Furious Hunt attacks ‘unworthy’ BBC after Amol Rajan calls chancellor a ‘fiscal drag queen’ and ‘Soviet’

Jeremy Hunt called the BBC “unworthy” during heated exchanges on the Budget during an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.

The chancellor criticised programme host Amol Rajan after he called Mr Hunt a “fiscal drag queen” and said his plans to boost NHS productivity were “Soviet”.

Mr Rajan said Britain was “ravaged by economic shocks” and the economy was “at best drifting, at worst stagnant.”

The BBC presenter said: “We’ve seen seven quarters of GDP per head that’s been revised downwards. We’re hooked on foreign labour. The birth rate is collapsing. Many public services are creaking. Councils are going bust. Those are facts.”

The angry Mr Hunt replied that the remarks were “unworthy of the BBC… and unworthy of you Amol”.

Undeterred, an indignant Mr Rajan defended himself and the corporation saying: “It’s not about what I think - these are the facts.

“It’s a bit rich for you to say ‘I’m not a guy who does gimmicks’. People want radical change and you are not delivering it.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered the Budget on Wednesday (PA Wire)
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered the Budget on Wednesday (PA Wire)

Mr Hunt sternly replied: “I disagree. We are doing better than other economies in Europe. I do not share your pessimism.”

When Mr Rajan added “I’m trying not to be cynical,” Mr Hunt interjected: “I’m not letting you get away with that.”

Earlier in the show, Mr Rajan rattled the chancellor by referring to him as a “fiscal drag queen”.

He said: “They call you the British fiscal drag queen for good reason. Tax levels are the highest since 1948”.

Mr Hunt replied: “You accuse me of being a drag queen. I haven’t been called that before.”

The exchange came after Wednesday’s Budget, which saw Jeremy Hunt face criticism from grandees within the Conservative Party.

He announced a pre-election giveaway in which he cut taxes for millions but almost immediately faced warnings from senior Tories that he had failed to deliver a “silver bullet” to save his party.

The chancellor slashed 2p from national insurance – and signalled his desire to abolish it altogether – in a bid to woo disgruntled voters. Combined with a similar cut at the end of last year, Mr Hunt said a person on an average salary of £35,000 would be £900 a year better off.

But in a withering assessment, the highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies said for every £1 handed back to voters by the chancellor, the decision to freeze tax thresholds would claim £1.30.

In a Budget designed to appeal to voters ahead of the looming general election, Mr Hunt also announced an extra £6bn for the NHS and reforms of the “unfair” child benefit system, which will help 170,000 families.

Despite the headline-grabbing policies – including freezing fuel and alcohol duty – former chancellor George Osborne said it was not enough to turn his party around, adding: “It is not the silver bullet that’s going to rescue the Tory party’s fortunes.”

Another former chancellor, Lord Lamont, said the measures would not transform “the political weather”, while arch-Sunak critic Lord Frost said cutting NI without changing income tax was “fiddling while Rome burns”.

With nothing in the Budget to help first-time buyers, personal finance guru Martin Lewis said Mr Hunt had privately told him he wanted to ensure house prices were “definitely rising” before offering a “big home ownership package”.

Mr Hunt also swiped one of Labour’s flagship policies, by announcing a crackdown on non-doms, a move he said would raise nearly £3bn.

Rishi Sunak has refused to rule out a May election as speculation mounts that he is eyeing an early poll.

The prime minister has previously said his “working assumption” is that he will go to the country in the second half of this year.

But he did not repeat that formulation when asked about a May vote on the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2.

Instead, the Conservative leader said: “I’m not going to say anything about that. What matters is the choice at that election.”

He added: “And the choice, especially after this Budget, is clear. Our plans are working.”

Voters will go to the polls at the start of May, in local elections up and down the country.

Senior Tories fear the results could be a bloodbath that would further diminish their chances of a good result in a general election.