Nadine Dorries is a romance novelist, and The Plot is a romantic novel though it pretends it isn’t. Her novels specialise in the miseries of working-class Liverpudlians, among whom she grew up, and she is more wracked than any of them because she has discovered a plot against Boris Johnson. Sometimes her heroines die for love: she throws herself on a pyre for him.
Dorries was MP for Mid Bedfordshire for 18 years, rising to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport under Johnson. She was the ultimate loyalist and when he fell, her grief was real.
She presents herself as an ingénue — Tinkerbell with a Range Rover at the age of 66. When invited to the Wolseley restaurant, she frets that she will not understand the menu. Perhaps she thinks this makes her sound relatable. But nothing could. While she simpers and flirts with older politicians, there’s another perhaps truer side to Dorries: a raging one. When a journalist enquired about employing her daughter during the expenses scandal, she threatened to nail his balls to the floor using his own front teeth.
The Plot reads like a Facebook conspiracy theory: the Tory Party has a parasite within. It is called “the Movement” and it consists of Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove, Lee Cain, Dougie Smith from Central Office and someone called “Dr No” that a lawyer wouldn’t let her name. The movement is connected to CCHQ and the Spectator magazine: some of them came from the Confederation of Conservative Students and wanted to kill Nelson Mandela; some of them went to Fever sex parties. They destroyed Boris Johnson by surrounding him with traitors and leaking against him. The Movement wanted to keep us in the EU by taking us out of the EU. I don’t follow either, but she insists it is true.
Dorries’s prose is deranged for a former Secretary of State. She says the Movement is like an elephant, but it is also like a mouse. They eat rats. (I think this is a metaphor.) She believes in “small state, big people” and talks to portraits of dead politicians: “Was it different in your day, Walpole?” He doesn’t reply. Croissants smile up at her and villains step out of fantasy fiction. Dominic Cummings is the Dark Lord, but he is also Sauron. Both have eyes, she notes carefully, in what may be the oddest paragraph. Even Cummings would admit to that.
One part is heartfelt, though: her portrait of Boris Johnson. She is so clearly in love with him, there is almost nothing left to say, except it’s piteous. She visits him, marvels at him, flatters him, and she wrote this junk to place at his feet. She is awed by him: or, rather, by her invention of him — she paints him as credulous, sweet-natured, a saint. She says Johnson’s flaw is thinking too well of people. Perhaps that is true. If he thinks well of them, they might think well of him. If he forgives them, they might forgive him.
He is the hero, a man just out of reach. “Never be bitter,” is his advice to her, “no good will ever come from it.” Since they cannot make love, she admires his bookshelf (some ancient Greek, a Robert Harris novel) and repeats rumours about Michael Gove to him. She is attracted, above all, by his gilded class: Dorries loves private clubs and servants; cucumber water and roaring fires. She interviews Iain Duncan Smith, who calls Gove: “The poor boy on a wet night in the cold outside looking through the brightly lit window into an opulent room with shining tableware and a roaring fire at this exotic, privileged life.” Gove, c’est moi. No wonder she loathes him.
When Gove and Johnson were at Oxford, Gove hung around, “like a love-sick school-boy just waiting to be in the company of Boris”. She tells Johnson, “He was hanging around for you. That he was bedazzled by you because you were what he could never be, as he was with Cameron, only you were first.” To his credit, Johnson merely says, as anyone would: “Really?”
There is no politics in this book because Dorries is, at heart, a bad artist, all (self) sensibility and no skill: I think that is why she is drawn to Johnson, who is the same. She lost the whip in 2013 for appearing in I’m a Celebrity, the house of masochism. Her most intense political position is: the No. 10 coffee was poor.
Her constituents knew it. She left parliament after Johnson’s attempt to give her a peerage was ruined: for a time, Mid Beds had no functioning MP. When I went there to cover the by-election, I heard no good word about her. She didn’t live in the constituency; she employed family members. Mid Beds must have disappointed her, and it was mutual: it went Labour.
But now she has this, a glutinous piece of self-deception that tells a kind of truth: the Tory Party is riven with dreams, hatred, and, above all, thwarted sex. She is like the protagonist in The Little Stranger, who, seeking the murderer in the mirror, fails to recognise her own reflection. She doesn’t accept that Johnson had no judgment; that he isn’t an epoch-defining genius (Robert Harris novels?); that she is as addicted to intrigue as anyone; that they are both symptoms of that same decay. “He had zero remorse or self-awareness. Zero regret,” she says of Cummings. It’s projection.
The Plot has one real aim, I think, and it is cynical and daring: it makes Boris Johnson look serious enough to be prime minister again. Placed beside Dorries, who wouldn’t? Perhaps that was the plot all along: the redemption of Boris with Dorries as ecstatic suicide in his service. She knows this book will destroy the remains of her reputation. I suspect she revels in it. Romance fiction has triumphed over reality: Gotterdammerung.