Boris Johnson’s proposal to give Ian Austin and John Woodcock a peerage is stomach-turning, argues Mike Phipps
Not many countries allow their prime ministers to appoint half their parliament, but the UK is one of them. It’s a convenient source of patronage and has been used in the past to reward donors and cronies alike. Boris Johnson’s decision to give peerages to two former Labour MPs, John Woodcock and Ian Austin, whose only claim to fame was unremitting hostility to Jeremy Corbyn, looks like a continuation of the establishment drive to delegitimize the Party’s leader.
Austin stuck close to Gordon Brown when Labour was in office. In the parliamentary expenses scandal at the end of Brown’s term, he was accused by the Daily Telegraph of ‘flipping’ his second home and splitting his claim for stamp duty on it over two financial years in order to maximise his financial gain. Out of office, Austin called for the fingerprinting of immigrants, reducing their benefit entitlements, putting them at the bottom of the housing list and charging foreigners for NHS treatment. A stalwart of the Labour Friends of Israel, he was forced to apologise to a Palestinian rights group in 2012 after falsely accusing them of holocaust denial. In 2016, he was reprimanded by the Commons Speaker for shouting abuse at Jeremy Corbyn who was criticising the 2003 invasion of Iraq during the debate on the Chilcot Report.
Austin walked out of the Labour Party a year ago and was appointed by Prime Minister May as a trade envoy to Israel. At Labour’s 2019 Party Conference he drove along the seafront with a large mobile billboard saying Jeremy Corbyn was unfit for office. Days before the general election, he called for a Tory vote and actively campaigned to that end. He has been duly rewarded.
John Woodcock’s peerage is more shocking. The former MP for Barrow and Furness lost the Labour whip in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment. He has been a keen supporter of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, which has been marked by appalling civilian casualties resulting from Saudi air strikes, and praised the repressive regime of Turkey’s President Erdogan as tolerant and progressive.
In January 2019, Woodcock abstained in a parliamentary vote of no confidence against May’s government and in November called for a Conservative vote. His peerage also looks like a pay-off from Johnson.
Stuffing the second chamber with these deeply flawed individuals degrades Britain’s democracy. It will rightly hasten calls for the Lords’ abolition.