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Can I be a feminist and dislike Esther McVey?

Laura Brown wonders how sisterly she has to be about the rising Cabinet star

Written by . Published on July 15th 2014.

Can I be a feminist and dislike Esther McVey?

Picture, above: Dave 'The Pap' Evans

 “THAT'S not very sisterhood, is it?”

The above little line is a common rebuke on Twitter when I allow the Wirral West MP to raise my hackles. Usually, unerringly, delivered by a man, this phrase is designed to lock down discussion.

Women, it froths, should not criticise other women. We should be supportive. Much like any family that aspires to have its dirty washing kept out of the public gaze, any concerns we have about members of our sex should be kept under wraps. Bad feminist; the only thing that should spill from my sweet plump lips when I consider my sisters is praise and joy.

Her politics may be anathema to me but having the most high profile woman in Parliament speaking with a scouse twang is a good thing

As much as I enjoy being told what I can and can’t say by a man, this comment does pull me up short. I am not the only vocal leftie who doesn’t like Esther McVey. Even one of the city’s political elite recently commented she’s done more for Labour in the city than anyone.

If I purely take how she comes across in political discourse; I don’t like her patronising head-shakes when she hears something she doesn’t agree with. I don’t like her schoolgirl-esque bullying tone and dismissal of those who ask her critical questions and suggest there might be another perspective. In my darker moments I think what she and Iain Duncan Smith have been embarking on in the Department for Work and Pensions is little short of criminal. We have very different views on what the Utopian society looks like.

Yet there is something I cannot ignore: McVey, as one of the most high profile women in the Coalition cabinet is fighting a fight on more fronts than simply one against the poor.

Search for Esther McVey on Google and a few pre-empts come up, “hot”, “married” and “Twitter”. One of the top results is a “racy” (you never hear that word used to describe a man, do you?) photoshoot covered in that bastion of women’s libbers the Daily Mail. Instead of focusing on a political intercourse - like the search results that come up for Michael Gove, for example - how the internet reflects one of the most powerful women in the country is reflected by societal conventions and latent sexism.

What People Look For In Esther Mcvey SearchesHot topic: What people look for in Esther McVey

Esther McVey, formerly a GMTV presenter, woman in business and SME champion did much before she went into Parliament. Her “Making It” business offered serviced and incubator space for emerging entrepreneurs and SMEs in Liverpool. Winning Women, the networking group championed female business leaders and was sold to Forward Ladies when she went into politics. The former, she said in an interview, she handed control over to her dad. The Winning Women website is no longer registered and Forward Ladies next event on its website - in a year when there is quite a bit of focus on business and networking in Liverpool - is October. Championing small, emerging and especially female-led business is a passion both I and Esther share.


Yet despite these good works, McVey was a figure of fun before her elevation to Parliament, and often a punchline in the local media.

Journalists, even in this right-on fair city, would mock her political aspirations as many do when a blonde and attractive woman asks for her voice to be heard. She was often characterised as being fame-hungry, a bit of a rent-a-quote and not really a serious option for voters. Once she was elected and has enjoyed a rapid rise through the ranks, interviews with McVey still focus on her marital status and whether she has kids.

She said in an interview that, being from Liverpool, she can’t really embrace Thatcher but you can’t ignore the fact that she was a role model as a woman in the top branch of politics.

I feel the same way about McVey. Her politics may be anathema to me but having the most high profile woman in Parliament speaking with a scouse twang is a good thing. And that’s what I should do, isn’t it, as a leftie? I should look at the bigger picture and think of the latent hypocrisy and sexism that surrounds how people view her and fist-bump her in solidarity. A mouthy scouse bird on telly. That is “a good thing” is it not?

In my darker moments I do confess to thinking, “yeah it’s good, but does it have to be THAT woman?” A monumentally unfair reaction as I can’t push for equality and then grumble at the representation.

Here my embrace of equality bubbles upwards. I have the same dislike of IDS as I do for Esther McVey and it’s rooted very much in their political behaviour and policy, not their gender or class. I think her politics and behaviour in the media is spinning the most divisive “them and us” of the current crop of mealy mouthed right wingers. I believe their welfare policies are not just hurting but are attacking our poorest and most vulnerable.

I think it’s giving right-wing media the platform in which to twist and distort the political discourse to undermine one of our greatest contributions to western democracy; the Welfare State. In my opinion their reforms encourage hatred of neighbours and rely on divide and rule.

I’d prefer that any criticism of McVey were rooted not in misogyny but in a critical analysis of the effect of her policies. 

What are you saying when you admonish me for doing that? Are you telling me that it’s more important that a scouser is in the Cabinet so I should put up and shut up? Good women can’t bow their heads when they see women doing things they don’t agree with. That’s not equality that’s bullying.

Sisterhood doesn’t mean standing aside and letting someone remain unchecked. That’s is the very worst kind of discrimination. It does both me and the target of my ire a disservice.

While Esther McVey is free to usher in whatever policy she likes and defend it in whatever way she likes in the media, I think it reflect my truest devotion to solidarity to stand up against her and say “No, I don’t agree”. Stick that in your Twitter and smoke it.

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12 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Paul WardJuly 15th 2014.

Promotion for McVey and her sisters in crime Truss and Morgan does a disservice to women - the message given is that a TV-friendly face and an ability to kiss ass are more important in the rise of women than ability and achievement.

V. I. Lenin AirportJuly 15th 2014.

Quite right. McVey isn't appalling because she is a blonde woman, even one who posed in her underwear to get her telly job (and being Mal Young's girlfriend might have helped). She is appalling because she is a Conservative, and one of the nasty and spiteful parvenu ones who like to think that they have 'pulled themselves up by their bootstraps'.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 16th 2014.

spoken like a gentleman!

AnonymousJuly 15th 2014.

Bet you would though wouldn't you?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
V. I. Lenin AirportJuly 15th 2014.

Not even with yours.

AnonymousJuly 15th 2014.

I was talking about voting for her, you twisted perv

V. I. Lenin AirportJuly 16th 2014.

Not even with your pencil

John BradleyJuly 15th 2014.

She hasn't got a promotion, pay rise or new job title. Obviously with the election coming up Nick wouldn't have time to make the tea, while looking for a new job. She ticks a lot of boxes, Northern, Sex appeal for elderly colonels in Surrey and the Belvedere School is almost a comp. So she will be wheeled out when needed for a particular demographic. At least is was Nadine Dorries then every time she was on TV people would be plagued by unwanted images of her sunbathing topless.

AnonymousJuly 16th 2014.

As a voter in Wirral West, McVeigh's constituency, I often wonder what good it does us to have her in parliament? It is a comforting thought that Cameron's reshuffle is a bit like changing the tune being played by the band on the Titanic; the iceberg of revulsion at Tory policies will be sure to sink her and her party at the next election. [Apologies for the mixed metaphor.] Great article, by the way.

The ConsortJuly 16th 2014.

It is hard to forget her embarrassing behaviour outside St George's Hall on the day of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, rushing about and throwing herself uninvited in front of TV and press cameras, clearly briefed to photobomb the event for the Tories. Her subsequent tweeting during the memorial service 18 months later underscored her sincerity on that issue.

AnonymousJuly 16th 2014.

I think sisterhood would have us be pleased for other women where they do well in their carears even if we don't like their politics.

SaladDazeJuly 18th 2014.

Hitler worked at the Adelphi (alleged Beryl) and had interesting hair. Imelda Marcos was a woman with lots of shoes. Jeremy Clarkson has been on lots of TV couches. Hector McVey is in a constituency where fracking is about to destroy all the lovely golf courses. But they are all wretches. I hate them, not because the frock is from whistles or the kecks are too low or the gestures staccato or the accent phoney; I hate them because they are unspeakable wretches pissing on the poor in the name of their own twisted doctrines.

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