Furious Tory MP attacks her party over 'ageism'

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* David Cameron has championed the need for more female MPs. Now, one of the Conservatives' foremost power "babes" has delivered a bloody nose to the party in the Midlands.

Nadine Dorries, the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, is furious about the attempt in South Staffordshire to deselect Tory grandee Sir Patrick Cormack - the party's longest-serving MP, and a Westminster character tipped to become Speaker.

Dorries is threatening to campaign against any replacement candidate, "regardless of whatever 'you will never be given a job' threats will be thrown at me by the whips".

"This is a disgraceful way to treat someone who's given 37 years to a party and been a good MP," she tells me. "There's this ageism going on - we hear about 'bed blockers'. But we're lucky to have such experienced politicians.

"When you're a new MP you depend on those who've been in Parliament a long time. The likes of Sir Patrick, Nick Winterton and Edward Leigh know parliamentary procedures backwards."

Her disregard for the whips stuns colleagues, not least because she has been talked about as a member of a future Tory cabinet.

"My comments aren't for the whips," she shoots back. "Francis Maude [Conservative chairman] should be sorting out the association."

When I call Cormack, he's chuffed to hear of Dorries' support. "I find it very touching," he says. "I've been inundated with support across the political spectrum for which I am very grateful. I've even had generous offers for a war chest if I do go independent."

* Opera fans may wish to take their sunglasses to the theatre this autumn. Zandra Rhodes has almost finished designing the set and costumes for a new production of Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda, which opens at the Houston Grand Opera in Texas on 13 October, before transferring to the English National Opera in November.

The designer, who made safety pins a fashion accessory and has created some of the most flamboyant outfits in catwalk history, spoke to Pandora about the project with a wicked gleam in her eye.

"It has taken three years from start to finish but I am very nearly there," beamed Rhodes, 66, at The Hospital club in Covent Garden. "I am bringing colour and a lot of textiles to it. I think they want something radically different to anything that's come before. That's why they asked me."

To fuel your imagination, envisage Lewis Carroll on acid, let loose inside the Royal Opera House. Might pink and blue feature?

* I hear that our Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, last night met US senator and wannabe president Hillary Clinton in Washington.

The tête-à-tête was ostensibly part of Hain's four-day trip to the States to talk to politicians about Northern Ireland's "last chance" to return to self-governance. It will also bolster his statesman credentials in the simmering six-way contest to become Gordon Brown's deputy. Hain has called Dubya's Republicans "the most right-wing American administration in living memory".

In two years' time, he and Hillary could meet in very different circumstances. (Rulers of the free world. Or jobless.)

* London's theatre writers are in fear of a turf war - or at least a horse's head atop the duvet. Earlier this week, Pandora reported that the Evening Standard's theatre critic, Nicholas de Jongh, had been heard noisily scoffing a packet of wine gums during a play. Now "De Dongh Corleone" (as his enemies call him) wants to know who grassed him up. Squeaks one scribe (not the source): "There's a hunt to slay the mole! We're all being framed."

* This weekend: Brighton's social gathering of 2007, the 50th birthday party of Simon Fanshawe - broadcaster, self-professed expert on manners and celebrity swearer. This is the shindig that initially sparked Pandora's interest in the great man: I mentioned his £35-a-head "party tax" on friends and he subsequently peppered me with expletives.

Anyway, I hear that Fanny has asked guests to provide their "three favourite tracks to dance to".

Might readers have any apt requests for the birthday boy? Email at the top; bottle of fizz for the best.

* Trade union firebrand Brenda Dean will soon release her autobiography. Dean, now grandly titled Baroness Dean of Thornton-Le-Fylde, was the general secretary of printworkers fraternity Sogat during the Wapping revolution.

Since those days spent stoking the brazier outside Rupert Murdoch's fledgling media empire, Baroness Brenda has developed a taste for conspiracy theories. "I am reasonably certain," she says of the Wapping dispute, "without wishing to sound paranoid, that my home telephone number was tapped." There were "several suspicious incidents" when she heard funny things down the line.

Dean also says that she was approached by the grey suits of MI5: "I was sounded out if I would be willing to assist with activities in the trade union movement. I had a chat but was glad to turn them down."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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