Keir Starmer accused of paying ‘lip service’ to violence against women and girls after Elphicke defection

The Gemini Project said Sir Keir Starmer had put ‘two fingers up’ at victims of violence against women and girls

Archie Mitchell
Thursday 09 May 2024 21:10 BST
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Keir Starmer refuses to comment on Natalie Elphicke's remarks about husband's victims

Sir Keir Starmer has been accused of paying “lip service” to victims of violence against women and girls after welcoming Natalie Elphicke into the Labour Party.

The Labour leader unveiled the Dover MP at PMQs after her shock defection on Wednesday, sparking a furious reaction among his MPs and charities in the sector.

As well as a backlash over Ms Elphicke’s right wing views, the defection raised questions about Sir Keir’s commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, which he has made a central part of his pitch as Labour leader.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

After her ex-husband Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two women, the new Labour MP for Dover said he had been punished for being “attractive” and being “attracted to women”.

She told The Sun his good looks meant he was “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations” and claimed one of Mr Elphicke’s victims was “obsessed” with him.

Now, Sir Keir’s decision to bring her into the Labour fold has shocked MPs and staff and undermined trust in the party’s promise to tackle violence against women and girls.

The Gemini Project, a charity campaigning to end sexual violence, told The Independent its reaction was “disbelief and hurt”.

Policy director Verity Nevitt said: “In politics, too often the cause of ending violence against women and girls is only paid lip service at times where it is convenient to do so.

“The message her defection sends to survivors is nothing short of two fingers up to us, our work and our values.

“It feels as if this miscalculated risk to gain a jab at Rishi and the Tories saw and accepted that those affected by and working to end violence against women and girls would be collateral damage.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke in his parliamentary office (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with former Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke in his parliamentary office (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Nevitt added: “There will now need to be huge efforts to restore faith in the Labour Party’s commitment to supporting survivors and ending violence against women and girls.

“At present, we feel that aside from a handful of individual MPs that actually, true support for violence against women and girls does not exist.”

And she said the defection of Ms Elphicke signalled that survivors of sexual violence were worth less to the Labour Party and Sir Keir than “a single MP with a horrific track record”.

Love Island star Sharon Gaffka said the comments were ‘deeply troubling’
Love Island star Sharon Gaffka said the comments were ‘deeply troubling’ (ITV)

Meanwhile Love Island star Sharon Gaffka, who has campaigned for women’s safety since appearing on the show, told The Independent she was “deeply troubled” by Ms Elphicke’s past comments.

Pointing to the ex-Tory MP’s apology on Thursday, she added: “While Elphicke's recent acknowledgment of the challenges she faced in realising the nature of her former spouse's actions may suggest a shift in perspective, it is crucial to recognise the impact of her previous comments.

“The Labour Party has said that is it committed to prioritising the eradication of gender based violence, and that must remain the priority, any deviation from this undermines the progress we've made and the safety of all women and girls in our society.”

In a statement, Ms Elphicke said she always knew her decision to cross the floor would “put a spotlight on the prosecution of my ex-husband and I want to address some of the commentary around this head on”.

She described the period between 2017 and 2020 as “an incredibly stressful and difficult one for me as I learned more about the person I thought I knew.”

She added: “I know it was far harder for the women who had to relive their experiences and give evidence against him.

"I have previously, and do, condemn his behaviour towards other women and towards me. It was right that he was prosecuted and I'm sorry for the comments that I made about his victims.”

A member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) said the defection was “a colossal error of judgement from Starmer”.

Jess Barnard said: “His welcoming of Natalie Elphicke undermines the fight against sexual harassment and is totally inconsistent with Labour values.

“I call on him to suspend the whip from Elphicke and apologise for the hurt caused.”

Labour Party chairman Anneliese Dodds said Ms Elphicke has already been made accountable for past comments defending her ex-husband after he was convicted for sexual assault. She appeared to be referring to Ms Elphicke’s suspension from parliament, while Ms Elphicke has not been sanctioned or apologised for the comments she made about the case.

Anneliese Dodds said Natalie Elphicke has accounted for past comments
Anneliese Dodds said Natalie Elphicke has accounted for past comments (PA Archive)

Ms Elphicke’s defection also sparked fury because of her long-standing support for the government’s Rwanda deportation policy and controversial past statements.

She repeatedly voted for Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to the east African nation.

And, after England football star Marcus Rashford missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final, Ms Elphicke said he should have “spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics”. It came as Mr Rashford was campaigning for children to receive free school meals.

Ms Elphicke has also repeatedly berated Labour and Sir Keir, describing him until recently as “Sir Softie” and suggesting he wants open borders and has no plan to tackle small boat crossings.

The Gemini Trust’s condemnation of Sir Keir came as it emerged Ms Elphicke sent out a leaflet attacking the Labour Party just a day before defecting to become a Labour MP.

In a message paid for by the Conservative Party, Ms Elphicke criticised Labour’s stance on the economy, taxes, immigration, net zero and apprenticeships.

The leaflet, seen by The Times, said Labour supports uncontrolled immigration while the Conservatives were taking action to stop the boats.

But, in a statement issued as she defected, Ms Elphicke said: “From small boats to biosecurity, Rishi Sunak’s government is failing to keep our borders safe and secure.

“Lives are being lost in the English Channel while small boat arrivals are once again at record levels. It’s clear they have failed to keep our borders secure and cannot be trusted.”

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