‘I did it for my father’ – Outgoing MP Ian Austin on why he quit Labour over antisemitism

Exclusive: The parliamentarian tells the JC about his final exchange with his dad, who came to Britain as a refugee from the Nazis



Ian Austin has paid an emotional tribute to his Jewish refugee father in the week he stood down from politics in a bid to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.

Fighting back the tears as he recalled his final exchange of words with his beloved dad, Fred, who passed away in March, the former Labour MP told the JC: ”In the last conversation I had with Dad he said to me: ‘I want you to know that I love you very much. I am really proud of you. And I really approve of all the decisions you have taken’.

“Today, I know I could look my father in the eye, and I think I can look Jewish friends of mine in the eye. I really think that.”

Last week Mr Austin was at the centre of election headlines when he urged voters to back Boris Johnson on December 12 to stop the “extremist” Labour leader from coming to power.

The 54-year-old had resigned from Labour in February citing antisemitism under Mr Corbyn’s leadership but now said he could not stand again in the Dudley North constituency he had represented since 2005 because he did not want to “muddy the waters” and risk the Labour candidate getting elected.

Britain’s Jewish community has lost one of its most outspoken and devoted supporters in Parliament.

“I think the best contribution I can make at the moment is to make sure Jeremy Corbyn does not get anywhere near to Downing Street,” he said. “I stood down from parliament because I thought that was the best way of achieving that. That is the most urgent thing in this election.

“I think there is a risk of Corbyn becoming PM. I stood down to try to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Mr Austin is convinced his father, who arrived in Britain from Czechoslovakia in 1939 at the age of ten and never saw his mother and sisters again as they were murdered in the Treblinka death camp, would have understood his reasoning.

“I joined the Labour Party as a teenager to fight racism,” said Mr Austin, as he attempted to sum up the debt he owed to his father.  “I grew up listening to my dad telling me about the Holocaust and his family - that had a big impact on me.

“Over the last twelve months, both my parents have died, I’ve left the Labour Party and politics has not been great generally. And now we have got an election and I’m standing down from parliament.  Not the year I would have expected.”

Pointedly, Mr Austin, who was influential in securing government funding of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) while working as a special adviser to former  PM Gordon Brown, said the moment that led to him really contemplating how he could remain in Labour took place last year as he joined the March of the Living event in Poland.

“We were in a hotel before going to Auschwitz, “ he recalled. “I was introduced to a survivor in a wheelchair as ‘the MP Ian Austin.’  He looked at me asked: ‘For what party?’

“I replied ‘Labour’ and I will never forget his words. He said to me ‘Are you not ashamed to be in the Labour Party with all the antisemitism?’ I was ashamed. I knew then I had to do more about this. I knew it was going  to come to the point where I had a big decision to make.”

Asked if he felt that comparisons between the situation in the UK with that of Germany in the 1930s was valid, Mr Austin said: "I would not say this is Germany in the 1930s.

"But it is important to recognise that the Holocaust did not start with the industrial slaughter of six million Jews. It started with words, with prejudice, conspiracy theories. We saw a community being treated differently and  we saw  politicians turning a blind eye.

“When you hear Jewish people saying they would consider leaving the country,  when 87 per cent say they think Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic,  when just six per cent of the Jewish community say they would vote for the main opposition party - how is that acceptable?”

Mr Austin, who was adopted by Dudley school teachers Fred and Margaret, announced his decision to stand down as an MP last week only hours after Labour’s Tom Watson, a long-time friend of his, also announced he was stepping down as deputy leader and as the MP for West Bromwich.

“I only decided this a week ago,” said Mr Austin of his own decision. “I did not know Tom was going to. I talk to Tom, I knew he was grappling with this but I did not expect him to announce it then. But you have to announce these things before parliament ends.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell last week attempted to attack Mr Austin’s decision to stand down by suggesting he was “now employed by the Tories.”  This was an apparent reference to Mr Austin’s role as a trade envoy to Israel, to which he was appointed by Theresa May in July. The role was unpaid, and Mr Austin has demanded an apology from Mr McDonnell, which is unlikely to materialise.

But he says that attacking the state of Israel has itself become “a virtue signal for the left in Britain and elsewhere.”

He added: “They are not campaigning with equal passion about anything else. They are not standing up for oppressed  people anywhere else in the world.

"This one conflict – it’s like an obsession for many of them. If the only country in the world that you are campaigning about, that you want to get rids of, is the only Jewish country in the world -  don’t tell me you are not an antisemite.”

While accepting that there are “still good people still fighting” within the Labour Party today, Mr Austin has little time for the so-called moderate MPs of the party who insist they have remained to lead a fight against Mr Corbyn and his allies in the event they lose the next election.

“I think it’s not good enough for MPs to expect the public to make a decision they are not prepared to make themselves,” he argues. “The Labour Party has completely changed, from the leadership to the membership, most of who joined after 2015 to back Jeremy Corbyn.

“This is a party now being investigated for institutional antisemitism under its current leader, which I think is shameful. I’ve been trying to sort this out and get rid of this guy for the last four and a half years. If those moderate MPs had also been prepared to deal with this we wouldn’t be in this situation we are now.”

Despite leaving Westminster, Mr Austin says he will not be giving up his campaigning against antisemitism, his support for the Jewish state and his work with organisations like HET.

“My message to the Jewish community, and I say this whenever I speak to young activists, is keep standing up for yourselves, for the community and speaking out for Israel in the future. I will not be giving up, even though I am not in Parliament. Look at what organisations like Labour Friends of Israel and BICOM do, it’s really important work.

“Keep  sending those emails, lobby your MPs, keep reaching out to people. Remember someone like Tom Watson, who did speak out against antisemitism and for Israel, was inspired after he was invited to a Friday night dinner by a Jewish student when he was at Hull University. That planted the seed in Tom’s mind.

“Tell them the truth about the 70 year long miracle that is Israel. Keep having these conversations and you never know.

“In 30 years times it might result in someone in politics having a completely different opinion.”

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