Friday, 26 May 2017


I had finished the morning's writing and was just about to stick the banana bread in the oven and, on this glorious summer day, take my dog for a walk by Swan's Barn, when there was a knock on the door. I opened it and standing in front of me in the bright sunshine was the Health Minister, the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt, MP for Surrey SW. Oh, I thought, as I struggled to keep touch with reality. Where is Michael Crick and a Channel 4 TV crew when you really need him.

The conversation began normally enough. Can I ask for your vote? Can I answer any questions? he said. Why are you killing the National Health Service? How can you continue the unfairness of austerity? Why are you making such a farce of Brexit? Why are you coming after my pension to feed your city friends? I replied. Anything I can do to keep you out of Westminster I will, and I looked over to the Dr Louise Irvine National Health Action party flyer in my front window.

To be fair, and unsurprisingly, Mr Hunt was not fazed, and wanted to 'answer' me point by point. When he started in on 12,000 new nurses, I asked if they were going to build new food banks for them, then pointed out that with 1% per year, 30,000 nurses were disappearing overseas or being driven back to Europe, which left a net loss on 18,000. He acknowledged we were going nowhere and bid a gracious farewell. My dog by then had got bored and dashed out the door, and three of Hunt's half-dozen or so advance team were worried, especially when Rufus chased after the MP for a sniff. One asked me if he bit? No, I said, he's trained to flush out vermin, not attack them.

As I finally put the bread tin into the oven, I experienced what the French call 'l'espirit d'escalier', when you think too late of what you should have said, inspired perhaps by either Emmanuel Macron or the third series of Spin. It's a similar phenomenon as the English laughing at Saturday night's jokes during Sunday's lie-in. I could have pulled out my best Dick Van Dyke accent and said 'oi, you're that Jeremy geezer what 'as the talk show on telly'. I could have offered him tea and stalled him for an hour to slow down his campaigning. I realised I should have kept my discussion with Mr. Hunt local. But as fate would have it, as I put Rufus on the lead and walked out the door with him, Hunt was coming back down the side street, so I went to unload my specific broadside. He made a joke about the dog being on the lead for his protection, and I asked about our local hospital, run by Richard Branson, with facilities under-utilised because they cannot be sub-leased. Ah, he said, we're taking that away from Virgin, he said. And giving it to whom? I asked and he began to say how they wanted to take back the NHS into public hands as only 8% of it was privately held. We began arguing again, and he went into job creation and growing economy and everything except strong and stable, and I soon as I said the magic words 'Naylor Report' he bid me adieu.

He actually seemed to enjoy this; he's got the right training and demeanour, all head boy at Charterhouse. I later discovered that, as the son of an admiral, the taxpayer paid his way at Charterhouse. He would have started there right about the time I became a British taxpayer. Can I have my money back, please? The cooler he remains, the more frustrating it is to argue with him. He's almost affable, in the way people used to insist Shrub Bush was, only Hunt is obviously much smarter. How far below the surface the affability goes is something not hard to estimate from the effects of his policies. And remember, it's not for no reason that the Tories have kept him, like Bojo the Clown and Doc Fox well in the background nationally. The camera, and questioning tougher than mine, reveals a lot he doesn't give away in person.

You have to give him credit for that, and for being out on the doorstep, and being so well organised and well-funded with his team of locals and flacks to help cover the ground. It's an area naturally inclined, like most of exurban England to vote Tory, only moreso, and you can see Hunt as a darling of the party faithful. You have to admire the work he's putting in, especially when his best opposition here is National Health Action, who don't have the organisation, nor the funding, and despite the Progressive Alliance, can't draw on Labour or the LDP for that. Because even with the Greens standing down from the ballot, and some local endorsement of Irvine by the other two parties, it is still a long uphill battle to unseat someone who got 60% of the vote last time (and UKIP took another 10%). But still he's out there working, which is impressive. Frightening, but impressive. I came to the conclusion that, although I've appeared in a Compass/Progressive Alliance promo video, which you can find here, I need to do a lot more. And then I realised I had never mentioned the Dementia Tax to Hunt. Which now worries me in a couple of different ways.

thanks to Michael Goldfarb for the title....


Paul Gardner said...

Just as well I was out!

andyjb said...

Probably wasn't fazed either. Maybe set phaser to stun next time.

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