Yvette Cooper said at the weekend that criticism of her decision not to stand for the Labour leadership was unfeminist. I didn’t entirely follow her reasoning, but then I also don’t understand why having small children should be a reason for Cooper to hold back but not for her husband, Ed Balls. No such qualms would restrain Louise Bagshawe, heavy metal fan, chick-lit author, ardent Catholic, divorcée, millionaire, mother of three and the new Conservative member for Corby and East Northamptonshire. ‘I was quite annoyed that Margaret Thatcher was prime minister,’ Bagshawe has said, ‘because that meant I couldn’t be the first woman prime minister.’
She’s never been one to hang about. Her first novel, Career Girls, came out in 1995, when she was 22. She freely admits that her books ‘obviously… have no redeeming literary merit at all’, and there isn’t enough sex for them to count as bonkbusters. But there’s no shortage of camp lines like ‘Her name was Lola Montoya and God, she was a cold bitch,’ lots of descriptions of what people are wearing, and love-across-the-classes storylines: Will is the Hertford College rugby hunk who’s made it to Oxford despite being brought up by Barnardo’s, Melissa is a don’s daughter tactfully choosing fish and chips from the pub menu (this is Passion: the others are called Glitz, Glamour and, most recently, Desire). The attention to the practicalities of money – Will and Melissa go on picnics and Will has had to save up for fillet steak for her birthday – is quaint in a genre that has traditionally paid no attention to that sort of thing; in another of her books the three heroines’ trust fund is taken away from them and they have to go out and earn a living. In their girl powery way, they like it better.
Enthusiasm is Bagshawe’s topnote. ‘Of course women can have it all – if they want it all – I won’t hear any defeatist talk! If you just dwell on problems, you won’t get anywhere fast.’ The foil to her headmistressy, jolly bootstraps stridency isn’t just a lack of attention to detail – she once described a character in one of her novels as wearing a pair of white leather trousers designed by campaigning vegetarian Stella McCartney – it is also a Blair Babe-style arch-loyalism. Her political website (a product of Ashcroft money) emphasises growth, change and social action, or litter-picking; Bagshawe ‘believes in the growth agenda for Corby’ and cheers despondent Conservatives on from her regular blogs for conservativehome. In late March, she puppyishly wrote: ‘We’re going to win this election. And I can’t wait.’ She greeted her majority of 1951 votes at 3.45 a.m. on election night – by which time a hung parliament was already looking inevitable – with an acceptance speech littered with references to ‘change’ and calling David Cameron ‘our prime minister’. Cameron himself, cooing over babies in a maternity ward and conspicuously loading the dishwasher on his webcam, called Samantha Cameron his ‘secret weapon’, and on election night she, dressed in deep blue like a pregnant Virgin Mary, showed the world how he seems to like his women: pretty, docile, reserved, occasionally giggly but mostly silent.