As the prefects guffawed, MPs stared daggers: HENRY DEEDES watches Matt Hancock announce Covid tiers


And so came the tiers. There was no actual blubbing in the chamber when Matt Hancock announced his post-lockdown restrictions yesterday.

Some Tory MPs looked jolly close to turning on the waterworks though. Blimey, were they cross!

The Health Secretary had just announced that all of them – barring members for Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight – would remain under tough restrictions next week when the national lockdown ends.

So ferocious were some of the stares directed at Mr Hancock from behind, that he might have felt one or two burying themselves in his back.

It is clear that he’s not much liked by his own party. It’s possible he never was.

The PM and Matt Hancock briefly began guffawing like a pair of bully boy school prefects when that oily suck-up Jeremy Hunt informed Boris how delightful it was to see him, making a none too subtle reference to the fact he was still a backbencher. Mr Hunt, you see, has been hankering for a return to Cabinet ever since he was beaten in last year’s leadership contest

There was an almost magisterial quality to Mr Hancock's cockiness. It took his opposite number, Jonathan Ashworth (pictured) to deliver a dose of reality

Mr Ashworth reminded Mr Hancock that the £22bn spent on the NHS test and trace programme was now more than our combined annual outlay on police and fire services. And it was still hopeless!

There was an almost magisterial quality to Mr Hancock’s cockiness. It took his opposite number, Jonathan Ashworth (l) to deliver a dose of reality. He reminded Mr Hancock that the £22billion spent on the NHS test and trace programme was now more than our combined annual outlay on police and fire services. And it was still hopeless!

Since his early days working for George Osborne he’s always been an uppity individual. But since the pandemic that self-importance has soared to new levels.

He does not help his cause by always appearing to enjoy his pre-eminent position in this crisis just a little too much.

While Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak appear contrite when delivering whatever new level of misery about to be inflicted upon the British people, Mr Hancock positively revels in his powers.

Yesterday, there was an almost magisterial quality to his cockiness.

‘We must all dig deep,’ he announced sonorously – as if we’d all spent the past nine months simply cruising it.

Since his early days working for George Osborne, Mr Hancock has always been an uppity individual. But since the pandemic that self-importance has soared to new levels. Meanwhile, amiable snorter Sir Robert Syms (Con, Poole) made it clear he wouldn't be voting for the Government when the issue comes before the House next week. He demanded that an appeals process be set up whereby MPs could lobby for a tier downgrade

Since his early days working for George Osborne, Mr Hancock has always been an uppity individual. But since the pandemic that self-importance has soared to new levels. Meanwhile, amiable snorter Sir Robert Syms (Con, Poole) made it clear he wouldn’t be voting for the Government when the issue comes before the House next week. He demanded that an appeals process be set up whereby MPs could lobby for a tier downgrade

It took his opposite number, Jonathan Ashworth to deliver a dose of reality.

He reminded Mr Hancock that the £22billion spent on the NHS test and trace programme was now more than our combined annual outlay on police and fire services. And it was still hopeless!

From the Prime Minister there came a noisy scoff of disgust. Sorry, did I not mention that Boris was there, too? Yes, slumped beside Mr Hancock like a giant walrus reclining on an ice cap was the PM. For a man spending his first day outside Downing Street for a fortnight he did not appear ecstatic about it.

Actually he looked pooped, his eyelids droopier than cupped drapes. He and Mr Hancock briefly began guffawing like a pair of bully boy school prefects when that oily suck-up Jeremy Hunt informed Boris how delightful it was to see him, making a none too subtle reference to the fact he was still a backbencher. 

Mr Hunt, you see, has been hankering for a return to Cabinet ever since he was beaten in last year’s leadership contest.

‘Be careful what you wish for!’ warned Boris. That was the banter and then came the fury. Greg Smith (Con, Buckingham) told Mr Hancock that his constituents would be ‘incredibly disappointed’ to find themselves in Tier Two.

For ‘disappointed’ read ‘absolutely steaming.’

Mr Smith’s nostrils flared like an angry bullock. He was particularly irritated that the Government hadn’t consulted him. I suspect his office waste paper basket was ripe kicking when the session was over.

I now find it rather endearing that this far into the pandemic Professor Whitty still looks so startled at the announcements he has to make. He reminds me of someone from a theatre props department who's accidentally wandered on stage mid-performance

I now find it rather endearing that this far into the pandemic Professor Whitty still looks so startled at the announcements he has to make. He reminds me of someone from a theatre props department who’s accidentally wandered on stage mid-performance

Julian Sturdy (Con, York Outer), a study in misery, demanded to know what his constituency had to do to get moved back into Tier One. This was a polite way of signalling that he regarded Mr Hancock’s decision to move York into Tier Two as idiotic.

Amiable snorter Sir Robert Syms (Con, Poole) made it clear he wouldn’t be voting for the Government when the issue comes before the House next week. He demanded that an appeals process be set up whereby MPs could lobby for a tier downgrade. 

Perhaps Hancock’s deputy Edward Argar – a lockdown sceptic – may wish to oversee it? A thin smile spread across Mr Hancock’s lips. I wasn’t sure what irked him more – Sir Robert contradicting him or the suggestion that his deputy may be allowed to overrule him.

Angriest of all was Nus Ghani (Con, Wealden). Miss Ghani is usually a rather sparkly presence. Yesterday she wore a face like a thunderclap. She felt her constituency should be in Tier One and demanded Mr Hancock speak with local authorities in her area so they could explain why.

‘Yes, absolutely!’ he yelped, hopping to his feet. I got the feeling he was a bit scared of Miss Ghani.

The PM had managed to pull himself together for the tea time Press conference. He apologised for the ‘heartache and frustration’ the continued restrictions would bring.

He conceded whatever tier you were in, life was still going to be tough ‘and I’m sorry about that’ he said. His words carried so much more meaning than Mr Hancock’s. He actually meant them.

Manning the other podiums were those old stalwarts Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. Whitty advised us not to hug and kiss any of our elderly relatives this Christmas if we wanted them to live.

I now find it rather endearing that this far into the pandemic Professor Whitty still looks so startled at the announcements he has to make. He reminds me of someone from a theatre props department who’s accidentally wandered on stage mid-performance.

A modest man with possibly not all that much to be modest about. Perhaps he could teach the Health Secretary a thing or two.

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