Emma Cowing: We have not heard the last of Louise Mensch
I USED to know Louise Mensch a little bit. Back then she was Louise Bagshawe, best-selling author of chicklit novels with toe-curling titles like Venus Envy and A Kept Woman, and I say a little bit because we never met, just spoke on the phone or over e-mail.
She was one of my “go-to people” when I was writing about women’s issues for the features pages of The Scotsman. Whatever the topic, Louise had an opinion, and, what’s more, she’d always return the call, make herself available and give me her take on things in a witty, informative and unashamedly self-promoting manner. It’s something she has always had a flair for.
I mention this only because it is relevant in that it demonstrates that Mensch always was, and still is, a consummate professional with a canny eye for the publicity potential of any given situation. She is a woman who does nothing – whether it be set up a rival to Twitter, take a key role in the Leveson Inquiry or set herself up as the villain on an episode of Have I Got News For You – half-heartedly. Which makes her announcement this week that she was standing down as an MP in order to concentrate on family life even more startling.
“I have decided, in order to keep [my family] together, to move to New York,” she wrote in her resignation letter to David Cameron. Her husband, Peter Mensch, whom she married in 2010, is the manager of rock band Metallica and based in Manhattan. Furthermore, she has three children with her first husband, all of whom were based in her constituency in Corby. It can’t have been easy.
But for an MP who was on the fast-track – a point demonstrated by Cameron’s reply, in which he said she had been an “inspiring” MP and hinted she had been in line for a more senior role in government – it is still an extraordinary move. Then again, Mensch has never been one to do things by halves.
Indeed, she appears to live her life revelling in the sort of superlatives most us would be exhausted just thinking about. She once said of her husband: “He’s a living legend and to be his wife is the greatest honour.” Gosh, really? Most married couples I know would be more likely to describe their George Foreman Easy Clean as “a living legend” than their chosen life partner.
Given that the couple haven’t co-habited full-time since their wedding, I suspect Mensch is in for a nasty shock when she finds out that her “living legend” leaves towels on the bathroom floor and doesn’t put his socks in the washing basket.
But in some ways Mensch is the mirror image of newly appointed and six months pregnant Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who airly replied upon taking the job that she would take just a few weeks of maternity leave and “work through it”. Mensch, it seems, has realised that there are just some things in life you can’t “work through”, and that includes a transatlantic marriage, being a mother of three and working as an MP.
The concern is that people will somehow think less of her for giving up on one of those three things. Frankly, it takes guts, particularly in today’s alpha-female world where the likes of Mayer irritatingly lay down the gauntlet to other women to be as masculine about working in senior roles as possible, to admit that you just can’t do it all, and that of course the job is going to be the one to go. The smart women out there will, in fact, think more of her, whether they adore or abhor her politics.
The truth is that although her situation is an extreme one, smaller, less dramatic versions of Mensch’s life are being played out in households across Britain.
Many women find it difficult to juggle a marriage, children and a stressful job. Unfortunately, most can’t just give up their jobs without severe financial repercussions that could have a further impact on the whole family. In that way, Mensch is jolly lucky.
One way or another, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Mensch. Her flair for self-publicity, and indeed her need to be in the public eye, means she’s unlikely to slink into domestic obscurity, running around putting that living legend’s socks back in the washing basket. Her Twitter rival – menshn – is a sound business idea and it may not be long before she re-emerges as a dotcom millionairess and Bill Gates’s new best pal. Reinvention, after all, has always been one of her specialities. Venus envy, indeed.
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