FactCheck Q&A: Will we miss Nadine Dorries?
The imminent appearance of Nadine Dorries on ITV1′s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here was confirmed today by the channel.
Her decision to quit Westminster without apparently informing the Tories’ chief whip Sir George Young has led to her suspension from the party.
Local party members were also reportedly unaware of Ms Dorries’ decision to fly out to Australia for the reality show.
The Mid-Bedfordshire MP, who once called David Cameron and George Osborne “arrogant posh boys”, could face deselection as a Conservative MP after she returns from the Queensland jungle where I’m a Celebrity… is filmed.
In her defence, Dorries said: “I worked right up until I left the UK for Australia. I’ve worked seven years as an MP and I’ve never taken a day off work in Parliamentary time… I’ve worked all through recess and I only had four days off this summer.”
How hard does Nadine Dorries work?
Surprisingly, it’s not all that easy to check how often your local MP turns up at Westminster. Parliament doesn’t keep tabs on members, and the only way of recording attendance is to count the speeches MPs make and how often they vote, a job handily done by the website Public Whip.
This is slightly problematic, as it’s possible that an MP could spend hours diligently involved in a debate but might choose to abstain, and that would not show up in these statistics.
Still, voting is the best indicator of attendance we have. Ms Dorries has voted 71 per cent of the time since the election in 2010, which puts her slightly below average for a backbench MP, though there’s not much in it.
To put that in perspective, former Labour leader Gordon Brown’s average currently stands at just 14 per cent, while Respect MP George Galloway is on 17.4 per cent, so Ms Dorries can afford to spend a fair bit of time in the rainforests of Northern Australia before her attendance matches those lows.
Despite Ms Dorries’ reputation as a thorn in the side of the current Conservative leadership, she is far from the most rebellious MP in the Commons.
While she has defied the Tory whip on a number of occasions, most recently by voting against the government over the EU budget last month, she has only joined the ranks of the rebels 3.8 per cent of the time in this parliament.
That means she is only the 31st most rebellious Conservative (eurosceptic Philip Hollobone is in pole position), and only just scrapes into the top 50 most rebellious MPs from all parties.
Nadine Dorries has spoken in 30 debates and received written answers to 60 questions in the last year, according to TheyWorkForYou, which puts her in the “average” bracket.
How hard MPs work for their constituents is much harder to get an angle on. Members of parliament are not required to do a certain amount of work – it’s assumed that local people will vote them out if they think they are not doing enough.
WriteToThem.com surveyed constituents in 2008 asking them how long it took their MP to reply, and Ms Dorries came 458th out of 638 politicians.
She scores badly as a member of select committees too. In 2007 she was drafted on to the select committee for innovation, universities, science and skills, but only managed to make one meeting out of 50.
In 2009 it was science and technology, and Ms Dorries failed to get to any of the committee’s 20 scheduled meetings.
The following year the former nurse wrote to MPs asking them to support her candidacy for chair of the health select committee, saying: “I have no outside interests and would commit myself fully to the role.”
She didn’t get the chair but got a place on the committee, a move that provoked criticism in some quarters thanks to statements she had made on the facts of the abortion debate.
Parliamentary documents record her attendance at meetings as 24 out of 43, which works out as 56 per cent, before she stood down to serve on the chairmen’s panel from June last year.
Membership of the panel of chairs, who are appointed by the Speaker to preside over other committees, comes with an additional salary of £8,166 for someone of one to three years’ service.
How much will she earn while appearing on TV?
That extra cash from committee work, added to the normal MP’s salary of £65,738, adds up to £73,904 annual pay for Nadine Dorries, or just over £6,000 a month.
Ms Dorries has said she will continue to draw her parliamentary salary while appearing on the show. She also claims expenses on a second home in her constituency – the taxpayer was paying around £1,700 a month for the rent and council tax in 2010.
The usual fee for appearing on I’m a Celebrity is reportedly up to £40,000.
What will she miss?
It depends on how long she stays on the show. The latest series starts on Sunday and will run for nearly three weeks, with contestants up for eviction following a public vote from half-way through week two.
Ms Dorries will almost certainly miss Mr Cameron’s negotiations with other European ministers over the EU budget on November 22.
And she makes it into the final stages of I’m a Celebrity Ms Dorries could miss George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on December 5, one of the most important dates in the Commons calendar.
She will definitely skip next week’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections and the Corby by-election on November 15. The MP would have been expected to support the local Conservative police commissioner candidate, Jas Parmar, during the final stages of his campaign.
Parliament is however in recess for most of next week.
What happens when she comes back?
Ms Dorries is currently suspended from the parliamentary Conservative party so is now technically an independent MP.
That’s a temporary state of affairs that could resolve itself when she meets the chief whip upon returning from Australia. Sir George may decide to allow Ms Dorries back into the fold or permanently withdraw the whip, excluding her from the Conservative group of MPs.
Her local party could deselect her if enough members (more than 50 or more than 10 per cent) sign a petition, forcing a vote at a special emergency meeting.
Either option could see Ms Dorries barred from standing as a Conservative at the next general election, but that won’t necessarily mean the end of her political career.
She would still be in post until the next election, when she could stand as an independent or join a new party, with UKIP the obvious front-runner.
Paul Duckett, chairman of the Mid Beds Conservative Association, has said local members will make a decision after sounding out residents.
But there remains no direct mechanism for local voters to remove an MP who has incurred their displeasure and force a by-election.
By Patrick Worrall