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Richard Robinson: Three reasons why Jeremy Hunt should be promoted

ROBINSON-RICHARDRichard Robinson is a Masters student in European Politics at Birkbeck College. He was a candidate for European Parliament 2004 and 2009.  Follow Richard on Twitter.

If there is to be a cabinet reshuffle this autumn there are three good reasons why Jeremy Hunt should be promoted.

Firstly, he has shown himself to be an able administrator, getting to grips with his department’s budget, renegotiating the BBC’s licence fee and shepherding the Olympic Games home within the budget he inherited.

Soon after the general election, we heard squeals of protest from the arts establishment as Hunt cut his own staff by 50% and the budgets of arts organisations by 30%. The great conductor, Zubin Mehta, was quoted in the New Statesman last month as saying, "We were told earlier this month to cut €4m from this season's budget at the Florence Opera. It's blasphemous. We are living in very dangerous times."

He faced down similar hyperbole with his decision to scrap the Film Council, the body that “invested” in the British film industry.  Film Director Mike Leigh said, 'It's like if they suddenly said: 'We're abolishing the NHS' ... It's totally out of order.''

Hunt also took an early grip on his dealings with the BBC, bringing forward negotiations for the license fee by a year and agreeing a six year freeze. If some of us would have preferred a more radical approach to the public broadcaster, we have to admit that he has achieved more than most of his predecessors.

These skills of standing up to sectional interests, in the interests of those who pay for them, are skills that are much needed in the large spending departments. Just as Michael Gove came through the firestorm of Building Schools for the Future a stronger and more effective minister, so Hunt can survive his trial. Whatever mistakes he may have made in his dealings with News Corporation, if he has learned from them he will be a better minister. The Telegraph has speculated that Hunt may step down from the cabinet voluntarily after the Olympics. That would be a waste of a considerable talent. David Cameron should persuade him to stay.

The second reason Jeremy Hunt should be promoted is that, in taking on the poison chalice of adjudicating the BSkyB bid, he did exactly what David Cameron asked him to do. In all the recent commentary it is too often forgotten that Hunt became responsible for this process only because Vince Cable announced to the Daily Telegraph, in the middle of the process, that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch”. Before he was given jurisdiction over the News Corporation bid for BskyB, Hunt had both publicly and privately declared his support for the takeover. In order to maintain propriety in his dealings with Murdoch, he therefore sought and took advice from Ofcom and the OFT, effectively sub-contracting the decision of whether to refer the takeover to a full Competition Commission investigation.

The third reason is purely political. Who is in the cabinet is a matter for the Prime Minister, not the BBC, LibDem MPs, or even a judge. So far, David Cameron has stood resolutely behind Jeremy Hunt. If he abandons him now he will look weak; if he promotes him he will look strong. Of course there will be criticism, even howls of protest, but no one will doubt who is in charge.

I normally resist the temptation to play “armchair re-shuffle”, speculating on who might be up and who down, who I think should be promoted and who returned to the backbenches. The case of Jeremy Hunt is different. Here we have a talented minister in command of his brief, handed a ticking bomb by the Prime Minister and asked to defuse it. On both practical and political grounds he should be promoted.


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