On Monday I handed in my resignation as the candidate of Dudley North to the Conservative party. I did so with a heavy heart and with much regret. I remain a loyal Conservative, a strong supporter of David Cameron and I look forward to a Conservative victory in May.
My reasons for going into politics, like my reasons for joining the Army, were always driven by a deep sense of wanting to be engaged where I could to make a positive contribution. This led me to take risks and push the boundaries of military service and more recently, regular political engagement and dialogue, so that I could materialise my hopes for the better outcomes of others.
As soon as I left the Army in 2013, I publicly announced that my aim was to improve relations between different communities in our country. I had worked as a youth worker in inner city Birmingham with predominantly BAME users, and later lived and served with soldiers from White British communities. On both sides of these communities I saw a lack of appreciation of the other, severe misunderstandings, prejudice and occasionally deep hatred.
When I was approached by Tommy Robinson in June 2014 he sent me an unsolicited text message stating his desire to see improved inter-communal relations and to bringing people together. Little did I suspect this may be a trap.
We began to discuss key issues affecting our country, and he presented himself as a reformed character who wanted to see bridges built and communities working together: 'The EDL are not against Muslims. We know that Muslims are a part of this country. What we're scared of is terrorism... as a Muslim Army officer the EDL lads will listen to you and so will the Muslims... if we work together we can help fix this...' and so on. He was on a few occasions in tears at the prospect of his mother's serious illness and almost every time we met he asked me for money citing his inability to pay for food for his young children. I did not give him, or the EDL, any money at any point.
I will say from the outset, I failed to be cynical. I was foolish for having engaged in this sordid affair and of course I regret the outcome. Having to accept that I was the victim of a year-long sting operation by men with pernicious desires to twist the words I've spoken into traps for others, is not easy. Five minutes of recordings from over 27 hours of negotiations have been presented. Tommy Robinson has carefully picked the quotes he wants to be public news. I was wrongly set up and everyone who knows me knows this to be the case.
I also want to add that this episode had nothing to do with the Quilliam Foundation or my work with the Curzon Institute or anyone from the Conservative Party. Baroness Warsi has come under undue criticism from some commentators, she neither recruited me nor was in any way involved: such assertions are wrong and malicious.
As for the issue at hand, Robinson, of course, won't release the recording where he first proposed the idea of holding and later cancelling a march as a way of creating a catalyst for engagement. He was more than happy to release a recording of me clarifying the sequence of events to the EDL chairman, Steve Eddowes, to make it seem I was proposing the idea to Robinson himself. This was the fifth meeting with Robinson and the third in which Eddowes was involved. My words spoken here were summaries of our previous discussions as part of the overall community building exercise, 90% of which appears nowhere in their secret recordings. Such selectivity is what has built this grossly inaccurate picture.
Neither will Robinson admit pleading to me for my help repeatedly over this last year, crying, beside himself with worry about how he is failing to look after his family, having no money for food or Christmas presents. Nor will he admit his crisis of faith when he came out of prison last year, and how his inner turmoil almost led him to accept another faith. I questioned what he told me of his abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and his strange inclination towards trying halal meat. As a man of faith myself, I assume he saw me as someone who could help him understand this inner disquiet and make sense of it all. I accepted him as an alienated human being who wanted help, and thought I could also bridge relations between both of our communities through this relationship.
The reason I am mentioning these aspects of the dialogue is not to attack Robinson, but to show readers that the recordings have been severely manipulated to make the situation seem black and white.
But this is much bigger than me. My resignation is about ensuring the best for the Conservative party, which is my main priority as we face this very important election.
I've been inundated with messages of support over the past few days which greatly moved me. Hundreds of supportive and reassuring texts, phone calls and emails have flooded in from friends, family, colleagues and residents in Dudley North. That is enough for me. There will still remain some people who think ill of me, and that is their prerogative.
There are, however, a few things that need to be clarified. I first met Tommy Robinson at a 20-person roundtable in London organised by the Quilliam Foundation. Since his release from prison for mortgage fraud, I have been pursued by Robinson who remains, in my view, the actual leader of the EDL. I had a strategy in place, unbeknown to the public, to facilitate different communities meeting face to face and so developing relationships on better terms. Had this trust not been betrayed we could have seen the emergence of a new paradigm for resolving tensions and allaying suspicions. But this is not what Robinson wanted, rather he wants to see every Muslim in public life stopped. 'You are just another Trojan horse' he said to me after I confronted him once the MoS informed me of their involvement.
Robinson has since spoken of a mystery money man. This is ludicrous. When he begged people for money for his children, one of them assured him, they would not go hungry. This is the most basic human response and despite the empathy no money was given at all.
In these lengthy and personal discussions I sought to build human-to-human rapport and in that context said some things which on their own read very poorly indeed. The account of me head butting someone is false. I was attacked on the train by three youths, which left me with facial and head injuries. Unfortunately, nobody was charged. Secondly, I recognise my use of the word 'paki' was unacceptable. Earlier that evening, I was explaining how I was racially abused as a child. 'Paki' was a word I was frequently called. I then explained how 'paki' is a word that many people from the Indian sub-continent have appropriated for themselves, just like some black people have adopted the N word as a form of empowerment (I'm not saying either of these are necessarily good things). Nevertheless, I was using it in irony, referring to the way I was once referred to, I do recognize that this was a mistake and I regret using the term.
Lastly, one of the most disappointing aspects of some media reporting was that I was trying to stir up racial tensions. The reality is exactly the opposite. During the meetings where EDL national leaders met local Dudley Muslims the discussions were tense but on both occasions ended with warm handshakes and amicability from both sides. Some of those who attended feel equally betrayed by what has been described as Robinson's duplicity. I don't know how much he's been paid for this episode but I now know without any doubt he cannot be trusted. Anyone who uses their mother's illness and the welfare of their children in this way is beyond the pale.