Fighting racism made me join Labour, now antisemitism forces me to quit

Dudley North MP Ian Austin is quitting the Labour Party. (Photo credit: Simon Cooper/PA Wire via Jewish News)
Dudley North MP Ian Austin is quitting the Labour Party. (Photo credit: Simon Cooper/PA Wire via Jewish News)

I grew up listening to my Dad – a refugee from the Holocaust – teaching me about the evils of hatred and prejudice.

One of the main reasons I joined the Labour Party as a teenager in Dudley more than 35 years ago was to fight racism, and I could never have believed that I’d be leaving because of racism too.

I learnt important values growing up in Dudley. The importance of our democracy, of fairness and tolerance. Knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. Basic decent British values.

I have fought intolerance and prejudice all my life.

My first campaign when I became an MP was to work with local councillors and community groups to drive the BNP out of Dudley.

Last year I organised a Rally Against Racism in the Birmingham hotel where Enoch Powell made his “Rivers of Blood” speech 50 years before.

I’ve stood with Muslim constituents targeted by the BNP or the EDL and I will always fight for a more tolerant and united society.

The Labour Party has been my life, so this has been the hardest decision I have ever had to take, but I have to be honest and the truth is that I have become ashamed of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

I am appalled at the offence and distress Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party 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.

It is wrong that Luciana Berger has been bullied out of the Labour Party by antisemites.

It is wrong that the party threatened Margaret Hodge when she spoke out on antisemitism, like they threatened me when I raised the issue with the party chairman.

They had to back down because we had done nothing wrong, but the hard truth is that the party is tougher on the people complaining about antisemitism than it is on the antisemites.

I have lost count of the number of Jewish friends – longstanding supporters of the Labour Party – who have torn up their party cards.

I have even seen Holocaust survivors take part in protests against the Labour Party.

I will never forget the burning sense of shame when a man who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz asked me how I could stay in the Labour Party with all the antisemitism.

When it comes to racism, I know whose side I am on.

Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him have turned a mainstream party into something very different.

He has spent his entire political career working with and supporting all sorts of extremists, and in some cases terrorists and antisemites.

I always thought he was unfit to lead the Labour Party and I certainly think he is unfit to lead our country.

I think Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell cannot be trusted with our national security and would undermine our democratic institutions.

I could never ask people to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister. That is why I have decided to leave the Labour Party.

Other decent MPs, councillors and members – good friends of mine – have chosen to remain. I know they share my concerns, it is not for me to call on them to leave and I wish them well in their fight to improve things inside the party.

About the Author
Ian Austin is a Labour MP, and member of Labour Friends of Israel
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