Louise Mensch: The view from over there

The former MP tells John Rentoul about swapping Westminster for New York

Louise Mensch says she really didn't want to go. What do you miss about Britain, I ask? "Everything," she says. "I miss Corby. I miss East Northamptonshire," which was her constituency until she suddenly resigned in August, causing a by-election which the Government could have done without. She misses the apple trees. "It's just that, unfortunately, Britain doesn't contain my husband. On that crucial metric, Britain loses to America."

So now she is in New York, looking back at the political life she left behind, the two intense years as an ambitious Conservative MP who was more visible as a backbencher than many cabinet ministers. "I remember being described by the Telegraph as ambitious, used pejoratively. That's not a word that anybody in America would use pejoratively." That at least is one thing she likes about America.

In her first interview since she moved to New York she is quickly immersed back in British politics. "Taking the geek out of Parliament doesn't take Parliament out of the geek," she says. "I'm still as much of a political junkie as I ever was." On the telephone from her new home on the Upper West Side, she still calls herself "a politician" as she analyses the American election. She wants Mitt Romney to win, but admits that "I'm not one of those politicians that likes to kid themselves".

She hopes to see a woman president next time, and says she would be happy with either Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice. "When you take a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat there's not much in it. I was perfectly content with the way Bill Clinton governed the country; he was a Tony Blair of America. He was labelled a Democrat but I think most Republicans could not say other than that they were relatively content with most of his policies."

But has her departure set back the cause of women in British politics? Cameron hinted in his letter to her on her resignation that he would have made her a minister in last month's reshuffle. "That was extremely kind of him," she says. "Given the situation that I had landed him in, it was a mark of his great character and loyalty. I shall never forget that. I was moved to tears."

But she goes on: "We've had lots of incredibly able women promoted into ministerial positions." She mentions Anna Soubry, "a complete star", who is now a health minister, and Helen Grant, who went to the Justice Department and of whom she says, "I'm sure she will be a cabinet minister and there's no limit to how high she can rise." She and Grant have something in common. "I remember the huge fuss that was made at her selection when it was found out that, like me, she was once a member of the Labour Party. I mean, so what? People are really stupid and tribal. Elections are about getting the middle ground to change their mind. If you have never changed your mind, why would you be likely to persuade somebody else to do so?"

The one party for which she has little sympathy, it seems, is the Liberal Democrats. "There are some things that I'm free to say now that I wasn't when I was an MP. The Liberals can be very annoying. I will say for the record that Vince Cable is extraordinarily annoying and childish." She says her fellow Tory MPs "felt that this was a guy that had accepted ministerial office and yet criticised his own government constantly".

She explains why she did not join Tory rebels in voting for a referendum on Europe last year. They had "short memories", she said. Nick Clegg had been in favour of an in-out referendum because he thought the pro-Europeans would win. "A rule for Tories should be that if Nick Clegg wants it you don't," she says.

Suddenly adopting a formal tone, she says: "I want to say a valedictory word to the select committee on which I sat, because it is now completely broken up and drifted to the wind." She thought the Culture, Media and Sport committee was "pretty great – we did a lot of really good work and not just on phone hacking". She praises two of its Tory former members who have been promoted, Damian Collins and Therese Coffey, but then pays tribute to two of its Labour MPs as well. "I miss Paul Farrelly; I miss Tom Watson tremendously. When Tom left the committee it was the end of an era. Tom is a bloody good man. If he would only convert to Conservatism."

Staying on the Labour side, she praises Rachel Reeves, number two to the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls ("Again, she's in the wrong party"), Gloria de Piero, a shadow Home Office minister, and Yvette Cooper, shadow Home Secretary. "It's good having Yvette up there, as a Conservative, because she is so obviously more talented than both her husband and her leader."

The Labour woman she has no time for is Harriet Harman, who implied that Mensch had let women down by standing down as an MP for family reasons. Her comments were "rather disgraceful", Mensch says. "As a feminist she really should know better. And she should know better than to use working motherhood as an excuse to make a political point. I was clear in my resignation letter that the Prime Minister had given me every opportunity. He's really walked the walk on flexible working. He enabled me to be a good constituency MP and at the same time make an impact on the select committee and at the same time be a good mother to my children. That wasn't the point. The point was it was emotionally impossible to be a good mother and have a good family life when my husband was on another continent. So this was about not being able emotionally to be permanently separated from the man that you love."

However much she misses Britain, she says she had no choice. "People are very, very friendly and welcoming in New York as we settle into new life and new schools," she says. And she adds, "I don't know what the weather is like at home." It's raining, I say. "Well, it's not raining here. It's gloriously sunny."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam