In a clear response to Baroness Thatcher's right-wing rallying call of last week, Mr Hunt urged the party not to be side-tracked by "siren voices" but to remain true to One Nation policies.
Using a debate on the Finance Bill, which implements the Budget, as a platform, other Tory backbenchers joined the criticisms of their former leader. Quentin Davies, MP for Stamford and Spalding, described Lady Thatcher as a "great personage in her decline", while former Treasury minister Sir Terence Higgins, MP for Worthing, said he found it "very sad" that Lady Thatcher had become extremely out of touch.
"She now seems even to confuse One Nation Toryism with an enthusiasm for European federalism. This . . . isn't the case. I believe that the Prime Minister [and indeed myself] are certainly One Nation Tories, but equally certainly we are not in favour of European federalism," Sir Terence said.
Lady Thatcher, reasserting her right-wing, Eurosceptic creed last Thursday, dismissed those she once regarded as wets as Euro-federalists who wanted "no-nation Conservatism".
Mr Hunt emphasised the need to ensure that unemployment did not undermine the social fabric of Britain and urged Tory colleagues to be more positive about the European Union. The former Welsh secretary drew particular attention to the One Nation leanings of Kenneth Clarke.
Congratulating Mr Clarke on a "One Nation Budget", he said: "I recall on a previous occasion the Chancellor said thatone of his clear objectives was to ensure we don't have developing within the United Kingdom the sort of underclass that we have seen in the United States."
The Budget did much to ensure that would not happen, Mr Hunt said. Another Tory backbencher, Tim Yeo, also praised the "One Nation Budget", though the description did not seem to have occurred to William Waldegrave, the Chief Secretary, who opened the debate. The Bill was given a second reading by 309 votes to 274.
Mr Hunt recalled the seminal One Nation pamphlet published in the 1950s by a group including Edward Heath, Iain Macleod and Enoch Powell, and quoted Disraeli's abhorrence of two nations - "rich and poor" - in ignorance of each other. "That has been very much the theme running through my strong belief in Conservatism and Christian democracy. One Nation Toryism isn't the possession of the left, the centre or the right. It is fundamental to Conservatism."
Mr Hunt said that, coming from Wirral on Merseyside, he cared very much about unemployment. The area had had a very high level of unemployment for far too long. "That has done a great deal to undermine the social fabric of society." The Tory approach provided the answer. "Of course we must allow the market to produce the wealth, but so that we can then afford the social policies that enable us fundamentally to ensure that we are one nation."
Mr Hunt said that the centre ground was the territory on which the Tories had won successive elections. "We must never surrender our election-winning strategy. Siren voices from the extreme left, and indeed from the right, may urge us to side track, to move away from One Nation policies, but we must remain true to our long-standing beliefs."Reuse content