Barnardo’s girl who says she’s a ‘Liverpudlian who dared to be a Conservative’
IF there is one rule of thumb that Esther McVey has clung to during her 13-year political career, it’s that it is vital for MPs to ‘get outside the Westminster bubble’.
That was the phrase she used during an interview I did with her in 2019 following the announcement that she would be running for the Tory leadership after the resignation of Theresa May.
‘When you’re talking to people you can get a truer sense of the patterns and the emotions that are out there,’ she said.
That statement may have been made four years ago – and that leadership bid long gone – but the sentiment has arguably never been more pertinent given the news that 56-year- old McVey is returning to the Cabinet as ‘Common Sense Tsar’.
A prominent Brexiteer and selfdeclared blue-collar Tory, she has long made a virtue of standing up for the concerns of Conservative voters whose preoccupations can sometimes seem a world away from the pronouncements of the politicians elected to represent them. This can be explained, in part at least, by the fact that the charismatic and outspoken McVey is cut from a very different cloth to that of many of her fellow Tories, with a CV that includes both a stint in a Barnardo’s children’s home and time as a television presenter with GMTV.
It was her period in care that has undoubtedly shaped her the most. McVey spent the first four and a half years of her life in foster homes after her 20-year- old father Jimmy and his 18-year-old childhood sweetheart Barbara made the agonising decision to give up their new-born daughter until they got on their feet.
‘They didn’t have any money and – at the same time – my grandma, who would have looked after me, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a perfect storm of everything going wrong,’ McVey told me. ‘But they always knew they wanted me back.’
In the end it took longer than they anticipated – nearly five years – during which time McVey was fostered by two different families, although when she was returned to her parents she says she felt an ‘immediate sense of belonging’.
Nonetheless, those traumatic early childhood experiences left a legacy, both in a passionate commitment to helping young people – McVey has worked on a number of initiatives to improve the prospects for care-leavers – and a steely inner core that has proved useful when navigating careers in the brutal arenas of television and politics.
Until yesterday’s appointment, McVey was juggling her backbench MP role with being a presenter on GB News alongside her husband, fellow Conservative MP Philip Davies.
The telegenic McVey worked first as a producer before being promoted to onscreen duties in the early 1990s and for a time perched on the GMTV sofa alongside both Eamonn Holmes and Lorraine Kelly.
The latter is notably not a fan. Asked by Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid whether she remembered McVey from her GMTV days after her 2019 leadership announcement, Kelly replied: ‘I do yes,’ with a dry laugh, before moving the conversation on as quickly as she could.
McVey later claimed that Kelly didn’t like her because she was promoted over her. Kelly, a prominent LGBT+ ally, subsequently insisted it was McVey’s voting record on gay rights that she had an issue with.
Either way, politics did not beckon for McVey until 2010, when she was elected as MP for Wirral West. McVey lost her seat in 2015 but two years later won another.
In 2018, it emerged that Labour MP John McDonnell had joked at a public meeting that McVey should be ‘lynched’. He subsequently clarified he was repeating what someone else had said and was not inciting violence, but it left McVey shaken nonetheless.
She suggested that personal attacks on her were often motivated by the fact she was ‘a Liverpudlian who dared to become Conservative’. It is for this sort of plain- speaking that the Prime Minister has brought her back as a minister of state for the Cabinet Office to champion his ‘ antiwoke’ agenda.
Her commonsense approach came to the fore in the summer of 2019 when she undertook a nationwide pub tour for ‘blue collar Conservatives’. And she spends as much time as she can in her Cheshire constituency home, which she shares with Davies, who has three children.
She also values a work-life balance: ‘For me it’s bubblegum TV with a glass of wine, or a night with friends round at my house.’
It is a philosophy that will serve her well in the no doubt troubled times ahead.
‘Charismatic and outspoken’