Politics Explained

Will Matt Hancock’s blame game save him from a demotion?

The health secretary has pointed the finger at anyone and everyone when accused of failings over the Covid response, writes Sean O’Grady. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but it may save his skin

Thursday 10 June 2021 21:30
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<p>The greatest compliment that can be paid to Matt Hancock is that he survived</p>

The greatest compliment that can be paid to Matt Hancock is that he survived

In his four-hour long evidence session to MPs, the greatest compliment that can be paid to Matt Hancock is that he survived, he did not add to his own considerable difficulties, and his political career may not, after all, be over. You see, in the world of Hancock, it’s China’s fault. As a novel excuse he thus neatly plays into the current Sinophobia and increasingly credible suggestions that the new coronavirus escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan. In any event, the Chinese failed to close their borders and alert the world. This is but the latest mutation of a clever stratagem developed by the secretary of state for health and social care in recent months – to spread the blame for failings on Covid across as many possible suspects as possible, as if it were a game of Cluedo. The list of suspects is long, and pinning guilt on any of them tricky.

In the past he has suggested that it was the public’s fault, because they disregarded lockdown rules, which were, of course, all perfectly clear and logical: “what matters is, yes of course, the rules that we put in place, but it is also about how people act” Hancock declared in January about the shortcomings in the tier system.

Hancock also has the permanent all-purpose alibi that he was “following the science”, which is another way of blaming the experts for offering duff opinions. Plus, of course, there is the undeniable fact that the pandemic was “unprecedented” and therefore could not have been prepared for (despite evidence of planning that had taken place). The shortages of protective equipment and testing (and thus the care home scandal) can be explained away in that way. The plea that he and his department have been working incredibly hard has found some sympathy among non-partisan members of the public, though many would still be happy to see him fired immediately. For now, he remains insulation for Boris Johnson.

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