If you're desperate to torture Nadine Dorries on TV, what does that say about you?

Why we should feel sorry for the Conservative MP.

Feeling sorry for Nadine Dorries is not going to be popular view, but I suspect the next week is going to showcase some not very attractive facets of the mob mentality that sometimes arises around these reality TV shows. Almost 10 years ago, Channel 4 had to get in extra security when Adele left Big Brother. Why? Because people thought that she had been a bit two-faced and there was such over-the-top hatred towards her, fuelled by the tabloid press.Then the same papers fuelled hatred towards Jade Goody by depicting her as a pig, starting off the rollercoaster that saw them make her, break her and finally raise her to virtual sainthood before her premature death from cancer in 2009.

I do watch I'm a Celebrity. It can be quite compelling. It actually changed my opinion of Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick. His series was a classic, though, with George Takei, Martina Navratilova and Esther Rantzen providing much amusement and quality banter. Brian was not in my good books because he'd criticised his 2008 London mayoral campaign team, led by my friend Andrew Reeves, in the press. He later learned his lesson, recognised that he had been a bit of a diva and went on to fight a very good campaign in the same role this year. However, in 2008, I have to admit, not to my credit, that a huge motivation for tuning in was to see him get covered in beasties and eat unmentionables.

Now, there comes a point, though, if a person is showing real distress, that enjoying their discomfort goes from being not very nice to inappropriate or even unacceptable. In the first week, viewers can choose who does the bush tucker trials, where a celebrity goes through an extremely unpleasant experience, usually involving bugs and beasties, to earn meals for everyone else. The viewers inevitably choose the people who are most scared. Last year it was Sinitta, or occasionally Antony Cotton. It's been Jordan and Gillian McKeith in the past. If someone has had to have oxygen because they are so scared, then it would never occur to me to pick up the phone  to put them through it again. There comes a time when, however much they're being paid, however self-inflicted it all is, putting them through actual suffering is not nice.

I think we can guess who'll be voted to do all the trials this week. Nadine Dorries, the controversial Tory MP who's abandoned her constituents so she can lecture us all about abortion from around the camp fire, has, in my view, no redeeming features. The one bad consequence of the Liberal Democrats voting against the boundary changes is that her constituency will remain in existence. She has therefore had a pretty major reward for her bad behaviour in voting against Lords reform.

In my view, Nadine should not have agreed to take part in this programme. For an MP to be out of the country and uncontactable for three weeks purely to take part in a TV show is not on. There are obviously times when MPs have to take  extended spells out of Westminster. They're human beings and subject to the same crises in terms of illness or caring for sick relatives that we all go through and we'd take time off for. People have sympathy with that. They are less likely to understand an indulgent ego trip, done without consulting anyone, which will benefit nobody but Nadine. I'm sure she sees a future for herself as a Christine Hamilton type, rehabilitated by reality TV almost to national treasure status. Well, that worked so well for Lembit when he did it after losing his seat in 2010. And as Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael pointed out in his inimitable style this week:
 

If Nadine struggles in the jungle, I won't be wasting too much of my energy feeling sorry for her, but I don't think it is to anyone's credit if they take pleasure in actual suffering of another human being, no matter how self indulgent, self inflicted or insignificant in the scheme of things it is.

I am maybe being a bit soft here - but then I can't imagine that, had I lived in an earlier time, that I'd have had much truck with throwing things at people who'd been put in the stocks. These reality shows can sometimes be the modern day equivalent.

Caron Lindsay is a Lib Dem activist and blogger. This post originally appeared on her blog here. You can find her on Twitter as @caronmlindsay

Nadine Dorries in a publicity shot for "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here". Photograph: ITV
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At Labour conference, activists and politicians can't avoid each other – but try their best to "unsee"

My week, from havoc in the Labour family to a sublime act of real-life trolling – via a shopping centre.

I like to take a favourite novel with me to party conference for when it all gets too much, and this year I took China Miéville’s The City & the City. It takes place in the fictional cities of Besžel and Ul Qoma, two metropolises that exist in the same geographic space but must dutifully “unsee” one another or risk the sanction of Breach, the secret police force. It turned out to be a better allegory for what was going on outside my hotel than I had expected.

Labour, as I don’t need to tell you, is badly split on almost everything. Now that the acrid leadership race has reached its inevitable conclusion, activists and politicians on both sides are operating as if they had a standing duty to “unsee” each other. The atmosphere feels a bit like a family dinner after a blazing row: everyone is aware that things have been said that will take years to be forgiven, if they ever will be, so the conversation is largely banal and superficial.

The exception is the conference floor, the only place where Corbynites and Corbynsceptics cannot unsee each other, which was therefore the scene of several acrimonious confrontations after tricky votes. It’s difficult to predict where Labour goes from here. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is largely against a split, but its members surely can’t spend the next four years dutifully pretending not to see one another,or their activists?

 

Chaos and confusion

Would it have been better for Jeremy Corbyn if his defeated challenger, Owen Smith, had done a little bit better against him – not just in the final vote but throughout the contest? All summer, Smith distinguished himself only through his frequent gaffes, to the point where it felt more appropriate to describe him as a participant in the leadership race rather than a combatant.

The difficulty for both Corbyn and his critics is that his opponents in the PLP have no clear leader. As a result, their dissatisfaction is amorphous, rather than being productively channelled into a set of specific demands or criticisms, which Corbyn could then reject or accept. The overwhelming feeling about his leadership among the PLP is that “something must be done”. So whenever an MP embarks on a freelance assault – Margaret Hodge’s no-confidence motion, say, or Clive Betts’s attempt to bring back elections to the shadow cabinet – the majority leaps on the scheme. Corbyn’s critics reason that at least it’s something.

Although fractious Labour MPs might not see it that way, the decision not to restore shadow cabinet elections helps their cause. Taking away the leader’s ability to choose his ministerial team was a recipe for chaos – chaos that would, rightly, have been blamed on them.

 

Custody rights

If the Labour family would be, as I suspect, better off seeking a divorce, there is an irony that one of the things that they all agree on is the fate of the kids. The party is entirely united behind its leader in his opposition to grammar schools – as is almost every serious thinker on education policy, from Policy Exchange on the right through to Melissa Benn on the left.

Still, Labour will encounter a visceral type of resistance to its stance from the alumni of grammars, who, regardless of what the studies show, attribute their success to their attendance at selective schools. I can understand that. Although I went to a comprehensive, the emotional pull of one’s upbringing is hard to escape. I can, for example, read all the studies that show that children in single-parent families do worse – but I find it hard to experience it as anything other than an awful attack on my mother, to whom I owe everything.

Winning the argument over schooling will require a sensitive ear to those for whom the argument against the schools seems like an attack on their parents.

 

Pudding and pie

One of the nice things about being from a single-parent family is that I don’t have to admit to flaws – merely to unresolved kinks that would have been ironed out had my absent father stuck around. One such kink is my capacity for procrastination, which
results in my making decisions too often at the last minute.

This always comes back to bite me at party conference. At dinner events, I frequently put off picking my meal options to the point that I have to eat whatever the kitchen has left. At one meal this year, I was lucky enough to have three courses of pudding, but at another, my hastily cobbled-together starter seemed to consist entirely of pesto, taramasalata and rocket.

 

Too late

The best thing about party conference is sharing a panel with a politician you don’t know very much about who turns out to be highly impressive. It’s particularly cheering now, when my optimism about politics is at a low ebb. I try to meet them properly for coffee afterwards, although because of my capacity for putting things off, that doesn’t always happen.

Last year, I was chairing a particularly testy fringe on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The then shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, was running late and an MP from the 2015 intake had to field all the questions on her own. She did this with immense poise and knowledge, while clearly having a sense of how unhelpful some of the louder, angrier voices were – during one lengthy monologue from the floor, she turned and rolled her eyes at me. Her name was Jo Cox.

I kept meaning to get to know her, but I never got around to ringing her office, and now I never will.

 

Banter and bargains

A colleague alerts me to a sublime act of real-life trolling. When Everton opened a second branch of its team store in Liverpool’s shopping centre, it picked an innocuous name: Everton Two. Innocuous, that is, until you realise that the shopping centre is called Liverpool One. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories