Speech by the Rt Hon Esther McVey MP

13/05/2024 - 13/05/2024

On Monday 13 May the Centre for Policy Studies hosted the first speech by Rt Hon Esther McVey MP in her role as Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet Office.

The event was livestreamed and is available to watch in full, including the Q&A, or you can read the transcript of the Minister’s remarks below.


Transcript of a speech by the Rt Hon Esther McVey MP

Monday 13 May 2024

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to welcome you all here today. I would like to thank the Centre for Policy Studies for hosting us and I’m delighted to share in the celebration of their 50th anniversary.

50 years ago when the country faced huge challenges largely due to an over-mighty state and overly powerful trades unions, the CPS brought the intellectual vigour and Margaret Thatcher brought the political steel to transform the country.

Half a century later, the country is recovering from the economic shock of the Covid pandemic and a war in Europe, a tax burden which is still higher than we want, and people too often looking to the state to take control of every aspect of their lives. It will therefore fall again to the CPS and the Conservative Party to work together to save the country from a Socialist nightmare.

Today, I want to talk about our ‘common sense fight back’.

Now, when I was brought into the Cabinet Office in November, I was dubbed the ‘Minister for Common Sense’.

It’s not my official job title – of course – which is Minister in the Cabinet Office without Portfolio, a position which has been around for over 100 years. Previously, the role was held by Ken Clarke in David Cameron’s government and by Peter Mandelson during Tony Blair’s tenure.

Perhaps I got the name because I’m Northern.

Or perhaps because I’m a value for money kind of woman and proud to be one.

To me, at first, this unofficial Ministerial title seemed uncomfortable. Why? Because I was gifted with a rather large slice of sneer from the pundits on the left of politics and I recognised it for what it was – a put down.

And yet, this mantel fits me just fine.

Aristotle thought common sense helped us form coherent thoughts and make rational decisions. It is as important a sense as sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – it is in fact our sixth sense.

Thomas Reid later argued common sense allows us to perceive and understand the world in a meaningful way.

But as Voltaire reportedly noted, ‘there is nothing common about common sense’.

From the tsunami of correspondence I have received, the public are relieved common sense is back on the political agenda so that policies can be rooted back in the practical, everyday concerns of ordinary people.

After all, that is who politicians are elected to represent. Regular folk, the backbone of this country, who day in, day out work hard to keep the show on the road and who are proud of who we are as a country.

The long standing appeal of common sense is that it involves logic, reasoning, data, empiricism and objectivity.

However, for some time now, left wing academics have been trying to usurp and dismantle our developed ability to perceive and judge things in a practical way from past experiences and accumulated knowledge.

By promoting new theories where they purport that knowledge is based on power structures and social constructs where ‘my truth’ replaces the truth, where subjectivity has replaced objectivity, where emotion has overtaken logic and where one’s personal journey matters more than fact and data.

And it is these theories – on race and gender – that have been chipping away at our values, our structures, our history and culture. As Aristotle would have said, forcing us to disbelieve what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears in an attempt to destroy our common sense.

These left wing theories have infiltrated our universities and schools and our public services.

Take the NHS – parts of which has been espousing these left wing contested theories like gender identity theories, replacing, the most basic of scientific facts – the biological and physical differences between men and women.

Thank heavens for the brave women like; JK Rowling, Sharron Davies, Prof Kathleen Stock, Julie Bindle and Dr Hilary Cass, all of whom are prepared to stand up and fight to defend what a woman is and to state the obvious – that biological and physical differences between men and women exist.

How on earth did we get to a place where the Prime Minister had to set out and explain to the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, what a woman is on the floor of the House of Commons? It is beyond absurd.

And it is sad yet necessary that we had to commission Dr Hilary Cass to do a report into gender in order to protect children from irreversible medical and surgical changes as children were fast tracked onto puberty blockers and sex changing surgery.

And, to protect safe spaces, we’ve recently introduced a requirement on all new non-domestic buildings to use single-sex toilets, with single fully-enclosed universal toilets.

We had to intervene too when the SNP tried to bring into force their gender self identification bill, while allowing biological male rapists into female prisons.

And this is not just happening in Scotland.

In Ireland too where the government, led by unrepresentative citizens’ assemblies, tried to remove women and families from the constitution. Unbelievable. Fortunately, when the public got their say, they booted them out of office.

Thankfully, common sense won the day but it has been a battle.

For these left wing, politically correct ‘woke warriors’ have made a concerted effort to get themselves into positions of influence within the public sector.

They did not stand for election on these views – because if they had – they wouldn’t have won.

So instead, some have got themselves in academia, the Civil Service, local government, charities and arms length bodies, and we need to make a similarly concerted effort to ensure they cannot use their positions in these public bodies to hijack them to impose their own political ideology.

Take the NHS, which should be focussed on patient care and getting waiting lists down rather than being preoccupied with changing language and using terminology such as chest feeding, pushing puberty blockers on children or having ludicrous software options that would register a baby’s gender identity rather than biological sex at birth.

That, by the way, took me and other outraged members of the public to write to NHS England, and for a newspaper to cover the story to get this changed.

And thankfully now, the proposed new NHS constitution recognises biological sex, as the Secretary of State recently announced.

As for schools, too many are straying away from the role of impartial teaching institutions and have become political – pushing ideologies like gender ideology or employing dubious external companies to deliver non-age-appropriate relationship and sex education often excluding the views of parents when doing so.

There is a lot on a teacher’s plate – and life would be easier if they were able to stick to the academic curriculum, help pupils pass their exams, and were freed from contention.

When I was at school, I had no idea of the political opinions of my teachers. Nowadays, too many seem to have to force their opinion on all their students in a wholly inappropriate and unprofessional way.

That’s why this common sense fight back is so important.

Under Rishi Sunak, we have made a strong start with new school guidance being published for consultation to support and help teachers withstand the trans extremists.

And the Hilary Cass Review has done a great job protecting children and their families, and has turned the tide of debate. She deserves our thanks for making such a difference.

And it is not just our national public institutions that have been captured, but many Local councils too have long since ditched their common sense, spending money they don’t have on EDI courses, pointless away days and funding trade union workers.

Birmingham Council, for instance, has spent £1.8m on wages for people only carrying out trade Union activity, doing nothing for local services, whilst at the same time putting up council tax by 20% – that’s socialism in action for you. I have nothing against trades unions, but they should be using their members’ money to pay their staff, not taxpayers’ money.

We have even had some councils like Lib Dem South Cambridgeshire paying their workers for five days a week for working just four. Utter madness.

And we have militant workers like those at the Office for National Statistics who seem to think it’s an outrageous imposition to be asked to go into their workplace in the office as people have always done.

Public sector workers are employed to serve the public, not for their own convenience. We cannot let working from home mean that the taxpayer is getting an inferior service whilst picking up a higher bill.

To me, this isn’t common sense, this is nonsense.

To be honest, it’s easy to be the ‘Minister of Common Sense’ in a government led by Rishi Sunak. Indeed, he started his own common sense fight back before my appointment.

Take HS2.

Many people heaved a sigh of relief when the Prime Minister scrapped the second leg of HS2 – that over budget white elephant – to put that money instead into local transport including an East/West train service across the North and sorting out potholes.

Nothing sums up better the difference between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer than their stance on HS2. Rishi supported it when it cost £37bn but opposed it when it was projected to cost £180bn. Whereas Starmer opposed HS2 when it cost £37bn but supported it when it got to £180bn.

And thank goodness the Prime Minister stopped the race to goldplate Net Zero. By stopping the 2030 ban on purchasing new petrol and diesel cars and the ban on oil and gas boilers too, delaying it by 5 years, he views energy through the lens of pragmatism and the cost to the public.

He is the first political leader to stand up to the religious type zealotry which had consumed politicians and the state sector – with a tiny minority of extremists like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion exerting way too much sway on the energy agenda.

Thankfully, the Prime Minister has reset the dial so pragmatism, not extreme ideology, is now shaping our energy policy – something he hasn’t been given sufficient credit for.

And let’s not forget that since 1990, the UK’s emissions are down by around 50%, putting us in a different league to countries like China and India, where emissions have increased by 300% and 100% respectively, and even the US where emissions have dropped by less than 3%.

Despite being responsible for less than 1% of global emissions, I don’t think anyone looking at the facts could say that the UK has not played its part, and the Prime Minister was absolutely right to prioritise affordability for the public over dogma.

Let’s not forget that Keir Starmer has pledged to reinstate these 2030 bans on new petrol and diesel cars and new oil and gas boilers – which will make us all unnecessarily colder and poorer. So much for his concern over cost of living pressures as he pursues policies he knows will hurt the poorest the hardest.

And on the vital issue of immigration the Prime Minister has taken significant steps to tackle both legal and illegal migration. He has cut the number of dependents, international student numbers and increased the amount that people have to earn to come into the country or sponsor someone to come into the country.

These changes alone will cut immigration into the U.K. by around 300,000 a year – with more restrictions being worked on.

In fact, so big are these cuts to the immigration numbers that he has made, universities are now complaining that their finances are being stretched due to the severity of the reductions in international students they are seeing.

I have no sympathy. For too long, these universities have been selling immigration to international students rather than education and the PM has been right to put a stop to that.

Rishi Sunak’s common sense revolution has also extended to dealing with the dinghies full of illegal immigrants coming across from France.

We know how frustrated people are about that – we share those frustrations. People have been crying out for a government to ensure the European Court of Human Rights doesn’t stop us from deporting people. That is what he has delivered with the Rwanda Act, which goes further than any other piece of illegal migration legislation to end the merry-go-round of claims and makes clear that it is for ministers, not a foreign court, to decide whether a flight should take off.

Indeed, the very front page of the Rwanda Bill as it progressed through Parliament, contained a statement from the Home Secretary which said:

‘I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill’.

Labour, on the other hand, have no deportation strategy of illegal immigrants. Because of our Rwanda policy, illegal immigrants will not be able to destroy their passports and documents en route to prevent them being sent to a third country.

Labour have no answer for that at all, and without a third country to send them to, they would have to keep in the UK every failed asylum seeker where their country of origin cannot be ascertained. That is not a border policy, it is a border surrender.

The government is also re-establishing common sense in the benefits system.

You can’t have 9m people of working age not working and yet bring in people from around the world to fill job vacancies – that’s why the PM has changed the benefit rules too, to ensure people not in work here, who can work, have to do so.

They cannot be allowed to treat the benefit system as an alternative lifestyle choice rather than the safety net it was always designed to be.

These advances of common sense are very welcome, and we are taking it further, speeding up and extending this work – and I want to set out what the next stage of this common sense fightback will entail, overseen by the Cabinet Office.

At the heart of these changes are value for money for the taxpayer and better customer service for the public.

The taxpayer has to be at the heart of everything we do.

So from now on, benchmarking will be a key measurement. It will be standardised and centralised.

We must drive up customer performance so that gaps between private and sector benchmarks are closed for good. For too long public sector customer service has fallen behind the standards of the private sector.

Recent research from the Institute of Customer Service has shown that the nation’s satisfaction at their national and local public services sits at just over 72%, compared to over 76% in the private sector. They also found that there is a 1.5% year-on-year decrease since their highest record of over 77% in July 2021.

I know that we can – and must – do better.

With the help of external experts, we will raise standards and benchmark the public sector against the private sector, and extend that to Arms Length Bodies.

Given the crucial role they play in delivering these services, we need to stop the inappropriate back door politicisation of the Civil Service, which diverts time and resources from that focus on the public. We have too often seen them distracted by fashionable hobby horses, especially when it comes to issues like equality and diversity.

People want their public servants to be getting on with the job of making their lives better, not engaging in endless internal discussions about ideology, and I am not prepared to see pointless job creation schemes for the politically correct.

Therefore, there will be no more contracts for external diversity spending from today, unless signed off by a Government Minister. That includes any agencies with current contracts, including Stonewall. And to make sure that does not inadvertently lead to an increase in internal EDI activity, Secretaries of State and Permanent Secretaries will take responsibility for that within their departments.

There will be new impartiality guidance to ensure the Civil Service focuses on delivering for the public.

We will also be taking aim at staff networks too. My colleague John Glen has been clear that managing these networks cannot become a full-time job for civil servants.

Especially given the fact that there has been rapid growth in both number and types of staff networks. Many may have started with good intentions, but some have moved to a place of political and religious activism, and such networks have no place in the Civil Service and will be closed down.

In March, The Deputy Prime Minister ordered an immediate suspension of the Civil Service Muslim Network after alarms were raised both internally and through The Times newspaper. The individuals involved are subject to a disciplinary investigation.

Civil servants should not be distracted by issues unrelated to their ultimate role – delivering excellent results for the taxpayer. Networks that were meant to be about inclusivity too often in fact brought division and upset into the working environment.

There is no place for unprofessional behaviour in the workplace like harassment or bullying.

The new guidance on both impartiality and EDI spend will support the Civil Service to deliver for the public without distraction and division.

This marks a major delivery milestone on public sector reform, and underpins my work to drive efficiency across all areas of government.

We want work to be a happy inclusive place, not one where division can be sown and people feel pressured. I want a very simple but visible change to occur too – the lanyards worn to carry security passes shouldn’t be a random pick and mix, they should be a standard design reflecting that we are all members of the government delivering for the citizens of the UK.

Working in the Civil Service is all about leaving your political views at the building entrance.

Trying to introduce them by the back door via lanyards should not happen.

The focus should be on a happy and inclusive working environment and increased productivity.

Facilitating this environment also requires addressing the job adverts themselves.

After all of the important information – like responsibilities, pay and application details – there are large chunks of unnecessary text outlining what appears to be political hobby horses, distracting from the job application and off putting too many from applying. These unnecessary additions will be removed.

The Civil Service is committed to attracting, retaining and investing in talent wherever it is found. Talent is spread around the country, but opportunity hasn’t always been. That is why we’ve moved 18,000 roles out of London and into other regions of the UK.

And for those councils and council leaders who think you can work four days but can be paid for five – like Lib Dem run South Cambridgeshire – we won’t stand for that either, and have been clear through our guidance and engagement that these working arrangements do not deliver value for taxpayers and such activities should cease immediately.

Ladies and gentlemen, today is the beginning of a full throttle common sense fight back where the beliefs and concerns of the ordinary person in the street will be solidified in the heart of Government.

The public deserve nothing less and I am on their side, 100% of the way.