A Jeremy Hunt Story

There is — already — a very weird tone emanating from the mouths of all those wankers who are putting themselves up for the Conservative Party leadership, not least because they’re not mixing words about what the job means to them and us. This tweet, for example, from Jeremy Hunt, is jumping straight on the Prime Ministerial ticket over the party leader one. This is strange not least because only a fraction of the people who see it will actually have the opportunity to vote for him.

What a video though. Hunt’s mouth hole drones: “I’m here in Edinburgh in front of the Adam Smith monument, that great Scottish genius who discovered the fundamentals of prosperity, not just for the United Kingdom but principles that have been used all over the world.”

The “fundamentals of prosperity” is an incredible euphemism, isn’t it? What a loaded way to describe the legacy of the so-called “Father of Capitalism”.

Hunt invokes Smith here, however, in order to draw attention to the fact that, apparently, he is a product of and shining example of our “precious” United Kingdom and the inter-state relations that it depends upon… I’m not really sure why… Was Smith’s body of work the result of international cooperation? Or was he just observant of his neighbours? We might safely assume the reality is closest to the latter, and there’s a lovely irony to that.

I’m writing this on the fly so excuse the lazy Wikipedia referencing but I like how Smith’s other well-known (non-economic) work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is summarised as follows:

Smith proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others and seeing the judgements they form of both others and oneself makes people aware of themselves and how others perceive their behaviour. The feedback we receive from perceiving (or imagining) others’ judgements creates an incentive to achieve “mutual sympathy of sentiments” with them and leads people to develop habits, and then principles, of behaviour, which come to constitute one’s conscience.

If Hunt wants to hold Smith up as a beacon for the future success of the Great British union, he’d do well to note how ironic his statement appears in light of England’s (and the Conservative’s, more specifically) utter lack of self-awareness has led us to this point of geopolitical near-fragmentation. And, for what it’s worth, there is little evidence of “moral sentiment” existing between London and the rest of the UK, never mind England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Who is he kidding!?

I’m not jumping in on this just because of some nerdish pet peeve over Hunt’s ahistorical tweets. His renewed presence on the political horizon is troubling just in general — especially the story this morning that he was the one to welcome Trump on the tarmac at Stansted airport and immediately suck his dick — but the issue with that for me is that Hunt is as big a cunt as anyone going, whilst appearing to be one of the more innocuous of the headline-grabbing leadership contenders. And that’s a danger, I think, because he starts to look like a preferable candidate when placed next the buffoonery of the likes of Johnson and Gove.

In the spirit of this, I remember that every time Hunt used to appear in the national news The Quietus editor Luke Turner used to repeatedly share this article about when he used to work for him at his company Hotcourses. It’s a good read:

It was quite a shock when, at one of the interminable Monday Morning Meetings, we were informed that Jeremy Hunt would be standing as a Conservative MP. We were surprised, not only because we were amazed that anyone would vote for this affable lummox, but also that he’d never really displayed much in the way of political enthusiasm in the past. As a former colleague relates, “He once said to me during the fledgling stages of his political career, ‘Well, both my parents are conservative so it’s a pretty much a foregone conclusion I would be too’.” The holy hand of patronage had plucked him out to replace Virginia Bottomley in the kind of safe Surrey seat that the Tories wouldn’t even [be] able to lose if their candidate was caught, pants down, discussing Uganda with the gardener.

We of course followed Hunt’s progress with interest. To his credit, he seemed to be doing some decent work on disability issues in various debates in the House. But his appointment as Shadow Culture Secretary could not help but raise eyebrows. This was a man who, whenever he tried to engage with you and discuss your interests in music, art, literature or film, would glaze over and stare at a point somewhere in the middle of your forehead. Hunt’s interests seemed more to lie in Latin dancing, and especially Salsa, or in his fascination with China and Japan. In interviews, Hunt seemed like a lightweight, unsure of himself in front of the camera. You only have to tune in to the Leveson live stream to see just how inept Hunt is. This was one of the new Conservative Party of ‘Dave’ Cameron’s great white hopes? When the phone hacking scandal began to break, it seemed more than likely that he would become unstuck. As today’s revelations at Leveson of worried texts back and forth seems to show, this was a man who was keen to please everyone as he floundered around waiting for blessing from the big boy in the playground, George Osbourne.

Those three years working alongside Hunt give me an idea of the kind of government we currently have, run by these former public school boys who have barged their way through life not through merit or ability, but by birth. You would not have picked out Jeremy Hunt as a brilliant intellect, a powerful speaker, a man with any convictions other than those he was born with. This is the impression one also gets from the rest of his colleagues in the Conservative party. It was bad enough having him as a boss — the fact that he and his chums are running the country is far, far worse.

And it became something that I would likewise retweet with great enthusiasm after I had my own run in with the man himself.

Now, I’ve never worked for Jeremy Hunt but I have seen his flappable lummox get flapped right before my eyes — and by my girlfriend no less — so, here’s a story about when I crossed paths with Jeremy Hunt…

Four years ago, living between Hull and the outskirts of Stockport, my girlfriend and I were regular televisual masochists who never missed an episode of BBC Question Time, a show where a panel of politicians and commentators and the odd celebrity get asked topical questions by a regional audience and we all have a nice democratic televised fight about the state of things.

It’s produced some very memorable moments of political discussion in this country over the years but, at the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a middle class version of the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Nevertheless, masochists that we were, when we heard that the show was coming to Salford we decided to sign up to be in the audience. To do that, you basically have to give some information about yourself and the demographic you fit into and then you also have to send them a question you’d like to ask and be discussed.

After a strangely aggressive phone call from a producer, we got selected for the episode that was to broadly explore our country’s generation gap. The audience was split between those over 60 and under 30 (and it’s still on YouTube much to my surprise!)

On a cold night in November, we got the train to Salford and immediately found ourselves entertained by a very strange atmosphere. It was a bit like going to a gig. You can tell just by looking at the people on the tram around you who is going to the same place you are and when we got to the venue — a sports hall in some Salford sixth form college — we had our pick of tea and biscuits and got warmed up by that somewhat charming ol’ coot David Dimbleby (before he retired recently anyway).

On the panel that night was then health secretary Jeremy Hunt, future Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and some Lib Dem woman who I didn’t know then and have even less memory of now. Two other panellists were kept away by transport troubles. It felt like an oddly intimate affair — like when one of the band comes down with flu so you get an acoustic version of what you actually came to see, except even more cringe and boring.

Anyway, the way the show works is that before they record what is broadcast — roughly three or four audience questions discussed for 15-20 minutes each — they do a warmup question to get everyone in the swing of things, loosened up and ready to chat. My girlfriend was selected to ask the warm-up question and it ended up being a doozy…

Such a doozy I still consider it a tragedy it wasn’t broadcast. It would have made for some very good TV. I only hope they recorded it anyway and I’ll get the chance to see it again at some point. (If anyone reading this has access to the BBCQT archive, do us a favour, yeah?)

At the time, the (later successful) #NoMorePage3 campaign was in full swing — a campaign to stop the printing of topless girls on the third page of various tabloid newspapers, specifically The Sun. Many in politics, aware of the growing protest movement, had made comments on the campaign, with many in the Tory government being nonplussed by the whole thing, including then-prime minister David Cameron who openly said he didn’t support it.

However, at the same time, Cameron was attempting to implement some draconian digital media laws that were being set up to ban or block access to internet porn. The question asked by my girlfriend, taking this strange situation as its context, was simple: “Is this not a contradiction?”

This was four years ago so forgive me for forgetting the details but, as I recall, Sadiq Khan’s response was clear: “Yes it is.” Hunt, on the other hand, seemed to want to stick to this odd party line and go on about protecting our children and whatever else. He droned on and on and left the question itself behind. As Dimbleby clamoured to ask a follow-up question that allowed Hunt to continue off piste, the reaction from next to me was clear. My girlfriend kept repeatedly asking her question: “Is it not a contradiction? Is it not a contradiction?” At which point, Dimbleby himself had to concede that, yes, Hunt hadn’t really answer what had been conveniently framed for him as a simple yes-or-no question.

He didn’t like that, and it is at this point in the story that I really wish this question had been broadcast because Hunt’s face was a picture. He glared at her with a face I’ve only ever seen right before a bar fight. He was livid, and he seemed to remain livid for much of the programme, glaring in our direction on various occasion — which wasn’t hard because we were in a little pocket in front and to the left of the front row of the main audience. (See below, a photo taken of our TV at the time: us far left, Hunt top right.)

There was a (short) discussion had last week about Theresa May crying in front of No. 10 when resigning as PM that reminded me of all this.

Owen Jones did not mince words on Sky News in declaring his complete lack of sympathy for May and I later heard a comment made by some Tory Goldsmiths student about how it’s fine she didn’t cry for Grenfell because you can’t go around crying all the time when on the job because it’s a sign of weakness — ignoring the overarching tension of Tory austerity ideology which is the cognitive dissonance of “professional” (policy-driven) coldness and “personal” (media-friendly) humanity.

@fitchett_adam responded:

Don’t agree that crying is a sign of weakness, but personally it makes complete sense to me for a person to cry about losing their job but not to cry about strangers dying in a fire. People just care a lot more about their own life. And that’s fine.

@Natalan introduced the obvious contention: “What if you were partly responsible for the fire?”

What does this have to do with Jeremy Hunt? Well, it’s interesting to me — and I’m trying to avoid being the embodiment of the Camusian emotions-police here — that Conservatives (whether in terms of the party or our present media personalities) so often position themselves as being the lot who are in control of their emotions, rational, productively detached from feelings and more in tuned with reality. And whilst that’s an obvious result of our deeply repressive mode of neoliberal professionalism, it is very interesting to me at what points it becomes okay and human to let emotions slip.

The moments at which these people do and don’t slip are very telling.

In May’s case, that is apparently when you decide to leave your job, whilst awkward stoicism is the professional response to nearly 80 people dead in a fire in sub-standard housing. In Hunt’s case, well, it remains to be seen… But the way I saw that man in his mid-40s can glower with such hatred at a woman in her early-20s who has asked him a very simple question — never mind someone from the press or in parliament — does not bode well in the slightest.

In fact, it’s the sort of attitude you come to expect more from the man he greeted on an airport runway this morning. And I’m left thinking just because Trump’s got a big enough mouth to shout out his opinions, doesn’t mean he is brown-nosed by countless others who think the same way he does.

Hunt has that same vibe. You know he thinks he’s got the art of the deal. Luke Turner’s Quietus article makes that clear enough. But inside, he’s little more than a Poundshop Trump.

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