By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2905

Tory ‘political violence tsar’ has new plan to crack down on protest groups

John Woodcock, the Lord Walney, is a former Labour MP who chaired a pro-Israel lobby group
Issue 2905
John Woodcock, the Lord Walney, illustrating an article about the clampdown on protest groups

In 2021 the Tories commissioned John Woodcock, Lord Walney, to write a report on protest groups (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The government’s “political violence tsar” wants to crush direct action groups such as Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action. Others could follow in the firing line.

An upcoming report from John Woodcock—Lord Walney—which BBC News has seen extracts of, will recommend a new category for proscribing “extreme protest groups”. The sanctions could restrict a group’s ability to fundraise and its right to assembly.

One of his recommendations is for ministers to set up a new legal classification. This would curtail the activities of groups which “interfere with the rights of others” or “impede the proper functioning of democratic institutions or business”.

Unofficial strikers? Extinction Rebellion? Anti-racists who block deportation raids? Feminist groups holding demos without police permission? Perhaps all these and more.

The measures would be “a kind of proscription light”, according to Woodcock. ”Militant groups like Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil are using criminal tactics to create mayhem and hold the public and workers to ransom without fear of consequence,” he said.

“Banning terror groups has made it harder for their activists to plan crimes—that approach should be extended to extreme protest groups too.”

The Home Office said ministers would consider the report’s recommendations.

Palestine Action said, “You cannot ban Palestine Action, as we do not seek permission to act. We’ll take direct action against every Israeli weapons factory until there’s not a trace of the Zionist war machine left in Britain.

“We are seven months into the Gaza genocide, and Walney thinks this scare tactic will make us surrender? When Palestine Action began, we were under no illusion that the route to victory would be an easy ride.

“For years the political class repressed us behind closed doors but refused to show their frustration at our growing campaign publicly. Now, they’re showing their hand which means we are winning.”

Woodcock is a former Labour MP who quit the party in 2018 soon after being investigated for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied.

In 2011, one year after being elected as a Labour MP, Woodcock was appointed chair of the pro-Israel lobby group, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI). That year, he went to Israel on a trip funded by LFI, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Portland Trust.

He is now the government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption. In 2021 the government put him in charge of producing a report “into the extreme fringes on both ends of the political spectrum” and making recommendations to the prime minister.

That report is about to be published. But for months Woodcock has used newspapers and social media to pump out his ideas.

In March he suggested Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer should “instruct their MPs and councillors not to engage with anyone” from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He said the group had to “get their house in order and cut the hate from their marches”.

Woodcock also suggested that pro-Palestine protesters should be forced to pay towards policing costs and be treated like “sectarian parades in Northern Ireland”.

He now hopes to create pressure on the Tories to implement his repressive plans—or at least try to force them through parliament. It should be impossible for him to see his schemes become law, unless Labour supports them. That can’t be ruled out. Keir Starmer and his coterie are determined to look “tough” on protesters.

We need to defend and extend protest rights. Too much has already been given away because Labour backed the attacks and the trade union leaders looked the other way. There has to be solidarity with all those under attack—everyone.

And to bury the attacks from Woodcock and the Tories, we need to escalate mobilisations over Palestine, environmental collapse and other issues.

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