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This week, Big Brother Watch’s Ministry of Truth exposé states how UK Government agencies tracked social media accounts of certain well-known Britons during the coronavirus pandemic to monitor opinions.

One of the Twitter accounts involved belongs to a publican who had not yet begun appearing on television.

2020: online dissent, abuses of power

Before going into that story, here are bookmarks I had filed under ‘Ministry of Truth’. It would seem that the name relates to a Twitter account which has since been renamed. This person has nothing to do with the aforementioned exposé, but the tweets reflect what was already on people’s minds.

Interestingly, all of these relate to the pandemic.

Looking back to April 2020, three weeks after the UK locked down, people were already discussing the egregious nature of lockdown and suspicion about any vaccine.

This is an informal poll asking what percentage of global deaths justifies a lockdown:

Nearly 80% of people did not wish to take a coronavirus vaccine, should one be developed:

By April 13, police were already entering people’s properties. In this case, there was no party going on, but the abuse of power was shocking:

The video went viral:

On April 24, 2020, Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change suggested that state surveillance was ‘a price worth paying’ to stop coronavirus. Shocking:

By the end of April, we discovered that the WHO had coined the expression ‘New Normal’ on June 7, 2019:

In June 2020, despite lockdown in force, protests took place. In London, Metropolitan Police officers ran away from protesters after being pelted with objects:

2023: Ministry of Truth

On Saturday, January 28, 2023, Big Brother Watch sent an advance copy of their report to the Mail, which reported (emphases mine):

A shadowy Army unit secretly spied on British citizens who criticised the Government’s Covid lockdown policies, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Military operatives in the UK’s ‘information warfare’ brigade were part of a sinister operation that targeted politicians and high-profile journalists who raised doubts about the official pandemic response.

They compiled dossiers on public figures such as ex-Minister David Davis, who questioned the modelling behind alarming death toll predictions, as well as journalists such as Peter Hitchens and Toby Young. Their dissenting views were then reported back to No 10.

Documents obtained by the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, and shared exclusively with this newspaper, exposed the work of Government cells such as the Counter Disinformation Unit, based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the Rapid Response Unit in the Cabinet Office.

But the most secretive is the MoD’s 77th Brigade, which deploys ‘non-lethal engagement and legitimate non-military levers as a means to adapt behaviours of adversaries’.

According to a whistleblower who worked for the brigade during the lockdowns, the unit strayed far beyond its remit of targeting foreign powers. 

They said that British citizens’ social media accounts were scrutinised – a sinister activity that the Ministry of Defence, in public, repeatedly denied doing.

Papers show the outfits were tasked with countering ‘disinformation’ and ‘harmful narratives… from purported experts’, with civil servants and artificial intelligence deployed to ‘scrape’ social media for keywords such as ‘ventilators’ that would have been of interest.

The information was then used to orchestrate Government responses to criticisms of policies such as the stay-at-home order, when police were given power to issue fines and break up gatherings. 

It also allowed Ministers to push social media platforms to remove posts and promote Government-approved lines.

The Army whistleblower said: ‘It is quite obvious that our activities resulted in the monitoring of the UK population… monitoring the social media posts of ordinary, scared people. These posts did not contain information that was untrue or co-ordinated – it was simply fear.’

Last night, former Cabinet Minister Mr Davis, a member of the Privy Council, said: ‘It’s outrageous that people questioning the Government’s policies were subject to covert surveillance’ – and questioned the waste of public money.

Mail on Sunday journalist Mr Hitchens was monitored after sharing an article, based on leaked NHS papers, which claimed data used to publicly justify lockdown was incomplete. An internal Rapid Response Unit email said Mr Hitchens wanted to ‘further [an] anti-lockdown agenda and influence the Commons vote’. 

Writing today, Mr Hitchens questions if he was ‘shadow-banned’ over his criticisms, with his views effectively censored by being downgraded in search results. 

He says: ‘The most astonishing thing about the great Covid panic was how many attacks the state managed to make on basic freedoms without anyone much even caring, let alone protesting. 

Now is the time to demand a full and powerful investigation into the dark material Big Brother Watch has bravely uncovered.’

The whistleblower from 77 Brigade, which uses both regular and reserve troops, said: ‘I developed the impression the Government were more interested in protecting the success of their policies than uncovering any potential foreign interference, and I regret that I was a part of it. Frankly, the work I was doing should never have happened.’

The source also suggested that the Government was so focused on monitoring critics it may have missed genuine Chinese-led prolockdown campaigns.

Silkie Carlo, of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This is an alarming case of mission creep, where public money and military power have been misused to monitor academics, journalists, campaigners and MPs who criticised the Government, particularly during the pandemic.

‘The fact that this political monitoring happened under the guise of ‘countering misinformation’ highlights how, without serious safeguards, the concept of ‘wrong information’ is open to abuse and has become a blank cheque the Government uses in an attempt to control narratives online.

‘Contrary to their stated aims, these Government truth units are secretive and harmful to our democracy. The Counter Disinformation Unit should be suspended immediately and subject to a full investigation.’

A Downing Street source last night said the units had scaled back their work significantly since the end of the lockdowns.

The Mail‘s article also has the 77th Brigade member’s full disclosure as well as Peter Hitchens’s first-hand experience from that time.

It is ironic that a Conservative MP, Tobias Ellwood, is part of the 77th Brigade, which monitored another Conservative MP, David Davis:

Toby Young, also monitored, featured the Mail‘s articles on his website in ‘The 77th Brigade Spied on Lockdown Sceptics, Including Me’.

He pointed us to a Twitter thread from Dr Jay Bhattacharya, one of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, which the Establishment panned worldwide:

On Sunday, January 29, Spiked had a tongue-in-cheek title to their article on the exposé, ‘Warning: sharing a spiked article could get you in trouble with the government’:

Today, a report by Big Brother Watch has revealed the alarming lengths the UK government went to in order to hush up its critics. We now know that three government bodies, including a shady Ministry of Defence unit tasked with fighting ‘information warfare’, surveilled and monitored UK citizens, public figures and media outlets who criticised the lockdown – and spiked was caught up in that net.

This mini Ministry of Truth was composed of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in the Cabinet Office, the Counter Disinformation Unit (CDU) in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the army’s 77th Brigade. The 77th Brigade exists to monitor and counter so-called disinformation being spread by adversarial foreign powers. But, as a whistleblower from the unit told Big Brother Watch, ‘the banner of disinformation was a guise under which the British military was being deployed to monitor and flag our own concerned citizens’. The other bodies worked together to monitor ‘harmful narratives online’ and to push back on them, by promoting government lines in the press and by flagging posts to social-media companies in order to have them removed.

The public figures targeted by these shadowy units included Conservative MP David Davis, Lockdown Sceptics founder Toby Young, talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens. All of whom had warned about the consequences of lockdown and had raised questions about the UK government’s alarmist modelling of the virus.

Documents obtained by Big Brother Watch, using subject-access requests, reveal that Peter Hitchens was flagged for, among other things, sharing a spiked article. A cross-Whitehall disinformation report from the RRU in June 2020 notes that, ‘The spiked article was shared on Twitter by Peter Hitchens, which led to renewed engagement on that specific platform’. The RRU also monitored the level of public agreement, noting that ‘some highly engaged comments’ agreed with the article, while others were critical …

We desperately need a reckoning with lockdown, and with the lockdown on dissent that accompanied it.

Big Brother Watch announced their report with a summary of highlights, ‘Inside Whitehall’s Ministry of Truth — How secretive “anti-information” teams conducted mass political monitoring’.

Read that if you do not have time to peruse their full report.

Guido Fawkes also summarised the report on Monday, January 30:

Millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money went into this egregious surveillance. Imagine inadvertently paying to have yourself monitored by the state:

Unbelievable.

Will anything come of this? I certainly hope so, but I doubt it.

On Thursday, February 2, David Davis asked about Peter Hitchens during Cabinet Office questions:

David Davis: In 2020 we have evidence that the Cabinet Office monitored the journalist Peter Hitchens’ social media posts in relation to the pandemic. In an internal email the Cabinet Office accused him of pursuing an anti-lockdown agenda. He then appears to have been shadow- banned on social media. Will the Minister confirm that his Department did nothing to interfere with Hitchens’ communications, either through discussion with social media platforms or by any other mechanism? If he cannot confirm that today, will he write to me immediately in the future to do so? (903428)

Mr Speaker: Who wants that one?

Jeremy Quin (Cabinet Office Minister): It is a pleasure to take it, Mr Speaker. I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He referred to the rapid response unit; what it was doing during the course of the pandemic was entirely sensible—trawling the whole of what is available publicly on social media to make certain we as the Government could identify areas of concern particularly regarding disinformation so that correct information could be placed into the public domain to reassure the public. I think that was an entirely reasonable and appropriate thing to do. I do not know about the specifics that my right hon. Friend asks about; I would rather not answer at the Dispatch Box, but my right hon. Friend has asked me to write to him and I certainly will.

They have an answer for everything.

Let no one think that Labour would have done anything differently. Labour fully supported the Government on everything coronavirus-related and said they would have gone further.

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January 31, 2023 marks the third anniversary of Brexit:

As I have written before, those parliamentary debates early in 2020 were splendid. Newly and re-elected Conservative MPs, giving the Government a majority of 80 thanks to Boris Johnson’s 2019 ‘Get Brexit Done’ campaign slogan, were full of optimism about how Britain could — and would — be transformed.

Unfortunately, the pandemic put paid to those dreams in mid-March. We couldn’t move past it. Even now, we are still suffering financially from the decisions the Government made, forced to do so by Opposition MPs. If Boris had just not given into SAGE, we probably could have stuck to the Swedish policy of no lockdown and minimal restrictions, which would have saved us hundreds of billions of pounds. Then again, Boris got coronavirus and had to be hospitalised for a week in early April. He came back a different man. SAGE were able to exercise power over him.

Even in 2022, once England finally returned to normal, the Government seemed to be treading water. We had three Prime Ministers and four Chancellors of the Exchequer last year. Very little of the optimistic legislation from the 2019 manifesto got started. Instead, Net Zero seemed to take over. It was in the manifesto, but as the final point, not the main one. The Online Safety Bill is a piece of intrusive legislation. The Conservatives are only getting started on pushing legislation through to get rid of thousands of EU laws on our books. Taxes are at a 70-year high. We have tens of thousands of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. The possibility of any real progress for the Brexit agenda between now and the end of 2024 or January 2025 looks dim.

That said, Guido Fawkes reminds us (emphases his):

… we’ve signed about 71 new trade deals, led the European response to Putin’s war in Ukraine and saved countless British lives with an independent vaccine rollout. And that’s without any politicians actually making a concerted effort to capitalise on independence…

Of course, there is always a dismal economic forecast with which to deal. We must remember that Brexit was never about the economy but taking back control of our own national destiny.

Still, here is the latest dismal economic forecast and the danger ahead for Brexit in late 2024 or early 2025:

… even today’s IMF report on growth forecasts couldn’t bring itself to attribute any faults in the UK economy to our decision to leave the bloc. Now preparations must be made to save Brexit from a Starmer-led Labour government…

Because the IMF is the IMF, its forecasts receive undue attention. It is important to look back on the IMF’s track record. They did a terrible job in predicting 2022:

Guido points out:

The ‘good’ news is the IMF has upped its forecast for 2024, now predicting 0.9% growth from 0.6%. It is also worth bearing in mind the IMF’s analysis isn’t gospel; it underestimated 2021’s growth by 2 points. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is doing his best to remind everyone of that:

Short-term challenges should not obscure our long-term prospects — the U.K. outperformed many forecasts last year.

A number of these forecasts are shaped to comply with political narratives. One of Guido‘s readers commented (purple emphases mine):

Rather a lot of years ago, I worked with a fellow who had, in previous employment, worked at the Board of Trade. He told me that every month, their top guy would get together with some other top guy from the Treasury and they would concoct the monthly trade figures to broadcast to the media. T’was all mainly fiction, of course, depending on what political message was required. I doubt if anything much has changed in the intervening years.

Here is another forecast gone wrong: Germany’s. Keep in mind that Germany is at the heart of the EU, so we cannot blame Brexit for their woes:

Going back to August 2022, Germany and France joined the UK in having either flat or negative GDP:

Opposition MPs of all flavours, except for Northern Ireland’s DUP, tell us that if we were still an EU member country, we wouldn’t have inflation.

Yet, on January 26, 2023, Euronews informed us that food prices continue to rise across the EU:

Food prices have continued to rise across Europe despite inflation dropping for a second consecutive month in December, according to data shared on Wednesday by Eurostat, the European statistics agency.

The inflation of food prices in the EU was 18.2 per cent, and 16.2 per cent in the eurozone in December, which is a slight decrease compared to November on average. But some basic food items like sugar, milk cheese and eggs, oils, and fats prices are still going up.

One month earlier, Euronews reported on the plight of French university students who were forced to use food banks:

20% of students in France live below the poverty line. Rising food prices and energy bills soaring are exacerbating their situation. And yet, France gives more financial aid to students than many other European countries …

The government has recently allocated 10 millions euros to support the associations that organise food distributions for students. A consultation between the governement and student unions on the reform of the student grant system is ongoing, but concrete change is not expected anytime soon.

Our Opposition MPs also tell us that if we were still part of the EU, we would not be experiencing the multi-sector strikes that have been plaguing us.

However, let us look at France. Today, January 31, Euronews reported:

A new wave of strikes on Tuesday to protest French government plans to raise the retirement age to 64 has already impacted transport links and electricity production. 

TotalEnegies says between 75% and 100% of workers at its refineries and fuel depots are on strike, while electricity supplier EDF said they’re monitoring a drop in power to the national grid equivalent to three nuclear power plants. 

“Following the call for a strike, shipments of products from TotalEnergies sites are interrupted today but TotalEnergies will continue to ensure supplies to its service station network and its customers,” the group’s management said.

In EDF power stations, strikers reduced loads by “nearly 3,000 MW” on Monday night, but without causing any cuts, the company said.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are expected to take to the streets across France on Tuesday, for a second day of industrial action that unions hope will be even more massive than the first, earlier this month … 

The government had warned in advance of Tuesday’s strike about likely disruption to France’s transport network. 

In the Paris region the metro and local rail services are “very disrupted” say officials. Long distance TGV train services are also impacted, as are regional trains with intercity services almost at a standstill. 

Rail operator SNCF said only one in three high-speed TGV trains will operate on Tuesday while disruptions are also expected at French airports and on transnational rail services

French doctors were on an extended strike on January 2:

https://image.vuukle.com/8d46442a-2514-45e7-9794-98dfc370ce1b-b70899af-7e66-4fbf-9707-e2baae81169b

Then there is Ukraine. Nearly a year ago, Remainers told Leavers that Vladimir Putin would use Brexit to his advantage — an entirely erroneous talking point, as Boris was the first Western leader to champion Ukraine. If we had been part of the EU, he would not have been able to do so. By contrast, Germany was buying Russian gas and Italy was sending handbags to Russia:

Then there was the pandemic. In May 2022, the WHO published excess death statistics for 2020 and 2021. The UK had lower excess deaths than Spain, Italy and Germany, although France had fewer excess deaths than we did:

As for migration, France still has as much of a problem as we do, yet our Opposition MPs tell us that if we were still part of the EU, we would not have a Channel crossing issue.

On December 26, 2022, The Times reported that the French government opened the Château de Grignon to house them, which isn’t too different to our policy, egregious as it is, of opening hotels to those coming nearly daily across the Channel:

A row has broken out in France over a government decision to shelter homeless families, notably migrants, on the estate of a Renaissance château …

Under a plan to provide shelter for the homeless during the winter, up to 200 people are to be housed in the château estate until March. The first 62, including 37 children, arrived this week.

Officially, they are classified as people of no fixed abode who have been sleeping rough. In practice, most are migrants unable to find shelter upon their arrival in France and often forced to live in squalid, makeshift camps around the Paris ring road.

In conclusion, EU nations share many of the major problems that the UK has.

Brexit has nothing to do with it. In fact, Brexit will probably help us get out of these issues more quickly than EU nations will.

Therefore, Happy Brexit Day! May many more follow!

On Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the outspoken Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen had the whip removed for remarks he tweeted about the coronavirus vaccines.

He now sits as an Independent.

Before going into that news, let us look at Bridgen’s past history in Parliament.

Watchdog

Bridgen, who has represented North West Leicestershire since 2010, has always been a watchdog, in and out of Parliament.

Holding his own on Brexit

On April 8, 2019, when Theresa May and Parliament were at loggerheads on how to proceed with Brexit, Bridgen appeared on the BBC’s Politics Live to say that most voters would prefer No Deal. He was the only Leave supporter on a panel of four. Everyone else was a Remainer, including the host, Jo Coburn. They piled in on Bridgen, but the MP was correct. He had cited a poll from YouGov which said that 44% of Britons preferred No Deal. By contrast 42% wanted to remain in the EU.

One month later, he rightly objected to MPs who wanted to have a customs union with the EU instead of a full exit:

The impasse in the House of Commons worsened as the months dragged on. On September 10, Bridgen supported Boris’s prorogation, which ended up being overturned. He talked with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer just before that prorogation:

In late November, The Sun tweeted an excellent video of Bridgen canvassing North West Leicestershire voters before the general election on December 12 that year. They had strong opinions on Brexit, Labour and Boris. Incidentally, North West Leicestershire is the happiest place to live in the East Midlands:

Pointing out ‘modern slavery’ in Leicester

In January 2020, Bridgen called to the Government’s attention the working conditions at certain women’s garment factories in Leicester. They would be considered sweatshops in the United States.

The city of Leicester is not in Bridgen’s constituency, but he was concerned enough to call the companies out, directing a question to Kelly Tolhurst MP, the then-BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) in Parliament:

Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss the situation in Leicester, where I believe that approximately 10,000 people in the clothing industry are being paid £3 to £4 an hour in conditions of modern slavery?

Guido Fawkes reported that nothing was done until July that year, when Leicester showed unusually high rates of coronavirus (emphases in the original):

What happened at the meeting months ago?

The Labour Behind the Label campaign has a report out alleging there is evidence which indicates that conditions in Leicester’s factories, primarily producing for Boohoo, are putting workers at risk of COVID-19 infection. Grim reading…

Leicester’s rates remained high throughout the rest of 2020. By contrast, North West Leicestershire — Bridgen’s constitutency — had the lowest rates in Leicestershire. On October 12, he debated the knotty problem of full lockdowns with talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer, who advocated sequestration of the vulnerable only:

Calling out West Midlands mayoral candidate

In the week before the 2021 local elections in England, he asked IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) to investigate Labour MP Liam Byrne’s alleged use of parliamentary expenses to fund his campaign for the mayoralty of the West Midlands. Byrne fired back that Bridgen put his own London accommodation on expenses, which is what every other MP, including Byrne, does. Then Byrne accused Bridgen of having one of the worst voting attendance records in Parliament. Byrne was wrong there, too, as records show that Bridgen voted 88% of the time, whereas Byrne voted only 63% of the time between 2010 and 2019.

Calling out the BBC

On May 21, 2021, Bridgen complained about the BBC in a tweet, saying that Britons are forced to pay for it, while the organisation shows inadequate accountability in the face of broadcasting scandals it hid under the carpet.

Objecting to coronavirus vaccine passports

On July 22, 2021, Bridgen told GB News that showing a vaccine passport upon entry to various places was ‘unworkable’, saying that most people were already vaccinated and that it would take too much extra time to check everyone’s vaccine status:

2022 signalled big trouble ahead

In 2022, Andrew Bridgen became known as an MP with a reputation.

Initially, his letters of no confidence in previous Prime Ministers became clear, all the way from David Cameron’s time through to Liz Truss:

However, later on, his relationship with his family’s potato business would begin to bring matters to a head, affecting his standing as a Conservative MP.

On September 3, The Times reported (purple emphases mine):

A Conservative MP branded “dishonest” by a judge has been ordered to pay £800,000 and evicted from his luxurious country home after a dispute involving his family potato business.

Andrew Bridgen, 57, has spent years suing his family business, AB Produce, which supplies potatoes and other vegetables to catering companies and supermarkets.

In March, a High Court judge ruled that he “lied” under oath, behaved in an “abusive”, “arrogant” and “aggressive” way, and was so dishonest that nothing he said about the dispute could be taken at face value.

The North West Leicestershire MP had accused the firm of forcing him out of a £93,000-a-year second job, which required him to attend a monthly board meeting. The judge found that, rather than being bullied out of the job as he alleged, Bridgen resigned in order to reduce the amount he might owe his first wife, Jackie, in divorce proceedings.

Judge Brian Rawlings also found that Bridgen pressured the police inspector in his parliamentary constituency to launch a costly one-year investigation into vexatious allegations against his estranged younger brother, Paul Bridgen, 55, who runs AB Produce, which is based in Derbyshire.

In a later judgment in June, which came to light only last week, the MP has been forced by the judge to vacate the Old Vicarage, a five-room property reportedly valued at about £1.5 million. He was given a final deadline of August 24 and Bridgen, his wife and their child complied with the deadline. It is not known where they now live …

Bridgen and his second wife, Nevena, 42, a Serbian blogger and former opera singer, had lived in the restored 18th-century home without charge since 2015. During this period, it is understood that he refused to pay rent, or bills for water and electricity, according to court filings.

Bridgen was told to pay in excess of £800,000 in legal costs to three shareholders at his family’s firm, of which one is his brother, Paul, after bringing claims of unfair treatment. He could yet be ordered to pay £244,000 in rent arrears.

It is understood that Bridgen, who earns a basic salary of £84,144 as an MP, has paid the money he already owes, although the source of the funds is unknown and is likely to come under scrutiny

Parliamentary rules stipulate that MPs who are declared bankrupt must step down if a bankruptcy restrictions order is made against them. He is also vulnerable to another referral to the parliamentary commissioner for standards as he failed to declare AB Produce as the entity paying his rent and utility bills.

According to the guide to the rules relating to the MPs’ code of conduct, MPs must declare “taxable expenses, allowances and benefits such as company cars”, as well as “financial support and sponsorship” and “gifts of property”.

On November 3, Guido reported that the Commons Committee on Standards recommended that Bridgen be suspended from Parliament for five sitting days for the aforementioned controversy:

They also describe an email he sent to the Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone as “completely unacceptable behaviour” as he ‘sought assurance’ about a rumour that Stone was shortly to be ennobled provided she arrived “at the ‘right’ outcomes when conducting parliamentary standards investigation[s]”.

The full list of aggravating factors are as follows:

    • Mr Bridgen breached the rules of the House on registration, declaration and paid lobbying on multiple occasions and in multiple ways. (The Committee noted that each of these breaches could have led it to recommend a suspension from the service of the House);
    • Mr Bridgen has demonstrated a very cavalier attitude to the rules on registration and declaration of interests, including repeatedly saying that he did not check his own entry in the register;
    • Mr Bridgen is an established Member of the House, having been elected in 2010;
    • Mr Bridgen’s email to the Commissioner called her integrity into question on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations, and attempted improperly to influence the House’s standards processes …

For Andrew’s clarification, no you cannot submit a letter of no confidence in the Standards Committee…

But, by then, Bridgen had already turned his attention to the coronavirus vaccines, saying that, if there is an investigation in the EU Commission, there should be one in the UK, too:

On Tuesday, December 13, Bridgen was granted an adjournment debate in which he criticised the vaccines and cited Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist who saw his own father, a healthy man, die of unusual heart problems after taking one of the vaccines. Bridgen, like Malhotra, wanted the mRNA vaccines stopped and offered evidence as to why. As I wrote on December 22, Maria Caulfield, the Government minister and a practising nurse, did not approve of Bridgen’s speech. Danny Kruger, another Conservative MP, supported Bridgen’s statements, but Caulfield reiterated the Government’s line on vaccines.

On Wednesday, December 28, the British Heart Foundation disparaged Bridgen’s claims in the adjournment debate, which I also wrote about the following day.

2023 can make or break Bridgen

On Monday, January 9, 2023, Bridgen began the day by tweeting the link to a discussion about alleged lies told during the pandemic and the response to coronavirus:

Later that day, The Guardian reported that Bridgen had been suspended for five working days for lobbying and undeclared interests, matters unrelated to coronavirus:

The MP for north-west Leicestershire was found to have repeatedly broken the MPs’ code of conduct by a cross-party committee, which endorsed findings from Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards.

He was unsuccessful in an attempt to overturn the recommendation in December and a motion was approved by parliament on Monday.

The suspension is due to start on Tuesday 10 January, and will run for five sitting days.

Bridgen was found to have approached ministers and officials on behalf of a forestry company, Mere Plantations, that had given him a donation, a visit to Ghana and the offer of an advisory contract, a role that ended up being unpaid.

Two of the days were recommended by the committee for the breaches of rules on advocacy and interests. The other three days of suspension were advised in response to what the committee said was a “completely unacceptable” attempt by Bridgen to put pressure on Stone.

Bridgen attempted to appeal against the decision, criticising the investigation as “flawed” and arguing that it had not fully considered the motivations of the person who had made the initial complaint.

He argued that he was just helping a local company that worked with Mere, and that it was thus simply a “constituency interest” that brought him no personal benefits. The committee disagreed with this, saying the MP had breached lobbying rules.

The committee, chaired by the Labour MP Chris Bryant, found that Bridgen breached the rules “on multiple occasions and in multiple ways”.

Meanwhile, Bridgen continued to sound the alarm about coronavirus vaccines.

On Tuesday afternoon, January 10, he tweeted a Project Veritas interview with a Pfizer scientist who alleges that they were aware that their vaccine was responsible for the unusual spike in cases of myocarditis. This is short, subtitled and well worth watching:

That afternoon, Bridgen tweeted a video featuring Dr Peter McCullough, who alleges that the vaccines are responsible for myocarditis cases and deaths. This, too, is a short video well worth watching:

On the morning of Wednesday, January 11, Bridgen retweeted a message from Dr Malhotra which included a video of Tucker Carlson and vaccine watchdog Robert F Kennedy Jr discussing the omerta on coronavirus vaccines:

Bridgen followed up with his own tweet about the alleged dangers of the vaccines, including a quote from Robert F Kennedy Jr:

Worse news than a five-day suspension came later that morning, after Bridgen had tweeted a cardiologist’s comment that the global rollout of coronavirus vaccines will have been the worst human rights violation since the Holocaust. Bridgen later deleted the tweet, but other MPs saw it and strongly objected to it. Pictured along with Bridgen is Conservative MP Simon Clarke:

It then came to the attention of the Conservative Chief Whip Simon Hart, who withdrew the whip from the MP:

On Wednesday morning, Guido reported what Simon Hart had said in defending his decision:

Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process. As a nation we should be very proud of what has been achieved through the vaccine programme. The vaccine is the best defence against Covid that we have. Misinformation about the vaccine causes harm and costs lives. I am therefore removing the Whip from Andrew Bridgen with immediate effect, pending a formal investigation.

However, that afternoon, the Daily Sceptic reported that a Jewish academic in Israel came to Bridgen’s defence:

Andrew Bridgen, the British politician suspended as a Conservative MP over allegations of being anti-Semitic in a tweet criticising the Covid vaccines, has been defended by the Jewish Israeli academic whose article he linked to in the tweet in question.

Dr. Josh Guetzkow, a senior lecturer in criminology and sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Daily Sceptic that as a Jew living in Israel he was “surprised” by the accusations against Mr. Bridgen, because “there is nothing at all anti-Semitic about his statement”

John Mann, the Government’s independent anti-Semitism adviser, was unequivocal, saying: “There is no possibility that Bridgen can be allowed to stand at the next election. He cannot claim that he didn’t realise the level of offence that his remarks cause.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that he “completely condemn[ed] those types of comments in the strongest possible terms”.

“Obviously it is utterly unacceptable to make linkages and use language like that and I’m determined that the scourge of antisemitism is eradicated,” he told the Commons on Wednesday …

However, Dr. Guetzkow, whose tweeted article details the alarming, recently-released analysis of vaccine adverse event data from the U.S. CDC, said this is a “tempest in a teapot”.

“The hollow accusations against him only distract from genuine examples of anti-Semitism and ultimately hinder attempts to draw attention to them, much like the boy who cried wolf,” he said.

It is clear from the statement by the Chief Whip that Mr. Bridgen’s chief sin is to have criticised the vaccines. Mr. Hart’s statement notably does not mention anti-Semitism, but rather says that Mr. Bridgen is having the whip removed for “misinformation about the vaccine”, which “causes harm and costs lives”, adding only that he had caused “great offence in process”.

The allegations of anti-Semitism therefore appear to be just the opportunity party chiefs needed to mete out the punishment to the vaccine heretic

Stop Press: Dr. Guetzkow has pointed out that Holocaust survivor Vera Sharav has been drawing parallels between the extreme and discriminatory public health measures during the pandemic and the Holocaust throughout the the last three years.

Rishi Sunak’s comment came up during Wednesday’s PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions), the first of 2023, which I watched on BBC Parliament.

One might well ask who asked the question.

None other than Matt Hancock, who has just returned from a short holiday in Turkey, which seemed to involve shopping.

The Daily Sceptic reported:

Matt Hancock, the disgraced lockdown Health Secretary, hit out at Mr. Bridgen’s “disgusting, antisemitic, anti-vax conspiracy theories” at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. He said the comments were “deeply offensive” and “have no place in this House or in our wider society”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak replied that he joined Mr Hancock in “completely condemning those types of comments in the strongest possible terms”.

In closing, the Daily Sceptic calls to readers’ attentions Andrew Bridgen’s qualifications:

Mr. Bridgen, who has a science background, has become Parliament’s most vocal critic of the Covid vaccines. He thus made himself a big target for the pro-vaccine zealots who will have been looking for an excuse to punish and cancel him, and who have predictably leapt on the first ‘offensive’ thing they could find.

Wikipedia states that Bridgen studied genetics and behaviour at the University of Nottingham and graduated with a degree in biological sciences.

The Government does not want their big achievement of the past three years — the vaccine rollout, Europe’s first — to be tainted in any way.

However, judging from the comments, Daily Sceptic readers are supportive of Andrew Bridgen and look forward to hearing more from him on the vaccines this year, which is more than can be said of Matt Hancock, who, as of December 28, was still searching for a celebrity agent to kickstart his new career in reality television.

—————————————————————————————————-

UPDATE Guido Fawkes has reported Andrew Bridgen’s statement on having lost the Conservative whip, complete with video:

The fact I have been suspended over this matter says a lot about the current state of our democracy, the right to free speech, and the apparent suspension of scientific method of analysis of medicines being administered to billions of people.

Three recent news items about coronavirus are worth passing along.

Long Covid and olfactory nerves

One of the many drawbacks of long Covid is the loss of the sense of smell.

To some extent, this can happen with any virus. Fifty years ago, my mother contracted a winter virus and lost her sense of taste and smell for two years. Although she wasn’t a foodie, her inability to enjoy our daily family dinner disappointed her the most. Her GP said there was nothing he could do. She would have to wait and see what happened. Two years later, suddenly, her olfactory senses returned and she had no more problems.

A December 22 article in The Times said that researchers are working on a similar problem with long Covid. It seems that the immune system blocks olfactory nerves (emphases mine):

The loss of smell suffered by people with long Covid is caused by an immune response affecting nerve cells in nasal tissue, scientists have said.

The researchers who conducted the study found that there was a decline in the number of these nerve cells in such patients.

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was led by researchers at Duke University in the US and involved colleagues from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego.

They looked at tissue taken from the olfactory epithelium, found in the nose, where nerve cells responsible for smell are located …

The single-cell analyses revealed that there was a widespread infiltration of T-cells, a type of white blood cell used by the immune system, engaged in an inflammatory response in the nasal tissue.

Researchers found this immune response from these T-cells continued even when there were no detectable levels of Covid in the patient

Dr Bradley Goldstein, an associate professor in neurobiology at Duke, who was a senior author for the study, said researchers had been encouraged to find that nerve cells appeared to maintain some ability to repair themselves.

He said learning which sites in the nose were being damaged and what cell types were involved would be a key step in designing treatment. “We are hopeful that modulating the abnormal immune response or repair processes within the nose of these patients could help to at least partially restore a sense of smell,” he added.

In the meantime, the only prescription is patience. Patience is a virtue.

Recovering from long Covid: mind over matter

On November 19, The Times featured an article by Francesca Steele, a long Covid sufferer, detailing how she overcame her debilitating condition.

Steele had tried everything and ended up spending £15,000, most of which was for naught. In fact, some of the medical treatments she underwent made her feel worse.

As a last resort, she embarked on putting mind over matter. The old saying worked.

She describes the journey back to normality:

It was on a particularly bad day that I started to wonder about mind-body courses, which suggest you can control the reactions of your body by “retraining” your brain. I had come across people who had success with these courses while searching online. One that kept cropping up was called the Lightning Process (LP), a short brain-training programme that, enthusiasts said, also had an impact on the body.

Developed in the Nineties by the British osteopath Phil Parker, LP is a three-day seminar (which you can do in person or on Zoom, with a range of coaches you can find online) that combines neuro-linguistic programming with life coaching, hypnotherapy and osteopathy. Its goal is to give people tools to help themselves with a range of conditions, including post-viral fatigue syndromes, chronic pain and anxiety, by reducing the brain’s stress response. It claims to have helped 25,000 people around the world.

Whenever I found someone online who claimed to have recovered from post-viral fatigue conditions in this way I tried to track them down and speak to them directly to check they were real and not invented by snake oil salesmen. They weren’t. I spoke to a journalist who said the techniques had cured him entirely of ME. I spoke to a GP who had gone on to train as an LP practitioner after it helped her ten-year-old daughter to recover after three years. I chatted to several writers who said mind-body work had “cured” them of long Covid but they were afraid to speak out, something I understand because I was trolled after mentioning the concept on Twitter

However, I kept hearing positive things about it on social media, and decided it was at least worth a shot. In March I did the course. The thinking is that a serious shock like a bad virus can send your body into permanent “fight or flight” mode and that your nervous system gets stuck sending messages of sickness that are no longer needed. Using the science of neuro-plasticity, which says that the brain adapts to the neural pathways used most often — and that in this case your brain has adapted to using neural pathways that prompt a sickness response — the course teaches you to “train your brain” to send different signals. So, instead of your immune system, your endocrine system and your inflammation responses all gearing up for an attack, they relax. Your hormones, your blood pressure, your heart rate, your thermoregulation and so on, all, in theory, return to normal. As Dr Anna Chellamuthu, a GP and LP practitioner, puts it: “The LP is absolutely not saying, ‘This is all in your head.’ This is a physical illness. It’s saying that physiology can change when you change your thoughts.”

During a £750, three-day Zoom course, our coach talked the three of us (all with long Covid) through various exercises and taught us all a routine to interrupt negative thoughts. Every time I had an anxious thought about symptoms, I had to say “Stop” and do an intense visualisation, imagining myself in a situation where I was energetic, healthy, confident.

It was not easy to stick to. Constantly interrupting your thoughts feels unnatural at first and there were times I was out at the park with my kids when I really didn’t feel like scooting off to do the process behind a tree. I often doubted it would work. Yet within a month I was back at work. Two months later I celebrated my 40th birthday with a long walk and delicious dinner. Seven months on from the course, I am about 80-90 per cent back to my old self. I do sometimes get symptoms but they are far fainter and less frequent than before.

To those who say that I’d have got better anyway and that LP just happened to coincide with my recovery, I strongly disagree. I was unable to walk beyond our street for months. Within a week of the course I was able to go much further; within eight weeks I was able to run, after 16 months without exercise.

Various studies suggest the efficacy of mind-body work. In a recent pilot study conducted by a professor at Harvard Medical School, for example, all symptoms of patients with long Covid improved on a 13-week psychophysiological course. There is no doubt that more biomedical research is needed into post-viral fatigue conditions, and I, like others, hope that more evidence is found of the exact mechanisms at play. Dr Boon Lim, a consultant cardiologist at Imperial College Hospital who has treated many people with long Covid, says: “As medics we have been taught to focus all our attention on physical issues, to the detriment of patients. I think you need both physical and mind- body help to improve.”

I am also conscious that mind-body courses can be expensive. LP costs £750 (plus more for follow-up guidance). I found the intense nature of it uniquely motivating but cheaper mind-body work does exist, including the app Curable (I know one woman who recovered from 14 years of ME using it) and Suzy Bolt’s extremely compassionate, cheap (and some free) online classes.

For me, the process has been gradual, not immediate. I don’t claim that it will work for everyone or even that the theory is definitely correct, but I feel as if I’ve come back from the dead. Before it, I tried everything mainstream medicine had to offer, to no avail. Mind-body work has got me this far, and I believe it will get me the rest of the way. Without it, I believe I’d still be in bed, without hope.

What an encouraging story. This is further evidence that alternative medicine is viable and worth trying. As with any treatment, conventional or otherwise, doing one’s homework beforehand is a prerequisite.

Parliamentary debate on vaccines: broken silence

On Tuesday, December 13, the Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen was granted an adjournment debate in the Commons on the potential harms of coronavirus vaccines. Finally, someone had the gumption to break the silence in Parliament.

I had just tuned into BBC Parliament by chance at the moment he started speaking. How providential.

Here’s the beginning:

The transcript is here. Excerpts from his hard-hitting speech follow:

Three months ago, one of the most eminent and trusted cardiologists, a man with an international reputation, Dr Aseem Malhotra, published peer-reviewed research that concluded that there should be a complete cessation of the administration of the covid mRNA vaccines for everyone because of clear and robust data of significant harms and little ongoing benefit. He described the roll-out of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine as

“perhaps the greatest miscarriage of medical science, attack on democracy, damage to population health, and erosion of trust in medicine that we will witness in our lifetime.”

Interestingly, there has so far not been a single rebuttal of Dr Malhotra’s findings in the scientific literature, despite their widespread circulation and the fact that they made international news.

Before I state the key evidence-based facts that make a clear case for complete suspension of these emergency use authorisation vaccines, it is important to appreciate the key psychological barrier that has prevented these facts from being acknowledged by policymakers and taken up by the UK mainstream media. That psychological phenomenon is wilful blindness. It is when human beings—including, in this case, institutions—turn a blind eye to the truth in order to feel safe, reduce anxiety, avoid conflict and protect their prestige and reputations. There are numerous examples of that in recent history, such as the BBC and Jimmy Savile, the Department of Health and Mid Staffs, Hollywood and Harvey Weinstein, and the medical establishment and the OxyContin scandal, which was portrayed in the mini-series “Dopesick”. It is crucial to understand that the longer wilful blindless to the truth continues, the more unnecessary harm it creates.

Here are the cold, hard facts about the mRNA vaccines and an explanation of the structural drivers that continue to be barriers to doctors and the public receiving independent information to make informed decisions about them. Since the roll-out in the UK of the BioNTech-Pfizer mRNA vaccine, we have had almost half a million yellow card reports of adverse effects from the public. That is unprecedented. It is more than all the yellow card reports of the past 40 years combined. An extraordinary rate of side effects that are beyond mild have been reported in many countries across the world that have used the Pfizer vaccine, including, of course, the United States.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by a journalist from a major news outlet who said that he was being bombarded by calls from people who said that they were vaccine-harmed but unable to get the support they wanted from the NHS. He also said that he thought this would be the biggest scandal in medical history in this country. Disturbingly, he also said that he feared that if he were to mention that in the newsroom in which he worked, he would lose his job. We need to break this conspiracy of silence.

It is instructive to note that, according to pharmaco-vigilance analysis, the serious adverse effects reported by the public are thought to represent only 10% of the true rate of serious adverse events occurring within the population. The gold standard of understanding the benefit and harm of any drug is the randomised controlled trial. It was the randomised controlled trial conducted by Pfizer that led to UK and international regulators approving the BioNTech-Pfizer mRNA vaccine for administration in the first place.

Contrary to popular belief, that original trial of approximately 40,000 participants did not show any statistically significant reduction in death as a result of vaccination, but it did show a 95% relative risk reduction in the development of infection against the ancestral, more lethal strain of the virus. However, the absolute risk reduction for an individual was only 0.84%. In other words, from its own data, Pfizer revealed that we needed to vaccinate 119 people to prevent one infection. The World Health Organisation and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges have previously stated and made it clear that it is an ethical responsibility that medical information is communicated to patients in absolute benefit and absolute risk terms, which is to protect the public from unnecessary anxiety and manipulation.

Very quickly, through mutations of the original strain—indeed, within a few months—covid fortunately became far less lethal. It quickly became apparent that there was no protection against infection at all from the vaccine, and we were left with the hope that perhaps these vaccines would protect us from serious illness and death. So what does the most reliable data tell us about the best-case scenario of individual benefit from the vaccine against dying from covid-19? Real-world data from the UK during the three-month wave of omicron at the beginning of this year reveals that we would need to vaccinate 7,300 people over the age of 80 to prevent one death. The number needed to be vaccinated to prevent a death in any younger age group was absolutely enormous.

At this point, Bridgen’s fellow Conservative, Danny Kruger (Prue Leith’s son), intervened to ask whatever happened to the initial policy (Matt Hancock’s) to vaccinate only the vulnerable and certainly not children. Note the pro-vaccine statements BBC Parliament put up when he spoke:

Kruger said:

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing this debate to the House. It is a very important debate that we should be having. He is talking about the relative risks for different cohorts of the population. He will remember that, when the vaccine was first announced, the intention was that it would be used only for those who were vulnerable and the elderly because, as he says, the expectation was that the benefit to younger people was minor. Does he agree that it would be helpful for the Minister to explain to us why the original advice that the vaccines would be rolled out only for the older population, and would not be used for children in particular, was laid aside and we ended up with the roll-out for the entire population, including children?

Bridgen responded as follows, then continued:

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and his support on this very important issue. Of course, it is important that the Government justify why they are rolling out a vaccine to any cohort of people, particularly our children. He will recall that, in the Westminster Hall debate, we questioned the validity of vaccinating children who have minimal risk, if a risk at all, from the virus when there is a clear risk from the vaccine. I will again report on evidence from America later in my speech about those risks, particularly to young children.

In other words, the benefits of the vaccine are close to non-existent. Beyond the alarming yellow card reports, the strongest evidence of harm comes from the gold standard, highest possible quality level of data. A re-analysis of Pfizer and Moderna’s own randomised controlled trials using the mRNA technology, published in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine, revealed a rate of serious adverse events of one in 800 individuals vaccinated. These are events that result in hospitalisation or disability, or that are life changing. Most disturbing of all, however, is that those original trials suggested someone was far more likely to suffer a serious side effect from the vaccine than to be hospitalised with the ancestral, more lethal strain of the virus. These findings are a smoking gun suggesting the vaccine should likely never have been approved in the first place.

In the past, vaccines have been completely withdrawn from use for a much lower incidence of serious harm. For example, the swine flu vaccine was withdrawn in 1976 for causing Guillain-Barré syndrome in only one in 100,000 adults, and in 1999 the rotavirus vaccine was withdrawn for causing a form of bowel obstruction in children affecting one in 10,000. With the covid mRNA vaccine, we are talking of a serious adverse event rate of at least one in 800, because that was the rate determined in the two months when Pfizer actually followed the patients following their vaccination. Unfortunately, some of those serious events, such as heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism will result in death, which is devastating for individuals and the families they leave behind. Many of these events may take longer than eight weeks post vaccination to show themselves.

An Israeli paper published in Nature’s scientific reports showed a 25% increase in heart attack and cardiac arrest in 16 to 39-year-olds in Israel. Another report from Israel looked at levels of myocarditis and pericarditis in people who had had covid and those who had not. It was a study of, I think, 1.2 million who had not had covid and 740,000 who had had it. The incidence of myocarditis and pericarditis was identical in both groups. This would tell the House that whatever is causing the increase in heart problems now, it is not due to having been infected with covid-19.

It was accepted by a peer-reviewed medical journal that one of the country’s most respected and decorated general practitioners, the honorary vice-president of the British Medical Association and the Labour party’s doctor of the year, Dr Kailash Chand, likely suffered a cardiac arrest and was tragically killed by the Pfizer vaccine six months after his second dose, through a mechanism that rapidly accelerates heart disease. In fact, in the UK we have had an extra 14,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in 2021, compared with 2020, following the vaccine roll-out. Many of these will undoubtedly be because of the vaccine, and the consequences of this mRNA jab are clearly serious and common.

Bridgen then went on to discuss conflicts of interest and how they influence vaccine approvals. He then talked about a few subsequent investigations:

In a recent investigation by The BMJ into the financial conflicts of interest of the drug regulators, the sociologist Donald Light said:

“It’s the opposite of having a trustworthy organisation independently and rigorously assessing medicines. They’re not rigorous, they’re not independent, they are selective, and they withhold data.”

He went on to say that doctors and patients

“must appreciate how deeply and extensively drug regulators can’t be trusted so long as they are captured by industry funding.”

Similarly, another investigation revealed that members of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had huge financial links to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation running into billions of pounds. Ministers, the media and the public know that the foundation is heavily invested in pharmaceutical industry stocks.

Unfortunately, the catastrophic mistake over the approval, and the coercion associated with this emergency-use authorisation medical intervention, are not an anomaly, and in many ways this could have been predicted by the structural failures that allowed it to occur in the first place. Those shortcomings are rooted in the increasingly unchecked visible and invisible power of multinational corporations—in this case, big pharma. We can start by acknowledging that the drug industry has a fiduciary obligation to produce profit for its shareholders, but it has no fiduciary obligation to provide the right medicines for patients.

The real scandal is that those with a responsibility to patients and with scientific integrity—namely, doctors, academic institutions and medical journals—collude with the industry for financial gain. Big pharma exerts its power by capturing the political environment through lobbying and the knowledge environment through funding university research and influencing medical education, preference shaping through capture of the media, financing think-tanks and so on. In other words, the public relations machinery of big pharma excels in subterfuge and engages in smearing and de-platforming those who call out its manipulations. No doubt it will be very busy this evening.

It is no surprise, when there is so much control by an entity that has been described as “psychopathic” for its profit-making conduct, that one analysis suggests the third most common cause of death globally after heart disease and cancer is the side effects of prescribed medications, which were mostly avoidable … 

It has also been brought to my attention by a whistleblower from a very reliable source that one of these institutions is covering up clear data that reveals that the mRNA vaccine increases inflammation of the heart arteries. It is covering this up for fear that it may lose funding from the pharmaceutical industry. The lead of that cardiology research department has a prominent leadership role with the British Heart Foundation, and I am disappointed to say that he has sent out non-disclosure agreements to his research team to ensure that this important data never sees the light of day. That is an absolute disgrace. Systemic failure in an over-medicated population also contributes to huge waste of British taxpayers’ money and increasing strain on the NHS.

Danny Kruger intervened a second time:

My hon. Friend is being very good with his time. I just want to call his attention to some research, since I chair the all-party parliamentary group for prescribed drug dependence. He refers to the waste of money; there is £500 million being spent every year by the NHS on prescribed drugs for people who should not be on those habit-forming pills, causing enormous human misery as well as waste for the taxpayer.

Bridgen acknowledged what Kruger said, then concluded his speech:

I thank my hon. Friend for making a point that only reinforces the items in my speech that the public need to know. I thank him again for his support.

We need an inquiry into the influence of big pharma on medications and our NHS. That is been called for many occasions and by some very influential people, including prominent physicians such as the former president of the Royal College of Physicians and personal doctor to our late Queen, Sir Richard Thompson. On separate occasions in the last few years those calls have been supported and covered in the Daily Mail, The Guardian and, most recently, The i newspaper.

We are fighting not just for principles of ethical, evidence-based medical practices, but for our democracy. The future health of the British public depends on us tackling head-on the cause of this problem and finding meaningful solutions …

That first step could start this evening with this debate. It starts here, with the vaccine Minister and the Government ensuring in the first instance an immediate and complete suspension of any more covid vaccines with their use of mRNA technology. Silence on this issue is more contagious than the virus itself, and now so should courage be. I would implore all the scientists, medics, nurses and those in the media who know the truth about the harm these vaccines are causing to our people to speak out.

We have already sacrificed far too many of our citizens on the altar of ignorance and unfettered corporate greed. Last week the MHRA authorised those experimental vaccines for use in children as young as six months. In a Westminster Hall debate some weeks ago, I quoted a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association studying the effect of the covid-19 mRNA vaccination on children under five years of age. It showed that one in 200 had an adverse event that resulted in hospitalisation, and symptoms that lasted longer than 90 days.

As the data clearly shows to anyone who wants to look at it, the mRNA vaccines are not safe, not effective and not necessary. I implore the Government to halt their use immediately. As I have demonstrated and as the data clearly shows, the Government’s current policy on the mRNA vaccines is on the wrong side of medical ethics, it is on the wrong side of scientific data, and ultimately it will be on the wrong side of history.

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield responded on behalf of the Government. She is a nurse who worked on the front line during the darkest days of the pandemic. Not surprisingly, she strongly, but politely, disagreed with Bridgen:

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) for securing the debate. It is important that all Members get to discuss and debate such issues, and they are entitled to their opinion.

I have to say that I strongly disagree with my hon. Friend, not only in the content of his speech, but in the way he derided doctors, scientists and nurses. Many of us worked through the pandemic and saw at first hand the devastation that covid caused. There is no doubt in my mind that, despite the personal protective equipment, social distancing and infection control, the thing that made the biggest difference in combating covid was the introduction of the vaccine …

Caulfield told us things we already know about the Government’s support of the vaccine and how the yellow card system works. She refused to take an intervention from Bridgen but did take one from Kruger, who asked about vaccinating children:

I am grateful. The Minister’s predecessor had asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to review the evidence behind the decision to roll out the vaccine to children. Can she update the House or write to us to explain where that review has got to? Does she agree that the JCVI should be looking at the vaccination of children?

She responded, then continued:

I will write to my hon. Friend with an update on that report. It was touched on that the MHRA has licensed the vaccine for babies, but that has not yet been approved by the JCVI, so that is just a licence rather than a recommendation to roll out. However, I am happy to send him the details of that report.

I want to put on the record that the covid vaccines have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of thousands of people from being hospitalised. I completely disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire that there is a whole conspiracy of doctors, nurses and scientists—they have done nothing but work hard to get us through the pandemic.

In the end, Bridgen got his intervention:

I thank the Minister for giving way on that important point. The claims about the number of lives saved worldwide by the vaccination are sponsored by vested interests. The modelling is the lowest form of scientific evidence—in fact, it is more science fiction than science fact.

Needless to say, Caulfield disagreed and concluded by promoting the vaccines:

I completely disagree. I worked on the covid wards with patients who were dying from that virus. We had infection control measures, antibiotics, dexamethasone—a steroid—and every known facility available, and the only thing that made a difference was when those vaccines were introduced. They do not necessary stop people from getting the virus, but they certainly reduce its intensity and the likelihood of someone dying from it.

I completely debunk the conspiracy theories about a whole group of people benefiting financially from the roll-out of the vaccine and would gently say to my hon. Friend that if he has evidence, there are mechanisms in place for raising concerns, as we have seen with other drugs. Only today, I was before the Health and Social Care Committee talking about sodium valproate—we also had an Adjournment debate on that last week—where there are genuine safety concerns. The MHRA is taking that extremely seriously. It is not worried about pharma concerns; its first priority is patients, and it is exactly the same with the covid vaccine. So if there is evidence—I am not saying that there is not—it absolutely must go through the proper channels so that it can be evaluated.

We have launched a nationwide campaign to encourage people to come forward this winter to get their booster. I recommend that people do that safe in the knowledge that the vaccine is safe for people to have.

The debate ended and the House was adjourned.

Last Saturday, December 18, GB News’s Neil Oliver covered Bridgen’s debate and Aseem Malhotra’s findings in his editorial. Oliver rightly wonders why the vaccine scandal isn’t getting plastered all over the media the way coronavirus statistics were in 2020 and 2021. Instead, he says, there is nothing but deafening silence:

Dr Aseem Malhotra’s journey

When governments first announced the vaccines, Dr Malhotra, a cardiologist, was enthusiastic and encouraged everyone to get them.

Like the rest of us, he believed it when world leaders said the vaccines would prevent transmission. We saw that they did not.

Then, Malhotra’s father fell ill from one of the jabs. While he was an older gentleman, he was fit and ran daily. He also led an active life.

Malhotra examined his father and saw that he had suddenly developed heart problems.

On October 6, the cardiologist spoke publicly at the World Council for Health about the dangers the vaccines pose. He also said he doubted whether the original claims about preventing transmission were true. He urged a pause in vaccine roll outs:

Even with treatment from his son, Malhotra senior died in October. What a blow that must have been:

On December 17, Malhotra and Dr Peter McCullough discussed the vaccine’s dangerous side effects with Jan Jekielek of Epoch Times:

Medical practitioners now speaking out

Fortunately, within the past week, medical practitioners have begun speaking out about the dangers of the vaccines.

On December 16, a vascular specialist urged a pause in the vaccine roll out:

On December 17, a British GP said he would like an investigation into the vaccines:

Doctors for Patients UK aired their views on Wednesday, December 21:

Their video was taken down for a time but is now back up and running:

Apparently, one place where speaking out is forbidden is California, where one’s licence to practice can be suspended. No surprise there:

We can but hope that 2023 blows the vaccine controversy out into the open once and for all.

I can bet you dollars to doughnuts that every media outlet knows these interventions don’t work and are injurious to health. As Andrew Bridgen said of the media personality he spoke with, they’re afraid of losing their jobs if they say something openly.

One media outlet that is covering the vaccines is GB News, particularly on Mark Steyn’s weeknight show. My best wishes go to him as he recovers in France from two heart attacks in succession. I hope they are not related to ‘the jabs’.

This is my final instalment on the rise and fall of Matt Hancock, the former Health and Social Care Secretary.

Those who missed them — and the drama of the pandemic — can catch up on parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

July 2021

Britons, including some Conservative MPs, were angry that Hancock was not-so-secretly embracing his female adviser while imposing draconian coronavirus restrictions on the rest of us. Thankfully, The Sun revealed the truth in a ‘world exclusive’.

On July 3, 2021, journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who recently co-authored Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries — now on sale — explained in The Spectator how she missed the scoop, even when presented with the evidence (emphases mine, unless otherwise indicated):

I was sent a compromising picture of the then health secretary and his mistress almost a week before the Sun newspaper sensationally revealed their relationship — and I did not believe it was him

Here’s what happened. On the morning of 20 June I was leafing through the Sunday newspapers when I received a message from an important contact. ‘Good morning. This might brighten your day, I have a guy who says he has incriminating footage of Matt Hancock,’ he wrote breezily. Accompanying the text was a grainy image, no bigger than a postage stamp, of a man in a suit, leaning forward to embrace a raven-haired woman in a figure-hugging dress. ‘What to do next?’ the message asked …

I only had the one poor-quality screen grab (not the video that would later be released) and no information about the original source. The picture had been sent to my contact via an untraceable ProtonMail account. Moreover, the pandemic has sent all manner of conspiracy theorists and pranksters into overdrive, creating perilous working conditions for journalists …

My contact agreed that his source was ‘probably a chancer’, but said he would see what else he could get. ‘No rush,’ the original source said when they discussed arrangements for viewing the full video — and then he or she hotfooted it to the Sun.

A former counter-terror detective studied past photos of Hancock’s office and deduced that Hancock might have had his office extended by appropriating some of the corridor space. The corridor would probably have had a security camera:

On July 1, in Parliament, Labour Shadow Leader of the House Thangham Debbonaire took the then-Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg to task for having previously defended the Health Secretary throughout the pandemic:

That same day, Hancock was in his West Suffolk constituency to apologise to the locals.

The London Evening Standard reported that Conservatives there:

vowed to stick by him after he gave a “heartfelt apology”, despite calls for his deselection.

The former health secretary was on Wednesday told to “do the honourable thing” and stand down by a local Tory councillor …

Tory councillor Ian Houlder told the Standard he was “disgusted” by Mr Hancock’s behaviour and had written to his local association calling for him to be deselected before the next election.

However, after days of silence, the MP’s local association has spoken out in support of Mr Hancock saying he has “faced up to the mistakes” he made.

In a statement, the West Suffolk Conservative Association said: “Following Matt Hancock’s resignation as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, West Suffolk Conservative Association has taken soundings.

“We wish to express our support for Matt, who has served our Constituency tirelessly over the past 11 years.

“Matt has given us a heartfelt apology for recent events, has faced up to the mistakes he has made on both a human and a professional level and expressed sincere contrition.

“We want to thank Matt for the extraordinary job he has done as Health Secretary leading the country through the pandemic and overseeing the roll out of the world’s best vaccination programme, and look forward to working with him as he continues to represent his constituents in Parliament.”

Councillor Houlder said the MP’s actions were “beyond the pale” and added: “It’s nothing to do with his sordid affair because otherwise you’d have an empty parliament wouldn’t you?

“It’s the very fact he stood up there for a year spouting, pontificating, ordering, browbeating, slagging off people who broke his rules.”

Mr Hancock’s constituency association was said to be divided in the wake of his decision to leave his wife of 15 years, Martha, who is a popular figure. He is said to have delegated much of the work of networking with local worthies to his wife.

One anonymous councillor told the Telegraph there was not “outrage” but a “sense of sadness” for the family. They added: “There is support for Matt as a constituency MP and that seems to be holding up.”

On July 3, The Sun accused Labour’s Shadow Deputy Leader Angela Rayner, a grandmother, of hypocrisy in slamming Hancock’s affair when she was allegedly having one herself, with a fellow Labour MP:

ANGELA Rayner has been accused of hypocrisy after calling out Matt Hancock over his affair — while keeping quiet on the nature of her relationship with a married MP.

The Labour deputy leader, 41, grew close to Shadow Minister Sam Tarry after being wed for a decade and it is understood his marriage is now in crisis.

Her bond with the father of two was revealed in The Sun on Sunday last October.

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen declared: “The public deserves the same transparency from Angela Rayner as she has demanded of Matt Hancock.

“She’s taken the moral high ground on this matter on every occasion. You can always bank on the Left for their constant hypocrisy.”

Mrs Rayner, who has two children with estranged husband Mark, wrote to Boris Johnson demanding he sack Mr Hancock following the revelations.

The following day, the paper’s veteran columnist Trevor Kavanagh said that publishing Matt Hancock’s security camera photo and video was the right thing to do:

FREE at last! The Sun did Britain a huge favour last week with our “Hancock – The Movie” scoop.

Nothing else would have dislodged this limpet’s grip on our daily lives.

Since then, it’s been like waking from an anaesthetic to find test-and-trace manacles and Covid leg irons being unlocked and removed.

New Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s comforting bedside ­manner and vow of freedom from July 19 are a relief from the teasing menace of his predecessor.

On July 5, former Conservative MP Norman Tebbit wrote in The Telegraph that this never would have happened in Margaret Thatcher’s day, although he did admit the Cecil Parkinson affair:

I see that Mrs Coladangelo is described as being an “non-executive director” at the Department of Health, but what are the duties of such a post? By whom was she appointed and to whom did she report? That I do not know.

In my time as a Secretary of State in the government of Margaret Thatcher, things were arranged rather differently. I had a Permanent Secretary who was a career civil servant responsible for all the officials throughout the Department and was in turn responsible to me. That was a clear and sensible arrangement which was wrecked by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s half-witted scheme to bring in outsiders from the private sector to take senior posts in the civil service.

Before then, had a minister begun to form an emotional or sexual relationship with one of his staff, she (or he) would have been promptly moved to another post before things became dangerous. It was not that politicians in those days had higher moral standards, but there was an effective way of stopping them from making fools of themselves and it generally worked well. However, even in those days there was nothing which could have saved my old friend Cecil Parkinson from his foolish affair with his constituency secretary, who was not a civil servant. The affair was exposed when she bore him a daughter.

On July 10, the Mail on Sunday reported that Hancock would need more money to fund his new life. Hmm. This seems to presage what happened late in 2022, with his appearance on I’m A Celebrity … Allegedly, the show paid him £400,000 to appear in the Australian jungle. Interesting:

Matt Hancock is already plotting how to salvage his political career – despite being urged by some former Cabinet colleagues to quit the Commons entirely.

The ex-Health Secretary has appealed to current and former Ministers for advice on how to fight back after his resignation, The Mail on Sunday can reveal …

They also warned that even if he stayed on, he could struggle to supplement his backbench MP’s salary of nearly £82,000 with outside jobs, which they say he would now need to.

One former Minister he has consulted said that Mr Hancock, who has left his wife for Ms Coladangelo, would need more money to ‘fund his new life’.

The Sun also reported the story.

On July 15, the Information Commissioner’s Office seized computers and other electronic equipment connected with the leak of the CCTV leak leading to Hancock’s resignation:

Guido Fawkes reported (red emphases his):

The statement just released goes on to say “Personal computer equipment and electronic devices were seized as part of the operation”. The ICO’s Director of Investigations says it’s vital everyone, including government employees, have trust and confidence in the protection of their personal data. Victoria Newton recently said she’s “done everything I can to protect” The Sun’s source…

On July 31, the Mail reported, complete with photos, that Hancock and his girlfriend were still living apart:

Matt Hancock and his lover Gina Coladangelo are ‘together, apart’ as they try to build a relationship out of the public gaze, say friends.

The former Health Secretary is understood to be in regular contact with Ms Coladangelo – but they are not yet living together.

On Thursday, Mr Hancock was pictured collecting his belongings from his former marital home in London.

The father-of-three was handed a bin bag containing his clothes, along with ten boxes, two suitcases, a child seat and a coffee machine – and was watched at the garden gate by a confused-looking family dog.

August 2021

On August 1, The Telegraph‘s Gordon Rayner wrote:

It is a measure of the brutal nature of politics that scarcely a month has passed since Matt Hancock’s resignation, yet he already has the air of a figure from history.

The former Health Secretary risked everything to pursue an affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo, and four weeks after it was so humiliatingly exposed, the future of his relationship with her, as well as the future of his career, appears to be up in the air.

Mr Hancock has not given up hope of rescuing his ministerial career, and in recent days has begun to re-engage with fellow MPs via a backbenchers’ WhatsApp group in what colleagues interpreted as an attempt to test the water …

There was no sign of contrition, however, from Mr Hancock, who was blamed for the Tories’ narrow defeat in the Batley and Spen by-election, which came days after the scandal over his affair …

That night former Conservative/UKIP MP Douglas Carswell told GB News:

We must never be in a position where someone like Matt Hancock can tell us if we can hug our grandma.

On Tuesday, August 17, GB News reported that Hancock’s lack of action as Health Secretary might have worsened the pandemic. There was a point where the Test and Trace app was pinging people’s phones constantly, advising them to stay at home. It was called the pingdemic:

The article says:

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was reportedly asked whether the NHS Covid-19 app should be amended to alert contacts of positive cases from two days back rather than five days, but no change was made.

The app was tweaked earlier this month amid the so-called “pingdemic”, which had seen hundreds of thousands of alerts sent out telling people to isolate because they had come into contact with someone who had the virus.

The high number of alerts caused disruption to several sectors as workers had to stay at home after being pinged.

It was announced on August 2 that fewer contacts would be notified in future after the app’s “logic” was updated to alert only those contacts two days prior to a positive test, rather than five days.

But the Guardian has reported an unnamed Whitehall source as saying Mr Hancock, who resigned on June 26 amid public outrage after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing an aide in breach of coronavirus social distancing rules, had previously been told that the app was working to five days, rather than two.

The person told the newspaper: “The standard definition of a contact in all the scientific and public stuff from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace is someone who has been in contact from two days before they have symptoms and if they don’t have symptoms but test positive, you go back two days from the test.

“But the app had five days in it. A submission was made to Hancock from Test and Trace people around the time of his resignation saying ‘it’s five days but it should be two days: should we change it now?’ And it didn’t happen.”

On August 17, The Spectator and Guido Fawkes got footage of Hancock travelling on the Tube’s District Line.

The Spectator reported:

the 42-year-old has become an unlikely star on TikTok after recently encountering a group of youthful commuters on the District Line. 

The group were apparently unaware of Hancock’s identity but delighted in teasing the poor ex-minister about his choice of hat wear and stealing the baseball cap to wear themselves. Videos recorded of the encounter detail how ‘The whole tube was singing… We love you Matt, we do!’ — something which ‘made our night’ according to the adolescent uploader.

Guido said:

He’s lost his wife, his job, his home and now his hat: footage has emerged of Matt Hancock being ribbed by members of the public on a tube. The video shows a lady stealing Matt’s headwear, before running off with it at Embankment station. He then appears to take his mask off as he shouts after her. Would SAGE approve, Matt?

On August 20, Guido Fawkes posted that the then-Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden pinched the fetching pop art portrait of the Queen for his own office. It’s not a Warhol, by the way. It’s by a British artist who paints in the same style:

Guido explained:

Oliver Dowden has posted a photo to social media with a notably redecorated Whitehall office, resplendent with some well-known pop-art of the Queen. Politicos will immediately recognise the artwork given it spent the entirety of the pandemic positioned behind Matt Hancock during interviews in his ex-DHSC office. One of Sajid’s first decisions in office was to replace the piece with an 1890s oil painting…

While Hancock wasn’t able to take home the prized painting, which belongs to the Government Art Collection, he thankfully didn’t leave his personalised ‘movie director‘ chair around for Dowden to pinch. With rumours of a reshuffle circulating, perhaps the painting isn’t the only thing from the DHSC office Dowden has his eye on…

Hat Tip: Hugo Gye

September 2021

On September 3, The Telegraph reported that a source told them Hancock was no gentleman:

Matt Hancock is “no gentleman” and has failed to apologise to his wife for cheating on her, according to a source close to the family.

The source said Mr Hancock’s wife, Martha, had been “crushed” and “shattered” by his infidelity and that he had shown a “lack of concern” for her and their three children. It has been reported that she is suffering from long Covid, having contracted the virus from her husband …

The ongoing upset and distress have prompted a source close to the family to speak out for the first time, saying they have been “appalled” by his behaviour … 

The source said: “Martha has been crushed by this, and Matt is only interested in his career and his mistress. He is a despicable individual.

“He has shown no concern for Martha or the children. He has been uncaring to Martha even though she backed him throughout his career and introduced him to the people that made his career. She has always defended him throughout.”

Hancock’s attempts at getting back in the public’s good books were failing dismally.

On September 4, the Mail reported:

Matt Hancock’s bid to rebuild his reputation by running the London Marathon has hit the buffers after pranksters flooded his charity page with mocking taunts.

The former Health Secretary is running in next month’s event to raise funds for St Nicholas Hospice Care in his West Suffolk constituency – a decision that critics say is a crude bid at rehabilitating his reputation.

But the move already appears to have backfired, with his JustGiving page flooded by people donating the minimum sum and using the opportunity to write an accompanying message condemning his philandering and record in office.

By last night, 459 ‘supporters’ had pledged £3,653, but the majority of messages were critical.

Matt Reilly wrote: ‘If you break an ankle, I’ll donate another £100’

Dauda Bappa wrote: ‘Happy to donate to this hospice, but you are a truly terrible human being, Matt. I guess hate can be used for good. Break a leg xx.’

Another said: ‘You, sir, are the worst kind of over-privileged slug pretending to be a human.’

On September 6, Guido had an update:

Hancock’s attempted return back to the Tory fold isn’t going as smoothly as he may have liked. Back in recess he made his first appearance on the Commons’ backbenches, though didn’t make a speech as he instead attempted to schmooze colleagues in the tea room. At least one of his colleagues told Guido they found it pretty uncomfortable…

Last week, he made headlines after announcing his participation in a sponsored run for a local hospice, only to see plenty of online trolls pay money just to throw abuse at him in the donation comments section.

Matt clearly didn’t see the funny side to this; while he can’t stop the trolling entirely, he’s forced all donations to now come from ‘anonymous’. Meaning jokers can no longer pose as his mum or Gina Coladangelo.

His luck isn’t set to improve this week either. On Thursday he’s to be a Tory association’s guest of honour for the first time since The Sun turned him into a persona non grata. Tory members in Chipping Barnet will be the first to enjoy his company at venue. Guido hears the room can cater for up to 350 bodies. The number of ticket sales so far? Around 70…

October 2021

Matt Hancock ran the London Marathon as planned in order to raise money for the hospice in his constituency. The Mail included a video of him in their report of October 3.

On October 12, the Mail reported that there was good news for Hancock, at last:

Matt Hancock made a surprise comeback last night as he was given a United Nations role just four months after resigning as health secretary.

The former Cabinet minister will advise African nations on how their economies can bounce back from the pandemic.

The Daily Mail understands he won the unpaid job thanks to Nimco Ali, a campaigner against female genital mutilation who is a close friend of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie.

Guido has a copy of his acceptance letter.

Alas, Hancock’s good news was short-lived.

On October 16, The Telegraph reported that the UN rescinded his appointment:

Matt Hancock has lost his new job at the United Nations just four days after being appointed, following outrage from figures who condemned the “jaw dropping” decision to appoint him as a special envoy for Covid recovery in Africa.

The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said his appointment was “not being taken forward,” following days of criticism.

Mr Hancock, who resigned his job as Health Secretary in June after he was pictured on CCTV kissing an aide, had said he was “honoured” to take up the role of Special Representative for Financial Innovation and Climate Change.

The Telegraph understands Mr Hancock was told by the United Nations that it cannot appoint sitting MPs to be special representatives, and that it was forced to rescind the appointment.

Mid-month, Hancock began getting his own back on the public.

His first article appeared in the Mail on Sunday, September 18, in which he called anti-vaxxers ‘blinkered and dangerous’. However, it was only in October when we found out how much he got paid for penning it. Guido’s Christian Calgie revealed that Hancock received £2,000:

His second that I know of, co-authored with Labour MP Rupa Huq — not a natural political pairing by any means — appeared in The Times on Wednesday, October 20. If the anti-vaxxer article infuriated me, this one took the biscuit. 

The two of them attempted to portray the two tragic assassinations of MPs David Amess, who had just been stabbed at his local surgery (to meet members of the public), and Jo Cox, slain a week before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, as results of online harassment. Neither was anything of the sort!

‘MPs need more protection online’ reads, in part:

The assassination of our kind friend and colleague Sir David Amess — he genuinely was a friend to so many — has shocked parliament to its core, but the aftermath, too, has not been a pretty sight. We were both disgusted to see Michael Gove harassed walking along the pavement. Coming so painfully soon after the murder it shows the urgent need for action. Tightening security at MPs’ surgeries addresses the symptoms not the cause.

There have been hecklers as long as there have been public meetings. But using online social media, keyboard warriors post accusatory, aggressive messages often based on conspiracy theories and lies. Our timelines and inboxes are awash with threats. Women, particularly from ethnic minority backgrounds, get it worst. But white men are not immune either. One user said, “just execute matt hancock live on bbc one i say”

The online harms bill is a good start, but it does not yet tackle anonymous abuse. It is a particular problem that libel laws don’t work in the internet age. It is hard to prove that a single post by a social media user with a few hundred followers causes significant damage, but when that post is shared and added to by hundreds or thousands of others, it has the same effect as a defamatory newspaper piece in days gone by.

A few days later, social media had captured Hancock and his friend on holiday in Split, Croatia:

On October 25, Guido wrote:

Matt Hancock treated his lover Gina Coladangelo to another romantic getaway over the weekend, this time in the port city of Split, Croatia. The pair were spotted sipping wine outside the Lvxor Café on Saturday night. Split? Cynics didn’t expect them to still be together…

Later that day, Guido posted that Hancock wrote to IPSO — the Independent Press Standards Organisation — demanding that images of him be removed from the public domain:

Guido’s post has the text of Hancock’s long letter and this comment:

That horse has bolted through the office doorway. As for the video of Matt and Gina in Split which was circulating widely on social media after a holidaying Briton spotted them and whipped their smartphone out, asking IPSO to intervene would not make any difference. More importantly, as Matt told parliament after the Leveson Inquiry, when he was the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:

Over many centuries in Britain, our press has held the powerful to account and been free to report and investigate without fear or favour. These principles underpin our democracy and are integral to our freedom as a nation.

The harm done to his children was, as he must know in his heart, a consequence of his own actions. The pictorial reminder disappearing from the papers won’t change that…

How true!

November 2021

Still smarting from public backlash, Hancock put out an advert for a Communications Officer. Oddly, the application dates ran from November 13 to November 14.

On November 15, Guido posted a screenshot of the ad and this commentary:

Over the weekend Guido noticed the former Health Minister looking for a new Communications Officer to undertake his media and press activities. The advert said he wants someone to be “pro-active and re-active communications with all media”, and to create content for social media and assist with wider communication activities. Possibly spurred on by yet more embarrassing headlines over the weekend that he is to write a £100,000 autobiography called entitled “How I Won the Covid War”?

Matt also wants the prospective hire to “Establish, monitor and update” social media, which is surely a mammoth and hardly heartening task.

Unusually, Hancock gave prospective applicants just 24 hours to apply after publishing the ad on Saturday, and closing it on Sunday. Was Matt actually offering fair competition for the job or did he already have a mate in mind? He’d surely avoid giving preferential contract treatment to mates…

The month’s Hancock news ended with The Spectator awards. Hancock’s successor Sajid Javid won the Comeback of the Year Award and thanked ‘the CCTV guy’ who leaked the incriminating visuals:

December 2021

December’s news was mercifully brief.

On December 11, Hancock attempted to get down with the kids at the Jingle Bell Ball held at London’s O2 Centre. Had he seen a fashion stylist? One wondered:

On December 8, The Sun‘s political editor Harry Cole won the Scoop of the Year prize at the British Journalism Awards and took a swipe at attempts to censor the images that brought about Hancock’s downfall.

On December 13, the Press Gazette reported:

Sun political editor Harry Cole has pledged “we will keep fighting on” amid a “continuing erosion of journalistic rights”.

Cole made the comments after The Sun picked up the Scoop of the Year prize at the British Journalism Awards on Wednesday night for revealing then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s office affair with aide Gina Coladangelo while Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

Cole collected the award alongside Sun head of news Alex Goss and executive news editor Ben O’Driscoll …

But he warned the aftermath of the Hancock scoop had demonstrated an ongoing “systematic decay of freedom of the press”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office raided the homes of two suspected whistleblowers in the case who may have leaked the CCTV footage of Hancock and Coladangelo’s incriminating office snog.

Cole said The Sun also witnessed threats from government officials and even heard accusations of involvement by Chinese and Russian agents and spies.

“Everyone in this room, whether they read The Sun or not, should know that this has a chilling effect on the freedom of the press and we are really glad that public interest journalism is recognised in this way,” he said.

Cole said the Hancock story was a “really important scoop for us”, adding: “We pride ourselves on our reputation as protectors of free speech and democracy.

“There are sometimes stories you write that you have to make a public interest argument for. It was so clearly and obviously in the public interest we just knew it was a story that was going to leave everyone in our trail. As a journalist there’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve got one of those in the bag.”

As well as the ICO investigation, Cole pointed to the threat posed by proposed reform to the Official Secrets Act which could see journalists treated like spies for reporting on matters of public interest.

January 2021

On January 21, 2022, the Mail reported on the actual costs of MPs, which are much higher than one thinks: an average of £240,000 per MP per annum.

Hancock came in for special mention:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was the most expensive MP in the Cabinet, with total costs of £225,305. This compared with £174,454 for Boris Johnson and £164,545 for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

On January 18, the Evening Standard reported that Hancock took an icy dip in the Serpentine in Hyde Park:

The 43-year-old Tory MP had been jogging in a foggy Hyde Park with members of the Parliamentary Running Club, including former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and former junior health minister Lord Bethell.

On reaching the Serpentine, where other swimmers had broken a thin layer of ice on the surface, the trio stripped off and took to the murky waters.

Mr Hancock, who has only just emerged from isolation after testing positive for Covid for the second time last week, swam for about 20 metres in water chilled by a frosty winter’s night before deciding that was enough.

However, the Serpentine (Serps) Swimming Club was not impressed. Hancock was an interloper:

The Serps Swimming Club had tweeted a photo of him with a notice saying that only members were allowed — no guests:

February 2022

On February 21, Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle called on Hancock to contribute to a debate. Hoyle quipped:

The man for the rules, Matt Hancock!

Guido commented:

He just can’t catch a break…

That month, Hancock decided to reveal more about his new relationship in a podcast.

On February 27, the Mail on Sunday‘s Emily Prescott reported:

Now the dust is settling, he is opening up about the romance. 

My pictures show Matt and Gina at the recording of a yet-to-be released podcast, The Diary of a CEO with Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett, which was recorded a couple of weeks ago.

My mole tells me Matt, 43, became very emotional talking about falling in love and said it was ‘totally out of his control’

Matt said it happened quite suddenly, despite knowing Gina since university at Oxford.

He conceded it had been the ‘most difficult year of his life’. 

But Gina was sitting behind the cameras offering loving and supportive glances throughout.

The Mail had more the next day, when the podcast aired. What he said was all very confusing:

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has denied he broke the law by having an affair with a close aide during lockdown that destroyed his political career …

Speaking to The Diary of a CEO podcast, released this morning, Mr Hancock said he ‘fell in love’ with Coladangelo after bringing her in to work with him. 

He told the podcast host, entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den investor Steven Bartlett: ‘It actually happened after the rules were lifted, but the guidance was still in place. I resigned because I broke the social distancing guidelines by then.

‘They weren’t actually rules. They weren’t the law. But that’s not the point.

‘The point is they were the guidelines that I’d been proposing. And that happened because I fell in love with somebody.’ 

People had to stay two metres apart from anyone outside their household or bubble, under the guidance at the time. 

Mr Hancock stressed that his relationship with Miss Coladangelo was serious, saying he hated that some had ‘got the impression somehow that this was [casual sex]’.

Mid-month Steven Bartlett tweeted that he had interviewed Hancock:

He said: ‘Matt Hancock x The Diary Of A CEO! Matt Hancock stopped by with his new partner Gina to speak to me.

‘It’s time to find out what really happened, it’s time to ask the questions we’ve not had answers to; Party gate? Where did the CCTV footage come from? What mistakes did he make?’

He added: ‘This is the first time in the history of The Diary Of A CEO that things got a little heated between me and a guest at one point.

‘However, Matt did answer all of the tough questions I asked him and nothing will be edited out. You will see it all.’

Mr Bartlett also tweeted pictures of Mr Hancock and Ms Coladangelo at the interview, with the former health secretary wearing blue jeans and a navy roll-neck jumper.

Guido had more, along with a video clip. Hancock didn’t think Bartlett was being respectful enough:

Here’s the video clip:

Guido wrote:

Inevitably Hancock was uncomfortable with the topic, clearly unhappy at Bartlett referring to the affair as “casual sex”. He repeatedly asks Bartlett to restart the segment by asking the questions “in a little bit more respectful way”, and seems to think the moment would be edited out of the final interview. It wasn’t.

He advised:

Watch at your own discretion…

March 2022

On March 2, The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson commented on the podcast, saying that Hancock was ‘dressed as the Milk Tray man’:

Talking to Steve Bartlett on the Diary of a CEO podcast, Hancock, dressed like the Milk Tray man, said he “fell in love” and “it all happened quite quickly. It actually happened… after the rules were lifted, but the guidance was still in place… I resigned because I broke the social distancing guidelines. By then, they weren’t actually rules. They weren’t the law. But that’s not the point. The point is they were the guidelines that I’d been proposing. And that happened because I fell in love with somebody.

Let us pause for a moment to unpick that knotty thicket of delusion and self-justification. Hancock clearly knew full well that what he was telling the British people they must do after a certain date was just guidance not regulation. As Lord Sumption has observed: “I think the Government knew people did not understand the difference and exploited their confusion.”

Now, Hancock has the brass neck to exploit that confusion to his own advantage. Hey, it was fine to be canoodling in his office because no law said that he couldn’t, even though lesser mortals stayed well away from their best beloved for a year in case they got caught. 

Unfortunately, such a realisation would require a degree of self-knowledge to which Hancock is a stranger. He is certainly in love – with himself mostly – and that fierce self-love leads him to think that, if he keeps bouncing up … then the public will forgive and forget.

We won’t, believe me. 

I’m not at the forgiveness point, either.

I have many more Matt Hancock pandemic bookmarks but will wait for the official inquiry before going into them.

The podcast was still a hot topic on March 6, as the Mail on Sunday had more about Hancock’s accusation that Bartlett wasn’t respectful enough:

During the two-hour interview for a podcast last week, Mr Hancock protested when Mr Bartlett mentioned ‘casual sex’ while questioning him about his extra-marital affair with aide Gina Coladangelo – in breach of his own Covid restrictions.

Mr Hancock raised his hand and asked Mr Bartlett to ‘ask the question in a little bit more respectful way’. He added: ‘I have not had casual sex with anybody, I fell in love.’

Mr Hancock asked the host if could ‘start this section again’, and this newspaper understands that the MP also told Mr Bartlett ‘this is off’ – meaning off the record – as they discussed rephrasing the question to remove the reference to casual sex.

Mr Bartlett said: ‘OK, let me ask the question and we can crack the question, all right?’ He then continued the interview.

Mr Hancock and his aides thought the brief exchange would be cut and were horrified to discover it had been left in when the podcast was posted online last week. But Mr Hancock’s words ‘this is off’ were not included.

The Mail on Sunday understands that Mr Hancock feels ‘stitched up’ and that he had agreed to do the interview with Mr Bartlett on the basis that nothing would be left in that he considered to be ‘hurtful’ to his estranged wife, Martha, or their three children.

On March 25, Will Lloyd wrote a brilliant article for UnHerd listing all of Hancock’s best quotes before and during the pandemic in ‘The tragedy of Matt Hancock’, which is well worth reading.

Lloyd concluded with the fallout of the present day:

The number of children referred for specialist mental health help rises above one million for the first time in 2021. Cases involving those 18 and under increase by 26% during the pandemic. The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns it is “becoming an impossible situation to manage”.

People, including Hancock, like to talk about learning the lessons of the pandemic. So we can prepare better for the next one. They don’t realise that between the million mentally hamstrung teenagers, the NHS waiting list hitting 9.2 million within two years, an endless backlog of cases in criminal courts, and inflation, that the pandemic hasn’t ended yet. It’s barely started.

April 2022

On April 13, the investigation into the leaked CCTV images ended with no charges brought:

Guido reported the text from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and his own summary:

The Information Commissioner’s Office closed their investigation into the Department for Health CCTV leak that saw Hancock’s snog with then-aide Gina Coladangelo splashed on the front page of The Sun. The ICO announced this afternoon that their investigation had found “insufficient evidence to prosecute two people suspected of unlawfully obtaining and disclosing CCTV footage from the Department for Health and Social Care”. They shouldn’t have been investigating anyway…

On April 24, GB News’s Dan Wootton interviewed Hancock for 30 minutes about the pandemic policies:

Hancock justified himself throughout. I felt sorry for Wootton, who was — and still is — trying to get the truth:

May 2022

On May 5, Hancock opened his home to Ukrainian refugees.

The Telegraph reported:

Matt Hancock has welcomed seven Ukrainian refugees and their four dogs into his family home in Suffolk.

Mr Hancock, the former health secretary, first revealed that he would take part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme last month after being contacted by a constituent.

The MP for Suffolk West has now housed the constituent’s mother, two sisters, niece, nephew, and the nephew’s partner and grandmother.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know Ukrainian food and picking up the basics of the language,” he said. “It’s humbling living with three generations from one family who have escaped war with little more than the clothes on their backs. It brings perspective.”

Writing in The Spectator, he added that the teenagers staying with him had continued their studies through remote learning …

July 2022

On July 19, Hancock presented a guest phone-in on LBC.

A guest got the better of him and Hancock muted him:

Guido has the story and video, including an update from a friend of Hancock’s saying he was right to mute the man:

Matt Hancock is spending the day behind the LBC mic, presenting what should be a radio phone in, though it’s coming across as a prolonged party political broadcast on behalf of Rishi Sunak™. Matt was left hot under the collar at one point following some searing criticisms from a member of the public. John from Edinburgh called out Hancock’s legacy in dealing with the management of rare conditions, calling him a “totally useless health secretary”. Before too long Matt could clearly no longer take the barrage, angrily signalling for a producer to mute the call before launching into an uninterrupted rant. For the second time in recent history, Matt was unfortunately undermined by a camera he presumably forgot was running…

Here’s the video:

October 2022

On October 24, as Rishi Sunak received his coronation as Conservative Party leader, Matt Hancock was one of the Party’s MPs meeting at CCHQ to congratulate him.

Sunak brushed past him as if he weren’t there:

The Telegraph reported:

He was once the health secretary, at the helm of one of the most important government departments during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Matt Hancock appeared to have slipped down the hierarchy on Monday, after being ignored by Rishi Sunak on his way into Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) as party leader for the first time.

The former health secretary, who nominated Mr Sunak for the Conservative Party leadership this week and sat next to him in Cabinet when the pair served under Boris Johnson, looked on as his old colleague greeted others.

On October 31, Guido told us that Hancock dropped his bid to run as the new chair of the Treasury Select Committee:

Matt Hancock’s campaign for the chairmanship of the Treasury select committee has come to a premature end. Passed over by Rishi, the former Health Secretary was keen to stress he was still in play, and that “a number of people suggested I should go for Chair”. The number just wasn’t large enough…

November 2022

Undoubtedly, November was Britain’s longest month of enduring Hancock since the pandemic.

If Parliament wouldn’t acquiesce to bringing him back into the fold, perhaps a television audience would do so.

On November 1, we discovered that the disgraced former Health Secretary was planning to go Down Under in I’m a Celebrity … Get Me out of Here:

Guido told us more:

Intent on proving his midlife crisis hasn’t yet peaked, Matt Hancock is jetting off to Australia to enter the jungle as the 12th campmate on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, the Sun has revealed. The new series kicks off on November 6th, with Hancock arriving as a late contestant soon after. Cabinet hopes dashed, he’s now off to become the King of the Jungle…

A political ally of Hancock’s sent Guido a lengthy justification for the decision, which includes promoting Hancock’s notional dyslexia campaign, of which we had never heard before this. Excerpts follow:

I’m A Celeb is the most watched show on TV. Matt doesn’t expect to serve in Government again, so it’s an incredible opportunity for him to engage with the 12million Brits who tune in every single night

There are many ways to do the job of being an MP. Whether he’s in camp for one-day or three weeks, there are very few places people will be able to see a politician as they really are.

Where better to show the human side of those who make these decisions than with the most watched programme on TV? …

Matt’s talked to the whips, in the same way any MP would when going on a foreign visit, which happens all the time. As I say, Matt doesn’t expect to serve in Government again, but he can support Rishi and the Government in different ways.

This is an amazing opportunity to engage with the public and talk about issues he really cares about – including his dyslexia campaign.

Hancock’s friend said he’d had discussions with the Whips Office and that everything was fine.

Well, it wasn’t fine at all. Hancock had the Conservative whip withdrawn and, to this day, still sits as an Independent:

Guido wrote, ending with the show’s familiar catchphrase:

… A statement from the Chief Whip Simon Hart:

Following a conversation with Matt Hancock, I have considered the situation and believe this is a matter serious enough to warrant suspension of the whip with immediate effect.

He was a Tory MP… now he’s out of there.

The Sun also had the story:

The news of Hancock’s imminent television appearance for days on end did not please everyone in his West Suffolk constituency.

Guido posted:

Matt Hancock’s local constituency deputy chairman tells PA [the Press Association]:

I’m looking forward to him eating a kangaroo’s penis. Quote me. You can quote me that.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper disagreed with that assessment but did think it was right that Hancock had the whip removed:

Guido had more:

In headlines Guido never thought he’d be writing, the new Transport Secretary Mark Harper told Sky News he is not looking forward to watching his now-ex colleague Matt Hancock eat a kangaroo’s penis on I’m A Celebrity. As a former Chief Whip himself, Harper agrees with Simon Hart’s decision to sack Hancock and said it was correct given mincing off to the Jungle is not compatible with being an MP. Maybe eating kangaroo penis should be added to the list of potential Chief Whip punishments…

While Hancock denied that he’d lost his marbles for deciding to go on the reality television programme, his fellow Conservatives made a laughing stock out of him at PMQs on November 2, including Anthony Mangnall and Anne-Marie Trevelyan:

On November 8, some of his West Suffolk constituents were deeply unhappy, as The Telegraph‘s Gordon Rayner revealed:

After accusing him of abandoning his constituents, the council in the biggest town in Mr Hancock’s constituency has held a show of hands on his future – and decided that he should “do the honourable thing and resign”

Mr Hancock, 44, has been the MP for West Suffolk since 2010. However, there is speculation that he might stand down at the next general election after being overlooked for a Cabinet job by Rishi Sunak, the new Prime Minister, and then leaving his post to appear alongside celebrities including [Princess Anne’s son-in-law] Mike Tindall, Boy George and [DJ] Chris Moyles … 

He has also filmed a series of another show, Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins, which will be shown next year.

In Haverhill, where around 27,000 of his constituents live, the town council has told him to “clear the pitch” after its members held a vote and decided by a majority that it should tell him to quit.

In a letter sent to his office, the 13-member authority, which has several Tory councillors, accused the MP of losing interest in his day job.

Written by Colin Poole, the council clerk, it said: “By a majority vote members of the council have directed me to express their displeasure at your decision to absent yourself from your duty to your constituents to join the cast of ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! …

Currently there is no one to speak for West Suffolk in the House of Commons and your actions are unlikely to gain any sympathy for the area when all the other parliamentarians are in the chamber fighting their own corners.

“By your actions you have made it clear to everyone that you see your future outside of politics.”

On November 12, The Telegraph gave the previous day’s I’m a Celebrity … instalment three out of five stars. The other contestants grilled Hancock on his pandemic policies. Hancock pleaded for forgiveness:

On I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! (ITV), the skiving MP was voted by viewers to face his third Bushtucker Trial in as many days. This looks set to become a nightly occurrence.

Hancock’s latest challenge was this year’s first eating trial: “La Cucaracha Cafe”, a Mexican-themed dinner-à-deux with campmate Boy George.

For pudding, Hancock got a long overdue grilling about his pandemic blunders and wound up weeping for forgiveness. This was the much-maligned minister’s day of reckoning and the reason ITV gambled on signing him up. They will surely be rewarded with big ratings and copious column inches …

When he trotted out the same “falling in love” excuse, newsreader Charlene White rightly gave him short shrift: “My aunt died from Covid in the first wave. We couldn’t visit her in hospital. I had to sit by myself at her funeral. We couldn’t hug each other because we were following guidance. I get that you fell in love but for a lot of families like mine, sorry doesn’t really cut it.”

When White tackled him on PPE procurement and the care homes fiasco, you could almost hear viewers nationwide cheering her on. Referring to the impending public inquiry, England Lioness Jill Scott wondered whether “Bushtucker Trials are practice for your big trial”. DJ Chris Moyles was more succinct, calling Hancock a “b***end”.

Hancock eventually admitted: “What I’m really looking for is a bit of forgiveness.” When he became tearful – marginally more believably than when he pretended to blub on breakfast TV – White surprised herself by hugging him. Moyles was less convinced: “He’s pulled the mask slightly off his chin but I still think he’s not telling us the full truth.” The majority at home were equally unmoved by Hancock’s brazen bid for sympathy …

Just 18 months since he resigned in disgrace, Hancock trousering £400,000 for larking around on a light entertainment show left a sour taste in many mouths. At least Friday night’s bestial buffet was equally tough to stomach. That campfire interrogation also made for vital viewing. Nearly three years since the start of the pandemic, it’s high time that politicians were answerable to the people who lived through their failures. Strange how it happened 9,000 miles away on reality TV but these are the times we live in.

On November 13, The Sunday Times told us more about the decisions behind Hancock’s appearance in Australia:

When Matt Hancock eventually leaves the I’m A Celebrity … jungle, his girlfriend, Gina Coladangelo, will be waiting for him on the TV show’s wooden bridge.

The former health secretary has said that seeing her will be the “best thing about being kicked out”, but friends say he also sought her public relations wisdom before agreeing to appear on the ITV show. “He consulted her at length,” said a friend of the couple. “They are very much a team.”

Before he entered the jungle, Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, sought the advice of his family, friends, his Westminster staff and colleagues, although sources say he kept the circle tight to prevent the news leaking.

“I told him there were pros and cons to it, and it basically depended on what he wanted to do career-wise over the next decade,” said a friend he consulted in the summer. “If he wanted to climb the greasy pole, play the Westminster game, sit around waiting for a call to be a cabinet minister again, and otherwise just be a Tory backbencher for the next 20 years, that he shouldn’t do it.

“But if he wanted a platform to engage with millions of viewers, push a lot of the campaigns he cares about, show what he’s actually like as a person, and didn’t mind probably not serving in government again, then it could be a good opportunity … It was obviously very high risk.”

Friends say Hancock, 44, was torn. When he was forced to resign as health secretary in June 2021, he told acquaintances that he was expecting to be back in the cabinet “by Christmas”. While that did not happen, friends say he still believed he could be back on the front bench one day. He turned down the show twice before agreeing to take part

sources close to Hancock say his children were keen for him to go on the show, and he was there to raise awareness of dyslexia

On that night’s episode, viewers voted Hancock in as camp leader. The Guardian reported:

Matt Hancock has said being voted leader of the I’m a Celebrity campsite “more than makes up for” losing the 2019 Tory party leadership election.

Talk about selling one’s soul for a mess of pottage!

There was more:

Sunday’s episode of I’m A Celebrity saw Hancock receive enough votes from the public to enter a head-to-head with former England rugby star Mike Tindall for control of the campsite …

After their win, Hancock said: “Obviously, it’s a great honour and privilege to be camp leader. I want to thank everybody who voted for me.”

[Fellow contestant Christine] White said: “Does this win feel sweet, especially after you lost to Boris? Do you feel like you have been vindicated?” Prompting him to reply: “This more than makes up for it.”

On November 15, Guido kept his readers up to date. The previous day — Day 6 — Hancock was in a snake-filled coffin and had to:

hunt for keys in the dark to unlock stars … He managed a middling 7 of 11, though did stay surprisingly calm considering snakes had been one of his major fears. To be fair, as an MP he should be used to snake-infested spaces.

Meanwhile, back home, The Telegraph reported on the complaints flooding in to Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary standards commissioner:

Rules for MPs would need to be changed to investigate Matt Hancock’s I’m A Celebrity appearance, the standards commissioner said on Tuesday, despite suggesting he had brought the Commons “into disrepute”.

Kathryn Stone, who will step aside from her post in January, revealed her office received dozens of complaints about Mr Hancock, the former health secretary who lost the Tory whip after flying to Australia to take part in the ITV reality show.

But Ms Stone admitted it was not something she had the power to investigate, adding his appearance had raised “really important questions” about the activities of parliamentarians.

“There is no job description for MPs but we have to think very carefully about the conflict between public and private interests, about bringing the House into disrepute, and so on,” she told the standards committee …

She recalled one member of the public who contrasted “the dignity of veterans on Remembrance Sunday with a former secretary of state”, and said Mr Hancock’s “buffet of animal genitalia” during an eating challenge prompted them to question the dignity of public office.

It came as Rishi Sunak condemned Mr Hancock for his I’m A Celebrity stint, telling reporters at the G20: “I think politics at its best can and should be actually quite noble.

“Everyone is going to do it in a slightly different way but I think it’s important that we have our constituents and our country and the forefront of what we do when we go around our day-to-day lives.”

On November 16, Guido told us that on Day 7, Hancock discussed politics but not dyslexia, as promised:

In a first for Matt’s time in the jungle, he hasn’t had to do the daily trial, and he’s certainly been making the most of his free time. Not only did he wake up well rested, he found the time to have his say on Westminster politics. Matt revealed he had called Boris as he was mulling another stab at the leadership, urging him to hold off and “back Rishi”. He also said Liz’s [Truss’s] political career was “totally finished… no ambiguity at all”. That makes two of them.

… At least one public servant is enjoying himself while the country suffers double-digit inflation. With all this free time on his hands, you’d think he might have mentioned his dyslexia campaign. Alas, no.

On Friday, November 18, The Times said that Hancock shared a beach barbecue reward with another contestant. He was also getting on Boy George’s nerves:

While on the other side of the world Jeremy Hunt delivered his autumn statement, attempting to sort out the nation’s dire economic situation, Matt Hancock was sipping drinks on a beach, one of three lucky contestants in I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! to be flown by helicopter to enjoy a barbecue.

The former health secretary was gloriously oblivious of his colleague’s plans to confront the nation’s woes

Ofcom said on Wednesday it had received 1,968 complaints about the ITV show, with about 1,100 people protesting about Hancock being in the jungle. Other viewers expressed concerns about his treatment by other contestants …

On Wednesday viewers saw Boy George, 61, the pop singer, become increasingly frustrated with his camp mates. He appeared to be irritated by a growing friendship between Hancock and Scarlette Douglas, the property expert.

Guido also recapped the episode — Day 9 — noting the absence of the dyslexia campaign:

… Hancock received the privilege of a surf and turf barbecue, which he described as “one of the best meals of your life”. The experience was won in a lucky dip at the expense of his campmates, who plotted in his absence. Finally, Hancock sung his heart out to some pop classics with his campmates around the fire. Matt’s now showcased his singing ability three times on the show. His dyslexia campaign… not once.

Guido also featured Hancock’s tweet urging viewers to vote for him:

On Saturday, November 19, one of Hancock’s former special advisers (Spads), Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, wrote a puff piece for The Times on how great it was working for him. I’ll let readers delve into it for themselves. Was this product placement? One wonders.

On November 20 — Day 11 — Hancock was still surviving the jungle. He mentioned dyslexia for the first time. He also received a letter from his girlfriend.

On November 22 — Day 13 — Hancock outlasted Boy George, but the two sang a duet together beforehand:

On Day 15, November 24, Hancock saw off DJ Chris Moyles. Guido commented:

His constituents must surely agree that would make up for his dereliction of duty as their Member of Parliament…

Hancock ended up being one of the finalists on the last episode, broadcast on Sunday, November 27:

Guido said:

Fair play Matt, it was a surprisingly decent run. Now get back to Blighty and do your job…

Incredibly, Hancock outlasted rugby player Mike Tindall, Princess Anne’s son-in-law. Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner came second and England Lioness Jill Scott won the contest: Queen of the Jungle. It is fitting that she did win, given that the Lionesses won the UEFA — European — Women’s Championship on July 31, the first time England won a major football championship since the 1966 World Cup.

Gina was there to meet her beau.

The Telegraph told us how Hancock’s 21 days in the jungle boosted ratings and changed his perception among the public:

ITV pulled off a coup by signing up the controversial minister. The broadcaster has been amply rewarded for its gamble. Hancock made this series far more talked about than usual. Ratings rose from 8m to 11m. It’s been a resounding return to form for the khaki-clad franchise.

In the process, Hancock went from whipping boy to team player. His success can be seen as two fingers up to the bullies and backbiters, humanising him more than anyone thought possible.

Another Telegraph article reported that Transport Secretary Mark Harper still thought Hancock’s participation was wrong:

Mr Hancock recognised entering the I’m A Celebrity jungle was “controversial” as a former health secretary and MP while Parliament is sitting after leaving the jungle.

He told I’m A Celebrity presenters Ant and Dec: “I know that it was controversial me coming here, I know some people said people in your position shouldn’t put themselves in embarrassing situations.

“But we’re all human and we all put ourselves in it.”

He stressed: “We are normal people.”

It comes after cabinet minister Mark Harper said Mr Hancock should not have gone into the jungle – regardless of how well he did.

The former chief whip told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “If you are a member of Parliament and Parliament is sitting, I think your job is to be representing your constituents, either in your constituency or in Parliament. I don’t think serving members of Parliament should be taking part in reality television programmes.

“However well they do on them, I still think they should be doing the job for which they are paid a good salary – which is representing their constituents.”

Good man.

Unfortunately, that same day, Conservative MP Theresa Villiers told Sophy Ridge of her votes for Hancock (video here).

On Monday, November 28, The Times featured another puff piece about Hancock’s humanity and brilliance. Again, I leave that for readers to decide and wonder if it was a second PR-instigated article.

That day, his Pandemic Diaries, co-authored with the aforementioned Isabel Oakeshott, was on Amazon’s best seller list. Guido revealed that the Mail would be serialising it.

However, that day, storm clouds were brewing.

Guido revealed that Hancock’s people denied that he would be leaving Parliament to pursue life as a celebrity:

This morning, his team is having to firefight allegations from The Sun that he’s planning on leaving politics to pursue celebritydom. The paper’s morning splash reports that Gina contacted “PR pal Mayah Riaz” last week to discuss “a change of career for him… They’re aware they need to act fast and capitalise on the huge interest in him post-jungle.” In response his team shot out a denial:

… They added: “Gina hasn’t even heard of Mayah Riaz”. 

For good measure, Guido asked his office if they could provide a precise date when he’d be back. Apparently, it’s up in the air at the moment. Though his dyslexia bill – of which he made no mention during his stint in the jungle – is up for its second reading on Friday…

Deeper trouble came from Newmarket, the famous racing town in his West Suffolk constituency. The Times reported:

Newmarket town council voted last night officially to call for Hancock to resign. Twelve councillors backed the motion for him to resign, one abstained, and none voted against.

A spokesman for the West Suffolk Conservative Association said: “We are still waiting to hear from Matthew Hancock. There is increasing disappointment about the situation”

A West Suffolk source told The Times: “There would appear to be effectively no support for him to remain as a MP. I think if I put it this way, if you look up the definition of narcissist . . . it’s been endless publicity of the things he has done. It’s about living up to responsibilities, doing the right thing.”

Hancock still had (and has) the Conservative whip suspended. Even his fellow Conservative MP, Business Secretary Grant Shapps, put the boot in:

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, said yesterday it would be “for the whips to decide what to do”. He told Times Radio: “Why would you go off and spend all that time in the jungle if you were going to carry on in parliament? I’m only speculating.”

He added: “I think he may therefore have come to the conclusion that his parliamentary career is pretty much done.”

December 2022

On Thursday, December 1, things were becoming painfully clear about Matt Hancock’s future.

Early that morning, the Mail reported:

Matt Hancock ‘underestimated’ the scale of the backlash at his decision to star on I’m A Celebrity, his girlfriend Gina Coladangelo will say today … 

During the post-series Coming Out Show today, he will be seen exiting the campsite to be reunited with his partner and attending a wrap party. 

The episode also sees Ms Coladangelo saying: ‘I think it’s fair to say that Matt underestimated the scale of the reaction to him coming into the jungle

Sir Desmond Swayne, an MP I’d previously highly respected, lauded his colleague in Parliament that day for his ‘sheer spunk’ in the jungle and appealed for the Conservative whip to be restored (video here).

Hancock graced the House of Commons on Friday, December 2, to put forward his Private Members Bill on dyslexia (video here). It was the third bill of the day, prompting Deputy Speaker of the House Nigel Evans to quip:

The third Bill of the day and I know that Mr. Hancock, you appear to be making a habit of coming third these days.

There seemed to be good news on Wednesday, December 7, when Guido received the text of Hancock’s letter saying he would stand down at the next general election:

As one would expect, it’s a lengthy letter. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs (emphases Guido’s):

I am writing to tell you that I do not intend to stand for the Conservatives at the next General Election. I am very grateful for my conversation with the Chief Whip last week, in which he made clear he would restore the whip in due course, but that is now not necessary.

It has been an honour to serve in Parliament and represent the people of West Suffolk. I will play my part in the debate about the future of our country and engage with the public in new ways.

Shortly afterwards, Conservative MPs snubbed him as he sat down for PMQs. Guido’s Simon Carr has the report:

He turned into the fourth bench up, and began the long trek across to an open seat at the end. Sidling, he touched knees and patted the backs of the locals, the indigenous representatives. Some looked up and others didn’t. One or two spoke to him. What were they saying? They’re politicians so it will have been different from what they were thinking. That can only have been: “What on earth are you doing here, you nob? This bench is for Conservative MPs. You lost the whip. You’re not one of us. You don’t exist.”

When Matt got to the furthest space above the gangway he stopped and squeezed himself in beside actual Conservative MPs. One of them, James Gray, didn’t look up from his phone. As far as it’s possible to do while sitting down, Gray turned his back on the interloper, the migrant, the illegal alien.

Hancock smiled, he beamed, he laughed it all off. In his mind, he was blending back in. Acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary, that he had never been away. That being thought of as a nob was actually a compliment.

The great thing about celebrity is that being thought of as a nob counts as recognition, and recognition is the only currency of that happy land. Alas, it is not negotiable coin in the tropical Commons. He was, as far as decently possible, ignored.

Unfortunately, for those of us who want to see the back of Matt Hancock sooner rather than later, that afternoon his team denied that his letter announcing he would stand down had any merit.

Guido explained:

… A close ally of Hancock tells Guido:

This letter is irrelevant. It hasn’t been sent on behalf of the Association, and the chief whip told Matt he was going to get the whip back. Matt had already decided not to stand again when it came to light.

In theory, a no-confidence vote would need to come after an executive council meeting, rather than an Officers’ Group. Guido understands that Hancock’s decision to step down in 2024 doesn’t change the government’s existing line that any decision to return the whip is still entirely within the gift of Simon Hart, something a source refused to deny could still happen. Bizarrely, he could still return to the parliamentary party within the next two years… even with senior members of his own association declaring him unfit for the job.

It would be salutary for everyone in the UK if Hancock’s local Conservative Association keeps piling on the pressure for him to resign. We can cope with another by-election, even if the Conservative candidate loses to a Lib Dem, a possible outcome.

Matt Hancock is not fit for public office. As for what he did to us during the pandemic, well, I don’t have the words for what I’d like to see happen to him in terms of justice.

End of series

Anyone who has missed the previous entries in the series of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, now a backbench MP with the Conservative whip withdrawn, can catch up on Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

I left off on Friday, June 25, 2021, with Dominic Cummings’s Substack post on Hancock’s and Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic.

However, the big news that day was The Sun‘s front page — a ‘world exclusive’ — which had a large photo of Hancock handling a part of his assistant’s anatomy. A security camera captured the image a few weeks before, when social distancing was still in place:

It was bad enough, as I wrote, that he lost all credibility with the Queen the day before when she aired her views to Boris during their weekly meeting.

But The Sun‘s scoop surely meant that Hancock’s dictatorial time was up. And, lo, so it was:

UK coronavirus news: Matt Hancock’s final 48 hours as Health Secretary (June 25-27)

That post included these tweets, the first about his marital situation …

… and the second and third featuring polls saying that Britons wanted him gone, especially under those circumstances:

It was a wonderful start to the weekend.

Matt Hancock’s side of the story

In the final instalment of Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries that the Mail published, he tells his side of the story. Emphases mine below.

Friday, June 25:

The Sun published the story at 2am as a ‘world exclusive’. The picture was a grainy CCTV image of me and Gina embracing in my departmental office.

It was immediately obvious that the story would be huge.

I knew I had to get out of London, and my wonderful driver Mark came to pick me up very early and take me to stay discreetly in the countryside.

At about 8am, a welcome call from No 10: Dan Rosenfield [chief of staff] to say they’d got my back. He offered any support we might need, including sending a Conservative Party press officer to my house.

By 9am I’d had half a dozen sympathetic messages from ministerial colleagues: a terrible sign. They knew that I was in deep trouble.

Nadhim [Zahawi, Minister for vaccine deployment] sent me a piece of advice ‘from a brother’, which sounded very much like an appeal not to resign.

Meanwhile, I went back over all our movements and tried to think of any other rules we might be accused of breaking. Other than the one-metre-plus rule, I couldn’t think of any. ‘Should I do a fast apology for letting everyone down/breaching guidance?’ I asked.

Gina thought it was a good idea, so Damon [Poole, media adviser] began crafting a short statement. I tried to focus on the words, but my head was spinning. The final version of the statement, which went out at lunchtime, accepted that I breached social-distancing guidance and said I was still focused on working to get the country out of the pandemic. I hoped it would quiet the furore.

Yet the story continued to rage: on all the news websites, on the BBC, on Twitter and on just about every other conceivable news outlet.

By mid-afternoon, there were still suggestions that we’d broken the law. It was categorically untrue, and Damon thought we needed to brief harder or put out another line. ‘What’s wrong with ‘No laws were broken’?’ I suggested.

Round and round in circles we went, trying to find the right words. Damon’s mobile phone was practically melting, and I was more stressed than I have ever been in my entire life.

All afternoon, the ‘what, when, where, who, why, how much?’ questions continued. Journalists began suggesting I might have broken the Ministerial Code. I hadn’t, but I could see the way this was going.

My local constituency association in Suffolk was wonderfully supportive. Allan [Nixon, special adviser] worked the phones, trying to get MPs to say something helpful.

My spirits lifted a little when William Hague [former Tory leader] publicly declared that I shouldn’t resign. Not for long, though: by late afternoon it was clear tomorrow’s papers will be hideous.

Saturday, June 26:

Privately, I was still getting positive messages from colleagues. Publicly, few were willing to defend me. Politically, I was increasingly isolated. I felt desperate for my family, my children and Gina’s family and her children, and powerless to protect them. Worse was the knowledge that Gina and I had brought all this on them.

Gina’s feelings of shame and guilt were nearly overpowering her. The jokes and cartoons on social media were excruciating. We were being publicly humiliated, again and again.

While close friends and family were amazing, I also had messages from friends and colleagues who had had terrible lockdown experiences and were very upset. Their disappointment in me – and their sense of betrayal – was agonising.

It is all my fault, of course. I knew I had to take responsibility. I knew in my heart that I had to resign.

I went to Chequers to see the PM. I explained that I had been thinking about what had happened and how it had made people feel – and that my mind was made up. The damage to my family and to the Government was too great.

I told Boris I had to resign.

He was regretful but didn’t argue. We sat on the patio and talked about what this would mean for the management of the rest of the pandemic.

An exchange of letters was prepared, offering and accepting my resignation, and we each edited our letters. We had to decide how to make the announcement, what to say and how.

I must have shot a thousand videos over the course of the pandemic, levelling with the public and thanking the NHS for their dedication. This would be the last.

In the end, the great machinery of the State was nowhere. It was just me and the PM fumbling around with an iPhone. He stood on the grass, holding the phone while I said my piece. It took a few goes to get it right.

He nodded sympathetic encouragement so much throughout the first take that the camera waved up and down. In the end it wasn’t perfect, but I was beyond caring: I had to get it out.

Now messages of sympathy and support flooded in: from my team, the Prof [Chris Whitty, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer], JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer], Pascal [Soriot, head of AstraZeneca] – and just about everyone else who worked so hard alongside us to save lives.

I’m incredibly grateful to all my team, especially my spads [special advisers] and private office, for going above and beyond in supporting me in what is such a difficult time for them, too.

‘I’m so sorry,’ I told them all. ‘I mean, the honest truth is I made a mistake due to love and it doesn’t matter that it was only guidance. I should not have broken advice that I myself signed off.’

This evening Jamie N-G [Njoku-Goodwin, former spad] whose endless advice – offered long after he stopped working for me – has been so valuable throughout the pandemic, messaged to say I’d done the right thing.

‘There is so much you have done that you should be incredibly proud of. There are people alive today who wouldn’t be if you hadn’t made the decisions you did,’ he said.

‘I love her. That’s what screwed my judgment,’ I replied wretchedly. ‘Love does that to us all. I hope you can both be happy,’ he said.

‘Of that I have no doubt,’ I replied.

As for Boris – well, if anyone knows how to survive a catastrophic political and personal mistake, it’s him.

‘Time to dive beneath the ice cap,’ was his advice.

Here’s the awkward video from Sky News:

That concludes the Mail‘s excerpts from Pandemic Diaries. The paper posted the following (emphasis in the original):

Matt Hancock’s book sale royalties will be donated to NHS Charities and good causes relating to dyslexia. 

Hancock is a dyslexic and had special tutoring to enable him to pursue his studies at Oxford University.

The book is available now. Someone on social media repositioned it at a bookshop in the Crime section:

https://image.vuukle.com/98cdcb40-7d3c-4d74-8d23-f9daebdfd1a1-14316ab8-684d-4c3e-90ff-4edc55822e5e

However, as my post on his last 48 hours as Health Secretary pointed out, Hancock told us in April 2020 that social distancing was more than guidance, it was an ‘instruction’. I’d included this tweet as proof:

In the days that followed, Sajid Javid — Boris’s first Chancellor — became our new Health Secretary. Questions whirled about the camera, security breaches and ministerial code breaches. Oliver Tress is the name Hancock’s girlfriend’s husband. He owns the Oliver Bonas chain of shops:

UK news: Sajid Javid’s return to Cabinet as Health Secretary (June 27-28)

UK coronavirus news: will Matt Hancock be investigated? (June 28; Oliver Tress, restriction-free Wimbledon video)

MPs worried about Matt Hancock’s security camera (June 28)

By now, most Britons know that Hancock met his girlfriend when they were undergraduates at Oxford. They both worked at the student radio station. Recollections from their contemporaries differ as to whether Hancock was part of the in crowd or whether he was a geek on its periphery.

Sky News’s Beth Rigby put that period of history in perspective for us:

On June 26, 2021, The Telegraph explained how the woman got involved in Hancock’s parliamentary career:

Gina Coladangelo started work for Matt Hancock during his short-lived Conservative Party leadership campaign in 2019, it has emerged.

Sources said Ms Coladangelo provided unpaid advice on the Health Secretary’s bid to replace Theresa May.

The work coincided with Mr Hancock sponsoring a parliamentary pass at the same time for his longtime friend, who has worked as communications director of Oliver Bonas, the homeware store, since 2014.

Mr Hancock declared his candidacy during a broadcast interview on May 25 2019, saying “we need a leader for the future, not just now”.

He quit the race on June 14 2019 – a day after coming sixth in the first ballot of Conservative MPs.

Ms Coladangelo was registered as holding a pass sponsored by Mr Hancock under her married name, Gina Tress, from June 2019.

Sources suggested she then started providing unpaid advice to Mr Hancock during the Covid-19 pandemic, before she was hired as a non-executive director at the Department of Health in September.

Her non-executive directorship also raised eyebrows. Who appointed her and how?

Tatler‘s profile of Hancock, published on June 28, told us:

Both Hancock and Coladangelo, who were contemporaries at Oxford, have three children

But, what of this relatively youthful minister? In 2014, he was touted as a junior minister with the skills ‘to reach the top’. Certainly, academically, his results are a tour de force of excellence, a first at Exeter College, Oxford, in what many consider a politician’s ‘rite of passage’, Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). He worked briefly for a Tory backbench MP before breaking loose as an economist at the Bank of England specialising in the sterling money markets and on housing, before being sent to do a masters at Cambridge. On return, he was plucked out by George Osborne (in 2005) to join the Conservative economics team, later becoming the future chancellor’s chief of staff, and a bonafide ‘high-flyer’.

It was in 2010 that he became an MP for West Suffolk, and today – or at least before the lockdown – he balanced his time between his weekday home in London and his abode in Little Thurlow, in his Newmarket constituency, at the weekends. He has admitted that the work-life balance can sometimes be a challenge, explaining in an interview with the Financial Times in 2014, ‘I pay a lot of attention to timetabling. Both my professional and social and family time gets booked up a long way in advance and then you have to be strict about it.’

Hancock married an osteopath, Martha Hoyer Millar, in 2006, and together they have three small children, a daughter and two sons as well as a dachshund called Hercules (which Hancock will occasionally document via his Instagram). With noble connections, Martha, a red head, is the granddaughter of Frederick Millar, 1st Baron Inchyra, a British diplomat who served as Ambassador to West Germany from 1955 to 1956. Baron Inchyra had four children, two sons and two daughters, their youngest, Dame Annabel Whitehead, was a Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Margaret and later to the Queen

By his own admission, Hancock is fiercely competitive. He once, in 2012, trained as a jockey and won a race at the beating heart of British racing, Newmarket, in his constituency. Going the whole hog, he trained rigorously, shedding two stones and even seeking advice from champion jockey Frankie Dettori. He keeps it up; in December, 2019 he posted a video of himself galloping atop a racehorse on the Newmarket heath, summarising afterwards, ‘absolutely exhilarating, every single time’.

It’s been far from plain sailing for Hancock, he’s overcome his own difficulties. One being dyslexia. His political career apparently practically ended before it even started, when a simple spelling mistake relayed the dead opposite of what he was trying to communicate. As a young Tory campaigner in Guildford he wrote an election leaflet. Instead of saying that candidate Nick St Aubyn wanted to ‘unite’ the community during the 2001 election, a then 22-year-old Hancock wrote: ‘I want to untie the community’. The mistake was spotted after the leaflet had been printed and landed in 50,000 letterboxes. St Aubyn went on to lose the seat by 538 votes.

Hancock reportedly winces at the memory, but told the tale since he does not want other dyslexics growing up thinking they are ‘useless’ like he did. His wife, too, is dyslexic. He says he got on by focusing on numbers-based subjects, taking A Levels in maths, physics, computing and economics, but told the Telegraph, ‘I wish I had been diagnosed earlier’.

Sheer hypocrisy

On June 25, before he resigned, the media rightly began enumerating Hancock’s diktats and his own actions, proving the man’s hypocrisy.

The Telegraph reported:

… How has the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care managed to cling on this long in the first place? …

As the man in charge of England’s health system when the pandemic struck, he is accused of overseeing the disastrous discharge of Covid-positive hospital patients into care homes, mismanaging the supply of personal protective equipment, and the multi-billion pound failure that is NHS Test and Trace.

According to Mr Cummings, Mr Hancock “lied” to Mr Johnson and the public about much of this …

Mr Hancock strenuously denies much of this.

Nevertheless, it comes on top of allegations that he awarded a lucrative contract to supply the Government with tens of millions of Covid test vials to a former neighbour, who lacked experience producing medical supplies after he received a WhatsApp from him.

He also committed a “technical” breach of the ministerial code by failing to declare that a firm run by his sister, in which he has a 20 per cent stake, had been awarded an NHS contract

The danger lies in the familiar territories of hypocrisy and the alleged “chumocracy” of the Johnson administration.

If Mr Hancock’s embrace of Ms Coladangelo contravened government guidelines, as he has now admitted it did, many will remember his reaction to last year’s Neil Ferguson scandal, where he suggested it could be a matter for the police, not to mention countless hugs with loved-ones missed over recent months.

Meanwhile, if evidence emerges suggesting that Ms Coladangelo was brought into the Government because of her personal relationship with Mr Hancock, rather than her expertise, the rap sheet all too quickly becomes too heavy to survive.

The Spectator‘s Steerpike, their gossip columnist, posted ‘Nine times Matt Hancock told us to obey the rules’, most of which follows (bold dates in the original):

From threatening to ban outdoor exercise and close the beaches to advising against sex outside ‘established’ relationships, Mr S presents his round-up of Hancock’s best/worst moments:

9 February 2021:  Ten years in jail for Covid returnees

Hancock announced that people returning from holidays who conceal that they’ve been in a red list country would face a prison sentence of up to ten years …

1 February 2021 ‘Don’t even think about stretching Covid rules’

At another No. 10 press conference, Hancock gave an update on the South African variant in which he said that those living in postcodes affected by the mutation should ‘not even think about stretching the Covid rules.’

10 January 2021: Hancock claimed that flexing of rules ‘could be fatal’

The Health Secretary appeared on the Andrew Marr Show where he was asked about the police fining two women who went for a walk five miles from their homes. Hancock told Marr: ‘Every time you try to flex the rules that could be fatal’ and that staying at home is the ‘most important thing we can do collectively as a society.’

24 September 2020:  Hancock warned people to ‘be sensible’ when having sex during lockdown

Asked about the government’s guidance that only ‘established’ couples should be having sex, Hancock told Sky News: ‘There have to be boundaries, to coin a phrase.’ He warned against casual sex, advising the public to stick to ‘well-established relationships’ and joking, ‘I know I am in an established relationship,’ with his wife

5 July 2020: Hancock threatened to shut down non-compliant businesses

In an interview with Sky Hancock said: ‘We also have the authority to shut down a business if it doesn’t follow that [Covid] guidance.’ When asked by Sophy Ridge if he is ‘looking at shutting down businesses’ Hancock replied: ‘Yes and that’s happened, absolutely’. He added: ‘We’re not just asking nicely, we’re very clear to businesses that these are their responsibilities.’

25 June 2020: Hancock theatened to close the beaches

After sun lovers flocked to the seaside on Britain’s hottest day of the year, Hancock warned that he could close beaches

5 April 2020: Hancock threatened to ban outdoor exercise

At the beginning of the first lockdown, Hancock criticised sunbathers and warned the government would ban outdoor exercise if people continue to ignore government advice. He said on Sky that those who flout the guidance were ‘putting others’ lives at risk and you are putting yourself in harm’s way’. He told Andrew Marr that same day: ‘I don’t want to have to take away exercise as a reason to leave home… if too many people are not following the rules.’ He added:If you don’t want us to take the next step and ban exercise… then the message is very clear… you have to follow the rules.’

Sickening.

The Mail has a report with reactions from several journalists also calling out Hancock’s disgusting hypocrisy, well worth reading.

Questions, questions

Also on June 25, The Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman asked:

Why was it appropriate for Gina Coladangelo to have a parliamentary pass, to become an unpaid adviser at the department and then to receive the paid non-executive director post?

… the important matter here isn’t the affair: these things happen and they’re not normally anyone else’s business. But where it becomes other people’s business is when the affair is interlinked with government business and taxpayer’s money

Then there’s the hypocrisy charge, not just from someone in a government that has restricted personal freedoms so much this past year, but from the very minister responsible for the lockdown legislation and guidance

Questions about the camera and security were many.

At lunchtime that day, The Telegraph reported:

The Government Security Group, which is in charge of security at 800 buildings across Whitehall, has been asked to investigate, with Alex Chisholm, the Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary, expected to be in charge of an inquiry.

There have also been calls for MI5 to get involved in order to rule out any involvement from hostile foreign states.

Government insiders said it is “unheard of” for security cameras to be placed in the offices of Secretaries of State, raising questions about whether the footage of Mr Hancock was filmed on a pre-existing camera or could even have been filmed by a camera deliberately placed there to catch him out.

Day-to-day security at government buildings is typically contracted out to private firms, though the Department of Health and Social Care has yet to confirm if this was the case at their offices in London’s Victoria Street …

One source said: “There are an awful lot of questions that need answering. Lots of government buildings have cameras outside offices that film people going in and out, but I have never seen one inside a Secretary of State’s office. It’s unheard of.

“What was that camera doing there, was it even a CCTV camera, and did Matt Hancock know it was there?

“More importantly, who is it that has access to what is going on inside that office? We are talking about people being able to spy on a Secretary of State, so this is a serious breach of security, regardless of what you think of Matt Hancock’s behaviour” …

Among the questions the Government Security Group will have to answer is whether proper vetting was carried out of staff who have access to CCTV footage, and whether they have been required to sign the Official Secrets Act.

Breaches of the Official Secrets Act can carry a maximum punishment of 14 years imprisonment.

The paper had a follow-up article that evening:

The Telegraph understands Mr Hancock had no idea the camera existed when it captured him kissing adviser Gina Coladangelo

It raises the possibility that the camera was deliberately placed by someone with access to his office with the intention of catching the pair cheating on their spouses and breaking Covid rulesIt is the first time a Cabinet minister has been filmed in their own office without their knowledge.

In a further twist, the Department of Health and Social Care’s offices use CCTV cameras made by the Chinese company Hikvision, which is banned in the US because of national security concerns

One theory being investigated is that the footage was filmed by someone on a mobile phone as it was being played on a CCTV screen, which could make it more difficult to prove who was responsible.

While the revelation could spell the end of Mr Hancock’s Cabinet career, the leak has also triggered a red alert in the Government over who could be spying on the country’s most senior ministers

A source told The Sun that the pair had regularly been caught embracing and that their affair was an open secret among staff. The newspaper claimed the footage was released by a whistleblower disgusted that Mr Hancock was breaking Covid rules while telling people to obey them.

At the time, the country was in stage two of the lifting of lockdown, meaning hugging anyone from outside your own household was banned. On Friday, Mr Hancock admitted breaching social distancing guidance and said he was sorry for having “let people down” …

The £144 million building is owned by Singapore-based property firm Ho Bee Land, which bought it five years ago and has not so far responded to requests for comment.

Cameras on the outside were made by Hikvision, which is owned by the Chinese state and banned in the US because of national security concerns and alleged human rights violations. The firm is alleged to have provided cameras that monitor Uighur Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang …

One covert security expert said: “In all my years of working in this field I have never known a camera to be positioned inside an office like this. An office is a private space and that raises all sorts of issues.

“The camera is facing the door so it will give you a record of who is coming and going. But if you wanted to do that you would place the camera outside of the office in the corridor. Also, the angle of the camera is all wrong because if someone walks into the office with their head down this will not be able to see their features. To me it smacks more of a small covert camera that has been placed in a light fixture”

The fact that the camera was part of the overall CCTV network ruled out any suggestion that Ms Coladangelo could have been behind the leak, and friends of Dominic Cummings, the former Downing Street special adviser who has waged a campaign against Mr Hancock since leaving his job last year, insisted he had nothing to do with the leak.

One government source suggested it was possible the camera had been placed in the office to increase security as a result of the Covid pandemic, while another person familiar with the layout of the office speculated that extra cameras could have been put there because it has a balcony, making it more vulnerable to break-ins

Indignity for his wife

On Saturday, June 26, the papers had stories about what was happening in the Hancock’s marital home.

The Mail‘s first report was ‘Callous Matt Hancock dumped wife on Thursday after learning his affair would be finally exposed’:

Matt Hancock dumped his university sweetheart on Thursday night after learning video footage of him kissing an aide in his ministerial office would be exposed.

The ex-Health Secretary, who announced his resignation this evening, raced home to tell his wife of 15 years that he would be leaving her after he was contacted by The Sun newspaper over his affair with Gina Coladangelo …

Martha Hancock, a 44-year-old osteopath, had no clue about the affair until her husband told her their marriage was over, reports The Sunday Times

The reports of the affair came just weeks after Hancock was seen enjoying lunch out with Martha – the granddaughter of Frederick Millar, 1st Baron Inchyra – in London.

The pair were seen waiting for a taxi after eating at Exmouth market in the capital.

They were last seen together in public at the England vs Scotland Euro 2020 match at Wembley a week ago

Mrs Hancock is said to have met her future husband while they were students at Oxford University. Both are dyslexic and he once revealed that the condition helped them bond. 

Descended from a baron and a viscount, Mrs Hancock had a privileged upbringing. Her father, Old Etonian Alastair Hoyer Millar, 84, was secretary of The Pilgrim Trust between 1980 and 1996. The organisation supplies grants to preserve historically significant buildings or artefacts. 

Her mother, Virginia Hoyer Millar, 70, an antiques dealer, was yesterday pictured comforting her daughter in the street by putting her arms around her shoulders. They also linked arms as they strolled around North-West London.  

The couple [the Hancocks] divide their time between London and their West Suffolk constituency home, where there was no sign of Mr Hancock following his resignation.

The ex-Health Secretary wrote in his letter: ‘The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis.

‘I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this. I also need (to) be with my children at this time.’

Another report from the Mail followed that day, discussing Conservative MPs’ disgust with their colleagues and more information about the respective marriages involved, complete with photographs:

Mrs Hancock looked sad and upset as she left the couple’s home but didn’t speak to reporters about her husband’s alleged infidelity.  Her husband was nowhere to be seen, however, she was still wearing her wedding ring   

The shutters were closed at the £4.5million South London home Mrs Coladangelo shares with Oliver Tress and their three children yesterday. They are also believed to have a country home near the West Sussex coast. She has been working as an advisor for Mr Hancock since last year, with one source saying: ‘Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina’

Mr Hancock was meant to be at Newmarket Racecourse to visit the vaccination centre but a spokesman revealed he cancelled at the last minute ‘early this morning’

A Department of Health probe into how the footage from outside Mr Hancock’s office was leaked is expected, with the whistleblower described as a former civil servant who was angry about his ‘brazen’ affair, adding: ‘They have tried to keep it a secret but everyone knows what goes on inside a building like that’ …  

Mrs Coladangelo was appointed as a non-executive director at the department in September, meaning she is a member of the board.

She can claim up to £15,000 in taxpayers’ money in the role, though there is no public record of her appointment

The woman Matt Hancock has been allegedly having an affair with is married to the millionaire founder of fashion firm Oliver Bonas and has worked as its communications director for the past seven years

Gina Coladangelo, 43, knows the Health Secretary from Oxford University, where they both worked on the student radio station and studied politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) – and where he also met his wife Martha, 44. 

Mrs Coladangelo remains Facebook friends with Mr Hancock’s osteopath wife – with whom the Conservative politician has two sons and a daughter – after they both graduated from the university at around the same time. 

And they all reside in London, with Mrs Coladangelo living with her multi-millionaire fashion tycoon husband Oliver Tress and their three children in Wandsworth, while the Hancocks live in Queen’s Park with their children … 

Mr Hancock met Mrs Coladangelo when they worked on Oxford student radio together in the 1990s. Mr Hancock was a minority sports reporter on Oxygen FM and they would have socialised together at Exeter College, Oxford.

Mrs Coladangelo went on to marry Mr Tress, 53, who is founder of fashion chain Oliver Bonas, named after his ex-girlfriend Anna who is cousin of Prince Harry’s former partner Cressida Bonas.

It is not known exactly when Mrs Coladangelo and Mr Tress wed, although they were listed on the electoral roll together with her maiden name as recently as 2008, and then her married name of Gina Tress by 2011.

Mr Tress founded Oliver Bonas in London in 1993 with handbags and jewellery he had brought from Hong Kong where his parents lived, and his wife began working there in June 2014 after 11 years at Luther Pendragon. 

They live together in a five-bedroom detached property believed to be worth around £4million in Wandsworth, South West London, on a quiet tree-lined street with residents-only parking bays that is popular with families.

Many of the cars parked in the street – which is a 20-minute drive away from Central London – are top-of-the range BMW 4x4s and Volvos. Neighbours of Mrs Coladangelo remained tight lipped and refused to comment.

But one visiting workman who left a neighbouring home was unimpressed by Mr Hancock. He said: ‘The guy had been caught bang to rights on film. He will have to do some smart talking to get out of that one with the wife.’

The Spectator‘s editor, Fraser Nelson, called readers’ attention to a Sunday Times report saying that Hancock took his girlfriend to a G7 summit:

The Sunday Times has something more significant: that Hancock took Mrs Coladangelo to the G7 health ministers’ summit, raising questions about whether they stayed together (the event took place a month after their being filmed canoodling in his office). The brilliantly-informed Tim Shipman has a devastating quote from a Cabinet source.

She went with him to the G7 health ministers summit. Did he disclose this to the PM? If it was shown he was shagging on the taxpayer he had to go. He’s been puritan-in-chief in the government and now it turns out he’s a massive, lying hypocrite.

… In this week’s magazine, Kate Andrews has dossier of how ministers have been living la vida loca, travelling globally at a time when they made it illegal for others to do so. All within the loophole-addled rules, yes, but generally conducting themselves in a way that others have been unable to do.

The girlfriend’s brother

More news emerged on June 26, this time concerning Hancock’s girlfriend’s brother.

Sky News reported:

A relative of the Whitehall director alleged to have had an extramarital affair with Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is an executive at a private healthcare company which has won a string of NHS contracts.

Sky News can reveal that Roberto Coladangelo – who is Gina Coladangelo’s brother – works at Partnering Health Limited (PHL Group), a specialist in the provision of urgent and primary care services to NHS patients

People who know Mr Coladangelo said that he and Mr Hancock’s aide were siblings, and social media profiles and electoral roll data appear to confirm a relationship between them.

None of those contacted by Sky News on Friday afternoon would confirm or deny the relationship between the Coladangelos.

Weekend papers

The weekend papers were magic for those of us rejoicing over Hancock’s resignation:

Also see The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph.

Of the resignation news, the redoubtable Peter Hitchens tweeted that it was sad that the government didn’t believe in their guidelines but the public did — ‘our tragedy’:

He added that, given all the damage Hancock caused Britain, it was ironic an illicit grope brought him down:

Maybe that’s why Hancock wants to return to private life after the next general election. Will the formal coronavirus inquiry advance that far in two years’ time? If not, he could be safe in the knowledge he won’t be asked to testify.

No. 10: photos ‘in the public interest’

On July 16, The Telegraph had a follow-up on The Sun‘s photos: ‘Leaked Matt Hancock CCTV footage was “in public interest”, says Boris Johnson’s office’:

The leaked CCTV footage which exposed Matt Hancock’s affair was in the public interest, the Prime Minister’s spokesman has said, as an investigation into an alleged data breach continues.

Two people suspected of recording the film without consent had their homes raided on Thursday by officials from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Police and Crime Commissioners have also called for the police to launch an urgent investigation amid concern over the security of government buildings.

But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Boris Johnson believed in the importance of a free press being able to investigate matters that were in the public interest

Excellent!!!

There ends the resignation saga.

A final instalment on Hancock’s time as a backbencher will come next week.

Thus far, most of my series on Matt Hancock has focused on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those who missed them can catch up on parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Even though the vaccine was about to be distributed throughout the UK, people in England were frustrated by the restrictions which the Government had imposed indefinitely. Effectively, we had had a Christmas lockdown, with more restrictions that came in on Boxing Day. As I covered in my last post, even at the end of the year, Hancock could not say when they would be lifted.

This post covers the first half of 2021 with excerpts from Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries as serialised in the Mail along with news I had collected during that time. Pandemic Diaries entries come from this excerpt, unless otherwise specified.

Vaccines and side-effects

Former Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott co-authored Pandemic Diaries. On December 7, The Spectator posted her impressions of Hancock and the pandemic.

This is what she had to say about the vaccine policy (emphases mine):

The crusade to vaccinate the entire population against a disease with a low mortality rate among all but the very elderly is one of the most extraordinary cases of mission creep in political history. On 3 January 2021, Hancock told The Spectator that once priority groups had been jabbed (13 million doses) then ‘Cry freedom’. Instead, the government proceeded to attempt to vaccinate every-one, including children, and there was no freedom for another seven months. Sadly, we now know some young people died as a result of adverse reactions to a jab they never needed. Meanwhile experts have linked this month’s deadly outbreak of Strep A in young children to the weakening of their immune systems because they were prevented from socialising. Who knows what other long-term health consequences of the policy may emerge?

Why did the goalposts move so far off the pitch? I believe multiple driving forces combined almost accidentally to create a policy which was never subjected to rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Operating in classic Whitehall-style silos, key individuals and agencies – the JCVI, Sage, the MHRA – did their particular jobs, advising on narrow and very specific safety and regulatory issues. At no point did they all come together, along with ministers and, crucially, medical and scientific experts with differing views on the merits of whole-population vaccination, for a serious debate about whether such an approach was desirable or wise.

The apparent absence of any such discussion at the top of government is quite remarkable. The Treasury raised the occasional eyebrow at costs, but if a single cabinet minister challenged the policy on any other grounds, I’ve seen no evidence of it.

In Hancock’s defence, he would have been crucified for failing to order enough vaccines for everybody, just in case. He deserves credit for harnessing the full power of the state to accelerate the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. He simply would not take no or ‘too difficult’ for an answer, forcing bureaucratic regulators and plodding public health bodies to bend to his will. He is adamant that he never cut corners on safety, though the tone of his internal communications suggest that in his hurtling rush to win the global race for a vaccine, he personally would have been willing to take bigger risks. I believe he would have justified any casualties as sacrifices necessary for the greater good. Fortunately (in my view) his enthusiasm was constrained by medical and scientific advisers, and by the Covid vaccine tsar Kate Bingham, who was so alarmed by his haste that at one point she warned him that he might ‘kill people’. She never thought it was necessary to jab everyone and repeatedly sought to prevent Hancock from over-ordering. Once he had far more than was needed for the initial target group of elderly and clinically vulnerable patients, he seems to have felt compelled to use it. Setting ever more ambitious vaccination rollout targets was a useful political device, creating an easily understood schedule for easing lockdown and allowing the government to play for time amid the threat of new variants. The strategy gave the Conservatives a big bounce in the polls, which only encouraged the party leadership to go further.

Now on to side-effects:

Given the unprecedented speed at which the vaccine was developed, the government might have been expected to be extra careful about recording and analysing any reported side-effects. While there was much anxiety about potential adverse reactions during clinical trials, once it passed regulatory hurdles, ministers seemed to stop worrying. In early January 2021, Hancock casually asked Chris Whitty ‘where we are up to on the system for monitoring events after rollout’

Not exactly reassuringly, Whitty replied that the system was ‘reasonable’ but needed to get better. This exchange, which Hancock didn’t consider to be of any significance, is likely to be seized on by those with concerns about vaccine safety.

January 2021

On January 2, Hancock hoped to ease red tape allowing NHS physicians to come out of retirement to be part of the vaccination drive:

On January 3, The Conservative Woman‘s co-editor and qualified barrister Laura Perrins blasted the Government for keeping Britons under ‘humiliating and undignified treatment‘:

Schools reopened in England on Monday, January 4. They closed again by the end of the day.

Monday, January 4:

Millions of children returned to school today, only to be told schools are closing again tomorrow. After sleeping on it, Boris agreed we have no choice but to go for another national lockdown.

On Thursday, January 7, Hancock appeared before the Health and Social Care Select Committee to answer questions about lockdown. He came across as arrogant, in my opinion:

Monday, January 11:

A message from a friend tipping me off that straight-talking cricket legend Sir Geoffrey Boycott is very unhappy about the delay in the second dose. He’s a childhood hero of mine, so I volunteered to call him personally to explain. I rang him and made the case as well as I could, but it was clear he was far from persuaded.

That morning, Guido Fawkes’s cartoonist posted his ghoulish perspective on Hancock: ‘A nightmare before vaccination’. It was hard to disagree:

Tuesday, January 12:

A bunch of GPs are refusing to go into care homes where there are Covid cases. Apparently there are cases in about a third of care homes, meaning many residents aren’t getting vaccinated. Evidently I was naive to think £25 a jab would be enough of an incentive. We may have to use the Army to fill the gap.

Also that day:

Not only is [Sir Geoffrey] Boycott in the Press having a go at me; now [former Speaker of the House of Commons] Betty Boothroyd is kicking off as well. Given that I personally ensured she got her first jab fast, it feels a bit rich. It’s particularly miserable being criticised by people I’ve grown up admiring and went out of my way to help, but welcome to the life of a politician.

On Wednesday, January 13, Hancock still had no answer as to when restrictions would be lifted. Many of us thought he was enjoying his power too much:

Friday, January 15:

An extraordinary row with Pfizer bosses, who are trying to divert some of our vaccine supply to the EU!

When I got to the Cabinet Room, the PM practically had smoke coming out of his ears. He was in full bull-in-a-china-shop mode, pacing round the room growling.

What really riled him was the fact that only last night he was speaking to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and Bourla made no mention of it! I was wary: when the PM is in this mood, he can really lash out. I knew I’d need to be as diplomatic as possible if I wanted to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Monday, January 18:

Pfizer has relented. Following a robust exchange between Bourla and the PM, lo and behold, they’ve located an ’emergency supply’, which is now heading our way.

On Tuesday, January 19, Hancock got coronavirus and had to self-isolate. This was his second bout. The first one was earlier in 2020:

Julia Hartley-Brewer of talkRADIO posed an interesting question about re-infection and T-cells. Hmm:

Thursday, January 21:

[Social Care minister] Helen Whately wants to find a way of allowing indoor visits again. I’m hardline on this: we cannot have Covid taking off in care homes again.

Monday, January 25:

The EU health commissioner has tweeted that ‘in the future’ any company that produces vaccines in the EU will have to provide ‘early notification’ if they want to sell it to a third-party country. In other words, they’ll need permission. Totally desperate stuff! They’re doing it purely because they screwed up procurement.

Tuesday, January 26:

Today we reached a really grim milestone in the pandemic: more than 100,000 deaths in this country. So many people grieving; so much loss.

Wednesday, January 27:

A humiliating climbdown from the EU, who clearly realised their ‘export ban’ wouldn’t end well. It followed frantic diplomacy on our side, plus our lawyers confirming that they wouldn’t be able to block our supply anyway. What a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

Tonight I’m doing a night shift at Basildon Hospital [in Essex]. Front-line staff are still under horrendous pressure, and the best way for me to understand is to see it for myself.

Thursday, January 28:

The night shift has left me completely drained. I don’t know how they do it day in and day out: heroic. I donned full PPE, and got stuck in, helping to turn patients and fetch and carry. In intensive care, I watched a man consent to being intubated because his blood oxygen levels weren’t sustainable.

He spoke to the doctor, who said: ‘We want to put a tube in, because we don’t think you’ll make it unless we do that.’

His chances of waking up were 50:50. He knew that. It was an unbelievably awful moment. He reluctantly agreed, and within a minute he was flat out on the ventilator. The doctor next to me said: ‘I don’t think we’ll see him again.’

When my shift was over, I went down to the rest area. One of the registrars told me he’d just had to phone the wife of the patient to say he’d been intubated.

‘We’re doing this, we all know it’s our duty, we’re coping with a second wave — but we can’t have a third,’ he said. Then he burst into tears.

That day, an article appeared in Spiked about the Government’s censorship of lockdown sceptics. ‘Shouldn’t we “expose” the government rather than its critics?’ says:

It’s true ‘lockdown sceptics’ have made mistakes. But the government’s survival depends on none of us ever understanding that lockdown sceptics are not in charge – it is.

they’re gunning for people like Sunetra Gupta, the professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University … 

Pre-Covid, I would estimate 97 per cent of the population couldn’t have picked Matt Hancock out of a police line-up if he had just mugged them. So when he stood up in the House of Commons, last January, to state that ‘the Chinese city of Wuhan has been the site of an outbreak of 2019-nCoV’, there was no reason to doubt him when he said ‘the public can be assured that the whole of the UK is always well-prepared for these types of outbreaks’. In February, he explained ‘our belts and braces approach to protecting the public’ and insisted that ‘the clinical advice about the risk to the public has not changed and remains moderate’.

On 23 March, he made a complete volte-farce. (That was not a typo.) The ‘risk to the public’ wasn’t ‘moderate’ at all. ‘It is incredibly important that people stay more than two metres away from others wherever they are or stay at home wherever possible’, he told the Today programme, adding those who weren’t doing so were ‘very selfish’. Four days later, Hancock tested positive for coronavirus. Seven days after that (3 April), he opened the Nightingale hospital (‘a spectacular and almost unbelievable feat’), while ‘blowing his nose’ and not appearing ‘to be at 100 per cent’. Two days after that, he threatened to change the rules again so that people who weren’t ill couldn’t go outside at all: ‘If you don’t want us to have to take the step to ban exercise of all forms outside of your own home, then you’ve got to follow the rules’ …

We’ll skip over Hancock’s botching of track and trace, the dodgy private contracts he’s had a hand in rewarding, how he breaks the rules he makes for us while cracking jokes about it, or his intervention into the debate about whether scotch eggs constitute a ‘substantial meal’.

In the autumn of 2020, pubs could only open if they served a plate of food. Why, I do not know.

The article mentions Hancock’s tears on Good Morning Britain as he watched the first two people get the first doses of the vaccine. Then:

Days later, all this ‘emotion’ had gone down well, so Hancock did more of it – in parliament – announcing that his step-grandfather had died of Covid-19. (‘He was in a home and he had Alzheimer’s – the usual story’, Hancock’s father told the Daily Mail. ‘It was just a few weeks ago.’)

‘Beware of men who cry’, Nora Ephron once wrote. ‘It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.’ Was Hancock crying because he was devastated that his step-grandfather was not kept alive long enough to receive the vaccine (suffering from Alzheimer’s – so it would not be a leap to fear – bewildered, confused, and very likely denied the comfort of the touch of anyone he loved for most of the year)? Or was it because the political survival of the Conservative government depends on being proved right about lockdown – and that depends on one thing: the vaccine …

Hancock told the Spectator that Covid-19 will never be eradicated. But he sees no reason for his extraordinary powers as health secretary to cease even if – by some miracle – it does. In late November, Hancock told a Commons health and science committee that he wants to end the British culture of ‘soldiering on’. Having built a ‘massive diagnostics capacity’, he said, ‘we must hold on to it. And afterwards we must use it not just for coronavirus, but everything. In fact, I want to have a change in the British way of doing things, where if in doubt, get a test. It doesn’t just refer to coronavirus, but to any illness that you might have.’

The idea that we would continue to test, track and trace healthy people who have cold symptoms is so psychotic it’s a struggle to understand whether the man is even aware of how many people weren’t tested for cancer last year. The only hero in this context is Professor Sunetra Gupta. All she’s done is express her fears that lockdown – long-term – will do more harm than good – which is what she believes. In China, Zhang Zhan was also worried that people were dying and the government didn’t want anyone to know about it, so she tried her best to warn everyone in society that more people were going to die if nothing was done. If China had been honest about the outbreak from the start, maybe, just maybe, 100,000 lives would have been saved from Covid-19 here …

Maybe anyone who shares Gupta’s fears are ‘fringe cranks’, but ‘fringe cranks’ have as much right to say what they think as anyone else. And especially when the government has stripped us of all our rights to do pretty much anything else, while refusing to reveal when – if ever – our rights will be returned. This isn’t China. It’s Britain. And we do things differently here. Or at least we used to – in those halcyon days when none of us had a clue who Matt Hancock was

Friday, January 29:

Scandalous behaviour by certain care home operators, who are unscrupulously using staff with Covid. Inspectors have identified no fewer than 40 places where this is happening.

Wow. I am shocked. It underlines why we need to make jabs mandatory for people working in social care. The PM supports me on this.

February 2021

Monday, February 1:

A YouGov poll suggests 70 per cent of Britons think the Government is handling the vaccine rollout well, while 23 per cent think we’re doing badly. I forwarded it to [NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens.

‘Who the heck are the 23 per cent, for goodness’ sake!!’ he replied.

I don’t know. Maybe the same 20 per cent of people who believe UFOs have landed on Earth? Or the five million Brits who think the Apollo moon landings were faked?

Thursday, February 4:

Tobias Ellwood [Tory MP] thinks GPs are deliberately discouraging patients from using vaccination centres so they get their jabs in GP surgeries instead. I’m sure he’s right. That way, the GPs make more money.

On Saturday, February 6, The Telegraph reported that Hancock wanted to ‘take control of the NHS’. Most Britons would agree that something needs to be done — just not by him:

 

On Sunday, February 7, The Express‘s Health and Social Affairs editor said a specialist thought that the Government was using virus variants to control the public. Many would have agreed with that assessment:

Monday, February 8:

We’ve now vaccinated almost a quarter of all adults in the UK!

Also that day:

I’ve finally, finally got my way on making vaccines mandatory for people who work in care homes.

Because of that, a lot of employees resigned from their care home posts and have gone into other work, especially hospitality.

A poll that day showed that the public was happy with the Government’s handling of the pandemic. John Rentoul must have looked at the wrong line in the graph. Rishi Sunak, then Chancellor, came out the best for shaking the magic money tree:

On Tuesday, February 9, Hancock proposed 10-year jail sentences for people breaking travel restrictions. This referred to people travelling from ‘red list’ countries, but, nonetheless, pointed to a slippery slope:

The Conservative Woman‘s co-editor and qualified barrister Laura Perrins pointed out a logic gap in sentencing:

Spiked agreed with Perrins’s assessment in ‘Matt Hancock is behaving like a tyrant’:

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced new, staggeringly authoritarian enforcement measures in the House of Commons today.

Passengers returning from one of the 33 designated ‘red list’ countries will have to quarantine in government-approved hotels from next week. Anyone who lies on their passenger-locator form about whether they have visited one of these countries faces imprisonment for up to 10 years. As the Telegraph’s assistant head of travel, Oliver Smith, has pointed out, this is longer than some sentences for rape (the average sentence is estimated to be eight years).

In addition, passengers who fail to quarantine in hotels when required to do so will face staggering fines of up to £10,000.

This is horrifying. Of course, we need to take steps to manage the arrival of travellers from countries with high levels of infection, particularly since different variants of Covid have emerged. But to threaten people with a decade behind bars or a life-ruining fine for breaching travel rules is a grotesque abuse of state power.

During the pandemic, we have faced unprecedented attacks on our civil liberties. We have been ordered to stay at home and have been banned from socialising under the threat of fines. But this latest move is the most draconian yet …

we have now reached the stage where a 10-year sentence is considered an appropriate punishment for lying on a travel form.

Matt Hancock is behaving like a tyrant.

Meanwhile, Hancock’s fellow Conservative MPs wanted answers as to when lockdown would end. The Mail reported:

Furious Tories savaged Matt Hancock over a ‘forever lockdown‘ today after the Health Secretary warned border restrictions may need to stay until autumn — despite figures showing the UK’s epidemic is firmly in retreat.

Lockdown-sceptic backbenchers took aim at Mr Hancock when he unveiled the latest brutal squeeze aimed at preventing mutant coronavirus strains getting into the country …

… hopes the world-beating vaccine roll-out will mean lockdown curbs can be significantly eased any time soon were shot down today by Mr Hancock, who unveiled the latest suite of border curbs and warned they could last until the Autumn when booster vaccines will be available.  

As of Monday travellers from high-risk ‘red list’ countries will be forced to spend 10 days in ‘quarantine hotels’, and all arrivals must test negative three times through gold-standard PCR coronavirus tests before being allowed to freely move around the UK. Anyone who lies about whether they have been to places on the banned list recently will face up to 10 years in prison. 

The fallout continued the next day. See below.

Wednesday, February 10:

Meg Hillier [Labour MP], who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, has started an infuriating campaign accusing ‘Tory ministers’ of running a ‘chumocracy’ over PPE contracts. How pitifully low. I’m incandescent.

What Meg fails to acknowledge is that when the pandemic kicked off, of course we had to use the emergency procedure for buying, which allows officials to move fast and not tender everything for months.

And when people got in contact [about] PPE, of course we forwarded on the proposals for civil servants to look at.

Even the Labour Party were getting involved — it was a national crisis and these leads have proved invaluable.

[Shadow Chancellor] Rachel Reeves wrote to Michael Gove at the time, complaining that a series of offers weren’t being taken up. Officials looked into her proposals, too.

I’m even more offended because I used to respect Meg. It’s so offensive for a supposedly grown-up politician to bend the truth in this way.

Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was angry at the Conservatives. What else is new?

This story has not gone away. There was a debate about it in the Commons this month.

Fallout continued from February 9 over Hancock’s never-ending lockdown.

His fellow Conservative, Sir Charles Walker MP, gave an interview saying that Hancock was ‘robbing people of hope’. He was also appalled by the prospect of a 10-year prison term for travelling from a red list country:

With regard to lockdowns, recall that at the end of 2020, Hancock said that only the vulnerable needed vaccinating, then we could all, in his words, ‘Cry freedom’. In the space of a few weeks, he had a change of tune:

Thursday, February 11:

So here we are, in the depths of the bleakest lockdown, with the virus still picking off hundreds of victims every week, and Test and Trace officials have been having secret talks about scaling back. Unbelievable!

I told them there was no way they should stand down any lab capacity, but I’m told they’re getting a very different signal from the Treasury.

Friday, February 12:

The Left never ceases to amaze. The bleeding hearts who run North West London CCG (one of many health quangos nobody will miss when they’re abolished) have taken it upon themselves to prioritise vaccinating asylum seekers. They have fast-tracked no fewer than 317 such individuals — ‘predominantly males in their 20s and 30s’.

So, while older British citizens quietly wait their turn, we are fast-tracking people who aren’t in high-risk categories and may not even have any right to be here?

Meanwhile, some of our vaccine supply has met an untimely end. I’d just reached the end of a tricky meeting when a sheepish-looking official knocked on my office door. He’d been dispatched to inform me that half a million doses of the active ingredient that makes up the vaccine have gone down the drain.

Some poor lab technician literally dropped a bag of the vaccine on the floor. Half a million doses in one dropped bag! I decided not to calculate how much Butter Fingers has cost us. Mistakes happen.

On February 22, CapX asked, ‘Why isn’t Matt Hancock in jail?’

It was about Labour’s accusations about procurement contracts for the pandemic. The article comes out in Hancock’s favour:

On Thursday, Mr Justice Chamberlain sitting in the High Court ruled that Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully by failing to to publish certain procurement contracts

It is worth noting that there was no suggestion in Mr Justice Chamberlain’s judgment that Matt Hancock had any personal involvement in the delayed publication. The judgment was made against the Health Secretary, but in his capacity as a Government Minister and legal figurehead for his Department, rather than as a private citizen. In fact, the failure to publish was actually on the part of civil servants in the Department who, in the face of the pandemic, saw a more than tenfold increase in procurement by value and struggled to keep up.

Indeed, on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Hancock did not apologise for the unlawful delays, saying it was “the right thing to do” to prioritise getting the PPE to the frontline rather than ensuring timely transparency returns. I wonder how many of those calling for Mr Hancock’s imprisonment would rather he had published the contracts in the required timeframe even if it meant there was less PPE available for NHS workers.

As a general rule, we should be able to see how the Government spends our money, what it is spent on and to whom it is given. Transparency improves governance. It is right that the Secretary of State is under a legal duty to publish contracts such as those at the heart of this case. However, this case – and the way it has been reported – is likely to have a much more invidious impact than simply improving transparency in public procurement policy.

Opposition politicians and activists have attacked the Government with claims that it has been using procurement during the pandemic as a way to funnel money to its political supporters and donors. It is certainly true that the sums spent by the Government have been large, and have been spent quickly.

What is certainly not true is that Mr Justice Chamberlain in his judgment gave any credence to this line of attack. He accepted evidence from an official at the Department of Health and Social Care that the delay was due to increased volume in contracts and lack of staff. However, that has not stopped figures linking the judgment to the attack line, such as Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth who tweeted that the delay was ‘Cronyism’. In fact, there was no evidence to suggest that was so.

Vanishingly few people will read Mr Justice Chamberlain’s judgment in full, or even in part. Most people will only see the headlines in the press. Coupled with tweets such as those by Mr Ashworth, the public at large is likely to come to the conclusion that a court has found against the Government for cronyism, when that is not the case. And this will likely fuel further resentment that the Cabinet are not serving decades behind bars.

Justice must be done and it must be seen to be done. Justice has been done in this case – the Secretary of State has been found to have acted unlawfully – but too many lack the ability and willingness to see.

Sunday, February 28:

A potentially dangerous new variant — which we think originated in Brazil — has been identified in the UK, but we can’t find Patient Zero. Whoever it is failed to provide the correct contact details when they took their Covid test, so we don’t know who or where they are. Cue a frantic search.

March 2021

Monday, March 1:

When a lab technician first spotted the new variant, we didn’t even know which part of the country the positive test had come from. Since then, thanks to some fancy sequencing and a high-quality data system, we’ve been able to identify the batch of home-test kits involved, and narrowed it down to just 379 possible households. We’re now contacting every single one.

Tuesday, March 2:

The net’s closing. We now know that the PCR test was processed at 00.18hrs on Valentine’s Day and went to the lab via a mailing centre in Croydon [south London].

Thursday, March 4:

Test and Trace have found Patient Zero! He was on the shortlist of 379 households and eventually returned calls from officials at 4 pm yesterday.

Apparently, he tried to register his test but got the details wrong. We now know his name and age (38) and that he has been very ill. He claims not to have left his house for 18 days.

This is extremely good news: assuming he’s telling the truth, he has not been out and about super-spreading. What amazing detective work.

Friday, March 5:

Covid deaths have nearly halved within a week. The vaccine is clearly saving lives.

On Saturday, March 6, The Conservative Woman‘s Laura Perrins, a qualified barrister, pointed out that mandatory vaccinations — she was probably thinking of health workers — is ‘criminal battery’:

Wednesday, March 10:

Can you imagine if we hadn’t bothered to set up a contact tracing system? And if we’d decided it was all too difficult and expensive to do mass testing? Would we ever have been forgiven if we’d failed to identify clusters of cases or new variants?

No — and rightly so. Yet a cross-party committee of MPs has come to the conclusion that Test and Trace was basically a gigantic waste of time and money. I felt the red mist descend.

Yesterday, we did 1.5 million tests — in a single day! No other European country has built such a capability.

Thursday, March 11 (see photo):

The Test and Trace row is rumbling on, as is a ridiculous story about me supposedly helping a guy who used to be the landlord of my local pub in Suffolk land a multi-million-pound Covid contract. As I’ve said ad nauseam, I’ve had nothing to do with awarding Covid contracts. I find these attacks on my integrity incredibly hurtful.

The story rumbles on in Parliament, including in a debate this month.

Friday, March 12:

Oh well, at least [retired cricketer, see January’s entries] Geoffrey Boycott is happy. He texted me to say he’d got his second dose. He seems genuinely grateful. I resisted the temptation to tell him that good things come to those who wait.

Tuesday, March 16:

To my astonishment, hotel quarantine is working. There’s a weird new variant from the Philippines, but the two cases we’ve identified have gone no further than their Heathrow airport hotel rooms.

Wednesday, March 17:

Today was my son’s birthday. We had breakfast together, but there was no way I could join the birthday tea with family. I hope to make it up to him — to all of them — when all this is over.

On Tuesday, March 23, the first anniversary of lockdown, Boris did the coronavirus briefing. Below is a list of all the Cabinet members who had headed the briefings in the previous 12 months. I saw them all:

On Wednesday, March 24, Hancock announced the creation of the sinister sounding UK Health Security Agency. SAGE member Dr Jenny Harries is at its helm:

Tuesday, March 30:

How did Covid start? A year on, we still don’t really know, and there’s still an awful lot of pussyfooting around not wanting to upset the Chinese.

No surprise to learn that the Foreign Office has ‘strong views on diplomacy’ — in other words, they won’t rock the boat with Beijing and just want it all to go away.

Sometime in March, because magazine editions are always a month ahead, the publisher of Tatler, Kate Slesinger, enclosed a note with the April edition, which had Boris’s then-partner/now-wife Carrie Symonds on the cover. It began:

As I write this letter, the Prime Minister has just announced an extension to the nationwide lockdown, to be reviewed at around the time this Tatler April issue goes on sale — an opportune moment for us to be taking an in-depth look into the world of Carrie Symonds, possibly the most powerful woman in Britain right now.

April

On April 5, a furious Laura Perrins from The Conservative Woman tweeted that Hancock’s policies were ‘absolute fascism’, especially as we had passed the one year anniversary of lockdown and restrictions on March 23:

Note that lateral flow tests, as Hancock tweeted above, were free on the NHS. The programme continued for a year.

Tuesday, April 13:

The civil service seems determined to kill off the Covid dogs idea, which is so much more versatile than normal testing and really worthwhile. The animals are amazing – they get it right over 90 per cent of the time – but officials are being very tricky.

We should have started training dogs months ago and then sending them to railway stations and other busy places, where they could identify people who probably have Covid so they can then get a conventional test.

Unfortunately, even though I’ve signed off on it, the system just doesn’t buy it.

So far we’ve done a successful Phase 1 trial, but Phase 2, which costs £2.5 million, has hit the buffers. The civil service have come up with no fewer than 11 reasons to junk the idea.

That’s one idea I actually like. It sounds great.

On Friday, April 16, someone posted a video of Hancock breezing into No. 10. He had his mask on outside for the cameras, then whisked it off once he entered. Hmm. The person posting it wrote, ‘The hypocrisy and lies need to stop!

That day, the BBC posted that Hancock had financial interests in a company awarded an NHS contract — in 2019:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock owns shares in a company which was approved as a potential supplier for NHS trusts in England, it has emerged.

In March, he declared he had acquired more than 15% of Topwood Ltd, which was granted the approved status in 2019.

The firm, which specialises in the secure storage, shredding and scanning of documents, also won £300,000 of business from NHS Wales this year.

A government spokesman said there had been no conflict of interest.

He also said the health secretary had acted “entirely properly”.

But Labour said there was “cronyism at the heart of this government” and the party’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has asked the head of the civil service to investigate whether Mr Hancock breached the ministerial code.

In March this year, Mr Hancock declared in the MPs’ register of interests that he had acquired more than 15% of the shares in Topwood, under a “delegated management arrangement”.

Public contract records show that the company was awarded a place in the Shared Business Services framework as a potential supplier for NHS local trusts in 2019, the year after Mr Hancock became health secretary.

The MPs’ register did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth – involved in the firm since its foundation in 2002 – owns a larger portion of the shares and is a director, or that Topwood has links to the NHS – as first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog and Health Service Journal.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Matt Hancock has to answer the questions… He can’t pretend that the responsibility lies elsewhere.”

But he said he was “not suggesting” the health secretary had broken any rules.

Here’s photographic proof of share ownership:

Saturday, April 17:

Prince Philip’s funeral. The Queen sat alone in a pew, in widow’s weeds and a black face mask. Looking at her in her grief, I felt an intense internal conflict, almost an anguish, between the overwhelming sense of duty I have had to save lives on the one hand and the painful consequences of my own decisions on the other. Out of duty, out of an abundance of caution, and to show leadership, the Queen took the most proper approach. It was humbling, and I felt wretched.

Monday, April 19:

The police rang to warn me that anti-vaxxers are planning a march on my London home. They suggested I liaise with [my wife] Martha so she can tell me if it’s happening.

Great that they spotted it, but asking my wife to keep an eye out of the window while a baying horde descends on the family home is not exactly British policing at its finest. I asked for more support. Then I went home to make sure I was there if it kicked off, but there was no sign of anyone.

A policeman explained that the anti-vaxxers had posted the wrong details on social media so were busy protesting a few streets away. What complete idiots.

Thursday, April 22:

Boris has completely lost his rag over Scotland.

He’s got it into his head that Nicola Sturgeon is going to use vaccine passports to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK and is harrumphing around his bunker, firing off WhatsApps like a nervous second lieutenant in a skirmish.

He’s completely right: Sturgeon has tried to use the pandemic to further her separatist agenda at every turn.

Now the Scottish government is working on its own system of vaccine certification, which might or might not link up with what’s being developed for the rest of the UK.

On April 26, the vaccine was rolled out to the general population. Hancock is pictured here at Piccadilly Circus:

I cannot tell you how many phone calls and letters we got in the ensuing weeks. Not being early adopters of anything, we finally succumbed in early July, again a few months later and at the end of the year for the booster.

On April 29, Hancock and Deputy Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam had a matey vaccination session together, with ‘JVT’, as Hancock called him, doing the honours:

May

Saturday, May 1:

Another outright death threat today in my inbox that said simply: ‘I am going to kill you.’ Lovely. The threats from online anti-vaxxers are getting far more frequent and violent.

As a result, I’m now being assessed for the maximum level of government security.

Tuesday, May 4:

Today, I was out campaigning for the local elections in Derbyshire. Gina [Coladangelo, adviser] drove me up. My relationship with Gina is changing.

Having spent so much time talking about how to communicate in an emotionally engaged way, we are getting much closer.

On Wednesday, May 12, the London Evening Standard interviewed Hancock. ‘Matt Hancock: Let’s put our year of hell behind us’ is more interesting now than it was then:

Matt Hancock today struck his most upbeat note yet on easing many of the remaining lockdown restrictions next month, with Britain set to be “back to life as normal” within a year.

The Health Secretary, who has been one of the most powerful voices arguing for lockdown to save thousands of lives, stressed that the Government would lay out the low risks of further Covid-19 infections if, as expected, it presses ahead with the final relaxation stage in June.

“Our aim on the 21st is to lift as many of the measures/restrictions as possible,” he told the Standard’s editor Emily Sheffield in a studio interview aired today for its online London Rising series to spur the city’s recovery from the pandemic. “We’ve been putting in place all these rules that you’d never have imagined — you’re not allowed to go and hug who you want,” while adding he hadn’t seen his own mother since July and he was looking forward to hugging her.

“I am very gregarious,” he added, “and I really want to also get back to the verve of life. For the last year, we have had people literally asking ministers, ‘Who can I hug?’”

Mr Hancock also criticised as “absolutely absurd” protests outside AstraZeneca’s offices in Cambridge, where demonstrators have been calling for the pharmaceutical giant to openly licence its vaccine. He stressed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs were already being offered to many countries “around the world” at cost price.

During the interview, for the business and tech section of London Rising, he admitted being too busy to keep a diary of the year’s extraordinary events.

He also said he hadn’t had time to help with the housework as he was “working full-time” on the pandemic and that he had spent more hours than he cared to remember in his home “red room” office, which went viral.

In a boost for going back to offices, he admitted that he was now back at Whitehall, adding: “I get most of my work done there.”

He also said he had not heard Mr Johnson say he was prepared to see “bodies pile high” rather than order another lockdown, a phrase the Prime Minister has denied using, saying: “No I never heard him talk in those terms.” But he admitted there were very lengthy, serious debates and “my job is to articulate the health imperative”.

He added: “By this time next year, large swathes of people will have had a booster jab. That means we’ll be able to deal with variants, not just the existing strains, and I think we’ll be back to life as normal.”

In the interview, Mr Hancock also:

    • Warned that another pandemic hitting the UK was “inevitable” and “we’ve got to be ready and more ready than last time. Hence, we are making sure we have got vaccines that could be developed in 100 days and the onshore manufacturing” and that health chiefs would be better equipped to defeat it …
    • Told how he hoped that England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, his deputy Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance are “properly thanked” for their work in steering the country through the crisis. Pressed on whether they should be elevated to the Lords, he said: “That’s a matter for Her Majesty the Queen”
    • Backed Boris Johnson, enjoying a “vaccines bounce” which is believed to have contributed to Tory success in the recent elections, to be Tory leader for a decade.

Indeed, the Queen did reward Whitty, Van-Tam and Vallance with knighthoods.

Boris seemed invincible at that point, until Partygate emerged in November that year. Someone was out to get him. They succeeded.

Four days later, on May 16, Wales Online reported ‘Matt Hancock sets date for next lockdown announcement; he also says local lockdowns are not ruled out’. This is interesting, as he seemed to walk back what he told the Evening Standard:

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the date for the next lockdown lifting announcement by the Government, but has said local lockdowns ‘have not been ruled out’.

Speaking on Sky News this morning Mr Hancock said their strategy was to continue with the lockdown lifting roadmap as planned, but said they would be monitoring the data very closely.

He said there had been just over 1,300 cases of the Indian variant detected in the country so far, with fears it could be 50% more infectious than Kent Covid.

Mr Hancock said: “It is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, for instance in Bolton and in Blackburn.” But he said it has also been detected ‘in much lower numbers’ in other parts of the country

He added: “We need to be cautious, we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant.”

Asked if lockdown lifting could be reversed he said: “I very much hope not.” but on local lockdowns he said: “We haven’t ruled that out.”

Mr Hancock said: “We will do what it takes to keep the public safe as we learn more about this particular variant and the virus overall.”

The Health Secretary said an announcement on the next stage of lockdown lifting would be made on June 14

It was thought at the time that lockdown would be lifted on June 21.

Wednesday, May 26:

Dominic Cummings has told a select committee I should have been fired ‘for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions’.

Apparently I lied about PPE, lied about patients getting the treatment they needed, lied about this and lied about that.

Later, the PM called. ‘Don’t you worry, Matt. No one believes a word he says. I’m sorry I ever hired him. You’re doing a great job — and history will prove you right. Bash on!’

I went to bed thinking, ‘Thank goodness I kept vaccines out of Dom’s destructive hands or that would have been a disaster like everything else he touched.’

I watched that session. Everyone was at fault except for Dominic Cummings. Anyone who presents himself in such a way is probably not all he seems.

Thursday, May 27:

When I got into work, I heard that the Prof [Whitty] had called my private office volunteering to support me in public if need be.

This spectacular vote of confidence meant the most.

Shortly before I headed home, [Defence Secretary] Ben Wallace sent a nice message asking if I was OK. ‘The Cummings evidence can be summed up as the ‘ramblings of a tw*t’,’ he said.

Also:

Of all the many accusations Dom Cummings has hurled at me, the media seem most interested in his claims that I lied about the arrangements surrounding hospital discharges into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic.

Annoyingly, it was only after this evening’s [Downing Street] press conference that I received some very pertinent PHE [Public Health England] data. They analysed all the Covid cases in care homes from January to October last year and found that just 1.2 per cent could be traced back to hospitals.

The vast majority of infections were brought in from the wider community, mainly by staff.

Overall, England did no worse at protecting care home residents than many countries, and better than someincluding Scotland, where [Nicola] Sturgeon’s team has been responsible for decision-making. Regardless, the awfulness of what the virus did to people in care homes around the world will stay with me for the rest of my life.

That day, YouGov published the results of a poll asking if Hancock should resign. Overall, 36% thought he should and 31% thought he should remain in post:

Saturday, May 29:

Boris and Carrie got married at Westminster Cathedral. I’m not entirely sure how much the PM’s mind was on his future with his beloved, though, because this afternoon he was busy texting me about the latest Covid data.

‘Lower cases and deaths today. So definitely ne panique pas,’ I told him.

Then again, perhaps he’s just very good at multi-tasking and can examine infection graphs, pick bits of confetti off his jacket and give his new bride doe-eyed looks all at the same time.

Sunday, May 30:

‘Keep going, we have seen off Cummings’s bungled assassination,’ Boris messaged cheerfully.

It was lunchtime and the PM didn’t appear to be having any kind of honeymoon, or even half a day off.

Nevertheless, that day, the Mail on Sunday reported that the Conservatives were beginning to slip in the polls and had more on Cummings’s testimony to the select committee:

The extraordinary salvo launched by Mr Cummings during a hearing with MPs last week appears to be taking its toll on the government, with a new poll suggesting the Tory lead has been slashed by more than half. 

Keir Starmer tried to turn the screw today, accusing Mr Johnson and his ministers of being busy ‘covering their own backs’ to combat the Indian coronavirus variant.

The Labour leader said ‘mistakes are being repeated’ as the Government considers whether to go ahead with easing restrictions on June 21.

‘Weak, slow decisions on border policy let the Indian variant take hold,’ he said.

‘Lack of self-isolation support and confused local guidance failed to contain it.

‘We all want to unlock on June 21 but the single biggest threat to that is the Government’s incompetence’ …

Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former adviser, told MPs on Wednesday that ‘tens of thousands’ had died unnecessarily because of the Government’s handling of the pandemic and accused Mr Hancock of ‘lying’ about testing for care home residents discharged from hospital – a claim he denies. 

Separately, the Sunday Times highlighted an email dated March 26 from social care leaders warning Mr Hancock that homes were being ‘pressured’ to take patients who had not been tested and had symptoms.

Lisa Lenton, chair of the Care Provider Alliance at the time, told Mr Hancock managers were ‘terrified’ about ‘outbreaks’.

‘The following action MUST be taken: All people discharged from hospital to social care settings (eg care homes, home care, supported living) MUST be tested before discharge,’ she wrote.

However, the government’s guidance on testing was not updated until April 15.

Instructions issued by the Department of Health and the NHS on March 19 2020 said ‘discharge home today should be the default pathway’, according to the Sunday Telegraph – with no mention of testing …  

An insider told the Sun on Sunday on the spat between Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock: ‘Boris returned from convalescence at Chequers when he heard the news. He was incensed. 

‘Matt had told him point blank tests would be carried out. He couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been. For a moment he lost it with Matt, shouting ”What a f***ing mess”.

‘At least three ministers told Boris Matt should be sacked.’

However, Mr Johnson refused to axe Mr Hancock reportedly saying that losing the health secretary during a pandemic would be ‘intolerable’.  

Sir Keir said the situation in care homes had been a ‘betrayal’, adding: ‘We may never know whether Boris Johnson said Covid ”was only killing 80-year olds” when he delayed a second lockdown.

‘What we do know is that the man charged with keeping them safe showed callous disregard for our elderly, as he overlooked the incompetence of his Health Secretary.’

June

Tuesday, June 1:

For the first time since last summer, there were no Covid deaths reported yesterday. We really are coming out of this.

Things might have looked good for Hancock at the beginning of the month, but the mood would sour rapidly.

England’s 2021 reopening on June 21 looked as if it would not happen. Not surprisingly, members of the public were not happy.

On June 6, Essex publican Adam Brooks tweeted Hancock’s words about personal responsibility back at him, calling him a ‘liar’:

Brooks, who owned two pubs at the time, followed up later, threatening that the hospitality industry would issue another legal challenge to coronavirus restrictions:

The next day, June 7, The Sun sounded the death knell for a reopening on June 21:

BRITS’ holiday hopes have been dashed AGAIN as Matt Hancock warns that the new variants are the “biggest challenging” to our domestic freedom.

The Health Secretary told MPs that restoring international travel is an “important goal” – but is one that will be “challenging and hard.”

Health Secretary Mr Hancock said the return to domestic freedom must be “protected at all costs”.

It comes after he confirmed that over-25s in England will be invited to receive their Covid jabs from Tuesday as the Delta variant “made the race between the virus and this vaccination effort tighter”.

Matt Hancock told the Commons this afternoon: “Restoring travel in the medium term is an incredibly important goal.

“It is going to be challenging, it’s going to be hard because of the risk of new variants and new variants popping up in places like Portugal which have an otherwise relatively low case rate.

“But the biggest challenge, and the reason this is so difficult, is that a variant that undermines the vaccine effort obviously would undermine the return to domestic freedom.

“And that has to be protected at all costs.”

The Health Secretary added: “No-one wants our freedoms to be restricted a single day longer than is necessary.

“I know the impact that these restrictions have on the things we love, on our businesses, on our mental health.

“I know that these restrictions have not been easy and with our vaccine programme moving at such pace I’m confident that one day soon freedom will return.”

This comes as desperate Brits have flooded airports as they race against the clock to get back to the UK before Portugal is slapped onto the amber travel list.

The next day, nutritionist Gillian McKeith tweeted her disgust with Hancock:

On Wednesday, June 9, the Health and Social Care Select Committee, which former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt headed, posed questions to Hancock in a coronavirus inquiry session:

On Thursday, June 10, The Guardian reported that Dominic Cummings would tell all about coronavirus as well as Brexit on his new Substack:

Dominic Cummings is planning to publish a paid-for newsletter in which subscribers can learn about his time inside Downing Street.

Boris Johnson’s former top aide has launched a profile on Substack, a platform that allows people to sign up to newsletter mailing lists.

In a post on the site, Cummings said he would be giving out information on the coronavirus pandemic for free, as well as some details of his time at Downing Street.

However, revelations about “more recondite stuff on the media, Westminster, ‘inside No 10’, how did we get Brexit done in 2019, the 2019 election etc” will be available only to those who pay £10 a month for a subscription …

It follows Cummings taking aim at Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, and the government in general as part of evidence given last month to the health and social care select committee and the science and technology committee.

Cummings, who left Downing Street after a behind-the-scenes power struggle in November last year, accused the health secretary of lying, failing on care homes and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on testing.

However, the parliamentary committees said Cummings’s claims would remain unproven because he had failed to provide supporting evidence.

On Friday, June 11, Labour MP Graham Stringer — one of the few Opposition MPs I admire — told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that ‘things went badly wrong’ on Hancock’s watch and that the Health Secretary should not have ‘blamed scientific advice’:

On Monday, June 14, talkRADIO’s Mike Graham told listeners forced to cancel a holiday to sue Hancock, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, SAGE and ‘every single one of them, personally’, otherwise ‘they will think they’ve won’:

Friday, June 18:

[Lingerie tycoon] Baroness (Michelle) Mone has sent me an extraordinarily aggressive email complaining that a company she’s helping isn’t getting the multi-million-pound contracts it deserves.

She claims the firm, which makes lateral flow test kits, ‘has had a dreadful time’ trying to cut through red tape and demanded my ‘urgent help’ before it all comes out in the media.

‘I am going to blow this all wide open,’ she threatened.

In essence, she’s not at all happy that a U.S. company called Innova has secured so many contracts while others ‘can’t get in the game’. She claims test kits made by the company she’s representing, and by several others, have all passed rigorous quality control checks but only Innova is getting the business.

‘This makes it a monopoly position for Innova, who to date have received £2.85 billion in orders,’ she complained.

By the end of the email, she seemed to have worked herself into a complete frenzy and was throwing around wild accusations. ‘I smell a rat here. It is more than the usual red tape, incompetence and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels and a cover-up is taking place . . . Don’t say I didn’t [warn] you when Panorama or Horizon run an exposé documentary on all this.’

She concluded by urging me to intervene ‘to prevent the next bombshell being dropped on the govt’. I read the email again, stunned. Was she threatening me? It certainly looked that way.

Her tests, I am told, have not passed validation — which would explain why the company hasn’t won any contracts. I will simply not reply. I won’t be pushed around by aggressive peers representing commercial clients.

In December 2022, Baroness Mone announced that she would be taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords. Her Wikipedia entry states:

Mone became a Conservative life peer in 2015. From 2020 to 2022, in a series of investigative pieces, The Guardian reported that Mone and her children had secretly received £29 million of profits to an offshore trust from government PPE contracts, which she had lobbied for during the COVID-19 pandemic. The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards and National Crime Agency launched investigations into Mone’s links to these contracts in January 2022. Mone announced in December 2022 that she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords “to clear her name” amid the allegations.

Also that day came news that, after Parliament voted on coronavirus restrictions that week — June 21 having been postponed to July 19 — the NHS waiting list was much larger than expected. It was thought to be 5 million but was actually 12 million:

LBC reported:

The Health Secretary told the NHS Confederation conference that up to 12.2 million people are in need of elective procedures delayed due to the pandemic.

This includes 5.1m people already on waiting lists.

Health bosses believe there could be as many as 7.1m additional patients who stayed away from hospitals because of the risk of Covid-19.

Mr Hancock told the NHS conference that there is “another backlog out there” and that he expected the numbers to rise even further.

NHS leaders have warned the backlog could take five years to clear

Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said the current wave of cases would “definitely translate into further hospitalisations”.

On Saturday, June 19, a YouTube video appeared, which has since been deleted. These are my notes on it:

June 19, coronavirus: 24 mins in — Matt Hancock says unvaccinated will not receive health treatment if NHS is overwhelmed, also mentioned are Birmingham deaths, FOIA Pfizer vaccine information forwarded to Special Branch re Warwickshire and four Birmingham hospitals; Mark Sexton, ex police constable – YouTube.

I have no idea what ensued.

On Friday, June 25, Dominic Cummings posted this article on his Substack: ‘More evidence on  how the PM’s & Hancock’s negligence killed people’.

It’s quite lengthy, but begins as follows:

Below is some further evidence including a note I sent on 26 April regarding how we could shift to Plan B with a serious testing system.

It helps people understand what an incredible mess testing was and why care homes were neglected. Hancock had failed terribly. The Cabinet Office did not have the people it needed to solve the problem. Many were screaming at me that Hancock was failing to act on care homes and spinning nonsense to the Cabinet table while thousands were dying in care homes.

There are clearly errors in my note but the fact that *I* had to write it tells you a lot about how the system had collapsed. As you can see it is a draft for a document that needed to exist but didn’t because Hancock had not done his job properly and was absorbed in planning for his press conference at the end of April, not care homes and a serious plan for test-trace.

The Sunday Times‘s Tim Shipman summed up the article with Boris Johnson’s impressions of test and trace:

Returning to Hancock, it was clear that he would have to go, but no one expected his departure would be so dramatic.

To be continued tomorrow.

 

So far, my series on Conservative MP and former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has covered a summary of his current activities as well as his actions during the coronavirus pandemic: parts 2 and 3.

Today’s post reviews the events surrounding the pandemic between October and December 2020, mostly in England. Positive cases spiked in October that year, particularly in certain regions of England, causing the development of a tiered system of restrictions. Christmas ended up being cancelled, a great loss to the hospitality sector, which had been open since July 4.

There was one ray of hope to get everyone out of this: the vaccine.

Dissenters must be silenced

The Mail has been running excerpts from Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries which he co-wrote with former Times journalist, Isabel Oakeshott.

One thing I have not found in the excerpts is any mention of dissent among the public or medics who were not on SAGE.

However, Isabel Oakeshott provides insight about the Government’s view of dissenters in an overview of Pandemic Diaries that she wrote for The Spectator, posted on December 7, 2022. Emphases mine below:

As far as Hancock was concerned, anyone who fundamentally disagreed with his approach was mad and dangerous and needed to be shut down. His account shows how quickly the suppression of genuine medical misinformation – a worthy endeavour during a public health crisis – morphed into an aggressive government-driven campaign to smear and silence those who criticised the response. Aided by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health harnessed the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups whose views were seen as a threat to public acceptance of official messages and policy. As early as January 2020, Hancock reveals that his special adviser was speaking to Twitter about ‘tweaking their algorithms’. Later he personally texted his old coalition colleague Nick Clegg, now a big cheese at Facebook, to enlist his help. The former Lib Dem deputy prime minister was happy to oblige.

Such was the fear of ‘anti-vaxxers’ that the Cabinet Office used a team hitherto dedicated to tackling Isis propaganda to curb their influence. The zero-tolerance approach extended to dissenting doctors and academics. The eminent scientists behind the so-called Barrington Declaration, which argued that public health efforts should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the general population to build up natural immunity to the virus, were widely vilified: Hancock genuinely considered their views a threat to public health.

For his part, [Boris] Johnson occasionally fretted that they might have a point. In late September 2020, Hancock was horrified to discover that one of the architects of the Declaration, the Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, and her fellow signatory Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, had been into Downing Street to see the prime minister. Anders Tegnell, who ran Sweden’s light-touch approach to the pandemic, attended the same meeting. Hancock did not want them anywhere near Johnson, labelling their views ‘absurd’.

Anti-lockdown protests were quickly banned. When, in September 2020, the Cabinet Office tried to exempt demonstrations from the ‘rule of six’, Hancock enlisted Michael Gove to ‘kill it off’, arguing that marches would ‘undermine public confidence in social distancing’. Gove had no qualms about helping.

Keep in mind that, in June 2020, BLM protests took place in English cities. Police did nothing to stop them, even though we were not supposed to be gathering in the streets, particularly without social distancing. Members of the police responded by taking the knee in front of protesters. Talk about double standards!

Oakeshott had more dismal news emerging from Hancock’s diaries.

Masks

Oakeshott says:

Hancock, [Chief Medical Officer Chris] Whitty and Johnson knew full well that non-medical face masks do very little to prevent transmission of the virus. People were made to wear them anyway because [Boris’s top adviser] Dominic Cummings was fixated with them; because [Scotland’s First Minister] Nicola Sturgeon liked them; and above all because they were symbolic of the public health emergency.

I do despair.

It was exactly as the sceptics said at the time: theatre designed to show the Government’s power over the people.

Care homes

Even worse was — and, in some places, still is — the situation in care homes. Patients and their loved ones were separated for many months. There were no hugs, no kisses, no caresses. Instead, patients and family members met at a window, pressing their hands against glass, aligning them with those of their loved ones — just as one would do at a prison visit.

Oakeshott writes:

Hancock is more sensitive about this subject than any other. The accusation that he blithely discharged Covid-positive patients from hospitals into care homes, without thinking about how this might seed the virus among the frail elderly, or attempting to stop this happening, upsets and exasperates him. The evidence I have seen is broadly in his favour.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was simply not possible to test everyone: neither the technology nor the capacity existed. Internal communications show that care homes were clearly instructed to isolate new arrivals. It later emerged that the primary source of new infection in these settings was in any case not hospital discharges, but the movement of staff between care homes. Politically, this was very inconvenient: Hancock knew he would be accused of ‘blaming’ hardworking staff if he emphasised the link (which is exactly what has now happened).

He is on less solid ground in relation to the treatment of isolated care-home residents and their increasingly desperate relatives. His absolute priority was to preserve life –however wretched the existence became. Behind the scenes, the then care home minister Helen Whately fought valiantly to persuade him to ease visiting restrictions to allow isolated residents some contact with their loved ones. She did not get very far. Internal communications reveal that the authorities expected to find cases of actual neglect of residents as a result of the suspension of routine care-home inspections.

October through December 2020

Pandemic Diaries entries for these months come from this instalment, unless otherwise indicated.

October

Saturday, October 3:

A day dominated by the discovery of a hideous blunder involving a week’s worth of Covid data. Somehow or other we have failed to log around 16,000 cases, which all had to be piled into today’s figures. We might as well just hang a giant neon sign above the Prof’s ‘next slide please’ screen, saying ‘See here: Spectacular Screw-Up.’ [The Prof is the nickname for chief medical officer Chris Whitty.]

Sunday, October 4:

[Head of the Vaccine Taskforce] Kate [Bingham] has been telling the Financial Times we should only vaccinate the vulnerable. Except she has nothing to do with the deployment – only the buying. And what she’s criticising is the Government’s agreed policy. 

‘We absolutely need No 10 to sit on her hard,’ I told the spads [special advisers], adding that I consider her ‘totally unreliable’.

Monday, October 5:

For reasons best known to themselves, No 10 are rowing back on tiers [putting areas of the country into tiers with different levels of restrictions depending on the Covid risk] and has pulled the planned announcement from this week’s grid. They want tough action; then they don’t want tough action; then someone gets to the PM and he changes his mind all over again. FFS.

Tuesday, October 6:

The Economist has got wind of an old vaccine deployment plan. I instinctively asked my spads if Kate might be behind it. ‘I have some evidence to suggest it might have been – ie the fact she had a meeting yesterday with the journalist who has the story,’ came the reply. Who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Saturday, October 10:

Boris has finally agreed to announce tiers on Monday.

Monday, October 12:

In the six weeks since I proposed the tiers system, there’s been delay and watering down at every stage — while the virus has grown faster than the worst-case scenario. What’s most frustrating is that I’m being portrayed as the one who’s pushing for lockdown, whereas actually it’s those with their heads in the sand who will lead us to a full-blown national lockdown.

Thursday, October 15:

Today I announced that London and a few other places are going into Tier 2. The original draft statement was quite bullish on vaccines, but No 10 freaked, ordering me to delete anything that made it sound as if we think vaccines are the way out.

This really annoyed me, because they are the way out. Since that’s our strategy, it’s ridiculous to be told I can’t say it. I will not be blown off the vaccine drive by the sceptics — in No 10 or anywhere else.

This was a problem for Iain Duncan Smith MP, who pointed out that some London boroughs are relatively virus-free, therefore, it is wrong to impose the same restrictions on all of them. With a lot of umms and ahhs, Hancock said that it was only right that the same restrictions were imposed on all boroughs. Iain Duncan Smith looked as if he were about to blow a gasket — and rightly so:

Friday, October 16:

Boris has been studying what they did during the plague and messaged this morning about how tiering worked in the old days.

‘In 1606, the Privy Council decreed that theatres should be closed if deaths from plague exceeded 30 per week,’ he told us. ‘Not sure about these fixed thresholds,’ I replied warily. Thankfully this was the end of the history lesson.

Saturday, October 17:

Woke up to another briefing against me from No 10, this time in the i [newspaper]. Apparently ‘Matt Hancock is the only person here who thinks there is actually going to be a vaccine . . . It’s a running joke with other departments’.

If so, I’m happy to own it. Thank God I banned the team from talking to No 10 about the [vaccine] rollout. They’d just trash it.

Had a bit of a counselling session from Nadine [Dorries, mental health minister] this evening. ‘You are too nice too often,’ she told me.

Tuesday, October 27:

Could labradors be our secret weapon against the pandemic? A bizarre and cheering morning watching disease-detecting dogs on the concourse at Paddington Station demonstrate what they can do on a crowd that included the Duchess of Cornwall.

Inside, I was panicking. I couldn’t stop worrying that the mutts might pick out Camilla, or indeed me, as having the dreaded disease. ‘Please, please, don’t do that,’ I willed silently.

Luckily, the labs correctly identified the man with the T-shirt that had been worn by an affected patient. I was impressed. 

These dogs can pick up the scent of Covid just like they pick up the scent of drugs. I want them at airports and train stations to sniff out super-spreaders.

The [Health] department’s briefing was: ‘Evidence base too thin.’ It’s absurd. Just because they aren’t conventional tests, officialdom can’t see the point.

I’ve pushed it and asked Jim [Bethell, a Health Minister in the Lords] to follow up.

Thursday, October 29:

We’re putting so many new areas into Tier 3 that it’ll soon be a national lockdown in all but name. Had we brought in tougher tiers three weeks ago, as the Prof and I were arguing for, we wouldn’t be in this position. And for goodness’ sake, why aren’t we pushing harder on ventilation as well as masks? We have known since a Spanish study proved it in the summer that Covid spreads more like smoke than droplets — yet the comms is still geared to masks, which are less important than ventilation.

Friday, October 30:

This afternoon I was called to a meeting of Covid-S, the strategy group chaired by the PM. At the end: victory.

Boris grudgingly accepted the stark, painful facts: that cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising and the NHS will run out of space unless we act. The upshot is four weeks of lockdown then back to souped-up tiers.

Having won the lockdown argument, I was exhausted but elated and literally ran up the stairs to my office, stopping off to see the Prof, who’d fought hard alongside me via Zoom.

‘Secretary of State, you’ve saved many lives with what you’ve done today,’ he replied.

As I headed off to Suffolk [his constituency], I finally relaxed. We took the children for a curry at Montaz in Newmarket, where the staff seemed excited to see us. It was horrible to think they were going to have to close again on Thursday and I couldn’t tell them.

I really, really wanted to forget the pandemic, just for half an hour, when [ITV political editor] Robert Peston’s number flashed up on my phone. I almost choked on my chapati.

‘I understand that this pm you, PM, Chancellor and [Michael Gove] met. Am told 99 per cent likely there will be a full national lockdown from next Wed or Thurs,’ Peston said.

So the cat is out of the bag — already! Furious, I forwarded the message to my spads [special advisers] and No 10 comms. How the f*** had it leaked already? Only a handful of people knew!

By the time I got home, I had an enraged Boris on the phone saying his media people had told him hacks were pointing the finger at me.

‘Whoever is telling you that is lying to you,’ I replied furiously.

How had this happened? My money is firmly on Dominic Cummings via his acolytes. The agenda? To bounce the PM into announcing the lockdown sooner [rather] than later and stop him U-turning. If they got me sacked into the bargain, that would be a bonus.

I texted the PM to say that obviously the accusations against me were untrue and I could prove that if necessary. Half an hour later, he messaged asking me and [spad] Damon to bring our phones into Downing Street on Monday.

‘With pleasure,’ I replied coldly.

Peston wouldn’t have texted me for confirmation if I was the source. Plus: it’s not like I benefit from this information being out early.

‘I’m taking a huge amount of flak to do the right thing and protecting you in the process,’ I told Boris.

‘Understood, everyone overwrought,’ he replied soothingly, but with Dom dripping poison in his ear, I very much doubt that will be the end of it. So everything hangs in the balance. Either the PM has to rush into announcing the lockdown or there’s such a backlash, especially from our truculent backbenchers, that he bottles it again.

‘It’s a f***ing disgrace,’ I told [Cabinet Secretary] Simon Case. ‘I hope you have a full inquiry.’

As lockdown approaches, I should be focused on testing, the vaccine and getting the new measures right to get us all out of this nightmare. Instead I’m fighting for my political life. This is no way to run a country.

Saturday, October 31:

I hardly slept. Consternation from friends about how it all came out. Jim [Lord Bethell, health minister in the Lords] described it as ‘the fastest leak since Nick Clegg was on world-record form’ — he was notorious when we were in coalition.

Nadine was raging, telling me the culprit ‘needs putting in front of a firing squad’.

Thankfully, at the press conference the PM gave it his all, warning of thousands of deaths a day if we don’t do more.

Lockdown will be a little lighter than last time because we’ve got better evidence about what works. After the s*** I’ve taken, I don’t feel triumphant, but at least we’ve avoided a complete collapse in the NHS and those Lombardy scenes in our hospitals. For now at least.

November

Sunday, November 1:

Boris was still far from reconciled to the lockdown he’d so grudgingly authorised, continuing to fret that we’d be accused of ‘blinking too soon’.

Meanwhile, Cummings is deliberately ignoring my calls and messages. Extraordinary. We’re in the middle of a national crisis in which hundreds of people are dying every day and I’m in charge of the health service. Yet he won’t talk to me. It’s pathetic, petty and downright irresponsible.

Tuesday, November 3:

I think someone’s trying to smear me. First, I’m falsely accused of being in a Commons bar after 10pm, then I’m falsely accused of leaking, and now The Sun wants to know if I went to have a haircut with Michael Gove at the weekend. Nothing to declare there.

One of my allies received a message from a journalist saying, ‘We need to talk about who is framing Matt at some stage . . .’ I think I can take an educated guess.

Tuesday, November 10:

After months of working it up in secret, today I presented the vaccine rollout plan to the PM. I’ve rarely seen him as enthusiastic. Finally I think he realises this really is going to happen.

‘Can we go faster?’ he boomed, banging the table.

As expected, the price of success is that No 10 has gone from not believing the vaccine will happen to getting completely carried away. Yesterday they started putting it out that ‘ten million people’ could get the jab before Christmas.

This was never the plan, is never going to happen, and [my spad] Damon spent half the day trying to kill it.

Friday, November 13:

Cummings has gone! I am elated and, more than anything, relieved for the sake of the vaccine and the country. He’s been such a frightening, damaging, negative force for so long.

‘Now we can actually build a government that works effectively,’ I told Simon Case excitedly.

We talked about restoring proper processes and ensuring everything that should come to me does come to me, instead of being diverted to one of many random groups Cummings set up to interfere/cut me out of the loop/attempt to control everything.

My team — officials and advisers — are thrilled.

Sunday, November 15:

The Sunday Times thinks we’ve been dishing out multi-million-pound contracts to ‘cronies’. Really? I’m absolutely fuming. I’ve not been involved in either the pricing or the decision-making behind who’s been awarded government contracts.

With all my years of experience as a politician, would I seriously just bung millions of pounds’ worth of deals to my mates, just kind of hoping nobody would notice? So galling.

Friday, November 20:

I met my Slovakian opposite number to talk about their government’s super-ambitious ‘let’s make the entire population take a Covid test all on the same day’ initiative. I have my reservations but Boris is super-keen.

Saturday, November 21:

The PM has been talking to the Slovakian PM and is incredibly eager to give it a go. Today’s the day I had to get ministerial approval on the plan. It did not go well — bluntly, the Cabinet think it’s crazy.

Doing my best to ignore the increasingly incredulous expressions on the faces of the Zoom attendees, I walked everyone through what would be required: nothing less than the entire military and every part of the NHS that could be harnessed to the cause. The price tag? A cool £1 billion.

Knowing this one came straight from the top, I gave it both barrels. [Environment Secretary] George Eustice dismissed it as ridiculous. The Treasury said they wouldn’t pay for it. [Defence Secretary] Ben Wallace said the military was already deployed on other missions.

Afterwards, I picked up my phone to [spad] Emma. ‘Well, that was a drive-by shooting if ever I’ve seen one. Shows the limit of the PM’s powers, even in a pandemic. Cabinet government lives!’ I said cheerfully.

Much too late, I realised I’d forgotten to press ‘Leave Meeting’ on Zoom. Around 20 ministers and officials were still on screen, listening to every word.

Sunday, November 22:

I’m under fire from The Observer over Gina [Coladangelo’s] appointment to the [health department] board. They’ve described her as my ‘closest friend from university’ (true — one of) but are also making a song and dance of the fact that she’s a ‘director of a lobbying firm’.

The truth is she hasn’t been actively engaged with that company for years and every aspect of her appointment [as adviser] to the department went through all the proper channels. She was appointed after she proved herself during her stint as a volunteer just trying to do her bit for the country.

December

Tuesday, December 1:

Jim [health minister in the Lords] came to tell me he’d just formally signed the Pfizer vaccine off. I walked into the Cabinet Room, where the PM was standing behind his chair with Rishi, Simon Case and a few others dotted around.

‘We have a vaccine! It’s been formally approved!’ I announced as I walked in.

Boris danced a little jig, his jubilant moves giving every impression that he hadn’t had much dance practice of late.

We were all elated. We know this is the only way out. So many people feared it would never happen. But here it is, the first in the world, in under a year.

On the way out of Downing Street I bumped into Rishi, who gave me a man-hug and thanked me for pulling off the vaccine. Tomorrow is going to be massive.

Wednesday, December 2:

The announcement to the markets was due at 7am sharp. From the privacy of a green room in the bowels of the BBC building, my first call was to my counterparts in the devolved administrations. Ridiculously, we’d had to keep them in the dark about the impending announcement because we were worried about leaks. Then moments after 7am, I was on air telling the world.

Unfortunately, Boris’s good humour didn’t last long. By mid-afternoon, I was just finishing answering questions in the Commons when I got a series of texts from an increasingly desperate-sounding Emma [spad], saying he was ‘going mad’.

She said Boris wasn’t happy that we’re launching on Tuesday, not Monday; wasn’t happy with the time frame for vaccinating care-home residents; wasn’t happy about the way we’re working with the devolved administrations; and had a bee in his bonnet about the use of wholesalers to get the vaccine to GPs.

‘Oh FFS,’ I replied. I wish he’d take a moment to congratulate the team and keep their morale up, not lose it like this.

Thursday, December 3:

A cloak-and-dagger operation to get the first 800,000 doses of the vaccine into the UK. We weren’t taking any chances. Imagine if rogue actors or hostile states tried to hijack the vehicle or seize the goods?

At lunchtime, a drama: in hushed tones, officials told me that the team was switching route ‘as a precaution’ following a credible security threat. It was amazing work by our intelligence agencies and the private-sector company who first spotted it, and just goes to show that we were not being paranoid.

Then, mid-afternoon, came confirmation that all 800,000 doses were safely in the UK. Relief!

As news spreads, we’re beginning to get sheepish requests from VIPs around the world. A Middle Eastern diplomat reached out to Nadhim Zahawi [vaccine deployment minister] asking if we’d be willing to send 400 shots for the royal household. Nadhim sounded embarrassed and assumed we’d have to find a polite way of saying no.

In fact, I’m up for these small diplomatic efforts — so long as the Foreign Office agrees, of course. Done appropriately, it pays dividends for international relations. Nadhim sounded relieved, saying that the king himself is asking.

That morning, Hancock told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that restrictions could be lifted once all of the most vulnerable people have received the vaccine, rather than waiting until everyone has been vaccinated:

Friday, December 4:

The first big setback: Pfizer say the vaccine isn’t brewing as fast as they’d like. It means we’re unlikely to get the ten million doses we’re due to receive before the end of the year, and production estimates for early 2021 are being scaled back. Thank goodness we didn’t let the plans go public.

Tuesday, December 8:

Shortly after 6am, I received confirmation that the first person had been inoculated, and I hurried off for the morning media round.

Gina and [spad] Damon accompanied me to the broadcast studios [ITV’s Good Morning Britain]. ‘You need to relax’ was Gina’s advice, by which she meant: ‘Stop being so buttoned up.’ What she did not mean was that I should lose it altogether, which unfortunately is exactly what happened.

I was on my own in a dark windowless booth, answering questions, when they played the video of [the first person] getting her jab. Suddenly I completely lost it, blubbing away, battling to regain my composure as tears streamed down my face. ‘For Christ’s sake, pull yourself together,’ I told myself desperately. Then the camera was back on me, my microphone was live and my watery red eyes were there for all to see. When I tried to answer the next question, my voice came out in a weird sort of croak. Gina said at least I’d shown how I felt.

Much later, I was on my way to bed when my phone rang. Nobody rings at 11.43pm unless it’s bad news, least of all the Prof [Whitty], whose number was flashing ominously. In that calm, professorial voice of his, he explained that three people had suffered a serious adverse reaction to the vaccine. One had nearly died.

We tried to calculate the statistical risk. If three out of 400 vaccinated today had a massive reaction, then that’s 38,000 out of the whole population. And 38,000 is an awful lot of people.

‘Jesus Christ,’ I thought, feeling physically sick. We may well have to halt the entire vaccination rollout. ‘Perhaps all three have a history of anaphylaxis?’ I asked hopefully. Still feeling nauseous, I slumped into bed, knowing I wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.

Wednesday, December 9:

At 5.30am my phone went. ‘All three had a clinical history of anaphylaxis,’ said Natasha [head of Hancock’s private office].

‘[Prof Whitty] recommends that anyone with a history shouldn’t take this vaccine, that we introduce a 15-minute wait after vaccination to monitor people, restrict the rollout to hospitals for the next couple of days and get on with it,’ she said.

I can’t remember ever being so relieved in my life.

The following entries come from this extract in the Mail, unless otherwise stated.

Friday, December 11:

There’s a new [more infectious] variant. This explains why the Covid numbers in Kent have been so stubbornly high.

Monday, December 14:

I announced the new variant in a statement to Parliament. Even normally reasonable MPs are going tonto [crazy]. Everyone can see Christmas falling apart, and judgment is going out of the window.

That day, Hancock announced a shorter self-isolation period, from 14 to ten days:

Thursday, December 17:

A grim day dominated by the announcement of new tiers, which effectively cancel Christmas. Worse for me, they also scupper [wife] Martha’s birthday dinner tonight, which was set to be our first night out in months. I feel terrible about it.

I’ve come to hate the tiers: the boundaries are impossible to draw sensibly, and the whole thing doesn’t keep us together as a country. I hadn’t appreciated how important that is.

Later JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer] called. He and the Prof [nickname for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty] have worked out that since the first dose of the vaccine gives about four times the level of protection as the second dose, the best way to save lives might be to give the first dose to as many people as possible and then delay the second.

Also on that day:

[Former Speaker of the House of Commons and former Labour MP] Betty Boothroyd called the office, asking if there’s any way she can get her jab soon. She’s 91 and very vulnerable. I called her back myself as I was in the car home.

I’d never met her, but she’s something of a hero of mine. As Speaker, she was a real trailblazer for women in politics. I said yes, we can get you your jab — given her age, she’s entitled to it — but the deal is you have to have it on camera.

She readily agreed. I gave her number to Nadhim Zahawi, who is going to fix it.

Friday, December 18:

Boris has reluctantly caved to the inevitable and agreed to cancel Christmas. Frankly, we’d have been far better off saying it would be a Zoom Christmas from the start.

That morning, Labour MP Graham Stringer — one of the good guys in the Opposition — criticised Hancock’s maintaining Manchester in Tier 3, accusing him of ‘playing silly schoolboy games’:

Saturday, December 19:

There’s no good time for Test and Trace to crumble, but this is literally the worst. There’s a critical shortage of pipette tips. Our failure to get hold of these little bits of plastic has led to a backlog of 182,000 tests.

Meanwhile, various people, including vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee Charles Walker, are calling for my head over the Christmas farce. It’s an irony, because I wasn’t involved in the Christmas decision at all. Maybe I should have come in and played hardball over it right from the start — but I can’t be Mr Miseryguts on everything.

On December 20, The Sun on Sunday‘s political editor could foresee the tiers extending well into 2021:

She was not wrong. Hancock appeared on LBC radio later that morning to say the same thing. He even acknowledged that the November lockdown did not help:

Someone parodied Hancock’s Christmas card: ‘In Tier 6, you will be eating your pets’:

Retired Southampton footballer Matt Le Tissier, a sceptic from the start, conducted his own Twitter poll showing that 89.7% of respondents did not trust Matt Hancock to tell the truth:

Wednesday, December 23:

We’ve finally started vaccinating care home residents. We’re paying GPs £25 per resident, pretty nice money for something that only takes a few minutes.

The public were sceptical about Hancock’s claims that the new variant, the South African one, was more transmissible. Here is Hancock’s announcement from that afternoon:

A South African studying the data said there was no evidence to support that claim:

Hancock also announced that more parts of England would be in Tiers 3 and 4 from Boxing Day:

That same day, then-London Assembly member David Kurten (UKIP at the time) noted that the Nightingale hospitals were lying empty, rightly calling them a waste of money (see second tweet):

Thursday, December 24:

Boris has been fretting that America has now jabbed more people than we have [Churchmouse’s note: thanks to President Trump]. I had to explain last night that, as a proportion, that means we’re six times ahead. Very unhelpfully, there’s a major Covid outbreak at the largest testing lab in the country, in Milton Keynes, adding to the backlog.

Friday, December 25:

Today is my first real day off since summer.

Monday, December 28:

There are now 20,426 people in hospital with the virus — more than at the peak of the first wave.

Wednesday, December 30:

We’ve announced the plan to extend the interval between the first and second doses of the jab. Lo and behold, who pops up to claim credit? None other than Tony Blair!

That day, Hancock gave an interview to Mark Dolan, who was at talkRADIO at the time, saying he had no date as to when we could come out of restrictions, even with a vaccine:

That afternoon, the Mail reported that only 530,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccine were available, when the Government had claimed in May that 30 million would be available by December 2020:

Britain will only have 530,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at its disposal from Monday, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed today after the game-changing jab was approved by the UK medical regulator.

The initial doses fall significantly short of the number touted by the Government in recent months. In May, officials suggested 30million doses of Oxford’s jab would be ready by the end of the year and last month the UK’s vaccine tsar toned the estimate down to 4million, citing manufacturing problems. 

But the UK has ordered 100million doses in total and AstraZeneca has promised to deliver 2million a week by mid-January, raising hopes that 24million of the most vulnerable Britons could be immunised by Easter.

Vaccine or not, the public’s patience was waning.

The first half of 2021 was dismal, beginning on January 4.

To be continued tomorrow.

My series on Matt Hancock MP continues.

Those who missed them can catch up on parts 1 and 2.

Today’s post takes us further into the late Spring up to the early autumn of 2020. The Government’s policy on coronavirus held the UK hostage at home, for varying amounts of time, depending on what part of the country one lived in.

Testing centres popped up around the country. Hancock, who was Health Secretary at the time, urged everyone to go to one of these centres to find out if they had the virus. The narrative was that the asymptomatic could still have it and transmit it to someone else. What a load of cobblers. As Mike Yeadon, who used to work for Pfizer said, if you’re ill, you’ll know about it.

A mobile phone app also appeared: Test and Trace. Another load of rubbish, which was very expensive. Surprisingly, many Britons with smartphones used it. Another good reason for not having a smartphone.

Imperial College’s SAGE modeller, Prof Neil Ferguson, was discovered to have broken lockdown with his mistress, who lived on the other side of London.

In May, news emerged that Boris’s top adviser Dominic Cummings slipped off from London with his wife and son to Barnard Castle, County Durham. As penance, Boris made Cummings give a 90-minute press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden. Excruciating.

England’s Independence Day was declared on the Fourth of July. Then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s hospitality plan, Eat Out to Help Out, started a short while later, boosting restaurant sales.

During this time, the borders were open and people could travel freely. The problem were the sudden embargos which interrupted holidays at inconvenient hours of the day. Britons were often told to return home from a European country, mostly France and Spain, at midnight or 4 a.m.

However, it wouldn’t be long before the long tentacles of SAGE would find more doom and gloom in the autumn.

More extracts from Matt Hancock and Isabel Oakeshott’s Pandemic Diaries, serialised in the Mail, continue, with news items I bookmarked from the time. Emphases mine below.

May 2020

Amazingly, Hancock managed to achieve his testing goal of 100,000, which seemed impossible when he announced it only a month earlier.

These are the principal extracts from the Mail for the entries below, unless otherwise indicated.

Friday, May 1:

We did it, and with a very comfortable margin. 122,347 tests! Let the naysayers put that in their pipe and smoke it! I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed my moment, given how desperately certain people were willing me to fail.

Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fascinated by Australia’s low rate of infection. Little did he know at the time that Australia would go into a prolonged lockdown lasting months.

Sunday, May 3:

We still haven’t figured out what to do about borders. [Dominic] Raab, [Grant] Shapps and Sunak all want to keep the borders open. Crucially, they’re supported by the Prof [Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty]. On the other side, Priti Patel and I are in favour of far tougher measures, as is Boris.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was enjoying her power over her people, starring in daily briefings which the BBC televised. She gave her briefings at lunchtime. The UK government gave theirs in the early evening.

Monday, May 4:

Tonight, Nicola Sturgeon announced a ‘summer push to elimination [of Covid]’, a policy which has about as much hope of working as Chairman Mao’s attempt to eliminate sparrows by getting the Chinese population to bang pots and pans.

Much as I’m sure Nicola would love to build a Trump-style wall between her fiefdom and the rest of Great Britain, we’re all in this together. One person who’s clearly not keen on a hermit lifestyle is Prof Neil Ferguson [who was advising the Government on its Covid response]. 

I wasn’t particularly sympathetic when I heard he’d been caught breaking the rules [by meeting with his lover]. He’s issued a grovelling apology, but it was obvious he couldn’t continue to act as a Government adviser.

Ferguson resigned from SPI-M, SAGE’s modelling team, but was reinstated in 2021.

The care home situation continued to loom large. Infections and deaths were ever present. Furthermore, families were rightly distressed by having to press up against a window to see their elderly loved ones, a situation that persists in some care homes even today.

Boris suggested that Hancock hire Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist with a background in pharmaceuticals, as the head of the Vaccine Taskforce.

Also on May 4, we discovered that Good Morning Britain‘s star presenter Piers Morgan was a ‘Government-designated essential worker’. His test was negative, but he was experiencing symptoms, so he stayed off air for a few more days. The Mail reported that Hancock tweeted his best wishes before Morgan got the results of his test:

Mr Hancock, who had his own battle with coronavirus and who has previously clashed with the GMB host on the ITV morning show, tweeted that he hoped if Mr Morgan did test positive for Covid-19 that the symptoms would be mild. 

On May 7, Hancock announced that Baroness Dido Harding would head the Test and Trace programme:

On May 9, the Mail on Sunday reported that Boris and Cabinet members were clashing with the beleaguered Health Secretary:

Matt Hancock is living on ‘borrowed time’ as Health Secretary following clashes with the three most powerful members of the Government over the Covid crisis, The Mail on Sunday has been told.

Mr Hancock is understood to have pleaded ‘give me a break’ when Boris Johnson reprimanded him over the virus testing programme – leading to open questioning within Downing Street over Mr Hancock’s long-term political future.

His run-in with Mr Johnson follows battles with both Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove over the best strategy for managing the pandemic.

Shortly after Mr Johnson returned to work at No 10 a fortnight ago, he and Mr Johnson had a tense exchange about the the Health Department’s ‘grip’ on the crisis, during which Mr Hancock said to the Prime Minister, in what has been described as a ‘petulant’ tone: ‘That’s not fair – give me a break.’

He is also being blamed in some Government quarters – or scapegoated, according to his allies – for not moving quickly enough to do more to protect care homes from the epidemic. 

On Wednesday, May 13, Hancock announced a new genomics initiative in order to better understand the virus:

Thursday, May 14:

People are starting to blame us for discharging elderly people from hospital into residential settings without testing them properly, before we introduced strict rules. The evidence simply doesn’t bear that out: care home outbreaks rose sharply long after we had enough tests to put that right.

That day, a Labour peer was mystified as to why the Government did not know how much PPE there was:

Friday, May 22:

Westminster is abuzz with claims that Cummings broke lockdown rules, going to stay with his parents while he had Covid, which looks like a mega breach.

Saturday, May 23:

Downing Street called asking if I’d do some media [to support Cummings], but I’m uneasy. Despite all the reassurances, it feels off.

In the end, I issued a supportive tweet, saying he was right to find childcare for his toddler when both he and his wife were getting ill.

[Former Chancellor] George Osborne messaged me this evening warning me not to stick my neck out for Cummings again. ‘Lie low’ was his advice.

Sunday, May 24:

I spent much of the day fielding angry messages, many of them questioning why the PM is still standing up for Cummings. The answer is that he rules through fear and intimidation, squashing those who dare to challenge him or get in his way.

Monday, May 25:

Cummings tried to draw a line under the Barnard Castle affair by holding a press conference in the Downing Street garden. He sat behind a table, squinting awkwardly into the sun, looking like a sulky teenager who’d been sent outside to do his work for disrupting the class.

Afterwards, I found myself feeling strangely sorry for Boris.

Cummings has only one setting – divide and destroy – and now the boss is having to say some pretty stupid things as he machetes his way through the resulting mess.

The only thing for it was to keep backing Cummings – silence from me would only create an unhelpful story – so this evening I tweeted that I welcome the fact that Cummings ‘has provided substantive answers to all the questions put to him’. Apparently it got me some credit in No 10, but I can’t say I felt good about it.

Away from the Cummings s*** show, we had a Cabinet meeting to discuss plans for easing restrictions. It was a bizarre Cabinet, held on Zoom without a single mention of the Cummings-shaped elephant in the room. 

In fact, an absurd amount of bandwidth was occupied by a discussion about whether – when we allow two households to get together outside – people should be permitted to walk through a house to get to a friend’s garden

It’s fine by me, but are people going to ask whether they will also be able to go inside to use the loo? ‘If they’re quick and disinfect the handle?’ the Prof replied.

Who could believe that under a Conservative government, the long arm of the State would find its way into people’s loos?

On Tuesday, May 26, a Sky News reporter called out to Hancock asking if he was going to sack Cummings. Ermm, it wasn’t Hancock’s responsibility, only Boris’s:

June 2020

Thursday, June 4:

Boris messaged me at 6.43am saying he was ‘going quietly crackers’ about not testing enough people. He told me he sees it as our ‘Achilles heel’. He was in a proper flap. ‘What is wrong with our country that we can’t fix this?’ he complained. 

I tried to calm him down. ‘Don’t go crackers,’ I said. ‘We now have the biggest testing capacity in Europe.’ Tempting as it was, I refrained from saying we did this against the obstruction of his own No 10 operation.

Wednesday, June 17:

In an embarrassingly crude power grab, [European Commission President] Ursula von der Leyen is trying to wrest control of vaccine research and procurement from EU member states.

Never mind that health is a matter for individual countries: the woman who once sent German army units on manoeuvres with broomsticks – because they didn’t have any rifles – wants to move responsibility for scientific development and manufacture into the sticky paws of Brussels bureaucrats.

I may have voted to Remain, but it’s enough to make a Brexiteer out of anyone.

Friday, June 19:

A massive blow-up with Kate [Bingham, head of the Vaccine Taskforce]. She simply doesn’t see the need to order 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccineshe wants 30 million – and can’t seem to grasp almost everyone may want or need it.

I warned her during today’s meeting that if we don’t get our ducks in a row on this one, we risk a complete car crash.

She pushed back hard. But with the other elected Ministers on my side, I won the argument [for buying 100 million doses].

‘I’m not happy with that meeting,’ Kate snapped afterwards. ‘Nor me,’ I replied.

‘We will create a guide for you to explain what we are doing – there are enormous risks with this,’ she said, as if I don’t spend all my time thinking about how to save lives.

Kate pressed on, claiming that the technology that underpins the vaccine Oxford is working on [Astra-Zeneca] ‘is neither proven nor scaled’, and that she has ‘an expert team who are working round the clock, pushing hard’.

I told her: ‘We need to have tried everything feasibly possible to accelerate delivery. I’ve been asking the same question over and over again and not yet had a satisfactory answer – hence my frustration.’

This only seemed to wind her up further, prompting a mini-lecture about the dangers of trying to go too far too fast.

‘The worse case is we kill people with an unsafe vaccine,’ she said. ‘We need to tone the comms to register the fact this is risky and unproven.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being patronised.

On Wednesday, June 24, Hancock, riding high as the chap in charge of the nation’s health, appeared on Robert Peston’s ITV current affairs show:

July 2020

July 4 was Independence Day from coronavirus in England.

However, separate regulations applied in Leicester, which still had a high rate of infection. Even so, nothing was stopping them travelling elsewhere to socialise or shop:

On Sunday, July 5, Hancock expressed concern over high infection rates and overcrowded working conditions in certain factories in Leicester. It seems he was thinking of certain textile factories operating like sweatshops:

Monday, July 6:

The Vaccine Taskforce have consistently argued that we only need to back three [vaccine] brands. My view is that, to hedge our bets, we need more. Any one of the vaccines could fail in clinical trials.

Fortunately, Rishi and Steve Barclay at the Treasury are totally onside.

Wednesday, July 8:

Rishi’s announced a new Eat Out To Help Out initiative. I did my best to sound supportive, but in truth I’m worried that it might backfire and lead to a spike in cases.

Thursday, July 16:

In my box tonight was one particularly startling note relating to the way Covid has been getting into care homes. The main takeaway is that the virus is primarily being brought in by staff, not by elderly people who’ve been discharged from hospital.

This explains a lot, including why the rise in care home deaths came so much later than would have been the case if hospital discharges were the primary cause. We must ban staff movement between care homes, fast.

On Friday, July 17, news emerged that deaths from natural causes were being classified as coronavirus deaths because of a previous positive test. A retired journalist had the story:

He pointed out that Public Health England (PHE) never announced how they were tabulating deaths. Scotland, of course, tabulated theirs differently:

The question remains: how many ‘Covid’ deaths were true Covid deaths?

Saturday, July 25:

Anyone coming back from Spain from midnight tonight will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. This is very bad news for a lot of British holidaymakers.

Department for Transport officials kept pushing for 24 hours’ notice for the Spain decision, which I thought was curious – Grant Shapps is normally an ‘action this day’ Minister – until I discovered that Grant and his family had just flown there on holiday. The officials were trying, perhaps too hard, to protect their Minister.

In Cobra meetings, Nicola Sturgeon’s political games have become incredibly debilitating and significantly limit scope for open discussion. She sits like a statue, lips pursed like the top of a drawstring bag, only jolting into life when there’s an opportunity to say something to further the separatist cause.

The minute someone presses ‘End Meeting’, you can almost hear her running for a lectern so she can rush out an announcement before we make ours. We now chew over big decisions elsewhere and relegate formal meetings to rubber-stamping exercises.

Monday, July 27:

Downing Street is in a semi-panic about a second wave.

Tuesday, July 28:

Sturgeon is on manoeuvres again, trying to persuade us all to sign up to her impossible and anti- scientific zero-Covid plan.

Sure, we’d all love zero Covid, but that’s about as realistic as a bagpipe-playing unicorn.

She just wants to look and sound tough, then blame us when her policies don’t work.

I can hardly bear to watch her on TV any more.

Wednesday, July 29:

Testing is a continuing concern. We still haven’t sorted procurement for what Boris calls ‘Operation Moonshot’. The idea is to carry out literally millions of Covid tests a day to keep the economy going.

Also on that day:

Officials say we mustn’t eliminate staff movement across care homes because it might lead to a shortage of staff. Yet research shows the risk of outbreaks in care homes doubles if carers are coming and going.

On Thursday, July 30, Bradford was experiencing a high rate of coronavirus. Hancock put restrictions in place.

This was Bradford Council’s message:

Hancock’s restrictions prohibited people meeting up at each other’s homes:

SkyNews had a report on the story:

Fortunately, for them, it might have felt like an eternity but it was temporary.

What wasn’t temporary was his announcement earlier that day that GP appointments would have to take place remotely. This is still in place today, causing untold distress to millions of Britons.

The Guardian reported:

All GP appointments should be done remotely by default unless a patient needs to be seen in person, Matt Hancock has said, prompting doctors to warn of the risk of abandoning face-to-face consultations.

In a speech setting out lessons for the NHS and care sector from the coronavirus pandemic, the health secretary claimed that while some errors were made, “so many things went right” in the response to Covid-19, and new ways of working should continue.

He said it was patronising to claim that older patients were not able to handle technology.

The plan for web-based GP appointments is set to become formal policy, and follows guidance already sent to GPs on having more online consultations.

But the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) hit back, saying it would oppose a predominantly online system on the grounds that both doctors and patients benefited from proper contact.

They don’t seem to think so now, do they?

The article continues:

Addressing the Royal College of Physicians in London, Hancock noted the huge increase in online consultations as much of the NHS closed its doors to focus on the crisis. In the four weeks to mid-April, 71% of routine GP appointments were done remotely against 25% in the same period a year before.

Outlining what he said were the ways the pandemic had demonstrated the need for greater uses of technology in healthcare, Hancock said that before the coronavirus, “there was a view advanced by some which held that anyone over the age of 25 simply could not cope with anything other than a face-to-face appointment”.

He said: “Of course there always has to be a system for people who can’t log on. But we shouldn’t patronise older people by saying they don’t do tech.”

The rise in online consultations had been welcome, he argued, especially in rural areas. “So from now on, all consultations should be tele-consultations unless there’s a compelling clinical reason not to,” Hancock said.

“Of course, if there’s an emergency, the NHS will be ready and waiting to see you in person – just as it always has been. But if they are able to, patients should get in contact first – via the web or by calling in advance.”

Sure, Matt.

What a disaster that policy has proven to be.

The month seemed to end on a positive note with regard to agency staff working in multiple care homes.

July 31:

Good news on banning staff movement in care homes. After I blew my top, officials got the message.

August

By August, even though England was open and people were socialising again, rules were still in place. They caused a lot of confusion, including in Government. Only Boris had mastered them.

Monday, August 3:

To ram home his point about how complicated the Covid rules have got, Boris went round the [Cabinet] table asking everyone to set them out simply. We had endless different answers, and he got them all right

‘I hope colleagues feel I have justified my general reputation for mastery of detail by being RIGHT this morning about the rules. It’s two households inside and six outside,’ he said triumphantly.

Boris was eager for people to get back to work. He saw self-administered tests — lateral flow tests — as the answer.

Friday, August 7:

Boris is having a sugar rush about DIY Covid testing, which he believes could lead us to what’s he’s dubbed – in emphatic capital letters – ‘COVID FREEDOM DAY’. I have no idea who he’s been talking to, but he’s very fired up.

He thinks rapid home tests are the way to ‘get Whitehall and the whole British army of bludgers and skivers’ back to the office and ‘douse all remaining embers of the disease’. Today, I’m on a short break in Hay-on-Wye. When we got to the pub, there was great excitement. I’m not used to people recognising me, so the universal recognition is a bit of a shock. Something I’ll have to get used to, I suppose.

The following year, everyone would know who he was — and not just in the UK. How happy I am that The Sun released that photo of him and his girlfriend. It went viral, worldwide.

Hancock announced the end of Public Health England, which, strangely enough, still seems to be around.

Tuesday, August 18:

[Hancock has announced plans to abolish Public Health England.] On reflection, I should have been more brutal earlier. It wasn’t fit for purpose, and I should have cleared out senior figures who blocked the expansion of testing, basically because they didn’t want the private sector involved.

In response, Angela Rayner [deputy Labour leader] has been tweeting the usual tripe about Tories wanting to privatise the NHS by stealth. Does anyone seriously listen to this c**p any more?

The truth is, we wouldn’t stand a chance of winning this fight against Covid if it wasn’t for support from business. From manufacturing tests to developing the vaccine, the private sector – alongside the NHS and academia – has been critical to the fight.

Friday, August 21:

Border enforcement is a mess. Everyone who flies in to the UK has to fill out a passenger locator form, which they’re supposed to hand to officials on arrival at the airport, but half the time the documents go straight in the bin.

We can blame compulsory masks for secondary school pupils on Nicola Sturgeon. The UK government fears the woman.

Tuesday, August 25:

Nicola Sturgeon blindsided us by suddenly announcing that when schools in Scotland reopen, all secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms. In one of her most egregious attempts at oneupmanship to date, she didn’t consult us. The problem is that our original guidance on face coverings specifically excluded schools.

Cue much tortured debate between myself, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and No 10 about how to respond.

Much as Sturgeon would relish it, nobody here wants a big spat with the Scots. So, U-turn it is.

Amazing — and not in a good way.

Boris was worried about the British economy, and rightly so.

Wednesday, August 26:

I was minding my own business, when suddenly, ping! Ping! Boris sprang into life. It was 6.29am. He veered off the reservation, suddenly going off on one about how the virus isn’t really killing many people any more so ‘how can we possibly justify the continuing paralysis?’

He noted that an 80-year-old now has a six per cent chance of dying, which he didn’t think was enough to justify what we’re doing.

‘If I were an 80-year-old and I was told that the choice was between destroying the economy and risking my exposure to a disease that I had a 94 per cent chance of surviving, I know what I would prefer,’ he argued.

This exchange, which continued on WhatsApp pretty much all morning, was more than a little stressful, given that it represented a fundamental challenge to our entire pandemic response.

I’m not quite sure what he expected – that the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Scientific Adviser, Cummings and I would all suddenly throw our hands up and say: ‘You know what, you’re right, this whole thing has been a huge mistake. Let’s ditch everything we’re doing and pretend none of it ever happened’?

Fortunately, after a few hours he ran out of both statistics and steam. All the same, I sense a very definite shift in attitude. Something has unsettled him. Who has he been on holiday with?

By the next day, Boris had gone back to normal.

Thursday, August 27:

Overnight, Boris’s creeping suspicion that everything we’re doing has been a catastrophic over-reaction has evaporated as quickly as it appeared, to be replaced by annoyance at the discovery that there is a supply/demand gap for testing

In fact, we are a victim of our own success. Our advertising campaign encouraging more people to come forward for tests has been a bit too effective, and now we’re overwhelmed.

Saturday, August 29:

Boris has started going on about ‘freedom passes’. I think he envisages some sort of app that would allow anyone who can prove they’re negative to get back to normal. I can see the appeal, but I can also see the likely furore over anything resembling ‘Papers, please’.

Covid cases are rocketing in France. ‘We need to draw lessons pronto,’ Boris said, asking if the French have tried local lockdowns or whether it is ‘a case of the whole frog getting slowly boiled?’

September 2020

Wednesday, September 2:

Test and Trace is now identifying more than half of new cases. ‘It’s like the system actually works!’ I messaged Dido Harding [head of Test and Trace] excitedly. ‘Who would have guessed!!’ she replied.

Hancock talked about a vaccine in a coronavirus briefing.

Tuesday, September 8:

I got a blast from No 10 about talking up the vaccine yesterday. Other than Boris, nobody there has ever really believed we can make it happen. In reality, their scepticism suits me, because it means they’re not meddling. The last thing I need is Cummings interfering or the project going through the Cabinet Office mincer.

Restriction tiers across England were looming. An example would be the aforementioned restrictions in Leicester and the north of England where coronavirus was prevalent.

Tuesday, September 15:

The PM is still dithering over restriction tiers, a classic Boris battle between head and heart.

Thursday, September 17:

Cases are growing. Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] thinks we need a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’. Boris seemed confused, doing that thing he does, emphatically verbalising the arguments for and against out loud – alarming everyone as they try to work out where he’s going to land.

Friday, September 18:

We are now at 6,000 new Covid infections a day in England alone, nearly double the figure last week.

By 10pm, No 10 had done a complete about-turn. They now want tougher local lockdowns and more warnings about what happens if people don’t follow the rules. Apparently the PM wants to explain that we have to balance Covid with other health and economic factors. 

Well, no s***. What’s really infuriating is that the people who want action to control the virus didn’t insist on me being there [at meetings] to press the point.

Monday, September 21:

Boris is torn. Everyone’s getting heavy with him, from the Prof to Sage, who say there will be ‘catastrophic consequences’ if we don’t act now. They’ve proposed a two-week circuit-breaker.

Friday, September 25:

An alarming note from the modelling people who advise Sage. They say the epidemic is ‘close to breaching the agreed reasonable worst-case scenario’. Meanwhile, public finances are a horror show – from April to August, the figure borrowed was £173.7 billion

Rishi has clearly been using these figures to freak out the PM. But the only sustainable way to get the economy back on track is to defeat the virus, not pretend it’s gone away.

Saturday, September 26:

We’ve spent millions promoting the [NHS Covid] app, including buying wraparound ads in loads of publications. Just as I was allowing myself a moment of satisfaction at a job well done – or at least not ballsed up – there came news of fresh horror. A major glitch has emerged: the app can’t take data from NHS Covid tests.

I sat very still, trying to absorb the full implications of the fact that we’ve just spent tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on an NHS app that… doesn’t link to the NHS. Which genius thought it would not need to do this, first and foremost? Which other genius signed it off on this basis?

Given the multiple overlapping responsibilities of the various quangos involved, Whitehall’s institutional buck-passing and the involvement of two mega tech companies (Google and Apple), we just didn’t know.

What I did know was the buck stopped with me, and it was probably time to adopt the brace position. I prayed that word of this hideous blunder would not reach Cummings, but that was of course too much to hope. Naturally he went nuts when he found out, and I can’t say I blame him.

I find this sort of screw-up personally mortifying. Should I have asked such a basic and obvious question? I took it for granted that we would link our own app up to our own tests. Never assume!

To be continued tomorrow.

The first part of my series on former Health Secretary Matt Hancock can be found here.

It summarises where he is today, having finished third in a British reality show in Australia for a cool £400,000 and deciding not to run again as MP for West Suffolk.

It details the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, through to the end of April as the news covered it.

To offer balance, today’s post covers the same period in Hancock’s own words. He has just published his Pandemic Diaries, which he co-authored with former Times journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Isabel Oakeshott’s view

Not being able to imagine who on earth would want to collaborate on a book with our historically authoritarian Health Secretary who left his wife in June 2021 for his adviser/girlfriend, I was interested to read Oakeshott’s justification in The Spectator, posted on December 7, 2022.

Excerpts from ‘The truth about Matt Hancock’ follow, emphases mine:

Matt Hancock and I have almost nothing in common. For starters I’m terrified of spiders and hopelessly squeamish. I physically retched as I watched him eating unmentionables in the Australian jungle. Far more importantly, we fundamentally disagree over his handling of the pandemic …

This country paid a catastrophic price for what I see as a reckless overreaction to a disease that was only life-threatening to a small number of people who could have been protected without imprisoning the entire population. As each day passes, more evidence emerges that shutting down society for prolonged periods to ‘stop the spread’ and ‘protect the NHS’ was a monumental disaster.

Hancock, obviously, disagrees. The Rt Hon Member for West Suffolk is not just unrepentant: he still wholeheartedly believes that as health secretary during the pandemic, he made all the right calls. He is utterly scathing of anyone who argues that repeated lockdowns were avoidable; does not have the slightest doubt over any aspect of the government’s vaccine policy; and thinks anyone who believes any other approach to the pandemic was either realistic or desirable is an idiot.

How then could I have worked with him on his book about the pandemic? Some of my lockdown confidantes suggested it was a betrayal and that he should be punished, perhaps viciously so.

I wanted to get to the truth. What better way to find out what really happened – who said what to whom; the driving force and thinking behind key policies and decisions; who (if anyone) dissented; and how they were crushed – than to align myself with the key player? I might not get the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but I’d certainly get a good dollop of it, and a keen sense of anything murky requiring further investigation.

In the event, Hancock shared far more than I could ever have imagined. I have viewed thousands and thousands of sensitive government communications relating to the pandemic, a fascinating and very illuminating exercise. I was not paid a penny for this work, but the time I spent on the project – almost a year – was richly rewarding in other ways. Published this week, co-authored by me, Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries are the first insider account from the heart of government of the most seismic political, economic and public health crisis of our times.

I am not so naive as to imagine that he told me everything. However, since he still does not believe he did anything wrong, he was surprisingly inclined to disclosure. In an indication of how far he was prepared to go, the Cabinet Office requested almost 300 deletions and amendments to our original manuscript. Under pressure from me and out of his own desire that the book should be both entertaining and revelatory, to his credit, Hancock fought hard to retain as much controversial material as he could. The resulting work is twice as long as I originally intended, and half the length he wanted it to be.

Pandemic Diaries: January to April 2020

The Mail has been serialising Pandemic Diaries over the past week.

Excerpts from the first exclusive extract follow, beginning on New Year’s Day 2020.

Wednesday, January 1:

Standing in my kitchen in Suffolk after a quiet New Year’s Eve, I scanned my newspaper for clues as to what might be lurking around the corner. The only thing on my patch was a news-in-brief story about a mystery pneumonia outbreak in China.

There were enough people in hospital for Beijing to have put out an alert. It reminded me a bit of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) back in 2003, which killed hundreds, mainly in China and Hong Kong. I asked my private office to put together a briefing and made a mental note to raise it when I got back.

Sunday, January 5:

There are now 59 cases in China; seven of these patients are seriously ill with breathing problems.

Tuesday, January 7, when Parliament had returned from Christmas recess:

I found the PM [Boris] in the voting lobby looking like he’d had a good Christmas and revelling in all the congratulatory back slaps from colleagues. We walked through the lobby together, and I told him about the new disease.

‘You keep an eye on it,’ he said breezily. ‘It will probably go away like all the others.’

In more trivial news, a picture of my Union Jack socks has somehow gone viral after I was pictured on my way into Cabinet yesterday. My old university friend and communications specialist Gina Coladangelo was not particularly impressed. She thinks they’re a bit Ukip.

Saturday, January 11:

First death from the virus in China — at least, the first one they’ve told us about.

Friday, January 17:

When I got into the department, Chris Whitty — whom I appointed Chief Medical Officer last year, and who is known informally as the Prof — asked for a word. Calmly, in his ultra-reasonable way, he explained that he thinks the virus has a 50:50 chance of escaping China. If it gets out of China in a big way, he says a very large number of people will die.

At this point, Boris was preparing for our official exit from the European Union at the end of January. Everyone’s attention, not surprisingly, was on Brexit. Hancock’s push for a Cabinet Office Briefing — COBRA — went unheeded.

Wednesday, January 22:

I found out tonight that Sir Mark Sedwill, Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service, is blocking my push for a meeting of COBRA. Infuriating!

Thursday, January 23:

No 10 has grudgingly agreed to let me make a statement to the Commons about the virus. No 10 are still saying calling COBRA would be ‘alarmist’. What utter rubbish.

Friday, January 24:

Dominic Cummings [the PM’s chief adviser] thinks Covid is a distraction from our official withdrawal from the EU next week. That’s all he wants Boris talking about.

On Saturday, January 25, Hancock worried about evacuating Britons from Wuhan. He contacted then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who agreed to put a plan into place. On Sunday, Hancock was frustrated to find that civil servants were drawing up advice on whether, not how, to evacuate UK citizens there.

Monday, January 27:

Coronavirus is now the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed.

The next day, Tuesday, a meeting of 30 people took place to discuss the virus, including SAGE members Chris Whitty and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who would be regulars on our television screens in the months to come. This is where the alarmism started.

Tuesday, January 28 (see photo):

In his characteristically understated way, sitting at the back peeling a tangerine, Chris Whitty quietly informed everyone that in the reasonable worst-case scenario, as many as 820,000 people in the UK may die. The transmission is so high that almost everyone would catch it.

The whole room froze. We are looking at a human catastrophe on a scale not seen here for a century.

I asked what we needed to do to accelerate a vaccine. Professor [Jonathan] Van-Tam said developing a vaccine normally takes five to ten years, but there’s a team in Oxford working on an Ebola project that can easily be switched to the new disease.

‘I want it by Christmas,’ I said.

On Wednesday, Boris’s PMQs went as usual, with no mention of the virus. Hancock was frustrated.

Wednesday, January 29:

I called the head of the World Health Organisation to try to persuade him — for the second timeto declare a public health international emergency. But China runs various projects in his private office, so he is scared stiff of upsetting them.

Thursday, January 30:

The Wuhan Brits are on their way back. I’ve had a showdown with officials and lawyers over what to do with the evacuees when they land at RAF Brize Norton.

PHE [Public Health England] thinks they should be greeted with a smile and a leaflet and asked nicely to go home and stay there for a couple of weeks. I said they should go straight into quarantine. PHE started hand-wringing about human rights. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘let’s get them to sign a contract before they board. In return for the flight, they agree to go into quarantine. No contract, no flight.’ I was told the contract wouldn’t be legally enforceable and was too draconian. ‘Do it anyway,’ I instructed.

The World Health Organisation have finally declared the virus a public health emergency. The risk level in the UK has now gone from low to moderate.

PHE’s audit of PPE [personal protective equipment] came back and did not lighten my mood. There’s no clear record of what’s in the stockpile, and some kit is past its ‘best before’ date. I’ve instructed officials to work out what we need fast, and buy in huge quantities.

Friday, January 31:

The Wuhan flight touched down at Brize Norton. The RAF crew and all our officials were in full hazmat suits, but the poor coach drivers taking them into quarantine were in their normal work clothes. Who on earth would give protection to air crew but not bus crew?

The UK left the EU on schedule. I remember the parliamentary contributions from Conservative MPs about the wonderful plans they had for the nation. It was a glorious time to be alive.

Meanwhile, Downing Street’s attention would turn to the pandemic in February.

Hancock tries to paint himself as a supporter of personal liberty in this next diary entry.

Tuesday, February 4:

As a [classical] liberal, I’ve always believed people make the best decisions for themselves. Now we are contemplating actions that could bankrupt millions of businesses and interfere in literally everyone’s lives. It is a very, very strange feeling; not me at all.

Hancock says that Boris, rightly, was still unconcerned.

Tuesday, February 11:

Driving home down the Harrow Road [in London], I looked at the crowds spilling out of the pub on the corner and tried to imagine what it will be like if we have to shut these places. I felt like I inhabited another world, that no one outside had yet seen into.

Hancock finally got his COBRA meeting.

Wednesday, February 12:

Back in the COBRA room today for a civil service exercise to rehearse what we’ll do if the virus runs out of control. We role-played how we would do our jobs in two months’ time if the very worst-case scenario has happened and hundreds of thousands are dying.

Where in Hyde Park would the burial pits be? Who would dig them? Have we got enough body bags?

Worst of all was agreeing a protocol to instruct doctors which lives to save. Do we treat the young, because they have more years to live, or the old, because they are more vulnerable? Horrific decisions.

Public Health England (PHE) had bad news for Hancock.

Tuesday, February 18:

PHE says our current approach of tracing all contacts of anyone who’s infected is unsustainable. Apparently they can only cope with five new cases a week. This is infuriating since only a few weeks ago they told me they had the best system in the world.

I had no idea that China was buying testing services from Britain’s Randox. Hmm.

Thursday, February 27:

PHE has outright refused a request from Randox, the UK’s biggest testing company, for coronavirus samples. Certain senior public health officials are absolutely allergic to anything involving the private sector. Evidently they’d rather risk lives than set aside these ideological objections.

No such sniffiness from the Chinese, who are snapping up Randox’s services.

At the beginning of March, public health posters and announcements about coronavirus began appearing.

Sunday, March 1:

We’re telling everyone to wash their hands more frequently and encouraging parents to get their kids to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to make sure they do it for long enough. What I really wanted people to sing was the national anthem.

Sadly, I was overruled, as the collective view seems to be that happy birthday is ‘less divisive’. Since when is the national anthem controversial? Sigh.

Thursday, March 5:

First two UK deaths — a horrible landmark.

Saturday, March 7:

There’s a crisis looming with ventilators. We have nowhere near enough. If the worst comes to the worst, we may need to put out advice on how to care for a critically-ill relative at home, a terrifying prospect for most people.

I took a few hours off today and took the kids to Planet Laser in Bury St Edmunds [in his constituency]. It involves charging around in the dark in a ‘battle suit’ firing lasers at other players. I was looking forward to forgetting about coronavirus for an hour or so, but no such luck: it turned out that one of the games is called Infection.

Every time a player’s laser hit one of the other players, they would get ‘infected’ with a disease. In between attempts to dodge the fictional virus, I kept having to dart out to respond to urgent messages about the real one.

By March 8, the UK began experiencing a shortage of bathroom tissue. People were bulk buying. Rice was another product in short supply. Hancock says that he and his wife bought a huge sack of rice.

Another thing in short supply were hospital beds.

Monday, March 9:

In my box of official papers this evening was a scientific briefing suggesting the NHS could have a deficit of 150,000 beds and 9,000 ICU spaces.

Tuesday, March 10:

I’ve instructed PHE to produce plans for how they will get testing up from 1,000 tests a week to 10,000. I don’t care who does these tests — just that they’re fast and accurate.

Thursday, March 12:

While the Prime Minister was standing before the nation declaring we’re doing everything possible to save lives, PHE have advised to stop all contact tracing. They’ve basically given up, having become overwhelmed by the number of cases. Infuriating!

March 12, 2020 was the day of the last lunch my better half and I had with friends in Mayfair before lockdown. None of us would have believed that we would not see each other again until August 11, 2021, by which time indoor mask restrictions had been lifted.

Friday, March 13:

A call with my fellow G7 Health Ministers. Everyone sounded terrified.

Also from that day:

Simon Stevens [NHS England chief executive] says frail elderly patients who don’t need urgent treatment need to be discharged from hospital, either to their home or to care homes. He’s spoken to the PM about it and is determined to make it happen.

Saturday, March 14:

In just three days, the numbers have doubled. At 10am I went to Downing Street to talk to the PM and others. We wrestled with all the issues. What measures? How long? Would people comply? Are we doing enough to make sure the NHS can cope?

We were all struggling to get our heads round the enormity of what we were discussing. Boris set out the case for and against each option. After everyone had had their say, we collectively made the decision: to close large swathes of society.

Monday, March 16:

Cummings, [communications director] Lee Cain, Whitty and I went into Boris’s study garden and finessed the message he was going to give in a televised press conference. Then, at 5pm, it was time. Looking as grave as he ever does, Boris told the elderly and vulnerable they are going to have to stay at home for 12 weeks.

That day, Hancock issued his first guidelines to Parliament and the public:

Tuesday, March 17:

I’ve been told we have a billion items of PPE in a warehouse in the North-West. ‘Hooray!’ I thought. Just one problem — we can’t get it out. It turns out that it’s in a huge storage unit with only one door. Ergo, only one lorry can pull up at a time. What a classic government fail.

It was my son’s 12th birthday today, almost all of which I missed. My family is already paying a heavy price for this crisis.

Also from that day:

A bonkers proposal from the Ministry of Justice to let prisoners out, as they’d be easier to manage if they’re not in prison. Yes really: they actually thought this might be a goer. I was emphasising [my opposition] so hard that all of a sudden my chair could take the strain no longer and ripped, tipping me unceremoniously on to the floor.

Hancock advised that the public could pose any questions on his Instagram account:

A few days before, Hancock appealed to retired NHS practitioners to return to the health service to help in the pandemic effort. On Saturday, March 21, he said that 4,000 nurses and 500 doctors were returning:

Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan quickly got into panic mode:

Sunday, March 22:

Crunch meeting in Downing Street, at which the Prime Minister weighed up all the options. He’s famous for this, so it’s impossible to know in the middle of the meeting where he’s going to end up. It’s his way of making big decisions. Today he agreed to a formal lockdown as soon as possible.

Monday, March 23:

At 8.30pm, the Prime Minister gave his address to the nation. From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home . . .’

In my own household, I found an old computer in the attic and have set it up for our youngest, though I’m not sure how online school is going to work for a six-year-old. With me largely absent, it’s tough on the family.

Hancock led the coronavirus briefing for the first time on Tuesday, March 24. He described himself as being ‘unusually nervous’.

Tuesday, March 24:

Driving down Park Lane there wasn’t a single other car on the road — not one. I sat in the back of the car feeling almost sick. All I could think was: What have we done?

The nausea wouldn’t last long, however. Hancock would soon grow into his newly found power.

He had many messages that day:

He announced a war footing for the British public:

The first Nightingale hospital — relatively unused — was opened.

Hancock ordered NHS and care home staff to report to work:

He issued contradictory advice about working between addressing the House of Commons and the coronavirus briefing later that day:

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said that too many Tube workers were off sick to run a full service. This left the trains that were running packed to the gills:

Hancock said that lockdown was not guidance and that police would enforce it:

Meanwhile, the airports were open to all arrivals:

On Wednesday, March 25, Hancock expressed his gratitude to the 405,000 Britons who were volunteering in the pandemic effort:

Friday, March 27:

A nurse called first thing this morning to say I’ve got Covid. I called [the PM’s press secretary] Jack Doyle to break the news. ‘Erm, that’s interesting, as we’re just about to announce that the PM has tested positive, too,’ he replied. To cap it all, the Prof [Chris Whitty] also has symptoms.

He later announced his positive diagnosis:

Sunday, March 29:

My throat hurts so much that I can’t swallow and I can’t eat or drink. [My wife] Martha has also got it, along with our daughter and our live-in au pair.

Meanwhile there are still dire supply issues with PPE. The BMA [British Medical Association] is going nuts. It’s not as if I think it’s acceptable: it’s not! There’s just no quick fix. When the whole world is after it, it simply isn’t possible to get as much as we need as fast as it’s required.

Monday, March 30:

The government-owned company that gets PPE supplies to hospitals across the NHS has effectively collapsed. Total disaster.

I’m absolutely furious that the people who are meant to be experts in logistics have been unable to cope because there are too many actual logistics. WTF? We’ve been buying more from China, but the immediate problem is still lorry access to our storage facility in the North-West, where there’s only one door. Funnily enough, nobody has been able to magic up any extra entrances, so we’re still stuck with single lorryloads at a time.

On Thursday, April 2, Hancock announced his audacious and controversial plan of getting 100,000 coronavirus tests done by May 1, something for which he was derided by the media at the daily coronavirus briefings.

Also from that day:

Negative tests won’t be required prior to transfers/admissions into care homes. The tragic but honest truth is we don’t have enough testing capacity to check anyway. It’s an utter nightmare, but it’s the reality.

Under the circumstances, we must make sure that anyone going from a hospital into a care home is kept away from other residents. I hope this message filters through and is followed.

It’s been a choice between very difficult options. If we keep people in hospital, the NHS will be overrun. If only we had more tests.

Friday, April 3:

A 13-year-old boy who died from Covid was buried without any mourners yesterday. His parents weren’t even at the graveside because they were self-isolating. I felt almost physically sick reading it as my own boy, just a year younger, slept peacefully in the room next door.

I told Boris and he was shocked and upset. He tries not to let on, but he is actually a very emotional man. He was coughing through the call. He’s very worried about looking weak: ‘A general’s job is to show strength, not weakness,’ he told me ruefully.

Also from that day:

Officials are still insisting that Justice Secretary Rob Buckland wants to release thousands of non-violent prisoners to take the pressure off the system. I keep writing ‘NO’ in large letters on submissions asking me to sign this off. It’s obvious the public won’t wear it, yet the idea keeps going back and forth on paper.

After about the third iteration I called Rob Buckland, who to my astonishment told me he’d been advised that I was the one who wanted to release them.

Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the matter. Clearly someone in Whitehall still thought it was a good idea and kept pushing it, to the point that the PM asked to talk to us both. I made my views crystal clear.

‘We cannot lock up literally everyone in the country except prisoners, who we instead release!’ I spluttered.

Saturday, April 4:

President Trump has randomly and dangerously declared that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for Covid, despite a total absence of the evidence. What an awful, awful man.

The next day, the Queen gave a brief message of support to her subjects, ending with ‘We’ll meet again’, echoing Dame Vera Lynn’s famous song from the Second World War.

Shortly afterwards, the nation received alarming news.

Sunday, April 5:

I was just about to go to bed when my phone rang for the umpteenth time. It was [Cabinet Secretary] Mark Sedwill, who informed me that the Prime Minister was on his way to St Thomas’s Hospital ‘as a precautionary step’. Boris is still furiously texting everyone.

Everyone knows that a Prime Minister isn’t admitted to hospital unless it’s something very serious. And so it turned out to be.

Monday, April 6:

Boris has been taken into intensive care. Everyone is stunned. I’m told there’s a 50:50 chance he’ll end up on a ventilator; and if that happens, we know there’s a 50:50 chance he will die. The minute the news came out, pharma companies started calling my private office with offers of experimental drugs.

On Tuesday, Hancock surmised Boris was in intensive care because coronavirus affects the obese.

Wednesday, April 8:

Boris spent a second night in intensive care. I worry about losing a close colleague and friend. When you spend time with Boris, it’s impossible not to like him.

He’s endlessly funny and engaging and thinks differently and more laterally than anyone I know. This can bring its challenges when straight-line thinking is required, but for grasping the big picture there’s no one like him.

Nobody speaks of it, but there is a ‘worst-case scenario’ plan for if Boris doesn’t pull through. We couldn’t possibly have a normal Conservative Party leadership election, so the Cabinet would have to take a quick decision, advise the Queen and rally round.

Boris left intensive care on April 9. He left hospital at the weekend. He then went to Chequers to recuperate, accompanied by his then-partner Carrie Symonds, who was in the final weeks of her pregnancy with their son Wilf.

Care homes were Hancock’s focus for the rest of the month — and the summer.

Wednesday, April 15:

From today, everyone going from hospital into social care will be tested and then isolated while the result comes through.

Saturday, April 18:

Care homes haven’t yet grasped the fact that we’re only going to get out of this if we test, test, test. According to figures I received today, the average care home has carried out 0.5 tests, which is exasperating, given how hard we’re working to increase capacity.

Also from that day, another tempest brewed over PPE supplies, which is still a hot topic in Parliament, even today:

Hundreds of businesses are approaching the department offering to manufacture this or that. Half the time nobody returns their calls, even with big companies such as Primark.

The problem is weeding out time-wasters and chancers – of which there are many – without missing opportunities. One company with a good product got so p***ed off they sold everything to the Scottish NHS. 

Even the Labour Party is writing in with suggested names of companies and individuals who could help – apparently without doing any due diligence on the offers.

Hancock sensed that not everyone in Downing Street or the Cabinet wanted him to succeed.

Monday, April 20:

Crunch week for hitting my testing target of 100,000 tests done by May 1. There’s an uncomfortable amount of speculation about my career depending on it. [Dominic] Cummings is itching for me to fail.

Friday, April 24:

Downing Street called my office saying I needed to schedule a quick call with the PM. I was looking forward to it, until I switched on Zoom to find the PM at Chequers flanked by Cummings and about a dozen other advisers. Rishi [Sunak] was there, looking sheepish. I realised instantly what was going on: an attempted ambush.

Boris opened with some gentle warm-ups, then Cummings started the shelling, subjecting me to a barrage of questions about my department’s response: on PPE, testing, NHS capacity, ventilators. Every so often, one of the others would pile in. Most questions seemed to be based on inaccurate media reports.

It was utterly exhausting, but I’ve lived this for months now, 18 hours a day, pretty much every day, so I am on top of every detail.

When they finally ran out of ammunition, I pressed ‘Leave Meeting’, sat back in my chair, checked my body for shrapnel wounds and saw that I was broadly intact. Next?

To be continued tomorrow.

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http://martinscriblerus.com/

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