I spent a hugely constructive couple of hours yesterday (Saturday) afternoon at the Hounslow Community Centre as a guest at a workshop for young people organised by the MPower Hounslow Youth Project.
About fifteen youngsters - boys and girls mostly from a Muslim background - discussed a host of topics relating to political and social extremism, not just on the fringes of Muslim society but also street gangs and football hooliganism.
I was invited to the meeting in time to give my own presentation about my experiences as a National Front organiser in the 1970s and 1980s, but I arrived early enough to hear some of the earlier presentations and was amazed by the quality of the information that was being imparted. It occurred to me instantly that this project was deadly earnest about trying to keep potentially vulnerable young people who might otherwise find themselves receptive to extremist ideas on the straight and narrow.
When it was my turn to speak I simply gave it from the heart. Many of the people there were so young they had never even heard of the National Front, but most had heard of the BNP and I circulated some photos and written material demonstrating the extent to which I had been involved, including a fading snippet from a local newspaper showing myself and Nick Griffin, now leader of the BNP, addressing a rally in Isleworth and a letter I once received whilst in prison from an outspoken Ulster loyalist friend (writing from another prison) literally a few months before he was shot dead by members of a fringe Irish republican group.
I spoke of the way in which one becomes "ghettoised" when joining up with an extremist group, rightly shunned by normal society but with the result that one finishes up only speaking to and listening to others who share one's own prejudices, and sliding deeper and deeper thereby into an extremist mindset and way of life.
I think it fair to say that most of these very young people were ever so slightly taken aback to suddenly find themselves being lectured by this middle-aged, greying and nondescript old scruffpot and hearing about a way of life in which guns and bombs, whilst not perhaps a feature of everyday life, certainly existed as a feature of the political dialectic at the time.
I think I have said before on this blog that this is the kind of work, more than anything else, that I really want to be doing. I deeply regret my past as a right-wing extremist, but accept that it happened and believe that I am uniquely placed to offer warnings, advice and guidance to young people who may in the wrong circumstances found themselves being led along the same destructive and dangerous path.
MPower is a superb resource for vulnerable young people and I have already expressed to the organisers my willingness, indeed my eagerness to assist them in their future work should they wish me to do so. My respect for those who dedicated themselves to working with and helping young people in this way really does know no bounds.