Nadine Dorries has returned to the UK today, with a meeting between the first evictee of I’m a Celebrity: Get me Out of Here! and the chief whip due soon. Will she remain suspended from the Tory party? Dorries has already rehearsed some of the arguments she presumably plans to present to Sir George Young on her Twitter feed and in an interview with Fraser at the weekend, arguing that she only missed three days when Parliament was actually sitting, and listing other MPs who have taken more time away. She expects to have the Conservative whip restored to her now she has returned.
The whips face a huge challenge in ensuring that their response to Dorries’ absence is proportionate and cannot be misinterpreted. They need to show that stepping out of line is not without consequence, as MPs are like schoolchildren in their need for clear boundaries and examples of where those boundaries lie. I argued back in September that David Cameron and the whips needed to take a leaf out of England cricket coach Andy Flower’s book in the way he dealt with Kevin Pietersen’s misbehaviour (and it was interesting to hear the reinstated KP taking care to praise the ‘united’ England team after scoring 186 runs in the early hours of Sunday morning), and there remains a need for Tory MPs to fear the force of the whips if they do misbehave.
But dealing with Nadine has its own difficulties. The image of posh boys booting out the working-class mum is potent. Any disciplinary measures cannot be seen to be a revenge from the Prime Minister for the personal beef that he has with Nadine Dorries. She is the one who called the PM and the Chancellor ‘two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk’, and who was humiliatingly slapped down in the Chamber by Cameron, who joked that Dorries was ‘extremely frustrated’. When they suspended the Tory whip from Dorries, the whips ran the risk that the move could be interpreted as a revenge for the bad blood that exists between her and the Prime Minister. The stakes are clearly much higher this time around as they decide whether to restore the whip. The obvious solution would be to allow her constituency party to make the first move instead, which would entirely remove the Tory leadership from the equation if she is deselected.