Ian Austin, the right-wing Labour MP for Dudley, put out tweets on Tuesday afternoon that the Labour Party was closing an investigation into complaints against him for his behaviour – reportedly toward fellow MPs Chris Williamson and party chair Ian Lavery – and that ‘no further action would be taken’:
Austin combined his announcement with criticisms of the Labour Party and claimed the party should not be investigating ‘people like me‘.
He pushed so far as to claim that:
it is shocking that you have to get a leading lawyer to force the Labour Party to come to its senses
This statement was picked up by numerous mainstream publications, who trumpeted that Labour had ‘dropped’ its investigation into complaints against him:
This claim, despite being made by a huge array of ‘MSM’ outlets, is not true.
Warning – and reprimand
Rather than being dropped, the case against Austin was concluded – after the MP was issued with a formal warning and reprimand by Labour chief whip Nick Brown.
The letter – dated 26 July – from Brown to Austin is unequivocal:
I am writing formally to warn you against any repeat of such behaviour in the future and reprimand you for these incidents. I will be issuing formal warnings to other colleagues for other incidents of unparliamentary behaviour.
Only on that basis does Brown state that the matter should be considered closed:
I intend to write to the General Secretary saying I have issued this reprimand for your conduct and warned you against any repeat of it…
…It is my view that this should be sufficient and an end to the matter.
This letter represents a concluded case, not a dropped one.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Ian Austin for comment on the matter:
Ian, your tweet this afternoon states that you have “finally been told they have closed the investigation and that no further action will be taken.”
You’ve neglected to mention that you were sent a letter by the whips reprimanding you for your behaviour and warning you about future conduct and that this is the reason no further action is taking place.
In view of the circumstances and the misleading impression rapidly gaining traction, I will be publishing on this very shortly. I know from past experience that you check your emails frequently even on an evening, so please provide a response no later than 10pm this evening if you wish to have any comments included at publication.
Austin’s response was interesting and not only because he stated he had not ‘accepted’ any reprimand – which was not what was asked:
I have not accepted any reprimand, I told them I did not shout aggressively and it is not possible to accept a reprimand for something I did not do in the first place. As my statement says, the way this whole issue has been handled is unacceptable and the time it has taken is appalling. The stories you wrote on your ridiculous blog before were not true and I am sure the one you write this time will not be true either.
Please print this in full.
Among the various claims, congratulations and sympathy tweeted to Austin after reports that the action had been ‘dropped’, a common thread was a lament about the excessive time taken to reach that point. Labour deputy leader Tom Watson even tweeted an apology to Austin, saying the ‘right decision’ had been reached:
But Nick Brown’s reprimand letter describing ‘an end to the matter’ was sent 26 July, only ten days or so after the events that led to the complaints.
During a follow-up call, the SKWAWKBOX asked Austin why, when Nick Brown’s letter was so dated, he had only now tweeted that ‘no further action’ was being taken.
Austin’s initial response was that he had received a letter last week from Labour general secretary Jennie Formby advising him that the investigation was ‘resolved’.
When reminded that Nick Brown’s letter had already said as much, Austin stated that he had also received a letter from Formby advising him the matter was being investigated – and was emphatic that Formby’s letter to that effect was in July.
As there were only five days left in July – two of them a weekend – when Nick Brown’s letter was sent, Austin was asked whether Formby’s letter about an investigation was sent before or after Brown’s letter described ‘an end to the matter’.
If it was sent before Brown’s, then Brown’s letter could reasonably be read as superseding Formby’s.
This question was pressed hard three times during the telephone call, but received insults and a threat of legal action in response rather than a substantive reply. Austin then terminated the call.
The Hodge case
In August, Austin’s colleague Margaret Hodge also claimed that the case against her for abusive language toward Jeremy Corbyn had been dropped by the party without any expression of regret on her part.
Labour Party documents exclusively revealed by the SKWAWKBOX stated that Ms Hodge had expressed regret – and had received a formal reprimand, as well as a reminder about the party’s expectations regarding the behaviour of its elected officials. Mainstream media also reported widely – and inaccurately – in that case that the case had simply been dropped.
There was understandable consternation among many on the Labour left when the claims that the case against Ian Austin has just been ‘dropped’. That consternation was misplaced, because the claims were not true.
Instead, according to Nick Brown’s letter, the case was concluded by the formal reprimand and warning issued to Austin at the end of July.
If Ian Austin received a letter from Jennie Formby, after Brown’s letter, informing him that the case was still open, he failed to confirm this during a substantial telephone conversation on Tuesday evening, in spite of three clear attempts to press him for a response.
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