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If looks could kill … You know that the government’s guidance to visit your relatives over Christmas without actually visiting them is asking for trouble. I know that the government’s guidance to visit my relatives over Christmas without actually visiting them is a hopelessly confusing piece of messaging. But most of all, Matt Hancock also knows it.
Yet the health secretary sold his soul to Boris Johnson long ago. There was a time early in the pandemic when Matt appeared to be one of the few members of the cabinet to act with integrity. Someone who was prepared to call out the prime minister’s rubbish about the coronavirus being all over in three months: or, when that deadline had come and gone, be all over by Christmas. A minister prepared to level with the country about the severity of the crisis, the failure of the government’s response and committed to doing whatever it took to improve the situation.
But sometime around the summer, Hancock’s nerve failed him. Though never sinking to the level of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who had earlier today criticised Unicef for feeding hungry British children, maintaining his job became more important than telling the truth. Matt became Door Matt. Another piece of Westminster flotsam. He didn’t stand up for the Sage advice recommending a circuit breaker in September. And he allowed himself to stand by an initial tiering system that he knew would be inadequate. And now it seems as if he’s managed to convince himself of the virtues of the new improved tiering system. Somewhere in his department there must be a picture of him with his soul corroding from the inside, because externally he looks much the same. If a little more short-tempered and drained of his natural enthusiasm.
In what he must hope was his last Covid statement of the year, Door Matt was back in the Commons on Thursday to announce the fortnightly changes to the tiering levels around the country. And he looked less than thrilled about it, as even he can spot a Christmas turkey. After his customary space filler preface about the virus being a terrible disease, he now announced that a whole load more regions would be moving up to tier 3. As of Saturday, 68% of the country would be under the highest levels of restrictions and just three areas would be moving down. Bristol and north Somerset would be eased to tier 2 while Herefordshire would be afforded the luxury of tier 1.
The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, was relatively sanguine about the changes as they were more or less in line with what he had expected. But he did question the government’s five-day Christmas Killing Zone. Hancock had promised the government had the virus under control and that it wouldn’t take the risk of it spreading over Christmas but that was exactly what was likely to happen.
So would he please rethink the government regulations over Christmas? Ashworth said that out of duty rather than expectation as he too has long since given up on Hancock having a mind of his own. It’s reached the point where he no longer needs advance sighting of any statement as he knows precisely what the health secretary is going to say even before Door Matt does. As indeed do we all. I long for a week when I can avoid sketching the health secretary compromising his beliefs on coronavirus.
At which point Hancock rather jumped the shark. The Christmas regulations were perfectly clear to everyone and it was up to each person to take personal responsibility for their own actions. If you wanted to kill your elderly relatives then go ahead and be his guest. But if you wanted to spare them for another year then think twice before visiting them. Door Matt had given up on trying to do what was right for the country. It was now up to everyone to make their own decisions about what level of risk they were happy to take over Christmas. And if you died, you died. Just don’t come moaning to him.
Here the logic began to fall apart, as Hancock began to apply the same sense of personal responsibility to the tiering levels. The three regions that had come down a tier had done so because they had come together as a community to act collectively. Which rather suggested that he imagined the rest of the country had gone feral and was just doing as it pleased – with no regard to government guidelines – which was why they had either remained in the same tier or been bumped up to the highest one. It didn’t seem to have occurred to him for a second that actually the vast majority of the population were complying with the guidance and that it might have been the regulations themselves that were inadequate in stopping the rate of infection from increasing.
The remainder of the session passed off peacefully enough. Liam Fox congratulated Hancock for seeing sense and reducing his north Somerset constituency to tier 2, while several MPs from Manchester and elsewhere in the north, who were stuck in tier 3, observed that the rates of infection in their areas were now lower than areas in the south that had been in tier 2 just a couple of weeks back.
But there was little anger in the debate. Almost every MP just appeared resigned to the inevitable and couldn’t really bring themselves to start a fight they knew they were certain to lose just before Christmas. For now they would take their punishment and give Door Matt an even break. And God knows Hancock needed it. Because if there were delays in the vaccine and people’s personal responsibility couldn’t fill the vacuum in the government’s own regulatory system, then there was sure to be hell to pay in January and February.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Door Matt Hancock sold his soul to Boris a long time ago | Politics