Jeremy Hunt: My seat's on a 'knife edge' but the Conservatives will defend the Blue Wall brick by brick

Jeremy Hunt: My seat's on a 'knife edge' but the Conservatives will defend the Blue Wall brick by brick

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Jeremy Hunt has vowed that the Tories will “defend the Blue Wall brick by brick” as he fights to retain his Surrey seat which is on a “knife edge”.

The Liberal Democrats are seeking to oust him in what they hope will be a “Portillo moment” of a heavy Conservative defeat in the early hours of July 5.

But he defiantly told Lib-Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, a Cabinet colleague during the Cameron-Clegg coalition years: “Don’t bet the farm on it.

“Jeremy Hunt is no Michael Portillo, for better or worse.”

Defence Secretary Mr Portillo was famously ousted in Enfield Southgate during the Tony Blair landslide victory in 1997.

With the Tories in the low to mid Twenties in some polls, they are suddenly having to fight to keep control of a string of seats in their traditional Blue Wall stronghold of southern England, including the Godalming and Ash constituency where Mr Hunt is standing.

He stressed: “We will defend the Blue Wall brick by brick.

“If seats like this are anything to go by, people in affluent commuter areas like Godalming want to vote Conservative but they need to know that we are working hard for their vote and that they are not being taken for granted.

“I hope my record locally demonstrates that I never have.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Mr Hunt:

Mr Hunt saw his majority in his South West Surrey constituency cut to 8,817 in the 2019 election, with his then opponent Paul Follows having another go at defeating him in a reshaped constituency.

“This seat is on a knife edge,” said Mr Hunt.

“We have had private polling where we were just ahead and private polling where we were just behind.

“Genuinely impossible to call.”

One of the issues in the constituency is the service provided by Thames Water which he branded “lousy”, shortly before the company advised hundreds of people not to drink the water.

A growing number of Londoners have left the capital to move out to constituencies in the Home Counties, often taking out large mortgages, which then soared.

Some of them blame Kwasi Kwarteng’s “mini-Budget” in Liz Truss short administration for their higher home loans.

But Mr Hunt insisted: “That is one of the biggest fallacies propagated by our political opponents.

“The ‘mini Budget’ lasted a matter of days before I reversed most of its contents.

“The reality is that what has caused the pressure, what has caused 11 per cent inflation was Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and what I have done as Chancellor is bring down inflation to normal levels in a way that the IMF described only two weeks ago as approaching a soft landing compared to what was forecast when I became Chancellor which is the longest recession in 100 years.

“So, I hope that people worried about their mortgage think they have a Chancellor who has got their back.”

But leading political expert Professor Sir John Curtice has suggested that Labour and the Lib-Dems only need to say the words “Liz Truss” on the doorstep to sway voters away from the Conservatives.

Jeremy Hunt on the campaign trail in Godalming (Jeremy Selwyn)
Jeremy Hunt on the campaign trail in Godalming (Jeremy Selwyn)

How would Mr Hunt respond to such circumstances?

“By telling people the simple truth that the problems we faced were not caused by Liz Truss, they were caused by the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine and around here voters are smart, they understand that,” he explained.

He added: “It’s the most dangerous thing in politics to base your principal argument on something that is not true.”

Some Tory candidates around the country would love to have Boris Johnson campaigning alongside them, but Mr Hunt does not voice any such view.

“As you probably sense from being on the doorstep, people are making an informed decision as to who they want to represent them in Westminster,” he said.

“If I was an unknown MP locally, then getting Boris Johnson or David Cameron down to endorse me might help but I don’t think it would make the blindest bit of difference down here.”

Just days ago, he jibed that he was fighting “those bastards, Lib Dems”, who are seeking to topple him in the Surrey seat.

He explained his surprisingly outspoken comment, saying: “I was making a joke at an after-dinner speech raising money for a cancer charity so I would only ever use that language in a light-hearted way.

“I actually think it’s important to keep a sense of humour in politics and that is what I was trying to do.”

Cabinet ministers have frequently clashed with London mayor Sadiq Khan over crime, transport and housing, with some senior Tories also indulging in anti-London rhetoric in an apparent bid to woo voters in the Red Wall in the North and Midlands.

Jeremy Hunt speaking to a voter in Godalming (Jeremy Selwyn)
Jeremy Hunt speaking to a voter in Godalming (Jeremy Selwyn)

Pressed on whether the Tories, if they are re-elected, should seek a more constructive relationship with Mr Khan, the Chancellor said: “I work constructively with mayors of all parties as Chancellor.

“We have had significant additional devolution handed over to Andy Burnham in Manchester.

“But what we found difficult with the London mayor is the way he plays politics with so many of the ways that we would like to work with him to improve the capital.

“So, I hope that might change in the next Parliament.”

Some Tories believe the party has focused too much on the Red Wall rather than the Blue Wall.

“You need both, not just to win an election but if we are going to be prosperous and cohesive society,” stated Mr Hunt.

“Around here, one of the biggest concerns that people have is over-development.

“That is because too much of our opportunities are concentrated in London and the South East which act as a magnetic pull for people from the rest of the country.

“If we were better at spreading out growth and opportunity, which is what levelling-up is all about, then there would be less pressure in places like Godalming, so I don’t see it as an either or.”

Labour has proposed renationalising the railways as the various franchises come to an end.

But Mr Hunt has withering criticism of such a move.

“It would just be a phenomenal waste of money, you would be wasting an awful lot of the public’s money on something that ticks an ideological box rather than what we should be doing which is incentivising investment in the network,” he said.He added: “Ownership is a red herring.

“What matters actually is investment and there has been massive investment in the rail network since privatisation, most people say more than could ever have been expected if it had remained under public ownership.

“But public investment in our railways has also increased dramatically.”