IN THE DOCK: Nadine Dorries
Just why is Nadine Dorries so despised?
For a start, it isn’t because she’s pro-life, and it isn’t because she’s religious, although there are an awful lot of people who seem to think otherwise. The fact is, there are plenty of pro-life people, and plenty of religious people, some of whom are in far more senior positions of power than the MP for Bedfordshire, I might add, who don’t come in for anything like the derisive ribbing and angry criticism Nadine Dorries gets. Like Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome, for instance. And Liam Fox MP, the Defence Secretary. And Labour MP Frank Field, whose name is also on the controversial Health and Social Care Bill amendment.
Nadine Dorries has been having way too much fun playing the victim card, interpreting every criticism of her policies as a personal attack. It’s been easy for her to do it, too, because her opponents are falling into the baited trap of talking with immense dislike about Dorries herself: her affair with a married man, her public revelations/claims about his ex-wife (because after you still steal someone’s husband, the natural thing to do is humiliate them in the papers, obviously), her often quoted “70%-of-my-blog-is-fiction” statement, her online slander of her own constituent Humphrey Cushion. But we mustn’t do it. Because none of this, ridiculous though it may be, is the point.
What matters is policy, not personality; what actually becomes law, and how it affects people.
Dorries’ amendment, first of all, seems to be based on a failure to understand what it means to actually be pro-choice. It isn’t the opposite of being pro-life. It isn’t anything to do with when you personally think life begins, or whether you personally would ever choose to have an abortion. It just means that you accept that you – much less the state – can’t make that decision for anyone else. The absence of an ideological position, or rather, the absence of a desire to enforce an ideological position on others, simply does not equate to a devout, self-interested pursuit of an agenda opposite to the one you refuse to enforce.
And here is another point of apparent confusion. Expertise is not the same as bias. Who knows as much about abortion as an abortion charity? Certainly not the only real “competitors,” Care Confidential and Life, who’ve been investigated by Education for Choice and found to be providing misleading, even completely false, information.
Disrespect for expertise in one’s profession seems to be a point of consistency for the coalition. After all, if they want GPs to manage finances, IT companies to diagnose illness, and parents, journalists, celebrities, and even soldiers to set up schools and teach, then why not have religious groups with seemingly no – or at least extremely poor – medical expertise to provide counselling on abortion? You might as well, really, by that point.
But it goes far beyond disregarding expertise, training and knowledge. Nadine Dorries is making assertions – allegations, in fact – about bpas and Marie Stopes. She has not backed these allegations up yet she and her supporters keep repeating them as fact. The only “evidence” I can see for the claims that Marie Stopes and bpas are somehow giving biased advice on abortion for financial gain is that “only” 1 in 10 women who receive the counselling don’t have an abortion in the end. That is not unlike saying that only 1 in 10 people who visit a church convert away from Christianity in the end, and churches pass around a collection plate, therefore churches are obviously forcing people to worship there in the first place for financial gain, and should lose their tax exempt status because they are clearly manipulating people for profit.
In any case, if you make an assertion, especially if you’re in a position of authority, it really is down to you to back it up with evidence, yourself. Why should these reputable charities spend energy, time, money, and other much-needed resources on defending themselves against half-baked accusations which the accuser herself cannot even be bothered to properly substantiate?
But even this isn’t getting to the crux of why so many people find Nadine Dorries so very objectionable. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that we don’t accept the above argument entirely, and that we decide to place the burden of proof on the accused, not the accuser, for whatever reason. Let’s give Nadine Dorries the benefit of the doubt, and imagine she is right, and that bpas and Marie Stopes are somehow motivated in their work by profit. It still strikes rather a lot of people as curious that the Conservative party are all of a sudden suspicious of the profit motive. If an unproven, hypothetical suspicion of the profit motive possibly lurking within the motives of an organisation providing health care upsets them this much, they really ought to read the rest of their own Health and Social Care Bill. In particular, the parts where Andrew Lansley opens up the NHS to European competition law, giving new Clinical Commissioning Groups extra procurement powers including the power to outsource practically everything to – yes, you guessed it – private companies. Where is Nadine Dorries’ moral panic about the conflict of interest in other areas of health care? The deteriorating affect this could (and almost certainly will) have on everybody else’s counselling services? In fact, if you find yourself depressed for any other reason than guilt about a pending abortion, it’s unclear how the government intends to improve the service you receive, or even protect it. At all.
Anyone who cares about preserving life this much should surely care with an equal passion about the quality of life? How can anyone who is pro-life and doesn’t trust the profit motive think the profit motive is right for schools, hospitals, food, central heating, housing, arms manufacturing, political party funding, journalism, media ownership, child care, and military strategy, but just not for terminating a pregnancy? Which begs the question: does Nadine Dorries really not trust the profit motive? Or does she actually just not care very much about any of the above?
It is perhaps rather ironic that while the pro-life agenda in Westminister focuses on making abortions harder because they believe abortion causes mental illness, while making cuts to mental health services around the country, the Scottish NHS is running Suicide Prevention Week, from September 4 to September 11. It’s a fair position to love brand new human life before it is even given birth to – in fact it’s a much-mocked yet arguably rather beautiful, admirable position to hold – but only if you carry on loving those babies and caring passionately about their lives once they’ve actually been born. If you fail to make foster families and adoptive families exempt from the welfare cuts, for example, or fail to properly fund SEN specialists for children growing up with attachment problems, or send them halfway around the world to kill other people in a war for that same profit motive that once was such a great big worry, then frankly, you are less pro-life than some of the most ardent pro-choice people on the planet. Telling someone not to abort a foetus is the easy bit. The hard bit is fighting suicide, famine, war, and AIDs. When Nadine Dorries starts calling David Cameron “gutless” for not addressing those problems, she might get more respect from the public. And that includes pro-lifers.
For a lot of people, it is this hypocrisy – this blatant, insultingly obvious dishonesty about intent and motive – which is so bloody galling. The antipathy towards Dorries isn’t because she’s religious and pro-life. It isn’t because her critics are all mad feminists or even particularly left-wing. It isn’t even the fact that Nadine Dorries is trying to push her pro-life religious agenda into law without any credible mandate or evidence.
No, the main reason she riles up even the most moderate of commentators is that she is going about pursuing her agenda in such an extremely disingenuous way. She isn’t doing it by having an open debate about abortion, which many of us members of the public could and would actually respect. Instead, she’s insisting that she’s “pro-choice,” and “pro-women,” (as opposed to what? She is a woman! And no-one doubts that she’s pro-Nadine Dorries…) and talking of “independence,” whilst slandering two completely reputable charities that have both done nothing but try to help people. And then feigning astonishment and assuming victim status when people who have worked with and for these charities, people who have relied upon their services without complaint, and even undecided, impartial people who simply look for evidence before they believe something, when all of those people ask her to back up her claims with the occasional provable fact.
An awful lot of us in the general public dislike Nadine Dorries’s approach to doing business more than we dislike her politics. We don’t take kindly to being manipulated. Nor are we keen on hypocrisy. Most of all, we don’t like ideologically-driven accusations directed towards people and organisations that we know, trust and respect. And actually, that applies whether we agree with the ideology behind it, or not.