You might not support the Tories, but at least Esther McVey knows how to speak to the electorate

Too often politicians speak and we don’t understand what language they are using

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The Independent Online

This week Esther McVey told me while on Loose Women she’d like to be prime minister – and made headlines. Well, a smart girl has got to dream, so let’s applaud the only person (male or female) in the Cabinet with the balls to admit their ambition.

In response, David Cameron made some insipid comment about “a lot of talent” in the party, but surely the problem for all political leaders is that they may have talent in their teams, they may have policies, and they may have conviction, but none of that is getting through to disenchanted voters, a large percentage of whom haven’t decided whether to bother voting, and if they do, who will get their support.

The tragedy of talented people on the left or right (such as McVey, a lawyer who has written books for young people, started her own business, and presented TV shows) is that they are trapped in a system which has lost the support of a big proportion of the electorate. Politicians speak, and we don’t understand what language they are using. It’s not one in common usage. It’s antediluvian, peppered with platitudes about “hard-working people”.

McVey, for all her skill and tenacity, has a narrow majority in Wirral West, and could lose her seat. Like Gloria De Piero, she’s a natural communicator, and the comments after her TV interview were instructive. One woman said: “I hate the Tories, but she came across well. She seemed to be talking to me.” Ed Miliband and David Cameron, read that and weep.

If only we could remove modern politics’ false demarcation lines. They seem redundant to most of the population who can’t understand why essential stuff like the NHS and education, care of the elderly and transport aren’t run through cross-party consensus aided by impartial advisers. Instead, convention dictates that each new government imposes a new strategy from the top, and huge sums of money are wasted implementing what I call macho dick-on-table strategy: change for change’s sake.


We’ve already heard how Andrew Lansley’s reorganisation of the NHS has been dubbed a “disaster”. Ditto Michael Gove’s rewriting of the school curriculum and examinations, now being toned down by his successor.

Last week, Ant and Dec, millionaire entertainers and men of the people (who have never lost touch with their roots or their audience), summed up the mood of the nation. These former staunch Labour supporters threw a fabulous election night party in 1997, but now admit they don’t know what Labour stands for any more. Desperately scrabbling to engage support, all parties are spending a fortune on ads and consultations, but their scare tactics aren’t working.

McVey admitted she wasn’t a fan of the personalised attacks on Miliband that the Conservatives have been running on YouTube, and young voters in particular find this emphasis on appearance and geekiness a turn-off.

The Tories aim to win pensioner votes by threatening to cut off benefits and force jobless teenagers to pick up litter. To woo the under-25s, Labour is preparing a youth manifesto, but promises and pledges won’t necessarily get results. The problem runs much deeper. The profound distrust of politicians can be countered only by the brave, and the bright. So well done to Esther McVey. Your commitment to democracy is invigorating, even if your party is moribund.


Teapots, paper fans, cruet sets – I’ve collected them all  

Collecting is my secret addiction, and my whole life I’ve been trying to keep it under control. As a student, I’d get up at dawn to pick through street markets for Art Deco finds, and travel miles to antique fairs and auctions, always trying to trump competitive friends. Luckily, my partners have been similarly afflicted. One owned 500 pieces of Staffordshire blue and white pottery, and more than 100 iron can openers, each one shaped like a bull’s head.

Every decade, one collection gets sold to make room for another. Over the years I’ve said goodbye to Susie Cooper pottery, fancy teapots and dozens of 1920s paper advertising fans. I dare not tell you what I currently collect, because you’ll beat me to a bargain, but I’ll admit to owning a lot of cruet sets.

What does the ritual of collecting reveal about our personality? Do artists collect stuff for different reasons to mine? (I just love the pure pleasure of acquisition and subsequent arrangement but tire of looking at the same stuff after a while.)

The Barbican has devoted a huge exhibition (“Magnificent Obsessions”) to thousands of objects amassed by 14 artists from all over the world. Some are predictable – Peter Blake’s kitsch elephant figures and Punch and Judy figurines, a bizarre group of exotic taxidermy contributed by Damien Hirst. Some artists are building or have already set up museums to house their objects, which give things like stuffed birds and medical displays of false eyes an importance they might not merit.

Wandering through this show is fun, but not necessarily instructive. There’s a lot of the same camp stuff a lot of us are drawn to, such as bad paintings and silly seaside postcards. Andy Warhol was a relentless acquisitor, and a jolly group of cookie jars he owned is delightful. But this enjoyable (if undemanding) show reveals little about why these artists produce work which touches our soul in a way the original objects do not. You might learn more from an episode of Antiques Roadshow.


Sunday evenings are for light relief, not television misery

It’s a mystery why the BBC thought that Sunday night was the right time to broadcast its new expensive three-part dramatisation of J K Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy. In this satire set in a fictional Gloucestershire village, the most appealing character dropped dead within the first 15 minutes. Sunday evenings are for what I call Complan telly, Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge being prime examples – shows where poverty, rape and war are carefully sanitised so viewers don’t go to bed with nightmares and start the week badly. Homeland was always best recorded, and watched during the week.

Luckily, I found a copy of Angus Wilson’s 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes in a junk shop at Christmas, a much more rewarding way of spending a bleak February evening. A hilariously cruel satire of English life – with toffs, tarts and alcoholics galore – it beats Vacancy hands down. Fascinating factoid: Daniel Craig appeared in the telly version in 1992.


Forget the to-do list, Andy. Find a teddy to bash

Andy Murray’s hastily scrawled list of goals on the back of a letter from a fan was heartbreaking, especially as (in spite of studying this manifesto avidly between games) he managed to lose in straight sets to a lower-ranked player. Top of the list was “Be good to yourself”, followed by “Try your best”. As if anyone would ever write “Do your worst”.

Life coaches have a lot to answer for, but the real point of Andy’s list is to give him something to do instead of chucking his racquet on the ground when he’s making unforced errors, and swearing at himself and anyone in earshot.

Murray’s rage at his own mistakes is horrible to behold, and when he loses it – as in the recent Australian Open – he rarely negotiates a way back to positive thinking. Maybe we should just get Andy a teddy to bash with a hammer.