The Elphicke effect – a straw in the wind as to how bad British politics might get to be

Natalie Elphicke - Credit

For many Labour supporters the admission of hard right Natalie Elphicke into Labour’s ranks counts as a bad misjudgement on Starmer’s part.  Don Flynn argues that it is more likely to indicate a way of doing politics that is more drained of principal with each passing day.

Both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have a talent for provoking squirming embarrassment in the eyes of chance onlookers.

The memorable moments for Sunak were his impromptu speech to Tory supporters at a Tunbridge Wells garden party when he boasted that funding formulas “that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas ” were being undone so the leafier parts of the country could get a larger share of the pie.   He doubled-down on that piece of naffness not long afterwards in the contrived encounter with a homeless man queuing at a soup kitchen, stupefying witnesses by asking him if he’d like to “get into” the financial services industry.  “I wouldn’t mind”, answered the somewhat startled citizen, “But I don’t know, I’d like to get through Christmas first”.

Sir Starmer looks less like the paragon of elite out-of-touchness that Sunak manifests to the public, but his awkward persona and political misjudgement generates equally ‘did-he-just-say/do-that?’ moments.  In the Labour leader’s case this showed up most shamefully in his approval of the action of the Israeli government cutting off water and power supplies to Gaza at the beginning of the military attack on the strip’s population, provoking criticism across the liberal-left media and outrage among Labour Party members.

Now there’s the Natalie Elphicke imbroglio.

There can’t be many politicians in the world who would regard the current Member of Parliament for Dover and Hythe as an asset to the party which they happened to be leading, but Keir Starmer cast himself in that poor light last week when he welcomed the hard right Conservative onto the Labour benches.  Elphicke’s track record in politics ranges across membership of the Anglo-nationalist European Reform Group, support for government policies which criminalise refugees and deprive them of rights provided for in international law, and the unprincipled defence of the actions of her former husband Charlie Elphicke, which led to him being convicted as a sex offender.

Starmer’s attitude is that anyone can make mistakes and the now Labour MP for the south coast constituency has uttered ritual apologies which have supposedly lifted the burden of guilt from her shoulders.  On the issue of refugees it is not so much saying sorry that has been required; more a matter of affirming that her desire to see Britain rid of their kind more likely to be  achieved through by way of Labour’s tough stance on the securitisation of borders than the floundering Tory project of deporting them to Rwanda.  You can’t buy that sort of endorsement for your anti-migrant policies.

Those who are still clinging onto their Labour membership cards have exploded with indignation at finding Elphicke is now counted as being among their ranks.  But rather than being threatened by their disapproval the Starmer crowd seem intent on welding it to their cause. The right-wing addition to the Parliamentary Party underscores their claim that Starmer has brough about changes that have taken Labour far beyond the social democratic left that it was under its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile after 13 months Diane Abbott is still kept in the dark on her suspension for a badly drafted letter on the different experiences of racism directed against Irish, Jews, Traveller and Black people, for which she has unreservedly apologised. The extent of her support of the former leader demands that her marginalisation and punishment be drawn out even longer.

This much has been said – and deplored – in other places. But Starmer is adamant that Elphicke is a valued recruit to his cause and any further recruits from Conservative ranks, irrespective of the hardness of their views on trade unionists, migrants, welfare benefits recipients, etc, will also be welcomed.  There is method to what seems like a dismaying level of disrespect to the traditions of Labourism felt by those who have long been members of the club.  No opportunity must ever be missed to demonstrate that “Labour has changed” under Starmer, and that means the business of change has to be driven deeper and more extensively with every day that goes by.  If there is an end to this process it is likely to be only when Labour has ceased to be “labour” in any meaningful sense of the term, and finally reveals itself as a rootless entity which is whatever the leader of the day, and his immediate coterie want it to be.

Think less of a Labour Party that works, however loosely, as a labour movement, combining community-based activists with trade unions, cooperators, and socialist societies, and summon up an image of something that looks more like the US Democratic party. The evolution of politics across the Atlantic required politicians with the stature of princes to emerge in the lose assemblages of the American two-party system.  Each will draw around themselves a set of camp followers who will undertake the political polling, the building of the leader’s profile, and the sketching out of policy platforms which enhances their chances of coming out on top. By these means the party leader will free themselves of all restraints and operate with the freedom to do whatever the hell they please, including stealing the other guy’s best ideas and bring her or his people onto their own team.

The entry of the talentless, abject Natalie Elphicke into Starmer’s ranks hardly counts as the recruitment of a glittering star.  For many it seems like a sick joke and probably a mistake which further illustrates Starmer’s capacity for tin-eared misjudgement. Or maybe not. Maybe it is really a glimpse of the unprincipled way politics will be done five minutes into the future – cynical, indifferent to other viewpoints, but serving as a further indication of just how powerful the elites have become.    


  1. I’m sure there are Labour Party members who won’t welcome Natalie Elphicke – I wouldn’t myself – but in a few days time she will either be forgotten or remembered by the public as a whole as “another one of those Tory MPs who left Sunak’s party”.

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