Nadine Dorries has been given the Conservative whip back by Sir George Young, Coffee House can exclusively reveal. Sources in the Tory party tell me that the MP, who was suspended in November for appearing on the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, has just been told she can now return from exile.
This is a huge relief for many Conservative MPs, who have been growing increasingly worried that the continuing absence of the Tory whip was beginning to look vindictive and sexist, and risked pushing the Mid-Bedfordshire MP into the arms of UKIP. As David Davis argued this weekend, Nadine Dorries is a working class woman who grew up in council housing and has been treated badly by the Tory leadership, while Jesse Norman is an Old Etonian rebel who received a promotion. None of this helped the Tories with their women problem.
Dorries’ colleagues tell me that they have been sending her the whipping arrangements for each division so that she knows how to vote along the Conservative party line. But it was the threat that she might have defected to UKIP after the local elections which seems to have spooked the party leadership into reinstating Dorries, rather than this being the right thing to do. That it took whispers about Nigel Farage and headlines in the newspapers to change the minds of those at the top shows quite how panicked the party is about UKIP.
George Osborne was widely reported to have been resisting requests from the whips to end Dorries’ exile. He was angered by her ‘arrogant posh boy’ comments of last summer, although this was not the reason she was suspended. But if the leadership was to suspend every MP that called it names, Brian Binley would have lost the whip long ago for calling the PM a ‘chambermaid’ and a ‘caretaker’, and Tim Yeo would have found himself in hot water for asking whether the Prime Minister was a man or a mouse. The criticism I have heard repeatedly from backbenchers is that this looked like double standards. Dorries herself has pointed out over the past few months of estrangement that she missed no votes and that other colleagues seemed remarkably quick to criticise her while they were themselves abroad enjoying holidays.
Worse things happen at sea and in Westminster and it is right that Dorries has been restored to the Conservative fold at long last. She did not deserve to have been kept away for so long. The possibility that she could use a little-known party rule to reinstate herself without the leadership’s blessing will have concentrated whips’ minds, too. The leadership couldn’t have held out any longer without serious unrest in the party. The new parliamentary year means a fresh start.
Dorries is very popular with her colleagues, and this conflict needed a resolution soon, as it could have created a domino effect of MPs speaking out against the leadership, or even angry defections if she had been pushed too far. That the whips have decided to reinstate her will heal a wound not just for this particular MP, but for her colleagues, who were growing increasingly enraged on her behalf. It is a victory, but perhaps not one resulting from a great deal of common sense.
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