The Walney Report - an attack on all our rights

Just Stop Oil protesters march on a road

On 21 May the Walney Report, ‘Protecting our Democracy from Coercion’, was published, having been gleefully leaked by the right-wing press for weeks. The author, Lord Walney, formerly known as plain John Woodcock is a former Labour MP for Barrow and Furness. The report, which was commissioned by Boris Johnson in 2021, is a pernicious attack on democratic rights and the right to protest. It gives further ammunition to the ruling class as it gears up for the growing turmoil and protests that are inevitably coming as the crisis of capitalism intensifies. The prime targets of this blueprint for repression are environmental and Palestine solidarity activists and groups.

The report’s numerous recommendations include:

  • Setting up ‘buffer zones’ around defence manufacturers to protect them from protests;
  • Setting up similar buffer zones around MPs’ constituency offices and surgeries, and around council chambers;
  • Considering a requirement for protest organisers to contribute to policing costs when groups hold a significant number of large demonstrations;
  • Allowing businesses to sue protest organisers for damages;
  • Increasing undercover police surveillance of protest groups;
  • Making his own current role of ‘Independent Adviser on Political Violence and Disruption’ permanent with appropriate resourcing.

The pretence that the noble lord is in any way ‘independent’ is laughable. Not for nothing was he dubbed ‘MP for BAE’. Having followed an entirely reactionary career typical of the Labour Party, firstly as an officer in Labour Students then working for the Labour Party and ending up as a ‘special adviser’ to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in 2010 he was elected MP for Barrow and Furness - home to the largest shipyard in Britain owned by BAE Systems which manufactures the Trident submarine. Woodcock became chair of Labour Friends of Israel in 2011, only vacating the position in 2013 due to health issues. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party in 2015, Woodcock resigned as a Shadow Minister and in the 2017 general election said he ‘would not countenance’ supporting Corbyn because of his opposition to the Trident renewal programme.

At the end of 2017 Woodcock was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior and suspended from party membership in April 2018. On 18 July he resigned from the Labour Party, complaining that it had been taken over by the ‘hard left’ and now tolerated ‘anti semitism’. In 2019 Boris Johnson made him a crossbench lord and in November 2019 he was appointed as the ‘UK Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism’. Woodcock is now praising the policy announcements of Starmer. Woodcock’s report is a product not just of his mainstream Labourite right wing anti-democratic politics but of his vested interests in arms-manufacturing, energy and Zionist projects.

  • He is the paid chair of the ‘Purpose Defence Coalition’, whose members include BP and Leonardo, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers with extensive links to the Israeli government.
  • He is also a paid adviser to lobbyists Rud Pederson Public Affairs, whose clients include the mining giant, Glencore.
  • In 2020 he was part of a consortium which took control of the Jewish Chronicle, a Zionist paper which was in the forefront of the ‘anti-Semitism’ smears against Corbyn. The outgoing owner of the paper commenting on the takeover said they could ‘be proud that their combined generosity allowed the JC to survive long enough to help to see off Jeremy Corbyn and friends’.
  • Hek visited Israel in January 2024, funded by Elnet, an NGO promoting cooperation between Europe and Israel.

While the forthcoming general election makes it unlikely the Walney Report will have any immediate impact, it remains a sinister indication of the kind of repressive measures protesters in Britain can expect to see adopted in the coming period, under either a Conservative or Labour government.

Bob Shepherd