It’s too early to tell whether Louise Mensch, the Tory MP prominent in the Commons examination of the Press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, is a breath of fresh air or a disaster waiting to happen.
The chick-lit author (Louise Bagshawe before her recent marriage to the manager of Metallica) had a mixed day today.
She apologised to CNN frontman Piers Morgan for suggesting he admitted in a memoir sanctioning phone hacking while editor of the Daily Mirror. She made the claim under Parliamentary privilege last week as a member of the Commons select committee grilling the Murdochs.
It was clear within hours she was mistaken. It took far too long for her to retract and compounded the offence by going on CNN to defend the indefensible.
If you’re going to go up against a toughie like Morgan - in itself a healthy instinct - you’d better get your facts right. If you do mis-read a newspaper report, as she admitted, then accept responsibility pronto. This was sloppy.
Mensch, 40, was on much surer ground seeing off investigative journalists who apparently were digging for ‘dirt’ committed in her twenties. She got the best of an exchange of emails which she published.
She was asked to comment that, among other claims, “whilst working at EMI, in the 1990s, you took drugs with Nigel Kennedy at Ronnie Scott's in Birmingham, including dancing on a dance floor, whilst drunk, with Mr Kennedy, in front of journalists. Photos of this exist.”
Her response was refreshingly honest and witty. “Although I do not remember the specific incident, this sounds highly probable,” she said, adding “since I was in my twenties, I'm sure it was not the only incident of the kind; we all do idiotic things when young.”
Defiantly Mensch said she had no intention of being deterred from asking how far the culture of hacking and blagging extended in Fleet Street. So good for her and her “publish and be damned” attitude.
Except Mensch could be compromised if drugs legislation comes before the Commons. It would be the height of hypocrisy to support banging up first offenders who did the same “idiotic things” as herself when their age. I hope she would be as understanding of others' youthful misdemeanours as she has been of her own.
I wonder whether Mensch thinks 21-year-old Charlie Gilmour's idiotic behaviour the day of the tuition fees protest deserved a 16 month prison sentence?
PS. I was none too impressed today (10/11/11) when Mensch had to leave the Commons culture select committee grilling of James Murdoch early to pick up her children. Rather than seeing it as a blow for working women, I worried that in Mensch we have an MP insufficiently able to organise their own childminding.