Nadine Dorries's readmission shows Cameron is running scared of UKIP

The timing of the move is a political gift to Ed Miliband.

Six months after the Conservative whip was suspended from Nadine Dorries following her stint on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, it has finally been reinstated. It's undoubtedly the right decision, but the timing of the move is awkward for Cameron. Only after rumours that the MP for Bedfordshire was considering defecting to UKIP (now confirmed by Dorries) was she brought back into the Conservative fold. As I reported last week, the Tory whips have been pushing for her readmission for months but George Osborne, who was still furious about Dorries's "arrogant posh boys" barb, was unwilling to back down. Now, with Nigel Farage threatening to secure her services, he has curiously had a change of heart. As the Spectator's Isabel Hardman (who broke the story) points out, it says little about the leadership's principles that the decision was entirely motivated by political considerations, rather than out of concern for Dorries. 

The timing of the move is also a gift to Ed Miliband, who mocked the Tories for running scared of UKIP in his response to the Queen's Speech. After Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg called for a pact or coalition with Farage's party, Miliband quipped: "They used to call them clowns. Now they want to join the circus." He went on: "The whole point of the Prime Minister’s Europe speech in January was to ‘head off UKIP’. Tory MPs were crowing that the UKIP fox had been shot. It was job done. Mission accomplished. Only it wasn’t. The lesson for the Prime Minister is you can’t out-Farage Farage."

The Dorries move allows Miliband to claim that, in addition to determining the Conservative Party's EU policy, the UKIP leader now also dictates who can and can't be a Tory MP. Farage may not yet be in office, but he is most certainly in power. 

Nadine Dorries was suspended from the Conservative Party after appearing on ITV's I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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