The resignation of two key leaders from the English Defence League (EDL) in early October marked the latest twist in the bizarre pantomime of the boneheaded far- right street organisation. Tommy Robinson (and his nondescript sidekick Kevin Carroll) announced that they were both quitting the EDL at a surreal press conference convened by the oddball ‘counter-extremism think tank’ the Quilliam Foundation.
Of the group’s original founders, Robinson became one of the more audible rent-a-quote minders to emerge within the EDL’s ranks. His racist, bigoted soundbites have often provided the soundtrack to media footage of the latest EDL city-centre rallies.
The decision to decamp from the EDL did not reflect, Robinson explained to the assembly of journalists at the invite-only press event, any change in belief system. Walking out on his former comrades was an entirely tactical calculation about how best to serve the Islamaphobic cause, he explained. He suggested that while EDL street demonstrations had served the far-right lobby in the past, these events were “no longer productive.” He immediately reaffirmed “the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology”, which in future would be tackled “not with violence but with better, democratic ideas.”
The mission statement of the Quilliam Foundation, an obscure lobby group formed in 2007 by three former members of pan-Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, declares fulsome support for “liberal democratic values” and firm opposition to extreme Islamism. In 2009, the foundation was given £1m by the British government, hopeful that the group might win hearts and minds within Muslim communities in support of the state’s official anti-terrorist agenda. But disappointed ministers came to realise that Quilliam’s impact was negligible, and the funding was not renewed. Since then the foundation has struggled to find either leverage or profile: hence the absurd lash-up with Robinson. Taking credit for having “facilitated” Robinson’s break with the EDL, the Quilliam group raised the possibility of future co-operation with Robinson and Carroll around the common cause of anti-Islamism. But the ex-EDL’s ‘unlikely lads’ gave few hints as to their next moves.
The pair’s departure has clearly astounded the EDL. The topic of succession planning has rarely drawn much attention amongst the lager-swilling louts who clamber aboard the EDL’s coaches and few convincing new figures have stepped forward to take the quitters’ place. Most have contended them-selves with outrage, though a few have opted to issue ‘death threats’ against the duo for ‘race betrayal’ (a kind of jihad against the heretics, if you will). Robinson dismissed the attacks as the work of fringe elements beyond the EDL’s ranks; effectively blaming ‘outside agitators’ for fomenting discontent.
Within anarchist circles, opinions have differed on whether the EDL is a serious political entity which needs to be physically confronted, or is instead little more than a flash-mob of disaffected part-time hooligans with the likely longevity (in historical terms) of a pub car-park brawl. Whatever the judgement, the EDL has clearly been wounded by the loss of two of its bosses, and is currently preoccupied by the pressing need to defend itself.