Elphicke Defection Not An 'Error Of Judgement' By Keir Starmer, Says Jon Ashworth

<span class="copyright">BBC</span>

Keir Starmer did not make an “error of judgement” when he accepted former Tory MP Natalie Elphicke into the Labour Party, shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth has said.

Elphicke, the MP for Dover, shocked Westminster when she sensationally defected to Labour on Wednesday.

But many Labour MPs are unhappy given her right-wing views on immigration and previous support for her ex-husband who was found guilty of sexual assault.

According to The Sunday Times, in 2020 Elphicke also lobbied the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, on behalf of her then husband Charlie.

Elphicke is reported to have pressed Buckland for his case to be moved to a less high profile court to avoid public scrutiny.

Challenged over the report on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, Ashworth said Elphicke had dismissed it as “nonsense”.

“If Robert Buckland has evidence or has more to say then let’s hear what he says,” Ashworth, the shadow paymaster general, said.

But he was asked: “Don’t these allegations start to create a sense maybe Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership team have made an error of judgement?”

Ashworth said: “No, no, no, no, no, no.”

“I think whatNatalie Elphicke’s crossing of the floor reveals is the extent to which we are witnessing a disintegrating and decaying Conservative government,” he said.

“More broadly what she has done - like thousands and thousands of conservatives across the country - she has shifted to he Labour Party because she can see after 14 years of failure its time for change.”

But Labour MP Zarah Sultana told the same programme: “She was a member of the European Reform Group; she voted for Liz Truss in the leadership, she’s at odds when it comes to fire and rehire, she has attacked trade unions and their activities.

“So unless she’s had the biggest Damascene conversion ever, I just don’t buy it.”

Labour MP Jess Philips, a former shadow domestic violence minister, also told Sky News last week Elphicke’s admission to Labour was “a bit like being punched in the gut”.

While former Labour leader Neil Kinnock said Labour should be “choosy to a degree about who we allow to join” as while it is a “very broad church” churches “have walls and there are limits”.

Usually when an MP defects to another party, it is the one they leave that comes under the most pressure. But while Elphicke’s decision to jump ship was a blow to Rishi Sunak, it is Labour that has faced more questions.

David Cameron, the foreign secretary, told the BBC: “Here was actually quite a sort of right-wing MP who had absolutely no affinity with Labour policies or Labour people or Labour philosophy and they welcome her in, I think it says a huge amount about the Labour Party.  

“If you don’t have a plan, if you don’t have policies, if you don’t have things you stand for, you will literally fall for anything.  And so Natalie Elphicke is now frankly a Labour press office problem, I expect their phones are ringing off the hook this morning, it’s not a Conservative problem anymore.”