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
Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.