Is Louise Mensch MP guilty of 'display parenting'?

Nov 11, 2011
Nigel Horne

Why did the nation need to know about the Tory MP's school pick-up arrangements?

IN THE MIDST of accusations that James Murdoch was variously a Mafia boss (courtesy Tom Watson, MP) and a clearly incompetent businessman (courtesy Philip Davies, MP), one of the more bizarre moments in yesterday's inquisition of the News International chairman has been virtually overlooked by the media.

Thanks to The Guardian women's editor Jane Martinson, however, history will record the fact that Tory MP Louise Mensch began her questioning by telling James Murdoch she would be leaving the session 45 minutes early in order to pick up her children from school. They were, she informed Murdoch Jnr, "the same age" as his sprogs.


While Murdoch could only respond "Good luck", Martinson was among the tens of thousands left asking, Hang on, surely today of all days, La Mensch could have organised someone else to pick up the kids?

"Can you imagine James Murdoch saying it?" asks Martinson. "Or Tom Watson, the MP whose career has been transformed by the phone hacking scandal at News International? Imagine, just for a moment, that in the middle of a televised performance which could make or break their careers, either man asking to leave early to go and pick the kids up from school. No, me neither."

Furthermore – my point, not Martinson's – Louise Mensch had only this week used a Sunday Times interview to bemoan the fact that the last time Murdoch had faced the Commons culture committee, her questioning had been interrupted by the foam pie drama. She had spent three hours, she told The Sunday Times, waiting to ask Rupert Murdoch "the most damaging sort of questions you could imagine" only to find herself begging him to stay instead. She was "gutted", she claimed.

The question is – not for the first time – what on earth was Louise Mensch up to yesterday? Was she striking a blow for women in Westminster, putting the issue of childcare centre stage? Or was this, as Martinson suggests, "the worst kind of display parenting"?

Mensch tweeted later: "As a single mother, it's a job I try not to delegate. Chairman gave me opportunity to ask all my questions, in full, first."

Okay, but what about follow-up questions, asks Martinson? "Tom Watson had the chance to have another go at his target. Was Mensch implicitly accepting that her questions were too weak to need clarification?"

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