Margo MacDonald: Nadine earned Celebrity status

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My husband, at one time a Westminster MP, cannot comprehend how Nadine Dorries took part willingly in I’m A Celebrity. He isn’t shy to expound the causes and policies he supports and he has spoken in some surprising places. He and his generation of MPs didn’t have the opportunity afforded by reality TV, but they almost certainly would have disdained I’m A Celebrity. Yet they still managed to pull off some extra-curricular triumphs while in the Commons.

Ted Heath, known as sailor Ted, won the Sydney to Hobart yacht race when he captained Morning Cloud to victory and himself to a new level of popularity.

David Steel also had time off to allow him to take part in the Monte Carlo Rally. Currently, Gordon Brown is away from the House of Commons, criss-crossing the globe to carry out his UN commission and to make some of those speeches expected of former PMs, etc.

So really, what’s so different about Nadine Dorries using her own time in the parliamentary recess to indulge a whim, a secret wish to shine, or an opportunity to make her name much better known? Probably her reasoning was a blend of all three. And even though she was voted off before she could make as big a mistake as the pink lycra cat-suited George Galloway, she’s now one of the UK’s best-known politicians.

One thing is sure, even though she’s been slung out of the Tory group at Westminster, she is marked as A-grade trouble in the Chief Whip’s little black book, if she wasn’t before her Antipodean adventure. But her constituents won’t have missed her any more than those of the MPs who were off, courtesy of the whips, on fact-finding visits to nice warm 
countries.

Nadine Dorries will receive payment for her stint on I’m A Celebrity. Arguably, she might be judged to be honour- bound to offer to return any part of her salary paid for any time she spent away from her constituency and Westminster. But if she does, then a value should be attached to her colleagues’ parliamentary visits and that should be deducted from MPs’ salaries.

This last suggestion will be pounced on by the keepers of the flame in Westminster as being quite outrageous. Parliamentary visits under the patronage of the whips, withheld or gifted in order to persuade MPs to stay on-message, are undertaken as part of honourable members’ duties . . . or so the saying goes. Nadine Dorries could argue with just about the same level of integrity that she intended to use the experience to understand people better.

So what now? She says she wants back into the Tories. Some sharks are circling the tank waiting to see if the Tory management team takes leave of its senses and pushes out a popular, able and now well-known politician. UKIP has let it be known that if she’s askin’, they’re dancin’. But perhaps she’d be better to stay as an independent, at least for the time being, while she makes up her mind. She has at least two campaigns of which I’m aware and I think she could become a formidable campaigner.

Addicted to hope

THE Commons home affairs committee, after a year-long investigation, will tell David Cameron he should set up a royal commission on strategy and policies for dealing with illegal drugs. It’s not a done deal, but looks a more hopeful development than previous attempts to make governments face the cruel truth that their anti-drugs policies were not working.

In the late 1980s I was chairperson of the Scottish Drugs Forum. People working in widely varied drugs projects, whether trying to reduce harm as a priority or insisting on abstinence before acceptance for treatment and support, knew then that the policies supported by Labour and Conservative governments did not meet the needs of addicts, users (there is a difference), their families and communities.

For example, although in Edinburgh Dr Roy Robertson bravely led the way in operating a needle-exchange as part of the effort to check the spread of HIV, and from the start demonstrated its success, it took far too long for the policymakers in other areas to deal with the reality of unmanaged drug use.

Every year since I’ve been an MSP I’ve tried to build support for a commission to look into drug use, with the first objective of understanding the differences between drugs. This could result in a re-classification, and more realistic attitude towards different categories of drugs.

Because Holyrood is smaller, and closer to the ground, MSPs can get to the nitty-gritty quicker. But Westminster has leap-frogged us. So we now must put our weight behind the Commons home affairs committee.