Dover’s dodgy defector

Keir Starmer’s acceptance of hard-right Natalie Elphicke into the Labour party has shocked and dismayed many. East Kent resident Danny Bee explains why he’s not happy at having her as his Labour MP.

Dover graffiti – picture by Danny Bee

For its relatively small size (about 40,000 people), the town of Dover is internationally known. It’s Britain’s busiest ferry port handling over £144bn worth of trade a year, and 33 percent of trade with the EU. It also has a large cruise terminal, a yacht marina and general cargo facilities. Apart from this plugged-in connection to world trade, the town itself is a microcosm of much of Britain.

The high street is run down and full of empty shops, but there’s a new shopping centre round the corner with Marks & Spencer, Next, Nandos and a multiplex cinema. There is a chronic shortage of housing and some of the rental sector is expensive and poor quality. And then there are streets full of grand terraces and some lovely arts and crafts style individual houses.

There is a local economy of maintenance work, retail, warehousing, the public sector, port jobs, a factory that makes components for the military, and low paid factory jobs on the outskirts of the town (one makes sandwiches for M&S). The adverts in the local job agencies make grim reading in terms of the low level of the hourly pay. There are people living in the town from all over Europe, some working in the care sector for minimum wages and others working in the agricultural sector in harsh conditions.

There are people ground down by the oppressive business of capitalism and there are people who keep the place going with hours of unpaid and voluntary work in art projects, food banks, providing services for young people and much else. It’s the sort of place – like many other parts of Britain – that could do with some tender loving care, politicians who understand the problems and want to solve them, and a bit more proper democracy so that local people get a real say in what goes on. Instead, we have Natalie Elphicke.

It is difficult to know where to start. She is a deeply unpopular local MP and seen by many as the usual toxic mix of self-serving, dog whistling, culture warrior Tory. She is silent for long periods of time and is easily forgotten. And then she will pop up and start ranting about refugees crossing the channel. And then she disappears once more. Now she is in the national news but for all the wrong reasons. It is possible – and many locals hope – she will disappear again.  Speculation is that she is out to save her skin. This would be in keeping with her politics and personality. But where does this leave Dover (and Deal, the former mining and fishing town. which she also allegedly represents)?

To be fair, Dover has recently received £20 million as part of the levelling up fund. To be critical, it is nothing like enough, and does very little to address the raft of problems in the town. None of the stuff that matters on a day to day basis – caps on energy prices, rent controls, protection from evictions, the availability of NHS dentists, access to mental health support, the nationalisation of the local train services, reducing air pollution, is being addressed. And Kier Starmer has made it clear that these will not be addressed. So Elphicke’s march across the floor of the House of Commons from one ‘side’ to the other ‘side’ isn’t that much of a distance at all.

Seeing her wrapped in the union flag with Labour branding is one of the most surreal things many of us have seen for some time. And yet in a way it encapsulates what the political layer in Britain has become. A peculiar version of Tik-Tok where angry politicians shout at each other in public but actually agree on most things. A consensus among the majority of elected politicians that privatisation is here to stay, that the NHS will be further sold, that water companies will be allowed to continue to pay out super profits while incurring super debts and pollute the rivers and seas. Where hundreds of schools face the dangers of poor quality concrete, but private mega-office blocks will be granted tax concessions and state support. Where corruption at the top goes unpunished but disabled people are frightened and bullied into giving up what little benefits they receive.

Elphicke has revealed what she is; but we already knew. It is Starmer who has revealed more. As we approach the inevitable election there will be more false dramas created by Tory self-seekers, and Starmer will bend over even further to kiss his own backside. Times are going to be tough, comrades. But the political edifice of the ruling class in Britain is wobbling. And listening to local people, full of anger at Elphicke, furious at the inaction over Gaza, fed up to the back teeth of the endless lying and chicanery of the Tories, the crumbling state of so much, the sense that nothing ever gets done or changes for the better, and the pathetic ineptitude of Labour, more space is opening up for socialist ideas and organisation to thrive. For the revolutionary left at this time, the watchwords may be those of Danton: ‘Audacity, more audacity, always audacity’.



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