Benedict Rogers is East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a former parliamentary candidate and a Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute.
As a former journalist, a human rights campaigner and a Christian, there are obvious reasons why I like Jeremy Hunt. As Foreign Secretary he has done more in a year than any of his predecessors combined to champion human rights – and in particular press freedom and freedom of religion or belief, two foundational freedoms that underpin any civilized democratic society.
Hunt has also done more to speak out against crimes against humanity in Burma, for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and peace in Yemen than his predecessors. His decision not just to mandate the Bishop of Truro to conduct an inquiry into the persecution of Christians but to write, every day throughout Lent, to a persecuted Christian, speaks volumes about his values.
So too did his decision, on his first visit to Beijing, to meet the wives of jailed Chinese human rights lawyers. And his statements on Hong Kong, a city I lived in for the first five years of my working life and to which I was denied entry on the orders of Beijing 18 months ago, have been far more robust than his predecessors. Has he done enough? No, of course not: no activist would say enough had been done. But has he shone, as a Foreign Secretary who prioritises human rights? Definitely.
But of course, one doesn’t vote solely on these issues. The challenges facing our party and our country are wide-ranging. Brexit is the most immediate and most obvious. But there are pressures on our public services, threats to our security, challenges to our economy and questions about our standing in the world. And the answer to all of these major questions is clear: Hunt.
Of the original 11 candidates, there were only ever four whom I seriously considered – Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt. Rarely have I had such a difficult choice. Rarely have I been such a floating voter.
I didn’t declare my support until last Thursday, when Javid was knocked out, for the simple reason that whichever one of my four favourites made it into the final two would have won my support. It was only when Javid was eliminated that I decided, when it came down to the final three, to declare my support for Hunt. Once I made the decision, the reasons crystalised. It comes down to three factors: character, values and dignity.
I have not really met Hunt. The only time we have encountered each other was just before Christmas last year. To my surprise, I received an invitation to a meeting with the Foreign Secretary to discuss the persecution of Christians – prior to his announcement of a review. Around the table were the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Catholic bishop representing Cardinal Nichols, the Coptic Archbishop Angaelos, the chief executives of three charities, and survivors of persecution.
I was impressed by Hunt’s personal engagement with the issue. It was obvious by the fact that he allowed people to speak for far longer than they should have done, and asked insightful questions, that he really cared.
While we had never met before, when he called me to speak he addressed me by my first name, and as he left he said: “It’s great to finally meet you.” There’s no reason, in the great scheme of things, why he should know who I am, but he did and that shows an impressive mastery of detail and personal focus.
I first became aware of Hunt about 13 years ago. A colleague of mine was his constituent. My colleague is a living saint – the epitome of charity, compassion, justice and Christian faith. But he is definitely not a Tory – he is firmly on the Left. Yet he told me early on that he had become a fan of his local MP – Hunt – who, he said, was remarkably responsive, compassionate and interested in human rights. My colleague then brought a Burmese friend, the daughter of a political prisoner, to see Hunt.
I am inspired by Hunt’s emphasis on turbo-charging the economy, deploying his experience as an entrepreneur to turn post-Brexit Britain into the world’s most dynamic economy. A man who has made millions from a successful business, and known the hard grind of business failure, is more likely to be able to take us forward as a global enterprise than one who has never run anything except some precarious newspaper columns.
One handicap sometimes held up is Hunt’s conflict with doctors. But if you look at his record as Health Secretary in full, it is this: he stood up to vested interests, expanded NHS delivery, won battles for further funding and championed the NHS – all qualities we want in a Prime Minister.
Brexit must be delivered, and made not just to work but to succeed. For that to happen all of us, whatever side we were on three years ago, must come together. That means we don’t need a ‘Brexiteer’ leader, we need a unifier, a leader who is not marked by labels but by their ability to implement the referendum result. We need a skilled and experienced negotiator. That man is Hunt.
If Britain is to walk tall in the world post-Brexit, it needs a leader respected by his counterparts as a statesman, taken seriously and not regarded as a subject of mirth. And we need a man who is internationalist and outward-looking. Hunt is clearly that man. Just read his speech on building an “invisible chain” of democracies.
My mother used to live in Japan, and speaks Japanese. When I showed her the video of Mr Hunt delivering a speech in fluent Japanese with no notes she was impressed. To have a Prime Minister who can speak several languages fluently walking the world stage would help turbo-charge Global Britain.
I joined the Conservative Party at the precocious age of 13. In 2005, I stood for Parliament. I have been a Conservative for over 30 years, and I retain hope. In times of victory and wilderness, I have never doubted the Conservative dream and Conservative values. In ups and downs, in government and opposition, I have stuck with three things I hold dear: a Great Britain, a Global Britain and a compassionate conservatism. It is clear to me that it is Hunt who will deliver all three.
I have always championed the underdog – minorities in Burma and Indonesia, prisoners in North Korea, dissidents in China and Hong Kong. So once again, I am with the underdog, and I believe he can win. As the American poet James Russell Lowell once wrote, “once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side … Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust, Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just; Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside.”
Join me in backing Jeremy Hunt.