I see the establishment has a new sport: mocking Nadine Dorries. They really do hate her. Or rather, they love taking the mick out of her. She looks drunk! She only has one book on her shelf! She gives car-crash interviews! She wouldn’t know culture if it bit her on the behind! You don’t need a PhD in class studies to work out what’s motoring this frenzied Nadine-bashing: classic, old-fashioned snobbery.
You know a political trend has taken off when it finds its way even on to Instagram, the only social media I use. When even this normally peaceful virtual world of cats and selfies is invaded by political memes, something’s afoot. The Nadine memes have come thick and fast. There’s a shot of her looking angry on Channel 4. There she is on another TV show, live from her home, in front of a virtually bookless shelf. No books – what a thicko. There she is at the dispatch box giving one word answers to Labour’s (silly) questions. ‘What an embarrassment this abrupt woman is’, the smart set says. There she is giving an interview to the BBC and asking the interviewer, whose job it is to ask questions, why he is asking her questions. (Specifically on whether she had recently spoken with Boris Johnson.) The chattering classes cringed in unison. Hasn’t this frightful woman had any media training?
What these Dorriesphobes are really saying is that she is ‘unsophisticated’. Why can’t she be more like us? More refined, better read, more clipped, more proper? Art critic Waldemar Januszczak gave the game away when, following the apparently shocking revelation that there is a shelf in Dorries’ house that doesn’t have books on it, he tweeted a selfie in front of his own heaving bookshelf. ‘Nadine Dorries’ shelves compared with my shelves’, he said. The pomposity was staggering. These were gaseous levels of self-aggrandisement. ‘I’m so much cleverer than the Culture Secretary’, Mr Januszcazk was basically saying.
That’s what they’re all saying. Dorries has essentially become a foil for the middle classes to remind everyone how brilliant and urbane they are compared to this woman of low origins who has somehow climbed the greasy pole to the ministry of culture. We would never stumble on our words or be sozzled in public or have a bookshelf in the house that didn’t contain every Sally Rooney novel and at least one biography of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – that’s the message behind the anti-Nadine memes. Their target might be Dorries, but their real aim is to big up the people sharing them. ‘God, I’m cultured’, every anti-Nadine signaller is really saying.
The defining moment in the snobbish culture war on Dorries was when the European culture editor of the New York Times deigned to tweet about her. ‘Germany’s culture minister is a trained art historian; France’s write a book on Verdi. The new UK culture secretary… ate ostrich anus on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, he said.
There it is, in black and white – that dinner-party disdain; that in-group sneering at a ghastly outsider who hasn’t read the right books or studied enough history of art; that sense of horror that someone on I’m A Celebrity should now be in charge of actual culture. The hatred for Dorries is a public expression of the kind of snobbish needling and chuckling you normally only hear behind closed doors when a guest at a party says something like: ‘Zadie Smith? Was she married to Jude Law?’
The thing is, there are many political reasons to criticise Dorries. The Online Safety Bill she’s pushing through poses a significant threat to freedom of speech on the web. And her warning that streaming services like Netflix could soon find themselves being reprimanded by the government if they air offensive content, like Jimmy Carr’s joke about Gypsies and Roma people, sounds to me like a chilling threat of state intervention into the realm of culture.
But it is notable that Dorries is attacked less for this stuff, for her political programme, than for her demeanour, her speech, her cultural habits. She’s not like us, you see? I wish they’d just come out and say it: how is it possible that this working-class woman from Anfield, educated at a comp, the author of popular novels that Oxford-educated reviewers loath, has become the secretary of state for culture? Shouldn’t we appoint Waldemar Januszczak instead? After all, he’s read loads of books.
Carry on, I say. Keep meming and mocking. It’s always good to be reminded just how many nasty people there are in the cultural elite.