I used to be a member of the EDL – and today I urge you to think about what St George's Day really represents

For years, the far-right has shamelessly tried to use St George for its own selfish gain. Ordinary people across the country should take a stand against this, by celebrating St George’s Day, and honouring his memory and example.

Being a former member of the EDL myself, I understand why the group’s badge is the St George’s Cross. The far-right has a history of hijacking symbols and causes. Britain First does it with the Union Jack; the EDL does it with St George. They take things that matter to people in Britain and pretend to care themselves. It shows how unpatriotic they really are.

It’s why I joined the EDL, but also why I left. They found me because I commented on a video of Anjem Choudary abusing British troops. I was so angry, especially because I was fundraising for the Army at the time. Within minutes, an EDL recruiter had sent me a direct message and we ended up chatting for hours.

The recruiter made it seem like he cared about the same things I did. Before long, I wasn’t just going on demos – I was organising them. But even though I liked the lads, I didn’t really feel like we were doing anything positive. For example, we’d talk about St George and flying the flag all the time but we didn’t even do any events on St George’s Day.

To be honest, a lot of people get sucked in thinking the same thing I did. But really, those recruiters just wanted to use us. We were angry about issues affecting people in our country, but all they cared about was having more people on their side blaming everything on foreigners, especially Muslims.

I know now that it was all wrong. Like a lot of people who left the EDL, I always had a bit of doubt. There were a few things that made me question what I was doing. And then I met an ex-jihadist called Manwar Ali.

I came across Manwar when I heard a rumour that he was going to convert an old church in Ipswich into a super-mosque. I challenged him and found out that I was wrong: he was actually building a community centre for everyone to use. Over a few months we became good friends and I also realised that I was wrong about Muslims: it’s not ordinary people like Manwar; it’s the extremists who are bad. Lots of Muslims want to make a positive contribution to our country. And it’s the same with the far-right – they don’t speak for all of us.

Police and the government understand far-right groups more today, so they can deal with it better and make the members less of a threat than they used to be. That’s a good thing. Support for the far-right seems to be falling. Britain First’s leaders are in jail, National Action has been proscribed, and EDL rallies get 5 per cent of the turnout that they used to. All these extremist groups are trying to turn people against each other, but they’re failing.

We all need to keep up the fight and shouldn’t be scared to show what it means to be a proud English person, and that starts with St George.

England’s patron saint has been used by the far-right so much that people avoid flying the flag because they’re scared of being called racist. To some people, even celebrating St George’s Day is seen as political, rather than just having some national pride. This is as stupid as saying St Patrick’s Day belongs to the IRA.

Lots of us believe St George is a true symbol of our country’s pride and character. Everything about him shows his Englishness, especially his values of being tolerant and generous. But, because of that, today’s far-right wouldn’t have celebrated him: they would have abused him.

We should be loud and proud of what he represents, and we should be proud to fly our flag. We should stand up to all extremists who try to take that pride away from us.

We’re lucky to live in a country where everyone is free to speak their mind, even those who have unpalatable views. That’s why it’s so important that we’re aware of the methods of extremists and can argue against them properly when they air those unpalatable views.

It’s the responsibility of all of us to keep fighting, and doing so means we need to keep our eyes open and think critically. That also means us real patriots need to unite and reclaim what it means to be English and patriotic from those who only want to divide us.

This St George’s Day, we should be proud English men and women, united against all forms of hate, intolerance, division and extremism. And we should do it by celebrating a man who represents all that: St George.

Ivan Humble is a former regional organiser for the English Defence League. He is now a consultant and public speaker, working with communities to tackle all forms of extremism