Posted by: J M | July 30, 2011

Y is for youth

I think I should get the full disclosure out of the way immediately: I don’t like Louise Mensch. The novelist-turned-MP has to be one of the smarmiest, drabbest individuals around – and when you’ve got a wealth of other dreary female politicians like Harriet Harman and Hazel Blears to pick from, that’s damning praise indeed. Her performance on the Commons Committee hearing, where she grilled Rupert and James Murdoch, had all the gravitas of a  dead-eyed salesman demonstrating a new kind of electric egg whisk at the Ideal Home Exhibition, and her appearances on various news programmes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal have had me reaching for the remote/radio dial with the speed and efficacy of a bullet. So now that’s all the vinegar about her out of the way, let’s move on to the honey.

This week, because she simply wasn’t getting enough publicity, I’m sure, Mensch revealed that she had been contacted by email by someone who claimed to have photographic evidence of her “on drugs” on a night out with her former colleague from EMI Music Nigel Kennedy at Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham. The emailer, clearly revelling in his or her new role as spiteful bitch at the back of the school bus, then went on to flatly claim that she had been sacked from her job at EMI for writing her first novel Career Girls in work hours, an allegation she denies. There was also another bizarre accusation that she had named characters after former colleagues and friends, which is no big deal, really; I once had a character in a book named after me – a reality TV contestant who came SECOND; oh the inhumanity – but it’s quite flattering, really.

Mensch’s response to the email was relatively swift but not entirely direct. She admitted working on Career Girls at her work computer, but said this was after hours. So far, so good. More interesting was her reply to the allegation of being drunk and on drugs on the night out in Birmingham. Mensch, who writes under her maiden name Louise Bagshawe, proved her worth as a politician by admitting it, but not actually, really, definitively saying whether she’d done it or not. The papers lauded her for her honesty but, in actual fact, she swerves the question, saying she “couldn’t remember” the night in question but that it was “probable” she had taken drugs in her 20s, but essentially ‘so what?’. Chapeau, indeed.

She’s right, of course, that getting off your head in your 20s doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or not fit to be an MP. Scratch the shiny surface of the exemplary public and private profile of most people and you will soon see the smear of shit beneath. “We all do stupid things when young” was Mensch’s final word on the matter, and how right she is. We do. Imagine living your life ever-conscious that you might one day become well-known, and so do nothing for fear of it being cast up against you in the future. Imagine never making mistakes, never taking a risk, never kissing someone you shouldn’t or fucking over someone who’s asking for it. That’s not a life, is it?

So full marks to Mensch for kind of not being afraid to say “Yes I got fucked out of my brains in a nightclub – deal with it”. I hope, however, that this is not the first in a long line of amnesties by politicians or public figures looking for a little bit of exposure. Most of us don’t care what you do or who you do it with, and I don’t want to hear you say you regret it or it was “stupid” just because you were young and didn’t think it through.

You’ve lived. That’s what you’re supposed to do.


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