Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

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Jeremy Hunt

Position: Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport 2010-

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Jeremy Hunt has found himself in the spotlight over the last two days after his Newsnight interview on Wednesday during which he effectively said that those on benefits should not expect that state to give them more and more subsidy if they chose to have large families.

“The number of children that you have is a choice and what we’re saying is that if people are living on benefits, then they make choices but they also have to have responsibility for those choices,” he told Jeremy Paxman, explaining the Coalition’s position on welfare reform. “It’s not going to be the role of the state to finance those choices. You can have children but if you are going to ask for support that is more than the average wage that people earn, then we’re saying no, the state shouldn’t support that.”

The remarks have been written up as being “provocative”, earned him criticism from Labour and the Left and MPs from the Right of the Conservative Party have been queuing up to give Mr Hunt their backing. However, they have not earned him a rebuke from Downing Street, with whom he remains very much in favour.

It is not his first brush with unfortuntate headlines: earlier in the year he apologised after (wrongly) suggesting that the death of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough tragedy was related to football hooliganism.

He is of course one of the least experienced Cabinet Ministers, as one of only two of the 2005 Conservative intake to find himself around the Cabinet table – the other being his Surrey constituency neighbour, Michael Gove. 

Born in 1966, his credentials on paper are very traditionally Conservative: the son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt, he was Head Boy at Charterhouse and took a first in PPE at Oxford, where he was also President of the University Conservative Association. He went on to set up his own publishing company, which made him a millionaire.

But his political outlook is far broader than that of a traditional shire Tory, with a distinctly Cameroon flavour. He has a particular affection for the Far East, having taught English in Japan and learnt to speak Japanese, whilst his wife of 15 months hails from China (their first child, a son, was born in May). Meanwhile, he founded a charity which supports AIDS-orphans in Kenya and HIV positive young adults in Uganda.

As the Conservative leadership election took hold just as he entered Parliament, he waited until the end of party conference week to declare his support for David Cameron. Just two months later he was appointed to the front bench as shadow minister for disabled people, and it was two years later that he joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Culture Secretary – the job which he was given for real in David Cameron’s Government.

Whilst the job of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is a relatively lowly Cabinet role, the forthcoming 2012 London Olympics give it an increased profile – and the role has been rebranded for the time being as Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

It seems unthinkable that Hunt would be moved before the Games, giving him another guaranteed two years in the post. During this time he will have to defend the undoubted cuts to the arts budget, as well as deal with continued questions over the future of the BBC – of whom he has to date been an occasionally critical friend rather than the deep sceptic that many Conservatives would like to see.

If the makes a success of the post, a senior Cabinet post surely has his name on it for the second half of the Parliament. He is even talked of as a potential candidate for the highest office – speculation which he takes, he claims, with “a massive pinch of salt”.

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