General Election 2015: Esther McVey touted as a future PM, but could soon become a former MP

In his latest tour of seats where big names are facing decapitation, Adam Lusher reports from Wirral West

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Indy Politics

It has nearly all the ingredients of a fairy tale: the humble scrap merchant’s daughter from Liverpool who, waiting on tables in central London, gazed upon the glamorous media crowd and dared to dream that she, too, would go to the studio.

She became a star of the GMTV sofa, her charm and beauty admired throughout the land.

Entering politics, she stood for Wirral West in 2005, losing by 1,000 votes. But our plucky princess persisted and, in 2010, she won.

Now Esther McVey was Conservative candidate, defending her seat for Wirral West, admired by the handsome Prime Minister because she was a woman, from the North, who could speak fluent non-Etonian.

He made her Minister of State for Employment and accorded her the privilege of attending Cabinet.

And so might our story end, were it not for the danger of sacrificing one crucial fairy-tale ingredient – the happy-ever-after bit, preferably involving Ms McVey achieving her ambition, revealed to ITV’s Loose Women in February, of one day becoming prime minister.

For explanations, we needed look no further than a former cake shop on the Birkenhead Road.

Highly visible, on one of the constituency’s busiest thoroughfares, it was plastered with posters telling all who passed: “NHS in crisis: under the Tories fewer nurses, fewer GPs, longer waiting times.”

Awaiting us in the old cake shop, buoyed by polls that put her one point ahead in October and five points ahead last month, was Margaret Greenwood, 56, the Labour challenger who might deprive Ms McVey of her seat and her political future.

She made a very disappointing Wicked Stepmother: polite, almost self-effacing until she started talking of the dangers to the NHS, the iniquities of the bedroom tax.

Labour was throwing everything at this key marginal, bringing in the big guns, and Ed Miliband.

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, had just given a barnstorming performance in which he promised to save the crisis-hit Arrowe Park Hospital. Ed would visit soon.

But Ms McVey, with her working-class roots and televisual charm, could see off such a bombardment – couldn’t she?

Not according to Lee Gerrard, 43, a barrister living in a terraced house near Labour’s old-cake-shop HQ.

“She’s a classic tuppeny-ha’penny West Wirral snob,” said Mr Gerrard, who grew up in Liverpool.

“Some people like her,” advised Martin Liptrot, Ms Greenwood’s volunteer press officer. “They think she’s feisty. Others see her as obnoxious, self-serving. She’s a Marmite character.”

Perhaps they don’t like Marmite on the Wirral.

On West Kirby beach, the face of Maria Pringle, 59, left disabled by a brain haemorrhage, darkened. She would not forget Miss McVey’s role in cutting benefits while minister for the disabled.

“She would take almost our last penny off us if she could,” said Mrs Pringle.

Such claims suggested there was another missing ingredient to the tale: Esther herself. Wouldn’t she want to respond, feistily?

We tried her campaign HQ, the Conservative Club, next door to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

“They’re all out,” we were told.

It was hard not to feel a little hurt, given that there had been tentative talk, just a day earlier, of seeing if a meeting could be arranged.

But Esther was very busy knocking on doors, we were told. It wouldn’t necessarily help her constituents, said the unyielding party workers, to have people following behind her, asking questions.

Mr Liptrot was gleeful.

“She likes publicity, but not scrutiny,” he said, more than once.

As an MP? Surely not!

Shame on us and our cynical souls, surely, for being so baffled when an electioneering politician actually does want to spend time meeting real voters rather than transmitting carefully crafted messages via the media?

One thing was certain: every ounce of doorstep persuasion would count here.

Minds were there to be made up. The prevailing mood here seemed to be apathy – Labour-tinged perhaps, but very much rosé rather than the full-bodied red. Many confessed to not knowing much about politics.

One woman answered the door, looked at the canvassers and declared: “Ohh, is the election tonight?”

The afternoon wore on. Bafflement turned to mild anxiety. The Independent formed its own search party. We scoured the streets of Wirral West. Reader, in one of the UK’s smaller constituencies, we failed to find her – although her campaign manager did text, confirming that Esther was too busy canvassing “and unfortunately won’t have any spare time for a chat”.

No further comment or response to those Labour claims was forthcoming.

But Esther will surely appear for the count on 7 May. She might even win. The fairy tale might continue.

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