Ukip has accused the Tories of running a "morally reprehensible" smear campaign by trawling through would-be councillors' Twitter and Facebook posts.

The party - which is investigating a handful of candidates over links to groups such as the BNP and alleged racist and homophobic comments - said it did not condone "unpalatable views". But a spokesman insisted it would not bow to a "political lynch mob".

The row came as emails leaked to the Observer revealed that one of the party's MEPs is concerned about excessive "political correctness" among new recruits. Godfrey Bloom also complained that forging Ukip's policy platform is like "herding cats", insisting senior figures needed to learn to toe the line.

In the recent exchange with Treasurer Stuart Wheeler, Mr Bloom cautioned that "some quite senior party members are going to have to stable their hobby horses".

"Having worked on the defence paper for over one year it would appear Ukip has more military and naval experts than we have soldiers," he wrote. "Most of them do not agree with each other. It is like herding cats. We are also attracting new members who bring main party 'baggage'. Focus groups, quotas, even political correctness. We must be wary of listening to these siren voices. We did not get where we are today by following, but leading."

The MEP said he had been in talks with free market think-tanks including the Institute of Economic Affairs and Civitas, and suggested Ukip could buy their policies "off the shelf" where they are close to "our own small government, low tax, libertarian position". Mr Wheeler apparently responded: "I could not agree more strongly that some people will have to get off their hobby-horses."

A Ukip spokesman said: "We have evidence that Conservative Campaign Head Quarters has been scrutinising each and every one of our 1,732 candidates, monitoring every social media output over the last few years. Were we inclined to return the favour, we would find even more examples to use against them. We deem that using our candidates as cannon fodder to undermine a political campaign (is) morally reprehensible and downright dirty.

"We are an open minded party who believes that ordinary hard working men and women who want to serve their communities should not be subject to a political lynch mob. We are fighting this campaign on principle NOT dirty politics. However, we absolutely do not condone homophobic, xenophobic, extreme nor unpalatable views, therefore we will take each individual case on merit."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said Ukip candidates were being put under the same scrutiny as those from other parties.

"Candidates are always put under scrutiny and I think it's right. Why should Ukip candidates get away without any scrutiny when other parties have scrutiny as far as their candidates are concerned? I don't know anything about a smear campaign," he told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.