The Secretary of State for Health has many skeletons in his cupboard. The man who back in 2009 vowed to be the most transparent MP his West Surrey constituents had ever had presents himself as a mild-mannered, quietly spoken man of honesty and integrity. During the Leveson furore he always gave me the impression of being slightly bemused that anyone could accuse such a ‘nice’ man as him of wrongdoing, despite all the evidence that he lied to Parliament and was more than willing to let Murdoch have his way.
Teflon-coated Jeremy has a habit of attracting controversy for his ‘mistakes’ and an amazing ability to wriggle out of them with his job intact.
For instance, back when the expenses scandal hit Westminster courtesy of the Daily Telegraph in addition to having to pay back a considerable sum for mortgage interest claims he was also taken to task about a number of dodgy claims for incidental expenses, according to reporter Joanna Till writing for the Go Surrey website in 2009. (http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2053219_mp_jeremy_hunt_lifts_the_lid_on_his_expenses)
Here’s the list:-
1p for a 12-second phone call to his own office – October 2005.
2p for a 20-second phone call – May 2005.
19p for an A4 divider – September 2007.
£1.42 on one Prittstick – March 2006.
£3.12 on sweets, including 27p on chewing gum in March 2008 November 2007, 35p on ‘merchandise’ in April 2007, 98p on two ‘merchandises’ in January 2008, and £1.25 on three ‘merchandises’ in September 2007.
£3.81 on calling 118118 seven times, and more than an hour making 37 calls to a ‘special service’ 0845 number – August to October 2005.
£26.08 in House of Fraser in Victoria, including £2.88 for a ‘wood mug tree’ and £15.00 for a ‘chrome biscuit’ – August 2005.
£26.96 on coffee and £12.90 on tea – March 2006.
£28.50 in Habitat in Chelsea, on six £2 mugs, £2 on a ‘chai tea measure spoon horn’, £7 on an oval bread basket, £5 on a pack of six espresso cups and saucers, and £2.50 on a ‘small orange tray’ – August 2005.
£92.50 at John Lewis on Oxford Street on five candles worth £15 each, a flask costing £9.50, £18 on a ‘pump pot’, and £15.90 on batteries – March 2006.
£139 for a hotel bill – rejected in October 2007 because he has a second home.
£1,892.33 on kitting out his constituency office in Hindhead, including £545 on Venetian blinds and £916.50 on painting.
£3,179.75 on stamps, envelopes and labels – May 2007.
£9,837.10 on his Hindhead premises, including £2,688 on carpets and almost £700 on signs.
As usual, in public Jeremy said the ridiculous claims for the 1p and 2p phone calls were ‘clerical errors’ or ‘mistakes’. For a man who graduated from Oxford with a First in PPE and so, presumably, who wasn’t at the back of the queue when brains were given out, he seems to make an awful lot of careless mistakes.
Despite these unfortunate slips with his expense claims, however, Jeremy publicly insisted that he was an honest man. But you have to wonder what he’s saying in private when some of his best mates go to the lengths of having a special T shirt printed for his stag weekend in Barcelona with the words “Its All On Expenses!” emblazoned on the front. When asked about this – in public again – he went into Right Honourable mode and assured us that he refused to wear it because he thought it was in ‘poor taste’.
So what else do we know about Mr Hunt’s impeccable character?
Some of you might remember the time he caused a bit of a stir back in 2010, just after the election when he became Culture Secretary.
The Observer reported “raised eyebrows” when Hunt’s former parliamentary assistant, Naomi Gummer, had been given a job within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on a fixed-term civil service contract after Hunt had proposed departmental cuts of 35–50 per cent. The head of the Public and Commercial Services Union questioned Hunt’s motives saying, “Political independence of the civil service is a fundamental part of our democracy and we would be deeply concerned if this was being put at risk by nepotism and privilege.” Gummer is the daughter of a Conservative life peer, Lord Chadlington, who was a director of Hotcourses between 2000 and 2004.
Hotcourses is Jeremy’s educational company which reputedly made him a multimillionaire. Given his behaviour over the Murdoch bid it would seem that Jeremy, despite his Oxford education, repeatedly has difficulty recognising the need for a line to be drawn between narrow party political interests, private vested interests and the duties of a Secretary of State. And this is the man we’re being asked to trust with our NHS!
And there’s more.
Mr Hunt is also a blatant tax avoider, in spite of all the Cameron and Osborne rhetoric about cracking down on the wealthy who enjoy the benefits of living in the UK but sneakily hide their millions away in tax havens so they don’t have to contribute very much at all.
In April 2012, immediately following David Cameron’s statement that he would not associate himself with anyone who carried out “aggressive tax avoidance”, the Daily Telegraph disclosed that Hunt had reduced his tax bill by over £100,000 by receiving dividends from Hotcourses in the form of property which was promptly leased back to the company. The dividend in specie was paid just before a 10% rise in dividend tax and Hunt was not required to pay stamp duty on the property.
I guess he had insider knowledge about that one.
So, what’s the verdict? Can we really trust Jeremy Hunt with the NHS?