Louise Mensch is not my favourite person. She is a female Tory MP, which means she smiles at David Cameron a lot, and she used to write chick-lit novels, which means she can probably do things with David Cameron in her head that would amaze us. But these are mere details; when top CNN interviewer Piers Morgan turned on her a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded how much junk is thrown at female politicians, and also how Twitter can turn a normal person evil.
I can go on about Twitter for days. I have actually left it – although no-one has noticed – because, like the ring in The Lord Of The Rings, it made me want to do evil. When an opinion that I disagree with was tweeted, in a way I didn’t like, I found myself fantasising about committing random acts of violence on strangers, which is objectively a waste of time. So I left. It has impacted on Morgan too – his response to Mensch was insane.
What happened? As part of the parliamentary select committee questioning the Murdochs on what I have dubbed Wendi Pie Day, Mensch accused Piers Morgan of phone hacking when he was editor of the Daily Mirror, and offered quotes from his memoir to prove it. Actually she was wrong, and although it is hard to believe that Morgan was a saint beyond all others when he edited the paper – he was actually fired in 2004 for publishing hoax photographs – there is, as yet, no evidence to damn him for phone-hacking.
For Morgan, Twitter was his tool of revenge. It was hard to believe he is actually an adult journalist; when I read his tweets he shrank before my eyes, and became a nine-year-old boy with one of those things you use to throw stones at cats.
He exploded with self-righteous fury. Mensch is “demented”. She is a “gutless, lying coward”. He might have her arrested “for stalking”. (This was signed off with a natty “Ciao”, which may have been ironic, but probably wasn’t). She is a “fourth-rate nobody”. And the more he tweeted the more guilty he sounded, until I wondered if there were 10 dead bodies in his wardrobe, and a SIM card. I also remembered that last week he interviewed a Saudi prince – and he was nice to him!
Why Morgan didn’t just issue a statement of denial, and threaten legal action if Mensch repeated the accusations, I don’t know. Perhaps that would be no fun? Then came the thing that really annoyed me. He accused her of using him “to further your fledgling career”. Ah yes, the ambition card; you, Louise Mensch, are horribly ambitious (unlike Piers), and she also happens to be a woman.
“This junk is typical of how men react to female politicians – the response becomes personal so swiftly”
This junk is typical of the way men react to female politicians. The response becomes personal so swiftly you might think they felt threatened. Who can forget the bile directed at Harriet Harman when she tried to push the Equalities Bill through parliament in 2008?
One journalist began his column with a long paragraph about how he’d never shag her, as if she cared. Ann Widdecombe was dubbed “Doris Karloff” in her pre-makeover days. Thatcher was insulted for her pussycat bows, when it was her politics that really mattered. Female politicians are turned into alliterative slogans and shackled to their leaders – Blair’s Babes, Cameron’s Cuties. Theresa May, the home secretary, has to endure endless comments about her stupid shoes and only a few months ago Cameron told a Labour MP to “calm down, dear,” like Sir Dirk Bogarde crossed with a hateful robot.
Morgan’s Twitter mates piled in to get Mensch too. At first I thought she should have apologised, because she did misquote him, but after a while I was glad she didn’t because it was fun watching him explode. Mensch was like a cliff of polished glass at 1,000 feet high, which they threw themselves at, but slid down.
So parliament and the media remains a palace of foulness to women and this is only the latest gross emission. And for all this, Mensch, I salute you. You were wrong, but I salute you anyway.
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Stylist's regular columnist Lucy Mangan is on maternity leave.