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A Change Would Do You Good

May 10th 2024

An under-priced factor in our political system is the human need for drama. Politicians are people and people get bored. People also panic, and people also do things – sometimes - not out of rational self-interest but in a fit of pique or long-felt resentment.

What drove ERG stalwart and immigration hawk, Nathalie Elphicke into the open arms of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party this week? Well, we should take her at some of her word. Her constituency has suffered tremendously from the influx of small boats and - despite repeated and increasingly shrill promises - Rishi Sunak has failed to stem the tide. Like everyone else who has spent any time thinking it through, Elphicke is sceptical that the ‘Rwanda plan’ will have anything more than a marginal impact. And so she has looked at Labour’s plans, believes they have a chance of succeeding and has defected. As we say, there is probably some element of truth to the story she tells about her decision: but that’s not a big or good enough explanation, is it?


Lots of people - specifically Tory MPs and bored journalists - have spent the week claiming that Elphicke defected on the promise of a peerage. That isn’t true. She might want to be in the Lords but there is near zero chance that Starmer has promised her a seat on the red benches. He hates making such promises and he didn’t need to offer her a peerage - her decision was funny and, on balance, helpful for Labour but it was very far from being in any way essential. And given she is standing down at the Election, there is no electoral advantage to her swapping sides either.

So, why did she do it?

In part because, frankly, why not do it? An average backbench Tory MP has very little power, is shown very little love and is absolutely knackered by years of vicious infighting and political chaos. They loathe their colleagues and are humiliated by their - failing - bosses on a regular basis. It’s horrible. Who can blame some of them for jumping the fence just for a bit of a change, a moment in the spotlight and the chance to finally shaft some longstanding enemies? That’s not enough - of course - to drive an MP from one party to another but it creates the circumstances in which such betrayals are significantly easier to contemplate. And there’s no point hanging around in the hope of promotion for these guys - Rishi Sunak doesn’t have the power or the time for a significant reshuffle even if he wanted to do one.

Enough about why she jumped, why did Keir Starmer catch her? Elphicke is not a natural fit for the Labour Party - for some of the reasons outlined above - and has a very complicated and somewhat problematic backstory. So why would Starmer welcome her into the fold? Especially when doing so has caused an enormous fuss on his own backbenches?

Well, because Nathalie Elphicke is Keir Starmer’s project personified. Not because she agrees with him on everything and always has but because she doesn’t and hasn’t. Labour doesn’t need to win over Labour voters to win the Election, it needs to win over people who have voted Tory more often than not. Labour needs millions of Nathalie Elphickes if they are to form the next government with a healthy majority. How better to show those voters what they can and should do than to show them what Nathalie Elphicke has done?

As we say, politicians are people too. And people get bored. If we are bored (and goodness, we are, aren’t we?) of this government then imagine what it feels like to be part of it. Sometimes we just really need a change, even if we’re not certain that what comes next is going to be significantly better than what came before. We just need it to be different for a bit. That’s not going to be the headline of the Labour manifesto but it is a significant element of the emotional undertow of the coming campaign. Be more Nathalie. Live for the drama. Switch things up a bit. It couldn’t be any worse, could it?