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Just occasionally a sucker gets an even break. Normally it’s Matt Hancock who gets all the crap gigs and is No 10’s “designated fall-guy”. But while all Boris Johnson got from his hospital visit to observe one of the first vaccinations – soon every jabbee will be issued with an “I don’t want to be used as a photo op for politicians” sticker – was a whole load of questions on the Brexit negotiations that he couldn’t deal with, Hancock was allowed to bask in his moment of glory. A saviour had risen from the streets and to everyone’s surprise – not least Matt’s – that person was him. Even if it was only for one day.
Hancock’s day had begun with a puzzle. Had he or had he not cried on ITV’s Good Morning Britain when watching footage of William Shakespeare of the Stratford-on-Avon area (really) receive his coronavirus jab? Matt certainly appeared tearful, but not everyone was completely convinced. Still, it made good telly.
He had said how emotional it was, had lowered his face as he rubbed his eyes and yet it was hard to spot a genuine tear. Perhaps it was just old fashioned British reserve or maybe all his tears had been used up on the 60,000 people who had already died from coronavirus – many of them in care homes as a direct result of his department’s neglect. “It makes me proud to be British,” he said, his voice catching a little, as he conveniently forgot that the vaccine had been made by a German biotech firm working in collaboration with a US pharmaceutical giant.
Certainly by the time the health secretary arrived in the Commons at lunchtime to answer an urgent question on the vaccine’s distribution, he appeared to have recovered his composure. This was to be his moment and he was determined to enjoy every second. So often he has been called on to explain why the government’s response to the coronavirus has been at best hopeless and at worst reckless, but now he was just happy to be festooned with garlands from both sides of the house. This year has been unremittingly grim and MPs from all parties were just glad to have some good news to share with one another. Many seemed rather more emotional than Hancock had on telly earlier in the day.
Matt didn’t actually have much to say, beyond repeating what he had said on his broadcast rounds. It was a historic day but we should not get too carried away as the NHS faced a herculean task in introducing the vaccination programme across the country. So far the vaccines were restricted to 70 hub hospitals but he expected other hospitals and care homes to receive supplies by next week. But we were still in for a long haul and if we were to get through it then people should abide by the rules. For some reason, he omitted to say that one way of helping might be to scrap the five-day Christmas free-for-all which was sure to add to the death toll in January and February.
By and large – the major screw-ups excepted – the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, has tried to adopt an approach of constructive criticism in his responses to Hancock’s coronavirus statements. Today he just went for the full love-in. This was a great day and he wasn’t going to spoil it with any niggle. So all he wanted to know was whether all care homes would get the vaccine by Christmas – spoiler alert: they probably won’t as we don’t have enough stock and can’t be certain when the next batches will arrive – and whether junior NHS staff would qualify as priority recipients.
Hancock successfully managed to answer completely different questions while repeating that it had been an emotional day. Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health select committee, then asked the question that was literally on no one’s mind. Was it now safe for everyone to book their summer holidays? He’d got a great deal on a villa in the Seychelles but he’d like the health secretary to give him the nod before putting down a deposit. Hancock merely said he’d already sorted his own holiday in Cornwall. Or failing that, the Isle of Wight. Anywhere in tier 1 basically.
Most of the rest of the questions were just as soft. If not quite so random. Everyone welcomed the vaccine but wanted to know when it was coming to a hospital near their constituencies and, while they had the health secretary’s undivided attention, would he consider moving their region down a tier next week in celebration. Matt merely smiled benignly, assured everyone he had the logistics under control and that he would do what he could when the time was right. He even managed to rein back the jingoistic rhetoric of the UK’s place in world history as the first country to administer the vaccine. Though he did mention it twice.
There were just a few MPs who dared raise some of the trickier questions. Like why was track and trace still such a disaster when it was going to be key to protecting the nation’s health in the coming months before the rollout was complete. And what were the contingency plans for bringing the vaccine into the country if there were delays at the border caused by Brexit?
“We have five contingency plans,” Hancock insisted. Well, could you let us know what they were, asked Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck. Matt couldn’t. This level of information was top secret and he’d have to kill her if he told her. Which was odd, as Hancock had already told the country what they were during his media round earlier in the day. Lorries, boats, a variety of ports, commercial aircraft and, if all else failed, the RAF. Still, maybe Hancock could be forgiven for this lapse in memory. As he had said on several occasions, it had been an emotional day. Even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Source: The Guardian
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