Nadine Dorries, the right wing Tory MP, is facing an early and humiliating exit from the House of Commons over her decision to appear on the reality TV show, I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
Party bosses were so furious about the latest surprise sprung on them by the maverick backbencher that they ejected her from the parliamentary party until such time as she gives an explanation of her conduct to the Chief Whip, Sir George Young.
“George Young has suspended the whip from Nadine Dorries. He will have an urgent meeting with her when she gets back. The concern is that she will not be doing parliamentary or constituency business in the meantime,” a party spokesman said.
Penalising her was a high risk move by the Conservative whips, because of the possibility that the huge audiences who watch ‘reality TV’ will warm to her as an outspoken rebel who has defied the party establishment, and a Tory from a working class background who once described David Cameron and the Chancellor, George Osborne, as “arrogant posh boys”. The former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe described her suspension as an 'over-reaction' by 'silly, silly idiots'
It also raises doubts about whether Ms Dorries will want to return to the party fold when she gets back from Australia. Her political career was due to be terminated as part of David Cameron’s plan to cut the size of the Commons down from 650 to 600 MPs, but was saved when the legislation was blocked by the combined opposition of Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party.
But she is now facing a threat from the Mid Bedfordshire Conservative Association to deselect her, which would destroy her chance of being re-elected to Parliament at the next general election in 2015. Local party activists are furious that she did not warn them that she would be appearing on the programme, leaving them to find out from journalists.
Paul Duckett, chairman of the Mid Bedfordshire Conservative Association, said: “If she's doing something completely outrageous that does detract from the credibility of the parliamentary system then the membership of the association will be the ones to decide whether they wish her to remain. If it does denigrate Parliament and her credibility and her status to be able to carry on doing the job then of course we'll have to take action.”
Ms Dorries has made it clear that she will continue drawing her £65,738 a year MP’s salary whilst she is on the programme, for which she is expected to receive a fee of not less than £40,000. Potentially, she could be out of the country for a month.
Reactions from fellow Tory MPs ranged from outrage to ridicule. The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, dropped a strong hint that in government circles they are not especially keen for her to come back, ever. He said: “I'll obviously miss her and I'm going to have to struggle on bravely without her. I shall be watching it and I shall be ringing in religiously every week to keep her there.”
The Tory MP Sarah Wollaston said that Ms Dorries should resign from Parliament if she wants to be a TV celebrity. “She needs to consider what she wants to do, and if she actually wants to do a serious job, which is about representing her constituents, she needs to be doing that here in Westminster, not in Australia,” she told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme.
Another Tory MP, Michael Fabricant, a party vice chairman, tweeted: “Cameron got Nadine 'Out of here'. Is she now a celebrity? We shall see. Meanwhile she has let down her colleagues and her constituency.”
Ms Dorries has justified her decision by pointing out that participation in the programme will give her access to an audience of 16 million – way beyond the dreams of any other backbench MP. She is hoping to use the programme as a platform to publicise her strongly held opposition to abortion, but the former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, the only other political figure to appear on I’m a Celebrity… , and who defended her decision to appear, warned that she will be “completely at the mercy of the editors” who may edit out any political comments she makes.