Nadine Dorries interview: ‘I would say Labour are posher than us these days’

The James Ashton Interview: Nadine Dorries has livened up political life with a stint in the jungle and some outspoken views. But as the Tory MP has  a second novel published, she shows her passion for frontline issues is strong as ever

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Indy Politics

Nadine Dorries produces her best work first thing. At night, she can’t muster more than 250 words before dropping off. But in the morning, it is a different story.

“At six o’clock on the dot, I wake up, Chris [her partner] brings me my tea, I open my laptop and I am off. I can’t write fast enough at that time,” the Liverpudlian MP explains.

Dorries, a former I’m A Celebrity. . . Get Me Out Of Here contestant and “too gobby” – her words – mother of three, has added another string to her bow, that of novelist. Christened “Mad Nad” by her detractors, she can knock out 3,000 words before breakfast if the creative juices are flowing.

Her writing has divided opinion, but life in Westminster representing Mid Bedfordshire has given her a thick skin. Her first book, The Four Streets, about life among Irish immigrant families in poverty-stricken 1950s Liverpool, was either “vigorous and vibrant” or “the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years”, depending on which reviewer you side with.

The acid test is that after selling more than 300,000 copies, mostly ebooks, Dorries’ publisher wants more, signing her for an extra two books on top of her initial three-title, six-figure deal. She says she’s getting better at her new-found craft, describing her first effort as “a rough diamond in terms of a debut novel because I didn’t know what I was doing, I just wrote a story. Now I know a little bit more, I actually can’t even read Four Streets.”

 

Her just-released sequel, Hide Her Name, chronicles more gritty stuff: the plight of single mothers sent away to Irish convents. The third of the trilogy is with the editor and Dorries aims to submit a fourth, due in March, at the end of the Christmas recess because she can’t bear “deadlines that are too far away”. So much for the advice of former MP Louise Mensch’s literary agent, who “sent me a letter back telling me not to give up the day job”.

Dorries, 57, isn’t mad when we meet, just a bit flustered, blonde hair ruffled after darting outside to pose for pictures. She asks for tea and privacy in her Westminster office, as her West Highland terrier, Darcey, stuffed with treats, lolls by the door. Dorries was already writing a blog but when her youngest daughter Cassie left for university she had the excuse of being an empty nester with time to produce more, alongside her parliamentary duties.

“So when I was ironing uniforms on a Sunday or sitting outside gigs in the middle of Manchester freezing to death with a flask at two o’clock in the morning, they weren’t saying, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that. As a mother you should be doing your MP duties.’ I am just doing the same thing – I have replaced mothering Cassie with writing,” she says, talking much as I imagine she types, 19 to the dozen, correcting herself as she goes. Just don’t call her the female Jeffrey Archer.

“I write about feelings and emotions and scenarios that produce feelings and emotions. [My books] have got a plot but male writers are much more plot-driven. I don’t think you can compare the two unless you are talking about someone like Colm Tóibín who has got heavy emotion into his work.”

Dorries draws inspiration from her childhood, spent largely on a Liverpool council estate, which sounds like something out of a novel even before she puts it down on the page. Her Irish grandmother Nellie “was singing with the Guinness” when she would wake her at midnight “packing to take me away to Ireland the next morning because she had won the bingo”. The Catholic guilt of being spirited off meant Dorries was sent to school over there “on a donkey, with kids who had no shoes”.

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Appearing on I’m A Celebrity... in 2012 earned Nadine Dorries a suspension from the Tory party

She is one of the few Tory MPs with a working-class background, famously denouncing David Cameron and George Osborne two years ago as a couple of out-of-touch “arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”. Times have changed. Since the Labour MP Emily Thornberry was forced to resign as shadow Attorney General in a Twitter storm, “I would say they [Labour] are posher, frankly”.

Dorries was incensed by the picture Thornberry posted last month during the by-election campaign, of a house draped in St George flags with a white van parked outside and captioned “Image from Rochester”. It was reminiscent of her middle daughter Jenny’s terraced house, shared with her boyfriend – “he’s not my son-in-law, they live together, I hope he is though, he’s a lovely boy” – who is a van-driving trainee plumber.

“How dare she think that that is unusual?” she explodes. “That is the poshness of Labour. To me that was quite personal. That is my daughter’s home… and she thought that was something worth photographing.” Dorries was inspired to be a Tory when her family were given the chance to buy their own council house. “Now I know that was wrong because the money that came from council house sales should have gone to building more council houses but didn’t – big mistake,” she says. “That decision made a huge difference to my family. My mother now lives in a little semi-detached by the sea in Lytham St Annes, and she would still be in a sink council estate in Liverpool.”

The daughter of a bus driver, Dorries trained as a nurse, later working as a medical rep and setting up her own child daycare company. Her path into Westminster saw her working as an aide to Oliver Letwin, before being selected for Mid Bedfordshire, where in 2010 she polled 52 per cent of the vote. Joining the Westminster bubble was a culture shock. “Somebody said to me once: ‘you look like Alice in Wonderland who has just fallen into the Mad Hatter’s tea party; you are completely confused, aren’t you?’

“I was confused for the first year. I was confused that people talk like they do, think like they do; this is one weird place and it is full of some very weird people. I suppose I refused to conform to it.”

Too true. Dorries’ writing is not the first time she has raised eyebrows. Popping up in the Australian rainforest on the reality show I’m A Celebrity two years ago earned her a suspension from Tory party ranks. She describes the day she came back into the party fold, five months after getting back from Australia, when the whips were waiting for her at the escalator and followed her into her office for a chat.

“I think they realised there was one person they didn’t want to defect to Ukip, and that was me, because that would have caused a bit of a rumpus.” Dorries adds: “And they realised they had gone too close to the edge. It is true to say at that time I was considering my political future.” Including defecting? “I was just considering all my options and obviously defecting is an option but I had lots of options to consider at the time.”

Now she’s struck a truce and with an election five months away, she is careful not to criticise her party, hoping that Boris Johnson becomes the next leader and forecasting a Tory majority next May, although “it may not be massive”.

“If we were absolutely battered I would be surprised because a lot of people have a head on their shoulders. I think they know how close we were to becoming a bankrupt nation.” She is less positive about her party’s coalition partners.

“You know my grandchildren will be asking me, ‘who were the Lib Dems?’ I don’t think [they] are going to  survive this election. They just lost their ninth deposit on the trot. That is telling you something.”

Write stuff: from nursing to author

Education: Rose Heath primary school and Halewood Grange comprehensive in Liverpool before her family moved away.

Career: Began training as a nurse at Warrington General Hospital in 1975, later becoming a medical rep and teaching for a year in Zambia, where her then husband ran a copper mine.

In 1987, founded Company Kids, which provided child care for working parents, selling out to Bupa. Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire since 2005.

Personal: Three daughters – Philippa, 29, Jenny, 27, Cassie, 22 – from marriage to former husband. Lives with Chris, a racecourse vet. Writes novels in her spare time. “Chris works at racecourses over the weekend so it works out well. I stop writing when he gets home.”

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