Natalie Elphick: Starmer faces anger after Conservative MP defects

  • Written by Paul Seddon and Chris Mason
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to accept Tory MP Natalie Elphicke into the Labor Party has been met with bewilderment by some of his MPs.

A Dover MP’s shock defection to the Conservative Party has sparked reactions ranging from joy to anger from his new colleagues.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said Labor MPs were “baffled” by her “really strange” move to switch sides.

But a senior party figure praised her turnaround, calling it a “hell of a coup.”

Sir Keir said he was “delighted” by her defection, telling reporters it showed his party was the “party of the national interest”.

Several sources indicated that the Labor Party whips, responsible for party discipline, were concerned about her acceptance, but the Labor Party denies this.

This is Rishi Sunak’s second defection from the Labor Party in less than two weeks, after Dr Dan Poulter resigned from the Conservative Party last month.

Usually, when an MP changes party, almost all of his new colleagues are happy.

However, this latest defection, announced minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, has left some Labor MPs upset, frustrated and shocked.

In a scathing statement, Elphick said the Conservative Party had become “the epitome of incompetence and division”.

What Mrs Duffield is willing to say publicly in response to the defection, many others are saying privately.

She criticized the party for “getting more taxes” and not being “serious” about stopping small boat crossings, a big issue in her seat of Dover.

In addition to her political stance, many Labor MPs are deeply uncomfortable with comments she made about her then-husband Charlie Elphicke, whom she replaced as MP for Dover in 2019.

Video explanation, Watch: Natalie Elphick sits on the Labor benches

She has not commented on those previous statements since her defection on Wednesday.

“All of these issues have been dealt with before, whether in Parliament or in public,” Labor said.

Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield on Wednesday, Labor MP Sarah Champion said that “some of the things Ms Elphick said in defense of her ex-husband from sexual assault allegations” did not “sit with me at all”.

She also said she would find it difficult to have former Tory MPs in the party “when it’s so close to a general election”.

“I think their politics and belief systems are far removed from mine, but we are,” she added.

She added that the fact that Ms Elphicke, like Dan Poulter, planned to leave Parliament at the election created “a bit of chaos” because Labor already had candidates in their two seats.

Conservative MPs also expressed surprise at Elphicke’s defection, with Transport Secretary Hugh Merriman branding her “rude” and “opportunistic”.

He added: “I’m disappointed in the policy because it did what it did.”


Speaking to BBC South East, fellow Kent MP Ms Duffield said Labor members were “really confused” by the defection.

She added: “I think it’s a really strange decision, and I think most Labor members and probably a lot of Conservatives are very puzzled by it actually.”

She added that she “did not believe for a moment that she had suddenly become a Labor Party MP.”

His Labor colleague Mick Whiteley described her move as “outrageous”, adding that Elphick did not share “the values ​​of the Labor movement”.

Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s ruling national executive committee, said he did not welcome Ms Elphick’s defection, saying the party had become “more crude”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight programme, Abdel Rahman said Ms Elphick had “never held a central position during her time as an MP”.

He described the Tories as a “sinking ship” and said Elphick was “swimming in the ocean” and trying to “escape” it.

He said Labor should be working to change the country, “not saving the careers of Tory politicians who are rejected by the British public because of the damage they have done to the country.”

He added: “She is not fit to be a member of the Labor Party, let alone a member of Parliament.”

John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, said he was “surprised and shocked” by her move.

He told LBC: “I’m a big believer in transformative powers, but I think even that person would have dimmed the generosity of the spirit of John the Baptist, quite frankly.”

However, Sir Keir hopes to keep the focus on the big picture – and says Tory defections could embody his broader project of enticing former Conservative voters to switch to Labour.

“This is what matters,” says one senior Labor figure.

“In the end we appointed the Conservative MP for Dover for good. In the middle of a row over small boat crossings. This is one hell of a coup.”

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