Lord Ian Austin relinquishes role after social media backlash despite association saying it has not accused the peer of racism

The chair of Midland Heart has stepped down from his role with immediate effect following criticism of comments he made about Hamas.

lord ian austin

Lord Ian Austin

Lord Ian Austin, a former Labour minister, was suspended last month after posting on X, formerly Twitter, “Everyone, better safe than sorry: before you go to bed, nip down and check you haven’t inadvertently got a death cult of Islamist murderers and rapists running their operations downstairs. It’s easily done.” The post, which attracted criticism on social media, was subsequently deleted.

Austin said the tweet referred to Israel’s claims that Hamas was operating within the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

The 35,000-home housing association has now confirmed that Lord Austin has stepped down.

This is despite an association spokesperson saying Midland Heart has “never accused Lord Austin of racism or Islamophobia”.

Bishop Llewellyn Graham, chief executive of 1,250-home Nehemiah Housing, will act as interim chair while a permanent replacement is sought.

Graham said: “On behalf of myself and the rest of our board, I want to thank Lord Austin for his service and stewardship. We all wish Lord Austin the best for the future. 

“Now that this issue is concluded, myself, our Board and our Executive team look forward to returning to what matters most to our organisation, our tenants and the places they call home.”

Lord Austin said: “I welcome this statement. Midland Heart has important work to do in improving housing in the Midlands and I am standing down as chair so that they can concentrate on that.”

>>See also: Gove criticises Midland Heart for suspending chair following comments about Hamas

A source close to the situation last month indicated the association had become concerned Lord Austin’s ‘escalating pattern’ of posts about Gaza were becoming damaging to the organisation’s reputation.

Austin caused controversy in 2021 when he posted a tweet showing a fake new flavour for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for people in Gaza, named “Hamas Terror Misu” after the company announced it would stop selling its products in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

In an article for the Times last month Austin said the term ‘Islamists’ does not refer to Muslims in general and the word was coined to “distinguish clearly and carefully between the two.”

Midland Heart’s decision to suspend Ian Austin last month was criticised by housing secretary Michael Gove, who posted at the time: “Not only is Ian a champion for affordable housing, he has spent his career fighting racism. Islam is a religion of peace, but Islamists – including the proscribed terrorist organisation Hamas – are extremists characterised by violence and oppression who seek to undermine our democratic values