An idiots guide to the key NHS privatisers no. 1- Jeremy Hunt
In the first of a series, we provide everything you need to know about the main movers and shakers in the UK's great NHS swindle. So to kick it off we have the right honourable member from South West Surrey.
The Hunt sartorial canon gives him the veneer of a morally dubious provincial estate agent, the kind who'd pretend to phone a seller before confirming that you need to increase your offer. And from this suave real estate-selling exterior oozes no end of caustic charm. The kind of man who you wouldn't let feed your pet while you were on holiday but you could never really pin down why. In media set pieces he has the prolonged perplexed look of a man who has stumbled into a joke whose punchline he doesn't get but laughs along anyway. Unusually starey eyes and an aura of detachment leaves the observer with the impression that they are watching a recently arrived alien during their assignation phase on their new planet. Think Jeff Bridges in 'Starman'. Largely absent from public view, he prefers carefully stage-managed exercises in political misrepresentation. Gathers questionable data on the NHS, gives grave and solemn speeches where he largely misunderstands said data and then talks about how he is determined to save lives. Rinse and repeat.
Pre-politics, one of his early great get rich quick ideas was to export marmalade to Japan. Amazingly, despite Japanese people's well-known rabid desire for mediocre breakfast condiments, it never really took off. Perhaps curiously for a failed international marmalade entrepreneur, realised he was better equipped to run a massive national health service that saves thousands of lives on a daily basis. Following marmalade-gate Hunt repaired to the worlds of financial investment and public relations, the latter of which he regularly draws upon during his adventurous forays into saying things about medicine that aren't close to true. Judging from his performance as Health Secretary, the casual observer is forced to arrive at the conclusion that his previous PR success was built on advising clients to ostracise, slander and misrepresent as much of their market share as is humanly possible.
Adopted the well-known although rarely used 'Lord Lucan' style of debating - essentially missing as many chances to debate with his detractors as humanly possible. On the rare occasions he does come in from the governments’ public relations witness protection programme (George Osborne being his only challenger for most notable electoral liability) he favours an approach that could be broadly described as robotically constipated, his body fixed and his tone patiently patronising as he explains the cold hard facts to the great unwashed. His style is positioned to portray him as the calm, cool, pragmatic common sense follower of evidence (ironically) and good practice to contrast with the emotionally distorted frenzy of his irrational detractors. It just about gets him through any public 'trial-by-Dimblebys' without being lexically lynched inside the studio. Plays well in the City but rarely wins over new followers among the hoi palloi.
His great gift initially was not being Andrew Lansley and he was very good at that- for a bit. But whereas Lansley was like the shambling uncle at Christmas who'd had too many sherries, Hunt was different- a veritable privatising machine, unperturbed by who or what he walked through. If Lansley was the old fashioned T-800, hamfistedly seeking to foster relationships and curry favour from whatever sectors of the health world he could beg, steal and blackmail from, Hunt was the Robert Patrick T1000 silicone privatiser, walking through and over everything in his way. Managed to somehow mobilise sections of the right wing press to take a break from denigrating foreign people and benefit users to denigrating junior doctors during his time of need. Those marmalade exporting PR skills were always going to come in handy somewhere.
Being disliked by almost everyone. As welcome in a provincial hospital as MRSA with an uzi, he's the only man in the history of civilisation who makes people pine for Andrew Lansley. In the cabinets’ much sought after annual award for 'being disliked by vulnerable people', IDS was already writing his victory speech when Hunt became the first secretary to have a no confidence vote submitted for debate in Parliament. Rightly angry that if anyone was going to have a vote of confidence it should be him, IDS sat with Grayling and Gove, kicking their collective hooves as 220,000 people made the altogether reasonable request to their parliament to debate the man who was responsible for pulling their health system apart.
Hospital visit chic
Health secretaries through the ages have always had two key roles - provide for the nation's healthcare and be prepared at any time to tuck your tie into a shirt for a photo opportunity tour of a hospital with the nurse who drew the short straw. Although the government ditched the first one, Hunt manages the second with aplomb. Literally unable to tuck his tie in quick enough at the merest hint of a hospital tour, Hunt dons his full repertoire of confused alien facial tics as he talks to the nearest Tory-voting double heart bypass that his spads could find at short notice. Clearly missed the 'look interested while taking to the unwashed' cabinet PR master class and so relies on some extra help. "Smile Jeremy", "look sad Jeremy", "laugh knowingly Jeremy" he hears whispered as his carefully choreographed interactions with unwell humans are recorded for that evening's news broadcasts. Has the bemused look of someone who has wandered onto the set of a zombie movie and is anxiously waiting for the director to call cut.
Favourite privatising trick
Einstein, Faraday, Newton- three of the greatest minds in human history. But in one respect their achievements were relatively modest in comparison to the current health secretary. Whereas they solved problems that had bedevilled civil society for many years (relativity, electric lighting and gravity), they were only problems that actually existed. Hunt has transcended these great minds by solving problems that don't exist in the first place. Need to drive down doctors' pay and conditions? Tell everyone we need 24/7 care (that we already have) to stop people dying. On the set of the film 'Marathon Man' the great Sir Laurence Olivier could never understand why the method actor Dustin Hoffman did so much hard work prior to filming, most famously saying that he should 'try acting'. And while various other privatisers go to huge lengths to dupe the public into believing that it makes sense to sell their health service to private equity funds, Hunt just simply talks bollocks. Don't be surprised to read in the newspapers in months to come that Hunt is determined to get to grips with the chronic lack of breakdancing facilities in A&Es and how he is determined to completely phase out nurses if it means saving lives. Closely followed by the Daily Mail headline 'Selfish nurses cost lives by refusing to teach break dancing'.
Public school privilege?
In spades. Weird middle name that only posh people have? (Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt). Check. Head boy at an expensive public school? Check. Studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Oxbridge? Check. And a full apprenticeship from the Great British training college for the selling of much needed public services. Check.