Louise Mensch’s departure will benefit Westminster
She appears to be a decent person; she possesses a keen work ethic, rugged determination, and a healthy dose of charm. In any profession outside of politics, she would have excelled. Unfortunately, however, Mrs. Mensch represents everything that is wrong with the modern Conservative party and the short-comings of its’ leader – her departure from politics will benefit not only the party she represents, but the entire establishment.
That Mrs. Mensch has polarised opinion in her two years as a serving member of Parliament would be a severe understatement. To her credit, she has displayed a genuine willingness to engage with society via social media and television broadcasts. Of course, as this informative post illustrates, her Twitter career has enjoyed mixed success, while her broadcasting appearances have – on occasion – been the subject of ridicule. Most notably, of course, was her misjudged critique of the Occupy movement on Have I Got News For You.
The principal criticism against her – that she expressed unquestioning loyalty to the government – is well-founded; she voted against the government only 3 times (0.7% of her total voting record) during her two years in office. She also exhibited extraordinary intellectual malleability in her defence of, inter alia, Jeremy Hunt and Rupert Murdoch. Now, there is, undeniably, a place for loyalty and cohesion within the party, but this degree of fidelity is highly undemocratic – the citizens of Corby (her constituents), surely, did not see reason to elect her on the basis that she would give obdurate consent to the Executive’s agenda. Whether her unswerving obedience to the Cameron regime was borne out of ambition is – now – moot, but it hardly represented a valuable contribution to the British political establishment.
However, her real failure was underscored by, on the one hand, general insubstantiality and, on the other, ideological vacuity.
Mrs. Mensch’s entire political career was undermined by insubstantiality. She rarely applied thorough, critical, thought to her forays into the political debate. Take, for instance, her approach to freedom of speech – during the riots of 2011, she called for Twitter to be shut down during periods of social unrest. When it was subsequently put to her that not only had the police utilised the social media site during the riots with great effect, but that it reflected a violation of the individual’s right to free speech, she employed a hasty modification from her original position. Similarly, she criticised the Human Rights Act 1998 as too “broadly drawn” and something that the public “loathe” on Twitter, while defending the concept of human rights in principle. Her followers were not treated to an explanation as to precisely why the 1998 Act was poorly framed.
These may seem like trivial examples, but they are reflective of the workings of a mind unconcerned with substance. On both occasions, her position was intellectually flimsy – she had traced the skin of an idea, but not formed its’ flesh. Indeed, her opinion on the Human Rights Act barely constituted the veneer of the skin of an idea. I am not suggesting that our political leaders should, per se, be doyens of counter-riot strategy or public law, but one does expect our elected representatives to apply an element of rigour to their intellectual offerings.
I suspect that Mrs. Mensch’s insubstantiality stems less from intellectual poverty – she evidently possesses a generous amount of shrewdness – and more from innate spontaneity. That she acts on impulse is seemingly evidence by the nature of her departure from politics – she must, surely, have understood the pressure of being a Member of Parliament would exert on her domestic life. Indeed, she would have been expected to have appreciated the difficulties of forging a cross-Atlantic relationship on top of her onerous political duties. Yet she persisted with her political career and – even – tirelessly forged a strong public persona in her spare time. Finally, she appears not to have considered whether the retirement of a self-declared feminist on the grounds of an unhealthy work-life balance will affect the psyche of working mothers in society. We are left with the strong impression that she failed to properly assess the implications of entering the political class. Certainly, it is not the sort of meticulousness one demands from its elected representatives.
Most importantly, Mrs. Mensch has failed to endorse a coherent or defined ideology. In an article she wrote for The Guardian in January, she specifically stated that she entered politics having been inspired by David Cameron, and his mandate to “de-toxify” his party. This is worrying – Mr. Cameron is, unabashedly and unashamedly, post-ideological. He recently wrote in the Daily Telegraph that he was “…sceptical of those who claim to draw the answer to every problem from a loud ideology”. In this way, he is a direct descendant of the wholly post-ideological Tony Blair, who has made reference to the dangers of an “ideological cloak”.
The problem is that ideology matters. Firstly, a resolute ideological core imports coherence and purpose into governance – it prevents the type of ad hoc leadership that caused the incongruous Budget delivered this year. Indeed, a government imbued with a clearly-delineated ideology is able to articulate a compelling and consistent message to society – this is important not only in terms of the confidence invested in our political class but for the stability of those affected by political decisions.
The presence of ideology in politics also benefits the political discourse – rather than reducing debate to the sort of crude cost-benefit analysis that resembles the current political dialogue, the examination of ideas is positively welcome. Ideas that are critiqued, cross-examined and adapted, are stronger, more comprehensible and, ultimately, more normatively valid. Even the exercise of defending one’s own ideas has significant value – it forces us to test our ideas, and re-affirms the warmth we display towards them.
Further, the sort of post-ideological sphere promoted by Cameron, Blair and – by extension – Mensch has profound practical drawbacks. If the political arena no longer reflects the battle of ideas, the likelihood of it being a vehicle of power for its own sake increases. Indeed, if Mr. Cameron has no distinguishable ideology, one is left to wonder why it is that he seeks to preside over the Executive. The overwhelming inference is that he seeks power ipso facto. This impulse evidently has no place in a civilised political system. The fewer politicians that aspire to this outlook, the better. And, it is for this reason that, although it got a little bit less colourful today, Westminster will be better for Mrs. Mensch’s exit.