ENTERTAINMENT

HENRY DEEDES watches Health Secretary Matt Hancock feel the heat in Parliament


The springy Matt Hancock clicked on his brogues … but Mr. Speaker just blinked: HENRY DEEDES watches the Health Secretary feel the heat in Parliament

Whenever Matt Hancock walks into the Chamber now, there is a competition among MPs to see who can be the most ridiculous of his much-lauded test-and-trace system.

Like golfers on a tee competing for the longest drive, everyone waits for their turn to share the latest cock-up in their constituency.

Some report voters advised to drive the entire length of the country to visit a center. Others from people who queued for five hours before being turned away empty-handed.

Yesterday's trophy winner was Lib Dem Munira Wilson, who posted a briefing on how someone in her constituency in Twickenham was struggling to get an appointment through the NHS website.

Ms. Wilson is pleased to announce that they have finally succeeded. But only after they were advised to pretend their zip code was in Aberdeen.

Whenever Matt Hancock walks into the Chamber now, there is a competition among MPs to see who can be the most ridiculous of his much-lauded test-and-trace system

Mr. Hancock reacted to these stories in his usual springy manner.

He clicked on his brogues and reeled off the numbers that had successfully received tests.

He bragged about the average distance most had to travel and stated that it really wasn't that bad. Occasionally he admitted “challenges”, but blamed increasing demand.

On the speaker's chair sat the avuncular figure of Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Sir Lindsay took the unusual step yesterday of reaching out to Twitter to describe the government's testing program as "totally unacceptable".

It was noted that more than once he greeted Hancock's exuberant claims with a skeptical look.

Labor health spokesman Jon Ashworth accused Hancock of losing control of the virus. "We are at a dangerous moment," he warned.

But while Mr. Ashworth tends to get upset about the shipping box, he and Hancock secretly seem to get along pretty well. They're definitely having a friendly enough conversation when the cameras aren't rolling.

Hancock is a lot more nervous than Jeremy Hunt is on his feet. Partly because Mr. Hunt likes to fill him up with a bouncer or two. Partly because Mr. Hunt wouldn't mind doing his old job again.

Hunt reminded Hancock that he had promised to sort out the testing issues by next week. Was he on course? Hancock said the problem would be resolved "in a few weeks". So no.

So, Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) advised Hancock to cut the noise. "There is a danger," he warned, "people will just say," We can no longer trust you. "

Hancock is a lot more nervous than Jeremy Hunt is on his feet. Partly because Mr. Hunt likes to fill him up with a bouncer or two

Hancock is a lot more nervous than Jeremy Hunt is on his feet. Partly because Mr. Hunt likes to fill him up with a bouncer or two

Bryant, who can be a growl at times, seemed to be trying to strike a really conciliatory tone. The rest of the Labor benches were not so generous. "It's a bloody mess," exclaimed Wes Streeting (Lab, Ilford N).

On the government benches, MPs were still grumbling about the provisions of the "Rule of Six". Huw Merriman (Bexhill & Battle) asked why two families of five could play football together, but were forbidden from meeting in a social context.

Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) suggested that the government of Scotland and Wales follow suit and exempt children from restrictions.

Chris Grayling (Con, Epsom & Ewell) urged Hancock to keep the rules under "constant scrutiny" – that is, to remove them as soon as possible.

Make no mistake: Tory Backbencher are angry about the threat to their civil liberties. The grandees Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest W) and Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) have been grinding their molars over it for weeks.

However, it was Labor's John Spellar who made the best intervention of the session, reminding the House that it was entirely possible that we might have had to live with this virus for years. Regarding the government's recent harshness, he spoke of the need to move from “active risk avoidance to prudent risk management”. Hancock said controlling the virus was more important.

Hancock's opponents rarely come up to him in these fights, however deep he is.

He's a steely character. But he has to get involved in this test business. Too often, he behaves like a talented student relying on a brief essay extension when everyone knows he's barely started. The blackberries are shrinking and the nights are fading.

Winter is coming and it will only get worse.

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