Ninth MP to leave the party this week says he has no plans to join the Independent Group
Ian Austin has become the ninth MP to quit the Labour party this week, although he told his local newspaper he had no plans to join the Independent Group, founded earlier this week by some former colleagues and Tory defectors, The Hindustan Times reports.
The MP for Dudley North in the West Midlands has been disaffected with the party leadership for a couple of years and told the Express and Starnewspaper there was a “culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance” in Labour.
He criticised Jeremy Corbyn and said he did not want the Labour leader to enter Downing Street, saying: “I always tell them the truth and I could never ask local people to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister.”
Austin holds his seat with a tiny majority of 22 over the Conservatives and has been the MP since 2005. But he has had a series of run-ins with the leadership over issues such as antisemitism, which he said was one of the principal reasons for his resignation.
“I am appalled at the offence and distress Jeremy Corbyn and the Labourparty have caused to Jewish people. It is terrible that a culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance is driving out good MPs and decent people who have committed their life to mainstream politics.
“The hard truth is that the party is tougher on the people complaining about antisemitism than it is on the antisemites.”
Last year Austin was placed under investigation by the party after he became embroiled in a row with the party chairman, Ian Lavery, over the handling of the antisemitism issue in the summer. The investigation was dropped in November, and Austin hit out at the “appalling” handling of the case.
His resignation follows those of eight other MPs, including Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, who quit Labour and formed the Independent Group. They were joined by three Conservatives earlier this week.
But Austin told his local newspaper he had not spoken to the Independent Group. “I think the Labour party is broken and clearly things have to change but that’s not what today is about, and I’ve not talked to them about that,” he said.
Unlike them, Austin has been supportive of Brexit and was one of three Labour MPs who voted with Theresa May’s government in support of her deal, which was nevertheless emphatically rejected by 230 votes. Voters in his constituency backed Brexit by 71% in the 2016 referendum.
But Austin did appear to indicate that he could work with the Independent Group in the future. He told BBC West Midlands radio: “That’s not what it is about today; I agree with them that the Labour party is broken.”
Independent Group MPs were quick to react to Austin’s announcement. Berger said: “I fully understand why Ian Austin has come to this difficult and painful decision.” Another, Chris Leslie, said he had “full respect” for Austin.
Austin told his local newspaper that, under Corbyn, Labour had altered. “I think Jeremy Corbyn has completely changed what was a mainstream party into a completely different party with very different values.
“The hard left is now in charge of the party; they’re going to get rid of lots of decent mainstream MPs and I just can’t see how it can return to the mainstream party that won elections and changed the country for the better.”
Party insiders have thought for several days that Austin was the most likely to quit of Labour’s remaining disaffected MPs, although the party leadership will not welcome another day of intense focus on internal divisions.
A party spokesperson said: “We regret that Ian Austin has left the Labour party. He was elected as a Labour MP and so the democratic thing is to resign his seat and let the people of Dudley decide who should represent them.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted: “Very sad to lose another colleague from the Labour team. It’s also personally hard to see a close friend take a decision of this magnitude.”
However, Austin said he would not resign and call a byelection. He told BBC that “my job is to be the local MP for Dudley” and “I don’t think what people want is another election. I think local people will understand this decision”.