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Nadine Dorries will monster the arts Finally, a culture minister who is interested in culture

Nadine Dorries once had the whip suspended for going on I'm A Celebrity without telling the Tories first. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Nadine Dorries once had the whip suspended for going on I'm A Celebrity without telling the Tories first. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


September 20, 2021   5 mins

There’s a horror story about Nadine Dorries becoming culture secretary. In “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, a man is given a stuffed monkey’s paw and told it will grant three wishes — but he’s also warned never to use those wishes, because while the monkey’s paw is powerful, it’s also cursed. When the paw delivers your heart’s desire, it does so in such a horrific way that you will regret ever meddling with fate.

For years now, people in the arts have been wishing for the culture brief to go to someone who is actually interested in culture. In 2011, there was consternation at Jeremy Hunt getting the culture, media and sport portfolio. A PR man, of all people! How, wondered a Guardian writer, could he ever understand “the extraordinary way the arts affect individuals and communities”?

Maria Miller was called “a philistine peg in a cultural hole” by the Times. Her successor Karen Bradley was treated with suspicion over the fact that her literary passions extended to crime fiction and re-reading A Christmas Carol once a year. And then there was Matt Hancock, whose passion for the arts reached the ecstatic heights of quite liking “Galway Girl” by Ed Sheeran (in 2018, that was the most intimate thing any of us knew about Hancock, and what a blessed time it was).

In “The Monkey’s Paw”, the man wishes to pay off his mortgage: he gets the money, but it’s a pay-off from his son being fatally mangled in an industrial accident. His wife begs him to wish their son alive again: that happens too, but their son is no longer recognisably human when he returns to their home. He is merely, horribly “the thing outside”. There is one wish left: the thing disappears and the couple are left alone.

For the arts world, Nadine Dorries is the thing outside. Never before has there been a secretary of state with such a clear affinity for their brief. Dorries doesn’t just like books — she writes them, a whole string of historical novels. She doesn’t just watch TV — she’s been a primetime star. And she isn’t just a passive observer of the digital world (which also comes under her purview) — she was one of the first MPs to be active online, and started blogging in the noughties, around the time David Cameron was still making woeful “tweet”/“twat” puns.

Yes, the arts world got what it wanted, and it is terrifying. The blog? A liability, which led to her being accused of improperly claiming expenses for a second home: she was only let off when she convinced investigators that she had been misleading the public about where she spent most of her time. “My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact,” she told the Parliamentary Committee on Standards and Privileges. “I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another.”

The prime time appearance? That was on I’m a Celebrity
 Get Me Out of Here! in 2012, and it also got her into trouble in parliament. She had the whip temporarily suspended in punishment for going into the jungle without informing the Conservative Party first, and was later censured by the standards watchdog for failing to declare her fee. Her constituents, too, seemed very annoyed that she’d chosen to spend time eating bugs rather than scrutinising white papers. Still, she wasn’t there too long: she was the first contestant to be eliminated.

The novels, at least, have been successful. She’s written 15 of them, and declared £120,000 in royalties over the last 12 months alone. Unfortunately, I have read one, and it was terrible. The Four Streets (published in 2014) is set among Irish immigrants in 1950s Liverpool. It features a “haughty, stuck-up Protestant bitch” as the villainess, the ghostly apparition of a noble redhead who died in childbirth, and a noncing priest who brings the whole community together for a vigilante castration. Characters say very authentic things like: “That’ll be grand for the boxty bread.”

If you wanted someone who understands the arts, well, here you go. Nadine Dorries could hardly be better credentialed. When the BBC begs for sympathy about the problems of balanced public service and value for money, she can give them a cool, hard stare and ask what it’s even for when people are perfectly happy watching footage of moderately recognisable people gagging over ostrich anus? When publishers mourn the troubles of sustaining the midlist, Dorries can pack them off with the suggestion that they put out blockbusting stories of sectarianism and the supernatural instead.

From the perspective of media and the arts, the trouble with Dorries isn’t that she lacks an interest in culture: it’s that she’s too interested by half. She’s an opponent of the licence fee, and in 2019 tweeted that the BBC was “a biased leftwing organisation which is seriously failing in its political representation, from the top down.” Once Dorries gets stuck into her role, the public mauling the Right gave to the BBC’s new executive news editor Jess Brammar is probably going to look like playschool stuff.

She was also an early adopter of anti-wokeness. “Left wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech,” she wrote in a 2017 tweet. “Sadly, it must be true, history does repeat itself. It will be music next.” (Right-wing snowflakes, of course, just pitch a fit about Brammar not liking Brexit, and they are apparently absolutely fine.) Sport — another of her responsibilities — can count itself lucky that she doesn’t seem to have a single thing to say about it.

Did history repeat? Was it music next? How, exactly, does one dumb down a panto? By putting more Jim Davidson into it? Dorries’ statements are tangled and belligerent, and for many in the culture industries, they disqualify her for the job she now has. That, of course, is the wrong way of looking at it: the fact that people are mad about her appointment is all the qualification she needs.

Dorries is less Secretary of State for Culture, more Secretary of State for Culture Wars. There’s a fight out there to be picked against nervy liberal groupthink and the dominance of luxury beliefs within major institutions, and Dorries is eminently capable of picking it. The fact that her interventions demonstrate neither good faith nor nuance on the issue is not a disadvantage, it’s a boon: every time she wildly overstates her case, her opponents will wildly overstate theirs, and everyone will rush to their corners to renew their tribal loyalties ready for another round.

It’s this tendency that makes Dorries a worry for the arts, far more so than her terrible (yet popular!) fiction and her affinity with reality TV. Her parliamentary career does not suggest she will apply herself to her brief with great diligence or rigour, but she has an undoubted capacity to turn every minor dispute into a flame war. And the arts world will be unable to resist responding with passion, fury and polarisation. Because Dorries is the perfect bogeyman, an irresistibly perfect enemy: she’s exactly the thing they wished for.


Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The informed opinion is that Woke is a cult and the followers cannot be reasoned with. If that is true a moderate, reasonable, non divisive negotiator would not succeed. Maybe she is the bull in the china shop that is needed? In fact she should double down and become more aggressive.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
2 years ago

100% agree. F*ck ’em

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Normally wokists would fall under the rule of law as they incite racial, religious and gender based hatred. The more energetic ones do criminal damage, breaking and entering, theft from premises etc etc. These are not normal times and Jonathan Weil’s caveat above, though true, IMO is not applicable where the police abdicate their responsilibities for public order. Dorries is a good pick for this job, though its not the “culture war” that needs won against wokists. The war against their violence on the streets and threats and intimidation online or in person is the priority.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

Yes please.

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
2 years ago

‘The informed opinion is that Woke is a cult and the followers cannot be reasoned with.’
Excellent sentence and totally true also of trans activists. They talk bullsh*t, won’t debate their corner and try to annihilate all the sane voces of oppositon.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Dorries is less Secretary of State for Culture, more Secretary of State for Culture Wars. There’s a fight out there to be picked against nervy liberal groupthink and the dominance of luxury beliefs within major institutions, and Dorries is eminently capable of picking it. The fact that her interventions demonstrate neither good faith nor nuance on the issue is not a disadvantage, it’s a boon: every time she wildly overstates her case, her opponents will wildly overstate theirs, and everyone will rush to their corners to renew their tribal loyalties ready for another round.
I suspect the author’s assessment is correct but, for me, that’s not the most important thing. At least the UK has appointed someone to a senior government post who is willing to challenge the woke’s dominance of the arts. I wish we had a similar figure in the US.
Attempting to pacify the woke is pointless. It’s time to tackle them head on. It is, indeed, a culture war and it’s time the silent majority started fighting for common sense.
Unless, of course, this is just a hollow political exercise and Dorries has no real authority.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

On the contrary, the more extreme the reaction to “the woke”, the more they are vindicated in their own extremism, and the more extreme they become, prompting another reaction more extreme still
 and so the dance spirals ever outwards, “turning and spinning in the widening gyre.”

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

So, give up, then

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

To be honest,I don’t care much if she has an appreciation of the arts, just as long as she has an appreciation of free speech. Though what a shame I should be saying this.

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

Macron crying into his Pernod because Boris and Biden sunk his garlic-powered submarine deal with the Aussies and now this! Fantastic stuff!

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Frederick B
Frederick B
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

“..garlic powered submarine.” Laughed my socks off wondering what that would look like – or smell like.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago

music next? Already happened, with the Oxford Professor of Music wanting to purge the curriculum of musicians ( European or white ones) who wrote music at a time of slavery ( not slavery by blacks, obv). Western white musical notation was racist, he added.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Sarah, the identitarian Left dominate the Arts, culture and academia, with their lazy group think and, often, appalling artistic taste as well. (Almost every exhibition challenges issues around race, imperialism, patriarchy, heteronomativity…… Yawn). It is so utterly tedious apart from anything else. Almost every BBC drama preaches the correct political attitudes and grossly over represents the BAME, more accurately l the black population of Britain.

A combative anti – woke culture minister offers at least a partial rebalancing to this nonsense, however bad her novels.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Boris is a pragmatic man. Perhaps he recognises the swell of opinion against the Woke and realises the ‘something must be done’. But since he has to work with many Woke people in the Civil Service, QUANGOs, and Institutions he cannot rampage around (Trump was hobbled by such matters) without a care.
Boris will have to use a long pair of tongs to distance himself from the pushback. Hence Nadine Dorries. If she is effective, Boris wins. If she fails, Boris replaces her.
Cynical, moi?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Why does a country need a Culture Minister?
Oh, I know it’s to allocate the rivers of cash, but really.
How did the UK survive without one before 1997?*
Has anything produced by taxpayer-funded culturati since then even been any good?
*(or 1992 if you count Major’s Dept of National Heritage)

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

W.W.Jacobs? The Laurel and Hardy 1935 feature, ‘Our Relations’, in which Laurel and Hardy cross paths unexpectedly with their no-good twin brothers, sailors Bert and Alf, was based on a story by W.W. Jacobs. According to the credits. Maybe the writer did comedy as well as mystery. Maybe things will at last become a little more entertaining on the culture front. Civil words and good relations.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

Gosh.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 years ago

Maybe Sarah has a grand case here but remarks like “far more so than her terrible (yet popular!) fiction” bother me.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
2 years ago

Poor Ditums ! Jealous ?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

Could have been worse – I’m convinced if Jiang Qing was born in Britain and was alive today, she would have climbed the greasy pole up the Tory hierarchy.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Was kinda trolling, just highlighting in a jokey kind of way how some with a passion for the arts have been super ambitious but then turned out to be disastrous vindictive and vicious rulers. Apart from Jiang Qing, Nero and Hitler come to mind…

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Nadine Dorries is one of those people, like Elton John, whose name appears to be given backwards.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

This is also true of various members past and present of the Kenyan cricket team, e.g. Collins Obuya, Morris Ouma, Nelson Odhiambo, Kennedy Otieno, Lucas Oluoch.

Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago

Show it to ’em Dorry.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago

Goodness, what a lot of ‘cope’!

“It’s afraid!”

Last edited 2 years ago by Sharon Overy