A bit of easy graft for Politics.co.uk and the Huffington Post this week, in the form of interviews with rentaquote MP Nadine Dorries.
At Politics.co.uk, the discussion turned to Dorries’ religious faith:
Does her view of abortion stem from her faith?
There is a trace of defensiveness in her voice when she answers. “I would say it was absolutely not driven in any way by my faith. It doesn’t influence it in any way at all. My faith…” she trails off for a moment. Then: “…as weak as it is, plays a role in possibly all things, because, I suppose, as a Christian you try to do the right thing always. You try to do good rather than harm, but it’s not even something I consider on the issue of abortion.”
“As weak as it is”? For a politician seen by many as Britain’s answer to the Tea party movement, it’s a remarkable aside. Is her faith waning?
“I think it has in parliament, yeah,” she says, with her customary honesty. “I think it takes such a beating in parliament. It’s such a cynical world. It’s very hard to be a practising Christian in parliament. I think it’s almost impossible, actually. But I’m… my faith is not something that’s a big thing. Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe that Jesus lived? Yes. Do I pray? Yes. Do I pray often? No. Am I a sinner? Yes. Frequently. Daily. Minutely. So what does that make me?”
The above, though, is a clever pose for at least three reasons: it distances religion from her medical arguments concerning abortion; it plays into a narrative of conservative Christian resentment about the current state of the UK; and it ensures that she is able to maintain her alliance with Christian Right groups such as Christian Concern on her own terms. On this last point, it should be recalled that in late 2010 Dorries took up with the estranged husband of an ex-friend; Dorries’ self-justifying and repellent public attacks on this ex-friend brought criticism from the conservative moralist Anne Atkins.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post article shows the extent to which her political positions are the result of personal grudges:
“Nobody wrongs me and doesn’t pay for it,” she says, referring to Cameron’s 2011 jibe in the Commons that the backbencher was “extremely frustrated”. “There is a saying: ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’”
The incident has been widely discussed; Dorries asked Cameron a smart-arse question about Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and she got a smart-arse reply. It’s unlikely that Cameron intended his response to contain a double entendre, but that’s the way it came out and it looked unattractive, for obvious reasons. Cameron subsequently sent her a text-message apology, which ought to have been the end of the matter. However, Dorries’ milking of her grievance may also be strategic: she used to subject the Speaker, John Bercow, to a barrage of personal abuse until he shut her up by adding her to an advisory body. I looked at Dorries’ deteriorating relationship with the Prime Minister here.
Dorries also used the interview to continue her feud against Chancellor George Osborne, this time going so far as to drag Osborne’s wife, the author Frances Osborne, into the narrative:
Dorries reveals that her personal animosity towards the chancellor was provoked after a “left-wing journalist” told her last year that “Number 11 has just given a story to the Guardian that Cameron is pulling his support [for Dorries’ amendment on abortion counselling]… it came straight from George Osborne, it came straight from No 11.”
She claims the unnamed journalist told her that Osborne “is completely opposed to your agenda, he is completely pro-choice and he’s pushed into it by his wife”, and tells the HuffPost UK: “I just couldn’t believe it… I will never forgive George Osborne for that.”
At the time, of course, Dorries blamed Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats for Cameron’s lack of support for the amendment, and it was this that prompted the “frustrated” comment.
Dorries’ views on abortion are much discussed – she presents herself as being a pro-choice reformer, seeking a legal reduction to 20 weeks. However, as Politics.co.uk notes:
She’s quite open that she’d prefer to see a 12-week limit, as would health secretary Jeremy Hunt. This would also be in line with the European average. Tellingly, she insists she would not campaign for any further reduction, though.
I will never, ever, attempt to restrict abortion below 20 weeks EVER. You work for a paper which repetitively prints lies
This was despite the fact that, as Unity also notes, Dorries had actually voted in favour of a reduction to 12 weeks on 20 May 2008. This is just one incidence of dishonest presentation that goes beyond mere “spin” – she has also been caught out misleading Parliament by describing an evangelical anti-abortion counselling charity as being “neither pro-life nor pro-choice”.
As it happens, I take the view that Dorries’ medical arguments about abortion should be considered on their own merits, even though (like Hunt) she may be being less than candid about her real agenda; the strength of an argument is independent of the character of the person who makes it.
However, that’s not Dorries’ own style, and she is herself very quick to impute discrediting motives to opponents. Returning again to the Politice.co.uk article:
“The left are very pro-choice,” she says. “And I think it goes back almost to a time when the left was linked very closely to the eugenicist movement and people like Marie Stopes, who didn’t even attend her own daughter’s wedding because she was marrying a man who was wearing glasses. That’s where I think the left’s historic position on abortion stems from.”
Actually, Stopes didn’t have any daughters – it was her son’s wedding that she refused to attend. Dorries is typically sloppy about such details, which are probably given to her as talking points. This kind of vilification is also vintage Dorries: a year ago, she raised Peter Singer’s views on infanticide as representing the essence of Humanism.
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