Monday, 12 November 2012

Tale of two Tory women

Whatever its faults, and they are legion, the British Conservative Party does have the knack of producing female politicians who are strikingly colourful. The most notable such figure in the Tory Party, as we like to call it, though not always out of affection, was of course Margaret Thatcher who may have lacked other qualities – one thinks of moderation, compassion and tolerance – was certainly not short of colour.

Right now, we are being well entertained by two others who, though they don’t have Maggie’s stature, nonetheless are as curious specimens as one could possibly wish for. 

One of these is Nadine Dorries, with whom I find it difficult to agree on much. And I really mean ‘difficult’: sometimes I’m probably in more sympathy with her than might be apparent, because she sometimes presents her views in ways that are curious to the point of being incomprehensible.

She describes herself as a committed supporter of a woman’s right to choose, but has put herself at the head of the movement to reduce abortion time limits, a measure mostly supported by those who see it as the first step towards prohibition. She describes herself as supportive of gay marriage, but not as long there is any possibility that churchmen might be forced to perform such ceremonies. It’s never really easy to tell just where she might be on any question at any time.

She’s in the news at the moment because she’s decided to absent herself from Westminster and her constituents for a month, to take part in a weird TV programme called ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here’. It takes place in Australia and, as I understand it, contestants are required to feed on ostrich balls and take baths in pools of live worms or some such thing until they get voted out of there.

A lot of people seem terribly upset about her doing this. Neglecting her duties and all that. And they may be right, but I can’t help feeling that they’re saying rather more about their own sense of humour failure than anything else. And they may also be betraying some other and more sinister motives.

Because if there is one statement of hers with which I agree wholeheartedly it’s her comment earlier this year on the nature of the two men who lead her Party and the present government, David Cameron and George Osborne. ‘Two arrogant posh boys,’ she called them, ‘who don't know the price of milk – who show no remorse, no contrition and no passion to want to understand the lives of others.’

Nadine Dorries: not posh at all, but intriguing
There are plenty of people around the country who feel the same, though not many who’d say as much inside the Conservative Party let alone the Parliamentary Conservative Party, working in principle under the posh boys’ leadership. No wonder they’ve kicked her out the parliamentary bit, for now. Australia was, I suspect, just a perfect pretext.

Dorries isn’t, however, the only interesting woman Tory just now. Another is Louise Mensch. She made a tidy fortune publishing novels which, those who’ve read them assure me, are only a step from well-deserved oblivion. She decided that it would be nice to become an MP, perhaps the next stage in a pre-ordained glistening career, and in 2010 won the difficult seat of Corby in the East Midlands.

Louise Mensch: much posher. But a little deadlier too?
The following year she married Peter Mensch who manages the band Metallica and is, therefore, based in New York. Now there’s lots to be said for Corby but it probably doesn’t have quite the glamour of Manhattan. Besides, the two places are 3500 miles apart, and that’s a bit of an obstacle when you’re trying to build a marriage. Political service in Corby or a marriage in New York? No contest for Mensch.

So she stood down forcing the Conservative Party to fight a by-election this very Thursday. They're pretty well bound to lose, delivering a welcome scalp to the Labour Party. At a time when it is leading a deeply embattled government, that’s hardly what the Tory Party needs. Can’t help feeling Mensch’s behaviour is little short of betrayal.

And yet there’s been nothing like the same chorus of disapproval about her as there has been about Dorries. Odd really. Except when you think that Dorries comes from a working class family in Liverpool. Mensch wouldn’t dream of saying anything nasty about the posh boys; why, she’s a posh girl herself.

Which rather suggests that for Cameron and cronies it doesn’t matter how bad what you do is, as long as you’re 
one of us. Deeds don’t matter half so much as words. Or, putting it differently, who cares how badly someone behaves, if they do it with the right words pronounced in the right accent.

Always offers an edifying spectacle, the Tory Party.

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