Nadine Dorries' fate rests on slip of paper

Nadine Dorries arrives at Heathrow Image copyright PA
Image caption Nadine Dorries says she has no regrets about appearing on I'm a Celebrity

On Tuesday morning, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries will meet her Chief Whip Sir George Young.

She will explain why she went off to Australia to take part in a reality TV show that involved her eating grubs. He will explain why he suspended her from the parliamentary party as a result.

But the fate of Ms Dorries will not lie in the hands of the elegant baronet brought out of retirement to replace Andrew Mitchell.

No, the question of Ms Dorries' future as a Conservative at Westminster will depend on a single slip of paper.

I am told that if any Conservative MP wishes to take an hour or day or two away from Parliament, they have to fill out a form. It is issued by the whips' office and is entitled "application for authorised absence".

MPs say how long they want to be away and tick a box to explain why.

The five options are: government front bench work, constituency engagement, parliamentary activity, campaigning activity and personal/other.

There is a blank space to fill in the precise details.

The document is then signed and handed in to the pairing whip and either accepted or rejected.

If the slip of paper is accepted, the MP is then "slipped" and allowed out.

The information is then typed into the whips' office computer so that at any time they know where MPs are and what kind of vote they can turn out.

The point is this:

  1. It does not matter whether or not Andrew Mitchell gave some kind of oral permission to Ms Dorries to take some time away, and accounts of who said what to whom are disputed. The bottom line is that this is not a matter for the chief whip. It is an issue that is dealt with by the pairing whip.
  2. Either Ms Dorries has her "slip" or she does not. If she has it, she is home free. If she does not, then it would be surprising for her to be welcomed back into the Tory parliamentary fold. The precedent would be poor for discipline as Conservative MPs would ask why they should follow the rules if others do not and get away with it.

In other words, there is a system. Labour have a similar one.

There would be chaos without one. The whips would never remember who had said what to whom about who could be where.

In the old days, a slip of paper authorising absence was known as a chit.

If Nadine Dorries does not have a chit, she will be in it up to her neck.

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