Jeremy Hunt: You Ask The Questions - Profiles - People - The Independent

Jeremy Hunt: You Ask The Questions

The Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport answers your questions, such as 'What is the most urgent task for the next government?' and 'Who is your hero?'


When you became a member of parliament you stepped aside from your primary business interest Hotcourses, which you founded. Do you believe that outside interests are wrong for Shadow Cabinet members? Laura Newton, York

The law is designed to allow MPs to benefit from external experience whilst avoiding conflicts of interest. That is why government ministers cannot have outside interests, but other MPs can, provided they declare them. My background starting a business is very important to me – particularly at a time when so many other small businesses are struggling. However David Cameron rightly expects all members of his Shadow Cabinet to put every ounce of energy they can into defeating this disastrous government, so no one should have any interests that deflect them from this.

Should the Conservative Party pay more attention to Scotland? Mary Doveday, Aboyne

I think it's fair to say that for a long time we, as a party, failed to show as much attention to Scotland as we should have. After taking over as leader David Cameron addressed this issue and the party's performance in the Glasgow East by-election was another step forward. David Mundell and Annabel Goldie are doing a great job so I know we'll continue making progress north of the border.

What is the single most important thing the next government should do? Simon Harvey, Birmingham

Restore confidence in the UK's economy. You can try all the gimmicks in the world but without the magic ingredient of confidence banks will not start lending, businesses will not start investing and consumers will not start spending.

You were educated at Charterhouse. Do you ever feel that there are too many public schoolboys in the Shadow Cabinet? Harold Hughes, Gillingham

No one could have done more to break out from traditional Conservative stereotypes than David Cameron. A third of our candidates in winnable seats are women – a huge step forward. Can we do more? Of course. But rather than social engineering the Shadow Cabinet we should try and broaden the base of talent interested in becoming Conservative MPs.

Who is your political hero? Michael Fell, Woking

William Wilberforce. It took him 18 years to persuade parliament to abolish the slave trade. When he did the majority of MPs had shares in companies that profited from the trade so he actually persuaded them to vote against their own financial interests. Whatever the problems we face today – whether an economic crisis, climate change or global poverty – we should remember that other people before us have had the courage to face up to equally difficult challenges.

Where did you get the idea for Hotcourses? Henry Oates, Halifax

I backpacked a lot when I was at university and used the Lonely Planet travel guides. But when I later went to Japan to learn Japanese I found it really hard to find a good school. So I thought, why not produce a guide to help people who want to study rather than just travel abroad?

There have been two years of BBC scandals and fines levied by the public regulator Ofcom. All that happens is that one public body pays public money to another. What would you do to change it? Frances Brown, Whitehaven

In actual fact, Frances, the fines paid to Ofcom are remitted to the Treasury so licence fee money flows back to the Government. It's a difficult situation but it's right that the BBC suffers for misleading the public. That, to me, demonstrates why the Beeb ought to be more mindful of the very privileged position it occupies. For that reason I think we do need to review the way it is regulated. I also believe the National Audit Office should be able to examine the corporation's books freely.

Do you have any reservations about the London Olympics? Lizzie Barton, Brighton

The success of Team GB in Beijing was a boost for us all – and I think London 2012 could do the same thing several times over. My only reservations about the Games stem from the Government's approach. They should have been more upfront about the cost of staging the Games from the very beginning and they have consistently failed to produce a clear plan for a legacy after the Games

Are you concerned that the Conservative party will develop a reputation for spin just like New Labour did? Denzil Foxton, Lewes

To me the definition of spin is when you take decisions not because they are right for the country but because they will play well in the papers. That's what happened with Gordon Brown's 10p tax fiasco – he was prepared to hurt the poorest in society in order to score a political point. That is not how David Cameron works. The cut in VAT was popular initially – but he opposed it because he knew it was wrong. I think people want a leader who is prepared to be unpopular if it is the right thing to do.

What can be done to foster better policy making in Britain? Max Baxter, Clapham

Unfortunately, after nearly 12 years of Labour, policy-making has become increasingly driven by top-down diktats. I would like to see more decisions taken at a level closer to where their effects are felt – by doctors, head teachers and other professionals instead of politicians, bureaucrats and quangos.

What will you do after politics? Chris Govan, Exeter

Probably go back to my company and focus on the African educational foundation it supports.

What role would you like in a future Shadow Cabinet? Matthew Robertson, Norwich

I only want one change – I would like the word "Shadow" removed from my title.

David Cameron has made many statements on the economy. Do you think George Osborne needs to raise his profile? Audrey Ward, Braintree

David and George are one of the closest partnerships I have ever seen, and each has skills that complement the other. Yes, David has given a few speeches on the economy in recent weeks, but I think people want to see the man who could be the next Prime Minister dealing with the major issue facing the country. George has played a crucial role. I think the real question is not about George but about where the Chancellor has been. We've barely seen anything of Alistair Darling over the past few weeks, Peter Mandelson seems to have assumed his role, and they've been adopting our policies.

Would you like to be Party Chairman as some people have suggested? Stanley Smithson, Felixstowe

I love my current job and Caroline is doing a great job as Party Chairman

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you since becoming an MP? Louise Dorkly, Cambridge

Being named most fanciable MP was by far the most embarrassing and I received a lot of ribbing from fellow MPs. Pure jealousy of course!

Which member of the Cabinet would you persuade to join the Conservative Party if you could? Tanya Sanderson, Cardiff

I have always admired Hilary Benn, though more in his previous role as International Development Secretary. He is a decent man who respects Parliament, and is prepared to work with people whatever their political affiliation. I also wish his successor focused on Aids in Africa as much as he did.

Who would you rather have dinner with, Ferne Cotton or Jonathan Ross? Meredith Norris, Eppingham

Dinner with Jonathan Ross would be interesting. I'd obviously have to ask about Manuelgate and, given how much he gets paid by the BBC, dinner would definitely be on him...

Who has done a better job at the Department of Culture: Andy Burnham or Tessa Jowell? Mohammed Siddique, Wolverhampton

I didn't do this role when Tessa Jowell was Culture Secretary so can't really comment. All I will say about Andy Burnham is that, despite our policy differences, on a personal level I get on with him very well.

What can Conservatives do to promote research & development in Britain's manufacturing sector? Harold Price, Sheffield

We need to ensure manufacturers can access credit, which is why we've proposed that the Government guarantee lending to businesses. If we lose skills because of Labour's mismanagement of the economy, we'll lose them abroad for good.

Are you concerned about the language barrier between you and your prospective Chinese in-laws? Olivia Marsh, Northampton

Some of my friends have told me that the language barrier will make them the perfect in-laws! But I have to say they are lovely, even though to date we have only been able to communicate with Lucia translating.

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