It is, I think, time to give Nadine Dorries yet another lesson in honesty, openness and transparency and, at the same time, give Iain Dale a much needed lesson in checking your sources before you open your mouth and embarrass yourself.
Back in May, Sunny Hundal submitted a complaint to the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards in relation to certain elements of Nadine Dorries’ website, a complaint you can read in full as it was openly published over at Lib Con at the time it was submitted to the Commissioner.
The basis of the complaint is pretty straightforward. MPs are not permitted to use public money (their allowances) and/or Parliament’s official portcullis logo for party political purposes, for engaging in political campaigns or for making personal attacks on political opponents, all of which Dorries had been doing on her ‘blog’ – the actual regulations are laid in the rule governing the use of the Communications Allowance, which superceded the use of Incidental Expense Provision for communications activites, such as running websites and producing newsletters, leaflets and flyers, and are neatly summarised in this paragraph of the third report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards and Privileges:
31. The guidance on the CA [Communications Allowance] approved by the Members Estimate Committee contains what appears to be pretty full guidance on the sort of material which can and cannot be included in publications funded from the allowance. This makes clear that the content of such publications must not include party political or campaigning material, including material which seeks to compare a Member’s party favourably with another, promote one party at the expense of another or undermine the reputation of political opponents… (Green Book, para 6.2.1)
Dorries ‘blog’ quite patently, at the time, breached these rules, hence the complaint.
In early June, the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards indicated that he would investigate this complaint, at which point Dorries would, under the CPS’s procedures, have been given access both to the letter of complaint and the supporting evidence that was submitted with it.
Where it appears that an allegation has sufficient substance to warrant at least a preliminary enquiry, the Commissioner will inform the Member concerned of the nature of the allegation and the evidence offered in support of it, and seek a response. He will inform the Member at the earliest stage of the particular provisions of the Code or the Guide to the Rules which is alleged to have been breached.
With a matter of three weeks of the complaint being forwarded to her, Dorries – or rather Acidity, the company that provides her website – quietly made a number of entirely cosmetic [and poorly executed] alterations to her site in order to try to create that the impression that her ‘blog’ was no longer an integral part of her official MPs website.
The obvious and, indeed, only credible interpretation anyone could put on this was that the complaint had caught her bang to rights on the issue of whether her site breached parliamentary rules and that the alterations had been made either on the express instructions of the Commissioner or as an effort to avoid her case being referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee, where she would, at the very least’ face public censure for breaching the rules, if not some degree of sanctions.
Last week, Dorries noted on her own site that she had received the final ruling of the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner on this complaint and posted the following ‘commentary’…
Today I have received a letter from John Lyon CB – the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards – in response to a complaint made about my blog by a Liberal Democrat.
The complainant clearly has a lot of spare time on his hands, so much so that he felt it necessary to submit a 21 page dossier to the House of Commons authorities, about my ‘conduct’ with regards to my blog.
I must admit that before the complaint had been brought to my attention, I had never heard of the complainant!
For the record, John Lyon’s letter to the complainant states the following:
“The position is that no Parliamentary resources have been used to fund Mrs Dorries’ weblog. Questions about whether its content is consistent with the rules in relation to Parliamentary funding do not therefore arise.”
He goes on to state, “No further action on any point is required, and therefore consider your complaint now closed.”
I wonder how much time, resources and money has been used by the parliamentary authorities to look into the matter of my ‘conduct’?
This whole matter has been a personal wake-up call for me.
There’s the threat of international terrorism; a rudderless government in decline; huge economic uncertainty; the war in Afghanistan; a global energy crisis; the re-emergence of Russian aggression; and the spread of HIV in Africa.
But what about the complainant? Does the content of my blog really warrant such attention?
I think this has been a most revealing episode as to his type of politics – it’s certainly not mine.
…which Iain Dale followed up, a few days later with these remarks.
Last week, Nadine posted on her blog saying that she had been completely cleared of any wrongdoing. Presumably, Hundal also received a letter from the PSC informing him of the decision. I have waited a few days to see if he might do us the honour of posting about it on Liberal Conspiracy, and maybe apologising to Nadine for the smear. But not a bit of it. He’s remained silent on the matter. Just for the record, here’s what the finding said…
The position is that no Parliamentary resources have been used to fund Mrs Dorries’ weblog. Questions about whether its content is consistent with the rules in relation to Parliamentary funding do not therefore arise… No further action on any point is required, and therefore consider your complaint now closed.
The funny thing is that Nadine has accused Sunny of something far worse than what he accused her of. In her blogpost she accuses him of being a Liberal Democrat. Perhaps she should apologise to him too. Group hug, anyone?
No, Iain – no group hug and certainly no apology either, because everything is not quite what it appears and you really should learn to double check your sources, even when you consider that source to be a personal friend.
You see, the one and only entirely honest statement in Dorries’ commentary is this one…
I think this has been a most revealing episode as to his type of politics – it’s certainly not mine.
And indeed it isn’t – but the difference on display is not the kind that Dorries would like to believe.
Sunny openly published the full text of the complaint, and the evidence supporting it, at the time it was submitted to the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, and if he hasn’t yet responded personally it’s only because he’s now taking a well deserved holiday after the rigours of attending the Labour Party conference in Manchester.
So, as of this moment, its going to be a bit of toss-up as to whether Sunny will be the first to publish the full letter he received from the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards or whether I will. It all depends on how quickly the CPS process ny FOIA request for the case files and correspondence, but…
…as should be obvious, Dorries has been anything but open and transparent throughout and this extend to her comments on the Commissoner’s final ruling, of which she has very selective quoted only those elements which appear to exonerate her, rather than publish the full letter.
Now, I’m working here off my own sources, but they’re pretty reliable and what they tell me is what Dorries hasn’t disclosed and doesn’t want you to know is that…
1. Her website WAS initially funded from the Incidental Expenses Provision and was, subsequently, funded from the Communications Allowance when this was introduced.
Although the Commissioner has ruled that her ‘blog’ wasn’t funded from allowances, its not at all clear, as yet, how he arrived at that decision – which is why I’m trying to pull the file using FOIA – not least because its not at all clear how this could be achieved when the ‘blog’ section of Dorries’ website is fully integrated into the site.
There are some technical questions here that need to be addressed vis-a-vis the correct interpretation and application of parliamentary rules regarding the separation of personal/party political blogs and websites from MPs official, publicly funded, sites which need to be unpicked not because it would necessarily show further dishonesty or rule-breaking on Dorries’ part but because the lack of clarity on this issue might conceivably affect other MPs in future.
As thing stand, Dorries’ approach to ‘separating’ her ‘blog’ from her official website, i.e. by fudging the DNS records, seems far from satisfactory, and one of main reasons for trying to pull the files on this complant is to try drill down into this issue in order to see if it possible to clarify this situation.
2. That said, my sources indicate that there were at least three elements in the complaint in which the Commissioner DID find that Dorries had breached parliamentary rules.
One of these is minor – she should have updated the home page to reflect the fact that the site was being funded from the Communications Allowance and not from Incidental Expenses Provision.
The other two I’ve been informed of were rather more serious.
Dorries DID breach the rules of house by failing to ensure that there was a clear separation between her official parliamentary website and her personal ‘blog’ and she DID make inappropriate use of the portcullis device on her ‘blog’ given that the vast bulk of its content would be impermissible within official parliamentary communications.
And my understanding is that, as result, Dorries actually had to eat a bit of humble pie, apologise for these breaches of parliamentary rules and, most interestingly, accept responsibility for creating the confusion over the funding and operation of the site which prompted the complaint.
So that’s mission accomplished – well, almost, as there’s a few points to clarify yet and, of course, Dorries clearly hasn’t learned anything from the experience…
…if she had, she would have published the Commissioner’s decision in full and ‘fessed up to having been caught breaking the rules on the use of the portcullis emblem.
So, yes, there’s a very big difference between Sunny’s (and my own) style of politics and that of Nadine Dorries…
…we think transparency, honesty and accountabilty matter, she thinks its all a waste of time, money and resources.
Now, Iain, what was that about an apology?
Sunny’s found time to confirm the elements of the complaint that have been upheld by the Commissioner…
The rules of the house, however, do require Members to make a clear distinction between websites which are financed from public funds and any other domain. At the time of your complaint, Mrs Dorries’ website did not meet that requirement. Nor was it appropriate that she use the Portcullis emblem on the weblog given its contents. And the funding attribution on Mrs Dorries’ Home Page should have been updated to reflect that the funding came from the Communications Allowance and not from the Incidental Expenses Provision.
All of which seems pretty clear cut to me…