Dorries, Galloway and the problem of MPs’ leave

Picture of the MP Nadine Dorries, a white woman wearing a bright red dressNadine Dorries, the conservative (with a small ‘c’) Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, has been suspended from her party (and likely faces de-selection in the run-up to the next general election) following her travel to Australia to take part in the ‘reality’ show I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. She claimed she had been planning to use the show to talk politics to the other contestants, but it has been pointed out that any political speechifying she did would be edited out under British TV neutrality rules, as has happened to politicians who went on previous reality shows. She is, of course, not the first MP to take time out of Parliament to go on a reality show, but is the first from a major party.

The first was, of course, George Galloway in the Big Brother house in 2006, in which he made a fool of himself in a cat suit. Galloway was the Respect Parliamentary party and there was nobody to sack him. The law does not allow for the recall of a sitting MP, so constitutents who elect what turns out to be a lame-duck MP are stuck with them until the next general election (unless they resign or die in the interim). It’s a good thing the party has taken action against Dorries, but we can hardly expect either of the two major parties to introduce legislation to make sure MPs honour their obligation to their constituents and face consequences when they don’t.

If parents take their children out of school during term time, they can be fined or even, if it is persistent, imprisoned. People in normal jobs do not get to take time out without their bosses’ permission, which will probably be refused if it is for something as trivial as Big Brother or I’m a Celeb. Besides the fact that appearing in a reality show where the contestants are expected to make fools of themselves is beneath the dignity MPs are supposed to display, MPs are elected to represent their constitutents by voting and speaking on matters that may affect their lives and they pay themselves handsomely out of the public’s money for doing so. They cannot do this, nor speak to their constituents, if they are holed up in the Big Brother house or in an isolated overseas location. There should be no excuses for lengthy absences from Parliament for trivial reasons, and not for a reason this trivial.

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