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Is Sajid Javid doomed to repeat the mistakes of Matt Hancock?

It wasn’t long ago that Javid told the nation not to ‘cower’ from Covid. Now questions are being asked about whether he’s the right man for the job. Sean O’Grady takes a look back at the life and career of one of the most prominent ministers of the last decade

Sunday 24 October 2021 00:39
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<p>After a few rocky years with the PM, Javid returned during a very tricky time </p>

After a few rocky years with the PM, Javid returned during a very tricky time

In what seemed to be a hastily-convened press conference last week the new-ish health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, had a slightly haunted look about him, as well he might. He is far too proud, ambitious and decent (you’d like to think) a man to want to be yet another fall-guy for Boris Johnson’s failings as a leader, let alone responsible for thousands of people losing their lives unnecessarily in a pandemic that refuses to go away. Yet that is precisely where he is headed. Javid knows that Matt Hancock’s political career was doomed because of the government’s chaotic response to Covid, even before his celebrated last-dance-at-the-school-disco style smooch in his office; remember the infamous leaked WhatsApp message long before that from Johnson to Dominic Cummings that he, Hancock, was “f****** hopeless”?

In that context, Javid now surely realises too that another spike in cases could soon enough translate into the kind of “unsustainable pressure” that would see ambulances full of severe Covid and flu cases queuing up outside A&E, and the families of cancer patients going on TV to blame him for their loved one’s late diagnosis and delayed treatment. The public officials and the scientists have already no doubt told him that it’d be a good idea to ask people to wear masks and work at home for a bit; and you strongly suspect that Johnson, senselessly boosterish as ever, has told Javid “not yet” and Javid, a cool customer and not in a rush to impose new restrictions, may have been content to go along with it.

In any case it all made for a curious official briefing on Monday afternoon. So there the health secretary found himself, at the Downing Street podium, flanked by senior advisers and surrounded by the media, and announcing not very much at all. He must surely fear having to stand up there again in a month or two telling the nation that he is about to immediately impose emergency lockdown measures to deal with an entirely predictable and predicted winter health crisis – comprising the backlog, Covid, flu, other seasonal respiratory diseases and a shortage of carers, all known about weeks ago. No wonder Sage is organising preliminary “policy work” for new rules. For yet another mess-up it would be Javid who will carry the can.

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