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DAN HODGES: Voters are star-struck by Jeremy Hunt… but even that may not save him as he admits this is the ‘toughest’ campaign he’s fought

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Jeremy Hunt is trying hard. But Janet, resident of Guildford cul-de-sac Halfpenny Close, isn’t budging. ‘You’ve done a lot here,’ she tells him politely, ‘but I’m not satisfied with the Government. All they do is talk. Look at the NHS.’

‘I used to be Health Secretary!’ he declares enthusiastically, before launching into a comprehensive analysis of junior doctor recruitment. To no avail. ‘I’m leaning towards Labour,’ says Janet. ‘It’s time to give them a chance.’

I’m in the newly created marginal constituency of Godalming and Ash, where Hunt is fighting for his political life and trying to avoid being July 4’s ‘Were You Still Up For…’ moment, a repeat of Michael Portillo’s infamous 1997 election defenestration.

‘It’s going to be tight,’ he tells me. ‘I’ve commissioned two polls. One has me ahead, one a little behind. Every vote will count.’

One voter he can count on is Mike Ede. He’s currently sitting on a wall to rest his bad back. ‘Don’t get up,’ the Chancellor insists, plonking himself down next to him. ‘Can I help with anything?’

Jeremy Hunt pictured with a constituent on the campaign trail in Godalming, Surrey, on Wednesday

Jeremy Hunt pictured with a constituent on the campaign trail in Godalming, Surrey, on Wednesday 

Daily Mail political columnist Dan Hodges joined Jeremy Hunt on his campaign trail on Wednesday

Daily Mail political columnist Dan Hodges joined Jeremy Hunt on his campaign trail on Wednesday

‘I’m not happy with Rishi,’ Mike says sternly. ‘He hasn’t stopped the boats.’ But he’ll still stick with the Tories. ‘I lived under Labour just after the war and I haven’t forgotten the rationing.’

Hunt’s reputation is of a slightly awkward technocrat. But here, in muddied jeans and Dad Trainers, he’s in his element. ‘I just finished the London Marathon,’ he tells Beverly, 93. ‘Will you join me next year?’ She demurs, but pledges her vote.

Every time I join a candidate on the hustings, their agent insists that if their charge could personally meet every constituent, they’d prevail. But with Hunt you feel it’s true. His national profile makes him a local celebrity, and people are excited – even star-struck – to meet him.

And after 19 years as MP for the old South West Surrey constituency, he’s earned a reputation as dedicated and accessible. But that profile has drawbacks. Before I meet Hunt I take a drive along the picturesque Surrey lanes to Dunsfold village. On the green, buttercups gleam in the afternoon sunshine, and a red phone box stands sentinel.

Yet there is trouble in this English paradise. In 2019 it emerged UK Oil and Gas would begin drilling in nearby Loxley, and the residents turned to their local MP.

‘Jeremy’s tried to help,’ says Diana, who runs the local shop. ‘But they’re pushing ahead.’ Has he engaged his friend the Prime Minister, I ask? She shrugs. ‘He doesn’t seem to have that many friends inside government.’

Dan Hodges says that Jeremy Hunt's 'national profile makes him a local celebrity, and people are excited – even star-struck – to meet him'

Dan Hodges says that Jeremy Hunt’s ‘national profile makes him a local celebrity, and people are excited – even star-struck – to meet him’

When I ask about the issue, Hunt tells me he’s very supportive of the residents, but backs his Government’s policy of promoting oil and gas. And claims it’s a quasi-judicial process. Which is music to the ears of his main challenger, local Lib Dem council leader Paul Follows, who also senses Hunt’s national profile hurts him. ‘He’s central to the Government and its policies. And this is a progressive area,’ he says. ‘They don’t like flights to Rwanda and Brexit.’

Follows points me to Farncombe, which nestles beside the River Wey, and is supposedly a Lib Dem stronghold. And I immediately encounter another example of how Hunt’s cabinet seniority is a double-edged sword.

At Farncombe Boat House, Russell Chase points to a measuring scale bolted to the side of the building. ‘Every year we flood,’ he tells me. Regular dredging minimises the threat, but because of DEFRA cuts, the dredger has recently been sold off.

‘I wrote to Jeremy about it, and his family even came out on one of our boats. But he just said, ‘I’m sorry, but there just isn’t the budget.’ ‘ Russell laughs. ‘He’s the Chancellor! It’s his budget!’

So can Jeremy Hunt pull it off? ‘You could toss a coin around here,’ he concedes. ‘I’m going to work hard for every vote.’ Then pauses, and sighs. ‘This is the toughest election campaign I’ve fought.’

Godalming and Ash will declare around 2am on election night. Wait up.



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