The record was held previously by Labour’s Alan Milburn, who was in the role from 1999 to 2003. He wasn’t exactly a roaring success either, though he didn’t make himself quite as unpopular with the mass of NHS staff as Hunt is.
But the point I’m trying to make isn’t about Hunt’s toxic relationship with Britain’s doctors. And it isn’t about his policy of privatising health care – a typical Tory policy that was actually begun by Milburn – though that does make me sick.
The striking thing about Hunt’s record is just how short a time 1,342 days is to be the longest anyone has been in one of the most important jobs in the land.
Heck, there are Premier League football managers who’ve been in their jobs longer than that. (Only two, admittedly. Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe is one. The other is Arsene Wenger, who has been Arsenal boss since Howe was a promising teenage player and Hunt had just given up trying to flog marmalade to Japan and set up a PR business.) But managing one club is pretty much like managing another. Unlike, say, being minister for culture and sport, Hunt’s previous post, and running the NHS.
And that shows up a crucial fact about our political system. You can’t really understand the peculiar British version of democracy until you grasp it.
It’s that ministers – of any party – are generally people who know little or nothing about whatever it is they are put in charge of.
When genial Jim Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976 he was said to be perfectly qualified for the job. He’d held all the other top government posts – Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary – and been cheerfully, bumblingly out of his depth in all of them.
George Osborne’s been head honcho of the UK economy for five years, yet he appears to be less well qualified in maths than my 16-year-old daughter. In economics I out-rank him one A-level to nothing. On paper, anyway. One assumes he’s learned something on the job. And he is, of course, very rich, which must have taught him something about money. Though not the same something as struggling to make ends meet, which might have been a better qualification for handling austerity.
You thought the classic TV comedy Yes Minister was pure fiction. You thought the cynical ignoramus Jim Hacker, so delightfully and memorably played by Paul Eddington, was just a figment of someone’s comic imagination. In fact what made it so painfully funny was how close it was to reality.
The ignorance of ministers might be designed to enable civil servants – like Nigel Hawthorne’s slickly manipulative character Sir Humphrey – to get on with running the country. This may or may not be a good thing in practice.
But you can’t help wondering what it would be like if the top decision-making jobs were given to people who actually knew what they were doing.
EDP reader Mark Houldey took to Twitter last week to publicise this blog. Which was kind of him.
Apparently he disagreed with my suggestion that Labour had not done as badly in the recent elections as most of the press – and especially the BBC – claimed. I was, he said “in full denial mode”.
It certainly seems one of us is. He and I are probably the two people least qualified to say which.
Whether he is a Tory, a member of Labour’s failed and disaffected right wing, or a BBC apologist, I couldn’t say. As for the verdict on Labour’s election performance it is a matter of opinion – and he is as entitled to his as I am to mine.
But I always like to back up my opinions with facts. And while social media has been awash with misleading statistics and graphics trying to support one side or the other, here are two facts that appear undeniable.
- Labour got more votes and won more council seats than any other party on May 5.
- It had a bigger share of the vote than in last year’s General Election, which rather defeats the claim that Jeremy Corbyn has wrecked the party's prospects.
Corbyn is untried, inexperienced at leadership level – even at ministerial, or shadow ministerial, level. He is, as far as one can tell, an unusually decent, honest and principled politician. Whether these rare and refreshing qualities will prove an advantage or a handicap in the long run, only the long run will reveal.
There’s (probably) a long way to go to the next General Election. A lot can happen in that time. It’s a bit early to say anyone’s staring yet at a 2020 disaster.