Rather quietly, Jeremy Hunt has sidled back towards the political limelight, with a new role in parliament. But it’s one that says so much about the rot in our political system.
In 2016, Hunt declared that being health secretary was likely to be his “last big job in politics”. Since then, he’s been foreign secretary and run for the Tory leadership (and the accompanying keys to Number 10). Clearly over-qualified to fit into the current cabinet, Hunt has been grazing on the backbenches.
But now, Hunt has found something to do.
A secret ballot of MPs has elected him chair of the Commons health select committee. There’s one of these committees for each government department and their role is to examine and critique the government’s decisions and performance. The committee chairs are allocated based roughly on the parties’ number of MPs. So there are now 17 Conservative, nine Labour, and two SNP chairs. Because of this, the vote for health chair was a straight fight between two Tories, Hunt and Anne-Marie Morris.
Hunt seems to be relishing the challenge. Describing himself as “honoured” by the appointment, he said:
I look forward to working with my committee to provide a strong, independent voice that supports NHS staff [and] patients in a very pressured period.
The Guardian’s health policy editor Denis Campbell pulled no punches, calling the appointment a “conflict of interest”. The problem, as Campbell and others have observed, is that Hunt is responsible for much of the government health policy he’ll now supposedly be checking. He’s been away from the department since 2018, but before that he was the longest-serving health secretary.
Hunt had a six-year tenure that Dr Khailash Chand described when it was still only part way along as the “worst ever”. Chand said Hunt was turning “the NHS to NHS plc”. He summarised NHS management by Hunt as “a stunning example of how not to do things”. “Hunt has managed to insult and alienate NHS staff across the board,” said Chand. Tellingly, Chand characterised Hunt’s ‘policy roadmap’ as “leading to the complete privatisation of the NHS, a process that has deep roots in Thatcherite ideology”.
A couple of years of barely noticeable Matt Hancock as health secretary hasn’t made any significant difference to this roadmap. So the health select committee really needs a strong leader, not afraid to highlight the government’s flawed stewardship of the NHS. Instead, it’s got Hunt. Campbell reports a former committee member saying this arrangement will see Hunt “marking his own homework”. Judging by his own comments, Hunt is actually spotting an opportunity to fill in all the gaps he left before. And based on his track record, the idea of Hunt trying to do new things to the NHS is even more worrying than him simply applauding, or whitewashing, his past failures.
The system sucks
Hunt won the chair against an unimpressive challenger, who was from his own party anyway. At least he had a challenger, though. Because Tory MP Caroline Nokes is now chair of the equalities select committee – despite her making no reference to LGBTQI+ issues in her supporting statement and voting against same-sex marriage for England and Wales in 2013. But she was the only applicant, and the position was only open to Conservative MPs.
Select committees, when they’re well run, can do a really important job in holding the government to account. But the system of appointing chairs disproportionately from the ruling party seems almost certain to reduce their effectiveness. And any system that allows Jeremy Hunt to return to the scene of his greatest crimes against competent governance is just wrong.
Featured image via YouTube – ITV News
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?