Interview: Nadine Dorries
By Charles MaggsFollow @charlesmaggs
"Where have you been?" Nadine Dorries asks me as I enter her office.
I've been waiting downstairs for her assistant to fetch me but a comedy of errors around parliament's imposing security entrance held the process up.
After explaining the misunderstanding, Dorries visibly relaxes. Before long the Mid Bedfordshire MP is in full swing, delivering one juicy, controversial quote after another.
For the third time since her entry to parliament in 2005 – an election she described as a calling from God – Dorries is attempting to tighten the rules on abortions. Straight off the bat, she spells out her objections to the current 24-week limit on abortions. If a "poorly" child is born at 20-weeks, the NHS will "throw everything it has at them", but healthy babies are still being aborted at 24-weeks, she insists.
Pro-choice groups are understandably critical. Research from 2007 suggests the chances of a baby born under 24-weeks are no greater now than the last time the limit was reviewed in 1990. But Dorries is dismissive, suggesting "viability can never be proven". Only unhealthy babies are born before 24-weeks, as healthy babies tend to go the term, she says. The only way of proving the viability of a healthy baby born before 20-weeks would be to deliberately induce a mother carrying a healthy baby. It's a rather useful standard for a pro-choice campaigner to rely on
"Frankly," she says, "if science, the medical profession and doctors felt there was no viability before 24-weeks, then they wouldn't try and save babies born before 24-weeks on the NHS."
Dorries attempted to lower the limit back in 2008 and failed, so what makes her think that this latest attempt – via the backbench business committee – will be successful?
"The public hadn't really had the chance to be informed or to be involved in the debate," she says. "Since 2008 I made a point of keeping it on the agenda. The public have become more involved, the media have become much more involved, and people are much better informed now. There's a reason why [pro-choice Liberal Democrat] Evan Harris lost his 5,000 majority in 2010." The abortion debate, she believes, had a "huge effect" on him losing his seat.
For Dorries, 20-weeks isn't the end game. She's quite open that she'd prefer to see a 12-week limit, as would health secretary Jeremy Hunt. This would also be in line with the European average. Tellingly, she insists she would not campaign for any further reduction, though. "I'm definitely pro-choice" she insists. Dorries speaks from the heart, but she's also a canny operator. It's hard to tell if she really holds this position or if she believes it makes her more palatable in mainstream political debate.
She insists she wouldn't push for a limit below 20 weeks, though. "I would never try to move it to lower than 20-weeks because I know the public would find it very difficult to get to that position."
A few weeks earlier, she'd written for the ConservativeHome website suggesting Downing Street would avoid a vote on 20-weeks "at all costs." She hints at a potential split between No 10 and 11 on the issue.
"Governments don't like abortion votes, they never have," she says. "David Cameron doesn't like it, I think him and George Osborne are in two completely different places. Osborne is very much pro-choice and David Cameron would like to see it reduced to 20-weeks so there is a difference there." Intriguingly, she suggests the whips don't have the "confidence" for a truly free vote. On paper, abortion votes are removed from the party whip system. As a matter of conscience, MPs are not required to vote along party lines. But this, Dorries insists, is not how it works in practice.
"It never is [a free vote]," she says. "The last one was softly whipped by Labour in 2008 – almost by a chain gang of female MPs hooking arms and stopping people going into the 'yes' lobby, so I think that there's always an element of undercover whipping takes place."
Dorries suggests this is the result of a militant approach to abortion on the left. "The left are very pro-choice," she says. "And I think it goes back almost to a time when the left was linked very closely to the eugenicist movement and people like Marie Stopes, who didn't even attend her own daughter's wedding because she was marrying a man who was wearing glasses. That's where I think the left's historic position on abortion stems from.
Dorries is a rarity among modern British politicians in that she has been very open about her faith. They have their differences, but she and Sayeeda Warsi are held up as proof that a new generation of politicians do, in fact, do God.
Does her view of abortion stem from her faith?
There is a trace of defensiveness in her voice when she answers. "I would say it was absolutely not driven in any way by my faith. It doesn't influence it in any way at all. My faith…" she trails off for a moment. Then: "…as weak as it is, plays a role in possibly all things, because, I suppose, as a Christian you try to do the right thing always. You try to do good rather than harm, but it's not even something I consider on the issue of abortion."
"As weak as it is"? For a politician seen by many as Britain's answer to the Tea party movement, it's a remarkable aside. Is her faith waning?
"I think it has in parliament, yeah," she says, with her customary honesty. "I think it takes such a beating in parliament. It's such a cynical world. It's very hard to be a practising Christian in parliament. I think it's almost impossible, actually. But I'm… my faith is not something that's a big thing. Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe that Jesus lived? Yes. Do I pray? Yes. Do I pray often? No. Am I a sinner? Yes. Frequently. Daily. Minutely. So what does that make me?"
Well, a rather frequent rebel, for starters. Dorries famously described David Cameron and George Osborne as "a pair of posh boys who don't know the price of a pint of milk". So who does she suggest as a remedy? London mayor Boris Johnson, who can bring in "an extra 50 Tory MPs" at the next election, she insists.
That's a long way off, of course. Boris is not even an MP at the moment and he's promised to fulfil his term as mayor, which runs until 2016. But this might not be a problem further down the line. "I think Boris will probably serve all of his term as London mayor, but he may serve the two years as London mayor whilst he's still an MP as well, in the same way Ken Livingstone did. I think we will see moves from Boris during the summer of 2013 and probably have him in parliament by 2014. And if we have Boris in parliament by 2014, I think he will be in a position to move."
And who would be her choice for chancellor? "Michael Gove," she says, without hesitation. "Michael Gove or Sajid Javid. I'd like to see Gove until Saj is ready."
She's not alone, ConservativeHome published their own 'Tory Cabinet of 2020' during the recent party conference and favoured Javid as a future chancellor. Unfortunately for Dorries, she didn't feature in its prophesies, but as an MP who is refreshingly frank, and equally divisive because of it, we will hear plenty more from this vocal backbencher.