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12 December 2018updated 23 Jul 2021 1:25pm

Suspended Tory MPs are suddenly allowed to vote – while still facing sex offence claims

Reinstating the whip ahead of a vital vote is not a good look.

By Anoosh Chakelian

There are 317 Tory MPs eligible to vote in the party’s confidence motion tonight. This includes two MPs who had been suspended. Both have had the Conservative party whip restored this afternoon.

One is Andrew Griffiths, who had to resign as business minister in July after sexual messages he’d sent to two women from his constituency leaked. 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, suspended by the party 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 in 2015-17. A third woman came forward with a rape allegation. Elphicke has always denied wrongdoing, tweeting this afternoon that he remains “as confident as I always have been of clearing my name”.

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Regarding Griffiths’ reinstatement, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler has accused May of “a betrayal of women”.

While she is wrong to rail against a man as gravely ill as Griffiths was, the case of Elphicke – who has yet to clear his name – exposes not only desperation but a deep cynicism in May’s operation.

It’s thought Griffiths will vote for May, and Elphicke against. But whether or not Elphicke has no confidence in May is beside the point. It is a bad look, and crushing for women in politics, for a party to let an MP back in without being cleared of the claims for which he was suspended.

It’s a move that reminds me of Labour MPs defending John Bercow – the Speaker of the House of Commons accused of bullying – after the former High Court judge Laura Cox’s inquiry into House of Commons workplace culture said bullying could only be fixed by an overhaul of senior personnel (ie Bercow). They wanted to keep him in place to defend parliament’s influence over Brexit.

It may seem that only the handful of people who work as staffers for politicians – or in the Westminster world generally – are affected by this cynicism. But when major national decisions are being taken by people under police investigation, the entire country is being let down.