Louise Mensch; A Foam Pie in The Face of Criticism
Equality is too important to be used as a detachable beard.
For a solid eight hours yesterday – and a few besides this morning – Louise Mensch went around every television studio that would have her, grasped every microphone on every lawn around Whitehall and voiced her support for Rupert Murdoch. She expressed sadness that, in her view, the Culture Media and Sports Select Committee’s report had been hijacked by highly partisan considerations. She ensured this was the case by airing her own highly partisan considerations and shoving them down our throat like aspirin – every hour on the hour.
In the afternoon, she stated repeatedly on BBC News that “Rupert Murdoch is a great newspaper man and obviously fit to run a major company.” She berated the majority of the Committee who had found that Murdoch was “not fit”, stating that the Committee had not heard “one iota of evidence” on the subject of fitness. In short, she had heard enough evidence objectively to come to the conclusion that Rupert Murdoch was “obviously fit”, but the only way her colleagues could have come to a different conclusion was via a process of partisan consideration.
Challenged on the fact that one of the MPs voting for the conclusion was a Liberal Democrat, the party currently in coalition with Mensch’s own, drew the dismissal that the MP in question is a “very left-wing” Liberal Democrat.
Perhaps she realised how incongruous her statements were because by the time Newsnight came around, she dropped the “obviously fit to run a major company” and just kept the “great newspaper man” bit. Although, tellingly, she still described Rupert Murdoch as Labour’s “target”. She said (14 minutes into the programme): “Labour have shot themselves in the foot, by taking a report that could have been quite damaging to their target and making it partisan and essentially worthless”. Nothing partisan about that statement, right?
Mensch made it quite clear that, had it not been for that one finding, the Conservatives would have voted for recommending the report to the House. To clarify then, they agree that Rupert Murdoch gave “a misleading account of his involvement and influence with his newspapers” [para.228 of the report] they agree that “Corporately, the News of the World and News International misled the Committee” and that “its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors—including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch—should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility” [para.275 of the report]. However, in Louise Mensch’s mind, this adds up to being “obviously fit to run a major company”.
Other senior Conservatives threw their weight behind this utterly ludicrous proposition today. William Hague went on Radio 5 live to say “They are great business people, let us be clear about that. Of course people who run big businesses around the world are very capable people and they all have their charming ways, and they all have their downsides as well.” How silly we have been to insist on corporate governance rules… The thing is self-evident. Res ipsa loquitur. The fact that one is in charge of a large corporation is evidence they must be fit to do so.
Justifiably, Louise Mensch came in for heavy criticism in traditional and social media. By last night it must have been patently clear that the majority of clear-thinking people rejected her incongruous logic. Questions were asked; legitimate questions about why she was choosing to dominate the news cycle with what appeared to be a love letter to the Murdochs: Was this simply an expression of her ambition for a Cabinet position? Was it a silent plea to News Corp, following the revelations about Jeremy Hunt, to stop shafting her party? Was it an oblique application for future work from someone who makes a chunk of their living from writing (and whose sister is published by Murdoch-owned Harper Collins)?
Many thousands expressed their disgust and indignation on twitter. Amongst those thousands were a hefty proportion of idiots who attacked Mensch in heavily misogynistic, offensive, utterly unacceptable terms. This provided an ideal opportunity to avoid having to answer any of the questions being asked. She grabbed it with both hands.
She started to document these offensive tweets under the hashtag #feminism – many were not directed @ her; she had to search for them. “Women too often shamed into silence. Sod it.”, she reflected. By this afternoon, the wave of condemnation had largely turned into sympathy. Eight hours after she appeared on Sky News to say that “as far as I’m concerned [Rupert and James Murdoch] are in the clear”, she was getting messages of congratulations like “Well done to @LouiseMensch for standing up to the powerful.” And nobody seems to notice the irony. Nobody seems to notice the cynical deception.
Messages of support included one from fellow Conservative MP Nadine Dorries who said “Today’s depressing Twitter misogyny has been recorded for posterity by
@LouiseMensch“. This was less than an hour after the very Nadine Dorries had criticised a female journalist by saying “And than from a woman (Alice Thompson) who runs around wearing a pony tail she really should have thought twice about twenty years ago.”
And nobody seemed to notice the hypocrisy. Or perhaps people did, but pushed their keyboard away, deciding it was too risky to criticise a female MP. Because the net result of what Mensch did was to silence her critics on the substantive issues. By overstating her case, quite deliberately, she created the impression that anyone disagreeing with her views did so on the basis of her sex.
Am I saying that cyber-bullying should be tolerated? Am I saying that addressing misogyny and any kind of discrimination is not important? Quite the opposite. I am saying that these issues are too important to be deployed as political diversions whenever it suits an MP. I am saying that I resent their dishonest and opportunistic use.
And how do I know that their use in this instance is dishonest and opportunistic? Because, if Louise Mensch were serious about such issues, she would not be sitting on the benches of a party the policies of which disproportionately punish women and make thousands of them unemployed every month. She would not be voting for legislation which clobbers on a daily basis the disabled, the old, the sick, the foreign, the different; every minority in this country. She would not be supporting a powerful man who had made his fortune by illegally obtained gossip, innuendo and the objectification of women. She would not be cheering on a Prime Minister who dismisses a woman parliamentarian of 30 years experience with “calm down dear”.
Rupert Murdoch appeared in front of the Committee as a powerful media tycoon with serious questions to answer regarding the corruption of the Media, our politicians and the police. One foam pie later and he was a frail old man, the victim of a vicious attack. He was that, too. It is important to deal with the attacker. It is important to condemn the attack with no reservations. But in the end, after the foam has been wiped away, there remains a powerful media tycoon with serious questions to answer.
And so it is with Mensch. I sympathise with her as a human being who was the target of abuse. I send her the warmest of cuddles and a friendly cup of tea. I support the strongest of statement that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable and it must stop. But ultimately, as a democratically elected representative of this country, as a powerful spokeswoman for her party, I expect her to wipe the foam from her face and answer the questions.