John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, has fallen out with many constituents over the years. Repeated attacks by Woodcock on the Party leadership led to the CLP lodging a complaint with the NEC, and he was recently suspended pending investigation of a sexual harassment claim.
But his foreign policy stances have also caused acute concern. While it’s not surprising that an MP representing a constituency where BAE systems is based is pretty hawk-ish, Woodcock’s pronouncements on international affairs go way past representing his BAE-employed constituents.
Take Yemen. The unfolding human catastrophe has been documented by the world’s leading human rights organisations, including the UN, as being comparable to Syria. Though all sides have blood on their hands, all agree the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths through targeted military action against civilians, human rights abuses and the disease and starvation ensuing from the Saudi blockade. The UK Government has given aid with one hand while selling arms to the Saudis with the other. As balancing acts go, it’s uneven: since 2015, £400 million in aid, £3.3 billion of arms.
Woodcock was one of 100 MPs who kiboshed Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s 2016 motion to stop backing this brutal Saudi-led campaign. Woodcock joined the neocon resistance against morals with gusto, arguing: “The last thing the Middle East needs is more gesture politics from the comfort of British dining tables.”
Two years on, Woodcock visited Saudi Arabia, presumably to ensure gesture politics from the comfort of a Saudi dining table. His local paper quoted him as “leading Labour’s delegation” and he started tweeting in support of the Saudi version of the conflict - photos of houses and schools damaged near Riyadh which he claimed were caused by the Houthis. This led many to challenge his spreading of Saudi propaganda: “Are you tweeting from a script or do you get your phone back when you leave?” responded one.
Then there was his stance on Turkey. Turkey, criticised again by all the world’s leading human rights organisations for its abuses and use of torture, was Woodcock’s destination in December 2017 when he attended an event organised by President Erdogan’s son-in-law where he cozied up to the President himself. During this visit he praised Turkey for being tolerant and progressive, and linked the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to terrorism.
Given the huge contribution Kurdish forces had made over three years to fighting ISIS in Syria and their recognised success in liberating people and land from brutal oppression, in Kobani for instance, this was already outrageous. But when Turkey started bombing the Kurdish-held territory of Afrin in January 2018, it became clear how Turkey would reintroduce brutality to citizens who had been liberated from ISIS. Yazidis for example, freed from persecution and allowed to live safely by the Kurds, were reportedly converted forcibly to Islam by Turkish troops.
Throughout all this Woodcock was the only Labour MP not to condemn Turkish war crimes. British citizens who had gone to join the YPG died in that conflict and protests mounted in which his position was highlighted. The Kurdish Solidarity Campaign asked: “Why does the MP for Barrow see fit to provide propaganda and solidarity to a regime which persecutes and imprisons our democratic socialist brothers and sisters?” Thus far there has been no coherent answer.