'Costa living' McVey tipped as new, populist Tory chairman
Treasury figures saying we're actually better off are questionable: can a blunt Liverpudlian do better?
THE Liverpudlian blonde Esther McVey is being tipped today as the new voice of the Conservative Party to replace Grant Shapps as Tory chairman in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Employment minister McVey caused controversy this week for her plain-speaking on the recovery figures when she called for young people to take “starter jobs” such as working for Costa Coffee as a barista rather than staying on the dole.
"She ticks all Dave’s boxes – she’s an attractive woman with a regional accent, she’s able and popular," says the Daily Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle, quoting a Tory party source. "But here’s the best bit: appointing Esther chairman would put the nose of [Home Secretary] Theresa May out of joint."
The rumours have been given added weight by Ben Brogan, the Daily Telegraph columnist. "Grant Shapps won't be thrilled to learn his position is under threat, with Lynton Crosby [Cameron's head of strategy] said to be unimpressed by him," wrote Brogan.
Forty-six-year-old McVey, a law graduate and an alumna of the Belvedere girls’ school in Liverpool, has the perfect regional profile to counter Labour’s claims that the Tory "toffs" – Cameron, Schapps and Co- are out of touch with ordinary people. Her accent is almost as thick as thast of the former Liverpool star and football pundit Jamie Carragher.
But even McVey would have her hands full in convincing British voters that they are getting better off.
The new figures issued today by the Treasury in a bid to counter Labour's "cost of living crisis" argument have already been undermined by the respected economist, Paul Johnson.
Labour's mantra is that most households are £1,600-a-year worse off since the 2010 election because inflation has risen faster than average earnings. The Tories have been arguing that Labour’s figures do not take account of tax cuts that have improved the incomes of most workers. By feeding in those tax cuts, the Treasury is now able to claim that everyone except the richest ten per cent saw their take-home wages rise higher than inflation in the year to April 2013.
David Cameron, in Davos for the World Economic Forum, says the figures are evidence that he and Osborne have engineered a "recovery for all".
As the BBC's James Landale put it this morning: "The government is hoping these figures will change the terms of the political debate and answer the criticism that some people aren’t benefiting from the economic recovery."
But Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, told Radio 4's Today programme that the sharp drop in incomes since the recession would still be felt by the 2015 general election.
"We will be able to say definitively - I am pretty sure - that come 2015 average household incomes will be lower than they were pre-recession and they were in 2010," said Johnson. "Over that period incomes have fallen so much now there is very little chance they will have recovered by 2015."
There was some comfort for Cameron: Johnson admitted that the cross-over point where average incomes rise faster than inflation may have been reached.
Pressed by Today presenter John Humphrys, Johnson said that he guessed that, for most people, their incomes had “stopped falling and if the recovery takes off as expected people will be able to start seeing their incomes rising by the time we get to 2015”.
But he insisted that the impact would be patchy. Most families had seen child benefit frozen and people on benefits had seen their benefits rise by only one per cent, a cut in real terms.
"We have done our own analysis on where we think things are going and we think it pretty clear that by 2015 incomes will not have recovered their 2010 levels."
When Treasury minister Matthew Hancock came on to back up the figures there was a stream of tweets and text messages to the BBC from people saying they did not feel better off.
Kevin Maguire, of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, tweeted that the Treasury statistics were like claiming that Manchester United beat Sunderland earlier this week – if you ignore the fact that Sunderland scored twice against United.
Would 'Costa living' McVey be better placed to convince ordinary voters that things are getting better and a Labour victory would put the recovery at risk? Possibly.
But even she will find it hard to argue with this statistic – that the pay of the directors of the top 100 FTSE companies soared by 14 per cent in 2013. Incomes Data Services (IDS) said this took the average pay for a director of a FTSE 100 firm to £3.3m.
So much for Cameron and Osborne's boast that "We are all in it together."