The accepted narrative on still nominally Labour MP John Woodcock is that he is a principled man, frustrated by the inexorable leftward drift of the party he joined, who only remains in Parliament to give service to the voters of the Barrow and Furness constituency. In this, he is supported by many in the Press and Pundit Establishment. But like so many Establishment narratives, this one is utterly false.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out
Woodcock, who has been such an effective MP that he has turned a majority of over 5,200 in 2010 into one of little more than 200 last year, backed Liz Kendall for Labour leader in 2015. And when Jeremy Corbyn won the contest, rather than accepting that he should at least accept the result, Woodcock embarked on a very public show of petulance.
Corbyn, whose opposition to nuclear weapons is well known, was challenged as to what he would do if the town of Barrow were to lose its submarine-building facility, which is where the UK’s Trident fleet was built, and from where a replacement fleet would probably be launched. Jezza declared that he would not want to see any outcome which caused jobs to be lost, even though he maintained his anti-nuclear stance.
But instead of graciously accepting this olive branch, proffered by the hand of friendship, Woodcock viciously kicked his party leader in the teeth. Corbyn had been insufficiently bellicose. The debating tactics of Jezza’s colleagues Emily Thornberry and Clive Lewis were denounced as “bogus”. Woodcock moaned about “CND and its advocates on the front bench”. He was deliberately and loudly disloyal.
Only last week, Woodcock pointedly intervened in a response by his own party leader to gainsay Jezza’s record on Russia. He could not make his sulky tantrums more obvious. Accepting that he was re-elected to Parliament under Corbyn’s leadership, and on that leadership’s manifesto, was not allowed to enter. And now has come news that he is to make a political martyr of himself by resigning the Labour whip.
As Politics Home has told, “The Barrow and Furness MP has told friends that recent rows over Russia and anti-Semitism, as well as Owen Smith's sacking and moves to unseat Dan Jarvis have pushed him to breaking point”. No word, of course, on pushing his party leadership to breaking point. Because it’s all about Himself Personally Now.
The report goes on “If he does give up the Labour whip, it is understood that Mr Woodcock would continue to sit in the Commons as an independent MP … When approached for comment, Mr Woodcock said: ‘The last few weeks in particular have been pretty awful but any suggestion that I have made up my mind to leave is not true and not helpful to have it played out in public’”. So he has not denied the claims.
That should come as no surprise. Woodcock is a favourite of the Westminster media bubble, many of whose occupants for some reason consider him as a credible politician and worthwhile source. He is at home in the world of lobbyists and think tanks which occupies a world far to the right of today’s Labour leadership. But all that resigning the whip would do would be to create one mock heroic moment. It would not hurt Corbyn.
But then, that is perhaps not the point: like others before him, John Woodcock would find the transition from centrist MP to the world of press commissions, lobby groups and media appearances no problem at all. And that is where my Occam’s Razor is pointing right now.
Should he resign the Labour whip, Woodcock would not be considered as Labour’s candidate to fight Barrow at the next General Election. He would not stand a chance as an Independent candidate. It would come as no surprise if news were to emerge that he had already been pencilled in as an “Honorary Fellow” of one or other centre-right think tanks. Nor would his appearance as a columnist at one or other right-leaning papers.
When he asserts “My loyalty is to my constituents and local party members and anything I say in future will be to them first”, this is so much cant. After all, when Labour had another leadership contest in 2016, his own CLP voted overwhelmingly … for Jeremy Corbyn.
You read it here first: John Woodcock to abandon his constituents for an easy life among the London media set. There, he could rub shoulders with all the has-beens, which would be quite a step up. After all, at the moment he’s only a never-was.