Shaz Saleem, described in local press as a ‘high-profile Labour campaigner’, was dissatisfied with Labour’s standing as an actual alternative to the Conservatives – so he defected to the Tories after publishing a self-justifying announcement on Facebook. Clearly his commitment to the Labour party was less than heartfelt.
So it was with interest that the SKWAWKBOX received reports from local Labour members that Mr Saleem had only recently tried to become the Labour council candidate for the Brierley Hill ward in Dudley – and had been allegedly supported in his bid by Dudley North MP Ian Austin.
Mr Austin, who was described as ‘thuggish’ by another MP after heckling his own party leader in the Commons when Jeremy Corbyn dared to criticise Tony Blair’s conduct over the Iraq War, is an entrenched opponent of Corbyn.
He’s no fan of the SKWAWKBOX either, after this blog exposed his failed clash with Labour MP Chris Williamson, his equally unsuccessful attempt to persuade his local party to support anti-Corbyn candidates in the current NEC election and various examples of unsavoury behaviour toward other fellow Labour MPs.
However, in line with good journalistic practice, we contacted him for comment before publicising his alleged links to the now-Tory defector – and what comment we received.
In response to the initial enquiry, Mr Austin responded:
Like the last two stories you have written about me, this is just not true.
Shaz does not live in my constituency and the seat for which he sought selection is not in my constituency. I did not speak to a single member of that ward about the selection.
Instead of pretending to be an authoritative source of “fair” news, as you claim, this is just sectarian, divisive garbage.
Let’s see if you include that.
In a separate email, he repeated his accusation:
I don’t expect fair treatment from your blog. Your last two stories were untrue. Straight forward lies.
It should be noted that the ‘last two stories’ on this blog mentioning Mr Austin were criticisms by Labour MP Dennis Skinner over Mr Austin’s abstention on a Commons vote, which is a matter of parliamentary record, and the account of his alleged unhappiness at the decision of his local members to support the ‘grassroots left’ candidates for the NEC, which he has not contested and which members say he castigated them furiously about for contacting the SKWAWKBOX, but did not deny.
The stories before that, in case Mr Austin was confused over the order of publication, addressed Mr Austin’s abstention on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill – again a matter of parliamentary record – and his clash with Labour front-bencher Williamson.
When asked about that clash, Mr Austin did not deny its accuracy, but merely complained,
It was a private conversation that no one heard but me and him and I don’t know why he’d tell you about it.
It should also be noted that Mr Austin at no point asked for his comments to be off the record – on the contrary, he challenged us to publish them.
Well, there you go.
However, that wasn’t the end of the exchange. We wrote back, pointing out that Mr Saleem’s Facebook post announcing his defection made a point of thanking Austin and expressing his respect for the MP:
Not only that, but Saleem’s Facebook profile picture shows Austin, himself and others:
Mr Saleem’s Facebook profile picture has you in it and he makes a point of thanking you and expressing his respect for you in his ‘goodbye’ message – both attached – which suggests a certain closeness. Any comment?
- Did he speak to you about his intention to defect to the Tories?
- Did you do anything to dissuade him?
- Do you welcome the selection of Zafar Islam as Labour’s candidate in Brierley Hill
- and do you agree that Labour in Dudley dodged a bullet by not selecting someone who clearly has no loyalty to Labour politics?
These questions prompted a change of tack in Mr Austin’s response:
We challenged Mr Austin to show us where we had told any lies about him. He did not respond.
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