Our Next Prime Minister: It Just #HasToBeHunt | Oliver Stanley
Twenty minutes before Jeremy Hunt was due at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham for the first leadership hustings, he was not sat with his campaign team practicing lines. Instead, he was mid-way through lunch with local Young Conservatives. This is a man who cares and pays attention. He showed a genuine interest in hearing the concerns of young activists, asking about their views on everything from youth engagement to tax policy.
Shortly later, when Hunt arrived at the ICC to answer questions from activists, the contrast to his opponent could not have been starker. He presented himself without notes, giving complete answers and laying out detailed policies. The attention to detail and understanding of the issues was obvious.
I have not watched every hustings event, but from attendees at each the message I hear is the same. The undecideds in the room are flocking to Jeremy Hunt. He faces an unenviable task, but he has taken to it with gusto and the result is the leadership contest looking less of a done deal with each passing day.
The issue of the contest is of course Brexit. Indeed, there seems to be little reason to vote for Mr Johnson on any other area. If we look at the details over the rhetoric, there is little reason to vote for him here either. Hunt has produced a rock-solid and genuinely workable ten-point plan. He will ramp up no deal preparations to make it credible and establish bodies to deal with all possible outcomes. If we are to leave with no deal, businesses will have the certainty of knowing a month in advance. Johnson has produced nothing.
The main attraction of Boris Johnson is an imagined ability to deliver Brexit. The reality is that he has not demonstrated how. The simple reason for that is because he has built a coalition of hardline no-dealers and moderate former remainers. Much like Labour’s Brexit strategy, Boris’ is built to appease both groups but will satisfy neither. When in government, you eventually have to actually do something. The fact that he was the figurehead of Vote Leave in 2016 is not evidence he is more capable of delivering Brexit today. The recent endorsement of William Hague should be more than enough evidence that Hunt can be trusted by Brexiteers.
One of the most important functions of the Prime Minister is to represent the UK on the world stage. You need only compare Hunt’s time as Foreign Secretary to Johnson’s to see who would excel here. One a statesman, the other unable to grasp the basics and producing several costly slip-ups. Jeremy Hunt is a diplomat through and through. His record has been outstanding in his time at the Foreign Office. Boris Johnson has damaged the image of our country.
On taxation and spending plans, the clear winner remains the same. Johnson’s plans are a messy combination of big tax cuts and massive spending increases. They would not be fiscally credible in normal times. To implement them while taking the UK out of the EU without a deal would destroy the public finances. The more measured tax plans laid out by Mr Hunt are less expensive yet more beneficial to growth. His spending plans are deliverable. Unlike his adversary he is not pledging to recklessly blow the entire no deal rainy day fund.
Some will point to Hunt’s record as Health Secretary as a negative. In truth it is anything but. The funding constraints imposed on the NHS were not down to the former Health Secretary. With the resources available, he did an outstanding job of running the department for years. It is precisely that type of drive and focus which our next Prime Minister needs to have.
It would be remiss not to address Johnson’s record as Mayor of London. His electoral victories were certainly impressive. His record on many issues equally so, but being Prime Minister is not comparable. We must not place too much weight on the distant past. In the here and now, YouGov data shows Hunt is now comprehensively preferred by the public. The election winning candidate is not Boris Johnson.
On party unity, there is one clear victor. I have been sad to see loyal, hard-working members reluctantly declare that they will be forced to resign their memberships if Johnson becomes Prime Minister. I have seen no such declarations regarding Hunt.
The decision to be taken by members is one of the most important in this party’s history, and that is no exaggeration. I fear many will be swayed by Johnson’s rhetoric, but I hope more will see that Hunt is the man best placed to deliver Brexit, best placed to unite the party and best placed to defeat Jeremy Corbyn. I beseech those with a vote in this contest to place it for Jeremy Hunt, to safeguard the future not only of our party but of our great country.