- Hunt’s time on the front line seemed to be over
- The new finance minister finished second to Johnson in 2019
- Ran against Truss on his promise to cut corporate taxes
- Hunt has spoken out on COVID but some question his own health record
LONDON, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Jeremy Hunt was named Britain’s new finance minister on Friday, the latest high-level ministerial post for the self-proclaimed entrepreneur seen by many in his Conservative party as a pair of safe hands, but whose the days in the best jobs had seemed over.
After serving as the longest-serving Health Secretary in British history and heading the Department of Foreign Affairs and Culture, Hunt returns from government exile after two failed attempts to become British Prime Minister himself.
While he advanced to the second round to replace Theresa May before losing to Boris Johnson in 2019, he fared much worse in the leadership race this year in which Liz Truss triumph.
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“It became apparent to me that you only get one big hit, and I got mine in 2019,” he said after being knocked out of the race, appearing to admit his ambitions of reaching the top of politics had come to an end.
He also later backed Truss’ rival, Rishi Sunak, and was overlooked for a ministerial role as she chose a high profile team of close allies and people who had supported her.
However, he now becomes the figure she turned to as Britain’s fourth finance minister in as many months, tasked with reassuring markets after her predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng’s economic plans caused a stir.
It is also an attempt to reach out to angry lawmakers from his ruling Conservative party who have expressed displeasure with his performance barely a month into his job, with polls showing Labor of the opposition was up to 30 points ahead.
“The appointment of Jeremy Hunt as chancellor is a wise choice,” Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkin said on Twitter.
“He is trusted and respected throughout parliament. Now we need to be calm. Thoughtless rhetoric about quitting the Prime Minister or calls for a general election will not calm financial markets.”
Hunt has always supported tax cuts and Truss said she sees him as someone who shares her goal of creating a high-growth, low-tax economy.
“He is one of the most experienced and respected ministers and parliamentarians and he shares my convictions and my ambitions for our country,” she told reporters.
Truss was speaking as she announced she would maintain a planned increase in corporate tax paid by businesses, scrapping plans to keep it at 19% after the market’s negative reaction to last month’s announcement of her economic package with Kwarteng. Read more
During his own failed bid to succeed Johnson, Hunt had pledged to cut corporation tax to 15%, help ignite Britain’s stagnant economy and scrap trade rates, the charge levied on commercial properties, for five years for areas in economic difficulty.
“We have to start Britain now,” he told the Sunday Telegraph when he announced his candidacy. “It means sending a signal that in the first chapter of our post-Brexit future, we are going to be the most business-friendly economy in the western world.”
Ironically, however, while Truss said she would pursue an income tax cut, Hunt said at the time that could wait. He has also promised to move forward with a plan to raise the National Insurance payroll tax to fund health care spending – a measure that Truss will roll back.
Commentators said he faced some of the same problems as his predecessor – how to balance the books to make billions of pounds in tax cuts while maintaining government spending.
The son of a senior naval officer and then an admiral, he studied politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University, then worked for a management consultancy before leaving for two years in Japan where he taught English and learned to speak Japanese fluently.
Upon his return, he set up an educational publishing business and was later elected to Parliament in 2005, serving in several government posts since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
He was the culture minister who oversaw Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp’s initial takeover of BSkyB during which he was accused of being too close to the media mogul, but he is best known in Britain for his stint as Minister of Health, a role he held. from 2012 to 2018, longer than any other politician.
He then became Foreign Secretary, until his unsuccessful 2019 leadership bid, and during Prime Minister Johnson’s tenure he criticized aspects of the handling of the COVID pandemic.
Other critics said some of the problems facing the public health service were a consequence of his role as health minister.
However, his own assessment of what was his biggest mistake was something much closer to home.
During a trip to China in July 2018, he mistakenly described his wife Lucia, who is from China, as Japanese. Asked in the leadership race the following year what his greatest weakness was, he replied: “Some might say that as Foreign Secretary he is mistaken about my wife’s nationality”.
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Reporting by Michael Holden, Alistair Smout and Elizabeth Piper Editing by Peter Graff
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