Hardline Brexiteer and former Cabinet minister Esther McVey revealed she would run to replace Theresa May as the Tory leadership battle burst into life today.
The ex-Work and Pensions Secretary, who quit the Government in protest at the Prime Minister’s Brexit handling in November, confirmed she would make a bid for the top in a radio interview this morning.
It came after Cabinet minister David Gauke took a thinly-veiled swipe at rival leadership candidate Boris Johnson, warning the Tories ‘to avoid the temptation’ of becoming right-wing populists.
As ministers from across the Brexit spectrum vie to replace Theresa May when she finally quits as Tory leader, the Justice Secretary said that such a change would leave Britain poorer and more divided and put the Union at risk.
In an interview with TalkRadio Ms McVey, 51, said: ‘I’ve always said quite clearly if I got enough support from colleagues then yes I would, and now people have come forward and I have got that support.
‘So I will be going forward.’
She said the Conservative Party needed a leader who ‘believes in Brexit’, and had ‘belief in the opportunities’ it could bring.
Ms McVey said that Mrs May’s departure should be handled in a ‘dignified and graceful’ way.
‘We all know Theresa May is dutiful,’ she said. ‘She has worked for public service for many years.’
The former television journalist, who is engaged to fellow Tory backbench Brexiteer Philip Davies, 47, is seen as an outsider in the leadership race, with odds currently 66/1.
McVey, who previously had a romance with ex-minister Ed Vaizey, went public on her relationship with Mr Davies in March, in an interview that prompted speculation she was clearing a path for a leadership bid.
He has two children from a previous marriage while Ms McVey has none.
Hardline Brexiteer and former Cabinet minister Esther McVey revealed she would run to replace Theresa May as the Tory leadership battle burst into life today
Esther McVey at the Pink Ribbon Ball in 2002 while working as a TV presenter on shows like GMTV, How Do they Do That? .Today she announced she would run to be Tory leader after Theresa May
The former television journalist, who is engaged to fellow Tory backbench Brexiteer Philip Davies, 47, is seen as an outsider in the leadership race, with odds currently 66/1
Although there is no leadership contest under way, a lack of confidence in Theresa May among Conservative MPs has prompted Rory Stewart, Andrea Leadsom and Ms McVey to declare their candidacies.
A series of high-profile media appearances from Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Dominic Raab in the last week have also buoyed speculation that they will run.
Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Steve Baker and Amber Rudd have also been tipped as potential leaders.
Under current Conservative Party rules, the Prime Minister is free from an internal challenge to her leadership until December 2019, but could step down before then.
Remainer minister Mr Gauke meanwhile made a pitch to be the centre-ground candidate in any upcoming leadership fight.
In an interview with the BBC this morning said that politicians must ‘avoid giving glib answers’ to complex questions, in a concerted pitch for the middle ground.
He added: ‘We have to avoid the temptation to be a populist party.
Amber Rudd sidesteps questions about Remainer leadership bid
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has sidestepped questions as to whether she would be a leadership contender when Theresa May steps down.
Asked following a speech in London to employers whether she intended to throw her hat in the ring, Remainer Ms Rudd said: ‘I feel incredibly fortunate to be in this role.
‘There is a really important job to do about making sure we get Universal Credit right.’
She added: ‘I am committed to the DWP.’
Ms Rudd said she believed Theresa May should be given the time to meet her commitment to complete the first stage of Brexit before standing down as Prime Minister.
‘We need to hold our nerve and allow her to do that. Brexit is a complicated procedure and the numbers in the House of Commons make that even harder,’ she said.
‘But I believe that she has a plan now, hopefully to do a deal with Labour, if not to bring forward indicative votes. We need to back her on that.’
Ms Rudd, who was a leading Remain campaigner in the referendum, expressed concern about the consequences of Britain leaving without a deal.
‘I am concerned with the economic consequences of leaving without a deal. As part of having a strong economy we need to have a deep and special partnership (with the EU),’ she said.
‘That would narrow our support, narrow our base and result in policies that I don’t think would be good for the United Kingdom.’
Although he is not often mentioned in lists of potential successors to Mrs May, Mr Gauke’s comments will be seen as an intervention in the leadership contest to come after the PM steps down, as she has said she will once the first phase of Brexit is complete.
One of the Cabinet’s most prominent opponents of a no-deal Brexit, his comments are likely to be interpreted as a caution to the party not to choose a leader from among advocates of the hardest forms of EU withdrawal, like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab.
Mr Johnson, the bookies’ favourite to succeed the Prime Minister, is the most popular Tory MP with the party’s rank-and-file and most recognisable to the general public.
But he is less popular with Tory MPs, with Remainers and moderates gearing up to provide a ‘stop Boris’ to run against him.
Under Tory rules MPs whittle leadership candidates down to a final two before a vote of the membership, so they could block the former foreign secretary from the head-to-head.
Appealing to the party to stand by the banner of ‘One Nation Conservatism’, Mr Gauke used a speech to the Onward thinktank this morning to call for for a politics which is civil, open-minded and forward-looking.
When the Conservatives choose their next leader, the focus should be on ‘what is the role of the UK in a post-Brexit world and who is the best candidate to defeat Jeremy Corbyn’, he added.
In his speech, Mr Gauke said the arguments of some Brexiteers has been ‘characterised by wishful thinking’ which has ‘not survived the collision with reality’.
Voters’ anger over the failure to deliver Brexit on time has been fuelled by some Leave supporters’ over-simplification of the difficulties involved, he said.
And he argued that the Government must put the economy at the heart of its Brexit strategy, discouraging a ‘culture war’ over relations with Europe and ensuring that the UK maintains ‘strong trading relationships with our biggest trading partner’.
In a challenge to populists’ claim to be the heirs of the most successful Tory leader of modern times, he insisted that Margaret Thatcher led her party and her country by confronting populism, not embracing it.
Mr Gauke warned that the growth of populism has driven a coarsening of political debate, with language becoming more extreme and civility dismissed as weakness.
But he said that on the key political arguments, populists are ‘just plain wrong’.
In the interview with TalkRadio Ms McVey, 51, seen as an outsider in the leadership race, said: ‘I’ve always said quite clearly if I got enough support from colleagues then yes I would, and now people have come forward and I have got that support.’
In an interview with the BBC this morning David Gauke said: ‘We have to avoid the temptation to be a populist party’
Populist politics would ‘make us a poorer and a more divided nation’ and fail to satisfy voters who feel disillusioned by the current system, he said.
It involves an attack on the very institutions which underpin the UK’s political stability and threatens to undermine the United Kingdom itself by manifesting itself in the guise of English nationalism, warned Mr Gauke.
‘Conservatism should be broad, not narrow; open, not closed; forward-looking, not yearning for a mythical past,’ he said.
‘It should be based on an appeal to the common-sense, pragmatic instincts of the majority. We should seek to unite, not divide. One Nation Conservatism.
‘Pragmatic, practical, reasonable but determined. That is the character of the British people. That is the character of Conservatism at its best.’
Calling for a de-escalation of the ‘culture wars’ which have raged since the 2016 Brexit referendum, Mr Gauke said the Tories should promote civil debate and mainstream politics.
And he said the party must be ready to be open with voters about the need for trade-offs and the fact that ‘an easy, simple answer is often the wrong one’.
Mr Gauke warned against ‘sneering’ at those rallying behind populist calls for a swift and ‘clean’ break from Europe. He said Conservatives should not follow failed US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in dismissing those concerned about rapid changes to the national culture and economy as ‘deplorables’.
Instead, the party’s platform must be seen to benefit society as a whole and offer an ‘aspirational and optimistic’ message to those seeking opportunity and improved living standards.
From foster care to frontline politics: Liverpudlian Tory Esther McVey is looking to take on Theresa May for the second time over Brexit
She’s the former foster child and daugher of a one-time ice cream man who dragged herself up to the heart of Government.
Esther McVey, who has announced an outsider run to be Tory leader – and by extension Prime Minister – grew up in the Liverpool suburb of West Derby in a home where money was tight.
The now 51-year old went on to work for the family construction firm, become a reporter and set up her own business before turning to politics.
After several stints as a minister, including in the Cabinet, she now finds herself on the backbenches but with eyes on the top prize.
Last year she revealed she had been a ‘Barnardo’s child’, spending her first two years in care with the charity.
In an interview with the Daily Mail she revealed how she had been put into foster care as a baby after she was born to young parents.
Miss McVey at the TV Quick Awards in 2000 while working for GMTV (left) and (right) at the Gaytime TV Awards in 1999
Her father Jimmy was 22, while her mother Barbara was only 18.
Although she had never spoken publicly about being fostered until last year, she previously told how her young parents were more like siblings, with her grandparents playing a large role.
‘It was a loving, happy time, but cash was tight and it was quite strict,’ she said in a local newspaper shortly after she was first elected in 2010. ‘I had to polish the shoes on Friday, then help peel the spuds.’
Her father briefly ran an ice cream van before becoming a scrap merchant, and then setting up his own construction firm, where Miss McVey was for a few years a director.
Miss McVey took a law degree at Queen Mary University of London before launching a television career that included a spell as a presenter on GMTV, where she first came to widespread attention.
Later she returned to Merseyside and set up her own marketing business after getting a master’s from Liverpool John Moores University.
In 2005 she unsuccessfully stood as the Conservative candidate in Wirral West before taking the seat five years later.
She started her ministerial career at the Department for Work and Pensions in 2012, but was the most high-profile Tory casualty of the 2015 general election when she was ousted following a union-backed campaign.
During her time as a minster helping bring in changes to the benefit system she found herself at the centre of a sexism row involving Labour.
At a distasteful comedy night on Remembrance Sunday in 2014, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who was then a backbencher, joked about how activists in Liverpool had wanted to lynch her.
Esther McVey tried out the GMTV couch at the breakfast television show in 1999, when she took over from presenter Fiona Phillips while she was on maternity leave
Miss McVey and BBC Head of Drama, Mal Young – her then partner – arriving at the 1999 British Comedy Awards
To applause, he said that at a meeting he had attended they asked: ‘Why are sacking her? Why aren’t we lynching the b******?”
She returned to the Cabinet last year following a comeback in the 2017’s general election, winning Tatton in Cheshire – the safe Tory seat vacated by former chancellor George Osborne.
But within months she was gone again. The hardline Brexiteer clashed with Theresa May over her handling of Brexit in November.
She joined Dominic Raab in storming out in fury after the PM put her blueprint to her ministers in a stormy five-hour cabinet session.
Since then she has been a vocal critic of the Prime Minister from the backbenches.
There have been signs in recent months that she was gearing up for a tilt at the top job.
In March she went public with her MP lover Philip Davies.
The four-year relationship between her and the stubborn backbench MP for Shipley, 47, was already an open secret at Westminster.
But the Brexiteer lovers confirmed they were ‘two individuals, but a couple’ in a joint-interview with the Conservative Home website.
McVey then revealed in April that they were planning to marry after he proposed.
She told the Mail: ‘I haven’t got a date and I haven’t got a ring, but we hope to marry sometime next year.’
The arch-Brexiteers met in 2011, when she was impressed that he was one of the first MPs to start campaigning about leaving the EU.
She said she was first attracted to his ‘cracking sense of humour.’
‘He makes me laugh so much. And he is the most supportive man I have ever met. He’s been there for me in good times and bad.’
Mr Davies has two children from a previous marriage.
But while the Tatton MP had previous relationships, including with ex-minister Ed Vaizey and BBC producer Mal Young, she has not had any herself.
In 2014 she admitted she would have liked to but ‘I obviously never met the person I was going to have children with’.
‘This is how I am, I’m happy with my friends, my family, my job. I’ve had other friends who had such a burning desire to have children, they have this biological ticking clock . I don’t know what happened to mine. Nobody ever wound it up,’ she told Grazia.
From hard Brexiteers to Remainers, the race for No 10
Dominic Raab 5/1
Age: 46. Former Brexit Secretary. Diehard Brexiteer.
Background: Son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938 and died of cancer when Raab was 12.
EXPERIENCE: Lasted only four months as Brexit Secretary. Voted against May in leadership confidence vote.
STRENGTH: Skilled debater who honed his skills as an adversarial lawyer with blue chip legal firm Linklaters.
WEAKNESS: Seen as too clever by half and lacking people skills.
VERDICT: In second place in ConservativeHome’s leadership league table.
Boris Johnson 3/1
Age: 54. Former Foreign Secretary. His support for Brexit was vital to Leave’s win.
Background: Known for being identified by just one name, Boris, for his show-off Classics references and for chaotic private life.
EXPERIENCE: Twice voted London mayor.
STRENGTH: Starry, charismatic and clever crowd-pleaser.
WEAKNESS: Bumbling foreign secretary. May struggle to win MPs’ support. A ‘Stop Boris’ campaign is likely.
VERDICT: Party grassroots love him and he’s top of the ConservativeHome league table by 12 points.
Matt Hancock 16/1
Age: 40. Health Secretary. Arch Remainer.
Background: Father bought their council house. Ran his own computer software business before becoming Chancellor George Osborne’s chief of staff.
EXPERIENCE: Cabinet minister for only 18 months. Seen as a ‘coming man’.
STRENGTH: One of life’s Tiggers with ambition and enthusiasm to match his brainpower.
WEAKNESS: Never knowingly modest, he once foolishly likened himself to Churchill, Pitt and Disraeli.
VERDICT: Little known among Conservative Party members.
Amber Rudd 33/1
Age: 55. Work and Pensions Secretary. Remain cheerleader.
Background: Daughter of a Labour-supporting stockbroker and Tory-leaning JP.
EXPERIENCE: Became Home Secretary after just six years as an MP. Resigned over the Windrush scandal after inadvertently misleading MPs.
STRENGTH: Tough operator who was restored to Cabinet within six months.
WEAKNESS: Holds seat with majority of only 346. Headmisstressy manner but an accomplished performer.
VERDICT: Ninth in leadership league table.
Esther McVey 66/1
Age: 51. Former Welfare Secretary. An ardent Brexiteer.
Background: Spent the first two years of her life in foster care. Was a breakfast TV presenter before becoming a Tory MP on Merseyside.
EXPERIENCE: As welfare minister was viciously targeted by Labour.
STRENGTH: Tough and telegenic. Won plaudits with members for resigning from Cabinet over Brexit deal.
WEAKNESS: Some say she doesn’t have the intellectual fire power for top job.
VERDICT: Ranked 14th in league table.
Penny Mordaunt 33/1
Age: 46. International Development Secretary. Arch Brexiteer.
Background: Her mother died when she was a teenager. Cared for younger brother. EXPERIENCE: Was a magician’s assistant. Appeared in the reality TV show Splash!
STRENGTH: Only female MP to be a Royal Naval Reservist. Attended Lady Thatcher’s funeral in uniform.
WEAKNESS: Inexperienced, having been in Cabinet for less than two years. Has never run a major Whitehall department.
VERDICT: Edged up to 11th in ConservativeHome league table.
Andrea Leadsom 16/1
Age: 55. Leader of the Commons. Ardent Brexiteer.
Background: A former City trader. Mother of three.
EXPERIENCE: Struggled in her first Cabinet post, as Environment Secretary.
STRENGTH: Blossomed as Leader of the Commons, winning plaudits for taking on Speaker John Bercow.
WEAKNESS: Stood for leader in 2016 but made ill-considered comment comparing her experience as a mother to the childless Mrs May.
VERDICT: Has soared to the top of the ConservativeHome table of competent ministers.
Michael Gove 8/1
Age: 51. Environment Secretary. High priest of Brexiteers.
Background: Adopted son of a Scottish fish merchant.
EXPERIENCE: Figurehead for Leave during referendum campaign. Cabinet heavyweight who’s served as Education Secretary and Justice Secretary.
STRENGTH: Brilliant debater with razor sharp intellect.
WEAKNESS: Still suspected of having a disloyal gene after knifing Boris Johnson in last leadership contest.
VERDICT: Popular with the Tory members, who, crucially, will vote for the new leader.
Liz Truss 66/1
Age: 43 Chief Secretary to Treasury. Brexiteer.
Background: Raised by Left-wing parents and as a child was marched through the streets on anti-Thatcher protest shouting: ‘Maggie out!’
EXPERIENCE: Joint-author in 2012 of a controversial booklet, Britannia Unchained, which alleged ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’.
STRENGTH: A genuine free-marketeer.
WEAKNESS: Poor public speaker with a mixed ministerial record.
VERDICT: Only 15th in ConservativeHome leaders league table.
Sajid Javid 16/1
Age: 49. Home Secretary. Remainer who changed to Brexit after the referendum.
Background: Son of a bus driver who came to Britain from Pakistan with £1 in his pocket. Was head of credit trading at Deutsche Bank.
EXPERIENCE: Previously Culture and Business secretary, cracked down on union rights.
STRENGTH: An extraordinary rags-to-riches back story that we will hear more of during the leadership campaign.
WEAKNESS: Widely seen as a wooden and a poor speaker.
VERDICT: In 4th place in ConservativeHome league table.
Jeremy Hunt 10/1
Age: 52. Foreign Secretary
Background: Eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt. Married to a Chinese wife and he speaks Mandarin.
Before politics, set up an educational publisher which was sold for £30million in 2017.
EXPERIENCE: Longest-serving health secretary in history.
STRENGTH: Among the most experienced ministers in the field who, unusually, has made few political enemies.
WEAKNESS: Some, though, regard him as a ‘bit of a drip’.
Verdict: Seen by many as man who could best unite party on Brexit.