It has been the big political question of the summer – one that remains exasperatingly unresolved, for her constituents at least: Where is Nadine Dorries?
The MP may be out of sight, but she is certainly not out of mind for many voters in her Mid Bedfordshire seat, whose patience with the former culture secretary has been exhausted.
“She’s never here and is as useful as a chocolate teapot,” said one. “Dosser Dorries” posters have started to appear, too.
It has been 11 weeks since the Conservative MP announced she was resigning “with immediate effect” in protest at not receiving a peerage.
But she has neither quit nor been seen in public – an elusiveness called out by fellow Tory MPs and constituents, who have accused her of going awol while continuing to receive her taxpayer-funded salary of £86,584.
In a statement, Dorries, 66, has insisted she is “working daily with constituents”, but some local people say they have not seen her in years.
This week, the Guardian joined the hunt for the MP, who last spoke in the Commons 414 days ago and has voted only six times so far this year.
“I always had respect for Nadine, but over the last few years, the fact that she’s nowhere to be seen has left a sour taste in my mouth,” said one voter, Philip Kelly, 45, from his pub in the village of Shillington.
Kelly said it was “despicable” that Dorries was blocking a byelection by delaying her resignation while she waited for an explanation as to why her nomination for a peerage by Boris Johnson had been denied.
“She’s letting her ego run riot while neglecting her constituents. She’s not turning up to parliament, she’s not anywhere to be seen in her constituency, yet she’s still taking a salary…
“I’d love to say she’s tarnished her reputation but, let’s be honest, her reputation is eating a kangaroo’s anus,” Kelly added in reference to the MP’s controversial turn on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity. Dorries had the whip suspended in 2012 for being the first sitting MP to enter the jungle, where she also feasted on camel’s toe and lamb’s testicle.
The “Dosser Dorries” banners have been erected in nearby Flitwick, where residents are similarly scathing. Last month, the town’s councillors demanded that the MP resign, saying she had not held a surgery in the area since 2020. That meeting, at the private members’
Flitwick Club on 6 March, just four days before Dorries became the first MP to be diagnosed with coronavirus, was the only time the former health minister had held a surgery there, according to the barman, Paul Copperwheat.
“We never saw her again,” he said. “We would have liked to, because we had to have a deep clean of the place after and it cost us £1,500.”
Graham Samuels, 67, who was drinking at the club, added: “You never see her. She doesn’t even live in the area.”
Dorries’s whereabouts are such a mystery that the Flitwick resident’s comment prompted a lively discussion among members about where she lived. The Cotswolds, Cornwall and Wales were suggested, while someone elsewhere said they had heard she was on holiday in Mallorca.
It has previously been reported that Dorries’s main home is 100 miles away in the Cotswolds. The Guardian visited an address in a pretty village on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border but was told she did not live there. “No one in the village will tell you where she is,” said the woman who answered the door of the Victorian semi-detached house.
It is understood that Dorries previously submitted planning applications for the property, which Land Registry records show was bought by her eldest daughter for £1.175m last January. The Guardian also tried an address in nearby Evesham listed by Dorries on Companies House, but it was home to an accountancy firm.
Back in Bedfordshire, Silva Schuldt, who lives in the village of Westoning, where Dorries and her family once rented a home, said it was “ludicrous” that the MP lived so far from her constituency. “She’s never here and is as useful as a chocolate teapot. She’s glaringly obvious in her absence and I can’t see that she has done very much here, other than bringing Covid early in the day,” said the 62-year-old osteopath.
In the town of Shefford, which joined Flitwick in demanding Dorries’s resignation this week, the MP’s former constituency office has been transformed into a dance studio.
At the St Michael & All Angels church opposite, Michael Oliver, 75, the church warden, said Dorries used to hold regular surgeries at the studio but he had not seen her for years. “She’s not doing her job, she’s not showing up. And if she said she’s going to resign, resign, do what you say you’re going to do,” he said. “But the parliamentary salary is quite a nice little tidy sum.”
Meanwhile, he said, some residents struggling to make ends meet had to use the church as a warm space during the winter fuel crisis. “One woman came in and she started crying. She said, ‘I’ve got no money to buy my daughter anything for tea because I’ve had to put it on the electric,’” he added.
How does he feel when he considers that against Dorries’s apparent absence and salary? “I’m a very good Christian, I do not judge others,” he replied.
Paul Mackin, the town’s mayor from 2000 to 2021, had met Dorries on only three occasions, including at a free food night to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a local Indian restaurant. “I also saw her at two Remembrance Day parades, where one time she was very upset because I got to lay a wreath before she did. She apparently wrote to the British Legion about it. She didn’t like me a lot,” he said.
But Pip West, who has lived in Shefford since 1969, spoke favourably of Dorries. “Having asked for assistance for my disabled daughter [about six years ago], Nadine got her the right housing that she needed. She was quite efficient.”
Dorries’s office has told the Guardian she no longer lived in the Mid Bedfordshire constituency, or held in-person constituency surgeries, because of security reasons connected to a stalker. The MP held regular Zoom-based surgeries, it said. Asked when the last such virtual surgery took place, there was no response.
On Friday, The Liberal Democrats – who are bookmakers’ favourites to win the byelection when it is eventually called – announced they would table a “Dosser Dorries” motion to suspend the MP for 10 days if she did not attend parliament by 14 September.
Dorries, who employs her daughter Jennifer as a senior parliamentary assistant on a salary of up to £50,000, is a successful author who has declared almost £20,000 in royalties for book sales in the eight-month period to June.
She has also written a book The Plot: the Political Assassination of Boris Johnson, due for publication in September, just days before the Conservative party conference. Dorries is expected to make about £60,000 from it, as she declared £20,500 as a partial advance in June, and advances are usually paid in three instalments.
The MP has a weekly Daily Mail column and TalkTV chatshow – for which she has not yet declared earnings – but has been absent from both in the past week. A TalkTV spokesperson said Dorries would be back in September after a summer break. Perhaps the mission to find the MP will have to wait until then.