I’m an MP… Get Me Out of Westminster
Nadine Dorries’ descent into the heart of reality-TV darkness shows that even politicians are disengaged from politics.
So Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, has become the latest public figure to star in the series, I’m a Politician… Get Me Out of Westminster. The format should be familiar by now. A political figure – usually a has-been, a never-will-be, or most prominent of all, a desperate-to-be – grows tired of the tedious work of lawmaking and potentially determining the future of society and decides that the only way to Really Make Difference is to appear in some variant of reality TV.
The most notorious of these escapees from Westminster was, of course, Gorgeous George Galloway, who in 2006, swapped his duties as Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow for a few feline weeks in the Celebrity Big Brother house. But there have been plenty of others, too. Former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik spent ages trying to be a celebrity rather than a politician, an effort that included touching the bum of one the Cheeky Girls for a while, before he finally got his not-so-big break on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here in 2010. In 2006, another Lib Dem MP, Julia Goldsworthy, cropped up in Channel 4’s athletic embarrassment, The Games, to no discernible effect. And at Christmas a couple of years ago, current UK business secretary, Vince Cable, made a leaden-footed appearance on the BBC’s ballroom-dancing extravaganza, Strictly Come Dancing.
To give Dorries her due, her appearance on I’m a Celebrity… has singularly annoyed more of her parliamentary colleagues and some sections of the press than even Galloway’s indefatigable appearance on CBB – and he has long been about as popular as salmonella at a finger buffet. Dorries probably didn’t help her case by not telling anyone what she was doing, aside from mentioning to the Tory chief whip that she was going away for a bit. Still, the news that she is soon to appear entrapped in a rat-infested alcove, her face stuffed with monkey’s genitals and her ears blocked with wasps’ wax, while she heroically searches for ‘food tokens’, has prompted some to angrily ask why she thinks this is more important than representing her constituents and to question whether she should really accept the £40,000 appearance money.
But alongside the ire, her decision to head to Australia for a few weeks has also been greeted with what appears to be sympathy and understanding, too. A Guardian editorial began by applauding Dorries’ ‘unblushing capacity for attracting attention’ which ‘has a certain appeal in this grey, cautious era’, before arguing that politicians have for too long shown an inability to engage with those they expect to vote for them: ‘Something has to be done, and generations of theorists and politicians have failed to find out what.’ Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome, was even more appreciative: ‘[Dorries hopes] that she’ll be able to introduce herself to an audience that would never tune into Question Time, the Daily Politics or perhaps even a main news bulletin. She argues that more people watch and vote in reality shows than in many elections. If that’s where the people are, that’s where she thinks MPs should be too.’
And that is indeed Dorries’ justification: by appearing on a popular TV show, she will make politics, or at least her politics, popular. ‘I’m doing the show’, she told the Sun, ‘because 16million people watch it. If people are watching I’m A Celebrity…, that is where MPs should be going.’ In fact, the argument that politicians have been too aloof, too content to swan about the Palace of Westminster, to bother engaging with an increasingly disengaged public, tends to be made by every single politician about to appear in a reality-TV show. ‘I believe that politicians should use every opportunity to communicate with people’, said Galloway in 2006. ‘I’m a great believer in the democratic process. Big Brother is watched by millions. More young people vote during Big Brother than in the general election. I hope they’ll all be voting for me over the next few weeks.’ Or as Sally Bercow, the wife of John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, put it: ‘I’m kind of going in because I want to stick two fingers up to the establishment.’
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What’s odd about this desire to be down and political with the people is that time and again, it is shown to be nonsense. Cable’s appearance on Strictly Come Dancing did little to warm the nation’s cockles to the prospect of deficit reduction. As for Galloway, did he really manage to propagate his anti-Iraq war views, and his soupy socialism, to the masses using the medium of CBB? Not exactly. Instead we saw him bicker about trivia alongside such political firebrands as the woman who once had sex with Sven-Göran Eriksson, Preston from the Ordinary Boys, and the sinister, mumbling self-pity spume that is Michael Barrymore. Oh, and he wore a leotard and pretended to be a cat. Once suspects that Dorries is no more likely to find I’m a Celebrity… an ideal platform to spout her political views, which seem to boil down to opposing abortion and thinking Prime Minster David Cameron is a right posh twat.
What forsaking Westminster for the bright security lamps of the jungle will do, however, is further demean the role of the MP. This, after all, ought to be an important role. MPs don’t just represent their constituents’ particular interests; they play a role in making the laws of the land, of shaping the type of society that we live in. That Dorries is prepared to abandon this legislative role, this society-shaping function, shows just how little valued politics is, not just by the disenfranchised or the cynical, but, incredibly, by politicians themselves.
Not that appearing on a popular TV show will make parliamentary politics popular. But it will popularise the belief that not even politicians themselves deem it worthwhile. So with her every cockroach-covered plunge into some fluorescent gunge, Dorries will indeed be making a difference – she will be furthering the decomposition of Britain’s political system.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.