Sending Nadine Dorries to the jungle is a masterstroke of reality TV casting

The Tory MP's inclusion in the I'm a Celebrity … lineup has revived interest in the show, much as this year's starry Strictly Come Dancing recruits have done on the BBC

During the period that the US was involved in the solemn business of electing a new commander-in-chief, it was hard not to feel sorry for entertainment correspondents, charged with trying to build up interest in who ITV1 might lure to a slice of rainforest near a luxury Australian hotel for the 2012 run of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!

Surprisingly, though, IACGMOOH! managed to find its own Obama: a figure whose selection has managed to revive interest and enthusiasm among jaded observers of an ancient process. And – appropriately – the candidate who has introduced hope and change to what seemed a tired franchise is a politician.

Nadine Dorries MP may have damaged her Westminster career by placing the chewing of marsupial gonads on peak-time TV ahead of the interests of the constituents of Mid Bedfordshire, but she has shown that reality television, in what must surely be the later stages of its grip on British schedules, can still attract headlines and controversy. And, coincidentally, BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing also looks sharper and more interesting this year after a period in which terminal tiredness seemed to be setting in.

The inspired choice of Dorries – leading to the prime minister having to devote chunks of his media appearances to justifying her suspension by the Tory party for bunking off from the Commons – is the logical extension of two long-running trends in reality TV.

One is that the incarceration gameshows have always operated as an extension of the medieval stocks, offering up contentious public figures for humiliation and cathartic raspberries. The lineup for the first series, back in 2002, included Christine Hamilton, whose Tory MP husband, Neil, had been disgraced in a parliamentary financial scandal. And subsequently, former politicians who had no legal shadow over them but had invited widespread public dislike – Robert Kilroy-Silk, Lembit Opik – also turned up in the jungle, just as Ann Widdecombe and Edwina Currie appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and George Galloway notoriously lapped up attention on Celebrity Big Brother.

Ideally, a star incarceration show hopes to attract one genuine A-list celebrity – such as John Lydon and Martina Navratilova on IACGMOOH! – and one figure of topical notoriety, a role for which politicians are ideal. If ITV1 could have persuaded the CEO of a leading bank to snack on a kangaroo's wedding tackle under the gaze of Ant & Dec, then they would have done, but because financiers are too wealthy to be tempted, a coalition MP is a useful surrogate for public anger and unrest.

But the selection of Dorries follows a phenomenon that has been shown in studies of addiction and masochism: that, as time goes on, an escalation of sensation is required to produce the same effect. Accordingly, Strictly Come Dancing's run of middle-ranking England cricketers – Phil Tufnell, Mark Ramprakash, Darren Gough – has been topped this year by the inclusion of Michael Vaughan, who represents a truly select group within the sport: Ashes-winning England captains. And it would be a surprise if Vaughan is not soon followed on to SCD by his even more successful successor, the double-Ashes-winning captain Andrew Strauss. Ironically, given the Dorries controversy, the only obstacle to Strauss's participation is his declared ambition to become a Tory MP.

In the same way, I'm a Celebrity has progressively increased its legislative dose over the past decade from a political proxy (Carol Thatcher) to former MPs (Kilroy-Silk, Opik), with the logical effect that the next kick had to be a serving member. It would be a surprise if the producers hadn't approached Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip, doubtless planning a skit in which Australian police officers barred his way into the camp. But, in the end, they got high publicity by aiming lower.

Following the trouble Dorries has suffered at Westminster, it seems unlikely that she will be followed into the jungle in future years by other parlimentarians. Although Cameron's declaration that she had to be punished because an MP should be "either in the House of Commons or working in their constituency" will cause a few flutters for the many politicians in his and other parties who moonlight in law or business while also taking the whip.

Dorries' biggest mistake was to fly to another continent during term-time, which looks insolent. She might have got away with Strictly Come Dancing, where she could have claimed to be serving Mid Beds via BlackBerry from the rehearsal room, although it's likely that BBC rules on political balance would prevent a current parliamentarian from hoofing on a Saturday night.

Under a strict reading of the guidelines, it would be necessary to have a Tory, Labour and Lib Dem (and even possibly Ukip) representative dancing the fandango in the same series, which, as much as the voters might enjoy seeing their elected representatives humiliated, would surely depress viewing figures.


Mark Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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