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Labour anti-semitism row: Ian Austin apologises for Hitler/Ken Livingstone 'joke'

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Dudley MP Ian Austin has publicly apologised after he was labelled a 'disgrace' for a controversial tweet about Ken Livingstone's Hitler comments.

The Labour MP for Dudley North sent a tweet out yesterday which said: "This row about Ken Livingstone & Hitler is so unfair. One was a horrible extremist obsessed with Jews. The other was leader of Nazi Germany."

A row erupted between Mr Austin and his followers, including left wing blogger and prolific tweeter Éoin Clarke, who said: "Prospective Tory Councillors will be heartened by your pearls of wisdom," before accusing Mr Austin of "talking his party down".

Many users accused Mr Austin, whose Czech Jewish father fled the Nazis in 1939, of belittling the Holocaust.

One such critic was high-profile socialist commentator Owen Jones who described Mr Austin's tweet as 'sick'.

But on Saturday evening Mr Austin issued an apology both on Twitter and in an official statement on his website.

The former Dudley councillor said: "Apologies to anyone offended by recent comments. I would never undermine or treat memory of the Holocaust lightly."

The statement on his website continued: "If there's one issue I've taken seriously since becoming an MP, it is Holocaust commemoration and education.

"I accept what I said was not in the best of taste. I accept too that some people were genuinely offended and I am sorry if what I said upset them.

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"But please believe me when I say I would never undermine or treat the memory of the Holocaust and the people who were murdered in it, lightly. I have devoted a lot of my life and lot of my work to this very important cause."

Mr Austin's tweet came after Ken Livingstone, the twice-elected mayor of London, was suspended by the Labour Party over comments he made while defending Naz Shah - the MP at the centre of an anti-Semitism row.

The row began on Tuesday when the political gossip website Guido Fawkes uncovered Facebook posts made by Ms Shah, Labour's MP for Bradford West.

One of the posts - which were made in 2014, before Ms Shah became an MP - included a graphic showing Israel's outline on a map of the United States with the comment "problem solved".

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After accusations of anti-semitism, Ms Shah quit her role as an aide to shadow chancellor John McDonnell on Tuesday and was suspended from the Labour Party on Wednesday - just hours after apologising to MPs in the House of Commons.

Mr Austin's original tweet, labelled as a joke, offended hundreds of people and featured in several blogs and comment pieces.

In response to the tweet Andy Tillbrook said: "You are an absolute disgrace and as a Dudley resident I look forward to telling you to your face."

One other tweeter wrote: "Hoping the worst of the anti-semitism row is behind him, Corbyn logs on to Twitter to find @IanAustinMP's Nazi joke."

The tweet comes as the Labour Party continues to be lambasted for a lack of action against alleged racism in its ranks, despite Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson promising a 'zero-tolerance' approach to anti-semitism.

Tom Watson said he and Jeremy Corbyn had been talking to Jewish representatives about changing Labour Party structures

On Thursday, Ken Livingstone defended Naz Shah in a BBC interview and said Hitler had been a supporter of Zionism - comments later described as 'vile' by Mr Watson, MP for West Bromwich East.

Ken Livingstone said: "When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."

Livingstone was also suspended from office as the mayor of London for four weeks in 2006, after comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard - a comment he continues to be unrepentant about. The suspension was later overturned in court.

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