This morning’s Times carries as pithily brutal a summary of what a large number of Conservative MPs think of Jeremy Hunt as could be written.
Matthew Parris believes the Foreign Secretary, often described as a frontrunner to succeed Theresa May, “may be a hologram”:
“Just a hunch, but it’s a feeling you do get. Certainly Mr Hunt’s opinions appear susceptible to simply being switched off. A staunch Remainer appeared to twinkle among us when David Cameron was in charge, but that “Jeremy Hunt” has been blanked out and a new super-Brexity apparition is now shimmering under the same name at Christmas receptions. Oh I don’t know, maybe I’m imagining things but there’s something eerily insubstantial in all this luminescence. Has anyone tried poking a finger into the Foreign Secretary’s chest to see whether their hand goes straight through?”
It is characteristically unsparing stuff. What’s really striking is the extent to which – give or take a few degrees of eloquence – it is the exact sentiment many a Tory MP offers when asked whether Hunt could win a leadership race, or, perhaps more pertinently, their support in one.
Having backed Remain and then publicly flirted with running as the candidate of a second referendum in 2016, Hunt has since recast himself as a born-again Brexiteer. He said last Sunday that the UK would “flourish and prosper” if it left the EU without a deal.
Some colleagues think it is all unsubtle triangulation and find it unconvincing. Others ask what the Foreign Secretary actually believes: a reputation for dilettantism is taking hold. In a crowded field that will not want for candidates of consistent conviction, these perceptions will matter – and could leave him without an obvious base in the early rounds of a contest.