Posted by: iangilbert | October 10, 2011

Southend in the news for the wrong reasons

I’ve been asked a number of times for my views on the continuing furore around the activities of Councillor Blaine Robin and the English Defence League, which has made the national newspapers this weekend, so I thought I’d give them here.

First of all I need to be very clear on this: I DO NOT believe that Blaine is either racist, an islamophobe, or a thug. Anyone who has followed Councillor Robin’s political career would find it difficult to work out quite what it is that he does think, but I would not accuse him of any of those things. However, the English Defence League is most certainly populated by thuggish extremists and Councillor Robin has either been crassly cynical or dreadfully naïve in his dealings with them.

Councillor Robin’s leader, David Cameron, has described the EDL as sick, and on this at least he’s surely right. Their ‘demonstrations’ are peppered with football hooligans and perpetrate the most dreadful hatred on the Islamic community (and often on other groups when they think they can get away with it). Many senior EDL members are or were BNP activists. In Leicester EDL demonstrators attacked police with bottles, smoke grenades and fire-crackers and four police officers needed hospital treatment. The Conservatives once claimed to be the party of law and order. Now their councillors are attending meetings of violent organisations and re-posting their propaganda.

When Tommy Robinson (AKA Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, an ex-BNP member who has served 12 months in prison for assaulting a police officer) praised Councillor Robin for attending their meeting, he clearly didn’t think that he’d come there to oppose them. The fact that he was given an invitation to this event in the first place indicates the EDL considered him a supporter, so it’s clear that somehow Blaine has given the EDL and their supporters the impression that he is at least sympathetic to them. Conversely, there is no indication that Councillor Robin has attempted to challenge this sick organisation or divert people from them – to my mind that is close to unforgivable.

It simply isn’t good enough to say that Councillor Robin ‘was representing his constituents’. Those of us who serve in elected office do have obligations to help our constituents. I have had people with extreme views get in touch with me, if they have raised legitimate issues I have dealt with them professionally. But nothing, absolutely nothing, requires me to go along to their meetings or to re-post their propaganda on my blog.

There comes a point when you have to say ‘I don’t agree with you’. I’m elected with my own views and principles and I’ll live or die by them. A serious and principled elected representative would be challenging the EDL. Yes we have to seek to understand why some constituents might hold extremist views, yes we must try to help them, but by pushing back and exposing the violence and hatred – seeking to draw people away from their clutches.

At this stage, I really can’t see how Councillor Robin can continue. If he knew anything about the EDL, their leadership, their violence and their hatred, and yet maintained his sympathetic attitude, he clearly has no place in a Conservative Party that claims to abhor the EDL. If by some amazing chance he didn’t realise what his attitude meant then quite frankly, given the massive coverage they have attracted and David Cameron’s denunciation, I cannot see how anyone could take him seriously again.

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