Socialist Worker

‘I stood up to Blairite Ian Austin over Palestine and won’

Dudley activist Paul Jonson was suspended from work last year over a Facebook post where he said Israel was a “racist endeavour”. He had joined a Palestine Solidarity Group lobby of local MP Ian Austin. An unapologetic campaign won his reinstatement.

Issue No. 2644

Paul is part of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Dudley

Paul is part of the Palestine Solidarity Group in Dudley (Pic: Dudley PSG)


My first encounter with Dudley MP Ian Austin was in 2006 in relation to my job as a Senior Officer in Dudley council’s Community Safety team.

Professor Ted Cantle was invited to speak on “Community Cohesion”—a topic that he provided advice on to the 1997 Labour government.

Present at the meeting were councillors and the fairly new MP Ian Austin. The Bishop of Dudley, representatives from the Muslim Association and other senior members of the council's directorates were also there.

Professor Cantle ended by asking us all to think about the barriers to community cohesion.

I asked if the panel thought that the Iraq War had created a positive or negative impact on community cohesion—particularly among Muslims.

Austin immediately jumped to his feet and shouted, “Why have you asked that? People of Dudley are not interested in the Iraq War.”

I responded that I felt it was a very appropriate question.  Muslim representatives agreed and said Muslims were saddened and angry by the Iraq invasion—and were interested in matters outside of Dudley.

It’s typical of Austin’s behaviour ever since.

In 2007 at the local council elections the Respect Party stood a candidate and received a respectable 700 plus votes. At the count a colleague from Dudley's Race and Equality Council was wearing a Respect rosette.

Austin approached him and pointing to the rosette he said, “Be careful or I will get your funding stopped”.

That year the local mosque submitted detailed plans for a new mosque to be built adjacent to Dudley Town Centre. This was a project that had been in the offing for 17 years and was fully funded by the local Muslim community.

A very nasty anti-Muslim backlash was led by the British National Party. The far right dubbed it a “super mosque”. Dudley council caved in to the increasingly Islamophobic atmosphere and tried to block planning permission.

A very toxic anti-mosque, anti-Muslim atmosphere gripped the town for several years. When principled anti-racist leadership was urgently required, Austin was equivocal.

Now he has the audacity to state that he joined Labour to fight racism and has always stood up as the town's MP for the whole community.

Austin loves to wrap himself in the British flag at every opportunity. He was close to Gordon Brown when the former prime minister called for the “British jobs for British workers” slogan.

In 2014, as the Tory-led coalition government attacked migrants, Austin called for greater actions to limit immigration.

He called for the fingerprinting of immigrants arriving at Calais. He also wanted to reduce and restrict immigrants’ benefit entitlement, to charge “visitors” who use the NHS and to disadvantage immigrants waiting for housing.

His support for anti-migrant laws is matched by his backing for war and Israel.

We witnessed a further Austin outburst in 2016. He shouted at Corbyn to “sit down and shut up” during his apology on behalf of the Labour Party for the Iraq War.

Austin—a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel—refuses to recognise the oppression and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.

In 2012 Austin had to publicly apologise for falsely claiming that Palestine campaign group the Friends of Al-Aqsa were Holocaust deniers.

Responsible 

When Israeli snipers murdered 18 young Palestinians in one day during a protest last year, Austin tweeted that the Palestinians and Hamas were responsible.

The local Palestine Solidarity Group lobbied Austin about his stand. A complaint was subsequently lodged to my employer Dudley Council over to a Facebook posting where I called Israel “a racist endeavour”.

The local Palestine Solidarity Campaign lobbied Austin again on 7 December 2018. Three days prior to the lobby Austin telephoned Labour Party members in the area advising them not to attend the lobby. He implied that if they did consequences would follow.

Why Israel is a racist state
Why Israel is a racist state
  Read More

Following a two month suspension and a fantastic solidarity campaign, I was exonerated with no case to answer. I was immediately reinstated to return to work.

The local Express and Star newspaper reported my exoneration. It quoted Austin saying the council “really must explain what has happened here”.

Austin, like all the MPs who have resigned, has weaponised various issues to attack Labour since Corbyn was elected.

Austin has played a worthy role in the Holocaust Educational Trust, which local anti-racist groups have been involved over several years. He also supported the "No blue plaque for Enoch Powell” campaign last year.

But his politics are firmly located in right wing Blairism.

Just a few weeks ago he called two of history’s worst Tories—Churchill and Thatcher—heroes. He proudly displayed on Twitter a strange statue of Churchill, which he says “takes pride of place” on his mantelpiece.

Austin is not a popular MP. He scraped in by 22 votes in 2017, bucking the trend of the other Labour MPs who resigned. They all increased their majorities on the 2017 Labour manifesto quite substantially.

Labour must stop trying to accommodate MPs like Austin if a society for the many and not the few is to be realised. Mass extra-parliamentary activity must be a priority.  Without a mass movement the Corbyn effect will wither. And the MPs such as Austin would have struck a major blow.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.