Labour insists Elphicke is ‘good fit’ for party

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Labour has defended the decision to welcome Tory defector Natalie Elphicke into the party after some Labour MPs were angered by the decision.

Labour chair Anneliese Dodds said the Dover MP – seen as a right winger – was a “good, natural fit” for her party.

Some Labour MPs have expressed concerns about Mrs Elphicke’s political views and past comments.

“People can change their minds,” Ms Dodds said when asked about her previous criticisms of Labour.

Ms Elphicke defected to Labour in a surprise move on Wednesday, hitting out at the “broken promises of Rishi Sunak’s tired and chaotic government”.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Labour party’s chair Ms Dodds agreed Ms Elphicke MP was a “good, natural fit” for Labour:

“I believe she is, you can see that in the statement.

“What she set out is absolutely fundamental to the Labour Party.”

She added: “Natalie Elphicke is not the first Conservative MP who’s taken this decision… [she’s] taken the same decision as so many other former Conservative supporters up and down the country and I think it’s absolutely right she’s done so because she’s clearly here putting her constituents first.”

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

Several sources suggested Labour’s whips, responsible for party discipline, were worried about accepting her, but Labour deny this.

It is the second defection to Labour for Rishi Sunak in less than two weeks, after Dr Dan Poulter also quit the Tories last month.

Normally, when an MP switches parties, their new colleagues are almost all delighted.

However, this latest defection, announced minutes before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, has left to some Labour MPs feeling upset, let down, and shocked.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield said Labour MPs were “baffled” by her “really peculiar” move to swap sides.

She added she didn’t “believe for a second that she has suddenly transformed into a Labour MP”.

Labour backbencher Mick Whitley called her move “outrageous,” adding Ms Elphicke did not share the “values of the Labour movement”.

Many others have expressed similar views privately.

Ms Elphicke has campaigned for rent freezes and against homelessness – areas where she has common ground with Labour.

But she has also criticised the party for “grabbing more in taxes” and not being “serious” about stopping small boat crossings, a big issue in her Dover seat.

As well as her political stance, many Labour MPs are deeply uncomfortable with remarks she made about her then-husband Charlie Elphicke, whom she replaced as Dover MP in 2019.

In an interview with the Sun after his conviction in 2020 for sexual assault, she was reported to have said being “attractive” and “attracted to women” had made him an “easy target”.

Watch: Natalie Elphicke takes seat on Labour benches

She has not commented on those previous remarks since defecting on Wednesday.

Labour said “all those issues have been dealt with previously both in Parliament and in public”.

But Jess Phillips, the former shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said Ms Elphicke should “account for her actions”.

The Labour MP told ITV’s Peston: “I’m all for forgiveness but I do think that that needs some explaining.”

Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield on Wednesday, Labour MP Sarah Champion said “some of the things Mrs Elphicke had said defending her ex-husband from the sexual abuse allegations” did not “sit well with me at all”.

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

“I think their policies and their belief systems are so far from mine but we are where we are I guess,” she added.

She added the fact that Ms Elphicke, like Dan Poulter, are both planning to quit Parliament at the election created a “bit of a mess” because Labour already has candidates in both their seats.

Conservative MPs have also expressed surprise at Ms Elphicke’s defection, with Transport Minister Huw Merriman branding her “shameless” and an “opportunist”.

“I’m just disappointed for politics that she’s done what she’s done,” he added.

‘Outrageous’

Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, said that he does not welcome Ms Elphicke’s defection, saying the party is getting “grubbier”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight, Mr Rahman, who is a member of left-wing campaign group Momentum, said that Ms Elphicke has “never occupied the centre ground in her time as an MP”.

He described the Conservative Party as a “sinking ship” and said Ms Elphicke is “swimming in the ocean” trying to “escape” it.

He said the Labour Party should be in the business of changing the country, “not saving the careers of Tory politicians who the British public are rejecting because of the damage they’ve done to the country”.

“She’s not fit to be a Labour party member, let alone an MP,” he added.

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

“I’m a great believer in the powers of conversion, but I think even this one would have strained the generosity of spirit of John the Baptist, quite honestly,” he told LBC.

However, Sir Keir will hope to keep the focus on the big picture – and argue Tory defections can personify his wider project of tempting former Conservative voters to switch to Labour.

“That’s what matters,” says a senior Labour figure.

“In the end we have recruited the Conservative MP for Dover for goodness’ sake. In the middle of row about small boat crossings. That’s one hell of a coup.”

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