By Sarah Bates
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2845

Hancock’s leaked messages show Tories have blood on their hands

The Tories have lied and scraped their way out of blame and accountability
Issue 2845
Tory Matt Hancock

Tories’ former health secretary Matt Hancock lied about Covid policies (Flickr/ Downing Street)

Tory lies about the handling of the Covid ­pandemic are unravelling at a rate of knots as further evidence emerges of how they sacrificed lives for political clout. The leaking of former health secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp ­messages is damning.

They show he knew the “eat out to help out” scheme was driving up virus transmission. And he called to sack top scientist Jeremy Farrar for criticising government policy. The messages also show how Hancock didn’t prioritise the protection of vulnerable care home residents. 

England’s chief medical officer Chris Witty told the former health secretary on 8 April 2020 that there should be “testing going into care homes”. Since then, Hancock has claimed the government “absolutely did throw a protective ring around social care” during the first wave of the pandemic.

Yet his own texts show that he was only willing to test residents and workers if it didn’t impact on his promise to get 100,000 Covid tests processed every day. At the time Hancock was hanging his political reputation partly on the promise of mass testing.

David Garfield, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said, “It’s a cacophony of bad decisions and political expediency over public health and safety. We have to make sure things like this never ever happen again.” At least 20,664 care home residents died from coronavirus in the first wave of the pandemic—from mid-March to mid-September 2020.

Yet it is not the only area of revelations about the ­government’s shameful approach to its own rules. At the same time as Hancock was telling aides he wanted to “frighten the pants off everyone”, the Tories were partying hard in Number 10.

The formal inquiry into whether former prime minister Boris Johnson misled the House of Commons over rulebreaking in Westminster during lockdown released its latest report last week. It said that “the evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings”. 

This flies in the face of Johnson’s claims that he understood parties were essentially work meetings. And messages between Number 10 staffers show how fervently they were working to produce excuses as the heat was turned up on the Partygate scandal. On 25 January 2022, the Director of Communications Jack Doyle fumbled for ways to explain a party in June 2020.

“I’m struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules in my head,” he messaged. Also blows another great gaping hole in the PM’s account doesn’t it?”. The Tories are ­responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 people. Rather than act with any humanity, they lied and clawed their way out of blame and accountability.

Sue Gray—establishment choice   

Labour leader Keir Starmer has defended his decision to appoint senior civil servant Sue Gray as his next chief of staff. It’s another move toward enmeshing the top level of the party’s staff with a layer of Westminster’s key players. The Tories are complaining that Gray’s new Labour job would casts doubt onto the impartiality of the inquiry she led into lockdown parties at Number 10.

But the real outrage should be centred around Starmer. He is looking to civil servants from inside the cabinet office to lead his organisation. “I want to ensure that we’re in a position to deliver for the whole of the UK and that’s why I’m so pleased that people of real quality, [who are] really respected, want to join the Labour team,” he said.

Starmer’s choice of Gray underlines his desire to present labour as the bosses’ choice for a government and to reassure the secret state. Gray took a “career break” in the 1980s to run a pub in Northern Ireland. She was landlady at a bar outside Newry, where the army was hunting the IRA.

Bullying probe closes

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab was sitting in the hot seat this week as an inquiry into allegations of bullying begins to draw to a close. The inquiry is looking at eight formal complaints encompassing at least 24 complainants from Raab’s tenure in three government departments. Details of the inquiry are yet to be made public but one person who worked with Raab spoke to the BBC.

“He would frequently humiliate members of his private office and/or others that are working with him,” they said. “At a flick of a switch he could turn incredibly angry and pretty offensive in the way in which he talked to people.” One former parliamentary staffer said they saw Raab literally rip up people’s work and cry as a result of interacting with their boss.

The inquiry is being led by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC who will report his findings to prime minister Rishi Sunak. Then the Tories really are marking their own homework, as it is Sunak’s job to work out whether close ally Raab is responsible for breaking the ministerial code.

Raab has said he’d resign if he’s found responsible, but said he was “confident I behaved professionally throughout”. Yet rumours about his bullying behaviour have followed Raab throughout several government departments. It’s also reported that civil servants who allegedly planned to file complaints backed off after finding out Raab would know who they were.

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