Sunday, June 16, 2024

Labour defends decision to admit ex-Tory MP Natalie Elphicke

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Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP who defected to Britain’s opposition Labour party this week, has apologised for comments she made in support of her disgraced ex-husband after he was convicted of sexual assault.

The Dover MP’s shock decision to cross the floor of the Commons prompted scrutiny of her past remarks about her former husband Charlie, who in 2020 was jailed for two years for sexually assaulting two women, and anger among female Labour MPs.

In a statement on Thursday Elphicke said the period leading up to her ex-husband’s conviction was “incredibly stressful and difficult”, but “far harder for the women who had to relive their experiences and give evidence against him”.

She added that she condemned his behaviour towards other women as well as herself, and was “sorry for the comments that I made about his victims”.

Previously she had claimed that he had been “attractive” to women and an “easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

Earlier in the day Labour chair Anneliese Dodds defended the party’s decision to admit Elphicke, after she defected on Wednesday with a salvo against Rishi Sunak’s “tired and chaotic government”.

Elphicke’s shock move fuelled anger and bemusement in Sir Keir Starmer’s party, as Labour MPs raised concerns about her defence of her ex-husband, her rightwing politics and past criticism of the party.

But Dodds said Elphicke, who will stand down at the next general election, was a good fit for Labour and that “people can change their minds”.

She told the BBC that the former Tory MP was “taking the same decision as so many other former Conservative supporters up and down the country”.

Anneliese Dodds, pictured, said Natalie Elphicke was a good fit for Labour © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Elphicke had “realised that in order to put her constituents and country first, she cannot continue backing a party that is . . . divided and is incompetent, in her words, and one that cannot deliver on issues like migration, security and housing”, said Dodds.

Asked about Elphicke’s defence of her disgraced former husband and her one-day suspension from the Commons following an “improper” attempt to influence a judge hearing his trial, Dodds said Labour’s newest MP had already faced “accountability” and a “parliamentary process”.

The Labour chair was also quizzed about the defecting MP’s criticism of footballer Marcus Rashford over his campaigning against child poverty. Dodds said she had “rightly apologised for those unacceptable comments”.

Lord David Cameron, the foreign secretary and former prime minister, said Elphicke’s defection showed that Labour stood for nothing. “What does this tell us about the party she’s joining? In life, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything,” he said after a speech in London.

Elphicke’s surprise defection follows that of fellow Tory Dan Poulter, who decided to join Labour last month. The MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who is a doctor, said he was quitting because he could not look NHS colleagues and patients “in the eye with good conscience” and called for an early general election.

Despite Starmer’s judgment coming under scrutiny over Elphicke’s move, a YouGov poll on Thursday gave Labour the largest lead over the Tories since Liz Truss was in Downing Street.

Labour was on 48 per cent and the Conservatives on 18 per cent, according to the survey, while Reform UK was on 13 per cent.

It came as shortlived former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi announced he would step down from parliament at the election, becoming the 64th Tory MP to do so.

By contrast 18 Labour MPs, nine Scottish National party MPs, eight independents, two Sinn Féin MPs, one Green and one Plaid Cymru MP have said they plan to exit the Commons at the election, according to the Institute for Government think-tank.

Zahawi, Conservative MP for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, was sacked as Tory chair in January 2023 after he was found to have committed “serious breaches” of the ministerial code by failing to be transparent about his tax affairs.

He was appointed chancellor for two months in the dying days of Boris Johnson’s administration following the resignation of Sunak. He was also previously education secretary and vaccines minister during the pandemic.

In a statement on X announcing his decision, Zahawi said it had been a great honour to serve his constituents but “the time is right for a new, energetic Conservative” to become the candidate for a seat best known as the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

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