Earlier this year Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, told BBC 1’s Daily Politics show that David Cameron and George Osborne were “…two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk – who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.” (James Orr, 2012) It was a stunning, biting barb that left Cameron and Osborne flummoxed, with the former desperately stating that he paid just under 50p for a pint of milk.Just a few weeks earlier Dorries had gunned down Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in a Financial Times interview with a similar cutting comment: “The problem is that policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either.” (George Parker, Elizabeth Rigby & Kiran Stacey, 2012)
In those remarks, Dorries summed up so perfectly the frustration and anger of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who have been disenfranchised by the Coalition Government’s austerity programme. For everyone who’s lost their job and/or their house (and possibly their relationship and possibly their children and their self-respect) as a result (direct or indirect) of government policy, for a few weeks at least Dorries was their champion. She expertly exposed the hypocrisy in Cameron’s oft-repeated mantra that “We’re all in this together”. By the ‘we’ in “we’re all in this together”, Cameron seems to mean everyone who’s not part of the 1% wealth-owning elite – who have become so prominently the targets of the ‘Occupy’ movement – and their sycophantic puppets like Cameron and Osborne. (Though there is an argument for it as a strategy, Osborne has actually made the British elite wealthier this Autumn by cutting the very top of rate of tax, for those earning more than £150,000 per annum, from 50p to 45p.)To bring out the bitter irony in this, Osborne admitted formally in his Autumn Statement on Wednesday 5 December that the Government will not make its deficit reduction target and that the so-called ‘Age of Austerity’ will have to be extended from 2015 to 2018. In other words, how ever much Cameron and Osborne want to blame the 2008 global crash and the ensuing worldwide recession, the inescapable fact is that their policies are not successful in dealing with the problems. (Governments are supposed to develop policies that deal successfully with what ever problems their country faces. When they fail to deal with the problems, they effectively declare themselves to be incompetent.) So, while they make the poor poorer and the rich richer, the Government has to admit its policies aren’t working.
For their part in blithely acquiescing to both the incompetence and the greed of the Tories, the Lib Dems can expect to lose so many deposits in 2015 that they will be in danger of being wiped out of Parliament. (On the assumption that they somehow keep their seats, it will be interesting to see whether Clegg and Danny Alexander, Osborne’s number 2, abandon the what’s left of the parliamentary Lib Dems and formally join the Tories….)
Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, influential elements of the Conservative Party have been driven by the ORANGE vMEME. (While there were totally-unforgiveable costs to Thatcherite policies in terms of damage done to the social fabric of our communities, especially in Wales, the Midlands and North of England, and the Scottish Lowlands – see The Thatcherite Project is ended. Whither Britain? – they nonetheless restored Britain as an economic giant. Ironically it was Labour prime minister Tony Blair who, by essentially continuing Thatcher’s policies, took Britain to the position of second richest country in the world in terms of gross national product. (World Bank, 2007) Tragically, there seems little ORANGE in the current top Tory mindset. Rather, it seems to be driven by the RED/BLUE vMEME harmonic of zealotry. BLUE in that there is only one way – austerity – and it must be taken, no matter the cost to human beings. RED in that it is short-sighted and concerned only with increasing personal wealth and power and the wealth and power of its in-group, the 1%.
So, when Cameron and Osborne and their hapless lapdogs Clegg and Alexander are revealed so clearly in their incompetence and greed, where’s Nadine Dorries to put the knife in, puncture some over-inflated selfplexes and talk some much-needed home truths?
I’m a celebrity…
Unfortunately, when Dorries should have been skewering Cameron and Osborne (in the Autumn Statement) for the increased tax load they expect the middle class ‘strivers’ to shoulder, her own RED vMEME had led her away from Westminster in an all-too short-sighted pursuit of wealth and power as a contestant in I’m a Celebrity…get me out of here!
With her (partly-plastic) sculptured good looks and a genuine talent for quick-fire put-downs, it must have seemed to both the show’s producers and Dorries herself that she was a natural for I’m a Celebrity. So the antagonism her participation has produced in the Conservative Party ranks, in the media and amongst her constituents appears to have been largely unanticipated. According to a poll conducted by ex-Tory Party Deputy Chair Lord Ashcroft amongst 1500 of the Mid-Bedfordshire constituents, 58% disapproved of her being on I’m a Celebrity, with 42% disapproving strongly. As for the programme’s viewers, they voted her to undergo the most gruesome tasks (such as eating an ostrich anus) and voted her off at the first opportunity.
As partial justification for appearing on the show, Dorries claimed that, in conversation with other participants, she would be able to get across to 16 million viewers her controversial views proposing lowering the time limit for abortion and school sex education lessons explicitly teaching teenage girls to abstain. This proved to be hopelessly naïve. Those conversations were simply never included in the broadcasts. The RED vMEME, of course, has no sense of future or of consequences. So it seems Dorries had little notion that her foray into the jungle would enable David Cameron’s RED to have its revenge. Inevitably she was suspended from the party by Conservative Party Chief Whip Sir George Young as soon as it was learned she was heading for Australia. On 27 November, the day after returning from Australia, Dorries met with Young to discuss the situation. A spokesman for Young was quoted after the meeting as saying: “The whip has not been restored and nor will it be until she proves she can rebuild bridges with her constituents, her association and her parliamentary colleagues.” Dorries, it was said, had a fortnight to mend fences with her constituency association. On 10 December BBC News reported that she had indeed secured the unanimous backing of local members. As legally Dorries is the sitting MP until the next election, whether as a Tory or not, the local party felt it was better the constituency had a Conservative MP representing it. However, Paul Duckett, Chair of the Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association, added the rider that there was no guarantee Dorries would be selected to stand in 2015. The same BBC News story also carried Cameron’s latest comments: “I believe MPs should either be in their constituencies fighting for their constituents or at Westminster standing up for their area. A lot of MPs were angry that she just waltzed off to the jungle….She has got to earn her way back into the affections of her colleagues.” On 24 November, just before setting back from Australia, Dorries repeated her earlier support for Boris Johnson replacing Cameron, telling The Sun’s Laura Armstrong: “I long for the day Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. Boris is my King of the Jungle.” She also attacked the degree of control exercised by the whips: “There is a real control mechanism under Cameron in Number Ten now. MPs and how they vote are tampered with.” Since the meeting with Young, Dorries has refrained from such inflammatory comments…but no wonder Cameron says she has to win his affections!Whether Conservative Central Office would actually continue to deny Dorries the whip in face of the constituency association’s request for it to be reinstated is a moot point but Central Office does have a history of imposing its will on local party organisations. Such a course could have some justification in a report in The Times on 10 December that a petition calling for a by-election in Mid-Bedfordshire had already collected 700 signatures. (Michael Savage, 2012)
If Dorries continues to be denied the whip, there is speculation she could defect to UKIP, giving them a high profile, glamorous MP with a penchant for publicity for a honeymoon couple of years – after which she would almost certainly lose Mid-Bedfordshire and could be sidelined from frontline politics before she turned on their leadership. If she is reinstated to the Tory whip, what price would Cameron extract and what measures could the whips take to control her?
Dorries’ sheer impulsiveness is reflected in her attacking Labour MP Stephen McCabe on Twitter for reporting her to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, pointing out his own attendance rate was just 63%. McCabe responded by pointing out that he had taken time off to recover from having open heart surgery.
People’s champion…or drama queen?
Nadine Dorries would make a great people’s champion, being very much a working class Tory – unlike the public school boys currently running the Government. She was raised on a council estate on Merseyside, with her parents among the first tenants who bought their council house under Thatcher’s 1980 ‘Right to Buy’ scheme. She worked as a nurse in the days when nurses were not considered the elite professionals they are now but changed dirty sheets and cleaned up vomit amongst their more ‘medical’ duties.
So Dorries understands the ordinary person in a way Cameron, Clegg and Osborne, with their moneyed upbringings, almost certainly don’t.
However, she is also a very astute woman who ran her own childcare business for 11 years and then sold it to BUPA, with part of the deal being that she became one of that company’s directors. It’s unlikely anyone could do that without a well-developed ORANGE vMEME governing their thinking.
As a self-made woman with working class roots, Dorries has the potential to become a centre of gravity for those on the Conservative benches who are unhappy with the make-the-rich-richer-and-the-rest-poorer policies pursued by Cameron and Osborne. An internal opposition that could exert pressure to ameliorate some of the Government’s more extreme policies.
Unfortunately, Dorries often seems to put her immediate self-interest before duty and then justifies her choices in a manner that seems almost deluded. As with the delusion that the producers of I’m a Celebrity were going to air hours of technical debate about whether the time limit for abortions should come down from 24 weeks to 20.
Dorries also has a history of altering her history to make it seem more dramatic and glamorous. For example, she reduced her age by 10 years when contesting (unsuccessfully) Greater Manchester’s Hazel Grove constituency in 2001. Her 2009 autobiographical account of her 2005 selection in Mid-Bedfordshire reads: “That pride, that sense of achievement, the knowledge that I was selected on the basis of my performance and merit above all other candidates on that day is what enables me to hold my head up high …” However, The Times account paints the selection process as much less of an achievement: “Mrs Dorries…easily beat her 11 rivals and won the plum safe seat on the first ballot at the selection this weekend…. Senior party figures had made clear to local dignitaries that they would like the seat to go to a woman and presented the constituency with a shortlist of seven women and five men to underline the point.” (Rosemary Bennett & Helen Rumbelow, 2005)
Even the degree to which Dorries presents herself as a Christian varies significantly. She told the Salvation Army’s The War Cry: “I am not an MP for any reason other than because God wants me to be. There is nothing I did that got me here; it is what God did. There is nothing amazing or special about me, I am just a conduit for God to use.” (Nigel Bovey, 2007) Yet a few years later, when asked if it was her Christian faith driving her campaign to lower the abortion time limit, she responded: “Not at all. Not even a shred.” When asked about her faith, she said: “I believe in other people’s Gods as well.” (Mehdi Hasan, 2012) To be fair to Dorries, people do change their minds and just a few days before that interview, she told Charles Maggs that she was struggling to keep to her Christian faith in the culture of Westminster.
Nonetheless, such inconsistencies indicate a lack of strong BLUE in her selfplex - and that may help explain why she apparently failed to anticipate such a strong antipathy to her participation in I’m a Celebrity.
There’s one sense in which Dorries clearly has the upper hand. She’s the sitting MP for Mid-Bedfordshire - and that simply cannot be taken away from her until 2015. How she plays that hand could influence politics in the UK for years to come. She could choose to become a key figure in a constructive opposition within the Conservative Party or she could defect to UKIP and play a prominent, if possibly short-lived, role in their growth strategy. Dorries’ ORANGE can certainly weigh up the strategic options but she will need to develop her BLUE much more to give her the discipline to tow the line when necessary and restrain her impulsiveness. (She’s so impulsive that, if she were a male, she would easily fit many of the criteria for the temperamental dimension of Psychoticism. Unfortunately neither Dorries nor anyone who knows her well is on record as commenting on her sex drive!)
Or she could simply exploit her celebrity. But what a waste of a potential people’s champion that would be!