Nadine Dorries: The Witchhunt

Saturday, May 23, 2009 0:01 | Filed in Media, Politics

One of my issues with party politics is the fact that because people are partisan, they take a particular side, and are likely to support those things which attack the other side (or the baddies, as people probably consider them), whilst lashing out at anything which attacks their side.

So when you had the whole Derek Draper and Damian McBride smeargate business, a lot of people were rightly very angry about this disgraceful behaviour. Some of them however, went further, suggesting that other people were involved:

In April leading blogger Iain Dale wrote an article titled ‘Smears, glowering henchmen-like the Nixon White House’ for the Mail on Sunday – alleging not only that Tom Watson MP was copied into the ’smeargate’ emails to Derek Draper, but that he “encouraged” them.Liberal Conspiracy

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries seemed to agree with these allegations, according to this partial transcript:

I know that not to be true. We have the cabinet minister who issued a statement yesterday which left more questions than it answered in the statement. Tom Watson’s desk was right next to McBride’s. I believe he was even mentioned discussing the emails with McBride.Nadine Dorries on Sky News: partial transcript at bloggerheads

Now, at this time I felt somewhat disappointed and let down. I didn’t know Tom Watson personally, but I subscribed to his twitter feed, he’d seemed to be a reasonable enough bloke and I felt seriously let down by this. Because people wouldn’t put forward this sort of allegation if it wasn’t true, would they?

Only that’s where it started to unravel slightly. Tom denied it; no-one was able to provide any evidence to the contrary, and eventually…

Associated Newspapers Limited has unreservedly withdrawn the allegations, apologised to Mr Watson for the distress the article caused him and his family and has joined in the reading of the Statement in Open Court today. In addition, Associated Newspapers Limited has agreed to pay Mr Watson substantial damages, together with his legal

So Iain Dale and Nadine Dorries said Tom Watson was involved, when he wasn’t. They accused him of something he didn’t do. Something which led to him being vilified unfairly. To give Iain credit, he apologised and withdrew the allegations within a couple of days (presumably as no proof actually came forward) although there is some dispute about the apology.

But in this case I’m not so bothered about Iain. It’s Nadine who annoyed me when this morning I heard her on Radio 5 talking about how there was a witchhunt against MPs. Now I don’t know how she defines a Witch-hunt, but I’m quite inclined to go with Wikipedia here…

In modern terminology ‘witch-hunt’ has acquired usage referring to the act of seeking and persecuting any perceived enemy, particularly when the search is conducted using extreme measures and with little regard to actual guilt or innocence.Wikipedia: Witch-hunt

Note that last part: with little regard to actual guilt or innocence. Would you say that would apply to a) the accusations levelled against Tom Watson, and which he successfully challenged in court, or b) MPs claiming expenses which they were either not morally or in some cases legally entitled to. Can you say “hypocrisy”, boys and girls?

The technique deployed by the Telegraph, picking off a few MPs each day, emailing at 12 giving five hours notice to reply, recording the conversation, not allowing them to speak, shouting over them when they try to explain, telling them they are going to publish anyway, at day 15, is amounting to a form of tortureNadine Dorries Blog: What Stephan said and Martin Bell knew, 22 May 2009

Hmm. Again, the phrase “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear” is on the tip of my tongue. Anyone know why that might be?

I agree that the constant drip-drip of the Telegraph probably doesn’t help MPs, who will be wondering “who next?”, but I’m not convinced the Telegraph need some secret ulterior motive for this behaviour beyond the obvious — they will sell more papers and more advertising if revelations are spread out over many days than if they published the lot in one go. Nor do I particularly see anything wrong with them recording the conversation: they might want to quote you and it gives them the opportunity to make sure they have got the quote right. I would however apply that in both directions: record your conversations with them also…

I do agree with her on a couple of minor points: frankly I couldn’t really care less whether or not an MP sticks a packet of chocolate biscuits on expenses; I don’t it’s unreasonable for an MP to claim certain costs for furnishings (using my ‘Ikea list’ thing I mentioned before) for a Westminster home and so on. But I think that the drumming out of MPs who have displayed appalling judgement and who have spent public money — our money — on luxuries for themselves (duck houses and the like) rather than on expenses carrying out public duties is quite reasonable.

Nadine raised an interesting point on her blog about the nature of the ‘expenses’:

I wonder how many people are aware, that if you are an MP and divorce, the courts base your maintenance payments to your husband/wife/children on a combination of your ACA and your salary. This is because the ACA is classed as an allowance, not an expense account, and is considered by the court as the property of the MP.

Nadine Dorries blog: Clarification, 21 May 2009

This is actually a very good point. I don’t know whether it is true or not, but assuming for the moment it is true, then that’s part of the reason for this whole mess. Is it an allowance that MPs are free to spend as they see fit (and that’s certainly the way it would appear many MPs have used it) or is it simply to defray expenses (in which case it should not be included with the salary for maintenance). If MPs are to behave properly, it is clearly to defray expenses (which is clearly what the public want and have a right to expect) I would then expect maintenance payments should take this into account instead of treating it as additional income.

But here it’s also chicken and egg. Is it costed as an allowance because that is how MPs have used it, or is it used an allowance because that is how it has been costed? The whole thing is certainly a mess, which is why I would draw a clear distinction between those who have acted stupidly but within the rules as they then stood, and those that broke them…

MPs are all human beings and they do not deserve to be treated like thisNadine Dorries, BBC News at 10, 22/05/09

Yes, they do. If a council officer spends public funds on luxuries for themselves by claiming on expenses that are outside the rules, you would expect them to be sacked. You would expect them to lose their pension. I would expect exactly the same for MPs. If someone claims housing benefit that they are not entitled to, you would expect them to be taken to court. I would expect exactly the same for MPs.

The problem is precisely because MPs — like presumably Dorries, judging from what she’s said — seem to think that the same rules which would apply to everyone else somehow don’t apply to MPs. That’s evidence of a problem with the culture. That’s why the Speaker has gone: that’s why the party leaders have got together to sort out new rules; that’s why certain MPs have been told they will be de-selected (although what’s wrong with sacked?).

It’s slightly different of course where MPs have acted within the rules, even though those rules were wrong. If they have acted within the rules, they shouldn’t face a sacking or loss of pension. However, if the leaders of the respective parties don’t think that their actions were suitable, they ought to have the whip removed and be de-selected.

I will presume that any serving MP who retains the party whip has had their actions condoned and approved of by that party leader. I won’t be the only one thinking this.

The public mood is ugly. And this is not helped when MPs are accused of misrepresenting a meeting with their constituents to put a positive spin on their expense.

People want, expect, have a right to see people losing their jobs over this. Nadine Dorries seems to think that this is a witchhunt which would drive an MP to suicide. Would she argue that someone in a different industry who made fraudulent expense claims should not be investigated, exposed and possibly sacked? Does she think they should be free from the fear of being caught and having to face the consequences of wrongdoing? If so, that’s fair enough; we can assume that she would approve of everyone fiddling their expenses. If not, then why the hell does she expect that the rules should be different for MPs?

This may be funny, but no-one actually wants to see MPs kill themselves. Or at least, if they do, I disagree with them strongly. Although metaphorically falling on their swords I’m well up for.

Leading psychologists have warned that some MP’s may suffer a ‘self-righteous sense of entitlement to privilege’ which prevents them from feeling the kind of shame and self-disgust that any normal human being should be experiencing under these circumstances.

Members of the public are being urged to help their elected officials through this difficult time by sending them useful items such as lengths of rope, or electrical cord, and razor blades.

Spin This: Fears some MPs may avoid suicide

Obviously, because Nadine Dorries is one of the MPs who has been attacked by the Telegraph’s revelations, she has an ulterior motive for attacking them. But that does not make her argument incorrect on those grounds, and similarly just because she has attacked them does not remove the issue of her own expense claims

I would have expected that a lot of the people who heard what she had to say would have said that she had massively misjudged the public mood, and it appeared that David Cameron would think so as well…

Tory leader David Cameron today slapped down a Tory backbencher who claimed that MPs were victims of a “McCarthy-style witch-hunt” over their expenses claims. Nadine Dorries, who warned yesterday there were fears that an MP could commit suicide, said the situation at Westminster had become “completely unbearable”. But asked about her comments, Mr Cameron said MPs should be more concerned about what their constituents were thinking.Daily Mail: Cameron Slaps Down Dorries

Of course, that’s not the way Dorries tells it… and watch this one carefully, it raises an interesting question…

According to the Telegraph online, David Cameron has slapped me down? Excuse me? Err, no he hasn’t. What a corker.

The Daily Telegraph has rang Central office and asked them to ask me to remove my blog and not to mention the contents of my blog on air, which I think, is very different.

Nadine Dorries blog: Porky Pies [22 May 2009]

Of course, it’s difficult to be entirely sure if she still thinks this, since her blog is down as I write this (removed? — good job I took the references I wanted earlier!).

It does raise an interesting point though: that it appears to me Nadine Dorries is saying that the Conservative Party do whatever the Daily Telegraph ask them to do. Now, I may not agree with David Cameron’s financial policies, but even I don’t think he’s in the pocket of the Barclay brothers.

But as the alternatives would seem to be:

  1. David Cameron and the Conservatives do whatever the Daily Telegraph tell them to do or
  2. David Cameron and/or Conservative central office themselves wanted Nadine to remove her blog and stop talking about it

And, assuming David is even half the politician I am prepared to give him credit for being (particularly given his response over the ‘jealousy’ thing) I’d would have suspected the second option. Which I would certainly interpret as being ‘slapped down’. Of course, as I have no proof of this, and Nadine has said otherwise, so I am left in a position where I am by default forced to believe Nadine’s version of events — that David Cameron and the Conservatives do whatever the Daily Telegraph tell them.

And unless of course Nadine publicly changes her mind about who wanted her blog removed, or there’s a statement to the contrary from the Conservatives, it would seem reasonable to work on the assumption that this is indeed the case… particularly since it seems to match Nadine’s previous thoughts…

Now if this is all a power game executed by the BBs [Barclay Brothers], how would they do that? [...] the British public are being worked like puppets by two very powerful men. Whipped up in a frenzy to achieve exactly what they want.Nadine Dorries blog: Winners or Losers? 21 May 2009

Ah! So their plan must be working. Nadine presumably thinks that not only do the British public think whatever the Barclay Brothers tell them to think, but that as the conservative party also seem to have bowed to what Nadine pitched as a request from the Telegraph, it would seem logical to me to assume that the Barclay Brothers have whipped Cameron up into a frenzy to achieve whatever they want to.

Unless of course Nadine Dorries was slapped down by Cameron/Central Office, as opposed to the rather odd situation of apparently being asked to take her blog down at the request of the Telegraph…

Hopefully the good which will come from this will be radical reform, which will prevent such a disaster ever occurring again.Nadine Dorries Blog: Clarification [2]

I certainly agree on this point, even though I suspect we may differ on exactly what is necessary to remove the disaster, as unless I’m reading things incorrectly, her main point seems to be that MPs should get bigger pay rises…

Of course, as mentioned, all the references to Nadine’s blog aren’t working at the moment, and I have no way of knowing whether the quoted posts will ever return, but if anyone doesn’t believe that her blog did say the things quoted, I can provide images on request…

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12 Comments to Nadine Dorries: The Witchhunt

  1. Phil says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 12:50 am

    “Is it an allowance that MPs are free to spend as they see fit (and that’s certainly the way it would appear many MPs have used it) or is it simply to defray expenses?”

    The Green Book makes it clear that the “allowances” are definitely the latter:

    “Parliamentary allowances are designed to ensure that Members are reimbursed for costs properly incurred in the performance of their duties.”


    “Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.

    Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.

    Allowances are reimbursed only for the purpose of a Member carrying out his or her parliamentary duties.” (Part I, “Principles governing Members’ allowances”)

  2. Councillor Jack Brody says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 1:17 am

    Clearly MPs need duckhouses – where else can they hide while this furore is taking place?

    Cllr Brody, J

  3. JackP says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 9:51 am

    There are suggestions that Nadine Dorries blog has been taken down because of a takedown notice issued by, or on behalf of the Barclay Brothers in respect of the allegations made about them.

    If this is the case, then I would hope to see either an announcement that they are taking her to court over the allegations or to see her blog return, as anything else smcks of bully-boy tactics.

    Of course, all this is merely a suggestion I have come across; I have heard no official statement saying that this actually is the case…

    It would also seemingly contradict Dorries own statement — that they have been “asked” to take it down — as a notice of this nature would be more in the way of a demand, surely?

    @CllrBrody: good point – Duck houses are presumably one of those ‘security measures’!

  4. The Goldfish says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 11:59 am

    The thing that bugs me is that if I fiddled my benefits claim in any small way, I wouldn’t just risk a court appearance, there would be a real risk of being put in prison. For much smaller amounts of money. And as a benefits’ claimant, the tone of all the correspondence I receive is threatening in this way; if you don’t tell us everything, we’re going to come get you.

    This winter our Income Support was frozen because we told them in advance about a change in circumstance that they took three months to process – they froze the money to avoid overpaying us because it was better that we might struggle and go into debt than we be trusted to pay money back in the event of being overpaid. As it was, we managed okay, just.

    Now that’s harsh; that’s a system that really can make you paranoid and fearful. I’m not altogether unsympathetic with MPs because I also know how “expense account cultures” can come about – I am concerned that this might bring the downfall of a government which has done far worse things than fiddle expenses. But for any of them to present as victims in this… grrrr.

  5. james c says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    I suspect that Nadine’s comments about her divorce
    are rather misleading. The court will surely take into consideration her outgoings in running a second home, as well as her allowances. I could be wrong, but here version doesn’t seem very likely.

  6. Henry North London says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Google cache

  7. The Kat says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Dorries is a cunt who rejected all critical comments. Hardly a blog hero.

  8. JackP says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    @The Kat … erm, who described her as a blog hero? Did I miss something?

    [Edit: However, I also reserve the right to edit or remove comments I don't like. I generally don't, or only edit for language I find offensive, but I do reserve the right to do so, should I wish. Also to remove links to political parties/other sites I disagree with too. Although I do support the right of those parties to campaign, and have people vote for them if they wish (even though I personally would rather people didn't), I do draw the line at hosting links to those sites on my blog. Apologies if any offense has been caused].

  9. JackP says:

    May 23rd, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    It does seem however that Nadine’s blog was taken down by Telegraph lawyers. This would seem a fair point if she is, or has been making libellous comment, although surely simply requesting the removal of said comment would be a sensible first step?

    It would also appear, as I said previously, to contradict Nadine’s previous assertion that there was a request to take it down. This rather looks like a forcible demand.

    Wonder if the Telegraph will have anything on this tomorrow?

  10. JackP says:

    May 26th, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    …and Dorries blog has returnethed, with a new stylee but minus some of the prior posts.

    On Friday afternoon, she closed all comments on her site, published a further accusation of this nature, and then swanned off for a three-day weekend, fully expecting to get away with this.

    The Telegraph instructed lawyers, who contacted Nadine Dorries and the hosts of her website. Dorries was either unable or unwilling to make specific edits to her site at the time, and so her host was forced to stop it from broadcasting.


    ‘Twould appear therefore that the blog was temporarily taken down in order to remove one or more posts which had been suggested were libellous: once this/these were removed, the site is back up again.

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