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
A National Trust property. Photo: Getty
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The National Trust is right to bring gay history out of the closet

If you want to explore the history of Britain, you can't ignore its LGBT citizens.

Imagine seeing a monument to executed gay men and thinking literally anything other than, “how sad and poignant”. In September, the National Trust unveiled exactly such a memorial at one of their properties in Dorset. Kingston Lacy was once owned by William John Bankes, a man whose sexuality, in nineteenth century Britain, was a capital offence. The NT’s moving tribute to Lacy and so many others persecuted for being queer was deemed a “PC stunt” by the Daily Mail. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen somehow managed to find the monument “totally inappropriate”, adding that he looks to the Church for moral guidance – not the National Trust.

 But let me backtrack. I’m in the darkened vault of the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels are kept. The tour guide has just made a joke about vibrators.

The last time I was here, I was about nine and I was on a day out with my grandma. She made no mention whatsoever of sex toys. I wonder, actually, if this is the closest to this ceremonial bling a joke about vibrators has ever been made. I also wonder if there’s ever been a tour of the Tower of London where the guide – as my one did about fifteen minutes ago – has quite overtly slammed British imperialism. One thing I know for certain though: this is the first ever official LGBTQ tour of the Tower, organised by none other than Historic Royal Palaces – the charity that manages several of the UK’s grandest former homes.

 Earlier, at Traitors’ Gate, me and a tour group of about twenty people were told about Irish republican Roger Casement, who was executed, here, in 1916. Casement was dedicated to speaking out against the atrocities of imperialism, and was rumoured to be gay. But it wasn’t his alleged homosexuality that landed him in this thousand-year-old fortress-turned-prison, rather his involvement in the Easter Rising. King James I though – I later learn – was almost definitely gay or bi, having a number of “favourite” male courtiers. “Favourite” seeming to be a particularly coy seventeenth century euphemism for “gay lover”.

 The tour lasts about an hour and, although at times it seems to be slightly scraping the barrel for queer content, the pure effort of it is nothing short of heroic. The Crown Jewels section focused in on Queen Victoria, and all the anti-gay legislation introduced during her infamously prudish reign. On this tour, her freakishly tiny crown becomes a symbol of oppression rather than a cutesy royal knick-knack. Which, I can only imagine, would have the “gay agenda”-fearing monarchy groupies of middle England in a Faragean frenzy.

 This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised (male) gay sex in England and Wales. And with the sheer number of events, like the queer Tower tour, at palaces and historic institutions – from Hampton Court to the British Library – you’d think it was the Queen’s platinum jubilee.

Now for some word association.

 “National Trust”.

 Pensioners? Fruitcake? Dust? Anarchic genderqueer hook-up joint?

 Not so much that last one? Well then, it may come as a surprise that it was the fusty old National Trust, working alongside the National Archives, that recreated a historically accurate covert 1930s London gay bar. For a couple of nights in March this year, Soho’s Freud Café was transformed into “London’s most bohemian rendezvous”, the Caravan club. In a spectacularly and appropriately theatrical evening of incense, cocktails and vintage drag queens, the NT totally nailed the “illegal den of queer iniquity” thing. This was preceded by a historic LGBTQ tour of Soho, which, like the Tower tour, didn’t gloss over the brutality of the British establishment. The Soho tour was rightfully heavy on harrowing stories about police raids on queer venues. In fact, it was through police reports collected by the National Archives that the NT was able to recreate The Caravan (which was shut down by the police in 1934).

Further north in London, another LGBTQ event hosted by the National Trust was “Sutton House Queered”. If the idea of a Tudor manor house in Hackney isn’t surreal enough, in February the grade II listed former home to aristocracy was the setting of a queer art exhibition. Think – richly wood panelled great room containing a painting of Henry VIII in full bondage gear. This was also the debut of the first gender-neutral public toilet in an NT property.

And, in a display of borderline hilarious inevitability, the Daily Mail … raised objections. “Preserve us from a National Trust that’s so achingly right-on”, quacked a Mail headline in December last year, after the NT announced its plans for a series of “Prejudice and Pride” events marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act. This July, the NT came under attack from the Mail, yet again, for outing late aristocrat, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer. Ketton-Cremer left his Norfolk home to the Trust in 1969, and was supposedly outed as gay in a recent film for the “Prejudice and Pride” series. Whether or not the NT’s decision to discuss Ketton-Cremer’s sexuality was ethical, it’s a refreshing sort of controversy: the kind where an old British institution is actually quite blasé about gay sex, and the Mail goes nuts.

 Throughout this year, my inbox has been almost quite alarmingly full of press releases for queer-related events and promotions. From rainbow hummus (yes.) at the Real Greek restaurant, to “Pride at the Palace” at Hampton Court, more than ever, everyone seems to want a slice of the gay action. The Tate Britain’s “Queer British Art” exhibition, which opened in April, showcases a century (1867—1967) of sexually subversive works by LGBTQ artists. Although overwhelmingly male and posh, it’s hard to play down the importance of such a simultaneously harrowing and celebratory retrospective. In one room, A large and imposing portrait of Oscar Wilde stands right next to the actual door to his prison cell in Reading Gaol, where he was imprisoned for the absolute non-crime of “gross indecency”. Even if Britain’s cultural institutions are just playing up to a trend, a very big part of me is into it.

 In July, I went to a panel discussion organised by Opening Doors London, a charity that provides support for older LGBTQ people. A group of queer people who were adults when the Sexual Offences Act was passed spoke about what this anniversary means to them. When I asked panellist Jane Traies, the author of The Lives of Older Lesbians: Sexuality, Identity & the Life Course, what she thought about the likes of the National Trust taking on queer history, she was understandably wary of the possible faddy-ness of it all.

“It’s good, though, that history itself should come out of the closet,” she said.

                                                                                       

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.