Tommy Robinson likes getting something for nothing. He walks into the lobby of the hotel and asks if he can have a full English on The Sunday Times. And one, too, for the cameraman who is filming him for a documentary. Having informed me it will cost £20 a head, he unselfconsciously ploughs through his baked beans and bacon until the hotel staff become so agitated by his presence they ask us to leave. Robinson wipes his thin mouth with a napkin, turns to me and brimming with pride says, “Welcome to my world.”
Robinson is a short, frantic man who smells of Lynx, hair gel and bravado. A former tanning salon owner, he seems to have spent the past four years transforming himself into the poster boy for British racism. He founded the English Defence League in 2009 in response to protests by extremist Muslim groups in his home town of Luton, Bedfordshire, and has helped build a base of 25,000-35,000 followers, although the only people who openly associate with the group are skinheads, yobs and opportunistic football hooligans looking for a fight. They march through city centres with large Muslim populations, wearing pig masks, chanting racist anthems and being offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims.
Last week Robinson made the shock announcement that he was leaving the EDL, citing, with no obvious trace of irony, “the dangers of far-right extremism”. It is a curious turnaround: just five months ago, after the murder of drummer Lee Rigby, he was calling for an “English spring”.