Jeremy Hunt says David Cameron was a 'genius' for getting public to accept austerity
David Cameron and George Osborne showed political "genius" by persuading the country to accept public spending cuts without triggering violent protests, Jeremy Hunt has said.
The Foreign Secretary - widely thought to be considering a run for the Conservative leadership when Theresa May steps down - heaped praise on the former prime minister and ex-chancellor in an interview with the New Statesman.
But he called on his party to challenge a growing perception among young voters that the Conservatives "don't care" about their interests.
Mr Hunt served as culture secretary and health secretary in the Cameron government, which came to power in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and imposed steep reductions in most Whitehall and local government budgets.
Mr Cameron quit in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum, while Theresa May declined to offer Mr Osborne - who now edits the Evening Standard - a new job in her administration.
Mr Hunt said: "The genius of David Cameron and George Osborne was that they persuaded the country to accept the most challenging cuts to public spending in our peacetime history without poll tax[-style] riots, and that put the economy back on its feet to the extent we’re now creating 1,000 jobs every single day since we’ve been in office.
"But the other side of the coin, unfortunately, was that we were never able to get across the message that we are one nation Conservatives with a vision for everyone: it just wasn’t possible in that climate of austerity to win that argument."
The Foreign Secretary acknowledged that the NHS had been particularly hard hit by the protracted squeeze on public spending, saying: "When we were in recession we had to make very, very painful public spending cuts, six years of austerity in the NHS, which I felt more than any other cabinet minister, when we didn’t have as much money as we needed."
And he warned that while the Conservatives had helped reduce youth unemployment, the party's values were increasingly seen as at odds with those of younger voters.
He told the New Statesman: "How have we let it happen that young people don’t see us as the party of aspiration? It’s because we have not won the values argument.
"The central charge against us is, ‘These guys don’t care.’ If we’re going to defeat Labour, we have to win that argument – and it’s about show not tell."
Mr Hunt is currently ranked fifth among Tory party members asked to name their pick for the next leader, according to the latest polling by activist website ConservativeHome.
The Cabinet minister - who scooped up 6.7% of the vote in the site's March poll - is just ahead of Home Secretary Sajid Javid on 5.4%, but behind avowed Brexiteers Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove.