Hunt the underdog gets some bite but remains bland compared with Boris
Jeremy Hunt is the underdog who discovered a bit of bite in the Tory leadership battle with runaway favourite Boris Johnson.
Team Boris was initially wrong-footed by the aggression of the Foreign Secretary’s “blue on blue” warfare, but in the latter stages Mr Hunt seemed to be deliberately toning the bark down as it appeared he was settling for a spot in a looming Johnson administration.
Reputed to be the richest person in the Cabinet, self-made millionaire Mr Hunt is also a keen fan of the lambada, describing it as an “intimate dance”.
But he seemed to lack the moves to put Mr Johnson off his pace, as the two tangoed with destiny in the battle for the Tory crown.
With his name infamously becoming an unfortunate spoonerism on national radio more than once, Mr Hunt made a number of ill-judged C-word related jokes at the final hustings of the Tory campaign, which party members seemed to find as unappetising as his Brexit policy.
Dubbed “continuity May” for a less gung-ho approach to EU withdrawal than his flamboyant rival, Mr Hunt struggled for attention in the contest with his political rock star opponent Mr Johnson.
The fact that he flip-flopped from referendum Remainer to brazen Brexiteer in a matter of months did not help his credibility with the Tory grassroots either.
Culture Secretary for the London Olympics, Mr Hunt went on to become the longest-serving health supremo, engaging in a bitter and protected bout of trench warfare with junior doctors before rising to Foreign Secretary when Mr Johnson stormed out of Cabinet over Brexit.
A steadier pair of hands in the role than his predecessor, Mr Hunt did make headlines for the wrong reasons when he told hosts in Beijing that his Chinese wife Lucia was Japanese.
“My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. That’s a terrible mistake to make,” he said to his counterpart in the rising super power.
Like Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary refused to call US President Donald Trump racist for telling four Democratic US congresswomen to “go back” to where they came from, even though all were American and only one was born overseas.
Instead, Mr Hunt, 52, said: “I have three half-Chinese children and if anyone ever said to them ‘go back to China’, I would be utterly appalled.”
While not an Old Etonian like Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary has a distinctly privileged background.
His father, Sir Nicholas Hunt, was an admiral, and he was educated at the prestigious Charterhouse school before reading politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford.
When drug use briefly dominated the early stages of the leadership race, Mr Hunt volunteered: “I think I had a cannabis lassi when I went backpacking through India.”
He then added: “That is almost as naughty as wheat fields,” in a reference to Theresa May’s much ridiculed claim that the naughtiest thing she had ever done was run through such an agricultural idyll.
In battle with Mr Johnson, the Foreign Secretary tried to position himself as substance over showmanship, but in reality the contest was always bland versus blonde.