The tragedy of Matt Hancock

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Every week in the past, I’d have wager that Matt Hancock would by no means occupy my mind once more for greater than 15 seconds. However he’s again, towards my will and certainly his personal.

Greater than 100,000 of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages, from his time as well being secretary in the course of the pandemic, have been shared with The Day by day Telegraph. He gave them to the journalist Isabel Oakeshott to assist her co-write his memoirs. She leaked them.

Oakeshott has a monitor report: one in every of her earlier sources went to jail; she is a lockdown sceptic and the associate of Richard Tice, chief of a pro-Brexit get together that wishes to “destroy” the Conservatives. There are individuals who can not learn and write who would have been extra applicable ghostwriters for Hancock.

Personally I dread the day that somebody leaks my WhatsApps, revealing my deepest ideas to be “haha” and “nonetheless okay for 3pm?”. Hancock’s messages are much less damning. He’s accused of watering down scientific recommendation in April 2020 to check everybody going into care properties. His defence is that, after that recommendation, he obtained additional recommendation that the UK lacked capability to check everybody. Which appears . . . rational?

Hancock’s WhatsApps additionally present that he persuaded then prime minister Boris Johnson to not carry ahead the tip of lockdown in summer season 2020, and to close colleges in January 2021, fearing “a coverage automotive crash when the children unfold the illness”. This has aged a lot better than, say, Rishi Sunak’s Covid-spreading brainwave of paying folks to go to eating places.

Some messages are embarrassing. “I WANT TO HIT MY [TESTING] TARGET,” Hancock advised his former boss, after which editor of the Night Commonplace, George Osborne, in a plea for pleasant protection. Osborne replied mercilessly: “I gathered.” Even so, Hancock comes throughout higher than Simon Case, the obsequious prime official who wrote in February 2021 about quarantine guidelines: “I simply wish to see a few of the faces of individuals popping out of top quality and right into a premier inn shoe field”.

The leaks have been greeted gleefully by lockdown sceptics, who someway argue each that Hancock failed to guard susceptible folks from Covid and that Covid was nothing to be apprehensive about anyway. Or take Tice himself, who this week merrily promoted his associate’s revelations about testing and care properties. Again in 2020, he was bleating about coronavirus assessments being undermined by “enormous” false positives. Does anybody sane suppose he’d have managed issues higher?

Prime politicians have a tricky life: just a few weeks in the past, Hancock was harassed on a Tube prepare by a Covid denier. But it’s exhausting to get previous his monumental idiocy in giving a hostile, untrustworthy journalist his WhatsApps. Hancock has already been unfortunate with leaks: in 2021, he resigned as well being secretary after leaked CCTV footage of his workplace revealed he was having an affair. However equally, any sense he’d been exhausting completed by quickly evaporated: he brutally left his spouse of 15 years, who was stated to be affected by long-term results from Covid, contracted from him.

Hancock makes Alan Partridge look self-aware. He wiped a tearless eye in a 2020 TV interview. He launched cringeworthy movies of himself doing Parkour and a post-resignation tour of his constituency. He went on ITV actuality present I’m a Superstar, whereas an MP, and made noises about charity. His eventual donation was £10,000 — simply 3 per cent of his £320,000 charge. “I didn’t primarily do it for the cash,” he spluttered.

Sure, Hancock made Covid errors, together with fudging the testing goal and making use of the “rule of six” to younger kids. However the fact is: his selections weren’t notably unhealthy, he’s simply notably annoying. Hancock’s tragedy is that he has many issues to really feel aggrieved about, but it’s someway unimaginable to have any sympathy for him.

henry.mance@ft.com



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