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Ian Austin quits Labour – but doesn’t join the Independent Group

22 February 2019

9:51 AM

22 February 2019

9:51 AM

Here we go again. This morning another Labour MP has announced they are quitting Jeremy Corbyn’s party over its handling of anti-Semitism allegations. Ian Austin – the MP for Dudley North – has told his local paper that he has grown tired of the ‘culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance’ in today’s Labour party:

‘I think Jeremy Corbyn has completely changed what was a mainstream party into a completely different party with very different values.

I always tell them the truth and I could never ask local people to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister.’

Austin’s resignation comes after eight Labour MPs and three Conservatives this week quit their respective parties to join the newly formed Independent Group. However, Austin says that as of now he has no plans to follow suit and join the 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’.

Although Austin has been unhappy in the Labour party for some time and has regularly been the subject of criticism for disloyalty from Corbynistas, his departure is significant. He is an Old Labour right stalwart – if he thinks the party can’t be fixed then others may now draw the same conclusion. Austin is one of the Labour MPs who attended meetings about a breakaway at Fair Oak last year. On Monday night, he was dismayed by the response from the Labour leadership to the departure of the ‘Southbank Seven’ – the seven Labour MPs including Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna who announced they were quitting. Speaking outside the Labour Parliamentary Party weekly meeting, he warned that unless the leadership took anti-Semitism seriously more resignations would follow.

Given that Austin is on good terms with many of the MPs in the Independent Group, there was an expectation that he would join. So, why hasn’t he? There are a couple of factors that make it hard for Austin to join the group in its current form. Firstly, the 11 MPs who currently make up the Independent Group are all politicians who have backed a second referendum. Austin represents a Leave seat with a tiny majority – he has supported plans to get a Brexit deal. Secondly, the arrival of three Conservative MPs (and their numerous punchy interviews) to the group this week has made some Labour MPs think twice about joining it. Finally, there is still a concern – as I say in this week’s Spectator – that this group could be a Chuka Umunna ‘vanity project’ rather than something wider. Matters haven’t been helped by Heidi Allen saying she believes Umunna is the likely leader. That’s not to say Austin won’t eventually join. His decision to make the jump of leaving Labour but not join the new outfit shows that the Independent Group is yet to convince many MPs of its credibility.

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