Scouse Tories: not quite as rare you think, but if any breed had mastered the art of the low profile on home turf, it would be those of a blue political tinge.
Nationally, it’s a different picture: the number of Liverpudlians on the Conservative benches is surprisingly large – eight at the last count – with six having attained ministerial briefs. Most prominent amongst them is self-proclaimed ‘ordinary girl from Huyton’ Gillian Keegan, minister for education and far from ordinary, truth be told.
Seeing her at close quarter last week in a private briefing organised by Downtown offered a fascinating insight. Self-deprecating, fiercely bright, no-nonsense but oozing easy charm and humour, she gave every impression of a politician destined for higher office, even if she demurs when the notion is put to her.
My interest in her education brief is hard-wired: both parents were teachers; Mrs P is a teacher; and both my triplets are in education. As interested observers go, it’s fair to say I’ve got more than a passing knowledge of what irks those at the chalk-board.
So I came prepared with a question or two and found them answered way before I got to raise my hand. Keegan ran through the broad sweep of her agenda, her priorities and her concerns at a fair lick, stopping occasionally to mark the card of ‘bad actors’ looking to fleece government budgets, or to reflect on her own experiences starting work in a car parts factory, aged sixteen.
Most refreshing, aside from her candour, was that she was utterly committed to her brief and to the needs of working class kids (of which she is one) and those at a disadvantage. As someone with a long career in international business before entering politics, she spoke passionately, too, about the reforms she was bringing about to ensure our vocational education system was fit-for-purpose.
She was scrupulously non-partisan: this wasn’t about trying to re-visit old Tory shibboleths, but rather an utterly modern, pragmatic and forward-looking view of what our education system needs to be to deliver for its citizens and for the UK economy. Whatever your political persuasion – and there were people of all stripes in that room, it struck me – you couldn’t help but be impressed.
A Conservative defeat at the next election would make her a loss to the education system, that’s for sure. Would she take a role as an advisor to a Starmer government? He’d have to offer her one, of course, but to this interested observer, it would seem a shame if someone with her commitment and knowledge was lost to government.