Meeting with Jeremy Hunt MP

Jo Musker-Sherwood shares about her experience of meeting Jeremy Hunt MP on climate change

We met with Jeremy Hunt, the current Minister for Health, in a week when he was, in his own words, “the most toxic man in the country”. That week Junior Doctors had held their first ever all out strike in protest to the new contract to be imposed by his department. We, however, were meeting with him in his capacity as a local MP to talk about climate change. Hope for the Future has been working closely with Guildford Diocese and the constituents of South West Surrey to present concerns about climate change to Mr Hunt in the hope that as both a local MP and cabinet minister, he may be encouraged to take the issue up.

 Mr Hunt kicked off the meeting with saying to us; "I am going to hazard a guess that none of you in the room here, who care enough about this issue to come to this meeting, voted for me". This wasn't actually true, but his observation about the political divide on the issue is certainly accurate- it is possible to predict a person's political loyalties judging by their views on climate change with more accuracy than nearly any other single issue. Unlike many other issues, climate change does and will affect us all, regardless of our political allegiances- so why is it such a politically divisive issue?

 “I do not believe in no growth- that will never win over the public” Mr Hunt explained to us. This was where he felt the Conservative agenda departed from that of climate campaigners. For me, this was crucial- at what point had climate action become synonymous with anti-growth for Mr Hunt? And why does this come with perceptions of a worsened quality of life, or a reduction of personal independence?

 I wondered if Mr Hunt felt that climate change had been ‘hijacked by the left’, and he agreed that it probably had. 

 Mr Hunt presented to us the many ways that sustainability lies at the heart of Conservative ideology; “we have this sense, we have an ideology, that values responsibility to our future” he explained, “and this is why we are so wary of debt”. He explained his belief that it is wrong to load burdens of any kind on future generations- and that this should apply environmentally also. Mr Hunt also spoke about the ‘global vocation’ that the UK economy, being one of the largest in the world, has to poorer countries, and of his personal knowledge of climate change he gained through his involvement with an orphanage he set up in Kenya.

 Although there were clear areas of contention with Mr Hunt, our group was determined that we should focus on where we could find common ground. There were multiple points in the conversation when the dialogue could easily have shut down if we had required that everyone in the room agree on every point being made- or even on every major point. Indeed, even within our own group we had differences in opinion about which issues to prioritise, but these differences did not derail the conversation.  

Crucially, we had an understanding with Mr Hunt that this meeting was the beginning of an ongoing conversation. We were not under pressure to lay all our grievances and proposals out within the hour, but could instead use the time to identify possible areas to work together- carbon standards of news buildings, improving public transport, flood mitigation. Mr Hunt has agreed to ask a list of our question to Amber Rudd, the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, and has offered a further meeting in September. It might not be the ‘paradigm shift’ that Mr Hunt agreed we need to see if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but it is certainly a start.