Friday, 22 May 2009

Nadine Nadine

The lovely Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Beds, is making her bid for blogosphere superstardom with a series of increasingly hysterical blog posts.

The other day, as she tried to defend herself over parts of her expenses claims, she was regaling readers with details of her marriage break-up, and how it led to her spending only a couple of days a week in her "main home". This was all very sad until you remembered that millions of people all over the country have to cope with divorce and separation without the taxpayer cushioning the blow with a nice fat cheque.

Yesterday she made a stir with her claim that some MPs were on suicide watch. The atmosphere was "unbearable" she wrote; "People are constantly checking to see if others are ok... If someone isn't seen, offices are called and checked."

Well, it's nice to know the honourable members are looking out for each other. Today there's more of the same:


What they are doing by taking out a few MPs a day, from all parties, not allowing them to defend their position, not printing what they say, shouting over them and doing this day after day after day amounts to a form of torture which any group of human beings would find difficult to bear.

As an ex nurse who managed on a measly salary I know how angry people are. The system has been wrong and scandalous. But everyone in the media and political world, other than those MPs like me who came in after 2005 knew about it. Therefore they are all culpable.

The truth may not be palatable and hard to swallow; however, it’s the truth. Treating a group of people in this almost sadistic way is as appalling and has to stop.

The comment about MPs who came in after 2005 doesn't make much sense. In an earlier post she claimed that "MPs prior to 2005 were sat down and told 'this is your pot of money with your name on it, and our job is to make sure you have it as it's really part of your salary'." This, she thinks, means that "it was how it was done" and "MPs knew no different". But many of them clearly did know differently.

As for "everyone knew about it, therefore they are all culpable" - well, it's true enough that Lobby correspondents have long been too close to the political system for the health of the democratic process, and that for years questions were not asked that ought to have been asked. But the only people genuinely culpable are those MPs who claimed unreasonable allowances. And despite the daily drip-drip of revelations, that is only a minority. Not everyone asked for payouts on a phantom mortgage, claimed for his 'n' hers second homes, or used the "rules" to dodge capital gains tax. If it's wrong to tar everyone with the same brush, it's equally wrong to pretend that everyone is equally guilty.

But I'm most taken with Dorries' idea that making MPs face the embarrassing consequences of having their claims made public is a form of torture. If nothing else, it displays a remarkable capacity for self-dramatisation. It's hardly waterboarding, is it? And I'm sure they can cope. No-one goes into politics who doesn't have an abnormally thick skin - that's one reason why some MPs thought that asking taxpayers to fund their duck-islands, moat-dredging costs or "high-quality bookcases" was reasonable in the first place. If they are feeling uncomfortable at the moment it's no bad thing. Although looking at the immoveable smirk on the face of Hazel "totally unacceptable" Blears yesterday hardly didn't make me want to pick up the phone to Amnesty International.

And what does she mean by "a group of people", anyway? All politicians? Or just the ones who have been subject to the most searching questions? It's not entirely clear. Dorries' tendency to emote online doesn't always lend itself to rational analysis. She blogs more like a Californian cheerleader than a member of Parliament.

Hopi Sen thinks that, with her anti-abortionism, "woman of the people" style and effortless ability to embarrass the party she's the British answer to Sarah Palin. Most unfair. Palin was actually quite an effective governor before she was talent-spotted by the McCain campaign and it rather went to her head. She's also much better dressed.

The Telegraph reports today that David Cameron had slapped Nadine down. An unnamed senior source described her comments as "wacky". Now she responds, "Excuse me? Err, no he hasn’t. What a corker."

She reveals that "the Telegraph has rang Central Office and asked them to ask them to remove my blog and not mention the contents of my blog on air, which I think, is very different".

Grammar obviously isn't her strong suit. Still, the poor girl's been under a lot of pressure lately. As to why the Telegraph wants her to remove her blog, presumably it has to do with various allegations about the Barclay twins, the paper's famously reclusive owners. For example, there's her suggestion that the "fiercely Eurosceptic" brothers are ordering the publication of the details as part of a dastardly plot to undermine Parliament, "with the hope that the winners will be UKIP and BNP". "A quick online check of the Barclay brothers and their antics on the Island of Sark is enough to give this part of the rumour credence" she continues. Alternatively, you could go through any number of back-issues of Private Eye. Then there's this fascinating stuff:

Another rumour is that the disc was never acquired and sold by an amateur, but it was in fact a long term undercover operation run by the Telegraph for some considerable time, carefully planned and executed; and that the stories of the naive disc nabber ringing the news desk in an attempt to sell the stolen information are entirely the work of gossip and fiction.

These rumours do have some credibility given that this has all erupted during the European Election Campaign and turn out is expected to be high with protest votes, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph, or should I say the Barclay brothers.

Now, if this is all a power game executed by the BBs, how would they do that?
It is a fact that these men are no fools and are in fact self-made billionaires.
I would imagine and believe that if any of this is true, they know the British psyche well enough to whip up a mood of public anger, hence the long running revelations in the DT.

Dorries seems to be trying to book herself an appointment with Mr Justice Eady.

Where does she get all these conspiracy theories? She explains that as "a cheeky scouser" she has made friends with some of "the faceless and nameless in Parliament". One in particular is "a mine of information";

He reckons this is all a power game. That the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up into a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.

His very poignant words to me were "if any of this conjecture is true, Parliament will become full of racists, fantasists, and has-been celebrities. We will be rendered impotent and may never again regain the authority to withstand the pressure, opinion and whims of the overtly wealthy."

Scary stuff!

Scary indeed. Though not quite as scary as the thought that Nadine Dorries is already a member of Parliament.

16 comments:

JimJam said...

A well researched and entertaining post, but I thought the exact opposite about Dorries. For one thing, the fact that ordinary people have to go through bad things is no reason to support the badgering of MPs. They really aren't paid enough, and I thought that her interview on Five Live today really put across something of the horrid atmosphere that is circulating around Westminster.

It's not a popular opinion thanks to the storm that the media has whipped up but I think you have to respect her for speaking up. I'm sensing that public opinion is beginning to shift back to sanity, and that Dorries may have the last laugh.

The Heresiarch said...

I would agree that MPs weren't paid enough if they really did something useful. It's not entirely their fault that most of their powers have been taken away, but they happily trooped through the lobbies to emasculate themselves, placing vast areas of public life beyond democratic scrutiny, not to mention passing a torrent of hateful legislation in recent years. So they work hard "for their constituents"; really, that's not what they're for, or should be for. Besides, they are not badly paid by international standards. Slightly above average for Western Europe, I think.

I'm entirely with you that the expenses scandal is overblown. But then I doubt it would have arisen if Parliament hadn't become so ineffective. MPs are vulnerable because, unlike more significant branches of the state, they are accountable to the voters, so they bear the brunt of anger which is in truth exasperation with the whole rotten - and remote - system.

But really, Dorries' melodramatic comments do suggest some dislocation from reality. She's not alone in that - witness Anthony Steen's bonkers performance, or Hazel Blears.

septicisle said...

Sadly, it's been clear for some time that Dorries has been dislocated from reality. The expenses affair has just exacerbated it. In a way, it's been some sort of justice that she's so comprehensively embarrassed herself after she became a "martyr" after the Damian McBride affair, despite having smeared and lied about numerous people herself during her short political career.

Anonymous said...

being on 'suicide watch' could become very fashionable. Every time a footballer misses a goal - 'suicide watch' - soon the chavs would demand it when charged with shoplifting.

valdemar squelch said...

Yes, I wondered if you'd heard that wonderful interview with this amazingly cretinous woman. Her whingeing, self-righteous style would be almost acceptable if she were 14, had just painted her bedroom black, and had been told by her parents that they're not going to buy her and her friend Clovinda tickets to a death metal concert. But in a parliamentarian? Ruddy Nora.

Incidentally, Ben Goldacre really took her anti-abortion twaddle to pieces. But you probably know that.

On the subject of MPs not being paid 'the going rate' - am I right in thinking that any British politician who feels he or she'd be better paid in Italy or Germany can friggin' well go there and try to get elected? Surely freedom of movement in the EU includes freedom for vainglorious, careerist little tossers?

Remak said...

I don't understand her blog entry about The Telegraph asking central office to remove the blog, but it looks like Nadine's blog has indeed been deleted.

JimJam said...

@ valdemar squelch:
it's all very well making childish throwaway comments, but for the amount of qualifications, responsibility, and general stress that being an MP involves, they really aren't paid enough. Like it or not, that is the reason for the whole expensesgeddon fiasco... MPs aren't genetically evil, so it must be something in the system.

And I didn't know about her anti-abortion stance, when I heard her on the radio I didn't even know what party she was from. And that's kinda the point: that this issue is divorced from proper politics, and we need it sorting quickly and cleanly, and the Telegraph needs to stop playing for circulation and just tell the Commons authorities what it knows.

valdemar squelch said...

What qualifications does an MP have to have, Jim Jam? I suspect the answer is 'nothing at all'.

asquith said...

Geoffrey Wheatcroft takes a similar view to yours in today's Groan.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/23/geoffrey-wheatcroft-parliament-mps-expenses

JimJam said...

@ valdemar squelch
Obviously an MP doesn't 'need' any formal qualifications. But as the article asquith posted says, we need our MPs to have a broad range of skills across the board, e.g. the law. Compare the pay of an MP to a headteacher, for example: £65,000 to £90,000 plus. I'm (obviously) not having a go at headteachers or anyone else but I think that MP is worth as much if not more than a headteacher.

@asquith:
The obvious point is that the article outlines the problems more than suggests solutions. But then I'm not, so there you go. But we really have to make sure that MPs are paid enough to make it a decent career option for every single member of our society, not just those with daddy's money behind them. THAT's my fear.

Andrew Fish said...

MPs would deserve higher salaries if there were better selection criteria for candidates that weeded out the useless freeloaders. As it stands, however, giving them higher salaries simply means that you attract a lot of people who have no interest in public service but who couldn't hope to earn comparable money elsewhere.

JimJam said...

Alright, so only the already rich are able to become MP? Yeah, fantastic idea that. Shall we give university graduates two votes each as well?

Andrew Fish said...

To say that MPs' salaries are a bar to the poor entering politics is an old, tired and flawed argument. All you need to become an MP is the time to canvas and £500 for the deposit. Get elected and you will then earn three times the national average income. How is that a bar? Is it the same bar as, say, having to stump up years of university fees is a bar to becoming a GP or lawyer? Yes, there are expenses involved if you want to represent some far-flung community, and that's why we do need some kind of expenses system; what we need, however, is a system of pay and expenses which looks more like a fair return for duty performed and less like a goldmine for those who lack the talent for other well-paid professions.

JimJam said...

Right, so if we pay them less, then MPs will be better? Your argument seems to suggest that the only reason anyone would be an MP is that they are untalented. Surely then we should be paying them more to get more talented people who would otherwise have gone into the private sector?

And I'm sure you know that if you want to get elected you need a lot more than £500 and a bit of spare time.

The Heresiarch said...

Jim Jam: "Surely then we should be paying them more to get more talented people who would otherwise have gone into the private sector?"

I've yet to see any evidence that there are large numbers of talented people who want to be MPs, but are only put off by the money. They might be put off by other things too, of course. It seems to me that there are far more candidates (or would-be candidates) than there are seats. You could ask the question the other way around: if MPs were paid less money, how many would be deterred? I suspect there'd still be plenty of candidates if they were paid nothing. Lords aren't paid a salary - though the expenses regime is fairly generous. And there's no shortage of would-be peers. Perhaps such a system could work in the Commons too.

Andrew Fish said...

Have I argued for a pay cut? I'm arguing against a pay rise. If you think career politicians are a problem now, imagine what a problem they will be if the pay is increased. If you ask people who would make good politicians why they don't do it, I suspect very few of them would cite the salary as an obstacle. Long hours, lack of privacy, being forced to spend long periods away from family and in London, these are all likely to be more problematic; and good people will hardly overlook all that in the name of a free duck house. After all, if the money is what matters, why aren't the vast majority of people - paid much less than a backbench MP, remember - queuing up for the job?

On the note about the deposit, there is no other mandatory cost, but it's scarcely relevant to a discussion about salaries. If startup cost was the issue it would make more sense to provide grants to prospective MPs, rather than bolstering the pay of the handful who are successfully elected.