Fallout From Parliamentary Standards Commission Report into Nadine Dorries MP

Nadine Dorries MP has featured on this blog previously for two broad reasons: firstly, because of her (semi-detached) associations with a political activist evangelical group, and secondly, because of her willingness to launch vicious smears – in conjunction with other players who seek to manipulate public discourse – against anyone who offers a critical perspective on her public statements and self-presentation.

Dorries has been a reasonably-well known national media figure for several years, but she became a true household name exactly a year ago, when she abandoned her parliamentary duties to participate in I’m a Celebrity. At the time, she explained that she was going on the programme “because 16 million people watch it. If people are watching I’m A Celebrity, that is where MPs should be going.” Her decision caused her to be temporarily suspended from the Conservative Party, although her relationship with the party leadership had by this time broken down anyway.

In fact, Dorries was the first person to be voted off the show by viewers, but although she didn’t have the time do much political consciousness-raising while engaged in sitting in a pit full of bugs or eating an ostrich cloaca, her efforts did at least have the side effect of establishing “Nadine Dorries” as a brand: further media appearances and columns followed, and in September we learnt that she had been rewarded with a six-figure publishing deal by Head of Zeus for “a moving and autobiographical trilogy of novels set in 1950s Liverpool about Irish Catholic families struggling against poverty, hardship and abuse”, beginning with a book entitled The Four Streets (referring to a district in the city). Perhaps significantly, the word “Nadine” on the book’s sentimental and generic cover appears larger than “Dorries”.

As an MP, Dorries is obliged to register outside earnings with Parliament. One would have thought this would be a straightforward matter: after all, media work can hardly go unnoticed, and there’s nothing untoward about it. Yet Dorries instead set upon a bizarre course of action that has led to censure by the Parliamentary Committee for Standards and to a newspaper story linking her business partner and landlord to a “glamour model”.

Unity at Ministry of Truth has an extensive and critical account of the Committee’s report, and of the evidence that Dorries gave to it. The very short version is that Dorries argued that because her earnings were being paid into Averbook Ltd – a company which she controls –  she did not have to declare them. Instead, she insisted, she only needed to declare payments received to her personally from the company. It was explained to Dorries that she had misunderstood, but she was having none of it – rather than comply, she decided not to cooperate with the Committee and attempted to intimidate the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, with an extraordinary threat to sue her personally if she persisted

Dorries was also late in registering Averbrook itself, and the report included the detail that:

…I have no evidence that the apparent late registration of Ms Dorries’ interest in Averbrook Ltd was other than inadvertent… However, I consider that the serious breaches of the Code of Conduct and the rules of the House entailed by Ms Dorries’ omissions from the Register and her refusal to co-operate with my inquiry require me to report my findings formally to the Committee….

In a very brief apology in the House of Commons, made on the instruction of the Commissioner, Dorries seized on the word “inadvertent” to explain away what had happened, and in a subsequent interview with Amanda Devlin at the Leighton Buzzard Observer she downplayed the matter even more:

…Ms Dorries said she was actually apologising for being bolshie towards the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Hudson.

Ms Dorries, who represents Woburn, said: “I have only done what every other MP does, but the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards justified it to put a different interpretation on the role and has used my profile as a way of informing all the other MPs that this is the way it is now.”

The story is accompanied by an old photo of Dorries in her “jungle” hat, again emphasising her brand as a “game for a laugh” celebrity rather than an accountable public servant.

Averbrook also has a minority director, Andy Rayment; indeed, it was a moribund old company registered to him before Dorries took it over. Dorries explained to the Committee:

 My business partners, who have nothing to do with me personally—he is just a business partner, with his wife—were very clear that, in going into business, they did not want to be brought into the public domain via my political position. 

Alas, however, Dorries efforts here appear to have backfired slightly. Here’s Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror:

Controversial Tory MP Nadine Dorries shares her landlord with a Romanian glamour model who seeks out sex on the internet.

The maverick politician and I’m A Celebrity star lives in a house owned by Conservative bigwig Andy Rayment, her millionaire business partner.

…Mr Rayment is a business partner as well as landlord for both women.

Bizarrely, the “glamour model” (who claims that website profiles were created by someone else) is reportedly saying that Dorries is her “best friend”, while Dorries told the paper that she does “not believe” the quote and has passed Moss’s email on to her lawyer. But that’s just one oddity; Dorries also told Moss that:

“Andy and Ann Rayment are two of my closest friends. They own a large number of properties in Bedfordshire which they let out.”

That’s in direct contradiction to her “nothing to do with me personally” evidence given to the Committee, but it fits better with the Rayment’s involvement with Conservative politics in Bedfordshire and with the fact that Rayment bought the house in which she now lives at a time when Dorries was looking for new accommodation.

This is not the first time that Dorries has made a public statement that contradicts evidence given to the Committee – in 2010 she explained away discrepancies between content on her blog and some of her expenses claims by stating that her blog was “70 percent fiction”, only to later retract the explanation. The Parliamentary Commissioner at the time, John Lyon, was not minded to re-open the investigation; one wonders if Hudson will take a more robust approach.

The Mirror and other papers also note that:

Figures show Averbrook had an income of £142,000 and made an £82,000 profit.

Dorries told the Committee that Rayment was the “copy-editor for her books.”

Meanwhile, her evidence to the Committee also references another sum of money:

In my last statement I informed the committee that I am frequently reported to various authorities. I thought it worth clarifying that this has been as a result of my own campaign to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place from twenty four to twenty weeks.

The purpose of the reporting, on the basis of spurious claims, is to undermine my credibility and to distract and preoccupy both me and my office from the issue I have pursued since I became an MP.

Following the reporting to the police I had need to instruct a solicitor as the investigating officers would not discuss the case with me directly—even though the Standards Commissioner had investigated the very same complaint and had made no finding against me.

The bill was in fact, £67,000 not £62,000 as I quoted…

That’s an extraordinary amount, and one wonders why she hasn’t made a fuss about the injustice of it. Although (as a commentator below reminds me) the police did at one time refer Dorries to the CPS over a matter on which the CPS eventually said there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed, she was never arrested or charged with anything; interaction with police would have been relatively low-key and probably confined to some correspondence and perhaps an informal interview. I know lawyers are expensive, but £67,000?

UPDATE: Dorries has responded on Twitter to a hostile question about the discrepancy between her evidence and her statement to the newspaper:

@Shaker_Chizzle: @NadineDorriesMP why did you lie to the PSC? Rayment “one of your closest friends” yet also “nothing to do with me personally”?
5:13 PM – 17 Nov 13

@NadineDorriesMP: @Shaker_Chizzle as in related to me , ie, connected obviously but so what and who cares? Blocked for thinking my business is yours!
5:21 PM – 17 Nov 13

In an attempt at further clarification, she has added:

Er, no. I was speaking in the context of IPSA definition ie, personally connected=related. My friends are my business.
9:41 AM – 18 Nov 13

It is true that the IPSA guidelines do indeed use the phrase “connected party”, defined as a relative or as “a body corporate, a firm or a trust with which the MP is connected as defined in section 252 of the Companies Act 2006”; but this is in the specific context of staffing. Here are Dorries’ words in context:

Q2 Chair: I will open up the questioning and then other members may want to join in. Was Averbrook Ltd a way of concealing earnings from media appearances and articles?

Nadine Dorries: Absolutely not. In fact, that is probably evidenced by the fact that on the very day that Averbrook existed [i.e., reactivated from its moribund state], the first thing that I did was ring the Registrar to say that I wanted the company to be registered. My business partners, who have nothing to do with me personally-he is just a business partner, with his wife-were very clear that, in going into business, they did not want to be brought into the public domain via my political position.

The question was not “do any of your relatives have an interest in Averbrook?”, and her reply does not use the “connected party” jargon. Further, a reply of “my business partners are not by relatives” would not be a sufficient answer to the question that was asked.

Perhaps Dorries chose her words deliberately for just this eventuality, but it’s clear that she was speaking in a general way and that she intended the Committee to understand that she had no personal association with the couple she now describes as being “two of my closest friends”.