Nadine Dorries grilled over 'abusive' tweets during awkward exchange with MPs

·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read

Watch: Nadine Dorries clashes with MP at select committee meeting

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has been grilled about "abusive" tweets and comments during a sometimes tense appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

One awkward exchange began when the Scottish National Party's shadow culture secretary John Nicolson read out some of Dorries' comments on social media.

"You've called the BBC left-wing, hypocritical, patronising, more in keeping with a Soviet-style country," he said. "Did you ever visit a Soviet-style country and watch the broadcasting there?"

Dorries said she had been to a Soviet-style country, but that she was not "going to answer questions about tweets" that she "posted 12 years ago".

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However, Nicolson, the MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, pressed on – referencing a tweet she posted in response to the BBC's chief political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg.

Earlier this month, Kuenssberg tweeted the contents of a text from a Tory MP who said that the prime minister "looked weak and sounded weak" and suggested his "authority is evaporating".

In response, Dorries said: "That text is ridiculous, although nowhere near as ridiculous as the person – obviously totally desperate for your attention – who sent it."

Nadine Dorries select committee
Nadine Dorries appears before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Dorries told the committee that she deleted the tweet, which was widely criticised, because it had been misinterpreted.

"I realise that some people don't have the ability to interpret a short number of characters in the way that they're intended, which is actually the reason why I deleted it," she said.

"And it is because what I was saying was is the message that she had been sent – which she was quoting – was ridiculous, not that Laura [is]."

It is not the first time Dorries has come under fire for alleged remarks about BBC journalists.

The Sunday Times reported she said "Nick Robinson has cost the BBC a lot of money" after he told Boris Johnson to "stop talking" in a heated interview. She denied the reports when quizzed by the committee on Tuesday.

Nadine Dorries select committee
SNP shadow culture secretary Jon Nicolson grilled Dorries during the meeting.

Nicholson challenged the culture secretary over her comments about journalists at the Daily Mirror.

"You called everyone that works at the Daily Mirror... 'bottom-feeding scum'," he said.

He claimed that Dorries had a "history of attacking journalists" flagging her referring to LBC presenter James O'Brien as a "public school posh-boy f***-wit".

"That would fall into the category of abuse, would it not, under your own online safety legislation?" Nicholson asked.

He later added she had retweeted: "I believe James O'Brien of LBC fame is a hate preacher, a liar, a misogynist, a UK hater, and an apologist for Islamic atrocities."

Nadine Dorries seen leaving a pre Budget cabinet meeting in Downing Street, London. (Photo by Tejas Sandhu / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Dorries seen leaving a pre Budget cabinet meeting in Downing Street. (Tejas Sandhu / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Dorries did not directly answer the question about whether her comments qualified as abuse, and defended herself.

She claimed the tweet in question about the Daily Mirror was because she was told a journalist had followed her daughter home and was taking photos of her in her house, adding: "I would expect any mother who was distressed to do that."

On O'Brien, she said that he had been acting in an obsessive manner to the extent it was "bordering on harassment" and that she had written to his employer over the matter.

Nicholson questioned whether it was appropriate to suggest other mothers would be abusive online, and questioned whether it was appropriate for an MP to call for the firing of journalists.

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Dorries challenged Nicholson over his own tweets suggesting that he had posted abusive content, too.

"You'll find no abuse on my tweet history, otherwise I'm sure you'd have produced it today," he said.

Later in the meeting, however, Dorries claimed he had once called her "unstable" online.

The combative exchange came as the government works to pass its Online Safety Bill, which seeks to introduce controls and punishments for online abuse.

Dorries, who previously served as a health minister, replaced Oliver Dowden as culture secretary in September as part of the prime minister's cabinet reshuffle.

Watch: Dorries says her kids are 'left-wing Islington snowflakes'