At first glance, the resignation of a British MP may seem irrelevant to Australian politics; yet the announcement that up and coming Conservative MP (and favourite of The Red And The Blue) Louise Mensch has quit politics to be with her family has implications here, and in the UK.
The news overnight that first-term Conservative MP and rising star in David Cameron’s government, Louise Mensch, has quit the House of Commons and politics in general comes as a surprise, and as a curved ball to Britain’s coalition government at a delicate phase in its existence.
Having wrested the key marginal seat of Corby from Labour in 2010, Mensch has been something of a surprise packet since her entry to Parliament, making a name for herself from the impassioned expression of her convictions, from her impressive performances as a debater, and from her sheer hard work and her refusal to compromise her beliefs in the name of expediency.
The twice-married Mensch — a mother of three, and a well-known author of “chick lit” prior to her election — has been a breath of fresh air, and this column will miss the authenticity and vigour with which she operated as an MP.
(Yes, this column really does watch British politics as closely as our own in Australia…)
In many ways, Mensch was the archetypal modern recruit conservative parties across the world would kill to bring to their ranks: intelligent, telegenic and personable, Mensch represented the best traditions of the mainstream Right packaged in a highly contemporary yet genuine approach.
Her gift for social media such as Twitter and her ability to relate orthodox conservative policy positions in a way that resonated across age groups had the potential to revolutionise the future appeal of the Conservative Party in a way in which the likes of Tony Blair — with his silly “Cool Brittania” slogans — could only dream of.
Indeed — and whilst we will probably never now know — it probably isn’t too much of a stretch to say Louise Mensch could have represented the future of the Conservative Party in Britain, such has been the promise of this charismatic yet forthright rookie MP.
It is true that Mensch is a flawed individual, and that those flaws bear scars; for instance, she has openly admitted to the use of illicit drugs in her past, and candidly admits that that conduct has had the residual consequent effect of making her anxious.
Yet a flawed character, with its brilliance and its faults, seems representative of today’s Britain: tentative, uneasy with its place in Europe and the wider world, and uncomfortable with itself in point.
And now she leaves David Cameron to fight a difficult by-election in her constituency of Corby on 15 November, at a time of difficulty for the governing coalition in the face of poor opinion polls, legislative difficulties, and facing the very real prospect of either minority government for the Conservative Party and/or an early general election which Labour would have to be favoured to win.
Mrs Mensch has opted to live in New York with her children and her husband, Peter, the manager of heavy metal rock group Metallica.
The Red And The Blue wishes her well.
But there is a wider issue here: the difficulty modern parties face in recruiting good candidates, the issues such candidates face in making the requisite sacrifices to serve, and the problems political parties have in holding onto them.
In an era where political recruits tend overwhelmingly to come from the ranks of staffers, hacks, party and union officials, and up the time-honoured ladder of nepotistic opportunity, new blood and the fresher perspectives of those from outside the established political class have become a rarer commodity.
I have no doubt that as the mother of a young family, the pressures on Mensch were greater than they would be for other MPs; pressures exacerbated by the abolition of certain travel privileges for the families of MPs in the UK in the wake of the expenses scandal a few years ago. As is often the case, the misdemeanours of the relative few have conspired to compromise the lot of the innocent in this case.
Yet the thing that doesn’t add up is that an energetic, passionate and seemingly committed young MP — well on her way in politics in a very short period of time — should simply walk away from a bright future, even if the comfort and company of her family lie at the heart of the decision.
Tellingly, there are reports that Mensch had worked with 10 Downing Street behind the scenes for almost a year to try to find a way to make her parliamentary commitments balance with her family, but to no avail.
And it raises the question: here in Australia, what would we do?
As a nation, we knock everyone who stands upon a pedestal, and our politicians more than most; rightly or wrongly — often, and regrettably, rightly — we judge those we elect to be not quite up to the job, or not quite straight enough with the truth, or not quite representative of the people who put them into office in the first place.
In reality, it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: how do you get good and incrementally better people into Parliament if it isn’t worth their while to go there (and I don’t necessarily mean money)? Yet why improve conditions for politicians when they are perceived, generally, to be a pretty mediocre lot in the first place?
And in an Australian context, if a rough yet lustrous diamond a la Louise Mensch roared onto the national scene — and determined to roar right back off it again — would anybody even care, let alone batt an eyelid?
I just think it’s all too easy, when we talk about politics, to forget that under the ideas and the ideologies, beyond the rivalries and the allegiances and the hatreds, and far removed from the tribal loyalties and party bonds that underpin our polity, it is people who lie at the heart of politics.
Real people. Real lives. The electors and those we elect.
Even the mediocre ones.
And that’s why I really am disappointed and sad to see Louise Mensch resign from Parliament; a good person and a bloody good bet for the future governance of her country that will never now pay off, and anyone in Australia who either cares or complains about politics should be disappointed, too, for the day will come that the same thing happens here.
That’s the point.
In the final analysis, it’s difficult to take umbrage with an MP from a family-orientated conservative party throwing her career to spend time with her family, but the wider perspective suggests her party and her country will be the poorer for her official absence.
On the one hand, it is refreshing to see an MP resign for family reasons — and to actually mean it! Usually, and contemptibly, such “reasons” are no more than a euphemism for politicians running away from the consequences of their own personal misconduct.
But on the other, it’s a shame to see an individual exuding such ability and promise simply walk away from parliamentary life, and likely be lost to it forever.
For mine, I’d take one Louise Mensch in Australia over 20 of the boneheads currently inhabiting our own Federal Parliament; and just in case those on the Left think I am having a jab at them — I’m not — there are those on both sides of the House of Representatives to whom that desultory description could well apply.
Comments to the point please. We don’t need to know who you think the “bonehead” MPs in Australia are, either…