Nadine Dorries has been unfairly judged. In fact she should not be judged at all. We have been so busy arguing whether she has brought herself and Parliament into disrepute by flying out to Australia to share a platform with B-list celebrities and eat Marsupial genitalia, that we seem to have forgotten all about the original question she was trying to answer: how can MPs and indeed all public officials of every office, from mayors to parish councillors, reach out and re-connect with the public?
My answer to this question is borne not just out of my years as a student activist and ex-local politician, but as a pioneer of a world seemingly unknown to politicians and yet inhabited by a plethora of unengaged (and undecided) people from an array of different backgrounds, who give up much of their free time each week to open their minds to new ideas and share their opinions with anyone who will listen.
This world is a melting pot of public speaking clubs, debating societies and public engagement forums. It is essentially the largest focus group in the country. It would be my utmost pleasure to offer Nadine Dorries, and anyone who wishes to join her, a guided tour of this inspirational world, which in London alone commands a collective audience of over 10,000 people. Where is this world? Just outside her own Westminster doorstep, infinitely cheaper and more convenient than flying to Australia I think you’ll agree, packing out the public houses of Fleet Street on a regular basis.
The potential on offer to policy makers from clubs such as ours across the country, let alone just in London, remains untapped and unmatched. Exploring this new frontier is certainly next on our agenda and we can’t wait to get started.
This is my world, Nadine. Let me show you around because the people you will meet here don’t want to see you on “I’m a celebrity…Get me out of here”, but to share a platform with you as equals and to know that you are ready to listen to what they have to say.
Tony Koutsoumbos is President of the Central London Debating Society and co-founder of the London Debating Hub. An extended version of this article can be found on Our Debating Society, a specialist blog on public engagement
* Tony Koutsoumbos is a Lib Dem members in Tower Hamlets and Chairmanof the European Movement in London.