UK Treasury chief in position of power as PM Truss struggles

LONDON (AP) – As British Prime Minister Liz Truss struggles to maintain her authority, one man appears to be in a real position of power to restore order and credibility to the Conservative government and limit the damage caused by Truss’s economic plans.

Jeremy Hunt, appointed as Britain’s new head of the Treasury three days ago, sought to calm jittery markets and angry Tory lawmakers on Monday as he announced he was scrapping most of Truss’ tax-cutting economic stimulus package, which has left the UK in political and financial chaos since was discovered three weeks ago.

Hunt, 55, became Britain’s fourth Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday after Truss sacked her predecessor Kwasi Kwarteng and reneged on a promise to scrap a planned rise in corporation tax, a key part of her tax-cutting plans.

A veterans’ cabinet minister, Hunt has held senior government posts, including foreign affairs and health. The Tories see him as a centrist and see him as an experienced “safe pair of hands” to guide the government through the current self-inflicted crisis.

It is a return to power for a man who twice ran unsuccessfully for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Earlier this year, Hunt failed to get enough votes from party members and was knocked out in the first round of the race to replace Boris Johnson as party leader and UK prime minister.

Hunt received just 18 votes, far short of the 30 needed to advance in the competition. He later backed Truss’s rival, Rishi Sunak, who was second in the race.

He also ran against Johnson in the 2019 Conservative race. In that race, Hunt tried to present himself as a “serious” candidate in contrast to Johnson, but lost badly and was kicked out of the cabinet. One of the deciding factors in his defeat was that Hunt supported the “Remain” side that lost the 2016 Brexit referendum to leave the European Union – a position that has become politically untenable in a right-wing, Eurosceptic party.

Hunt remained a member of parliament and kept himself in the public eye by criticizing the government’s policy against COVID-19 as head of the parliamentary health and social care committee.

A graduate of Oxford University, Hunt co-founded a successful business, an educational publisher, before entering politics in 2005 as a Conservative MP.

Hunt was Britain’s longest-serving health secretary, holding the post from 2012 to 2018 under former Conservative prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

He is best remembered for his bitter showdown with junior doctors when he oversaw unpopular plans for new contracts for junior doctors. The dispute sparked major protests and an unprecedented series of doctor strikes in 2016, which left hospital emergency services uncovered.

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