Feb 19, 2013

Nadine Dorries and IPSA

Everybody’s favourite MP, Nadine Dorries, has written an interesting new blog post on an investigation into her expenses. This is of interest for a couple of reasons.

First, it enables us to play the traditional parlour game of spot the fiction. Secondly, it gives us a chance to look at how Nadine argues.
A newly divorced MP recently attended court for a child custody hearing. An hour before the hearing his barrister gave him some advice: drop your request for custody. You live in three locations, Westminster, your constituency and the town where your children were born and are educated. Your working hours and commitments mean it is very unlikely the judge would agree unless you first agree to give up your job.
The barrister came to that conclusion without even knowing about IPSA.
Here, we begin with an unsubstantiated anecdote. This is not uncommon. Here’s the first example that came to mind: bananas in sex education.
Before I bore anyone with the facts of my investigation I would just like to ask the question, does anyone know of any company or organisation which has a budget of almost eight million pounds per year to process the expenses of six hundred and fifty employees?
Attacking the investigators on an issue unrelated to the actual investigation? I suppose that might help to get people on-side before they begin to read about Nadine’s case. I can see the attraction of this angle of attack and it might be worth bearing it in mind when reading future missives from Mid Bedfordshire. Perhaps, as with the ploy of using unsubstantiated anecdotes, we’ll see it again.
I suspect that the cost of “processing the expenses of 650 employees” might depend on what level of scrutiny is deemed to be necessary. I hesitate to suggest that expenses claims from MPs might require closer scrutiny than those of lesser mortals due to issues of trustworthiness but I would point out that given that MPs expenses are paid for out of the public purse the public have a right to expect a high level of scrutiny. And if Nadine Dorries thinks £8m is a huge sum, perhaps she’d like to read this Daily Mail article, which points out that MPs expenses total more than 11 times that amount. That is an awful lot of public money being dished out to MPs. I think it could be argued that spending a fraction of that sum on processing and scrutiny of expenses was justifiable.
One has to ask, isn’t there a better way than this? How many A+E departments would that money have saved? How much of that thirty million could have gone into a social care budget?
As far as I’m aware, funds have not been specifically diverted from the NHS or social care budgets to pay for IPSA. If IPSA, the NHS and social care are all necessary then perhaps we should fund them all adequately? I suppose we could raise these funds from, say, increasing taxation – particularly for those who are high earners and/or have substantial assets. Perhaps Nadine would like to suggest this to our coalition government?
IPSA have decided in my case that because my Westminster electricity usage was up in May, June, July 2012 (the bill was circa £70) I must have sublet my flat.
Yes, that is exactly what they have said, in writing. Actually in May my daughter, who is in full time education, broke up for the summer and was transported with me to Westminster until I switched to working in the constituency at the end of July.
My only comment here is that I would be interested to see the original comments that first paragraph is based on. Nadine claims that it is “exactly what they have said” and I have no reason to disbelieve this particular claim, but it would be nice to be able to see the original and check for myself. I note that Nadine does not use quotation marks to indicate a direct quote.
There is also a third complaint, that I do not use my Westminster studio on a routine basis. Really? Here is the Oxford definition of ‘routine’:
“A sequence of actions regularly followed; performed as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason”
I stay in my Westminster studio when Parliament sits late and the nights are evenly spaced out over the term. I think I meet the definition of routine. I have never made any claim that I stay there other than when it is difficult to get home, that is the purpose of the accommodation. For a little while I haven’t been able to stay there every single night Parliament sits and that is down to this little lady here: [image of pet dog]
I think Nadine may indeed meet the dictionary definition of “routine”. One problem with using dictionary definitions to argue your case is that dictionary definitions can be both broad and brief. Nadine could routinely use her Westminster studio, as regular as clockwork, once every five years. There is no explicit reference to frequency in this dictionary definition, which makes it harder to argue against what Dorries is saying here. However, the definition does refer to performing a sequence of actions as part of a regular procedure rather than for a special reason. Nadine, though, says that she only stays there when it is difficult to get home. That sounds a bit like a special reason to me (if the only options are “regular” and “for a special reason”, I know which I think this is closer to of the two). This is, though, a bit of a grey area.
I’d also argue that the picture of a pet dog won’t exactly hurt Nadine, at least when it comes to the animal-loving Great British Public. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to use the pet dog to get some sympathy.
I am quite sure the IPSA solution to my being a single mum and lone carer of a family and a dog would be to have the dog put down and my child adopted, but I’d rather not. The barrister who told the MP to drop his case may never have taken it on in the first place if he had known about IPSA.
There we go. I’m not sure what makes Dorries “quite sure” that IPSA are so cold and unfeeling that they would suggest euthanasia of a family pet and the break-up of a mother and child. Perhaps she has good reason to believe this. Then again, perhaps not… Dorries also links this back to the unsubstantiated anecdote she told earlier. If readers felt sympathy for the unnamed MP perhaps they will also feel sympathy for Nadine now that she has twice associated herself with this unnamed MP’s sad story? So that’s parents and pet-lovers that have been reached out to. Large constituencies, those.
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation I want an apology for the upset and humiliation it has caused my family by an online announcement which it chose to post on a Friday afternoon, in true Machiavellian, spin doctor style, straight from the school of Mandleson – Campbell, hoping to cause maximum personal distress and make the most of journalists looking for stories to fill the weekend papers.
It doesn’t hurt to have a dig at teh ebil ZanuLiarbore spin doctors. Nor does it hurt to declare an ongoing investigation “fruitless and costly”. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to repeat it, perhaps in the very next paragraph:
When IPSA has finished its fruitless and costly investigation, I want a letter of apology, posting on the IPSA web site at exactly the same time on a Friday afternoon so that I can gain the same benefit of maximum impact.
Next up, we have insinuation. Plenty of it, too.
I would like to know why, when there had been no justified complaint about my travel expenses or use of my flat, IPSA chose to go on a fishing expedition through my expenses after I came out of the jungle? Was it because they haven’t had an investigation since 2011 and knew it would be a matter of time before someone asked, “hang on, why have we paid this organisation so much money exactly?” Was it because someone thought that following the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ publicity that I must be so unpopular that the public would praise IPSA for launching an investigation into the expenses of a high profile MP who had none of the protection afforded by a Ministerial position or a cabinet office?
This is the “just asking questions” gambit. You’re much less likely to get into trouble if you ask leading questions rather than make direct statements. The effect on readers will likely be the same. I cut the start and end of that paragraph. Here’s the end:
If IPSA did, they got it very wrong.
That’s a very big if. After some more insinuations and claims that the investigation is expensive and unnecessary, we get to the climax of the post. This was worth waiting for.
Because a woman died under the hooves of a horse in the quest of female emancipation and because IPSA impact upon every single parent who is or wants to be an MP and because I refuse to allow a money hungry quango to compromise my right to work, be a mother and a pet owner, I am not allowing IPSA to get away with this.
I wonder how many single parents would be unable to become an MP because of IPSA, and how many current MPs are single parents. Presumably they’ve been as badly affected as Dorries. I am assuming that the unnamed woman in question is Emily Davison. I also wonder if Nadine thinks that her cause is as noble as Davison’s. I actually think she might.

Originally posted at Stuff And Nonsense, as Bad Arguments: Nadine Dorries and IPSA.

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