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Tuesday, February 15, 2011 

A return to the wonderful world of Nadine Dorries.

It's been a while since we last delved into the zany antics of Nadine Dorries, the inestimable Conservative member for mid-Bedfordshire, or as some wags have taken to referring to the constituency thanks to its association with Dorries, mid-Narnia. Things have continued in much the same fashion as they were previously - when criticised or even vaguely challenged over her political convictions, Dorries doesn't so much respond in kind as instead make incredibly serious accusations which either can't be substantiated or subsequently turn out to have been completely fictitious.

This perhaps isn't surprising from someone who told the parliamentary standards commissioner that her blog was "70% fiction and 30% fact", and who in response to her new relationship becoming public recruited her boyfriend's daughter to attack her own mother in uncompromising terms. It is however coming to something when a further perfectly legitimate inquiry into Dorries' use of parliamentary expenses has resulted in yet more allegations being flung in the direction of those asking the questions. Lynn Elson, described by the Bedfordshire on Sunday as Dorries' "researcher and media inquiry representative" quit at the weekend after Tim Ireland raised questions over the amount Elson's company, Marketing Management Midlands Ltd was being paid out of the public purse. Apparently having taken lessons from Dorries' way of dealing with such irritants, she referred to Tim's investigation as "spiteful and fabricated tittle-tattle" and despite admitting that he had "never met me, spoken to me, had any contact with me" she had lodged "complaints relating to a man to both Bedfordshire and Gloucestershire police forces".

Unity, having provided Tim with some of the data for one of his posts explains in his typically forensic style exactly why Elson's employment and the amount she's been paid is unusual:

Elson’s parting smear in Bedfordshire on Sunday describes her as Dorries’ researcher and media inquiries representative, which is anything but an unusual role for an employee of an MP to fill, even if most of Elson’s national media work has consisted of fielding inquires about Dorries’ expenses and personal life. Most, if not all, MPs employ a parliamentary researcher, or ‘bag-carrier’ as they’re often referred to and MPs do have to field media inquiries, a task which routinely falls to their office staff. However most MPs, other than Dorries it seems, put their researchers directly on the Parliamentary payroll rather than employ them through a third-party arrangement with an outside company. Dorries is, so far as I can tell, the only MP to employ a researcher in this fashion, although other MPs do make use of agencies when hiring clerical/secretarial staff on a short-term basis.

In that sense, it would be unfair to make too much of Elson’s role on purely cost terms as what we’re actually seeing here are payments that other MPs make as a matter of routine but which don’t appear in the published expenses data as this excludes payments to staff employed directly through the House of Commons on a contract of employment.

However, it’s not just the manner of Elson’s employment that is atypical here. Her personal background as the middle-aged proprietor of a small and distinctly provincial public relations business – her main gig, other than working Dorries, appears to be organising a couple of local community awards events in Gloucestershire and South Warwickshire – is rather at odds with the usual collection of university graduates, student activists, local councillors and other minor politicos than tend to score jobs working for MPs as part of their personal plan to climb as far up the greasy political pole as they can possibly manage.

Then there’s the salary itself. IPSA’s current pay scales put the salary range for a research assistant at £23K-£33K a year, full time, although judging by the adverts on the W4MP recruitment website, around £25K-28K seems to be the usual going rate. Throughout her time working for Dorries, Elson was receiving payments of between £3450 and £3525 per month, the equivalent of £41K-£42K a year salary before tax and national insurance (and with no employer’s NI payable by Dorries) putting Elson right at the top end of the scale for a Senior Parliamentary Assistant had she worked for Dorries full-time, rather than splitting her time between Dorries and her other PR work back in Gloucestershire.

He also suggests what the real reason might be for Elson's sudden departure:

Looking at the payment arrangements, IR35 comes immediately to mind but then there also the little matter of the Daily Mirror report, in January, which claimed that Dorries’ expenses file has been passed to the Police for investigation, a story which appears to have confirmed by unnamed sources at the Telegraph.

What is not at all clear, as yet, is why this file was given to the police and which of Dorries’ expenses claims, if any, might be under investigation. Is it the issue of main/second home that the police are interested in, or they investigating other matters that have yet to be fully disclosed.

Whether anything comes of the file being passed to the police remains to be seen. What really is a cause for concern is that clearly vexatious complaints are being made to the police by proxy of a member for parliament who has consistently lied about and attacked those who have attempted to hold her to account. For just how much longer is the Conservative party going to stand idly by as one of their "honourable" members conducts herself in such a fashion?

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