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Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

Nadine Dorries, secretary of state for culture wars

Her rise up the Tory party ranks is all the more insidious given her record on race and gay marriage.

16 Jun 2022

Boris Johnson is just about hanging on to his leadership after a vote of no confidence in early June saw 148 Conservative MPs (41% of his party) vote against him. And with ministers like Jeremy Hunt and Steve Baker weighing in against the prime minister, somebody felt they needed to step in.

At the forefront of efforts to keep Johnson in power was Nadine Dorries, culture secretary since September 2021, who has regularly provoked outrage – whether through policy gaffes, or describing journalists as “bottom-feeding scum”. An unwavering supporter of the PM since his second term as mayor of London, the MP for Mid Bedfordshire has risen up the ranks of the Tory party, which is all the more insidious given her record of attacks on people of colour and anybody who questions… anything. 

Her ability to grab a headline was exemplified last week, when Dorries admitted live on television that the Conservative Party is backed by money – £80 million coming from donations in recent times.

The same week, Dorries declared that the UK is “at war with Ukraine“. She also admitted the failures of her own party’s policy when the pandemic hit, describing former health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s pandemic preparation as “wanting and inadequate”.

The list of blunders goes on: later Dorries claimed Boris Johnson was cheered more than booed at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee thanksgiving service – despite a live-feed indicating the opposite. Who knew a livestream couldn’t be censored? It’s a good job, then, that Dorries will be responsible for tackling misinformation under the new Online Safety Bill

As she continues to attack the BBC, and pits conservative, Brexiteer values against those of the supposed elite EU, it’s becoming apparent that Dorries is no longer secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, but instead minister of the culture wars. Here, we look at her legacy.

The culture wars

  • As a person from a working-class background, Dorries – in another attack on the BBC – claimed the broadcaster was full of people “whose mum and dad worked there” during a conference. But that didn’t quite explain the employment of two of her daughters as staff in her parliamentary office – which, at a parliamentary cost of £80,000, invited controversy.
  • She’s a keen proponent of the culture wars, too. In 2017, Dorries tweeted: “Leftwing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech. Sadly, it must be true, history does repeat itself. It will be music next.”
  • She didn’t know how Channel 4 was funded, despite being the secretary for culture and media. Speaking in front of a select committee about the future of Channel 4, Dorries described how the channel was “in receipt of public money”. But it’s not; it relies on commercial activities, predominantly advertising revenue. The same week, while talking of the importance of journalism to democracy, she said: “I don’t do any news unless I am absolutely forced to.”
  • In a meeting with the digital, culture, media and sport committee, Dorries incorrectly claimed 96% of respondents to her consultation supported Channel 4 privatisation. In reality, 96% were opposed Channel 4 privatisation. In a similar numbers gaffe, Dorries earlier claimed on Twitter that Brexit had delivered “180,000 well-paid jobs” for Hartlepool – a town with a population of around half that number at the time.

 Career-defining controversies

  • Dorries cemented her role in public consciousness with her participation in 2012’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, all the while maintaining her position as a sitting MP. After all, it’s showbiz, baby! In a double blow, she was the first to be voted out, and later had the whip suspended, having failed to declare her fee (not to mention ditching her constituents). Her aim, she maintained, was to make politics “accessible”.
  • Upon revelation of MPs’ expenses claims by The Telegraph in 2009, Dorries defended her decision to have taxpayers foot the bill for a lost £2,190 deposit on a rented flat.
  • After criticism from the standards and privileges committee in 2010, Dorries admitted her MP’s blog – which aimed to reassure constituents about her work and commitment to her constituency – was “70% fiction, 30% fact”.
  • In 2013, Dorries told a Sunday Mirror reporter she would “nail your balls to the floor… using your own front teeth” after they questioned how she could employ two of her daughters using public funds.
  • Within days of taking a role as minister of state in the department of health, Dorries was reprimanded after retweeting a doctored video from a far-right Twitter account that falsely claimed Keir Starmer had obstructed the prosecution of grooming gangs when he was director of public prosecutions. 
  • On the day the government announced additional funding for children’s mental health services – after the pandemic saw the mental health of young people deteriorate – Dorries, as mental health minister, said lockdown “wasn’t all doom and gloom”.

Dorries’ past reactions to people of colour are disturbing and have frequently raised alarm, with a litany of offensive comments coming to surface.

  •  In 2013, she tweeted: “Apparently I’m racist because I think Chuck [Chuka] Umunna looks like Chris Eubank? What would I be if I said he looked like someone who was white??”.
  • Conflating people of colour who have nothing in common was carried through in 2019 – commenting on a tweet showing a clip of journalist Ash Sarkar, she said she thought it showed Labour’s “prospective candidate for Chingford”, Faiza Shaheen.
  •  After journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown asked if it was safe to be on Twitter, Dorries told Alibhai-Brown to “appreciate” the UK. In May 2018, Dorries wrote: “Yasmin, why don’t you just try to be nice? Maybe appreciate just a little the country and the people you have chosen to live, work and benefit from all your life”.
  • When London’s first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, read out an Islamophobic death threat aimed at himself, she responded instead with the idea that Khan should be talking about Muslim grooming gangs, citing Telford and Rotherham – despite Khan not being the mayor for Telford or Rotherham.

Voting record

  • Dorries persistently argued and voted against gay marriage, describing it as a policy pursued “by the metro elite gay activists”. In a series of tweets in 2013, Dorries laid into the equal marriage bill, tweeting: “If gay marriage bill takes sex out of marriage could a sister marry a sister to avoid inheritance tax?”. Dorries later designated her opposition to gay marriage as her “biggest regret” as an MP.
  • Dorries has consistently voted against raising welfare benefits, voted for a stricter asylum system and generally voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.

This piece is a part of gal-dem’s Bad Politicians series.

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