John Woodcock – 2019 Valediction Speech

Below is the text of the speech made by John Woodcock, the Independent MP for Barrow and Furness, in the House of Commons on 5 November 2019.

What a privilege it is to follow that heartfelt speech. It is also a coincidence, because, as the majority of the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) has gone up at every successive election, mine has gone down. [Laughter.]

In 2010, when I first came into the House, we achieved the lowest swing away from Labour in the entire country. In the most recent general election, in 2017, I hung on by a mere 209 votes. As most people who looked at that will know, it is a total miracle that I am here at all. I never expected to be able to make a valedictory speech ​and I have viewed every single day of this Parliament as an extra, unexpected bonus. It was hard enough to hold the constituency of Barrow and Furness, the home of the Trident nuclear submarine programme, with the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). People, probably understandably, did not trust him entirely on the issue of Trident. However, it was an impossibility to hold the constituency with the current Leader of the Opposition. It was only by completely disavowing him that I was able, against all expectations including mine, to hang on.

I have, of course, paid in one way or another since then, but I will never forget the moment at 1 o’clock in the morning of election night when I thought, “My goodness, we might actually hold on here.” I had to get on the phone to my ex, Mandy, who ran my campaign to get me into Parliament in the first place, and say, “Look, you know I’ve offered to take the kids all summer, well…” I am deeply indebted to her for her forbearance on that and on so many issues, as we have made a crazy modern family life work. More on that towards the end of my speech.

I want to say how sad I am to be leaving, but I think we can be really proud of some the things we have achieved over these past nine and a half years. The brand new maternity unit literally would not have happened without the campaign led by local mums, including Mandy. Of course, I supported the campaign wholeheartedly —I knew what was good for me—but it showed that when the people of Barrow and Furness stand up, they are able to make themselves listened to. Together, we have effected real change.

The Leader of the House knows that it is more unusual to win a vote at the moment than it is to lose one, and 18 July 2016 will always be etched on my memory as the day that this House voted by 472 votes to 117 to renew Trident and fire the starting gun properly on the Dreadnought submarine programme, which, even now, is providing 9,000 directly employed jobs and sustaining the whole Furness economy. I am just sad to be leaving at a time when we are making critical decisions on how we ensure that that investment can lift the whole area out of the still really appalling pockets of deprivation and the lack of hope that remains in the Furness area. If I can play any role outside this place—possibly in a David Brent way, if I keep turning up to former offices—I want to play whatever role I can to ensure that that can happen in future.

I came into this House having been privileged to serve as a special adviser for a period in No. 10, and I never thought that the life of a constituency MP—trying to help the community change and lead that change—would be what drove me. That is what I will miss most of all from the job. It is well known in this place, but completely unknown outside it, how relatively little of that we drive ourselves as MPs, so—like many others—I need to give my heartfelt thanks to my team. Frank, Natalie, Angela, Carmen and the new arrival, Sian, have done extraordinary things. Literally thousands of people have had their lives changed for the better in ways that, more often than not, I have not known about personally, but they have delivered. I am so pleased that Cassie, my office manager, has come all the way here—it is a hell of a long way to get down from Barrow; it takes four hours on the train on a good day— and is in the Gallery today. Like a number of my staff—but none more so than ​Cassie—she has stuck with me through some really difficult times and has stayed loyal, and I will always be grateful for that.

As a constituency MP, I am proud of what we have done, but I wish that I could be proud of what we have achieved in our politics over the last 10 years. We are not standing here as a Parliament of success. I am sorry that my attempt to wrestle my politics—the politics of the progressive centre-left—out of the hands of the extremists that have gripped my former party has not been a success. I am really grateful to my friends—who will remain my friends—in the Labour party, even though we have taken a very different view on how best to tackle that extremism.

I am really excited about the challenge that I am going on to as the Government’s special envoy on countering violent extremism; I want to continue to play a role in public life. Although I am sad to be leaving, I am leaving for absolutely the best reason: it was not part of the script that Issy and I would be having a baby, but it is a wonderful, wonderful thing on which to leave. Their two sisters, Maisie and Molly, are going to be wonderful big sisters, and I just cannot wait for the future that we have got together.