South West Surrey MP and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has emphatically denied reports suggesting he is set to stand down before the next general election.
The Guardian’s claim of a potential ‘Michael Portillo’ moment, referencing the MP-turned-train traveller’s unexpected defeat in the 1997 election, has been labelled as “nonsense” by Mr Hunt himself.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Mr Hunt expressed his commitment to representing the new Surrey constituency of Godalming and Ash, despite the challenges posed by boundary changes, and reiterated his hope parliament will “have the misfortune of my presence for many years to come”.
The chancellor will be pitched against his old adversary, Waverley’s Lib Dem leader Paul Follows, if he does stand – with Cllr Follows pledging to “ensure the Portillo moment in the public mindset will become the Hunt moment”.
According to The Guardian article, "rumours have been swirling" among Surrey Conservatives and at Westminster that Mr Hunt will step down nearer to the election, "amid cataclysmic predictions of wipeout for several serving cabinet ministers".
The Guardian quotes one former minister saying that with a Labour government in prospect, the prospect for Mr Hunt of fighting the new seat is not attractive, whether he won or lost.
“Barring a miracle [of the Tories winning and forming another government], I can’t see Jeremy wanting to be in opposition under a new leader," the minister is quoted as saying. "And if he loses he will be the biggest scalp on election night. That is not a departure anyone would want. People in Surrey are saying he will not stand.”
Were Mr Hunt to stand down, The Guardian states it would raise questions as to whether he could remain chancellor in the run-up to the general election.
The former Health Secretary had a successful business career before entering politics and "would expect to be elevated to the House of Lords were he to leave the Commons", states The Guardian, allowing him to retain a political role alongside his commercial interests.
On October 15, the Liberal Democrats confirmed Mr Hunt’s old political adversary in South West Surrey, Paul Follows, the Lib Dem leader on Waverley council, had been chosen as its candidate for the Godalming and Ash seat.
Minutes after being selected, Cllr Follows told the local party that he would “work to ensure that the Portillo moment in the public mindset will become the Hunt moment”.
Another former Tory minister told The Guardian: “Of course Jeremy cannot say so now, but I think he won’t stand. It is not uncommon to pull out having said you will stand, citing changes of circumstances. Short of turning things round and winning, and him remaining chancellor, which is not exactly likely, there is nothing in it for him.”
Mr Follows told the Observer: “Jeremy Hunt is right to be concerned about losing the contest, and certainly right to be worried about ending up on the backbenches if somehow he won it.”
South West Surrey will be split in half at the next general election, with Mr Hunt choosing to run in the new Godalming and Ash constituency, and Greg Stafford chosen by the Tories to represent the party in the new Farnham and Bordon seat.
The next general election must take place by January 2025, but is expected to be called no later than next autumn to avoid the Christmas period.