Tory moderates tap up Jeremy Hunt as MPs say he's 'on manoeuvres'

Written by David Singleton on 22 June 2018 in Diary

The health secretary has agreed to be guest of honur at the Tory Reform Group summer party.

As if Tory moderates weren't anxious enough, earlier this month there was talk of Boris Johnson-Priti Patel leadership joint ticket.

With Johnson lined up to be star speaker at the right wing Conservative Way Forward summer party and Patel also due to attend, political hacks started to speculate. HuffPost’s Owen Bennett wrote that "a joint ticket of Johnson and Patel could be an attractive prospect for Brexiteer MPs who feel that May is simply allowing the Government to drift on to the rocks, and the turn-out at the CWF drinks will provide something of an indication of who wants to sign up to their crew".

Around the same time, Michael Gove set off fresh chatter about his leadership ambitions when he appeared alongside Ruth Davidson at the launch of Onward, the new think-tank is seeking to unite the party's warring factions. In his speech, the environment secretary backed "a reforming, forward-looking agenda that responds to the concerns of the entire nation".

But as Gove and Patel are trying to woo the right of the Tory parliamentary party and Gove goes through the middle, who is reaching out to the left?

While many moderate Tory MPs privately talk up foreign affairs select committee star Tom Tugendhat as the next big thing, the Tory Reform Group has just signed up Jeremy Hunt as guest of honour and star speaker at its summer party next month.

The group represents centrist, liberal and often pro-European Tories on the “progressive wing” of the party.  It current president is Ken Clarke and patrons include John Major, Nicky Morgan, Nicholas Soames and Nick Boles.

The invitation to Hunt gives a clear indication of who the TRG feels could stand up to the likes of Johnson and Patel. It also gives Gove a stellar opportunity to woo members of the TRG, which recently signed up 14 new 'parliamentary patrons' and claims to have seen a surge in membership over the last two years.

And by pure coincidence, news of Hunt’s turn comes as various figures have talked up the health secretary in a Guardian piece on the various contenders to replace Theresa May.

“He’s on manoeuvres, there’s no doubt,” one senior backbench MP said. “The question is how far he is really prepared to push it.”

Another has told the papaer: "You need to have someone who can expand their appeal. Jeremy has a lot of people you could potentially add to his tally... and you definitely can’t say that about Michael Gove.”


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