“I’ve never been so proud of myself,” said Nadine Dorries yesterday. Well this is probably not the sort of statement you would expect to hear from someone who has just eaten a raw ostrich anus, but then the Conservative Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire who describes herself as a “bit of an anti-politics politician” has a history of not doing quite what is expected of her. Some of her recent personal highlights include describing her party’s leader and chancellor as “two arrogant posh boys” and accidentally on purpose failing to inform the party’s Chief Whip of her intended four week absence from both constituency and parliamentary offices while intending to expose herself (almost literally) to a prime time TV audience. Referring to the viewing figures for the ITV series filmed in the Queensland territory, where Ms Dorries is currently appearing with nine D list celebrities, she says, “If that is where 16 million people are, it’s where politicians need to be too.”
She is not the first politician to have been lured into the jungle of reality television; the ground is littered with the bones of those who went before. Lembit Opik (Lib Dem) appeared in “I’m a Celebrity…” in 2010 and Robert Kilroy-Silk also battled with bugs and bodyparts in the jungle while Edwina Currie appeared in Hell’s Kitchen and Strictly Come Dancing. If you were unfortunate enough to see it, who could forget George Galloway’s disturbing portrayal of a cat in the Celebrity Big Brother House in 2006? Yet Ann Widdecombe who appeared in the BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” has recently said in defence of Nadine Dorries, “Maybe she’ll connect with a section of the public who are more likely to vote in reality shows than in general elections.” After all, 10 million people voted in the X Factor final last year, while 28 million voted in the general election.
This must be the huge gamble that Nadine Dorries has decided to take. She has said that she would like to take politics into people’s living rooms and outlined before her departure that she intends to “talk about abortion time limits and big up Boris” while sitting round the camp fire, which may not be quite what the programme’s editors have in mind. George Galloway certainly claimed that he had conducted a number of serious political conversations while appearing in Celeb Big Brother, but the image of the red leotard seems to have stuck in the public memory instead. Surely a successful MP like Ms Dorries, brought up on a deprived council estate in Liverpool, could not be so naïve as to imagine that she will be allowed to convey her political message uninterrupted when the programme makers’ aim is to drive up viewing figures?
It is, after all, the viewing figures, which Nadine has described as “a publicity gift”, that attracted the sitting MP in the first place. “The majority of people don’t look to Westminster and they don’t buy newspapers….they do however surf the net, watch popular TV and engage with reality shows,” she has said and Lembit Opik endorses her decision fully. He claims “She’ll join the ‘first name’ list of MPs which includes Widdy, Boris, Ken and me” which may or may not be her ambition, but he also concedes that “It’s very difficult to get anything political included in that show – they cut it out. I’d talk about politics with Sean Ryder for three hours and none of it was included.”
Whether the greatest risk of her political life pays off will depend on a number of factors including how quickly she is voted out. At the end of it all, however, Ms Dorries will undoubtedly be one of the best known Conservative MPs in the country by the time she leaves the jungle. And if George Galloway could put his whisker-cleaning days behind him and sweep to a huge by-election victory for the Respect party in the March 2012 Bradford West by-election, then maybe eating the rear end of the ostrich is just the beginning for Nadine Dorries?
Blog post by Peter Bould.