Louise Bagshawe is Conservative MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire.
The New Statesman blogs put up last week are forcing me to do both. "Bagshawe, Dorries and the rise of the 'Mama Grizzlies'", squealed the Staggers. Then later, to up the ante, it added, "Cameron's little backbench problem", suggesting that, as David Cameron distanced himself from extremists on the US right, he may have a problem on his backbenches with red-fanged, Palin-adoring, Tea Party-lovin', gun-totin', Bible-bashin', neanderthal social conservative types, like, uh, yours truly.
Look, I know the New Statesman is a left wing mag. I realise it supports the Labour party. But I confess I always thought it was a serious publication, and would adhere to your basic journalistic ethics. Magazines are free to characterise an interviewee any way they want to editorially. But to lie (by omission) about what somebody said in an interview to fit the story they wanted to write is surely beneath them.
Here's what happened: they asked for an interview about Palin and the Tea Party. "We're looking for Conservative women who support this grass roots movement in the States," said Sophie Elmhirst, the interviewer and deputy editor. "Then you've got the wrong girl," I said. "I don't support the Tea Party." She wanted to talk to me anyway. Did I like Sarah Palin? I said I had big reservations. Here is what I said in the interview, when asked.
On Palin: the quote they pulled is such ludicrous cherry-picking as to truly be unethical. I did say that at the Republican party convention and her acceptance speech, it was like watching the birth of a major star. That is surely received wisdom from most political observers on the right and left. But, I went on to say, it was painful to me, as an early supporter, to watch how her campaign imploded. In the full article, Sophie demurely quotes me as having said there were "various problems". I cited the disastrous Couric and other interviews, and furthermore talked about how awful it was when Palin quit early as Governor of Alaska with that long, rambling exit speech. In fact, I said to Elmhirst that Palin was politically completely dead and buried after the campaign and quitting as Governor, and that it was somewhat impressive that she'd managed, from such a low point, to reinvent herself as an eminence grise of her party, backing primary candidates, many from the Tea Party.
Still, I said, I didn't agree at all with Palin's choice of candidates. In particular I discussed the disastrous choice of the extremist Christine O' Donnell. Many Tea Party candidates were absolute nutters, I believe was the phrase I used. And I didn't back them or identify with them. So yes, I admired her grit and the fact she'd come back from such a nadir, but didn't agree with her choices. This is hardly a flag-waving enlisting in the Palin army, is it?
From the above, the New Statesman chose to excerpt, alone, the bit about Palin's convention speech, to make me appear to be a cheerleader for her. That is honestly pretty disgraceful. Perhaps even worse is the flat-out untruth that I support the Tea Party. I said otherwise. They are a hodgepodge of some good sound candidates and some lunatics.
Next up: Sophie Elmhirst and the NS blog that i "identify closely with Sarah Palin's social conservatism", quoting only the fact that I am pro-life.
How can this woman look herself in the mirror? She asked about social conservatism. "I'm not a social conservative," I said. I explained that I was only pro-life, but then again, so are many members of the Parliamentary Labour party. I talked about feminism, standing up on rape anonymity, supporting David Cameron's attempts to make our party more inclusive with women and ethnic minorities. For the record, I oppose the death penalty. I favour gun control. (Both anathema to Gov. Palin). I support gay marriage. I am an out and out feminist. I do not support a blanket ban on immigration. The Republican party in the States would barely recognise me as a Conservative, I fear. If you are looking on the 'social liberal/social conservative' spectrum, the Republican woman I identify with most is Megan McCain, not Sarah Palin (and I'm probably to the left of her too, since I'm for gun control and against the death penalty).
So "I'm not a social conservative" turns into "Bagshawe identifies closely with Palin's social conservatism."
On abortion, I explained, although pro-life, my political aim would be for something I could actually get done - a reduction of the limit to twenty weeks, for which, in a free vote, David Cameron already voted. Whereas George Osborne voted the other way. That's the beauty of free votes on conscience issues, which our party has always respected.
Lastly, in an ironically sexist display, the New Statesman blogged about myself and Nadine Dorries MP, attempting to portray us as sharing views simply because we're both women. Nadine is her own woman. We're both pro-life, and there the similarity ends. The "social conservative" tag was laid on us both, with Nadine talking about stay at home mothers, as though I shared this view. Personally, I respect the choices mothers make, but I would argue that over 70% of mothers in Britain today work outside the home, and as one of those mothers, my focus is on the majority. I would hate to see policy go in a direction that in any way forced mothers to stay at home full-time. It must be a choice that families make for themselves.
How the New Statesman can take the above, spin it as my undying adoration of Palin, my love of the Tea Party, and my "social conservatism", is beyond me. The editor of the magazine should ask Sophie Elmhirst for the complete unedited tapes, and review them. And perhaps publish them. I stand by what I said, not by their total misrepresentation of what I said.That is, if they have any ethics at all.
In the final question of the interview, Sophie Elmhirst gave it one last try to get me to endorse the Tea Party. "So would you say to young women they should get involved in grass roots movements like this if they want to make a difference?" she asked. "No, I wouldn't," I said. "The best, quickest way to make a difference is to join a mainstream political party. Join the Conservatives, stand for your local council, run for Parliament. That's what I did and now I'm in the House of Commons voting."
It's good advice for young women I think - and for young men. Just, as you soldier your way up that mainstream political ladder, watch out for cherry-picking journalistic rubbish like the New Statesman story! And if somebody does misrepresent what you said, I recommend Conservative Home as an excellent way of putting the record straight.
11am update on 5th October: Having been so cross at how the Staggers misrepresented what I said, I should have checked with Nadine Dorries MP before posting this piece. I apologise to her - Nadine is, in fact, pro-choice, and supports abortion in the early stages. Her hard work over a long period in trying to get the upper limit reduced to 20 weeks led to my making an unfounded assumption. I would happily have voted with her in the lobbies for that modest reform and hope that I shall get the chance to do so again. Also, as she pointed out to me last night, she is a working mother herself and respects the choices of any who choose to work. Where we differ is that she believes that stay at home mothers have no voice whereas I do not share that view.