The prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership is like seeing a great cruise ship ready for departure. It’s big, brash, impossible to ignore and full of entertainment. But if you find, once on board, that it’s not your thing you could be stuck there a long time before it docks again and allows you to disembark. Oh, and this one’s captain has a breezy disregard for risk.
Which makes me think that the admiral’s son Jeremy Hunt, by comparison, offers safer passage. Unless you are a junior doctor, he is the one who steers through choppy waters without drama or too much excitement.
This was the Jeremy I knew quite well at university, as contemporaries in the same Oxford college. Polite and good humoured, he was the one parents would have loved if their daughter had brought him home, even if he might have got her nationality wrong.
He was a Young Conservative – a rarity then, as now – yet his charm made him popular. He was also helpful: he was one of the students I persuaded to do a sponsored run around the college cloisters for charity (as you can see, I started young).
And yet, one incident colours my view of the prospect of Prime Minister Hunt, because in our first term we held a joint birthday party. We held it in my room, which as I recall was because I was the more convivial host, but might have been because my room was bigger.
The party went well and was good clean fun. Somebody also left their trousers behind. I know not who or why. However, the following morning it emerged that some gatecrashers had done some damage to another floor of the college house and, as party hosts, we were hit with a hefty fine.
Except, as I then discovered, it was my party, not ours. Jeremy did a runner and I was left to pick up the bill. He was so charming for the rest of our time together at university that somehow I let him get away with it.
I understand Jeremy’s point, as the leadership candidates confessed their drugs misdemeanours of old, that it shouldn’t matter what they got up to decades ago. Yet my experience (of Hunt, not drugs – I had plenty of the first but none of the second) makes me wonder: do we now have a leadership contest between an unreliable bounder – and Boris Johnson?
Something else troubles me about the choice between Hunt and Johnson. So far, neither has had anything to say about the voluntary sector. Not a peep about how charities mend the social pieces left by economic storms. Nothing about how they might champion more volunteering in society. I can’t recall them talking about pump-priming youth clubs and other youth services in the effort to reduce knife crime. Questions about food banks have been given a wide berth.
Perhaps all that will come as the hustings unfold, or as the next premiership gets under way. Perhaps they will be radical in creating life chances for young people and in breathing new life into the husk of the big society.
Which would I trust to drive me home at the end of the birthday party? I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it’s Hunt. He’d have to settle his debts of course: I will accept a £200 donation to Julia’s House to fund a day’s care for a child that the NHS isn’t paying for. But this was a health secretary who regularly spent time behind the scenes in hospitals, one who works to master his ministerial brief and usually prefers to listen rather than lecture.
But that cruise ship does look like a lot of fun.
Martin Edwards is chief executive of Julia’s House, www.juliashouse.org, which runs children’s hospices in Wiltshire and Dorset