The seasons change and through it all, Matt Hancock answers questions, styling out the latest stratospheric failings

Tom Peck
·4-min read
<p>Question time: Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the Health Select Committee</p> (Reuters TV)

Question time: Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the Health Select Committee

(Reuters TV)

Outside my window, there is a tree. It’s bare now. The last light of a bright autumn day is fading behind it. It arrived this morning, the light that is, and now it’s going home again, beyond the horizon. Off on its dreary march through space, at a thousand miles an hour.

The rolling Rhine, the plains of Saskatchewan, the volcanoes of Kamchatka; all these things will it have seen by the time it comes again tomorrow to my front door.

It’s done this hundreds of times now. Every day, in fact. It even works weekends. I imagine it’s always done it. But it’s only really this year that I’ve ever really noticed, coming and going, rising and falling. It is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, and now its spark is going out.

Winter. Spring. Summer. Autumn. We stay still, while the seasons commute around us. And through it all, Matt Hancock answers questions.

He answers questions from MPs, from journalists, from members of the public. He answers questions at select committees, and healthcare provider conferences. That is what he is. Less a man these days, more a public artwork, part illusion, part cruel psychiatric experiment.

I cannot, in all honesty, remember the last time I went more than six hours without watching Matt Hancock face a question of some kind. We live in a finite world, which contains within it a finite sum of human knowledge. It is conceptually possible to ask a person every single question that can be asked. And it seems conceptually impossible that this has not already happened to Matt Hancock.

And yet, here he was again, today, at the Health Select Committee. Here Matt Hancock was, explaining that the British have a peculiar affliction of “soldiering on”.

“We are peculiarly unusual, and outliers, in soldiering on and still going to work,” he said. “It kind of being the culture that, as long as you can get out of bed, you still should get into work. That should change.”

Of course, it is my lot in life to point out when a politician tells people to do one thing and does another himself. A keen eye for hypocrisy is largely all that the political columnist has to offer to the world.

It brings me no pleasure, at all, at this point, to tell Matt Hancock: “Come on, mate. You really can’t be telling people that what they need to do is just stop soldiering on.”

What would it take to stop Matt Hancock soldiering on? He’s already had coronavirus. I cannot recall him taking more than 20 minutes off with that. I am pretty sure he faced a question in the House of Commons while swabbing his own tonsils. The official parliamentary record in Hansard notes his answer as having been: “Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrggggghhh.”

Had Matt Hancock served in the First World War, it would not have been inconceivable for him to step on a landmine and for each of his individual smithereens to land simultaneously in the receptions of various TV and radio studios, ready for the morning round of interviews.

From April, Matt Hancock said, things will start to go back to normal. But what even is normal? Can we get by, anymore, without Matt Hancock to help us through? Once upon a time, Britain’s nuclear submarine commanders were told that if they could no longer detect the BBC World Service, to consider the possibility that their country no longer existed, and to seek alternative instructions.

Now, surely, it would be the sight and the sound of Matt Hancock, in a street, or a committee room, or in front of that god awful portrait of the Queen, laughing a weary laugh and styling out the latest stratospheric failings on testing, or tracing or world beating moonshots or whatever else it may be.

Of course, should things go back to normal by April, there’s a fair to middling chance the government’s stratospherically woeful performance throughout all this will be forgotten, apart from by the hundreds of thousands of people whose friends and sons and lovers were taken from them too early.

And perhaps it’s best that way. Best, perhaps, never to know. Truth and reconciliation is a wonderful thing, but maybe just the reconciliation will suffice. If, come the spring, anyone wants to take to their front doorstep as the buds appear on the trees and clap for Matt Hancock, then count me in.

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