It's not petulant to refuse Tommy Robinson service - it's morally right

When a member of staff at Selfridges refused to serve the EDL leader, they were suspended from the store. But declining to interact with someone who sows hatred on a daily basis is a perfectly rational thing to do.

I’m not going to do the thing of listing all the other names under which Tommy Robinson is known. He has precisely as many AKAs as you would expect from a leader of a group in balaclavas and a former member of the BNP with a long history of arrests. I find his pseudonyms neither surprising nor amusing.

The facts are these: Mr Robinson and a friend were refused service at a Selfridges store. He protested and filmed the encounter. Selfridges have issued a statement expressing their disappointment at the incident. They said they pride themselves on making everyone welcome. The member of staff involved has been suspended. Tommy Robinson and his friend were treated to a complimentary three-course meal by Selfridges.

Was this an act of bravery by someone standing up to a dangerous bully or an act of arrogant unprofessionalism by someone not in a position to pass judgement on a paying customer? “It is not for staff to determine the policies of the organisations they work in through individual petulance”, suggests Mic Wright in the Telegraph. I may agree with the statement in the abstract, but find that it suffers fatally when applied to the actual circumstances.

The member of staff neither determined organisational policy, nor is there any evidence that acted through petulance. He simply refused to interact with a customer. Everyone would recognise that a member of staff has the right to refuse to interact with a customer under particular circumstances. People work for their employers; they do not belong to them. Security staff in bars and clubs routinely eject and ban patrons who are obnoxious, inappropriate or threatening.

Is such treatment reserved only for circumstances when they do so, right there and then? I suggest not. Consider the circumstance of an abusive former boyfriend entering an establishment where the recipient of his violent threats works as a waitress. Would anyone seriously suggest that she is obliged to recite today’s specials with a smile? Of course not.

The only question is, at what point does the behaviour become sufficiently personal? It is important to note that the members of staff filmed by Mr Robinson appeared to be of ethnic minority origin. Mr Robinson is the head of an organisation which goes around in balaclavas, threatening violence. He is the head of an organisation which speaks to “every single Muslim” and warns them that they will feel “the full force of the EDL”. He is the head of an organisation which advocates “all Muslims rounded up and deported back to the hell Holes [sic] they came from.” He was arrested a mere ten days ago for incitement. He was only released on bail ten days before that after his previous arrest. He had only been released on bail with an electronic tag at the beginning of the year for his last conviction.

If he had walked into Selfridges and gone up to this member of staff and said: “You will soon feel the full force of the EDL. I’m going to deport you back to the hellhole from which you came. Down with Sharia law” there would be absolutely no question as to whether the member of staff was within his rights to refuse him service. Well, this is absolutely what he has done. To suggest that threatening and inciting violence, as leader of a movement, indiscriminately against an entire group somehow absolves him from personal responsibility to individual members of that group is ridiculous.

The implication that someone can go around sowing hatred on a daily basis and then reap nothing but good will and professional service is not only inane in the extreme, but also unrealistic. I applaud the member of staff who was brave enough to say “not on this counter, not on my shift”. If Selfridges decide that it is now store policy to force their members of staff to interact with known dangerous fascists and criminals, I am certain the publicity backlash will be commensurate.

Mr Robinson was thrown out of a casino that same evening. I am sure that, in a past littered with criminal activity, he has been thrown out of many places. If he chooses a future of advocating violence and intolerance against entire groups, he can expect to be thrown out of many more. He can look upon this not as a one-off incident where he was refused service at a store, but as an ever-increasing pattern of decent people refusing to engage with him in any civilised context. He dreams of a society where people like me don’t exist. I dream of a society where thugs like him haven’t a single rock under which to crawl. This is not a negotiable position nor one for which there is room for pleasantries.

The malice Mr Robinson’s views encourage and the damage they cause are neither petulant nor imagined. The other day a young lad slammed into me with his bicycle while I was coming out of a local shop. He said “watch it”. I said “the pavement is for pedestrians”. He replied “you’re fucking foreign, innit?” before adding “this country is going to the dogs”. He spoke emboldened and amplified by Robinson’s voice. If either of them walked into a shop where I worked, I would not serve them. Either you get that as being totally within my rights or you don’t.

An EDL supporter awaits the arrival of Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll at Westminster Magistrates Court on 11 September 2013. Photo: Getty

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.