Tuesday 15 October 2019

Mary Kenny: 'Tory wannabes' eclectic back stories are more fascinating than their actual policies'

In the race: Clockwise from top left, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, who are the six contenders. Photo: PA
In the race: Clockwise from top left, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, who are the six contenders. Photo: PA
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

It's not the policies of the various Tory candidates currently vying to be the UK prime minister that are striking; their policies don't differ all that much, and anyway, a PM is always constrained by circumstances, global events and the decisions of others.

What's interesting is their back stories, and how surprisingly varied their backgrounds are. The Tory contenders in competition for 10 Downing Street could even be seen as illustrating a degree of diversity and social mobility.

Two of the original contestants - Michael Gove and Esther McVey - spent time in institutional care as infants. Gove was born Graeme Logan to a single mother in Edinburgh in 1967, and was placed in a foster home before being adopted by an Aberdeen fishmonger and his wife, who sacrificed much to give this bright little boy the best education they could.

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Esther McVey (52), a feisty Liverpudlian now out of the race but bringing her nine votes to tomorrow's round of voting, spent two early years in a Barnardo's home.

Her father was an Irish building contractor, JG McVey. She also represents, within the Conservative family, the tradition of the working-class Tory, and boldly articulates grassroots views that don't always go down well with the metropolitan liberals.

Then there's Dominic Raab (45), the brainy lawyer, karate and boxing amateur, whose father was a Jewish refugee from occupied Czechoslovakia. Raab's wife is a Brazilian Catholic.

Most impressive of all, in terms of social diversity, is Sajid Javid (50), the current home secretary. The amiable The Saj grew up in Bristol, where his father, a Pakistani immigrant who came to Britain with just £1 in his pocket, ran a small shop.

Javid and his four brothers lived in a two-bedroom flat. His mother, who came from a small village in Pakistan, had never had any education.

His school career adviser suggested to Javid that he should train to be a TV repairman, but he studied hard and got to Exeter University, and subsequently developed a banking career, and thence to politics. A Muslim, he's married to a Christian, Laura. They have four kids and, tragically, Javid's elder brother Tariq killed himself.

Unforgivably, Javid was omitted from the glittering Buckingham Palace banquet held recently for Donald Trump. There's a suspicion of anti-Muslim discrimination, and the fault is said to lie at 10 Downing Street and has been widely criticised. It has probably increased support for Javid.

There was also Sam Gyimah (43) in the early stages of the race. He withdrew, probably because he wasn't well enough known yet, but he's one to watch in the future. He was born in Britain but grew up in Ghana with his mother, returning to England before going to Oxford.

At the other end of the scale are the old Etonians - Boris Johnson, who needs little introduction, and Rory Stewart (46), who could be cast in any movie as an enlightened colonial governor during the Raj.

A Highland aristocrat, he has walked all through Afghanistan and served in the Blackwatch regiment, speaks Persian and Serbo-Croat, delivered his own son when his wife was in labour and no doctor appeared in time, and made a documentary about Lawrence of Arabia (and, being somewhat effete-looking, has been dubbed 'Florence of Arabia' by pals and, by some, 'Florence of Belgravia'). He's also known for making a beguiling House of Commons speech about hedgehogs.

There is the 'metropolitan liberal' Jeremy Hunt (53), who has, surely, a 'toff' background since his father was an admiral, and his mother came from a military background. Head boy at Charterhouse school before studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, he speaks Japanese and his wife is Chinese. An EU Remainer, Hunt has faced fierce inquisitions over his quite mild suggestion that he would prefer if abortions took place under 12 weeks into pregnancy. The goalposts have moved so radically now it's as if his opinions were those of some extremist American evangelist proposing Alabama regulations.

Some broadcasters who mock Hunt think it amusing to accidentally mispronounce his surname, substituting the H with a C, which annoys him.

There have been two versions of 'Mr Suburban England' - chartered accountant Mark Harper (49) and businessman Matt Hancock (43), both now out of the race. To counteract his somewhat colourless profile, Hancock took a leaf from Leo Varadkar's playbook and was photographed wearing daring "feminist" socks.

It's a disappointment that there are now no women in the last six, though Andrea Leadsom (56) did make a valiant stab at standing, garnering only 11 votes. She is also a mother, a point she has made previously, perhaps to her detriment, as it seemed like grandstanding in contrast to the childless Theresa May. Ms Leadsom, a grammar school girl who rose through council politics and the finance sector, has also spoken openly about having suffered post-natal depression. She describes herself as a committed Christian.

Of course there are gaps in this diversity: no gay candidates, no Welsh, no Catholics, but there's more social mobility than some might have imagined from a party associated with 'toffs'.

Even Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who's 55 on Wednesday and the likely victor, though an Establishment figure associated with Eton and Oxford, represents a kind of melting pot: his direct ancestry includes Muslims, Jews and Christians, with Turkish and Russian blood.

And in one way his background is quite humble: by profession, he's only a journalist after all.

Irish Independent

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