New Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries' Past Comments On People Of Colour Raise Alarm

Cabinet minister previously accused of thinking "brown women look the same", and denied racism claims after Chuka Umunna and Chris Eubank comparison.
<strong>Newly-appointed culture secretary Nadine Dorries departs Downing Street.</strong>
Newly-appointed culture secretary Nadine Dorries departs Downing Street.
Leon Neal via Getty Images

New culture secretary Nadine Dorries is already facing a backlash over her appointment as some of her previous controversial statements were widely shared on social media as Boris Johnson’s reshuffle was ongoing.

Dorries, who had a short-lived stint on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here in 2012, takes over the post from Oliver Dowden, having previously served as a junior health minister.

But soon after the promotion, critics were raising concerns over the move, including a past accusation of thinking “brown women look the same”. As a backbench, she also once admitted writing a blog that was “70% fiction” to reassure constituents about how hard she was working.

In 2013, Dorries was forced to defend herself against racism accusations after a bizarre claim on Twitter that a mixed-race MP looked like former boxer Chris Eubank.

Dorries claimed that then-Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna looked more like Eubank than Barack Obama, to whom he had previously been compared.

Dorries wrote: “Apparently I’m racist because I think Chuck (sic) Umunna looks like Chris Eubank? What would I be if I said he looked like someone who was white??”

It came as Umunna faced embarrassing claims that his own staff had altered his Wikipedia page to include comparisons with Obama.

<strong>Chuka Umunna and Chris Eubank.</strong>
Chuka Umunna and Chris Eubank.
PA Images via Getty Images/Reuters

Two years ago, Dorries confused two women who have nothing in common other than the fact they are both Asian.

Commenting on a tweet showing a clip of journalist Ash Sarkar, the Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire said she thought it showed Labour’s “prospective candidate for Chingford”.

But that was actually someone else – Faiza Shaheen. Shaheen pointed out the mistake, with a tweet saying: “When Tories think all brown women look the same.” Sarkar also tweeted to say that they are “two different women”.

Dorries apologised in a statement to the BBC, stating that she saw the clip on a “tiny video on my small phone screen” when she wrote the tweet, adding: “I was just guessing really, hence my careful wording of the tweet as in ‘may be’.”

On Tuesday, Sarkar tweeted: “Anyway congratulations to Penny Mordaunt – I mean, Nadine Dorries – to her promotion to Culture Minister.”

Dorries’ previous comments on the arts might alarm those within the industry, particularly her 2017 lament at what she perceived as the impact of “left-wing snowflakes” on culture.

Dorries, who is also an author, wrote: “Left wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech. Sadly, it must be true, history does repeat itself. It will be music next.”

And last year she turned her attention to the BBC, describing it as favouring “strident, very left wing, often hypocritical and frequently patronising views that turn people away”.

Dorries was thrust into the limelight in 2012 when she was suspended from the Conservative Party for her appearance I’m a Celebrity… without informing the chief whip first.

However she was re-admitted to the party in May 2013.

Dorries has also been embroiled in a string of controversies throughout her tenure as an MP.

In 2009, when MPs’ expenses claims were revealed by the Daily Telegraph, she admitted she had got taxpayers to foot the bill for a lost £2,190 deposit on a rented flat.

And in 2010, she was rebuked by parliamentary standards commissioner John Lyon in October 2010 for misleading her constituents on her blog about how much time she spent in Mid Bedfordshire, admitting that it was “70% fiction”.

The former nurse and mother to three daughters has also frequently been at odds with what she thought of as her party’s image, referring to David Cameron and George Osborne as “arrogant posh boys”, while describing herself as “a normal mother who comes from a poor background and who didn’t go to a posh school”.

Dorries was born in 1957 in Liverpool and grew up on a council estate.

She started her working life as a nurse before pursuing a career in business, opening a child day-care business before becoming a director at Bupa.

Before being elected to Parliament as MP for Mid Bedfordshire in 2005, she worked for three years as an adviser to the former shadow home secretary and shadow chancellor of the exchequer, Oliver Letwin.