Nadine Dorries is behaving badly. Does it matter to the South-West?

Meme by Sadie Parker

This summer’s figure of fun is Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries. She resigned on June 9, 2023 in solidarity with disgraced former prime minister Boris Johnson, who resigned suddenly and unexpectedly that same day as an MP when he realised he would be unable to avoid a sanction by the House of Commons that would lead to a petition of recall. However, an MP announcing their resignation is one thing. Under a Resolution of the House of March 2, 1624, MPs cannot directly resign their seat. An MP wishing to resign their seat must be appointed to one of two paid offices of the Crown: the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. This second part of the MP resignation process has yet to be completed by Dorries. Nor does she intend to complete it until somebody gives her answers as to why she was left off what has come to be known as Boris Johnson’s Dishonours List.

Like Eliza Doolittle, but lacking the grace and charm of Audrey Hepburn, Dorries yearns to be a fair Milady. She thought she’d grift her way gently through retirement, picking up her £342 daily allowance for showing up to the House of Lords, writing her trash-lit novels, and hosting her show on Talk TV (if indeed that channel still exists at the end of this year). Alas, someone rained on her parade. My money is on her hero Johnson, always the treacherous cad willing to throw absolutely anybody under the proverbial bus if it furthers his aims, especially the women in his life. Dorries is convinced the culprits are current prime minister Rishi Sunak and his sidekick James Forsyth – political secretary, best friend, and best man at Sunak’s wedding to the fabulously wealthy Infosys heiress Akshata Murthy in 2009.

Meme by Sadie Parker

In a way it is a shame to see Dorries’ political career ending in such ignominy. She used to represent the blue-collar Tory. Self-describing as a “council-estate Scouser” and former NHS nurse, Dorries won selection for the leafy safe-seat of Mid-Bedfordshire in 2005. She survived the expenses scandal, despite having been found to have employed both her daughters and paid over £50,000 to the marketing company of a friend who lives a few yards away from her main home in the Cotswolds in direct contravention of the rule that expenses not be used for “self-promotion or PR for individuals or political parties”. Calling them “the posh boys”, she was a thorn in then prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne’s side.

After censure from fellow MPs for taking time out to appear on reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2012, she gave a passionate speech in parliament about an MP’s duties to their constituents. Then she fell in with Boris Johnson, and as a rabid supporter of that man, she seemed to lose her grip on reality, embracing Brexity post-truth politics with gusto. The reward for her devotion was to be promoted beyond her capabilities to a series of ministerial jobs she gaffed her way through, culminating in the Cabinet position of Secretary of Culture. Nadine Dorries has not made a spoken contribution in parliament since July 7, 2022, the day that Boris Johnson announced his resignation as leader of the party, and thus as PM, pending the selection of a new leader. Her formal resignation as Culture Secretary occurred on September 5, knowing the incoming prime minister Liz Truss would not retain her in her cabinet – one of the few good decisions Truss made.

One thing that can be said about Dorries is that she has outlasted the lettuce.  She has now been resigning for over ten weeks, three weeks longer than Liz Truss was prime minister. Even conservative commentators have lost patience with her. Arch Tory Nick Ferrari has launched a “Desperately Seeking Dorries” feature on his LBC show, with journalist Henry Riley on the ground in the towns and villages of Mid-Bedfordshire, interviewing locals, placing ads in the local newspaper, and putting up posters enquiring about the whereabouts of their MP. Richard Madeley has voiced his disapproval of her behaviour on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Fellow Daily Mail columnist and GB News presenter has gleefully speculated that Dorries will resign in the run up to the Conservative Party Conference in the autumn to inflict maximum damage on Sunak.

Increasingly, Dorries’ own colleagues are calling on her to quit, the latest being the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, and the head of the One-Nation Tory caucus, Damien Green. Nokes has also called on Sunak to deprive Dorries of the Tory whip. Their concern is that she is damaging the reputation of parliament and of the Tory party itself.

It’s all very entertaining, but does it matter to us in the South-West? The short answer is yes. Dorries is an absentee MP, and has been for quite some time:

  • Last MP surgery: March 2020
  • Last spoken contribution in parliament: July 7, 2022
  • Last vote in parliament: April 26, 2023 (in favour of the Illegal Migration Bill)
  • Last written question to a minister: December 20, 2017

On a recent visit to the constituency, Sky News reporter Rob Powell went to the address Dorries has listed as her constituency office and discovered it is no longer functional, and has since been remodelled into a dance studio. It appears she no longer maintains a residence there either, preferring to divide her time between her two homes in Worcestershire and the Cotswolds.

Dorries has hit back with a claim that she has a team of four case-workers who are handling queries from constituents. Unless her most recent statement of expenses is not up-to-date, they must be volunteers, as Dorries’ expenses are showing £0 for salary costs, compared to £149,925.50 (which included up to £45,000 for one of her daughters, all three of whom, as well as her sister, Dorries has employed at one time or another) for the 2021-22 period. That Dorries has made no secret of the fact that she is busy writing a book about Boris Johnson’s fall or, as she sees it, the woke plot to depose him, as well as with building the profile of her chat show on Talk TV, further casts doubt upon her performance of constituency duties.

Her constituents tell a different story. They feel utterly abandoned and lacking in parliamentary representation. Resentment is particularly keen in this time of economic hardship because while she is doing no discernible work for them, Dorries is still claiming her £86,584 MP’s salary and expenses. Despite her absenteeism, there is no mechanism for her constituents to get rid of her. Two town councils in the constituency have written to Dorries in the strongest of terms, urging her to properly resign so that they can get on with the business of electing a new MP who will provide them effective representation in parliament. A paragraph in the letter from Flitwick Town Council, dated July 26, 2023, reads:

“Rather than representing constituents, the Council is concerned that your focus appears to have been firmly on your television show, upcoming book and political manoeuvres to embarrass the Government for not appointing you to the House of Lords. Councillors noted that your behaviour widely reported in the press is not in line with the Seven Principles of Public Life laid out by Lord Nolan in 1995.

A later letter from Shefford Town Council, dated August 17, 2023, went further:

“In your role as the acting Member of Parliament of Mid-Bedfordshire, Shefford residents feel that, due to your scant interest in your constituency, your aversion to attending local events or services, and your lack of a maintained constituency office, the local area has been “abandoned” by yourself. Your last spoken contribution in the House of Commons was on the 7th of June 2022, and your last written question was asked on the 20th of December 2017. In addition, your behaviour and actions reported in the press are in direct violation of “The Seven Principles of Public Life” (also known as the “Nolan Principles”, published on 31st May 1995), which apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder and all those who are elected or appointed to public office.”

It takes some brass neck to stay on after receiving letters like that, but Johnsonian Tories like Dorries are nothing if not brazen in their disregard for decency and integrity. A citizens’ petition through has garnered over 80,000 signatures, but if Dorries can ignore the entreaties of town councils in her constituency, she can dismiss a petition too. Another pressure group contacted the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Daniel Greenberg CB, but he said that as there was no official job description for an MP, Dorries could not be said to have done anything wrong, and so he would take no action. In other words, she will not be sanctioned, and in the absence of a suspension of at least 10 sitting days, there can be no recall petition to force her out and allow the constituency to hold a by-election.

As chair of the Standards Committee, Sir Chris Bryant MP ferreted out an ancient parliamentary procedure from the early 1800s that would allow the Commons to exclude Dorries without the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards having to investigate a complaint and recommend a sanction that MPs would then adopt through a vote. However, Sunak, ever the invertebrate, let it be known that he would not support the move.

Meme by Sadie Parker. Memo based on memos JRM posted on civil servants’ desks and doors in his drive to end Covid-related remote working.

Mid-Bedfordshire is stuck, held to ransom by the whims of a rogue MP, something constituents of Somerton and Frome in our neck of the woods can commiserate with, having suffered absentee MP David Warburton for over a year, until the recent election of Sarah Dyke as his replacement put an end to their misery. Assurances by Tory party ministers and MPs that their constituents are their boss and they answer to them ring hollow when the only time they can get rid of a rotten MP is at a general election. So much for taking back control.

The Recall of MPs Act (2015) is clearly not fit for purpose if despite petitions from voters, letters from constituency Councils, urgings from fellow MPs, entreaties from party-supporting pundits, and concern from the wider public a rotten MP cannot be made to depart. Dorries is guilty of a dereliction of duty, but flaws in our democracy let her get away with it. Dorries behaviour makes a mockery of our democracy, not just for her constituents in Mid-Bedfordshire, but for all of us. Something has to be done, and that’s why this whole sorry saga is of interest to us here in the South West.

There is a proposal, backed by a parliamentary petition, to amend the Recall of MPs Act (2015) to give constituents the right to trigger a petition of recall in the case of extreme absence without good reason, so that no other constituency has to suffer a “Dosser Dorries” situation ever again. Of course, the details as to what constitutes being absent without leave, and for what period before a petition could be triggered, would have to be worked out by MPs themselves, but the principle of allowing the electorate greater power is clear. Since the adoption of Trumpist attitudes and practices, our rights have been greatly eroded, so it’s time to put a stake in the ground and stop the rot.

The petition has already attracted over 12,000 signatures and is awaiting a government response. The goal is to get it to 100,000 signatures so that MPs will debate the substantive question. Every reader can contribute to the fight-back against this entitled cohort of Trumpist MPs by signing and sharing the petition. Let Nadine Dorries be the last MP to abuse her constituents’ trust in the way she has done.