Shaun Woodward

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The Right Honourable
Shaun Woodward
Shaun Woodward, June 2009 cropped.jpg
Shadow Secretary of State for
Northern Ireland
In office
11 May 2010 – 7 October 2011
Leader Harriet Harman
Ed Miliband
Preceded by Owen Paterson
Succeeded by Vernon Coaker
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
In office
28 June 2007 – 11 May 2010
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by Peter Hain
Succeeded by Owen Paterson
Member of Parliament
for St Helens South and Whiston
St Helens South (2001–2010)
Assumed office
7 June 2001
Preceded by Gerald Bermingham
Majority 14,122 (30.6%)
Member of Parliament
for Witney
In office
1 May 1997 – 7 June 2001
Preceded by Douglas Hurd
Succeeded by David Cameron
Personal details
Born (1958-10-26) 26 October 1958 (age 56)
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England
Political party Labour
Other political
Conservative (until 1999)
Alma mater Jesus College, Cambridge
Harvard University
Religion Anglicanism[1]

Shaun Anthony Woodward (born 26 October 1958) is a British politician who has been the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for St Helens South since 2001. He served in the cabinet from 28 June 2007 to 11 May 2010 as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Following the 2010 general election, Woodward was the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland until 7 October 2011, when he was replaced by Vernon Coaker.

A former television researcher and producer, Woodward began his political career in the Conservative Party. He was elected in 1997 as a Conservative MP for Witney, but joined Labour in 1999.

Early life[edit]

Woodward was educated at Bristol Grammar School, Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied English literature, and Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar. From 1981–2, he was parliamentary lobbyist for the National Consumer Council. From 1982–90, he worked as a researcher and producer for BBC TV News and Current Affairs on the programmes That's Life!, Panorama and Newsnight. He subsequently wrote a book about Ben Hardwick. From 1991–2, he was director of communications for the Conservative Party.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Woodward was selected as Douglas Hurd's successor as Conservative candidate for the safe seat of Witney at the 1997 election, having previously been a senior official of the party. Elected with a large majority, he was a front-bench spokesman on London for the Conservative opposition under William Hague until 1999, when he was sacked for supporting the repeal of Section 28,[2] a regulation which aimed to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

Defection to the Labour Party[edit]

After being sacked from the Tory front bench, Woodward then left the Conservative party to move to the ruling Labour Party, without resigning as an MP. This meant that no by-election took place. He was given a job co-ordinating the Labour party's 2001 general election campaign.[3][4] Woodward's local Conservative constituency association requested that he resign and run again in a by-election, under the Labour banner, as he had originally won the safe Conservative seat by campaigning as a Conservative. Woodward refused to hold a by-election, and continued to represent his constituency for two years, despite criticism from both his former senior colleagues in the Conservative Party, including William Hague, Conservative Chairman Michael Ancram and Michael Heseltine, and backbench Labour MPs Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, and ten years later, in the 2009 political diaries of former Labour government minister Chris Mullin. However, Woodward's defection was welcomed by senior Labour figures. Conservative Michael Heseltine said Woodward would "soon become a dot on the horizon",[5] while Conservative leader William Hague wrote a public letter to Woodward on his resignation, in which he stated: "If you were a man of honour, who valued his constituents as much as you say you do, you would resign your seat now, fight a by-election and give them the opportunity to judge who it is that represents their views and their instincts more accurately. The Conservative Party has not left you. You have left a party whose members have given you their loyal support. You have done so for reasons not of integrity or of principle, but for your own careerist reasons. That is an attitude of which I am determined to rid our party, a process to which you have now at least contributed."[6] Conservative Chairman Michael Ancram said: "Shaun has decided for his own reasons to leave the party and no amount of sincerity or fake sincerity is going to hide that fact. He is a man of great ability and he is also a man of great plausibility, and what is now becoming apparent is that what he lacks is candour and honour."[5] Ancram also said: "I have never felt able to take him at face value. I am confirmed in this view by the speed and ease with which he has moved from protestations of firm loyalty to the Conservatives last week to this self-promoting defection."[6] After leaving office in the Labour government, Chris Mullin published his political diaries in 2009, in which he stated that Woodward's decision to change his political affiliation ten years earlier without consulting his electorate "discredits the political process".[7]

In the June 2001 general election, Woodward decided not to contest his Witney seat as a Labour candidate and instead found a safe Labour seat in St Helens South. His successor in Witney was David Cameron, who subsequently became Prime Minister in 2010. In his diaries published ten years after the event, Chris Mullin, who had been Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DETR in 1999, wrote with shock of "the awful Shaun Woodward" defecting to Mullin's own side, calling "the New Labour elite parachuting [Woodward] into a safe seat ... one of New Labour's vilest stitch-ups ... made my flesh creep". Mullin did not, however, resign from the government over the issue at the time. He had previously accused Woodward of using the Ladbroke Grove rail crash "to score cheap political points".[7]

When news of Woodward's intention to stand reached St. Helens, a strong left-wing challenge was put forward in an attempt to deny the former Conservative the safe Labour seat. Neil Thompson of the Socialist Alliance and Michael Perry of the Socialist Labour Party both contested the St Helens South seat and received a total of 12% of the vote between them. Woodward won the seat with a much reduced 49% of the vote.[8]

As a Labour MP, Woodward served on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and was a prominent supporter of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

In May 2005, Woodward was re-elected in St Helens South receiving 54% of the vote and his majority increased. However, the Liberal Democrats' candidate, Brian Spencer, saw his party's vote increase from 23% in 2001 to 28%. Michael Perry of the Socialist Labour Party contested the seat again and received just under 2% of the vote.[8]

In government[edit]

After the 2005 election, Woodward was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office.

In the May 2006 reshuffle, Tony Blair named Woodward Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with responsibilities for the digital switchover for TV. On 28 June 2007, in his first cabinet, newly appointed Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed Woodward as the Northern Ireland Secretary, replacing Peter Hain. Woodward chose not to receive a ministerial salary because of his personal wealth. As Northern Ireland Secretary, Woodward reportedly became a close confidant of the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. This was largely due to Woodward's previous first hand experiences of the beleaguered Conservative government of John Major.[9]

In Opposition[edit]

Woodward stood for election to Labour's shadow cabinet, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, he was retained as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Labour leader Ed Miliband for just under a year.

In November 2013 he announced that he would stand down from Parliament at the next general election,[10] to work on human rights issues. He was praised for his role by the current Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who wrote to him: "In 1999, you made an incredibly hard decision to cross the floor of the House and join the Labour party. It took personal courage and political commitment, and our party will forever be grateful to you."[11]

Personal life[edit]

He married Camilla Davan Sainsbury, daughter of former Conservative MP Tim Sainsbury of the wealthy supermarket Sainsbury family, on 2 May 1987 in Newbury. They have one son (Thomas, born July 1989) and three daughters (Eleanor, born May 1991, Olivia, born October 1993, and Katherine, born September 1996).

He was said in 2001 to be the only Labour MP with a butler.[12] 

He added a seventh property to his property portfolio in January 2010 and now has a £1M apartment in an alpine resort, along with a £1.35M London flat, a £7M property in the Hamptons, a £5M villa in Mustique, a house in the south of France, a £2M townhouse and a modest £85,000 home in his St. Helens constituency.[13]



  1. ^ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 25 Jan 1999 (pt 13)
  2. ^ "Tories split over gay rights sacking". BBC News. 3 December 1999. Archived from the original on 4 September 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2008. 
  3. ^ "Mixed reaction to Woodward defection". BBC News. 18 December 1999. Archived from the original on 21 July 2013. 
  4. ^ Grice, Andrew (20 December 1999). "Blair rewards defector Woodward with campaigning role for Labour". The Independent (London). Archived from the original on 8 November 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Fallout grows over Tory turncoat". BBC News. 20 December 1999. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Top Tory defects to Labour". The Guardian. 19 December 1999. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Chris Mullin (2009). A View From The Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin. ISBN 1-84668-223-1. 
  8. ^ a b "Politics". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 23 May 2010. [dead link]
  9. ^ Porter, Andrew (21 August 2008). "Shaun Woodward becomes unlikely confidant of Gordon Brown". London: Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2008. 
  10. ^ Watt, Nicholas (7 November 2013). "Tory defector MP Shaun Woodward to stand down at 2015 election". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  11. ^ "Labour MP Shaun Woodward to step down". BBC News. 7 November 2013. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Roth, Andrew (20 March 2001). "Shaun Woodward". London: Archived from the original on 15 June 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  13. ^ The Week, 24 January 2010

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Douglas Hurd
Member of Parliament for Witney
Succeeded by
David Cameron
Preceded by
Gerry Bermingham
Member of Parliament for St Helens South
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
Constituency created
Member of Parliament for St Helens South and Whiston
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Hain
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Owen Paterson
Preceded by
Owen Paterson
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Vernon Coaker