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Labour frontbencher squirms over Elphicke defection

Cat McKinnell on Sky with Kay Burley. Credit: Sky

Five days have passed since Keir Starmer’s masterstroke of getting Natalie Elphicke to defect from the Tories and join the Labour party. Yet in Starmer’s rush to secure a defective Tory, no-one in the Leader’s Office (Loto) seems to have wondered whether the Labour party would actually welcome into its ranks a scandal-prone, hardline Eurosceptic with a history of rubbishing sexual assault victims. Surprise, surprise, they hadn’t. Labour MP Jess Phillips, union boss Matt Wrack and, er, Lord Cameron are among those lining up to criticise Elphicke for her dodgy comments, anti-strike rhetoric and naked perfidy. Trebles all round!

A floundering McKinnell suggested that no such investigation is possible

Starmer’s team has reacted to this self-induced crisis in its usual cool and rational way. Reprising the tried and tested playbook that led to the storming success of the Rochdale by-election and the £28 billion green new deal, one member of Loto briefed Bloomberg by dismissing their own party’s concerns.

‘It’s not Keir’s job to go round managing how they [Labour MPs] feel’, they said, adding: ‘If the Conservative MP for Dover wants to say we have a better plan on immigration then we should let her.’ Less than three hours later and, er, Starmer’s team was again in touch with Bloomberg to slap down the ‘unauthorised and unacceptable’ briefing. Talk about a Loto problems, eh? No ‘boys club’ here…

The genius of Elphicke’s defection was illustrated again in today’s morning media round. Labour are eagerly talking up Starmer’s big speech on levelling up but, naturally, the broadcasters only want to ask about Elphicke. Poor Labour MP Cat McKinnell faced a barrage of hostile questioning about her new socialist chum, following the Sunday Times‘ story that Elphicke lobbied then-justice secretary Robert Buckland to interfere in her husband’s trial. Speaking on Sky, the shadow schools minister responded to calls for Labour to launch an investigation by calling for, er, the Tories to launch their own investigation about the ‘very serious’ concerns.

She then went on the Today programme where host Nick Robinson took great delight in quoting back McKinnell’s own words from the House of Commons in which she said: ‘Standards in public life do matter.’ ‘Does that only apply when you’re attacking your opponents?’ he asked. ‘No not at all,’ McKinnell said ‘And I’m glad you brought that up, because standards in public life really do matter’. ‘So why not have an independent investigation into whether they have been breached?’ the BBC journalist shot back. A floundering McKinnell suggested that no such investigation is possible, adding ‘If you can explain how that can take place, I would be very interested’ Er, Standards Commissioner, anyone?

Robinson then quoted Starmer’s New Year’s message that called on the electorate to ‘reject the pointless populist gestures, the low road cynicism that the Tories believe is all you deserve.’ Did McKinnell, in her ‘heart of hearts’, believe Starmer did that last week? The hapless frontbencher paused before replying slowly: ‘I… absolutely believe that Keir Starmer is serious about taking this country in a much more positive direction’. And Mr S cannot wait for him to make a start of it!

Same old Labour, always dragging defeat from the jaws of victory….

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Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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