By Robert Oxley
The furore that has surrounded the Mid Bedfordshire MP’s decision to leave her constituents and Parliament in the lurch while she spends her time in the Australian jungle has rightly attracted criticism from many quarters but also raised questions about whether some in our political class really understand what matters.
Nadine Dorries is no stranger to controversy, but her politics are not the issue. What does matter is that Ms Dorries’ constituents should be represented in Parliament by the individual they elect, and pay for. Her decision to abandon her constituency in favour of seeking fame and fortune in the jungle has not sat well with those in her party at a local or national level. Indeed, she has had the Conservative whip withdrawn and there are mutterings that she will face a tough ride from her local party members when it comes to the selection of a candidate for the 2015 general election.
But the one group which has not had a chance to voice an opinion about her actions is the people who she is paid to represent. She may have promised to donate her month’s parliamentary salary (though not the £40,000 fee) to local charities, but that’s not what taxpayers are forking out for. Nor are they paying for a hapless caseworker to decide what to do about constituents’ enquiries. With no recall system mechanism in place, constituents will have to wait until 2015 if they wish to vote her out of office (assuming she is even a candidate). For many that election may pose a difficult choice, should they wish to vote for a Conservative candidate but not wish to be represented by Ms Dorries. This is why we need a recall system. I've outlined before why this is a good idea here, but the I'm a Celebrity debacle reminds us why local residents must have the ability to throw out politicians who fall well short of the standards expected of our elected representatives.
Sadly Ms Dorries’ actions have diminished the reputation of Parliament at a time when public trust in politicians is still recovering from the expenses crisis (something to which the MP for Mid Bedfordshire is no stranger). We should be able to remember our politicians for their work in reforming public services, rooting out waste and corruption, and acting as champions for their constituents, not for images of them licking milk like a cat or covered in heaps of crickets. There is a feeling amongst the public that Westminster is even more disconnected than ever before from the everyday challenges faced by the majority of people. Nadine Dorries has said that she has gone into the jungle because this is what people are interested in. Indeed she herself has tapped into this public sentiment when she denounced the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as ”two arrogant posh boys” who didn’t know the price of milk. That outburst has no doubt ensured the phone number to put the only MP in the jungle up for bush tucker trials is on speed dial for a number of politicians, but do not mistake criticism of her jungle trip as somehow a reaction to her own particular brand of politics. Ultimately it’s clear that watching her in the jungle is not going to reconnect voters with Westminster. It may score some ratings but it won’t fix our broken politics.
Instead, MPs from all sides should be focused on issues such as the cost of living. While Nadine Dorries has been in the jungle, we’ve seen a large rise in inflation, MPs have debated the price of fuel and the national broadcaster has been engulfed in scandal. Important votes are coming up on the EU, as is the Autumn Statement which will have a profound impact on our economic recovery. It is by addressing these issues, scrutinising the Government and understanding why things like the cost of living matter so much to people that will reconnect voters with politicians - not pursuing a Z-list career on a popular, but ultimately trivial, TV programme thousands of miles away from this country.
Robert Oxley is capaign manager of the TaxPayers' Alliance
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