Hancock’s half hour: How the Health Secretary has helped Boris find his feet

In this morning’s Mail there is a great article by Dan Hodges about Boris Johnson. It argues that the coronavirus crisis, far from exposing the Prime Minister’s weaknesses such as his widely-reported lack of attention to detail, has in fact proved (so far) to be the making of him. I would absolutely agree.

So far the Johnson premiership has not unfolded entirely as he would have wanted. Yes, he got Brexit done but his efforts to change the narrative and ‘move the country on’ have not been wholly successful: the media persists in banging on about the pesky trade talks with Brussels. The Government didn’t handle the recent floods terribly adroitly, and the swirl of allegations about the Home Secretary’s bullying nature continues to, well, swirl. Losing a Chancellor shortly before one of the most important budgets of modern times looked a bit clumsy. And the early days of coronavirus were not well dealt with either.

Yet after those initial stumbles (scheduling a meeting of an emergency committee for a few days hence looked leisurely, to say the least) the Prime Minister has hit his stride. In many ways he was made for this moment. His blokey, friendly, reassuring persona, all washing hands and looking calm and unruffled, is well-suited to a moment when the media at least seems to think we are all hysterical. But as Dan Hodges points out, Boris being Boris is only part of the reason he is having a good crisis. The other reason is that the scientists and doctors are back.

The ludicrous demonisation of ‘experts’ during the referendum campaign might have led some to think that they would be allowed only the smallest of walk on parts during this outbreak. But instead they have been to the fore: Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, and Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, have all played big roles in recent days. And they have been calm and reassuring and the Prime Minister has appeared respectful of their expertise. It has been quite a turnaround since 2016.

Dan Hodges says that this approach results from a ‘pact’ between the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister some days ago. If so, Boris Johnson has a lot to thank Matt Hancock for, since his Cabinet colleague has created a platform on which the PM has thrived. And Mr Hancock has had a good few weeks in his own right, coming over as thoughtful and measured and pretty much on top of his brief (and his word perfect defence of Priti Patel last weekend literally made me laugh out loud). My guess is that the odds must be shortening on Matt Hancock leading his party if and when the current leader steps down. But he needn’t worry about that for now because, in large part thanks to him, Boris Johnson is currently thriving.

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