Ian Austin: Why I've no choice but to ditch Labour and back Boris Johnson
He has spent three decades as an active member of the Labour Party. Now Ian Austin says he has no option but to back Boris Johnson for PM.
Ian Austin was a Labour member for more than 35 years until he quit the party in February.
He says the decision to turn his back on the party he loved was the most difficult of his life, but necessary due to his despair over the direction it has taken under Jeremy Corbyn.
Now Mr Austin has sacrificed his political career in his efforts to keep the Labour leader out of power – by standing down from his Dudley North seat and endorsing the Tories.
WATCH: Ian Austin on why he can't back Corbyn
In an exclusive interview with the Express & Star, the 54-year-old said his fear of the destruction a Jeremy Corbyn-led government could do to the country had sparked his decision.
He said he will be voting for Boris Johnson in the election, saying the Tory leader is the only person capable of stopping Mr Corbyn from entering Number 10.
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“Until this year, I have only ever voted Labour but it has really come to something when someone like me says traditional decent patriotic Labour voters should vote for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party this time,” he said.
“This has been a very difficult decision to take. There are good people and lifelong friends of mine in the Labour Party, but the truth is that only two people can be Prime Minister on December 13 – Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson.
“In the end, that is the choice we have to face up to.”
'Lend the Tories our votes'
Raised in Dudley, Mr Austin was first elected as an MP in 2005, having previously served as a Dudley councillor before becoming a political advisor to Gordon Brown.
He defended Dudley North in three general elections, but last time out saw his majority fall to just 22 as the Conservatives surged in the constituency.
With the seat likely to be pivotal in the race for power in the December 12 poll, Mr Austin is urging people to “lend the Tories our votes” to ensure Mr Johnson gets the majority he needs to form a government.
“I am worried that if Boris Johnson does not get a majority, the SNP will back Corbyn,” he said.
“And faced with a choice between Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn and another referendum, I think the Lib Dems will not stop Corbyn getting into Number 10.
“It is too big a risk. That is why I think we should lend the Tories our votes at this election and stop Jeremy Corbyn getting anywhere near Downing Street.”
Mr Austin’s issues with the Labour Party under Mr Corbyn are many, but he says it is the leadership’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism that has hurt him the most.
WATCH: Ian Austin slams Jeremy Corbyn in fiery speech
The adopted son of a Jewish refugee who escaped the Holocaust, Mr Austin’s aunts and grandmother were murdered by the Nazis.
He says his late father Fred, who died earlier this year, taught him to “always stand up to racism and prejudice”.
“I have done that all my life and I could not stand by as the Labour Party has been poisoned by racism, extremism and intolerance under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership,” he added.
“I regard myself as proper, decent, traditional Labour, but I think he is completely unfit to lead our country.
“He and people like John McDonnell have spent decades working with and supporting all sorts of extremists, and in some cases terrorists.
“They can’t be trusted with our defence or security and would undermine our democratic institutions.
“I do not believe for one minute that Jeremy Corbyn loves this country.
“He and the people around him always seem to back our country’s enemies – whether that’s the IRA when they were murdering people in shopping centres, hotels and pubs, terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah or even parroting Putin’s propaganda when he tried to murder people here in Britain.
“I was taught important values growing up in Dudley. Fairness and playing by the rules. What’s right and what’s wrong. Basic decent British values. They are values that Corbyn simply doesn’t have.”
Labour 'ignoring Leave voters'
Mr Austin also hit out at Labour’s “laughable” Brexit policy.
He said it had understandably left voters up and down the country questioning where the party stood on the issue.
Having backed Remain in the EU referendum, Mr Austin says he backed Brexit deals under Theresa May and Mr Johnson because he had listened to his constituents.
He said he reasoned that it was “the right thing to do” in an area where the Leave vote was almost 70 per cent.
He says the anger from constituents on the doorstep towards Mr Corbyn’s stance on Brexit has been palpable.
“It is impossible to take Labour’s Brexit policy seriously,” he said.
“They have ignored Leave voters and quite frankly I think their economic plans would put businesses, investment and jobs in this country at risk.”
Mr Austin has spent this week sorting out his affairs at Westminster during his last days as an MP.
He says he has no immediate plans after stepping away from parliament.
His achievements include serving in the whips office and as a Government minister in Mr Brown’s administration.
This year he was immensely proud when Theresa May appointed him as a trade envoy to Israel, and he also founded the Mainstream group, aiming to stop extremists from taking over politics.
He says he has some fantastic memories of his 14 years as an MP, during which he built a reputation for speaking his mind.
He is also a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
In 2006 he was reprimanded by the Speaker for heckling during PMQs, and was subsequently described as one of Gordon Brown’s “boot boys” by David Cameron.
He was reprimanded again in July 2016 for calling Jeremy Corbyn “a disgrace” and telling him to “sit down and shut up” as the Labour leader criticised the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
That episode would be the start of his detachment from the Labour Party, as the realisation dawned on him that the party he had supported all his life had gone, perhaps never to return.
This week there was no valedictory speech from Mr Austin in the Commons. Many will consider his parting shot to be the incendiary anti-Corbyn speech he delivered to the House in September.
But for Mr Austin, it is being able to represent the people of the town that he loves that has given him the most satisfaction as he looks back as his time as an MP in Westminster.
“Being a Member of Parliament is a huge privilege but representing the place you are from and the people that you grew up with is the greatest honour of all,” he said.
“I love Dudley and I will never be able to thank local people enough for giving me what I think has been the best job in the world.
“I have always done my best to repay the confidence placed in me by helping local people and supporting their campaigns to improve things in the area.
“My number one priority has been to improve education and skills to open up opportunities for local people and bring good new jobs to Dudley.
“It has been brilliant to support the college as it has improved standards, developed a fantastic new campus and become the best college in the country.
“We have just won funding for a new Institute of Technology and a new hi-tech campus to provide local people with university-level skills and technical apprenticeships.
“I have supported teachers working hard to improve standards in local schools and fought for funding for local schools, new housing and community projects. I kept my promise to fight for a new police station and campaigned to bring the Metro to Dudley.”
What next for Dudley North?
The Tories have selected Walsall councillor and Brexit-backer Marco Longhi to contest Dudley North.
Meanwhile Labour is in the process of selecting a candidate for Mr Austin’s constituency from an all-woman shortlist of four, while the Brexit Party is expected to confirm West Midlands MEP Rupert Lowe as its representative.
Mr Austin paid tribute to his staff, as well as supporters and constituents who have backed him over the years.
“To all of the people who have supported me, I cannot thank you enough,” he said.
“I am so sorry that it has come to this, but as has always been the case, I have to do what I think is right.”
He said he plans to do all he can to support the next MP for Dudley North in their efforts to continue improvements to the area.
He said: “I only ever wanted to be the Labour MP for Dudley.
“But I always tell local people the truth and could never ask them to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.”