Ian Austin quits Labour saying Jeremy Corbyn ‘unfit to be PM’
More MPs could quit Labour because they think Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be prime minister, Ian Austin said after resigning from the party.
The former minister said he was “ashamed” of the party under Mr Corbyn’s leadership and “appalled” by the offence it has caused to Jews.
He said there was a “culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance” as he became the ninth MP to quit Labour this week.
The Dudley North MP, whose Jewish adoptive father was forced to flee the Nazis as a child, said the party leadership was “not capable” of dealing with the anti-Semitism which had been allowed to “flourish” in Labour.
He told the Press Association that other Labour MPs were considering their positions under Mr Corbyn.
“I’m sure lots of Labour MPs are grappling with this issue, all the time. I’m sure they are – 174 of them voted against him in a motion of confidence.
“They don’t think in their heart of hearts that he is fit to be prime minster either. ”
He said he could never ask his constituents to make Mr Corbyn prime minister, claiming the Labour leader and shadow chancellor John McDonnell “cannot be trusted with our national security and would undermine our democratic institutions”.
Mr Austin said he had no plans to join his eight former colleagues in the new Independent Group they had set up this week although he added: “I agree with them that the Labour Party is broken under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. I agree with them, as well, that British politics needs to change”.
Asked if he would back Theresa May in any motion of no confidence, he said: “I don’t think we are at that point, and I hope that that isn’t the choice that faces the country in the future, but I do think that Jeremy Corbyn is completely unfit to be prime minister.”
Labour said it regretted Mr Austin’s decision, but called on him to quit as an MP and fight a by-election in the seat he held in 2017 with a majority of just 22.
A party spokesman said: “He was elected as a Labour MP and so the democratic thing is to resign his seat and let the people of Dudley decide who should represent them.”
Mr Austin refused the call to trigger a by-election.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said Mr Austin’s resignation was a “serious blow” to the party and added: “It’s also personally hard to see a close friend take a decision of this magnitude.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell acknowledged “fiercer” action was needed on anti-Semitism, telling the Evening Standard: “I think there’s been a lot of listening but not enough action. That’s the problem.”
But Mr Austin was sceptical about the leadership’s desire to address the issue.
“The last time I tried to speak to John McDonnell it wasn’t a very long conversation on his side and I wouldn’t repeat the words he used,” he said.
“Why weren’t they listening when thousands of Jewish people protested against the Labour Party in Parliament Square?”
He suggested the current leadership was “not capable of dealing with it” because “they have spent their entire lives on the extreme fringes of British politics, working with all sorts of extremists and, in some cases, terrorists and anti-Semites”.
Mr Austin announced his decision in the Express & Star newspaper and issued a fuller explanation in a statement on his website.
“I grew up listening to my Dad – a refugee from the Holocaust – teaching me about the evils of hatred and prejudice,” he said.
“One of the main reasons I joined the Labour Party as a teenager here 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.”
Former Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie – who left to form the Independent Group earlier in the week – offered support to Mr Austin after his announcement, although he has said he has no plans to join them.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said: “I’ve known Ian a long time, before we were MPs and he has been a good friend. It’s regrettable that he’s done this.”
He added that Labour under Mr Corbyn was “doing its best” on anti-Semitism, and was operating a “zero-tolerance” policy on the issue.
He said: “Unfortunately there are those associated with the party who make comments.
“But the party is doing its best and will continue to have zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.”