Saturday 7 March 2020


Ian Austin

Former Labour MP Ian Austin quit the party in February last year and spent much of 2019 laying into Corbyn's hard left regime.  Unlike the others who quit around the same time, Austin went it alone and condemned Labour's lurch towards Remain.  He also stood down prior to the election, unlike the majority of the Change UK founders who guaranteed themselves a 'loss of office' golden handshake payment just by contesting their seats.  Austin is a cut above them.

This week he wrote in the Evening Standard and once again declared his strong opposition to the Corbyn project.  He also had strong words for the contenders hoping to succeed Corbyn.  Read on.

by Ian Austin

It has been a year since I walked out in disgust at the extremism that poisoned the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn.  Eight other Labour MPs joined me.

I grew up listening to my dad - a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia - tell me how his family had been murdered in the Holocaust, and joined the party as a teenager to fight racism.  I still can’t believe I had to resign to fight it too.  Leaving was a huge wrench and destroyed friendships that lasted decades, but I have never regretted making a stand.  If you won’t do what’s right on something like racism, what are you in politics for?

Some Corbyn supporters were furious - others celebrated, as if driving people away helps win elections.  But people in Dudley, where I was an MP, could not have been more supportive.  I was stopped in the street, while shopping or in cafés by people telling me I was right.

Most Labour MPs quietly agreed, but kept their heads down.  What sort of leadership is that?  They hoped the public would solve the problem for them.

In the general election they certainly did, handing Labour a huge defeat.  It would have been even worse if Nigel Farage had not let Labour scrape by in 30 seats.  Listening to people in the Midlands and the north, I think Labour could fall even further, but there’s no sign they’ve begun to face up to the scale of the problem.

Labour lost because of Corbyn, Brexit, extremism and racism and much more besides.  Huge victories in Hackney or Islington don’t help if you’re hammered in Dudley, Bassetlaw and Bolsover.

Many former Labour voters don’t just think their party didn’t listen.  It’s much worse than that.  They think Labour’s leaders look down on them, sneer at their patriotism, ignore their anguish about industries they’ve lost and dismiss concerns about immigration.

The leadership debates are a joke.  The contenders blame the party’s defeat on the media, attacks on Corbyn or even the voters.  They seem to have spent longer debating trans rights than housing or jobs.  I’ve not heard a word about welfare reform or massive questions such as equipping Britain for artificial intelligence and globalisation.  And while Corbyn is going, the extremists who joined to support him haven’t gone away and many of the new MPs are much more left-wing than the moderates they replaced.  Even Sir Keir Starmer - supposedly the credible candidate - loyally served in Corbyn’s top team, said he backed him “100 per cent”, campaigned to make him prime minister and praised his radicalism.

All he seems to talk about is unity - but voters don’t want to see him uniting with Corbyn and the cranks and conspiracy theorists.  They want the extremists and racists booted out.  Labour is on life support and so far, none of the candidates seem to even understand that, let alone have a plan to bring it back as a credible alternative.

Austin pictured with John Woodcock, another disgruntled former Labour MP

When Austin says people stopped and congratulated him on the streets of Dudley, he's not lying.  One only has to look at the election result in Dudley North to see that Black Country voters were furious with Corbyn's Labour.  Following the 2017 election Austin had one of the narrowest majorities in the country - just 22 votes - and was always destined to fall this time.  However, the Tories didn't just win Dudley North, they took that tiny Labour majority and turned it into an 11,533 Tory majority.  It's now classed as a safe blue seat, all the more remarkable for the fact the Conservatives had never won here previously.

Dudley North 2019 general election

Marco Longhi (Con) 23,134 (63.1%) +16.6%
Melanie Dudley (Lab) 11,601 (31.6%) -14.9%
Ian Flynn (Lib Dem) 1,210 (3.3%) +2.4%
Mike Harrison (Green) 739 (2.0%) +1.4%

How much Ian Austin's astonishing call to vote Conservative had to do with this huge swing is unclear, but it seems that as long as Corbynism lingers he isn't going to back off.