So long, farewell, Louise — you've been a real Mensch

By Jennifer Lipman, August 9, 2012

My first introduction to Louise Mensch, a rising star of the Conservative Party until her resignation this week, was not through her politics. Nor was it through her Twitter persona, from which she has gained a notoriety that even Boris Johnson would covet.

No, long before she became the glamorous face of British politics, I knew of her as the creator of a catalogue of coltish ingénues and chivalrous male leads. This was back when her surname was Bagshawe, when she was associated more with glittery pink book covers than the green benches of the House of Commons.

When she stood in Corby in 2010, she offered plenty of colour for a hungry media. Along with Jacob Rees Mogg, the MP who campaigned with his nanny, she was part of a cast of eccentrics hoping to break down the doors of Westminster: the chick-lit author with a serious side.

Since I was not from Corby, and not quite as struck by the arrival of a blonde-haired parliamentarian as some, she was largely off my radar until March 2011, when she started tweeting furiously about the shocking absence of TV coverage of the murders of five members of the same Israeli family, including three young children.

She later expanded on her anger at the BBC for burying the Fogel massacre, in a Telegraph article and an interview with the JC. Refreshingly, she did not pass her comments through a spokesperson. Instead, we spoke while she was on the school run, her children chattering in the background. As a mother, she told me, she could not comprehend how the tragedy was reported, how the fact that a three-month-old baby's throat was slit was not considered headline news.

She had no clear motive for taking up the cause

"The Jewish community must now believe that Jews don't count," she explained. "The sense is 'who cares, it's just more dead Jewish babies'."

Her comments, 10 days after the tragedy, came when it truly seemed like this was the case, that because they were settlers, the massacre - the cold-blooded butchering of helpless infants - was not to be given much coverage, if any. Yet the media was happy to devote time to the announcement of settlement construction the day after the murders.

So Mensch's intervention was welcome because she said what so many in the Jewish community were thinking, and still more so because it came from someone who had no obvious motive for taking up the cause.

Here was a member of the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport taking it on herself to hold the BBC and other publications to account. Barely a Jew in her constituency and probably not too many Israelis, so why speak out? Weighing in on perhaps the most contentious subject in politics is certainly a way to get noticed by the media. Whether it's a way to advance your career is a different matter.

Since then, it's become less surprising to see her stand up on matters other politicians wouldn't touch with a bargepole; not only the Middle East, but feminism and facelifts, drugs (and that she had, in fact, used them) and social media censorship. She even spoke up about the search for the next Chief Rabbi, backing Shmuley Boteach, based on her experience debating him as a student in Oxford. She's held her own against anti-Israel campaigners, had high-profile spats with Johnny Rotten and Piers Morgan, seen her Twitter troll sentenced, and shared her views on everything, all the time. And she is perhaps the first MP to sport a surname more regularly used as a Yiddish term of endearment.

Of course, having the temerity to be a woman politician, and a well-coiffed one with kids at that, she's earned her share of opprobrium. Her critics accuse her of being a shameless self-publicist, which she is, but have you ever met a politician who isn't? It just irks that she's good at it.

I'm far from being a cheerleader for much of what Mensch says but, at the end of the day, at least she gives you something to disagree with. She has demonstrated a confidence of opinion present in too few of her parliamentary peers.

Perhaps her courting of the Jewish community was cynical, done as part of a utilitarian approach. Who knows? As Conservative Friends of Israel noted this week, her departure stateside is offset by the presence of many other friendly voices in parliament; in any case, it's naïve to presume that the natterings of back-benchers have any real impact on Middle Eastern affairs. She leaves a gap, not as a voice for Israel, but rather as a voice who wasn't afraid to be different.

Last updated: 10:22am, August 10 2012