IAppearances can kill … You know the government’s guide to visiting family members at Christmas without visiting them is really looking for trouble. I know that the government’s guide to visiting my family members at Christmas without visiting them is a desperately confusing message. But most of all, Matt Hancock knows it too.
However, 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 cabinet members who acted with integrity. Someone who was willing to yell the prime minister’s trash about the coronavirus ending in three months – or, when that deadline has come and gone, it will all be over by Christmas. A minister willing to speak to the country about the severity of the crisis, the failure of the government’s response, and committed to doing whatever it takes to improve the situation.
But sometime in the summer, Hancock’s nerves failed him. Although he never sank to the level of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who today had criticized Unicef for feeding starving British children, keeping his job became more important than telling the truth. Matt became Door Matt. Another piece of Westminster flotsam. He did not defend Sage’s advice to recommend a circuit breaker in September. And he allowed himself to lean on an initial tier system that he knew would be inadequate. And now it seems that he has managed to convince himself of the virtues of the new improved level system. Somewhere in his apartment there must be a photo of him with his soul corroded inside, because externally he looks very similar. If a little more short-tempered and exhausted from his natural enthusiasm.
In what to look forward to was his last Covid statement of the year, Door Matt returned to the Commons on Thursday to announce the biweekly changes to tier levels across the country. And he seemed less than excited about it, since even he can see a Christmas turkey. After his usual space-filling preface about the virus as a terrible disease, he now announced that a full load more regions would move to level 3. As of Saturday, 68% of the country would be under the highest levels of restrictions and only three areas would move down. Bristol and North Somerset would move to Level 2, while Herefordshire would indulge in the luxury of Level 1.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth was relatively optimistic about the changes, as they were more or less in line with what he expected. But he questioned the government’s five-day Christmas Killing Zone. Hancock had promised that the government had the virus under control and would not risk it spreading over Christmas, but that was exactly what was likely to happen.
So could you reconsider government regulations around Christmas? Ashworth said that out of duty rather than expectation, as he too has given up on Hancock having a mind of his own. You have reached the point where you no longer need to preview any statements, knowing exactly what the secretary of health is going to say before Door Matt even does. As we all do. I long for a week in which I can avoid drawing the health secretary compromising his beliefs about the coronavirus.
At that moment Hancock jumped on the shark. The Christmas regulations were perfectly clear to everyone and each person had to take personal responsibility for their own actions. If you wanted to kill your elderly relatives, go ahead and be their guest. But if you want to keep them for another year, think twice before visiting them. Door Matt had given up trying to do what’s right for the country. Now it was up to everyone to make their own decisions about the level of risk they were happy to take over Christmas. And if you died, you died. Just don’t come moaning with him.
Here the logic began to crumble, as Hancock began to apply the same sense of personal responsibility at the tiers of levels. The three regions that had dropped one level had done so because they had come together as a community to act collectively. Which suggested rather that he imagined that the rest of the country had gone wild and was doing what it pleased, regardless of government guidelines, so they had either remained at the same level or climbed to the highest. It didn’t seem like it had occurred to him for a second that the vast majority of the population was actually complying with the guideline and that it might have been the regulations themselves that were inadequate to stop the rising infection rate.
The rest of the session passed quite calmly. Liam Fox congratulated Hancock for making sense and reducing his North Somerset constituency to Level 2, while several MPs from Manchester and other parts of the North, who were stuck at Level 3, noted that infection rates in their areas they were now lower than the areas in the south that had been at level 2 a couple of weeks ago.
But there was little anger in the debate. Almost all the MPs seemed resigned to the inevitable and couldn’t really bring themselves to start a fight they knew they would surely 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 vaccine delays and people’s personal responsibility couldn’t fill the gap in the government’s own regulatory system, then surely there would be hell to pay in January and February.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.