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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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide