UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has named controversial former MP Enoch Powell as his political hero, in a magazine interview published today.

Mr Powell was sacked from the Conservative frontbench and marginalised politically following his notorious "rivers of blood" speech in 1968, when he warned immigration would lead to racial violence.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne criticised Mr Farage for his choice, telling Total Politics magazine: "Of all the Great British heroes that Nigel Farage could have cited - people of the stature of Elizabeth I through to Winston Churchill - he chooses a second-rate politician whose only ability to get into the headlines was based on a revolting dalliance with racism."

But Mr Farage said he was not thinking of the "rivers of blood" speech when he named Powell as his hero, and dismissed Mr Huhne's attack as "immature".

The Ukip leader told the Press Association: "You can agree or disagree with much of the Powell doctrine, but his belief in the state having less of a say over our lives, in us not having our laws made in Brussels and having sensible controls over our borders - whilst his language may seem out-of-date now, the principles remain good and true."

On issues like homosexuality and capital punishment, Powell was "one of the most liberal post-war MPs", Mr Farage said.

He added: "I would never say that Powell was racist in any way at all. Had we listened to him, we would have much better race relations now than we have got."

Although Powell's cause was taken up at the time by right-wing Tories as well as dockers and meat porters, who went on strike demanding his reinstatement, he has since found few supporters in mainstream politics.

In 2007, Nigel Hastilow resigned as a Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate after saying that Powell "was right and immigration has changed the face of Britain dramatically".