A month ago today, the Conservative whip was withdrawn from Charlie Elphicke, and he was told that “serious allegations” about him had been referred to the police. His friends say that he has not been told what these allegations are. There is no news of any police action against him.
In an account written after his suspension, the Dover MP’s wife, Natalie, claimed that the media was tipped off before Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, phoned him to tell him of his suspension, and that the first news Elphicke had of it was an enquiry from a journalist. He now lives a limbo existence as an independent MP. His friends report that he does not know when the matter will be resolved, and that he still does not know what it is that he is accused of: his local Association has come out in his support.
There might just be circumstances in which it is right for the whips to refer an MP to the police without telling him. It follows that it might be also be right for the whip to be withdrawn after he was charged: the withdrawal of the whip is very much an art form, rather than a science: a matter of sense rather than one of law. But one should ponder the likelihood of either applying in this case. In any event, it is very difficult to see how it can be right for an MP to live a life of Parliamentary suspended animation a month after the whip was withheld.
Perhaps the police will act, charges will indeed be brought, and all will become clearer. None the less, it is right, amidst the headline-grabbing drama of the Damian Green allegations and the infinitely more momentous Brexit negotiations, to pause for a moment this morning, and think about the Elphicke case. You can bet that plenty of Conservative MPs have already done so. ConservativeHome has not found a single one who believes that its handling has been satisfactory.
The moral that many will quietly draw is that you cannot rely on the Conservative Party to treat you fairly if you run into trouble – even if that trouble is undeserved. That it will put its self-preservation before plain dealing, its obligations to you as a member, and natural justice. They look on as Elphicke swings between safety and the abyss, and cling to their own ropes just a little bit harder.