They can try to undermine the government at every turn.
They can peddle homophobic lies.
They can preach a “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” dogma from the backbenches.
But what they must not do, on pain of the highest sanction possible, is appear on a “reality” TV show so trashy even my brother doesn’t watch it.
Today, probably my least favourite Conservative MP – Nadine Dorries – has been suspended from the Conservative Party for absenting herself from the Commons for up to a month in order to appear on “I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here”.
(I honestly think that name is something of a misnomer – perhaps it’s time to change it to “I have an over-inflated sense of my own importance...Get Me On TV!”)
To be honest, I feel a little sorry for Nadine. I mean, withdrawing the whip because she’ll be absent for a month? She’s not likely to last more than I week I would have thought.
The Telegraph reported that, on returning from her adventures in Australia, she will “face the wrath of Sir George Young”. That’s a most incongruous image – I can just imagine the kindly Old Etonian looking skywards and tutting. “Dear, dear Nadine...”
The newspaper also reported that the Conservative leadership were concerned that, by appearing on the show, she was making “herself ridiculous for public entertainment”. It does make you wonder they were never too concerned about how ridiculous she’s looked when discussing LGBT issues, abortion or the coalition.
Still, I think they were right to act. The Tories have said she must “justify herself” to her constituents. Easy to say when you have a thumping majority to defend. It would be more interesting if we were able to dismiss MPs, as the Liberal Democrats have championed for some time. Ms Dorries may well have returned to find she no longer had a constituency to represent.
I do believe that it is right that an MP should explain this kind of decision to their constituents. Furthermore, they should also discuss it with their local party officers, members and activists. They are elected, after all, to serve the constituency and the needs of its electorate rather than their own self-aggrandising interests.
Theresa May is absolutely right when she asserts that MPs have an obligation to “be in their constituency and the House”; MPs may be “celebrities” but they are, above all else, public servants.
Perhaps Nadine Dorries has forgotten this – or perhaps never fully grasped what the essence of public service is. While I don’t begrudge anyone seizing the opportunity to demean themselves on national television, I firmly believe her constituents, her party and British democracy deserve better.
The oddest thing is that she has apparently spoken to Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home, but did not see fit to mention her lengthy absence from her duties to her local party. That says everything anyone should need to know about her commitment to accountability. The best that can be said is that her actions are disrespectful.
I can only wonder what future historians will make of this. There have been so many interesting reasons for withdrawal of the whip – but surely disappearing to Australia to participate in acts of questionable taste on a TV show of questionable entertainment value has to be a first.
More seriously, I will not rejoice over Ms Dorries’ suspension from the Conservative Party. That’s not because I disagree that her actions merit the sanction, because I do – and I think action should have been taken to rid the party of this turbulent spirit some time ago. However, I have my suspicions that Dorries will not regard her suspension with undue concern. Her recent actions suggest an indifference to party discipline and I imagine she will in some respects be relieved to have cast off the stifling straitjacket of loyalty. She now has a new freedom via which she can promote, without restraint, her own politics of intolerance, bigotry and exclusivism. It will also bring her into the wider public consciousness and maybe (just maybe) a new-found, if undeserved, respect. She's plainly tired of the subservient role she has had to play to her party, and in turn that her party has played to the coalition. She is likely to welcome the publicity and liberation from the restraints of party allegiance, if not necessarily the increased media scrutiny. She also knows only too well that the public like, and often respond positively to, off-key messages and political mavericks.
Am I being cynical in suggesting that this may be more considered than it at first seems? If, as I speculate, Nadine Dorries has decided to make a clean break from the Conservative Party and – as the likes of Ann Widdecombe have done before – successfully uses TV as a means by which to recreate themselves, there is more reason to be concerned at her influence and toxic political ideas than were she simply yet another discontented Tory rebel.
Eating food only marginally worse than that offered to me as a patient while in Inverclyde Royal Hospital would be for Dorries only a small price to pay if “I’m A Celebrity” proves to be the defibrillator by which she can resuscitate her stuttering political career. I also think she knows it.