Many politicians are dedicated public servants who do not deserve the contempt in which the political class is now widely held. Esther McVey is not one of these.
Since becoming an MP in 2010, the former GMTV presenter has earned opprobrium with all of the groups that she has been appointed supposedly to serve. In the process, she has lied shamelessly and repeatedly, demonstrated complete contempt for parliamentary standards, and grossly insulted the most vulnerable in our society.
As Secretary of State for Disabled People from 2012 to 2013, McVey misled Parliament about the punitive impact on disabled people of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. She also lost no opportunity to amplify false allegations that disabled people were exaggerating their disabilities in order to claim benefits. This no doubt made it easier for her to assist with the process of removing support from those who needed it, with devastating and in some cases fatal impacts on people’s lives.
It may be that McVey was projecting her own greed and dishonesty onto others less fortunate than herself: in 2019 the Guardian revealed that she had claimed £8,750 in MP’s expenses for the services of a “personal photographer”.
After being appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2018, McVey applied much the same approach to this new role. In a debate on the rise in food banks, she asserted that it was a ‘good thing’ that so many people were now using these, prompting veteran MP Gerald Kauffman to say that this was the nastiest speech he had heard in 43 years in the Commons. She was also reported by the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) for misleading Parliament over the new Universal Credit scheme. McVey had claimed that an NAO report had recommended the scheme be rolled out faster. In fact it said the opposite, as the poorly designed scheme was driving many people into destitution.
She was forced to apologise to the House of Commons, with Labour’s Margaret Greenwood commenting, ‘The Secretary of State should be ashamed that she has been forced to come to this house again. If she misread this report so badly this brings in to question her competence and her judgment. If she did read the report and chose to misrepresent its findings, she has clearly broken the ministerial code. Either way, she should resign.’
But McVey has never been one to be embarrassed by her own duplicity or incompetence. Her resignation when it came was not over this but over Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal. Outside the cabinet, she busied herself by promulgating disinformation about the European Union, for instance the false claim that the UK if it remained in the EU would be forced to join the euro. But this was by no means the end of her political ambitions.
In May 2019 McVey announced that she would be standing for the leadership of the Tory Party, a move that prompted a fair amount of incredulity. Despite attempting to appeal to the far right of her party by saying that she might suspend Parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit, she failed to convince many Tory MPs that she was a plausible Prime Minister.
As soon as she was knocked out of the race, she announced her support for Boris Johnson’s candidacy. Her reward was to be appointed Minister of State for Housing and Planning in Johnson’s Cabinet of Horrors, where she may be relied upon to lie to the public, show contempt for parliamentary norms and democratic values, and inflict damage on the vulnerable with not the slightest compunction.