Sympathy for Lady Dorries.
The only way to describe her speech is as classic Dorries. Interrupted repeatedly as she was, she still managed to speak for 58 minutes of the allotted 90, reducing massively the potential for both her supporters and those opposed to have their own say on her attempt to introduce "independent" counselling for those seeking an abortion. Before she got to the reasoning behind the amendment, much advertised ahead of time in any case, we had to hear the usual Dorries tale of woe: back in 2008 when she was pushing her 20 reasons for 20 weeks campaign she let everyone know how she was receiving "unpleasant" parcels in the mail, threatening phone calls and had had a "message" smeared on her window. This time she upped the ante:
Four weeks ago I was not sure whether I would get to the point where I could speak in the Chamber today. This has been a long and hot-under-the-collar summer. Following my announcement of my intention to table the amendment, I have been threatened with being throttled, car-bombed, burned alive and a host of other distasteful and unpleasant ways in which I would meet my end.
Chances are that Dorries may well have received a few such threats from the tiny but vocal deranged, idiotic contingent politics on the internet attracts. The problem is that she's made reference to this alleged unpleasantness so often that not only does it dim the impact, it also makes others wonder whether she's telling the truth. It also doesn't help when Dorries and her former "researcher and media inquiry representative" have both made unsubstantiated and vexatious complaints about Tim Ireland to the police simply for attempting to hold a member of parliament to account. Add in how she freely admitted to the parliamentary standards commissioner that her blog is "70% fiction and 30% fact" and it all rather undermines her overall credibility.
Having got the death threats out of the way, she went on to prove she has at best a faulty memory and at worst something approaching selective amnesia:
It has always been the tradition of the House that abortion issues have been discussed and debated in the Chamber and the media have commented on what happened, usually in a reasonable way. But the amendment has changed the game for ever. All Members in all parts of the House know, particularly from the 2008 debate, that we debate with passion. I would say that the 2008 debate was one of the best debates of the previous Parliament. However, we all remain courteous and friendly with each other following the debates. The usual parliamentary knock-about and the usual games take place—I shall say more about that in relation to the amendment in a moment—but the debate usually takes place here and the media comment on what happens here as it happens.
Dorries' insistence that everyone remains courteous and friendly with each other following the debates may come as a surprise to Caroline Flint. Dorries had complained to the parliamentary standards commissioner that 12 Labour MPs, including Flint, had their neutrality compromised by being part of Emily's List. When it was dismissed, she not only refused to apologise for questioning Flint's integrity when she was confronted by the then minister, she gloated about the incident on her blog. Her view on the quality of the 2008 debate also seems to have undergone revision since then - the day after she told the Bedford Today website that she was "flabbergasted" by what had gone on.
I have no greater opponent in the House on this issue than the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). In 2008 she was the whipper-in and the mover behind what happened in that debate, but I have no greater respect for almost any other woman in the House than I do for her. I hugely respect what she has achieved for women and humanity, and I know that she approaches the issue honourably, as I hope I do.
Again, this seems rather at odds with what Dorries alleged had happened back in 2008. Then she claimed, despite not a single other MP backing her version of events, that Labour had a three-line-whip in place on what should have been and had always been in the past a free vote, with the Daily Mail backing her claims. If Dorries objected to the paper referring to Harriet Harman as Harriet "Hardwoman" then she didn't make it clear at the time.
Time then to turn on the unions and the "left-wing" media for being so beastly too her. Having not received a single penny in funding herself, although she sadly didn't know who's funding the Right to Know campaign which has been supporting her, she simply couldn't compete with the Abortion Rights response, or the "press barons" behind the Guardian (the Scott Trust is an odd baron) and The Times (Murdoch and the Graun being on such good terms at the moment). A flowchart the Graun produced on Saturday was "reprehensible", as she didn't know 95% of the people she was linked to in it. She wondered what the response would have been had she followed Judaism or Islam rather than Christianity; to suggest this was rather rich after having asked Luciana Berger who funded Labour Friends of Israel in response to Berger questioning who was behind the Right to Know campaign would be putting it mildly.
It's quite something when the next thing Dorries said is only the second most mendacious part of her speech:
I want to mention some of the other lies that have been printed about me. I have been accused of wanting to reduce the number of abortions by introducing the amendment. That is absolutely not the objective.
We can't of course say for absolutely certain what Dorries' true objective is, as her motives as so opaque. We can however look back again to 2008, and her announcement that she was joining forces with Frank Field:
Following yesterday's attempt in the House of Commons to reduce the upper the limit for abortions from 24 to 20 weeks, Nadine is to join forces with Labour MP Frank Field in a cross party to campaign to reduce the number of abortions, tackle teenage pregnancy and improve sexual health.
Strange then that the objective then was to reduce the number of abortions, as it also was when she spoke to the Salvation Army's newsletter the year before. When did it change?
Dorries did then finally move on to her reasoning, which was much the same as she stated previously. She was interrupted occasionally by other MPs attempt to contradict her claims, such as Dr Julian Huppert who said that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists felt there wasn't a problem, by Lyn Brown who asked how she could guarantee that the counselling she was proposing wouldn't delay the abortion process (she couldn't, as that seems to be much of the point of Dorries' amendment) and most effectively by the former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston who corrected Dorries' claim that the Royal College of Psychiatrist had said there was a much higher rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy. They in fact concluded:
Where studies control for whether or not the pregnancy was planned or wanted, there is no evidence of elevated risk of mental health problems.
Even after being surprised by Frank Field's intervention and advice that she should draw her comments to a close, she had been saving up the big guns for the end, and Dorries turned them on the Liberal Democrats:
I received a message informing me that the former Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Evan Harris) had approached the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and exerted pressure. In fact, he tweeted exactly that, saying that he had applied pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister, who had now forced the Prime Minister to make a climbdown. Basically, a Liberal Democrat—in fact, a former MP who lost his seat in this place—is blackmailing our Prime Minister and our Government. Our Prime Minister is being put in an impossible position regarding this amendment. Our health Bill has been held to ransom by a former Liberal Democrat MP, who has focused on this amendment.
It's a claim so in keeping with Dorries' liking for "alternative" explanations as to why her bids to restrict abortion have successfully failed that it's almost not worth responding to. The real reason why Downing Street moved away from Dorries' amendment was that they realised, as everyone else now hopefully has, that Dorries has the reverse Midas touch. Instead of turning to gold, all she comes in contact with turns to shit. Anyone else would have been happy with the middle way put forward by the health minister Anne Milton, who promised a consultation involving all parties on abortion counselling. Whether this was the "moral" or "tremendous success" Dorries was later claiming the amendment to have been is unclear; what it has demonstrated once again is that Nadine Dorries will say and claim almost anything she imagines will win her support, regardless of its veracity. As Diane Abbott concluded, calling Dorries a liar in the most parliamentary of language:
However, this amendment is not about that. It is a shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to promote non-facts to make a non-case.