It looks like the Biryani Project is back in the news. I’ve created a new blog category for my posts from March-April 2015 on the subject here.
The news is this Huff story, which is driven by the fact Stephen Yaxley-Lennon needs another Stone Island jacket, and therefore he’s got a book out. The key detail is that he now admits that the Quilliam Foundation paid him cash money to quit the EDL, to the tune of £2,000 a month. Quilliam squirms quite a bit, denying that he was an employee or that he was borne on their payroll, but pointedly not denying that he received money.
SYL describes it as a straight-out deal, whereas Quilliam claims he only received cash in exchange for his contribution to some sort of project. Here’s the key quote:
“Tommy [ie SYL’s pseudonym] was remunerated, as an external actor, after invoicing us for costs associated with outreach that he & Dr Usama Hassan did to Muslim communities after Tommy’s departure from the EDL, in an attempt to reconcile Tommy with our Muslim communities.”
SYL describes this “outreach” as follows:
Robinson claims he was on the Quilliam payroll for six months and received about £8,000. During that time, beyond attending the press conference, Robinson got involved in a few “Quilliam-orientated projects”. One was a meeting in Luton between the EDL and a group of Muslims that was “chaos”.
This sounds very much like the Biryani Project effort to deliberately stage first a conflict and then a reconciliation between the EDL and a “group of Muslim lads”, in aid of a local political candidate’s campaign, funded with cash drawn ultimately from the DCLG counter-radicalisation budget. We know the Project did actually go into action once, in Dudley. This seems to be a second case.
The timeline is interesting. SYL quit the EDL in October 2013, immediately before going to jail. Around this time, and for the next 6 months, he was receiving money from Quilliam. Obviously whatever “outreach” he undertook must have happened after he was released. At the same time, future Lib Dem candidate and Quilliam chairman Maajid Nawaz was grant-hunting to keep Quilliam going (after all, you can’t make it rain in the club without plenty of old fivers), and seems to have hawked the capture of SYL and the broader EDL-Islamist reconciliation concept-of-operations around potential funders. Significantly, the FOIA response Political Scrapbook based their story on has been scrubbed from WhatDoTheyKnow on privacy grounds.
Scroll forwards to January, 2014. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi greenlit the £120,000 DCLG grant to Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate and personal friend, Afzal Amin, and his various similarly-named companies. This is the money that would end up being used to fund the Biryani Project.
So, around the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, we can see that things were changing. One source of cash for Quilliam is drying up. Another one seems to have emerged. At the same time, a new product has emerged, the recycling of SYL in person and the EDL membership in general, plus some still unidentified Islamists, as a force for reconciliation that can also be repurposed as support for Tory, or perhaps Coalition, campaigns in key marginals. Dudley North is exhibit A. Another campaign in Luton is exhibit B – probably Luton South, as Luton North went Labour by a 17.5% majority in 2010 even though the sitting MP, Margaret Moran, quit in disgrace over her expenses, and that actually increased substantially in 2015. The 2010 result in Luton South was a Labour majority of 2,329 or 5.5%.
And of course Maajid Nawaz himself ran for election in the London three-way supermarginal, Hampstead & Kilburn, where the Tories faced a Labour majority of only 42 and Nawaz faced one of only 841 as third-placed candidate.
It is probably worth pointing out that Warsi was Conservative Party Chairman, in charge of organisation and campaigning, up to 2012 before being replaced by Grant Shapps and given more ministerial responsibility, notably for the counter-extremism program. Interestingly, she has on occasion spoken of the need to address the BNP’s very real concerns back when they were cool.