It was shameful to see the Tories bring back two MPs accused of sexual harassment for May's vote this week

The Conservative Party's excuse for restoring the whip to Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke simply doesn't hold water

Sean O'Grady
Thursday 13 December 2018 13:58
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Theresa May wins vote of no confidence by 200 to 117

One of the many unfortunate footnotes of recent events in Westminster was the decision by the Conservative Party to restore the whip to two MPs who had been suspended for misconduct. This reinstated them as "official" Conservative members of parliament so that they could take part in the no-confidence vote they were about to inflict on Theresa May.

One is Andrew Griffiths, Conservative member for Burton and Uttoxeter​ and a former chief of staff to Theresa May. He resigned as a business minister in July after text messages of a sexual nature he had sent to two women from his constituency became public. Disciplinary action against him was dropped, however, as he had been suffering a mental health crisis and was hospitalised for over a month.

The other is Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal. He was suspended by the Conservatives last November and interviewed under caution by the police earlier this year in connection with “alleged sexual offences” against two female members of staff when alone with them at points between 2015 and 2017. A third woman came forward with a rape allegation.

Elphicke has always denied wrongdoing. He tweeted: "Important for my constituents to know that, 13 months after having it withdrawn, I have been given back the Conservative Whip. I remain as confident as I always have been of clearing my name and will continue to work as hard for Dover & Deal as I always have done.”

There you go, then. The reason given by the Tories for reinstating these men is that the events were so momentous they should be allowed to participate.

Sounds fair, at first glance, except of course that the whole point of a suspension, at work of any kind, in sport and in other fields, is just that – you are not qualified to take part in the usual activities, from the mundane to the important. When football players get suspended pending investigations they’re not then allowed to go back and get on the pitch just because their team is paying Barcelona rather than Burton Albion.

There is no parliamentary or Conservative Party rule that links suspension to events of national significance. It was surely on the discretion of the whips, and presumably with the knowledge of the party hierarchy – party chair, chief whip, leader. In any case, it was a disgrace. Not the greatest disgrace we’ve seen in the palace of Westminster this year, but a pretty grubby little business nonetheless.

As it happens, the rumours are that Elphicke and Griffiths fell either side of the confidence vote, and thus cancelled each other out. So it was a pretty futile move even if the idea was to help out Theresa May. Maybe she expected gratitude.

Without wanting to sound like Denis Skinner, recent months and the vicious, amoral behaviour of the Conservative whips office have merely confirmed one abiding truth about British politics: You can’t trust the Tories. Jo Swinson would agree. When the Lib Dem MP was away on maternity leave, her pair was broken utterly without remorse, trampling on a convention designed to ensure fairness in parliamentary votes.

The same goes for MPs of all parties who were expecting their “meaningful vote “last week and had it summarily pulled. As for the DUP, well they’ve been played for dupes (if you’ll pardon the near-pun) by May and her colleagues – at least they’ve now woken up to their perfidious allies.

The next few months will see many tight votes and parliamentary scrapes. There will be more disgraceful footnotes to history.

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