Exclusive: Dorries to Face Standards Inquiry

The latest febrile rantings of the MP for Mid-Narnia make for rather interesting, if slightly bizarre, reading:

The frenzied attack against Conservative MPs and MEPs, orchestrated by and emanating from the left wing BBC and press has equalled that of an animal in its death throes. The more terminal the position looks for Labour, the more desperate the BBC and left wing press become.

What? A frenzied attack against MPs AND MEPs?

Which MEPs would this be? The one who paid his wife and daughter a reported £750,000 over the course of nine years or the one who paid £445,000 over to a family-owned company of which he was a paid director?

Naturally, the real object of Mad Nad’s ire is the BBC’s reporting of Caroline Spelman’s allegedly state-funded nanny:

The attack against Caroline Spelman was particularly sickening. To take an MP, who ten years previously sought a meeting with the Chief Whip to query whether or not her arrangements were within the rules, which they obviously were, and then to be vilified before any inquiry has been held in the way the National Press, TV and bloggers have, has been appalling. As my postman said, “Ten years ago? Is this news?”

I hope that when this is sorted, her innocence will be declared by the BBC all day long just as it declared her guilty without proof or substantial investigation on Saturday.

As I noted earlier, there’s nothing obvious when it comes to the question of whether Spelman’s arrangement with her nanny was within the rules of parliament. That has yet to be established by the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards and, following the precedent set in the case of Derek Conway, the question that the Commissioner has to ask is not just whether Spelman’s nanny was employed within the rules of parliament but whether there is evidence to show both that she actually did the work that she was employed to do and that the amount of work she did was sufficient to justify the terms under which she was employed, the latter looking somewhat doubtful in light of Haynes’ reported remarks:

…when asked by the BBC’s Newsnight about the extent of her secretarial duties, Ms Haynes said she only posted letters and “took the odd phone call” and passed on messages “once or twice a week”.

Dorries goes on to mention an unsuccessful complaint relating to her expenses lodged by ‘the Labour spokesman for the area’, which I’m guessing may be a reference to the Labour PPC for Mid-Bedfordshire, David Reeves – although if I’ve done him a disservice here I’ll be happy to make a correction.

The week before the vote on abortion, I was contacted by my local press to inform me that that the Labour spokesman for the area had made a complaint about my expenses to the Commissioner for standards.

The complaint was entirely inaccurate without foundation and thrown out by the Commissioner, but that wasn’t the point. It was made in an attempt to destabilise me during the most important week of my career. Desperate left wing tactics.

If the left think this kind of behaviour endears them to the public, then I think it simply serves to epitomise how out of touch they are. The public can see right through this witch hunt, in a way they couldn’t see through cash for peerages.

What Dorries hasn’t seen to mention is that she either has received, or will receive very shortly, a letter from the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards in regards to another complaint* about her conduct, one that is very much a live issue as it relates to the manner in which she makes use of her seemingly publicly-funded parliamentary website.

*The posted linked above includes both the letter of complaint and the evidence submitted to the Commissioner.

The issue is a relatively straightforward one to understand. If you visit Dorries’ website and take a look at the bottom of the homepage you’ll note the following statement:

Nadine Dorries MP is responsible for this site, which is funded from the Incidental Expenses Provision

You’ll also note that the entire site, including her ‘blog’ uses the same header graphic, a graphic which includes the portcullis device, which is the official imprint of the House of Parliament.

Since April 2007, the use of parliamentary allowances, by MPs, to publish information about their parliamentary activities, together with the use of the portcullis device which indicates that a letter or publication has the official imprimatur of parliament, has be covered by the rules as they relate to the use of the Communications Allowance (pdf), regardless of whether this allowance is actually used to fund such publications. This covers not only the use of House of Commons stationary but also the publication of local newsletters, the rules on which have already caught out a number of MPs, most recently Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Robert Smith, and MPs official personal websites and blogs, although not those that are exclusively funded from their own pocket and published in a personal capacity (i.e. without the parliamentary imprint).

To appreciate the difference, you can contrast Dorries’s website with the blogs of Tom Watson, Lynne Featherstone and John Redwood, all of which, unlike Dorries’s site, operate on the right side of line vis-a-vis the regulations.

In its introduction, parliament’s guide to the use of the Communications Allowance makes it perfectly clear where responsibility for publications rests and states the general principle that governs all such publications.

1.7 Your responsibility. It is your responsibility to ensure that all expenditure funded under the Communications Allowance and the provision of House stationery and pre paid envelopes is wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred on your Parliamentary duties. Parliamentary resources may not be used for communicating information about your political activities or those of the party to which you belong. You are responsible for ensuring that your use of this new allowance and of provided House stationery and pre-paid envelopes is above reproach and you must ensure you follow the rules outlined in this booklet correctly.

The same document is also clear on the principles governing the use of the portcullis device:

Use of the House Emblem
5. The principal emblem of the House is the crowned portcullis. It is a royal badge and its use by the House has been formally authorised by licence granted by Her Majesty the Queen. The designs and symbols of the House should not be used for purposes to which such authentication is inappropriate, or where there is a risk that their use might wrongly be regarded, or represented, as having the authority of the House.

And when one moves ahead to consider the guidance/regulations on the use of websites one finds that the content of the guide is commendably clear in setting out what is, and is not, permitted:

6.12.2. Websites
The CA may be used to pay for setting up and maintaining a website or web presence only if its purpose is to inform constituents about your work as a Member and to provide contact details. It must not be used to fund party political activity or campaigning. If you include material which is not allowed under these rules, you must fund the whole cost from another source.

Following which the guide adds a little more relevant detail:


You must not use your CA funded publications or websites:…

to promote or campaign on behalf of any person seeking election

to criticise or campaign against anyone seeking election or otherwise seek to undermine the reputation of political opponents

for the purpose of advancing perspectives or arguments with the intention of promoting the interests of any political party or organisation you support, or damaging the interests of any other such party or organisation

There are a few other things that MPs can’t do with their official parliamentary website, like conducting private business activities, direct fund-raising, taking commercial advertising, but the three I’ve specifically picked out above are the “don’ts” that Dorries appears to think don’t apply to her, if the frequency with which she breaches those specific regulations is anything to go by, and its these that form the substance of the complaint against her, which the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards has asked her to respond to and is, therefore, currently investigating.

It’s actually worth pointing out here that the very post of hers that I commented on earlier, breaches the third of the three rules listed above, which specifies that she cannot post information which seeks to ‘damage the interests’ of another political party or third-party organisation… like the BBC, which she characterises as ‘left-wing’, ‘desperate’ and as behaving ‘like an animal in its death throes’, none of which she is permitted to say on a website that appears to be funded by the taxpayer and which carries the House Emblem.

One does not, of course, wish to pre-empt the deliberations of the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards but with the weight of evidence against her, it is difficult to see how Dorries can avoid being censured over her flagrant disregard of these regulations, particularly as this is not the first time that she will have fallen foul of them and that, as a second-time offender, the playing dumb defence she mounted last time out is hardly likely to be successful. Unlike previous inquiries, which have often hinged on fine interpretations of what are a relatively new set of regulations – is a party logo too prominent, perhaps, or should an MP have been pictured with a local election candidate – there is little doubt that when Dorries characterises the BBC as both left-wing and desperate, calls the British Medical Journal as a ‘trade magazine’, Gordon Brown a ‘dead man walking’ and Nick Clegg an ‘immature conquest proud bragging boy’, she is breaching the Communications Allowance regulations by some distance.

9 thoughts on “Exclusive: Dorries to Face Standards Inquiry

  1. You could also add to the list the multiple posts on her “blog” targeting marginal Labour MPs over abortion: Dorries specifically names Margaret Moran, Jacqui Smith, Barbara Follet and Laura Moffatt in four separate posts.

    She also attempted to suggest their votes on abortion had been bought by accepting money from Emily’s List, an allegation which you’ll remember was thrown out by the parliamentary standards commissioner and led to her accusing Caroline Flint MP of “fishwife behaviour” for asking for an apology.

  2. The Commissioner was provided with 13 pages of evidence to chew over as a sample of Dorries’s conduct, and yes, several of her abortion posts were included.

  3. I had to comment here in appreciation of your critique of my barking mad MP. I would, of course, like to comment on her blog re: employing her daughter (whether there is work for her or not). Her bonkers crusade against the Police in Bedfordshire or her irrational hatred of the BBC. Sadly, however, the Dorries blog is a one way street. So thanks for the opportunity!

  4. DK:

    Tom, similarly, pays for his blog out his own pocket while Lynne simply uses Blogger, which costs her nothing but the time it takes to post on it.

    That’s the faintly bizarre element in this. It’s not as if there aren’t a plethora of perfectly acceptable low-cost and even no-cost alternatives and its certainly not the case that some fairly hefty hints haven’t been dropped by a variety of bloggers over the last few months, and yet Dorries seems intent on persisting with her usual ‘do you know who I am?’ attitude all the way to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

    It’s not as if the rules aren’t clear or that we’re dealing with a borderline infraction here. Even if it transpires that she’s started paying for her site with her own money, she’s still bang to rights on her use of the House Emblem.

    Still, you never know – maybe John will put in a good word and you’ll get a design gig at the end of all this. There’s always a silver lining after all.

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