When I joined the Conservative party in May 2016, it flew in the face of all expectations arising from my background. Proudly from 3 generations of miners, one of whom went on strike in 1984-85, the first name I ever knew in politics was Margaret Thatcher. It was she who would, many years later, inspire me to become a fully paid-up member of the Conservative party despite being born and raised in the constituency of Dennis Skinner.
In the 1970s, the UK was declared the sick man of Europe, and so it would have remained if not for the bold vision championed by Thatcher. She recognised the need to invigorate the working classes and push through the essential economic reform to allow them to climb the ladder to a better life for their families.
In 2019, there are many similarities to the political landscape of almost 50 years ago. In June 2016, the British people undertook the biggest democratic exercise in our long history by voting to leave the EU. In achieving what had been hailed as unachievable by pollsters and politicians alike, it was a moment of pride for the 17.4 million voters who voted in the belief that a life outside the EU would be better for our country.
Three years later, we stand on a very different precipice.
Internationally humiliated by 3 years of stagnation and failed negotiation, we have been forced to seek extension after extension from the EU, we are utterly divided, and if we fail to leave the EU by October 31, our party may never be trusted to govern again.
For this reason, this Conservative leadership election is as significant as its 1975 predecessor, and it is vital that we place our trust in the right person. Just as a bold reformer with the steel to navigate through tough waters was needed then, so one is needed now, and that candidate is Esther McVey.
With odds on her winning the contest currently at 100-1, McVey is, like Thatcher before her, a rank outsider in the race to No 10. But she is also used to beating the odds in a way her opponents are not.
From humble beginnings in Liverpool, she had already defied all the preconceptions about children who have a tough start in life when she began the fight to become the first Conservative MP on Merseyside since 1997. She is unlike many of her colleagues on both sides of the house in that she knows what is at stake when a politician falls out of favour with voters, and this is perhaps the reason she has come back so determined to listen to them.
She can inspire the next generation of Conservative voters that the parameters of what they can achieve need not be limited by where they are from but can be dictated by how hard they are prepared to work. She would stand as a national example that no matter a person’s background, they can be appointed to the highest post in the land.
The starting point for this bright new future must be delivering a meaningful Brexit. The rise of the Brexit party in the European elections we should not have participated in has underlined the fact that most of the public will not accept any attempt to fudge Brexit.
McVey has taken a characteristically bold stance on Brexit and appears to be the only candidate to have recognised that we cannot reunite until we break the deadlock and end the paralysis of EU-UK negotiations.
The parliamentary arithmetic at present does not lend itself to a unifying candidate, as Theresa May’s tenure has proved. By pitching herself as the Brexit candidate, prepared to surround herself in cabinet only with others who believe in leaving the EU, McVey has proved she is the best candidate to reach out to those voters we stand to lose to the Brexit Party if we do not get this right.
It is right that a candidate should be prepared to use all means at her disposal to remove the UK from the EU, if not because we believe in it, then because we recognise the catastrophic consequences of not doing so. The current situation where we balance precariously on the boundary between leaving and remaining in the EU precipitates the tribal nature of politics and prevents any reunification. We must end all discussion about a second referendum until we have delivered on the result of the first one, or the trust in our politicians and in our democratic systems will be irreparably broken. If we renege on leaving again on October 31, we will permanently scar the democratic process in this country, and that should scare leavers and remainers alike.
The October 31 deadline must be honoured, as McVey has said, and we cannot rule out a no-deal Brexit given the timeframe in which a new government will be operating. The EU has been clear that there will be no renegotiation, and we must therefore embrace a WTO Brexit, and McVey is the leader with the tenacity and experience to make this a resounding success.
Delivering Brexit is not enough. We need to elect a new leader who recognises the opportunity this presents and has a bright new vision to take our country forward into the 2020s. Post-Brexit, we need McVey and her ability to communicate with the everyday men and women in the street who will power our economy through the most significant moment in our history for many decades.
With the relaunch of Blue Collar Conservatism, McVey has committed to reforms no other leadership candidate has – she has committed to taking our party back to its roots as the party of the aspiring working class by putting investment in education, police and public servants at the top of her manifesto.
Education has always been the mechanism by which people improve their lives, but the system is in desperate need of funding and reform. The Blue Collar agenda recognises the failings in the system which began to take root in 1997 when the Blair government pursued an arbitrary target of 50% of young people attending university and seeks to put them right by championing vocational qualifications.
By committing £4 billion to education, including £1 billion extra for children with special education needs, McVey proves she is committed to rejuvenating the education system by raising the profile of vocational training and ensuring that all children, irrespective of their abilities and talents, receive an education that allows them to do well in life. Reversing the negative perception that apprenticeships or other means of vocational training are somehow less prestigious than a university degree is essential if we are to truly reform the education sector and inspire young people to become the workforce we need to succeed.
We have endured almost a decade of austerity, which has been a necessary measure to fix an economy broken by years of Labour Government. But now is the time to reinvest in our essential public services to allow everyone to prosper in our society as we prepare for our post-Brexit future.
What the country needs at this momentous point in our history is a fearless leader with a clear vision and the iron will to bring her vision for the future to fruition. Esther McVey has the vision and the constitution to lead our country to a brighter future, which is why I am #WithEsther.