Greasy Pole: Getting on at Westminster
How would an ambitious politician make their way in the world if not through attracting the maximum of attention to themselves? Regardless of the effect on our limited reserves of patience and of the cruel reality that whatever attention they get only reveals their self-publicity as a substitute for any kind of talent?
Louise Mensch is the Conservative MP for Corby in Northamptonshire, a seat which she wrested from Labour junior minister Phil Hope (whose talents include tap-dancing and juggling) in the 2010 election. Corby was a steel town stricken with unemployment when the industry was shut down in the early eighties. Mensch benefited from David Cameron’s controversial “A” list designed to ensure that Tory constituencies select their candidates free of any bias about their race or gender. One of their MPs protested about the party choosing such a “minor celebrity” – possibly a reference to Mensch being the author of (and making a lot of money from) a series of “chic-lit” novels with names like Glitz and Glamour. Since arriving at Westminster she has arranged to have herself persistently in the news, among other things aligning herself as one of a group of “Tory feminists” who may have had their reservations about a member who profited so well from what she described as ”escapist female fantasy”. Similarly in 1998, when she was in the United States churning out another of her financial masterpieces – Venus Envy – she wrote in the Daily Telegraph about her intention to flush out a suitable husband. This produced an acceptably wealthy property developer, Anthony LeCicero. He was replaced in 2011 by Peter Mensch, promoter of rock stars, who aroused in her “strong feelings of hero-worship”.
Tory and Labour
Born into a family described as “Catholic gentry”, with a stockbroker father, Mensch was prepared by boarding school in Surrey for the boisterous style of her employment and political career. When she was 14 she was inspired enough by Margaret Thatcher to join the Conservative Party but after about ten years she was equally impressed by Tony Blair as “socially liberal but an economic Tory” and switched to the Labour Party, only to return to the Tories a year later. Justifying these changes, bewildering even to anyone who had been able to follow them, she said, “I’m proud to say I was once in the Labour Party. It shows I think for myself…” which was rather weakened by “…but I don’t judge anyone, and I don’t like politicians who do”. During this time she was working in the press office of EMI Classics, from which she was later fired because she was said to be a “bad influence” on their client, the famous violinist Nigel Kennedy. The matter of who was being influenced was confused by the allegation that they had been taking drugs together in a night club – which, she agreed, “…sounds highly probable …we all do idiotic things when we are young” – the same evasion as used by David Cameron when that same question was put to him.
But how has she fared in her new, exciting job as a representative of the people at Westminster? Her most prominent role has been as a member of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee which at one time might have been a kind of refuge for insomniac Members but now, with the probing of the Murdoch empire’s phone hacking, has become a focal point of popular attention. Well, Mensch has been alive to the opportunity before her, casting off that avowal about not judging others while she busily probed and condemned, so that the normally staid Economist eulogised her as the: “surprise star,” with her “sharp, precise, coolly scornful questions”. Perhaps this praise was too much for Mensch for she was impulsive enough to say in the committee that the ex-editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, had stated in his autobiography that in that job he oversaw phone hacking. Morgan angrily challenged this but Mensch refused to back down and tried to take refuge in parliamentary privilege, making matters worse by misquoting a page from Morgan’s diaries. Eventually she had to withdraw her accusation and retire to soothe her wounded conceit. Until, that is, she popped into the news again after the August riots in London and elsewhere, suggesting that at times of such crises the Twitter and Facebook services should be closed down to prevent them being used as a method of summoning and directing the rioters. She did not seem to be aware, until it was gently pointed out to her, that the police use those services themselves at such times.
The anti-capitalist demonstrations outside the Stock Exchange and St. Paul’s gave Mensch another chance to expose her impetuous need for self-exposure when during the 22 October edition of Have I Got News For You she complained that while the demonstrators claim to oppose capitalism they are happy to accept what the system brings to them: for example coffee from the nearby Starbucks and nights spent in “very smart tents” on the pavements. The Have I Got News For You regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Martin had problems dealing with such a naïve, ignorant, undeveloped argument so that at one stage Hislop said he would have to give up trying: “It’s all so obvious,” while Mensch did her best to conceal her chagrin behind a succession of grotesquely fixed and humourless “smiles”. For some politicians the experience of repeated exposure to such ridicule and contempt might have been overwhelming, but Mensch is driven by an unusual energy. A couple of months later she was whinging to GQ: “I’m not even a Parliamentary Private Secretary. It’s kind of annoying. What do I have to do to get promoted here?” Well perhaps she might start by recognising that she has chosen to immerse herself in the business of capitalist politics where remorseless failure has seen off so many before her. Then she might make a clean breast of it to the voters of Corby.