Chris Mason: Another wounded Tory defection to Labour

  • Written by Chris Mason
  • Political editor

Comment on the photo, News that Dover MP Natalie Elphicke – here with former Immigration Secretary Robert Jenrick – had defected moments before PMQs began

Another Conservative MP abandons the Conservatives and crosses over to Labour.

Splits don’t happen often.

Or at least they don’t in normal times.

But just days after Dan Poulter, the former Tory minister, switched to Labour, Natalie Elphicke is now too.

No wonder there was conversation before Prime Minister’s Questions began that Sir Keir Starmer wanted to talk about small boat crossings in the Channel.

Natalie Elphick is the MP for Dover.

Defections are surprising for Westminster, a tribal place.

It serves as a morale boost for the newcomer’s party, and a weakening of the party that the MP left, especially when he moves from the government to the main opposition party.

Why? They starkly exemplify what an opposition party seeks to do on a much broader scale – entice people who have recently supported the Conservatives to switch to Labour.

The dissident MP’s partisan political words have an additional ability to wound his former political home.

“The elected Prime Minister was ousted in a coup led by the unelected Rishi Sunak. Under Rishi Sunak, the Conservatives have become synonymous with incompetence and division.

“The central ground has been abandoned and key pledges in the 2019 manifesto have been abandoned. At the same time, the Labor Party has changed dramatically.”

But these are the words of someone who was a Conservative MP hours ago.

We are told Labor will retain its current candidate for Dover & Deal in the general election and Natalie Elphicke will stand down.

But Keir Starmer will be delighted by pictures of himself welcoming Natalie Elphicke to his side in the House of Commons.

We expect to see the two together soon, shaking hands and exchanging warm words and wide smiles in front of the cameras.

Sitting here in the press gallery, it was a great moment as Keir Starmer gloated about his newest new deputy.

There was astonishment and confusion among many on the Conservative benches.

The news was only announced at midday, and many Tory MPs did not notice that their former colleague was now sitting opposite them – directly behind Sir Keir, and so in the camera shot as he spoke – rather than next to them.

A senior Conservative source was not contacted when the Prime Minister learned he had lost one of his other deputies.

The source said that the news “will come as a surprise to her voters who are on the front line of the illegal immigration issue.”

They added that Natalie Elphicke’s social media channels were a “treasure trove of Labour’s vulnerabilities” – the party for which she is now running as an MP.

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