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By Jo Phillips

By Jo Phillips

Dover and out

In light of Dover MP, Natalie Elphicke's defection from the Conservative's to Labour. Jo asks 'What is Keir Starmer thinking?'

Pity the hapless Tory activists in Dover, delivering leaflets on Tuesday in the name of the port’s MP, claiming that Labour backed “uncontrolled immigration, had “no plan” whereas the Tories were taking “action to stop the boats”. The following day, that same MP, Natalie Elphicke defected to join the Labour party with a blistering attack on Rishi Sunak’s government.

Whatever was Keir Starmer thinking? You could accuse him of being lightheaded after the successful local and mayoral elections but those results have now been overshadowed by what many within and outside the Labour party see as a terrible error of judgement.

Natalie Elphicke won Dover in 2019, the seat previously held by her ex-husband and convicted sex offender Charlie Elphicke. She had accompanied him hand-in-hand into Southwark crown court throughout his trial and following his conviction wrote that he was being punished for being “charming, wealthy, charismatic and successful — attractive, and ­attracted to, women” and then announced their marriage was over. I bet Jess Phillips Labour’s tireless campaigner for women’s safety can’t wait to sit down with her new colleague. Meanwhile Diane Abbott who’s represented the people of Hackney since 1983, is still waiting for the result of an investigation into a letter she wrote about racism to the Observer over a year ago which resulted in her suspension from the Labour Party. The shambles of the Rochdale by-election which saw Labour’s official candidate disowned but still appearing as Labour on the ballot papers let George Galloway back in to grandstand could have been avoided had Labour been more diligent about its selection and vetting process.

It’s very hard to see what Labour gains from Natlie Elphicke, a right-wing, Liz Truss supporting Conservative, joining the party. Her background is in the housing sector and she intriguingly said in her defection comments “I’m honoured to have been asked to work with Keir and the team to help deliver the homes we need.” She could still do that after the election when she’s standing down anyway but maybe after her moment in the sun she’ll move on to other things unless Starmer is mad enough to put her in the Lords.

Keir Starmer’s often regarded as over cautious, unwilling to make a decision unless it’s been through umpteen focus groups first. Some say that cautious approach masks a ruthlessness which he has shown in rooting out anti- Semitism and transforming the Labour party from its unelectable period under Jeremey Corbyn to where it is now, perhaps on the threshold of government. One thing’s for sure, he’s definitely not a man for stunts and that is all the Elphicke defection appears to be. Many Labour activists who’ve worked their socks off to achieve last week’s local election results will be confused and angry. Apart from anything else, Elphicke’s defection also eclipsed the arrival of the new Labour MP for Blackpool Chris Webb who won the seat in last week’s by-election with a swing of more than 26% to Labour.

Starmer can’t afford to make missteps like this – there’s unease within Labour over the party’s stance on Gaza, on green energy, the potential watering down of workers’ rights and while the Tories are surely on the way out after 14 years of chaos and decline, the election is Labour’s to lose.  

You can judge a man by the company he keeps so the saying goes and while most political parties are, and should be, broad churches, as Lord Kinnock put it; ‘churches have walls and there are limits.’ Natalie Elphicke is beyond the limit.

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