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.