Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Louise Mensch's decision to put her family before politics has got my vote

Taking sides in a fight between two Tories would normally be a mentally exhausting and thankless task. A bit like picking a favourite from a line-up of fatal diseases (The Plague shades it for me - those fabulously diva-esque capital letters.) Or choosing someone to cheer for in a race involving Kelvin McKenzie, Nigel Farage and Bill Oddie.

But in this week's case, in which current Tory MP Louise Mensch was attacked by old timer Edwina Currie for resigning in order to preserve a decent family life, I didn't have to scratch my head too hard.

In her brief time as a politician - she only took office as the MP for Corby two years ago - Mensch has grabbed more headlines than most of her male colleagues put together.

The Oxford graduate was known as a bit of a thrill-seeking wild child in her younger days (when I briefly rubbed shoulders with her - and yes, she was definitely a grade one "fun girl").

She then became a best-selling author with a string of big bold bodice-rippers before moving into politics a few years ago.

Attractive, vehemently pro-gay rights and heartily unapologetic about her wilderness years - she famously responded to snide accusations that she'd indulged in late night drugs, drink and dancing sessions while working as a music PR by happily agreeing and apologising for her "bad dancing" - she challenged Tory stereotypes and modernised the party's image single-handedly.

One of the most memorable news stories she triggered was when she was on the Commons committee quizzing the Murdochs on phone-hacking and crashed the sombre, grey and very masculine atmosphere by getting up and leaving early, breezily declaring she had to pick up her kids from school.

Naturally, aspersions on her professionalism were cast, but as someone who has often been caught in the same position, in an office swarming with frowning suit-amp;tie fathers who counted on their wives to pick up the school gates slack, I cheered her on.

It's for similar reasons that she's now decided to resign as an MP. Her new husband, manager of rock bands Metallica and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, lives in New York and she's decided to move there with her three children to make a stab at a proper, integrated family life.

Cuddly Norman Tebbit has already had a go at her for putting her "newly-acquired husband above her constituents" (gotta love that arch "acquired").

But it was Edwina Currie who really stuck the boot in, responding to Mensch's usual series of chirpy tweets on Tuesday night with a suggestion she "quit tweeting and go spend time with your kids. You either mean it or you don't".

Coincidentally, I interviewed Edwina Currie a few days before her comment. We talked about juggling family life with the demands of the Commons and she cheerfully admitted, "I didn't bring my kids up, someone else did".

Her absence hadn't done them any harm, she asserted (well I couldn't disagree with that).

So I wasn't surprised to see her tweet, "We can take motherhood too seriously" later on Tuesday, understanding her attack on Mensch wasn't about the MP abandoning her children for Twitter, but for not prioritising her work over her family.

Being an MP is indeed a serious and responsible job. But there is always someone else who can take your place.

Edwina chose to secure a stand-in mum.

I prefer Mensch's approach. And I reckon she'll have less regrets when her time is finally up.

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