Nadine Dorries has reignited the Conservative Party’s civil war after she exposed Rishi Sunak to a fresh political threat by finally resigning from Parliament and triggering a by-election.
The former Cabinet minister, a close ally of Boris Johnson, fulfilled her long-delayed promise to quit more than two months after saying she would leave the Commons in protest at not being given a peerage.
In her resignation letter, she attacked the Prime Minister fiercely, telling him: “History will not judge you kindly.” A by-election in her Mid Bedfordshire constituency – a target for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats – will now take place in October.
Tory MPs hit out at Ms Dorries after her outburst, which she first sent to the Mail on Sunday rather than 10 Downing Street. One former minister told i: “I don’t think anyone gives a f**k any more. The general public just think she’s gone already.” Another backbencher added: “Let’s hope the narcissistic show can abate at least for a bit. Clearly it’s a relief she’s not going to the Lords.”
But one senior MP warned that the Prime Minister was on course for another by-election defeat, saying: “She clearly dislikes Rishi, but makes a number of valid points which are difficult to argue with. Depressingly, our only discussions are on which party Rishi loses the by-election to, as no one believes he can win that or any other forthcoming by-elections or the general election. He has united the party in being totally depressed.”
The Mid Bedfordshire contest is likely to take place in early October. The Lib Dems believe they are best placed to take the seat from the Conservatives despite coming only third at the last general election, with a campaign focussing on a local shortage of GPs. But Labour – which holds a number of nearby constituencies – has also been campaigning intensively – raising the prospect that the anti-Tory vote could be split.
The Conservatives lost two by-elections last month and face at least one more after Mid Bedfordshire, with Chris Pincher widely expected to be booted out of the Commons after a damning report into his sexual harassment of two young men.
Ms Dorries, who was culture secretary under Mr Johnson and Liz Truss, hinted that she had deliberately timed her resignation to harm the Prime Minister after claiming his allies asked her to stay in the Commons until the next general election.
She told TalkTV, the news channel where she has her own show: “I was also aware this might not be a good thing to happen on the first anniversary of Rishi Sunak becoming Prime Minister in October, and all of those things were at the back of my mind. By-elections are not good for a party 20 points behind, it will be the worst defeat for a party in living history if it takes place. The first anniversary of Rishi coming to power, conference, all of these things were at play.”
Asked whether she would vote Tory at the next election, she refused to answer, but insisted she backed the party’s candidate in Mid Bedfordshire.
Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons Justice Committee, said he was glad that the “pretty useless” former minister had finally confirmed she would resign. “It had become an embarrassment and it was a self-indulgent act on Nadine Dorries’s part, which I think was damaging the whole of the Conservative Party,” he told Times Radio.
Veterans minister Johnny Mercer said it was “regrettable” she chose to attack the Prime Minister in her damning letter of resignation, and joked that he hadn’t read all of it as “it went on quite a while”. He told GB News that the party should now “move forward” and that everyone is “tired” of “raking over the coals of Boris Johnson’s premiership”.
What’s next for Dorries?
Nadine Dorries, who is set to formally quit as an MP on 4 September, will have plenty to keep her occupied post-parliamentary life.
The former culture secretary – already a prolific author with 16 fiction books to her name – will take her first foray into non-fiction with the publication of The Plot: The Political Assassination of Boris Johnson.
Hitting the shelves on 28 September, just days before the start of Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the scathing book is bound to get tongues wagging in political circles.
Ms Dorries can also throw more time into her TV career. She has had a Friday night slot on TalkTV since January, and may be open to more airtime.
Another option for the ex-MP could be a return to reality TV, a medium which shot her to fame while a backbench MP when she appeared as a contestant on ITV’s hit show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2012.