Isabel Hardman

The questions Matt Hancock still has to answer

The questions Matt Hancock still has to answer
Matt Hancock (Photo: Getty)
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Matt Hancock’s approach to Dominic Cummings’s allegations has been to come out fighting. He believes he has spent most of today answering questions about these allegations. But Thursday night's press conference highlighted what he has really been doing today: merely talking at length about the allegations, while dodging any real answers.

No longer cushioned by eager Conservative colleagues, Hancock found himself being repeatedly asked about whether he had told No. 10 that people coming out of hospital would be tested before they were discharged into care homes. The journalists asking those questions listened as the Health Secretary refused to deny saying this, using a precise formula of words to dodge giving a full answer. He then didn't take any follow-up questions from these journalists, meaning they couldn't individually complain that he hadn't actually answered their questions. The Downing Street Zoom press conference format is very convenient for avoiding additional questions. Hancock's formulation was as follows:

Of course we committed, and I committed, to getting the policy in place but it took time to build the testing.

We didn’t start with a big testing system in the UK and then we built that testing system, and that’s why the 100,000 target was so important because it really accelerated the availability of testing because when you don’t have much testing we had to prioritise it according to clinical need.

Journalists weren’t all that happy with the way Hancock repeatedly said that he had ‘committed’ to the testing, rather than being clear about whether he said it was definitely happening. They also didn’t like the line about building capacity, not least because it jarred with his public pronouncements about getting 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. 

He was asked why he signed off the discharge plan if there wasn’t yet the testing capacity, and he then reverted to the line that ministers will use repeatedly in the public inquiry, which is that he was relying on the scientific advice. As Andy Cowper says here, Hancock has plenty of people he can shift the blame to if he wants. But it's much harder now his credibility has been called into question and now he has failed to answer those questions head on.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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