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Thursday, May 09, 2024

Who is Labour's new MP?

I confess to being bewildered by the defection of Dover MP, Natalie Elphicke to Labour. This is an MP who voted for Liz Truss as leader and whose record on immigration is comparable to Nigel Farage. The decision to accept her into the Labour Party is certainly a controversial one amongst Labour MPs.

The Guardian reports that the chair of the Labour party has defended the decision to admit the staunchly rightwing MP while Diane Abbott remains suspended and has been under investigation for more than a year.

They add that the move has been controversial among many female Labour MPs because of Elphicke’s defence of her husband, Charlie, who was convicted of sexual assault in 2020: 

Shortly after his conviction, Elphicke told the Sun he had been the victim of a “terrible miscarriage of justice” and she cast doubt on his victims’ testimonies.

In 2021, Elphicke became one of several MPs to be suspended from the Commons and told to apologise for being found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over her husband’s trial.

Questioned on Thursday about her conduct, Dodds said “this was an incredibly serious case” and that Elphicke had been subjected to a “parliamentary process” – but declined to justify her remarks.

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and former shadow minister for domestic violence, said she was “shocked” by the move and that Elphicke should apologise for her comments, which would have been “very painful” to victims.

“I didn’t believe it at first. It was a bit discombobulating,” Phillips said about Elphicke’s move to Labour on Wednesday night.

Asked about Elphicke’s defence of her then husband, Phillips told ITV’s Peston: “I think she needs to explain it and I think that there is some apologising to be done to victims of those crimes … I’m all for forgiveness but not without contrition.”

Dodds faced questions over how Elphicke could be admitted to the Labour party when Abbott had been waiting a year for the outcome of an investigation into comments she had made about racism.
Abbott was suspended in April 2023 after writing a letter to the Observer that said while Irish, Jewish and Traveller people “undoubtedly experience prejudice”, they do not face racism “all their lives”.

She withdrew her remarks the same day and apologised “for any anguish caused” but has been suspended from the Labour party since. She continues to sit as an independent MP.

The Guardian also outlines some of the controversies that have surrounded Elphicke. They say that she was one of several Conservative MPs who were temporarily suspended from the Commons and told to apologise after being found to have tried to influence a judge presiding over the trial of her ex-husband, Charlie Elphicke, who was jailed for two years in September 2020.

In addition, they say that as recently as a year ago, Elphicke wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Express that was headlined: “Don’t trust Labour on immigration they really want open borders”, and ended with an attack on Keir Starmer, who she described as “Sir Softie”:

Elphicke had also been one of the Tory backbenchers acting as a thorn in the side of Rishi Sunak as he attempted to get legislation on his Rwanda deportation bill through the Commons. At one point she was among rebels who supported an amendment from the former immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

Elphicke was criticised in August 2020 for her rhetoric in a video message she tweeted after watching eight migrants come ashore in Kent. She stated: “This is unacceptable that people are breaking into Britain in this way.” Andrew Powell, an immigration and family law barrister, condemned what he said was her “appalling and dehumanising language”.

She also came under fire for choosing Christmas Day in 2021 as the moment to call for an end to small boat crossings in the Channel.

They also say that she has consistently voted for making it easier to remove someone’s British citizenship and has almost always voted for stronger laws and enforcement of immigration rules: 

On green issues, she has been at odds with Labour. As recently as February she voted to reject a climate change test for new oil and gas licences. 

She has also voted in line with Conservative colleagues on attempts to bring air quality targets to be in line with World Health Organization guidelines. 

In other votes she has backed more restrictive regulation of trade union activities.

On balance it is difficult to see why Labour even considered accepting her into the party. The decision certainly leaves one wondering what it is that Labour now stands for.

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