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An ‘independent adviser’ to the government has been grilled about his impartiality over lobbying links ahead of launching his review recommending tougher action for protest groups including for Palestine liberation and against climate change.

Lord Walney, also know as John Woodcock, quit Labour in 2018, after being accused of sexual harassment, and is now a crossbench peer. He was made the UK Government’s ‘independent adviser on political violence and disruption’ and his report ‘protecting our Democracy from Coercion’ was laid before parliament today. 

He was tasked by the government to lead its crackdown on protests, including ones against the climate crisis and global arms trade, however he was accused of a conflict of interest with links to both the fossil fuel and weapons lobbyists. 

Woodcock chaired the Purpose Defence Coalition with members including one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers Leonardo, which has links to the Israeli government. Co-founder of campaign group Palestine Action, Huda Ammori, said it was a “sham” for the government to claim Lord Walney is an ‘independent’ adviser. 

Ammori said: “By writing this report, he is working to protect the interests of Israel’s military supply chain, over the will of the British people, who overwhelmingly support an arms embargo on Israel.”

On his proposals, Woodcock has said “militant groups like Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil are using criminal tactics to create mayhem” and accused left-wing activists of holding “the public to ransom”. 

The report includes suggesting that some protest groups have to pay for policing of their protests and calls for a ban on protest groups organising or raising money if they “cause serious disruption”. On Palestine Action group, the report says, “given the extreme and evolving nature of the group’s tactics, the Government should keep under review the question of whether Palestine Action meets the criteria for proscription as a terrorist entity”.

During an episode of The News Agents podcast last week, journalist Jon Sopel asked Lord Walney whether he was the right person to be advancing these arguments, given his role as the former chair of Labour Friends of Israel and accusations that he was being funded by the “Israel lobby”. 

When grilled about these accusations, Lord Walney accused Palestine Action of using a “textbook example of the kind of anti-semitism that mainstream organisations have tried to move away from”.

But the presenters challenged him again over how his links to Israel and the arms industry could be seen as a conflict of interest.

Emily Maitlis asked: “John, you are the former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, do you not see how this is going to come across to supporters of Palestinian liberation?”

He replied: “Well I don’t think I would go into this thinking I was going to make friends with people who are part of that extreme end of the pro-Palestine movement anyway.”

He went on to defend the Purpose Defence Coalition including defence related companies who he said “value the contribution they make to the UK economy” and that “we should all do that.”

Presenter Sopel replied that “people would beg to differ” about his claim to being an impartial voice.

His full report was published today.

(Image credit: News Agents / screenshot YouTube)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward

The post Government adviser behind protests report grilled over impartiality appeared first on Left Foot Forward: Leading the UK’s progressive debate.


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