Throughout the Leveson enquiry, I was amazed by the number of people who watched it religiously from home. I know of people who work from home who took breaks during the evidence sessions from key witnesses.
I heard from a constituent who timed his dog walks around the hearings. A friend organised her outings and her diary around Leveson TV and, as throwaway comments in the pub and at gatherings, I heard people make comments such as "ooh, it's Rowling's turn tomorrow at Leveson". Although these various shared and overheard comments had made me take on board the fact that people across the country appeared to have become armchair lawyers, I didn't give the phenomenon much thought, until now.
Leveson was thrilling. It brought public figures, those the public usually only see within the stuffy, rigid format of Westminster, to the chair and the rigorous questioning of a QC. They were being held to account by someone they couldn't spin to. It brought ordinary people like themselves in the form of Milly Dowler's parents to have their voices heard. The saw their much loved celebrities such as Rowling, Grant and others on the screen in a way they would never normally get to see them. For many, Leveson was intoxicating.
The media powers that be may think people hate public figures such as MPs and so frequently throw them what they think they want in the form of disingenuous articles in newsprint. They may be about to discover that the public hate journalists and newspapers just as much.
In my seven and a half years as an MP I think it is important to state that I have never taken a single day away from Parliament on one of the many jollies most MPs enjoy to various parts of the world.In fact, some MPs can spend as many as six weeks a year away on freebie jaunts. This isn't really a point I would normally make. However, it seems that my appearance on IAC has been criticised by some MPs, admittedly the jobless, more ambitious ones, and therefore I regretfully feel compelled to point this out.
However, putting aside the duplicity of the ambitious, what has shocked me the most has been the sexism and double standards applied to my appearance.
I am very sure that William Hague, following his resignation as leader of the party, spent far more than three sitting days away from Parliament whilst he was writing his books and speaking on the after dinner circuit earning vast amounts of money. Did he have his whip suspended? Some MPs earn an extremely substantial salary in the City and pop into Parliament to vote at night – have they been challenged over the sitting days they have missed?
In fact, a considerable number of MPs, including many backbenchers, supplement their salaries with outside earnings which involve them having to occasionally, or in some cases frequently, miss days away from Parliament. Do the press dedicate numerous front pages to their extra curricular activities? Following Vince Cable's handling of the BSkyB deal he appeared on Strictly Come Dancing. Oh, how the press loved him. Well, of course, they would, he’s a bloke. Was his whip suspended? If it had been, far more people would have taken note of his appearance.
Nadine Dorries submitted this piece to ConservativeHome a week ago, under embargo.
G'day. Is it outrage back home? Do people understand why I am in a jungle, eating only three handfuls of rice a day with a few beans thrown in? That is of course, unless I get a live cockroach or a fish eye (the optic nerves are tough apparently) or worse even... and we all know what I mean!
The fact is that as soon as I finish typing this email, my phone and lap top are confiscated and I don't get either back until I am evicted.
I think many may have guessed that I am a bit of an anti-politics politician. I love it when we MPs can make a difference, such as when we won forced the Prime Minister's hand with regard to the EU budget negotiations, or when we defeated the proposal to introduce Lords reform. Overall, however, I believe that we politicians need to spend less time talking to each other and more time talking to people.
When I was offered this opportunity, and contrary to rumour, I am the only sitting MP to have been offered and was one of the first people to have been signed up, months ago, I seized upon it. Who wouldn't?
An audience of 16 million people for the first and last show and 12 million per show is a very large audience. In the world of messaging, it's huge. It would have been mad to have refused.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile and the culture of the 1970s.
Yesterday morning, on Twitter, I read a joke 'the 1970s has just been arrested'. As a girl growing up in Liverpool, I often heard the saying, 'many a true word said in jest' . You have to have grown up in the '70s to know how un-funny that joke is. You have to understand how prevalent and open abuse was.
Also yesterday, I heard that a high serving member of the government in the 1980s may have been involved in a pedophile ring. If this allegation has legs, if the name of the person is revealed, then there will be damage which will travel down a couple of decades and hit the party today.
Within 48hrs of the Jimmy Savile allegations hitting the headlines, his family had removed his gravestone - they knew the public backlash would, at the very least, probably result in its destruction. People had trusted Savile, they invest trust in a government too. Whereas people know that one man a government does not make, or indeed one person does not represent the behaviour of 650 others, there will be anger directed our way because we have an identity. There may be no gravestone to smash, but in Westminster, collectively, we are something a stick can be taken to.
A few weeks ago I commented that one good thing which could come out of the Jimmy Savile case would be that those who had been abused would have the confidence to come forward and disclose their own stories of abuse. It is a game of numbers. The more who disclose, the more will become confident enough to open up to share their own experience.
This article was submitted yesterday. The 'yesterdays' in the article therefore refer to Wednesday.
Despite being called every name under the sun and having my motives questioned at every turn, I have been consistently clear about the changes I would like to see to the UK abortion laws. I want a lower legal limit at which terminations can be carried out. My prefererce is for the limit to be lowered from 24 to 20 weeks and, in addition, every woman facing a crisis pregnancy to receive a non-compulsory offer of independent counselling.
In response to the debate about my amendment to the (then) Health and Social Care Bill in September 2011, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anne Milton MP stated that, “We also want to consult widely and publicly as part of our proposals to help us ensure that we really improve services for women at what we know is an extremely difficult time in their lives. We need to consult the public; indeed, we need to consult the women about whom we are talking.”
Since that time a Government reshuffle has replaced Anne Milton with Anna Soubry MP. The Department for Health and the wider Government are the poorer for this change. Yesterday morning, responding to my Westminster Hall debate on lowering the legal limit, Anna Soubry reneged on the promise given by Anne Milton and threw out the counselling consultation.
In fact Soubry said, “I can see no purpose in a consultation, because we do not intend to change either the law or the guidelines.” So once again a member of the feminist elite has taken it upon herself to make the decision for other women, many of whom will be disadvantaged, less educated and less able to have their voice heard. Women may want counselling, but Minister Soubry has decided both that they cannot have it and they won’t even be asked if they want it. When her boss Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked his personal view on abortion, he repeated that he would like to see the legal limit reduced to 12 weeks. He is, however, a professional and quite capable of separating his personal views from his professional responsibilities. If only the same could be said of Ms Soubry. Instead, she has allowed her professional stance to be influenced by her personal background as an aggressive and lifelong pro-choice activist.
This coming Wednesday morning, in Westminster Hall, I shall be leading a debate to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place and will be making the case for those babies which are aborted for social reasons, ie, relationship breakdown, job change etc to be limited to twenty weeks. My proposal does not include foetal abnormality - that will remain a discussion between doctors and parents. However, it hurts to exclude those babies, as for me personally, a baby with Downs or any disability is as precious as any baby without. The existing legal provision provides for abortion up until birth for foetal abnormality and so problems picked up on the twenty week scan are not affected. If the recent Paralympics can’t change the attitude of society towards babies with disabilities, I don’t stand a chance,
The last time the abortion limit was debated was in May 2008 when I laid down an amendment to the HT and Embryology Bill, and called for a vote to reduce from twenty four weeks. That was defeated.
I was then, and am still now, constantly amazed at how those MPs who pertain to be pro-choice and pro-women, consistently ignore the rights of vulnerable women and appear to have actively taken the decision that, as they assume many women know exactly what they are doing when they have an abortion, the rights of the more vulnerable should be ignored. However, I shall deal with that during my speech.
Diane Abbott, the shadow Minister most vocal on this issue on behalf of the Labour party, frequently quotes the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guideline committee as being supportive of the twenty four week limit, however, she will no doubt fail to mention that the majority of the people who sit on the committee earn their living courtesy of the abortion industry.
The headlines this weekend make depressing reading for millions of Conservative voters, activists and MPs alike.
We may have reached a tipping point as it looks increasingly as though we have entered a situation similar to that of the worst of John Major’s catastrophic 'back to basics' days.
As with most things in life, it’s not a single issue but ‘events’ which are threatening to overtake us. It is a depressing situation for the PCC candidates and activists up and down the country, for the team fighting the Corby by-election and for party members everywhere who have felt detached from the party since we went into coalition and allowed the Liberal Democrat tail to wag the dog.
Andrew Mitchell’s long and slow political death has been a disastrous lesson in how not to manage a crisis. Many of us wondered how much public humiliation Mitchell would allow the Prime Minister to continue to heap on him before he cracked and resigned. I believe that it wasn’t the amicable meeting of the ’22 which did for Mitchell, it was PMQs earlier in the day as he sat red faced, inches from the Prime Minister. It must have been sheer willpower that kept him in his seat.
It was surely in the hot and febrile arena of the Chamber that Mitchell passed over the barrier of tolerance and broke. As Cameron, in full view of Mitchell’s assembled peers from all parties and the packed press gallery, publicly humiliated and denounced him as though he were a reprehensible school boy.
Yesterday we learned that the Department of Health is to launch an investigation as to why Jimmy Savile was put in charge of a task force overseeing Broadmoor Hospital. The BBC is to launch at least two internal investigations and the government may face civil claims, yet to be determined in number.
Jimmy Savile was an intelligent paedophile and, in accordance with standard paedophile behaviour, he charmed and wormed his way into positions of trust and authority which gave him free and easy access to young victims.
Speaking as someone who grew up throughout the sixties and seventies, sexual abuse was not uncommon. The reason why it was so prevalent was that it was a silent, taboo subject. Sex was not discussed in the way it is today. It wasn't shown in films, on television or depicted in magazines. It was never mentioned in the home and there were no sex education lessons in school. Underage pregnancy was un-common, abortion was rare and sexually transmitted diseases unusual. It was a different age which provided the perfect environment for predatory males, and there were a lot of them. The sixties decade of free love and sexual emancipation for women, courtesy of the invention of the birth control pill, appears to have lured these despicable men into a decade of new boldness.
So, within three days, three ministers declare their position on the taboo subject of abortion, including the Secretary of State for Health. Has that ever happened before, in any government?
All three, Maria Miller, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, voted on an abortion amendment I brought forward to reduce the abortion limit in 2008, and so their position was already firmly on the record. This week, the story began with Maria Miller, who confirmed her preferred position on a reduction to twenty weeks.
It was surprising as Miller is possibly the most cautious of MPs. However, she was asked a direct and un-prompted question by the respected journalist Cathy Newman, and gave a straight answer. Maria Miller is the Minister for Women and Equalities, and it could be argued that there is a vague overlap from the equalities brief into abortion, so she felt compelled to answer.
Then, on the eve of conference, Number 10 put Jeremy Hunt up for an interview with the pro-choice Times newspaper and the aggressively pro-choice journalist Alice Thompson.
Given the attention Maria Miller's comments attracted during the week, and the fact that Jeremy was on the record as voting for a reduction to twelve weeks, it would have been safe to put a large amount of money on it being just about the first question Thompson was going to ask. And of course, it was. As with Miller, Hunt gave an honest and direct answer. He is the Secretary of State for Health, and abortion legislation is health legislation.
And we're off. This conference season marks the "just past the half way stage" of the electoral cycle and this is where it all becomes interesting once again. We will take the fight to Labour with our "Labour isn't learning" poster and Ed Milliband will bring it back to us in his conference speech.
This Labour conference, and the ensuing media coverage to be harvested from it, is incredibly important to Labour, for no other reason than many people still don't know who Ed Milliband is. We do. Anyone reading this blog, who watches Question Time or Marr on Sunday and has more than a passing interest in political affairs, does. But a large swathe of the British public simply has no idea.
This was highlighted to me recently when a Cambridge-educated doctor asked me "who is the competition? Who is the leader of the Labour party now?" At a surgery last week, a constituent said "you know, I don't even know who has taken over, has Brown gone altogether?". Up until now, Ed Milliband has been suffering from a deficit of television and newsprint coverage. It has appeared as though the media have struggled to accept that he and not his brother David (mean, lean friend of Hilary Clinton and thereby more interesting to write about) won the leadership election. It is possibly still a fact that David, who when in office, had a high profile ministerial role, is for now still the better known of the two.
When Ed Milliband was elected as party leader in 2010, I commented that he really shouldn't be underestimated and I find the assumed complacency embodied in the words "the greatest gift to the Conservative party is Ed Milliband" frustrating. The Westminster elite know how Ed performs at PMQs, but we don't yet know how, with enhanced media coverage, he is going to play out in front of the British public and, in the meantime, the Labour party still enjoys a frighteningly large lead in the polls.
If you are someone who has spent many years enjoying conference, you could be forgiven for having stopped at home for the last few years - or at least, that’s where I thought you were.
The conference emphasis has shifted from having been a special time for activists to become involved and have their voices heard, to a week when the lobbying and political class get to eat, drink and party on fat corporate expense accounts.
Gone are the older couples walking around with plastic carrier bags stuffed with a conference programme, literature, political hand outs and a conspicuous hand-written time table of which meetings to attend, popping out of a jacket top pocket. In the plastic bag, the programme was pencilled in with stars next to the fringe meetings which provide free drinks and sandwiches at lunchtime, just in case there was no time to get back to the hotel.
Students asking awkward questions on the fringe are no more, and you will have to look long and hard to find an association Chairman attending to check out potential candidates for an upcoming selection.
Instead, meetings are packed with smart thirty-somethings in pin-striped suits asking complex and detailed questions, and expecting answers of a similarly comprehensive nature in order to report back to their clients - the subtext reading, "do you know how many bottles of Pinot Grigio I had to drink at your expense in order to obtain this information?"
Activists from associations across the country once used conference to make friends and compare notes, year after year. Where are they now?
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, the first time I heard it suggested that Boris might one day be Prime Minister.
It was in Bournemouth, on the second evening of conference in 2004. I was in the company of a shadow secretary of state and a senior member of CCHQ, and we were sat in the window seat of a restaurant. It was evening, dark and pouring with rain.
The restaurant was bustling, packed with conference goers and smelt of wet wool, pensioners and politicians.
We were in a slight hurry as I had to get the shadow minister to a speech he was due to deliver at a conference fringe - but after a full day which had begun at 6am - we were starving and desperate for food. My job was to place the order quickly and as I sat back down into my seat, the conversation turned to the last tense conference we three had been at together the previous year, which had set the scene for the downfall of Iain Duncan Smith.
The conversation wandered onto the longevity of Michael Howard’s tenure in the role of leader, which I was informed with an authorative voice, would be short.
Following the reshuffle last week we experienced a rush of policy announcements, some of which were supply-side oriented and very welcome in the push for growth. I could ask the question, why has it taken two-and-a-half years? But I won’t.
The most exciting and the most worrying of policies were the responsibility of the new planning minister, often quoted as a personal friend of George Osborne and David Cameron, the very nice Nick Boles
To all those who would like to build a conservatory or extend a house over the next three years, go and fill yer’ boots. Nick announced that from the New Year, thankfully, planning laws are to be relaxed to enable this to happen.
This will move will facilitate trade for suppliers, greater demand on the high street, and a resurgence in DIY which will in turn lead to more jobs.
Home owners will be happy and it is a policy which is a win win all the way.
However, not all is rosy. Nick is also hinting at relaxing green belt planning legislation and I am afraid, if he wants to do that, he is going to have the mother of all fights on his hands from Conservatives across the land.
Seriously, is there any political commentary more tedious than the constant speculation regarding who is on the way up and who is on the way down in the looming reshuffle? It’s one of those Westminster village, navel-gazing issues which sends politicians and journalists into frenzies of anticipation and expectation.
Whilst today, you enjoy the normal Sunday activities that most do, spare a thought for every ambitious Conservative MP (and that’s the vast majority) who will spend this weekend in a state of high agitation.
One manifestation of this agitation will be the constant checking of the mobile phone - to make sure it is in good working order – just in case something terminal happened in the five minutes since it was last checked, with the volume on very high and connected to the Bang and Olufsen speaker system.
God forbid that one should miss a call from No10 the second it comes through. Who knows, fail to answer and the Prime Minister may forget to call back or worse still, decide move on to plan b) phone an MP he had in reserve and, given the slightest opportunity to think about his decision a little longer may decide he prefers.
Writing with a mother’s heart, I find it impossible to condemn the foolish frolics of Prince Harry, who serves in our armed forces - against the will of the establishment - and risks his life along with the rest of our brave troops each and every working day.
I gave birth to my daughter around the same time Harry was born and I suppose I have watched him grow up, along with everyone else, via the media.
For my own daughter, I have been a constant presence, the daily backdrop to her life. Always there for her, I have played the role which, like all mothers, provides the invisible, subtle boundaries that all children need in place to bounce off.
Harry lost his own mother at the age of twelve, possibly one of the most formative years of his young life, and which of us who watched Diana’s funeral, can forget the very brave little soldier in the face of the world’s cameras, following her coffin.
There can be no doubt that had Harry’s mother lived, he would be a very different person today. However, that doesn’t mean he still wouldn’t have got his kit off in a private party whilst playing strip pool.
He may have been a foolish Prince, but he is our Prince, and that is why I find the photographs being published by a British newspaper so utterly reprehensible. Newspapers which spent days, if not weeks, covering the funeral of his mother, who was after all literally driven to her death by the media.