Stephen Daisley

Ian Austin’s refusal to join the Independent Group shows the party is Continuity Remain

Ian Austin's refusal to join the Independent Group shows the party is Continuity Remain
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Ian Austin has become the ninth MP to quit Labour, blaming the party's culture of anti-Semitism. He tells the Express and Star:

‘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.’

He continues:

‘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, anti-Semitism 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 anti-Semitism than it is on the anti-Semites.’

The Dudley North MP is a long-time campaigner against anti-Semitism across the political spectrum and for many years before Corbyn became leader. Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard said in response to this morning's news that Austin is 'a man of honour and decency'.

Unlike his eight departing colleagues, Austin has not joined the Independent Group. This is pretty telling. Austin backs Theresa May’s deal on Brexit and opposes a so-called People’s Vote. His region, the West Midlands, voted 59.3 per cent for Brexit, the highest level of any region in England. 

Writing in November, Austin said:

‘I listen to lots of people in Dudley but hear very little evidence people have changed their minds. Even if the UK voted narrowly to remain, who would think that would settle it? At our party conference, there were disagreements on how many questions there would be or what they would ask. Worse of all, it would make the problems that led to Brexit even worse. Austerity and the financial crisis hit poorer areas hard. Many have had no pay rise for a decade or seen real wages fall. Areas such as the Black Country, the Coalfields or Potteries have lost industrial jobs and struggled to find new ones to replace them. The referendum was their chance to have their voice heard. They would be furious if the result was overturned. Why would they accept it?’

‘Any campaign would not be a polite debate about the merits of the deal. It would undermine confidence in our democracy, fuel much more serious discontent and take our politics in a very dangerous direction.’

The fact he hasn’t signed up to TIG underscores the perception that it is Continuity Remain in all but name. That perception may well be a reality but we won’t know for sure until the group starts to provide some policy details. Earlier this week on Coffee House, I argued that the Tiggers had to attract Brexiteers to their cause or they risked becoming irrelevant after we leave the European Union. And, I can’t emphasise this enough: We. Are. Leaving. The. European. Union. 

It will be a great pity if TIG allows itself to be the vehicle for a cause that is about to see its engine drop out. If it is simply the People’s Vote party in all but name, that dilutes one of the honourable reasons given by the original seven for their departure from Corbyn's Labour — taking a stand against anti-Semitism. Yes, parties and movements can be about more than one thing but trying to frustrate Brexit is a dead end. Brexit may be a symptom of the global rise of illiberalism but British Euroscepticism has a long pedigree. If the referendum had been held 40 years ago, Leave would have won in a landslide.

If the Tiggers are to survive in even the medium term, they need to have a vision for post-Brexit Britain. That’s difficult to do when you’re running around setting your hair on fire over Brexit. Life outside the world’s second-largest economy will not be easy and there’s no sense in sugar-coating it: we will be poorer for a time. But the country voted for it and will find little appeal in patrician politicians telling them they were hoodwinked or didn’t know what they were voting for or only voted Leave because they’re all white supremacists and/or Russian bots. 

This Hiroo Onoda tendency is making it harder for liberalism to move past Brexit and mount a fightback against populism. TIG could be part of that fightback and their first move should be to recruit Ian Austin and others like him.