A British Conservative politician has resigned after recordings leaked where he was apparently shown attempting to persuade the far-right English Defence League to threaten a demonstration outside a mosque, so that he could fulfill his "fantasy" of playing peacemaker.
Audio recordings of Dudley North candidate Afzal Amin were leaked by former leader of the English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson, who made them surreptitiously.
They were published in the Mail on Sunday, and reveal conversations between Amin, Robinson, and EDL chairman Steve Eddowes. Amin is heard suggesting that the EDL threaten to hold a march against a mosque in the week before the UK general elections in May. Later, Amin said, they should publicly announce that the march has been called off and the issues have been resolved, while crediting Amin. He also said that they should hire two EDL sympathizers to campaign for him.
The West Midlands candidate promised that the action would "bring the English Defence League out of the shadows into the main political debate."
He also said that, "if I win my election, in parliament you've got a very strong, unshakeable ally who's going to work hard to get you involved in all the institutions of the state and get you the exposure you need."
"Ninety-five percent of what you want to campaign against, we're with you," he added.
Amin also laid out his ambition, suggesting that he was hoping to eventually become British prime minister. "My ambition goes well beyond being an MP," he said. "I think I can get to the top."
After the recordings were made public, Amin spoke to BBC, claiming that his messages had been wrongly interpreted, and that he had been the victim of a "year-long sting operation."
"What you're describing here is very normal conflict resolution confidence building measures," he said.
He added: "There's no way I would have the confidence to propose such a maneuver to the EDL leadership. And he's the one that proposed that absolutely, we would do this march, and we would negotiate our way out of it. See when he first came to me he presented himself in tears saying that he wants to see an improved Britain."
Amin said that Robinson had been crying, saying that he couldn't provide Christmas presents for his children.
"I stand beside my desire to see peace within our communities," he said. "I stand by my desire to see a united Britain where we all live together. The British Muslim community isn't going anywhere. Supporters of EDL aren't going anywhere. We all need to share this space on our island. And the more we understand each other, the greater that unity can be. And what I want to see in all of this work is that that intention is recognized."
Amin was scheduled to make his case to the Conservative party on Tuesday, and said he planned to make a "robust defense" of his actions. However, on Monday he officially resigned.
With the UK elections fast approaching, surveys have shown that more than 50 percent of the British public think immigration should be a top priority for the government. However, activists suggest that the politicization of the issue, as well as growing anxiety around Islamophobia and the fear of extremism can be damaging.
"It's such a shame that politics is being used in such a way to create more problems than solutions," Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) told VICE News.
"To make use of the tensions that exist between far-right groups like the EDL and their opposition to mosques in general as a platform for political gain, I think it's quite disgraceful."
El-Hamdoon also said that it is very important that anyone that has serious concerns be enabled to sit down in a calm atmosphere to air them, and that discussion be facilitated by politicians. He said that spokespeople for MAB regularly engaged in discourse with concerned citizens, and would be willing to sit down with the EDL.
"Obviously there are people who are fascists," El-Hamdoon said. "They don't want to — no matter how much you reason with them — they don't want to reason or accept it, and that's not acceptable. So we don't want to sit down with people who have that kind of mentality. Whereas people who are sincere and say 'look, we are concerned about the extremists in the UK,' we say 'yes, so are we, so let's sit down and try and talk about it.'"
However, he added that anyone stoking these fears or scaremongering for political gain wasn't helping the country advance.
Don Flynn, director of the Migrants' Rights Network, told VICE News that the next six weeks before the general election are really about "containment — dealing with the toxic elements, challenging it wherever politicians come out with explicit messages, being able to challenge those and come up with the facts and with the evidence."
He added that at this stage in the electoral cycle: "In a sense we've lost the opportunity because by the time you get to the last six weeks of an election campaign politicians are responding to public opinion polls and there's very little we can do to change. We just simply have to go along with the rise and if the opinion polls are negative we can see what we can do to limit the impact of it but not fundamentally change it. They're not going to challenge the prejudices which appear to be firmly in place."
Flynn said that the theme that concerns his organization most at the moment is the growth of anti-Islamic sentiment. "It's resonating to an extent that is extremely unhealthy, and a lot more can be done to counter those sorts of messages."
He added that despite the constant talk of immigration, he didn't believe any of the three main parties really had "much of an idea what they're going to do about" the issue. Any proposals at this stage, Flynn said, are basically going to be "mood music rather than a promise to do this or do that."
Adam Memon, head of economic research at the Center of Policy Studies think tank, also criticized Amin's actions: "I would say that it is an utter disgrace if a parliamentary candidate has been colluding with an extremist organization like the EDL," he told VICE News. "Nobody who offers to be an unshakeable ally of the far right deserves to be an elected representative. Immigration needs to be discussed in a calm and rational way. Extremists will try to hijack the debate to spread fear and division. We must decisively reject that discourse."
On his website, Amin wrote that his three main goals were establishing a jobs support network, raising the standard of education in local schools, and improving care for the elderly.
Amin worked in several service jobs before becoming an officer in the British Army. He also "remains one of very few Black Country boys to get to Sandhurst [military college]," according to his website. The Black Country refers to a heavily industrialized area of the UK's West Midlands, so named for the color of the smoke produced there.
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