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History repeats itself with Jeremy Hunt

Summer’s over. My meagre tan is a fading memory, the rain has brought toddler snot back into my office in increasing quantities, and worst of all, Jeremy Hunt is back in the news again.

While I await his forthcoming conference announcements with all the excitement of Taggart discovering the Le Petomane Thruway, I learn this week that Mr Hunt wrote several letters to the BBC complaining about bias in its health coverage and threatening its future as a public service broadcaster.

It takes some cojones to hand out lessons in balance when your own misuse of statistics has been variously censured by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, the editor of the BMJ, and most recently, a man widely characterised as the cleverest on the planet, but one thing our health secretary has been is consistent in the face of evidence against him.

One thing our health secretary has been is consistent in the face of evidence

Mr Hunt and the BBC have previous, of course. You may recall that before he was a wildly unpopular health secretary with an inexplicably patelline grip on power, he was a wildly unpopular culture secretary with an inexplicably… you get the idea. At the time he was attacked by the former head of the BBC trust for being too close to the Murdoch family, whose attempts to secure majority ownership of BSkyB were only scuppered by the huge public outcry that broke with the phone-hacking scandal. Mr Hunt spent several days with the threat of resignation hanging over him, before his special advisor Adam Smith took the bullet and resigned, saying it was his role to keep Murdoch’s company News Corporation ‘informed’ and that the ‘content and extent’ of his contact with News Corp had not been authorised by Mr Hunt

Why is this ancient history relevant? Well, fast forward four years and Mr Hunt again finds himself in the witness box, albeit by proxy, as the grassroots junior doctors campaign Justice4Health attempts to prove he overstepped his powers by threatening to impose a new contract on junior doctors. Mr Hunt has chosen to disavow his previous parliamentary statements about imposition, and it is now argued that other threats to impose were actually made by arms-length bodies like HEE, acting independently from the health secretary. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, in an amazing coincidence, junior doctors have come under repeated attack by the Murdoch press on the eve of the judicial review, with one prominent campaigner’s wedding condemned as ‘lavish’.  This was a direct echo of January’s widely-ridiculed ‘Moet medics’ Sun non-story, in which Facebook photos of student electives were published as evidence of ‘lavish’ lifestyles. One lass was criticised for being photographed next to an elephant while working at a charity hospital in Nepal. One wonders how lowly an animal you would need to choose as your selfie co-star in order to render your holiday snaps sufficiently proletarian to escape the Sun’s opprobrium – a rabid dog, perhaps? ‘Ooh, get Lady Grantham having her photo next to a dead cat. Why can’t she pose with a woodlouse like a normal person?’ (Mr Hunt himself is, lest we forget, a multi-millionaire). But I digress. 

We will learn of the Judge’s decision next Wednesday. I’ve got a prediction, whatever the outcome; in the year 2040, as we scrabble for water in the dusty wastes of the Brexitopalypse, and President Bieber jubilantly declares our final victory over the nanobots in the Great Pokémon Wars, Jeremy Hunt will somehow still be ensconced in Richmond House.

Oh, and Adam Smith? The guy who went under the bus for Jeremy over the BSkyB thing? Guess which Australian billionaire he works for now? Go on, have a guess. Happy September, everybody. 

Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson