THESE are turbulent times full of confusion and uncertainty.
Corporatist Lambeth Palace is astonished that people do not want to kneel in draughty old buildings because they can get the same messages from reading the Guardian in the comfort of their own homes.
Labour politicians continue to struggle to define what a woman is, while the Prime Minister thinks he knows but needs a practical refresher course from time to time by way of making sure.
In all of this muddle one should be grateful for Matt Hancock. Not of course to Matt Hancock, the former Health Secretary with his chin thrust forward assertively and his shiny NHS prefect’s badge, but for today’s Matt Hancock, who keeps popping up to justify his former disgraced self.
He is the antidote to that growing tribe of commentators who promote the line that the pandemic is past and taking one thing with another, the UK and the UK government has come out of it all pretty well.
One such is Matthew Syed. In the Sunday Times ofMay 8, under the headline Now we know our ministers did OK against Covid, but I hear no apologies, he wrote that in March 2020 ‘epidemiologists were frantically seeking to understand the properties of the virus, medics were estimating the length of time to a vaccine, economists were examining what different restrictions might mean for commerce and interdisciplinary teams were exploring the subtle relationships and feedback loops between these variables’.
Subtle interdisciplinary relationships and feedback loops, my eye! As for the economic consequences of lockdowns, nobody in government gave them the slightest thought. This is an example of a muddying of the waters retrospectively to please advertising departments reliant on taxpayer funding for the propaganda placed by their government client month upon month.
To most people, the theme of the last two years was a constant drumbeat of fear, coercion, Rishi Sunak’s money-printing bonanza and the salaried cohort who had hitherto worn suits during the week defaulting to the office-cum-pyjama hybrid for importunate Zoom calls.
Couturiers are possibly planning a Prêt-à-Glander collection for London Fashion Week while HR departments everywhere are prioritising the work/life balance in which work is the sleeping partner, with ‘sleeping’ to stand for lead-swinging and not in the sense that Matt Hancock and Neil Ferguson understand it.
According to Syed, ‘the British people were willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt for errors in decision-making, recognising that ministers were facing a complex, fastmoving crisis while surrounded by the divergent opinions of experts’. Who remembers a time when divergent opinions were being kicked about and discussed in Whitehall or in the media? Is it a trick of the memory that the Great Barrington Declaration authors were pilloried for proposing a strategy which would have served everyone better and without the attendant economic havoc?
Is it coincidental that the two US authors (out of the original three) of that Declaration are establishing an Academy for Science and Freedom to break free from the exclusionary scientific monoculture which smothered their recommendations?
It’s writers like Syed who render Matt Hancock so valuable. Reassuring bromides from commentators in the media are undermined by Hancock’s welcome exculpatory eruptions into the public consciousness.
Hancock visibly enjoyed being the authoritarian man in charge but proved he was no more than the mouthpiece of ‘The Science’. With the independent analytical substance of an empty vol-au-vent case, he was the conduit which enabled ‘The Science’ to overwhelm every other consideration.
Early on he demonstrated that he didn’t understand False Positive Rates for PCR tests and their relationship with the underlying prevalence of the disease. The Health Secretary loses credibility if he pretends but fails to have detailed expertise on any of the issues that fall within his supposed competence. His role is to make decisions based on a spectrum of opinion from a range of technical experts set against broader political considerations among which the freedom of the individual to live his life and earn his bread untrammelled by government interference should be paramount.
Hancock instead became the puffed-up mouthpiece for a small group of people whom Robert F Kennedy Jr describes in his book The Real Anthony Fauci as scammers and pandemic fabricators. He has claimed, writing in the Daily Telegraph, that he got the big calls right on Covid and that ‘it is crucial that the person in my shoes next time . . . has a ready-made manual on the shelf, something that we could have done with’.
There was of course a ready-made and established manual on the shelf which was shredded at the behest of Vallance, Ferguson, Whitty, Fauci, the WHO and any number of interested parties.
Hancock has no intention of remaining on the shelf himself and concludes that the fact that ‘the UK became the first major country to move from pandemic to endemic strongly supports the idea that the Government did indeed get the big calls right’.
Quasi-scientific linguistic gobbledygook like this means nothing but that’s not its function. The message is that we should be grateful to the man in charge during those critical months and please don’t forget who that was.
Except when there’s any blame to be apportioned.
At the end of April this year the High Court ruled as unlawful the discharging of patients from hospitals into care homes and what does the man in charge, a principled political powerhouse and a health supremo do in such circumstances?
Naturally he shifts the responsibility from his own powerful shoulders and on to gone-but-not-forgotten Public Health England who ‘failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission’ and who aren’t in a position to answer back.
That infectious illnesses have latency and incubation periods may seem like realities well understood and accepted by most people for more than a century until Hancock declared that diseases were infectious only once the fact was formally communicated to him up the chain of command. Perish the thought that he might have asked relevant questions off his own bat.
The whole stinking mess of government action, pharmaceutical shenanigans, backhanders, bribes and collusion may or may not be fully exposed with the passage of time. Is the enormity of what has taken place so appalling that entire populations who were cowed and gulled by their leaders will fall back on collective amnesia as the only comfortable way forward?
Matt Hancock has an important role in keeping memories alive by continuing to present a version of the past which is at odds with the memories of the survivors and jars with their experience at the hands of his NHS. He will have a part to play, albeit not one that he will much enjoy, so he ought to be treasured in much the same way that he cherishes his old NHS badge nestling, for all we know, in a velvet box in his bedside table drawer and occasionally pinned to his pyjamas.