Govt appoints Israel supporter Ian Austin to lead inquiry into Leicester violence

Ian Austin. Pic: UK Parliament

The Tory government has appointed the staunch Israel supporter Lord Ian Austin to lead an “independent” inquiry into the violence in Leicester last year.

Austin is a former Labour MP who is known for his strong support for Israel and advocacy for the Jewish community in the United Kingdom.

He has also hosted events for the right-wing Henry Jackson Society in Parliament. HJS said in a report into the unrest in Leicester last year that it found no evidence of a role played by Hindutva.

The report also accused some Muslims of spreading a “false narrative” about the involvement of Hindutva.

Last September Muslim and Hindu youths confronted each other on the streets of Leicester leading to scores of arrests and several jail sentences.

Muslims told 5Pillars that the unrest was instigated by Hindutva thugs, but Hindus have said this is a false narrative which has made them fearful and targeted.

Austin’s appointment has already been criticised by the Muslim Council of Britain who say “his divisive record and the serious allegations of Islamophobia against him, has created deep apprehension among Muslims and other communities in Leicester.”

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The government review has been commissioned by Secretary of State for Communities Michael Gove, who himself has been accused of Islamophobia.

A government press release said: “In September 2022 community tensions led to a spate of vandalism, assaults, and attacks on places of worship and other properties in Leicester, in some cases highlighting divisions between different groups across the city and beyond.

“During the height of the unrest, the government worked closely with the local police force, Leicester City Council and other local partners to bring calm to the situation and protect communities from across the city.

“Communities Secretary Michael Gove has now commissioned an Independent Review into the disorder and has appointed Lord (Ian) Austin as chair. Lord Austin is a former Minister for Housing and Planning and former Minister for the West Midlands.

“He will lead an independent panel of experts – which will be appointed in due course – to work on understanding the origins of the unrest and explore how similar events can be prevented in the future, both in Leicester and elsewhere.

The government said the panel will:

  • Establish the facts of what took place over the period of unrest.
  • Present an analysis of the causes of the unrest.
  • Make practical recommendations for how similar events that may arise in future could be prevented.
  • And set out proposals and ideas for strengthening social cohesion locally.

Michael Gove said: “Leicester has a proud history of community cohesion, which makes last year’s disorder all the more shocking and upsetting. This review will build a thorough understanding of the specific events that took place and what can be learned from them.

A screenshot of clashes in Leicester in September

“I have spoken to both the Home Secretary and the Mayor of Leicester to underline the importance of protecting all parts of the community in Leicester and we will not tolerate attempts to foster division or violence among people or between religious groups.”

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “I welcome the government’s announcement.  I hope the review can move forward as swiftly as possible, whilst of course being thorough and given the attention it deserves.

“I would want Leicester and other cities to be able to learn from its findings and to understand what needs to be done to ensure that our community cohesion is never again threatened in this way.”

And Lord Austin said: “Acceptance of each other’s background and beliefs is at the heart of our national identity. Communities living and working together have formed some of the most vibrant societies across the country and cities such as Leicester have proud histories of tolerance and diversity.

“This makes the scenes we witnessed in Leicester last year all the more worrying and it is therefore so important that we listen to people in Leicester to get to the bottom of what happened and why.”

Ian Austin

During his time in Parliament, Ian Austin often voiced his concerns about antisemitism and criticised what he perceived as a lack of action within his own Labour Party to address the issue.

He also accused the party leadership, including then-leader Jeremy Corbyn, of failing to tackle antisemitism effectively and left the party over concerns about antisemitism in 2019.

The same year Theresa May appointed him as trade envoy to Israel.

However, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said it has deep concerns over the appointment of Lord Ian Austin.

“An independent review is an important step to address and understand the causes of last year’s unrest. However, it is crucial to have an independent reviewer who is impartial, fair, and capable of gaining the trust and confidence of all stakeholders,” the MCB said.

“The appointment of Lord Austin, given his divisive record and the serious allegations of Islamophobia against him, has created deep apprehension among Muslims and other communities in Leicester. This casts doubts on his suitability to oversee a review aimed at building trust and harmony within our communities. Any such review led by Lord Austin will face questions about its credibility and legitimacy.

“We call upon the Secretary of State for Communities, Michael Gove, to reconsider the appointment of Lord Austin and select an independent reviewer who can command the confidence and support of the diverse communities in Leicester. We urge the government to act swiftly to ensure that the review is conducted in a manner that reflects the principles of fairness, justice, and unity that Leicester and its residents deserve.”

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