UK politician in trouble over reality TV getaway

For the next few weeks, Nadine Dorries will abandon her job in the British Parliament to compete in a reality TV show. Her party and public are not impressed.

By her own account, Conservative politician Nadine Dorries is ‘never one to sit still’. ‘I have found the challenges of representing Mid Bedfordshire exhilarating,’ reads the ‘About me’ section of the MP’s blog.

But over the next few weeks, Dorries will negotiate a very different kind of challenge. Rather than the demands of aggrieved constituents, she will grapple with gruesome foodstuffs and exotic animals.

Why? Nadine Dorries has been unveiled as a participant in the next season of ITV’s reality show I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

It is, to say the least, a controversial decision. While she is marooned on her paradise island, Dorries will be unable to represent her constituents or participate in parliamentary debates. And throughout her trip to Australia, she will continue to draw her monthly salary of £5,478 as a Member of Parliament.

Her party leaders are furious. Within hours of the announcement, Dorries was suspended from the Conservative Party. At yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, she was gleefully mocked from both sides of the House, while another outspoken Tory accused her of ‘demeaning the role of an MP’.

But Dorries, no stranger to criticism, still insists on the wisdom of her move. As a reality TV contestant, she points out, she will reach a far broader audience than anybody in the House of Commons. She hopes to use this platform to spread messages about her most treasured causes, including her outspoken opposition to abortion.

This is not the first time a British politician has tried such a ruse. She has been preceded on I’m A Celebrity by two other maverick politicians, Liberal Democrat Lembit Opik and Veritas founder Robert Kilroy-Silk – though neither of them were in Parliament at the time. Both left the show amid failure and embarrassment.

Then there is George Galloway, the fiery socialist who appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, hoping to win viewers over to his cause. Instead, after a bizarre episode in which he appeared to lick milk out of a fellow contestant’s hands while dressed in a red catsuit, he simply became a laughing stock.

Reality bites

And quite right too, say traditionalists: that is what you get for such vain, attention-seeking antics. Politicians have a grave duty to work hard for the people they represent, and their position as lawmakers is an enormous privilege. To neglect these responsibilities in search of cheap publicity shows a deep lack of judgement and respect.

But Dorries disagrees. For her, it is part of a politician’s duty to get messages out about issues that matter, and in the modern world, popular television is a far better platform than Parliament. Those who criticise this approach are simply snobs.

You Decide

  1. Is reality television a good place for politicians to publicise their views and campaigns?
  2. Which responsibility is most important for democratically elected politicians: publicly campaigning for national change, or representing the concerns of their communities?

Activities

  1. Imagine Nadine Dorries is your local MP. Write a letter to her suggesting five things she could do for your local community instead of appearing onI’m A Celebrity.
  2. Imagine you were editing a reality TV show and had to choose between footage of interesting debates, relationship dramas and tough staged challenges. How much weight would you give to each? Explain your decision.

Some People Say...

“There’s nothing real about reality TV.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Politicians can all go to a desert island as far as I’m concerned – they don’t do anything anyway.
It may not be immediately obvious to you, but your local politician probably works hard for your community: politicians in any democracy have a duty to represent their constituents’ needs. In Britain, for instance, all MPs hold regular ‘surgeries’ where the public can come to discuss matters that concern them.
How can I make sure that politicians do their job?
If you have a problem you would like addressed, write to your local politicians or meet them face-to-face. If your points are reasonable then they ought to give you a proper response. If they do not, join local campaigns to put pressure on them – eventually they will have to listen, or risk losing their jobs. That’s democracy!

Word Watch

Gruesome foodstuffs and exotic animals
‘Bushtucker trials’ are among the trademark features of I’m A Celebrity. In some, contestants must eat unappetising things like live grubs and kangaroo testicles. In others, they must endure physical or mental trials like assault courses, confronting snakes and enormous spiders or crawling through dung.
No stranger to criticism
Though she is not a senior MP, Nadine Dorries has built a strong public profile through her prolific use of social media (including fiction writing) and her frank statements on controversial matters. Recently she caused a stir by publicly attacking her own party leaders as a bunch of ‘posh boys’.
Robert Kilroy-Silk
Initially a Labour MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk broke away from the party to become a founding member of the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party. He has since attempted to form yet another political party, Veritas – though this project was aborted after humiliation at the polls.
George Galloway
Like Kilroy-Silk, Galloway was once a Labour MP. But believing that the party had become conservative and bourgeois, Galloway left to form his own radical party, Respect. He is an explosive, divisive character who has been involved in countless controversies: from claims that he was bribed by Saddam Hussein to recent comments in which he appeared to defend rape.

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