John Zak Woodcock (born 14 October 1978) is a British politician serving as the UK Special Envoy for Countering Violent Extremism, at the Home Office. He was previously the Member of Parliament (MP) for Barrow and Furness from 2010 to 2019. Woodcock was suspended and subsequently had the Labour whip withdrawn on 30 April 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment made against him. He then sat as an Independent Member of Parliament and on 18 July 2018 resigned from the Labour Party. He announced in November 2019 that he would not be standing in the 2019 general election and instead be supporting the Conservatives.
Early life and career
Woodcock was born in Sheffield to parents who were teachers, his mother at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology. His father was a Labour councillor. He was educated at Tapton School and the University of Edinburgh. While taking his degree he took time out to work as a journalist on The Scotsman, before returning to the university to complete his English and history degree.
Woodcock was elected to run the London branch of Labour Students, and then worked for the Labour Party on the 2005 general election campaign. He later worked as an aide to John Hutton from 2005 to 2008 and later as Special Adviser to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Woodcock was elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Barrow and Furness in the 2010 general election with a majority of 5,208. He succeeded John Hutton, the constituency's Labour MP since 1992.
On 10 October 2010, only five months after being elected to Parliament, he was named a Shadow Minister for Transport. He stepped down from this post in January 2013.
From July 2011 to January 2013, Woodcock was Chair of Labour Friends of Israel.
In December 2013, Woodcock announced he was suffering from depression and sought treatment for the condition.
He was a member of the Public Bill Committee for the Defence Reform Act 2014. Until 2015, Woodcock was the chair of Progress, a ginger group within the Labour Party, promoting Blairite policies within the party.
In March 2015, Woodcock was reported to the UK Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The investigation concerned his office's use of public funds for postage-paid envelopes and whether this contravened a rule which prohibits public funds being used to support the return of a person to public office. The postage-paid envelopes had been used in relation to a local Save Our Hospital campaign, an issue the local Conservative candidate claimed was prominent on Woodcock's 2015 General Election campaign leaflets. During the Commission's investigation, Woodcock admitted that he should not have used public funds for such a purpose and the Commissioner upheld the complaint, finding that Woodcock contravened parliamentary rules. Woodcock returned the £1881.22, which his office had spent on the envelopes, to the House of Commons.
In May 2015, Woodcock was appointed Shadow Minister for Young People, but resigned in September 2015, following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.
Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, Woodcock has been a strong critic, joking about what he saw as a desperate situation at the 2015 Labour Party conference. In March 2016, Woodcock penned an article on the Daily Mirror critical of Corbyn, which resulted in a backlash against him. Shortly after the announcement of the 2017 general election, Woodcock said he "will not countenance" voting to place Corbyn into Downing Street because of the Labour leader's opposition to the "Trident renewal programme" and would seek his constituency party's re-nomination.
In 2016, Woodcock supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against the Shia Houthis and, in 2018, met the king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, in his role as chair of Labour's backbench foreign affairs committee.
Woodcock was re-elected in the 2017 general election, with a reduced majority of 209 votes.
On 16 January 2019, Woodcock abstained in the vote of confidence in Theresa May's Conservative government, saying Corbyn was "unfit to lead the country". On 4 November, he announced he would not be re-standing as an MP in the 2019 general election, due to his partner Isabel Hardman's pregnancy. On 5 November, the government announced it would be appointing him special envoy for countering far-right violent extremism. He stated he would be supporting the Conservative Party in the upcoming election, and urged voters to vote Conservative.
Sexual harassment accusation and resignation from the Labour Party
On 30 April 2018 Woodcock was suspended from membership of the Labour Party and had the party whip withdrawn following the allegations of sexual harassment. "I do not accept the charge" Woodcock said. The allegation was that he sent inappropriate SMS and other messages to a former employee between 2014 and 2016. On 24 June 2018, Woodcock said he would no longer cooperate with the Labour Party investigation as he believed it to be politically motivated. Woodcock stated that he would take the General Secretary of the Labour Party to court to force an independent inquiry to take place.
On 18 July 2018, Woodcock resigned from the Labour Party, choosing to sit as an Independent MP for the remainder of the term. He said that he believed that the party was "no longer the broad church it has always been", but had instead been "taken over by the hard left" under Corbyn's leadership. Woodcock further called Corbyn "a clear risk to UK national security", and criticised what he saw as the party's tacit endorsement of antisemitism and its failure to provide an independent investigator to rule on his disciplinary case, which he claimed was being "manipulated for factional purposes" within the party. Labour rejected all accusations of bias against Woodcock, arguing that the process is the same for all similar cases. In an interview with The Times Woodcock called Corbyn "a security risk to the Country".
He sat as an Independent MP before joining a loose grouping of pro-European MPs known as The independents in July 2019.
Woodcock was married to Mandy Telford, former President of the National Union of Students. They have two daughters. The couple separated in late 2014, and Telford returned to live in Scotland with the children. They divorced in 2015.
Woodcock is in a relationship with the journalist Isabel Hardman, assistant editor of the The Spectator magazine. In November 2019 Woodcock announced that Hardman was pregnant, so he would not be re-standing as a parliamentary candidate in the general election..