Every time Tommy Robinson hits the news, we’re told that it isn’t his real name. His real name is Stephen Yaxley Lennon. Why do they keep telling us? His book Enemy of the State explains it all: he was born Stephen Yaxley, the name Lennon comes from his step dad and he took the alias Tommy Robinson to protect his privacy. The alias lasted, but the privacy didn’t; for years, anyone has been able to find out who Tommy Robinson is. However, like a barrister producing evidence in court, the press make a show of producing the ‘real’ name Steven Yaxley Lennon, as if using a pseudonym proves he is a danger to society.
A fake name is not a sign of dishonesty or evil intent. We don’t love celebrities any less because they take pen or stage names: I offer to the court Marilyn Monroe, Freddy Mercury, George Eliot. These pseudonyms create glamour and protect privacy. We ourselves make up online names for the same reasons, a practice so conventional that ‘doxing’ someone online (revealing their true identity, usually with malicious motives) is now recognised to be extremely bad form.
The real trouble with the name Tommy Robinson, from his enemies’ point of view, is that it’s so catchy, so patriotic, so archetypal. Think of Private Tommy Atkins, Rudyard Kipling’s misprized English soldier; think of the enterprising, dauntless Robinson Crusoe, or the brightly territorial robin redbreast, never afraid of a scrap. It is Tommy Robinson, not Steven Yaxley Lennon, who is waking the nation up to the dangers of Islamification, and it is Tommy Robinson’s name chanted outside the Old Bailey when Steven Yaxley Lennon appears in court.
The press has to keep on ‘doxing’ Tommy because the name Tommy Robinson is in danger of floating free from the man and, like a weather balloon released from its mooring, rising to a stratospheric level of influence. He’s a meme that’s going viral, a blockbuster, a brand poised to monopolise the market. It’s vital for them to keep ‘Tommy Robinson’ tethered to Steven Yaxley-Lennon, the convicted mortgage fraudster from Luton.
Here’s a coincidence: Yaxley, the name of a village in Cambridgeshire, is only two letters away from the name Loxley, once also a village, now a suburb of Sheffield, where Robin of Loxley is thought to have been born. This figure has been the subject of so many ballads, stories and films he’s almost become fictional. But there was a historical figure, and he engendered an epic idea. Which idea? I only need to say the name: Robin Hood.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood with his merry men,
Feared by the bad, loved by the good,
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood!
Nottinghamshire also produced Ned Ludd. This shadowy machine breaker of the industrial revolution is another example of a name that outgrew the man. With mechanisation sweeping aside livelihoods in the region, unrest grew, and incidents of machine breaking were explained as ‘Ned Ludd must have done it.’ In the Luddite uprisings ‘Ned’ was everywhere at once, becoming Captain, then General, and finally King Ludd.
Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,
His feats I but little admire,
I will sing the achievements of General Ludd,
Now the hero of Nottinghamshire.
Robin Hood defended the poor against wicked King John while Richard Lionheart was abroad fighting for Christendom. King Ludd defended the working man against the wicked industrialist grinding the face of the poor. We’re talking about mythical figures here. But Tommy Robinson is not a myth, not yet. He is still Steven Yaxley Lennon, with a criminal record, no doubt some bad decisions in hand, and, being human, real human failings.
The press want to keep Tommy tied to the idea of criminality, of ‘undesirables’ draped in England flags throwing Strongbow cans at police horses and threatening the fabric of society. They don’t want you to associate the name Tommy Robinson with the defence of the rule of law, with justice for all British people (regardless of colour), with the heroism of the private individual standing up for what he knows is right, against a state determined to tread him down. You might get ideas, and there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
Oh, Tommy Tommy, Tommy Tommy Tommy Tommy Robinson!