views were in line with party policy and reflected the views of many people in the West Midlands.
''Uncontrolled immigration will do this country great damage,'' he told the Observer. ''In the last 10 years we have had more or less uncontrolled immigration.'' Immigration has risen to the top of the political agenda in recent months. The government came under intense pressure last week after it said it had underestimated the number of foreign nationals who have come to work in Britain.
The Conservatives say the current level of immigration is unsustainable. They want tougher controls to ease pressure on schools, housing and health services.
Cameron has, however, sought to avoid inflammatory language when discussing the issue. In a speech last week, he called for a ''grown-up discussion'' on immigration.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis told ITV1's ''The Sunday Edition'' that the comments were not representative of the party.
''He (Hastilow) has got to understand that this is an area where you have to deal with great sensitivity,'' he said.
Labour's Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain told BBC News 24: ''This Conservative candidate really exposes the racist underbelly of the Tory party.'' Reuters NC DB2324