Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Esther McVey’s job is to spread the sunshine with gusto


It’s unsurprising that “gusto” is a favourite Esther McVey word, since she positively vibrates with the stuff.

So taken on Monday was the Tory Nigel Adams with her (somewhat undeserved) put-down of Labour’s Stephen Hepburn – “The honourable gentleman spoke with gusto, but that was all he spoke with” – that he obsequiously asked her to congratulate “with gusto” the local businesses in his constituency for ensuring “a tremendous fall in youth unemployment”. The MP, she insisted, had spoken with “such gusto that I do not think I could top it”.

This is nonsense. Nobody can top the employment minister in gusto, least of all the rest of the Department of Work and Pensions team, who sit behind her in awe when she is in full flow, rather as if she were the lead vocalist and they less talented versions of the backing singers in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom. Except that they are all men, and one, Iain Duncan Smith, is supposed to be the star.

Where other ministers talk about “Our long-term economic plan” as if muttering some incantation to keep away evil spirits, the gusto girl savours every syllable whenever she refers to it, which she did at least five times.

From planet Esther any suggestion that all might not be economically perfect is wilfully to ignore the sunshine she sees it as her task to spread.

When Labour’s William Bain asked her to explain to a young constituent “desperate to find a job” why the Government had been “so slow” to offer a jobs guarantee, she said she would like “a word” with “the young chap… because what I would like to give him is hope and optimism, something you’re distinctly not giving… because what that chap needs is hope”.

Unabashed by opposition shouts of “He needs a job” (abashed not being in the McVey make-up) she said that if “he sticks with it” he would “get there in the end”.

We may never know what topical question the Tory Mark Menzies planned to ask, since he was absent, having resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary after claims made about him by a Brazilian male escort.

But since the Speaker, rebuking another PPS, Labour’s Mike McCann, for “shrieking”, said the role of a PPS was “to nod and shake the head in the appropriate places, and to fetch and carry notes”, Menzies may not feel he’s missing much.