Tommy Robinson's resignation from the EDL is just a tactical retreat

There is no evidence that Robinson has renounced his extremists views, merely that he believes street demonstrations are "no longer productive".

More surprising than any of the news from Westminster in the last 24 hours, is the announcement by English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson that he has left the far-right group. In a statement published via the Quilliam Foundation (another surprise), he said: 

I have been considering this move for a long time because I recognise that, though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive. I acknowledge the dangers of far-right extremism and the ongoing need to counter Islamist ideology not with violence but with better, democratic ideas

Kevin Carroll, the co-leader of the EDL, has also resigned from the group. 

Quilliam said it had "been working with Tommy to achieve this transition, which represents a huge success for community relations in the United Kingdom. We have previously identified the symbiotic relationship between far-right extremism and Islamism and think that this event can dismantle the underpinnings of one phenomenon while removing the need for the other phenomenon."

"We hope to help Tommy invest his energy and commitment in countering extremism of all kinds, supporting the efforts to bring along his former followers and encouraging his critique of Islamism as well as his concern with far-right extremism. We call all of Tommy’s former colleagues in the EDL to follow in his footsteps and also call on Islamist extremist leaders to follow this example and leave their respective groups. Tommy and Kevin believe the voice they have created can be channelled in a positive direction. Quilliam stands ready to facilitate such moves across the spectrum."

While Robinson's renouncement of violence might appear welcome, the suspicion is that this is merely a tactical retreat. In his statement he tellingly describes street demonstrations not as 'wrong' but as "no longer productive". Like Nick Griffin, another former street-fighter, he has decided to pursue his far-right and Islamophobic project through "peaceful" and "democratic" means. After leaving the EDL, he may choose to revive the short-lived British Freedom Party, which espoused "cultural nationalism". 

There is no evidence that he has changed his views as opposed to his tactics. Just eight hours ago, Robinson was retweeting praise for his vile speech in Tower Hamlets. Other recent comments posted by him include "Muslims created Islamophobia themselves" and "Global war/holocaust on Christians... We all know it's #Islam fueling it..."

By publishing Robinsons's statement and hailing his conversion to "democracy", Quilliam has lent legitimacy to a dangerous demagogue who has concluded that the ballot box, rather than the boot, offers greater chances of success. 

Former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson speaks to supporters during a rally outside Downing Street on May 27, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.