ramshackle coalition of interests: black country edition

My first thought about this story was that it was roughly what would have happened if the surviving characters at the end of Four Lions – the hopeless MP, the sinister-but-pathetic spook, the bungling police negotiator, the windbag imam – had to draw up a policy to prevent this from ever happening again. In fact, the story is much better than that.

For a start, there’s the point, now widely remarked on, that Defence Academy lecturer on counterinsurgency Afzal Amin essentially carried out a key-leader engagement with the leaders of an extremist militia, deliberately generating a serious but manageable community dispute that he could then resolve, gaining influence and authority. In Smethwick. Less Three Cups of Tea than Three Pints of Lager and a Portion of Onion Bhajis.

But there’s so much more. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka fake ISAF veteran/Stone Island terrace dandy/thug “Tommy Robinson”, is meant to have given up politics and checked himself into a “deradicalisation” course via the Quilliam Foundation. Yet there he is, apparently able to order the EDL onto the streets. Curious.

And Amin promised Yaxley-Lennon that he “would never go hungry again”, as well as that the EDL would appear “reasonable” and be integrated into normal politics. The second is a matter of opinion, but the first sounds very much like an offer of hard cash or something that could be turned into cash. He also specifically offered to pay the EDL for canvassers, which is flagrantly illegal.

Right. Cash. At this point it’s probably time to turn up this story from the Daily Diana of all papers in January last year.

Amin’s company, Curzon Education Ltd., got a contract from DCLG to deliver 50 talks by “distinguished military figures” to schoolchildren about the history of soldiers from the British Empire and Commonwealth in the world wars. This was worth £120,000, and was approved by Baroness Warsi as the responsible minister on a DCLG “Cross Government Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred”, described as part of the government’s “social cohesion work”. Interestingly, Amin repeatedly refers to his scheme with Yaxley-Lennon & Co as being about “community cohesion” or “confidence-building measures”.

The project seems to have started as a wizard wheeze of Amin’s. Apparently he discussed it with Sir David Richards when he was Chief of the Defence Staff, but he waited until he left the service and became a Tory PPC to act on it further. He briefed it to Francis Maude, who routed it to Eric Pickles at DCLG, who tasked his officials. Didn’t I tell you Maude is a crucial node in the lobbying network?

Amin is an old political buddy of Warsi, so presumably she introduced him to Maude. The job was never put out to tender, although Pickles’ officials beat Amin down from £500,000 to £120,000, amounting to a generous £685 hourly rate. In parallel to this, it seems, he was also angling for a free school, so Michael Gove and friends will have been involved in the lobbying process.

Asked about it by the Daily Di, Amin denied he took any salary from “the Institute”. But the Institute – the Curzon Institute – is of course not the same thing as Curzon Education Ltd., which is company number 08631266. (It has never filed accounts.) Admittedly it is limited by guarantee, so it cannot make a profit, but that doesn’t stop it paying salaries, so this is a non-denial denial.

Curzon Institute? Whassat? Well. Here is an incredibly thin and amateurish website, which names precisely three individuals involved with it. All are described as working on some specific project, rather than the institute itself. One of them also helps to run the HALO Trust mine-clearance charity, another is Afzal Amin, and the third is basically some guy. This is what it says it does:

The Curzon Institute’s vision is to be the preferred partner in the provision of advice, products and services to all agencies and organisations that work with UK and European minority communities and who employ personnel abroad.

And yes, it’s named after comically pompous imperialist Lord Curzon:

Lord Curzon was a patriot, a formidable visionary, an able ruler of disparate communities and all the while a humble servant of our nation

I’m not sure Curzon’s mother would have thought him humble. Here he is, arriving at a massive state ceremony he put on to honour…himself.

DelhiDurbar_LordCurzon

As we will see, though, the institute named after him is a ramshackle coalition of interests, as he said about the Congress Party. The Curzon Institute is not a registered charity, nor is it a company. (There is a contemporaneous Curzon Initiative Ltd in Birmingham, though, a commercial company, but I have yet to find a direct link between them.) Its domain name is registered to “Identity Protect Limited”, which provides anonymous DNS registration. It does not give a street address. It is a wanktank in the purest form. But it is a wanktank that has some damned interesting job adverts.

Have you served in the British Police or the British Armed Forces? Are you interested in a very well paid and exciting career opportunity as an international trainer and mentor? The Curzon Institute’s Consultancy Branch is pleased to be recruiting retiring and retired Police Officers and Armed Forces personnel for work overseas. If you are interested, if you want to take on this challenge, then send in your CV with full career and educational history and a covering letter. We welcome all applications and a working knowledge of Arabic or French would be helpful.

Seems legit, as they say. Now Afzal Amin’s statements since the Mail on Sunday burst the story suggest he was in touch with Yaxley-Lennon and friends for at least a year, and that he had some ambitions to scale the project up, taking it on the road around the UK.

For the past year, I have been undertaking discussions with Tommy Robinson and more recently with the leadership of the EDL to prevent further inter-communal tensions and violence. I recognised that there was an opportunity to promote better community cohesion between various communities in Dudley and that this may serve as a model for further dispute resolution in other towns and cities.

If it was going to cost £250 per EDL “canvasser” per week, as Yaxley-Lennon and Amin agreed, presumably the leadership would want paying too. Amin said as much. So who was going to be paying? I suspect, and this is now speculation, that they would be put on the Curzon Thing’s payroll, and the costs would be billed to some DCLG project or other, probably under the banner of counter-radicalisation. Amin mentions repeatedly that he contacted the police chief, too, so did he think he had official approval for his caper?

So we have several different themes here – ill-thought out and inappropriate spook plotting, use of government resources for party politics, a hell of a lot of general perversity and deceit, and some quite shameless grant-hunting. It’s emblematic, I tell you. In the light of yet more Shapps/Green, I think it’s the spiv element that’s the key.

21 comments

  1. PhilD

    he keeps interesting company doesn’t he? He’s a bit before my time up here, but I’ve not seen any credible reference to him being a COIN lecturer at the Defence Academy. Is that something he’s claiming or is there a different source? I’ll do some more digging.

    • yorksranter

      It’s in his official biog – not very much else is, though. the only unit affiliations given are UKDA and the Counterinsurgency & Stabilisation Centre. says he was a “strategist in Kandahar”, which sounds like a staff officer of some sort, but doesn’t say what HQ he was attached to. doesn’t even mention his regiment or his specialisation. this would make sense if a lot of his career was classified.

      • PhilD

        He’s in the journal with a book review in Dec 07 where’s he’s listed as ‘Captain Afzal R Amin
        Adjutant General’s Corps (Educational
        and Training Services)
        Defence School of Languages,
        Beaconsfield’
        and his wiki entry has him as being ‘ commissioned into the Educational and Training Services Branch of the Adjutant General’s Corps (Regular Army) in April 2003’. That makes him an officer in the Educational and Training Services Branch (ETS) of the Adjutant General’s Corps.(the old Army Educational Corps. What gets interesting is the dress uniform. I’m pretty certain it’s Intelligence Corps. There’s another photo in that Mail of him with Fatty Soames in Basra. He’s wearing a green beret which is definitely Intelligence Corps. Also, I note he made Captain two years out of Sandhurst which is pretty quick.

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  5. Dan Hardie

    Alex, I’m afraid your commenter Phil D gets it wrong: the AGC and the Int Corps have the same colour (cypress green) beret. He was commissioned into the AGC, never transferred out of it, and is wearing AGC dress uniform. And as Phil D notes, Amin is listed next to his book review as being in the AGC (ETS). If he’d been in the Int Corps, that’s what he’d be described as being: military journals (like the British Army review) routinely identify people as being in the Int Corps. It’s only Special Forces where people are identified as coming from their parent (ie original) unit, and there is frankly no way that this unfit clown passed SF selection.

  6. Dan Hardie

    ‘this would make sense if a lot of his career was classified.’

    Oh for fuck’s sake. What we have here is a standard issue fucking military bureaucrat posing as a high-ranking strategist. Training centres like the UKDA and the Counterinsurgency & Stabilisation Centre have attached ETS officers who do bureaucratic tasks: make sure that the pamphlets are all written according to the ‘Defence Writing’ standards, complete the ‘internal validation’ exercises, give lessons which consist of them reading off PowerPoint presentations which deal with matters of which they have no personal experience, et bloody cetera.

    There is a hell of a lot of bureaucracy in the Army – far too much, in my view- and there are too many uniformed bureaucrats going around telling civilians about the important, difficult work they did when actually they were sitting at a desk, sometimes doing necessary tasks but all too often performing make-work. This clown is almost certainly one of them.

  7. Dan Hardie

    Sounds to me from that ARRSE comment like one of his jobs was being one of the bods who came round to teach the lads a few phrases of Arabic or Pashtu (Pushtu, whatever transliteration one wants) from a series of cue cards. Quite likely if he was an Urdu speaker. The ‘cultural awareness’ training that soldiers were put through in 2008 couldn’t even be described as inadequate, in my experience, and language training was even worse- I don’t think I saw a cue card with Pashtun transliterated words on, though I spoke to an Int Corps NCO who told me that they did exist, somewhere. Later on things got a bit better but were hardly very good. Part of the reason, of course, being that the part of the Army that is meant to educate the rest is full of bureaucratic placemen like the delightful Mr Amin.

  8. Dan Hardie

    Apparently there’s now an extradition treaty between the UK and Dubai (and the rest of the UAE), so if I were Amin I would keep on running.

    There are a few problems which this vile man has usefully brought to light. And one of them, I have to say, is for people not to assume that everyone who has served in the Armed Forces is necessarily a person of high courage (as Mr Amin modestly claims for himself in the non-apology which Jame Kenny quotes: ‘Politics requires an amount of bravery and using my experience as a strategist in Afghanistan…’) or of integrity.

    There are some exceptional people in the military, a large majority of ordinary people, and then there are some people who quite frankly shouldn’t be trusted to behave honestly or competently in any circumstances. I can think of a few examples straight off, and so- if they are honest- can anybody who’s been in the Forces.

    More widely, the current American craze for ‘supporting the Troops’ absolutely uncritically is stupid and dangerous. There are signs that some British people are adopting it. All the tabloid rhetoric about troops being ‘heroes’ is one frankly objectionable sign.

    One of the dangers, of course, is that it’s an open invitation to chancers like Amin to convince people that they are courageous, trustworthy and honest. Another danger is that if we convince ourselves that soldiers are the only public servants then we belittle the extraordinary work done by so many civilians in so many fields. And a third is that, if we convince ourselves that all service personnel are ‘heroes’ of outstanding integrity, then we stop asking questions about how our Armed Forces are run and whether there is anything wrong with them.

    • yorksranter

      Hilariously, the simplest explanation I can think of for how the Mail found out is that Yaxley-Lennon realised what a terrible prick he was dealing with…

  9. Dan Hardie

    Sorry, I mangled the second paragraph above. It would make more sense if it said:

    There are a few problems which this vile man has usefully brought to light. And one of them, I have to say, is that too many people (not everyone, but a great many of them are in the political parties) think, or think that they should pretend that they think, that everyone who has served in the Armed Forces is necessarily a person of high courage (as Mr Amin modestly claims for himself in the non-apology which Jame Kenny quotes: ‘Politics requires an amount of bravery and using my experience as a strategist in Afghanistan…’) or of integrity.

  10. Dan Hardie

    ‘Hilariously, the simplest explanation I can think of for how the Mail found out is that Yaxley-Lennon realised what a terrible prick he was dealing with…’

    It’s quite obvious that the leak came from Yaxley Lennon (aka ‘Tommy Robinson’) and his confederate, who bugged the meeting and who provided the MoS with extensive quotes about how Amin had contacted them. As to why they did it, yes, partly that they didn’t like the guy, and I suspect partly that Yaxley-Lennon (who has at least three criminal convictions and has done several jail sentences, most recently for mortgage fraud) realised that he was dealing with the kind of idiot who would cook up a criminal conspiracy and then, if things went wrong, claim to be a respectable man and leave his co-conspirators in the lurch. Finally, Amin offered Yaxley-Lennon money, but he’ll have realised right from the start that the MoS and other tabloids also pay big bucks for stories which get on the front page, as this one did, and that way he’d be making the cash for far less risk.

    As to Yaxley-Lennon’s ‘conversion’ and all the stuff with Quilliam- I couldn’t believe at the time that almost nobody in the media noted that Yaxley-Lennon did it when he was awaiting trial for the afore-mentioned mortgage fraud. At the time I thought his renunciation of the EDL was likely to be a pretty transparent attempt to give his defence brief something positive to say when speaking with the judge before sentencing: ‘Yes, Your Honour, in the past my client was indeed a violent football hooligan with a number of serious convictions who formed a racist militia which has been harassing people in the streets. More recently, however, he has seen the light and is attempting to lead young people away from violence…’

    The thing is that Yaxley-Lennon is a career criminal, and he will have been round the block enough times to know how to look out for himself. He’s been a football hooligan all his adult life, and he also owns a number of businesses, eg a tanning parlour, which are precisely the kind of thing that you can buy cash in hand to, say, launder proceeds from the protection or drugs rackets, two businesses which a great many hoolies went into. Amin is an amateur who thought that he was so much smarter than the people he was dealing with, because, I suspect, he has a degree and talks posh and they do not. Mistake.

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  12. Guano

    Dan Hardie

    “More widely, the current American craze for ‘supporting the Troops’ absolutely uncritically is stupid and dangerous. There are signs that some British people are adopting it. All the tabloid rhetoric about troops being ‘heroes’ is one frankly objectionable sign.

    One of the dangers …………. And a third is that, if we convince ourselves that all service personnel are ‘heroes’ of outstanding integrity, then we stop asking questions about how our Armed Forces are run and whether there is anything wrong with them.”

    I couldn’t agree more, and this is one of the reasons that I asked, on another thread, whether it could be really true that the generals really made the strange assumptions about the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq that they now claim they made.

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