Whenever I want to know about events in Luton, I usually phone some of the old Class War members in the town. After the 2009 booing of the Royal Anglian Regiment by Al-Mujihiroun I was quickly told that shariah was not about to be declared in the town "its the same 20 idiots who have been giving out leaflets in Luton town centre for years".
The description of Tommy Robinson is also one that has stayed with me:
"The problem with Tommy Robinson is that you and me could do Tommy Robinson far better than he does Tommy Robinson" - in other words the act of merely being opposed to Islamist extremism is good, but not what it could be.
In last nights programme, he probably did Tommy Robinson as well as it ever could be done. At times his arguments were sophisticated - talking (albeit clumsily) about that must uncomfortable of subjects demographics for example. Claiming that multi-culturalism has not failed, it is just religion that has failed, outflanks at a stroke a whole series of political actors from David Cameron and Angela Merkel to Nick Griffin (who was grumbling away on Twitter about that very point)
The claim that multi-cultural society actually works pretty well save for areas like Bury Park is one with its adherents - all usually unrepresented by mainstream political discourse. The difficulty is that including most EDL members in those with a broadly positive view of multi-culturalism is being generous.
Sayful Islam was interesting in that his focus was on his religion and obtaining shariah. We should be wary of those trying to style al-Mujihiroun and its successor groups as solely political actors - their goals and the core of their practice are religious, and they are just as much a part of British Islam as its nice, cuddly adherents that get invited inside the big political tent. Whether they remain a tiny minority remains to be seen - as on any issue it is all to play for in the future.
There are plenty of criticisms to be made of Proud and Prejudiced. Whilst Robinson's racism eventually bubbled through the surface in his stupid comments about Anders Brevik or as he fled from to Limehouse to avoid arrest, the EDL's proposed hook up with those well know purveyors of multi-culturalism the British Freedom Party went unexplored. It is possible that may well be the death knoll for the EDL - social movements tend to lose some of their magic when they enter into the formal political arena.
Equally Tommy Robinson was allowed to make the curious claim he had been to a BNP meeting in 2004 but was unhappy at them not admitting black people (presumeably from Luton's football firm) yet the EDL's origins in those who provided security for Luton BNP meetings has been well discussed by the likes of Larry O'Hara in Notes From the Borderland magazine. Disappointingly Qadeer Baksh from Luton Islamic centre was styled as a 'moderate' - compared to how Sayful Islam presents himself he may be, but they could just as easily have been portrayed as competing sides of the same Salafi coin. Indeed some of the deeply unpleasant views circulated from Luton Islamic centre are in the public domain.
I have long argued that the EDL are a distraction from what will become one of the big issues in British public life - the role - if any - for Islam in this society. Those debates will intensify - with or without Tommy Robinson.