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14 June 2023

Some posh boys lied to Nadine Dorries, but not the one she thinks

The Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire seems to consider her lack of a peerage a scandal of national importance.

By Jonn Elledge

On Friday afternoon, as the sun shone on Westminster and everyone settled in for a nice, chilled weekend, Nadine Dorries announced that she was resigning from the House of Commons with “immediate effect”. Five days later, she had yet to actually resign. On Wednesday lunchtime, with quite magnificent shade, the Downing Street press secretary said that the PM believed “the people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve proper representation”, which is the politest euphemism for “well go on then if you’re f***ing going” I’ve ever heard.

I have a slightly guilty soft spot for Dorries – not because she was a surprisingly popular and effective minister, an assertion I’ve seen a number of lobby hacks make since Friday but can’t remember ever hearing before, but simply because of who she is. She writes sentimental novels about nurses with frankly incredible titles like The Angels of Lovely Lane, whose covers remind me of the sort of stuff I’d find at my nan’s, and which I’m guessing, sight unseen, are completely and utterly filthy. She’s also done TV interviews in support of her BFF Boris Johnson at moments when she has given the impression of someone who’s been, we shall say euphemistically, enjoying her evening. She’s unapologetically herself and seems to find politics fun, in a way surprisingly few women (Emily Thornberry is another) are allowed to do. She makes good copy.

But as the same Boris Johnson has definitively proved, good copy is not the same as good government, and there are reasons to question whether good government was ever of interest to the member for Mid Bedfordshire. There was the constituency blog that she cheerfully admitted relied “heavily on poetic licence” and was “70 per cent fiction”. There was the decision to appear on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here when parliament was sitting in 2012, and later to become a host on TalkTV rather than focus on her existing job as an MP. In 2018 leaked WhatsApp chats revealed that she’d admitted in private she didn’t actually understand the Brexit deal she’d been fighting tooth and nail for. You don’t need to oppose her socially conservative views – on reducing abortion time limits, sex education and gay marriage – to question whether she was ever properly representing the people of Mid Bedfordshire at all.

These last few weeks, this casual approach to the job seems finally to have come back to bite her. Her heart was clearly set on a peerage (I told you she enjoyed politics), and Boris Johnson had assured her she would have one. But at no point, so far as one can tell, did she think to check the rules to establish whether he was able to offer any such assurance. He wasn’t – she would have had to indicate she was stepping down as an MP at the next election to be accepted. And so, on Friday, she quit, sort of, and is now going around giving heart-rending interviews about how a working-class girl from Liverpool nearly made it to the House of Lords, only to be blocked by a bunch of privileged posh boys (not Boris Johnson, other ones). She genuinely seems to think this a scandal of national importance.

I’m sure it feels very upsetting: if someone you trusted had promised something and then failed to deliver, you’d be upset, too (though I’m less sure you’d immediately pivot to blaming an elaborate conspiracy with roots in the British class system). But I don’t see why anyone else should care – or why this would be the main cause of anger in Mid Bedfordshire concerning their departing MP.

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