After the Department of Health released its list of ministerial meetings, I was able to find out that Jeremy Hunt met senior media figures eight times between October and December. These figures included the editors of the Sun, the Independent and the Spectator, as well as the Director-General of the BBC. This was during the period when Mr Hunt was gearing up for his ongoing fight against junior doctors.
My original FoI request asked for a few too many things, including details of other ministerial meetings, and was denied on the ground of cost. Thanks to the sterling work of Paul Winwright and his much more sensible request, the DoH has revealed it didn’t keep minutes of the meetings between Jeremy Hunt and his new friends in the media.
What could possibly give the Health Secretary cause to have secret meetings with all the major right wing newspapers, the most influential right-wing political magazine in the country and the BBC, the media organisation with the single biggest reach in the country? Given that the worst industrial dispute in NHS history was just around the corner, there’s probably plenty of reasons.
I very rarely think of conspiracy before cock-up. Governments are terrible at conspiracy and better at cock-up. But a senior minister having unminuted meetings with editors who have subsequently given Jeremy Hunt very good coverage is too much of a coincidence. Especially when Hunt didn’t meet any editors once in the previous 12 months.
Despite the fact junior doctors are expected to be so transparent that their own personal reflections can be used against them in court, it seems that Jeremy Hunt has chosen the cowardly option of briefing against junior doctors to already friendly media executives.
The fact the taxpayer is not allowed to know what was said by Jeremy Hunt in these meetings, despite being the ones who pay his salary and expenses, is quite simply appalling.