Once upon a time, a chick-lit author ran for office in the UK and became the bright young political talent of the Conservative Party. That lasted for two years. Louise Mensch (formerly Bagshawe) made her name with fizzy beach reads full of privileged young fillies in the vein of Jilly Cooper, but her rise to public prominence came as she was elected by fellow Tory MPs to serve on the Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport following her election in 2010.
The following year, the phone hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, amongst other major names in the British media, led to hearings in the committee. Mensch did rather well for herself here, being named the “surprise star” by the Economist and for standing up for Murdoch after he was accused by other committee members of being unfit to run an international company. There’s a wonderful moment of acting on display in the committee hearing, when Murdoch was pelted with a pie, and Mensch leaps to her feet in shock and anger at this brutal display.
Following that, Mensch kept the headlines spinning in her favour. She garnered positive press after calling out journalists who tried to shame her for some dark elements in her past, she did a slinky photoshoot with GQ and an accompanying interview wherein she lamented her lack of promotion in the party, and she leveraged her Twitter account to great effect in building further buzz, even as she called for social media sites to be shut down during the 2011 riots. Mensch wasn’t just a politician — she was a cool girl. She loved rock music (and married Peter Mensch, Metallica manager), she was proud of her groupie years, she wrote an obituary for Adam Yauch after his death, and she advocated for feminism, albeit “Tory feminism”, which she dictated to be a “reality-based” form of the ethos.
She was also a businesswoman, joining forces with a former Labour Party advisor Luke Bozier, who had left the party amid much shock, to make Menshn (she claims the name wasn’t in reference to her own). Menshn was supposed to be a sharp new alternative to Twitter, with elements of a forum-style system, where users would have more characters to type and must talk on topic. Immediately from launch, the site was a mess. IT experts lambasted its poor security and password systems, as well as its lack of users and general pointlessness. Mensch denied any problems, but it didn’t matter. Menshn closed in February 2013, seven months after its opening.
By that point in time, Mensch had resigned from her office as MP (the by-election to fill the constituency was won by Labour) to move to New York. She quickly found herself with a regular column in The Sun, a Murdoch publication. But, as Bill Hicks says, there’s no connection there. Her next internet venture was a fashion blog called Unfashionista. A curious mish-mash of vanilla sartorial advice, body shaming and unbridled narcissism, Unfashionista was oddly fixated on the notion of dressing to please your alpha man. She praises Kim Kardashian for giving men relief from a “constant diet of stick-thin, sexless models, whose bodies were utterly unlike those of normal women”, advises against padded bras because they’ll only result in “a disappointed boyfriend”, and prefers “well-fitting, close-cut clothes (and maybe a pair of comfortable high heels)” because “he will love it”. This venture didn’t last long either, but it was a fascinating insight into the so-called “reality-based feminism” of Mensch — male centred, and benefiting only one woman.
As with all narcissists in positions of power, Mensch has only failed upwards. In May 2014, she started to develop, alongside News Corp, the pseudo-libertarian Reddit fest Heat Street. I imagine journalism went on there at some point, but its most galling achievement seemed to be biting at the heels of the 4Chan MRA generation, baiting their paranoia over “SJWs”, “ethics in game journalism”, and positing whether women should be able to vote. You may remember Mensch, reality-based feminist that she is, proudly supporting GamerGate, which her site continued to do as she interviewed Adam Baldwin, the man who started that hashtag and proudly watched as a hate group ruined several women’s lives in the name of a false idol. Mensch, back in reality-based feminism, said the hashtag had been created to “describe the scandal of falsely accused young men”, and that it also “divided the feminists — like me — and the fauxminists”. You know those fake feminists, the ones who were doxxed, threatened, had their lives upended by misogynistic bullies and their futures irrevocably changed? They’re the ones hurting the cause, not the woman debating with a notorious bigot over whether or not the whole letting women vote thing was a good idea.
When I first started seeing Mensch be favourably covered in the American media for some snippets of actual journalism, my head fell into my hands. Seriously, America, I thought. I understand that things are tough right now, but do you seriously want to galvanize someone like this? It was only a couple of years ago that she bullied and tried to smear a 19-year-old young woman who campaigned for the Labour Party over Twitter. Now she’s being held up as a voice of the left? The woman who called Thatcher her heroine? Now she’s suddenly writing op-eds in the New York Times and being retweeted all over my feed as the Woodward and Bernstein of the fake news age. Even as she lies, repeatedly pushes falsehoods, and is called out by actual experts on the issue, the hysteria remains and her followers, people with Hillary avatars and Bernie quotes in their profiles, jump to her defence.
I would call her the Alex Jones of the left, but it doesn’t feel accurate. Jones is awful but he’s consistently so. Mensch is a ship-jumper, a plastic bag in the wind going wherever the biggest blowhard takes her. Being the cool centre-right Tory didn’t work; being the English Zuckerberg didn’t work; being the alpha worshiping Anna Wintour didn’t work; but it seems she’s found a groove as the Milo of the fake news age, albeit with a near-invisible sheen of legitimacy.
Mensch goes where the attention is, and that is how we have found ourselves, in the Trump age of hate and confusion, amidst ceaseless panic and a hunger for resistance, latching onto every vaguely respectable light in the dark. One good scoop means countless people are willing to overlook claims like Russia funding the Ferguson riots. One tidbit amidst a sea of 4Chan pandering is all some desperate folks need. As Mensch aids a harried left in the mainstreaming of fake news from the liberal sphere, it remains to be seen how long this era of grifting will last for her. Even if her own star falls, the damage done to the Democratic sphere, as well as democracy itself, is already done. For now, Britain would like to remind America that we’re not taking her back.