Tory MP Nadine Dorries 'misled' voters with fiction on her blog

By James Tapsfield,Pa
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:23

A Tory backbencher has admitted writing "fiction" on her blog to reassure constituents about how hard she was working.

Nadine Dorries made the startling admission to investigators during a sleaze probe that cleared her of abusing the Commons expenses system but found she had "misled" voters.

The Mid Bedfordshire MP had been accused of wrongly declaring her constituency property as her second home, even though she spent most of her time there.

The arrangement meant she was entitled to allowances worth some £24,000 a year to fund the property.

However, standards commissioner John Lyon concluded that the MP had not breached the rules - because she was actually spending the majority of her time in the Cotswolds.

Ms Dorries told the probe the Bedfordshire property was merely used "as a means of maintaining a base in my constituency in order to assist with my duties as an MP".

Mr Lyon challenged her over posts on her blog that seemed to indicate she was spending more time in Bedfordshire than she really was.

One, from May 15, 2009, informed readers her daughter was going to school there.

According to documents published by the Standards and Privileges Committee, Ms Dorries responded: "My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact. It is written as a tool to enable my constituents to know me better and to reassure them of my commitment to Mid Bedfordshire.

"I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another."

Ms Dorries suggested she had been subjected to "bullying" by the media after the expenses scandal broke.

"In the light of the bullying onslaught of the Daily Telegraph I used my blog to its best effect in reassuring my constituents of my commitment to Mid Beds," she wrote.

"My commitment is absolute and is always my first consideration regardless of where I sleep at night.

"However, I have always been aware that should my personal domestic arrangements become the knowledge of my political opponents, they would be able to exaggerate that to good effect. Hence the reason for my blog and my need to reassure my constituents."

Mr Lyon's report criticised Ms Dorries' blog, saying it "gave information to its readers, including Ms Dorries' constituents and party supporters, which provided a misleading impression of her arrangements as a Member of Parliament for the constituency".

Ms Dorries was also rebuked by the committee for failing to keep the House authorities up to date with changes to the address of her main home in Gloucestershire after her marriage broke down.

In correspondence with the commissioner - sent in March, before the general election - Ms Dorries insisted it was "absolutely impossible" for her to provide "an accurate assessment of where I stay and when using my diaries and my work commitments".

She said if parliament was considering fairly routine business, she would work from her main home in the Cotswolds - some 100 miles from Westminster.

"I know I always sleep at home (in the Cotswolds) on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday - almost always on a Thursday and often on a Monday," she wrote.

"If it is a one line whip I will work from home, or drive to the constituency during the day, especially during term time over the last year or so to drop and collect [my daughter]."

Her account was backed up by evidence from neighbours and her family GP in Gloucestershire.

The commissioner questioned an apparent discrepancy between Ms Dorries' claim to have spent every night in September 2008 in the Cotswolds, and her blog post which stated her daughter started at a constituency school that month.

He also raised another message posted in May last year, after the Daily Telegraph approached her about her accommodation arrangements. "My children stay with me when I am in the constituency," it read. "I keep the dogs at the constituency address as I am often there on my own and it confuses them being moved around."

The MP replied: "The journey to [name of school] from my main home was one hour and 30 minutes ... However, due to [family circumstances], [my daughter] rarely attends school more than two days per week and when she did do she would travel from the constituency house."

She added: "The dogs are looked after by myself and various family members."

The complaint about Ms Dorries was originally filed in June 2009 by former British National Party (BNP) spokesman Richard Barnbrook.

Posting on Twitter today, the MP said: "Happy to confirm that today I have been fully cleared by the standards commissioner re abuse of expenses following complaint by BNP."

Ms Dorries was elected to Parliament in May 2005. As was permitted under the rules at the time, she immediately designated her Cotswolds property as her main home, despite it being nowhere near either Westminster or her constituency.

The MP then claimed more than £21,000 in expenses in each of the following years for the costs of accommodation elsewhere.

Ms Dorries first rented a property in her constituency in February 2007, and has maintained a presence there ever since.

According to the report, between 2005 and early 2007 she "frequently" claimed for travel between her main home, Westminster and Bedfordshire.

However, since that time she has only claimed for travel between Parliament and her constituency.

After Ms Dorries' marriage foundered, she relocated to a rental property in Stratford-upon-Avon but failed to tell the House authorities that her main address had changed.

She also did not notify officials when she moved back to Gloucestershire in the latter part of last year, where she is said to live in a lodge-keeper's cottage.

Mr Lyon concluded that those failures constituted a breach of the rules, but not a "serious" one.

He also noted: "I am disappointed that Ms Dorries took as long as she did in providing me with consistent evidence to enable me to resolve this complaint."

The committee said Ms Dorries had apologised for the designation oversights, but regarded the commissioner's comments regarding her "misleading" of voters as "strongly worded and incorrect".

She has also apparently raised concerns about the amount of personal information included in the report.

But the cross-party MPs insisted: "We accept that Ms Dorries used the blog to reassure her constituents of her commitment to them, and also to protect her own privacy.

"We do not feel, however, that the commissioner's comment is unfair. There are discrepancies between some of the information that appeared on Ms Dorries' blog and the information she supplied to the commissioner during the investigation."

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