READERS of the Daily Mail (and many millions more who look at its online offering) have this month been treated to four days’ worth of Pandemic Diaries: The inside story of Britain’s battle against Covid, by ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock ‘with’ Isabel Oakeshott, who ghost-wrote the book.
The newspaper is known to have stumped up a six-figure sum to serialise this account of the Government’s handling of the Covid crisis. One source tells me the Mail paid something like £150,000 for the pleasure. If true, Hancock and Oakeshott would presumably each trouser roughly half this sum (remember that agents tend to take 15 per cent).
The MPs’ register of financial interests will soon reveal Hancock’s cut, but whether he and Oakeshott have made £75,000 or £7.50 apiece out of this exercise doesn’t much matter. For, to profit in any way from the misery which Hancock helped to inflict on this country is to have danced with the Devil. What a sorry tale this tells of the moral void at the heart of Britain’s mainstream media.
Hancock is a weak man, the ultimate creeping career politician who was at the forefront of the Government’s response to Covid despite having no qualifications for occupying such a crucial post. The fact that he was ever made Health Secretary confirms that mediocrity has triumphed in 21st century Britain. Others have written in detail about the many mistakes he made during those months when Britain was needlessly, pointlessly locked down.
I do not intend here to go over the undiluted misery of 2020-2021 which everybody suffered, in different ways. Nor do I want to dwell on the legacy of that appalling time, which I fear may never be shaken. Suffice it to say that there was a wonderful poetic justice in Hancock’s downfall, when he was caught – literally red-handed – breaking the prohibitive rules which he had insisted others must follow. His resignation was arguably the finest day of the pandemic era, confirming his status as a hate figure.
It is therefore perplexing, to say the least, to think that he and others are now making money from his notoriety. The Mail, which likes to present itself as a truth-seeker which is always on the side of readers, is stained. And so, sadly, is the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who rightly railed publicly against the Government’s vile response to Covid and to lockdowns – much of it instituted with Hancock’s connivance.
Once upon a time, publishers and newspapers wouldn’t have touched a disgraced politician in this way. They certainly wouldn’t have entered into a lucrative contract with them so soon. One thinks of the way that Jonathan Aitken was vilified in the pages of Her Majesty’s newspapers, having been brought low by his own lies. He rebuilt his life, but it took a prison sentence and years of penance before he was welcomed back into the fold. I’m sure readers can think of other, similar examples.
We live in a new world now, where foul deeds can bring great rewards before the dust has settled. How has this happened? That’s a question for higher minds to ponder. But how I miss the old certainties of days gone by.
Sad to say, this book is not the only vehicle by which Hancock is enriching himself. He made £45,000 from his appearance on Channel 4’s Celebrity SAS and reputedly another £400,000 via ITV’s I’m a Celebrity (despite being a politician and not a celebrity at all). And I’m sure there’s more to come.
Of course, having left his wife for the lover who cost him his job, Gina Coladangelo, he does have some very expensive divorce bills to cover, and these must be part of the reason that he is prostituting himself so shamelessly.
Which brings me to his wife and three children. People have extra-marital affairs all of the time, sadly. That’s their business. It is not for me to sit in judgment. But having strayed from his family, it seems utterly lacking in any thought or respect for them that Hancock is parading around the place as though all is forgiven. Has he thought about the effect that his newly-forged media career might have on them?
Perhaps he has found some sort of validation through all of this exposure, but he needs to be reminded that his children may well suffer from it, whether through whispering, gossiping, pointing, staring or whatever form bullying takes these days. It is hard not to feel terribly sorry for them.
Hancock’s ‘celebrity’ will never last. His lack of personality or charisma is evident every time he opens his mouth. There is one public event on the horizon at which he is due to appear that I will be watching, however. The UK Covid-19 public inquiry, chaired by Lady Hallett. Hearings begin in April 2023 and Hancock will be a key witness. I’ve already bought some popcorn.