By Tim Montgomerie
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It's been revealed this morning that Tory MP Nadine Dorries will be one of the guests on ITV's I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here from Sunday night. For a reported fee of up to £40,000 she'll spend up to a month in a Australian jungle undertaking various eating and physical endurance tests. The "Bush Tucker Eating Trials" include eating roasted tarantulas, kangaroo testicles, crocodile penis, raw fish eyes, blended rats and mice tails. On previous shows the physical tests have included searching through dung. The celebrity contestants are evicted one-at-a-time in a series of votes by ITV viewers until there is only one winner left. Carol Thatcher, Lady Thatcher's daughter, won the 2005 series.
Critics have already piled in, noting that Nadine's incommunicado status in an Australian jungle will mean that she won't be able to look after her constituents' interests in parliament for the best part of a month…
- The TaxPayers' Alliance complains: “While she is being a Z-list celebrity, her constituents will be without an MP.”
- The Sun's Political Editor Tom Newton wonders if Sir George Young, the new Chief Whip, gave her permission. The answer to that is 'no'. He asks: "If not, can he really allow her to keep the Tory whip?"
- Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy MP Tweeted that "unless @NadineDorriesMP has signed an unbreakable contract I assume constituents response wl mean she'll cancel."
- Louise Mensch – Nadine's old adversary – has commented. "Just imagining the scene in the whips' office if I said I wanted to skip Parliament for weeks to go on a celebrity TV show," she Tweeted, and continued: "Perhaps whilst in the Jungle Nadine could be set the task of finding the plot. #lostforever". Ouch.
When, some months ago, Nadine told me, in strictest confidence, that she was going to do this I tried to persuade her not to. But she wasn't for budging and I can increasingly understand why. She Tweeted this last Thursday:
That is at the root of why she is going on to the show. The ITV audience for 'Celebrity' varies from about ten million to a peak of sixteen million. It's not clear to me how much politics she'll be able to discuss but her hope is that she'll be able to introduce herself to an audience that would never tune into Question Time, the Daily Politics or perhaps even a main news bulletin. She argues that more people watch and vote in reality shows than in many elections. If that's where the people are, that's where she thinks MPs should be too.
Her ambition isn't, of course, to persuade any of the viewers about specific policies (she's unlikely to get any opportunity to talk in those terms) but perhaps, just perhaps, to present an image of a Tory MP that defies some of the popular pre-conceptions and caricatures. She may be voted off the show quickly and the popularity that follows her appearance may be a bubble that quickly bursts. There is a possibility, however, that this Liverpudlian of working class roots will become one of our party's best known MPs. I don't think that's a bad thing although I don't suspect David Cameron will agree.