Tommy Robinson, sentenced in the last week to 13 months in prison for breaching the peace on a separate matter, examines in a previous video the case of The Three Boys and how the police investigated their case.
A Day out in Luton
Jane Kelly interviews Tommy Robinson for the Salisbury Review in the Summer of 2011
The centre of Luton looks quite pleasant with its old shopping streets and pristine war memorial, but outside Miller’s bakery bearded youths in butcher’s aprons from Islam4UK hand out leaflets demanding we swap British law for Sharia. The memorial itself gives the finger to any notion of successful multi-culturalism. In early March, Muslims Against Crusades member Emdadur Choudhury, 26, was fined £50 for ‘deliberately’ insulting mourners by burning poppies on Remembrance Day, during the minute’s silence. He pleaded not guilty of violating the Public Order Act section 5, by behaving in a fashion that could cause distress or harassment to witnesses.
Tommy Robinson, 28, leader of the English Defence League, was also charged under the same act that day. He claims to have been rearrested four times since for the same offence and when I met him on the day Choudhury was fined, he was awaiting his own trial. ‘There is a two-tier system in policing and funding,’ he says, ‘we are going to smash this and end the fear of speaking out.’We chatted in a local hotel, over a TV reporting the inquest into the death of Taimur Abdulwahab, the Luton man who blew himself up in Stockholm last December. This from a town where over half a million pounds has been spent since 2008 on a ‘Prevent Scheme,’ to counter radicalism. There have been reports that the outlawed Islamist group Muhajiroun are openly recruiting near Taimur’s former home. Last year jihadi sympathisers led locally by Ishtiaq Alamgir, a former inland revenue accountant, organised a protest at a homecoming parade in Luton for troops returning from Afghanistan.
Tommy, who looks like your average football hooligan in trainers, jeans and cheap jacket, shows no sign of being silenced but gives the impression of being embroiled in a struggle to the death in which only one side can win, and hints that he has nothing much to lose. ‘In ten years’ time I’ll be dead’, he says. ‘Anyone who criticises Islam ends up dead or hiding.’
The EDL originated from a group known as the ‘United Peoples of Luton’, which sounds as loopy as ‘the National Theatre of Brent’. This was a response to a protest in March 2009 by the Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun, against the Royal Anglian Regiment returning from Afghanistan. A Luton counter-demonstration led to arrests and local football supporters got together using social networking sites. Since then the Guardian has called the EDL, ‘far-right activists and pub racists…a bigger threat than the BNP’. Shami Chakrabati, the director of Liberty, compared them to ‘modern day black-shirts’, while the extreme right suspects they are an MI5-run ‘honey trap’ for rooting out islamaphobics.
On the day we met, Tommy had called a meeting to discuss the future of the EDL and whether it can ever become a parliamentary party. This is doubtful as he sees himself as a street fighting John Bull, standing up for hallowed English traditions. ‘I want to keep the EDL as a street protest pressure group,’ he says. ‘It was us who stopped them opening a new mosque in the shopping centre, and we will stop them building their ‘mega-mosque’ on a local housing estate.’ This may sound bigoted until he points out that there are already nineteen mosques in Luton. He is also proud that last year he took it on himself to save the Lutonian Christmas. The EDL threatened to demonstrate if the council tinkered with the name of Christmas. ‘I know it was blackmail but it worked’, he says with satisfaction. He detests the idea of separate Islamic courts practising Shariah – which he pronounces to rhyme with Uriah. ‘This is a Christian country’, he says, ‘built on 1,400 years of tradition. People come here for the benefits of that, then use them against us.’
Rather eccentrically he is a devout Catholic, getting confirmed this summer. He is undaunted that the church has not backed him in any way. ‘There has been deafening silence from them’, he says, ‘And all the other church leaders have been against us. They don’t understand that the EDL is not about hatred, it’s about frustration.’ He is poorly educated and doesn’t take much interest in mainstream politics. He has never voted, but he knows that this frustration is the engine of his party and fuels his followers. He also knows that he and his followers ‘It was us who stopped them opening a new mosque in the shopping centre, and we will stop them building their ‘mega-mosque’ on a local housing estate.’ This may sound bigoted until he points out that there are already nineteen mosques in Luton. He is also proud that last year he took it on himself to save the Lutonian Christmas. The EDL threatened to demonstrate if the council tinkered with the name of Christmas. return to contents page The Salisbury Review — Summer 2011 5 Web: www.salisburyreview.co.uk are tackling issues much too delicate for those further up the social strata.
‘Intellectuals and politicians can’t do what we do to highlight issues’, he says. ‘But if we did stand for election we would be much more successful than the BNP. If I went on Question Time like Nick Griffin, I would have 10,000 supporters outside.’
He is buoyant from a recent encounter with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, in which he did quite well. ‘I was shaking in my shoes,’ he admits. ‘I felt I had a lot to say on behalf of my supporters and I was scared I wouldn’t get it out. But Paxo was real nice and he was genuine.’
He sees himself as standing up for fairness, one of those old English values. ‘I don’t mind being skint,’ he says, ‘but when I hear of people getting privileged status because of their religion; that bothers me.’ He cites a Bangladeshi youth group given free bus trips to Wembley to see Luton Town play. He was originally stirred up by football and sex. He began his campaign in 2004, aged 20, when he had 10,000 ‘Ban the Luton Taliban,’ leaflets printed. ‘I printed them because I could see local girls being pimped by Muslim gangs,’ he says. ‘The police were doing nothing about it.’ He was also stirred by local tensions. In 1995 Mark Sharp was murdered in the street by eight Asians after making a ‘V’ sign at them. ‘The courts were soft on them,’ says Tommy. ‘It’s velvet hand for them, iron fist for us.’
He insists he is no racist. Apparently the EDL contains black members and he has mixed race relatives, but like many working-class people he is just sick of ‘bloody foreigners’. Because of the political ethos he is battling feelings of extreme powerlessness. ‘Middle England and government ministers don’t see it,’ he says. ‘Muslim leaders are truly that, they represent their communities, but ours don’t. What does Cameron know about life on council estates? There is no one for us to vote for, no one who understands us.’
He comes from a Labour-voting background. His father, whose name was Yaxley, disappeared when he was ten but by then his mother, who worked in a baker’s, was living with a Glaswegian pipe fitter of Irish background, called Lennon. Both were keen Labour supporters. They have rejected him because of his street fighting and his campaign against Islam. He doesn’t expect them to come to his confirmation or his wedding at Easter. ‘They threw me out because they were scared,’ he says phlegmatically. ‘My house has been attacked, my children have been threatened with beheading and my parents think I should stop.’ He finds it particularly galling that the police say these threats come from the ‘Luton community,’ rather than from local Muslims, as he believes. Tommy began life as Stephen. Along the way he has called himself ‘Wayne King,’ which he thought hilarious, before settling on Tommy Robinson, not after the black hero of To Kill A Mockingbird, but the traditional British Tommy and his favourite Luton football hooligan. Like his contemporaries he had a mediocre education at Putteridge School, which has below average attendance and poor league table results. He left at sixteen to become a carpenter and says he was quite successful, but now prefers to run a tanning salon. The police have frozen his bank account accusing him of money laundering. ‘Just a disruption tactic,’ he says defiantly. At the moment he and girlfriend Jenna Vowles, who have three small children, are not working. He says they are living on £250 a week garnered from friends, as he says they have never claimed benefits.
In conversation he is selfdeprecating, without rancour about his past or his place in society, if he even sees it. He feels bitterly that no one in parliament represents him but doesn’t want to be a boss of any kind himself. There is a strange weary passivity about him, as if he is fighting a lone struggle. When pressed he does vaguely see that the England he loves so much might have let him down. ‘Of course I wish I’d been born middle-class,’ he chuckles. ‘I’d like my children to go to good schools.’ He knows this won’t happen but is untroubled; that is not his quarrel and he accepts it as part of being English. ‘I wish I had been to Eton’, he says, ‘but if I had I wouldn’t have a clue what’s going on in the country now would I? I would be just like Cameron and Clegg!’
Jane Kelly is a freelance journalist who writes for the Salisbury Review ,The Telegraph and The Spectator.