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The tragedy of Matt Hancock What two years of Covid taught us

He's seen things you people wouldn't believe..(TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)


March 25, 2022   8 mins

The first lockdown deepened during a luridly warm spring. Strange things began to happen in England. Mr Motivator MBE returned to television, and a TikTok about pubs made young men cry. The middle-classes baked until the flour ran out; the bus drivers, cabbies and chefs contracted the virus, then died. The rich just became richer; they were like the aristocrats who viewed Borodino’s bloodbath from the heights. But strangest of all was the daily, hourly, minute-to-minute ubiquity of Matt Hancock.

Long before SARS-CoV-2 was a twinkle in the eye of a Wuhan cave bat, Hancock worked on the student radio station at the University of Oxford.  A contemporary, Gina Coladangelo, reminisced that Matthew read the sport “because he wasn’t good enough to do the news.” Another remembered Hancock as the “butt of everyone’s humour”. He wanted to go to Westminster and be an MP.

He nearly blows himself up. Guildford, 2001. Young Matt does an election leaflet for the Tory candidate Nick St Aubyn. Instead of saying that St Aubyn wanted to “unite” the community, a 22-year-old Hancock writes: “I want to untie the community”. The leaflet lands in 50,000 letterboxes. St Aubyn loses his seat by 538 votes.

Shortly after becoming a junior minister, Hancock compares himself to Pitt the Younger, Disraeli, and Churchill; their achievements are quite well known, but he will make history on his own terms in 2018 when he becomes the first MP to launch a personal app: The Matt Hancock App.

Its creation leads to the memorable onscreen prompt “Matt Hancock would like to access your photos”  — and he appears to get them even if users deny the ‘The Matt Hancock App’ access to their libraries. A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s office admits, “We are checking reports about the operation of The Matt Hancock App”.

In a party where the average age of a member is 57, Hancock appears young and bright. He is marked out by the early patronage of Osborne, who says of his protege: “In a political system that is full of Eeyores we could do with a few more Tiggers.”

That nickname fits well. Tigger Matt has the tamped energy of the short man, over-exercised. Enthusiastic; readily and sycophantically agreeable. His colleagues mock him — Matt Wankcock and Matt Handjob will be insider nicknames for him — but they are usually reluctant to fire him, even when it makes sense to do so.

***

As the Conservative Party tortures itself in 2019, Hancock decides he would like to be leader. Or raise his profile. So he attacks Boris Johnson and a hard Brexit: “To the people who say fuck business, I say fuck fuck business.”

He fuck fuck’s himself into sixth place in the first ballot of the party’s MPs. Then he withdraws; he spends a month on television and radio praising the new leader
 Boris Johnson. Hancock expects a promotion for his breathy verbal parkour. He keeps his job as Health Secretary instead.

To run the NHS is no Conservative’s idea of a dream. Neville Chamberlain was the last Tory Health Secretary to become Prime Minister. The service itself is a patched-up patchwork, a tax sink, an organisation colossally vast and maddeningly confusing. Hancock’s real brief is to make sure the whole thing doesn’t fall apart when people are looking.

The pandemic is the greatest health crisis to face Britain since mad George III thought that an oak tree in Kew Gardens was Napoleon’s ambassador. Fate, or a lab-leak, means that soon everybody will look at the NHS.

***

A relaxed, Prime Minister-less COBRA meeting is held at the end of January 2020. After chairing it Hancock tells reporters the risk Covid posed to the public was “low”. On the same day a study published by Chinese doctors in The Lancet suggests SARS-CoV-2 is comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed around 50 million people.

The risk to the UK is deemed so low that on 24 February the Government supplies 1,800 pairs of goggles, 43,000 disposable gloves, 194,000 sanitising wipes, 37,500 medical gowns and 2,500 face masks to China. Looking back at meetings that month, one senior Department for Health official remembers thinking “‘Well, it’s a good thing this isn’t the big one.’”

***

A clip of Boris Johnson, patiently explaining possible Covid strategy to fellow scientific luminary Phillip Schofield goes viral. “One of the theories,” Johnson had said on March 5, was that “perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking many draconian measures”.

Loo paper soon begins to disappear nationwide. Hancock is rolled out — he was always being rolled out, like a new carpet to be trodden on — into a breakfast TV studio to deny that the Government wanted to massacre the Grannys. “Our goal is to protect life and our policy is to fight the virus.”

Then Neil Ferguson releases his controversial paper. It claims hundreds of thousands will die if Britain is left to take the virus on the chin. Sage advises the Government to embark on a full lockdown that day.

It arrives on 26 March 2020, as Covid cases double every 72- hours. Between 89% and 94% of the public support lockdown. And the Grannys? Care home deaths accounted for 40% of Covid-19 deaths in England and Wales during the pandemic.

***

Like other ministers, after the passage of the Coronavirus Act, Hancock develops war fever. “Our generation has never been tested like this”, he writes to a nation frantically, pointlessly washing its hands. “Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz
 they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.” The allegory is both ugly and lazy, but Britain is a country where poppies are made to wear poppies.

***

Prince Charles opens the first Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London. He says the Nightingale “will be a shining light”. The hospital is constructed in nine days, and holds 500 extra intensive care unit beds. (For every hundred thousand members of the population the UK has 7.3 intensive care beds — less than Spain, Greece, and Estonia. This lack of provision will mean more deaths.)

More Nightingales open across the country. They cost the taxpayer 500 million pounds. Only three of the seven hospitals end up treating patients. They are described by one MP as a “massive white elephant conjured up by Matt Hancock to create a good headline”.

***

It’s not really worth it, going outside. A family of five is sent home by the police in Conwy after being caught having a day at the seaside. They scuttle back to Merseyside. Police in Derbyshire “divide opinion” when they use drones to film people walking in the Peak District. A “major incident” is declared when thousands travel to Bournemouth beach, to swim, eat ice cream, and burn in the sun. (Belatedly, it is revealed that the “major incident” did not lead to a spike in Covid cases.)

Speaking to Andrew Marr, a concerned Hancock threatens to ban outdoor exercise. “Let’s not have a minority spoiling it for everybody.”

***

Nothing works properly. The Test and Trace App doesn’t work. PPE doesn’t work — because it’s all out of date. Protecting care homes doesn’t work. Dido Harding doesn’t work. The Civil Service literally doesn’t work. Big-hitter commentators start saying that the entire British state doesn’t work. It is described as “simultaneously overcentralised and weak at its centre”.

But ‘The Matt Hancock’ app still functions. In May 2020 the Telegraph reports that it is becoming a “virtual home for online pranksters and trolls”. Posts to the ‘Have Your Say’ section include drawings of cocks, general abuse, and a date invitation for the (then) married Health Secretary.

When ‘The Matt Hancock’ app is updated a year later, access to the ‘Have Your Say’ section is hidden. One of the last posts read: “Is there a portal on here where I can be awarded a Government contract for an area I have little experience of scale please?”

***

Hancock always looks caught between a giggle and a sob. A new round of Covid restrictions makes casual sex illegal. Or at least that’s how Sky News’ Kay Burley interprets the guidance when she interviews him about it. “You are saying that no social distancing is needed in established relationships,” she notes. “But what about people who are not in an established relationship?”

The Health Secretary, embracing his role as national sex cop, confirms that Government rules do ban shagging someone who is not your normal partner. Apropos of nothing, he adds that, fortunately “I’m in an established relationship”.

A few weeks later, the Times reveals that Gina Coladangelo was appointed to a £15,000-a-year advisory PR role in the Health Ministry. The appointment was never declared. Coladangelo and Hancock are described as “close friends”. A source tells the paper: “Before Matt does anything big, he’ll speak to Gina. She knows everything.”

***

He appears to cry on television when the first Pfizer jabs are stuck into the arms of two pensioners: Margaret Keenan and William Shakespeare. “It’s been a tough year for so many people,” he sobs, rubbing his waterless, unreddened eyes.

The Government spends £12 billion on vaccines. Total pandemic spending is estimated to reach £372 billion. Research finds that under-30s will be disproportionately forced to bear the brunt of these costs. They are described as the “packhorse generation”. The median age of death from Covid is 83 years old. There is no national discussion, parliamentary inquiry, or interest from the Government in working out how the old can make it up to the young.

William Shakespeare dies naturally within a few months of taking the vaccine.

***

In January 2021, a week after the virus death toll tops 100,000, a focus group asks some ordinary people questions about the Health Secretary. A man called Jason compares Hancock to Ian Beale from Eastenders — “He wants people to feel sorry for him.” Asked what sort of car he would be, mother of two Donna suggests that he would be “something that breaks down.”

***

During a committee hearing Dominic Cummings says that Hancock should “have been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly”. Cummings then puts a WhatsApp screenshot on his blog that shows the Prime Minister describing Matt as both “hopeless” and “fucking hopeless”.  When he is interviewed about the message, Hancock says: “Boris has apologised for the way that came over.”

***

The story and the footage and the photo are exquisitely simple. After nearly 18 months of tiers, colour-codes, R-numbers, powerpoint slides, and graphs, here is something everyone could understand: a hand on an arse.

Yes, Hancock’s downfall was exquisitely simple. His affair with Gina Coladangelo was unambiguous. It made sense like fairy tales make sense. The Princess in the tower must let her hair down. The wolf is wearing sheep’s clothing. The apple offered by the witch is poisoned. The politician who spent the pandemic agitating for the harshest restrictions, who would describe Professor Neil Ferguson’s lockdown sex fiasco as a “matter for the police”, who ensured that the public could be fined for sitting on park benches, who threatened them with 10-year prison sentences for breaking quarantines, this ogre of the new common sense, would — of course! — be breaking all his rules.

The press is devastating, and relentless. With a deep understanding of public humiliation, the Queen describes Matthew as a “poor man”. He resigns, his only consolation being one of the most Googled news stories of 2021.

***

Hancock keeps coming back, like Covid. His head pops out of the ground. Phillip Schofield asks him: “Was it your dyslexia that meant you misread the social distancing guidelines?” The nation laughs, bitterly. It is reported that, off air, Hancock “almost seemed euphoric
 He didn’t seem to mind being the butt of the joke.” He has returned to his student days, but made them the business of the entire country. He buys stonewashed jeans, and new turtlenecks. He does podcast interviews, and goes to the BRIT awards. He says he is writing a book for Harper Collins. Harper Collins says he is not writing a book for Harper Collins, and Hancock never mentions it again. A role with the UN is torpedoed, and a comeback video — unanimously described as “cringe” — is swiftly deleted. It is impossible to tell, as with England’s experience of three lockdowns, whether he is enjoying all this, or if he is the saddest man in the world.

***

Everybody wanted a lesson from the last 24 months. Neat, comprehensible wisdom. An intelligible narrative. They wanted to say that it finally proved that Germany was a better country than England, or they wanted to say that our vaccine programme proved the EU was useless. They thought England’s experience of Covid could tell us about the national character, the flaws in our state, or otherwise be used to justify every kind of pet project, ideological hang-up, or personal vendetta. There was no narrative line. All that the pandemic proved was that what happened a hundred times before in history could happen to us too.

***

The number of children referred for specialist mental health help rises above one million for the first time in 2021. Cases involving those 18 and under increase by 26% during the pandemic. The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns it is “becoming an impossible situation to manage”.

People, including Hancock, like to talk about learning the lessons of the pandemic. So we can prepare better for the next one. They don’t realise that between the million mentally hamstrung teenagers, the NHS waiting list hitting 9.2 million within two years, an endless backlog of cases in criminal courts, and inflation, that the pandemic hasn’t ended yet. It’s barely started.

26 March 2020 — 26 March 2022


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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

They don’t realise that between the million mentally hamstrung teenagers, the NHS waiting list hitting 9.2 million within two years, an endless backlog of cases in criminal courts, and inflation, that the pandemic hasn’t ended yet. It’s barely started.
I’d give this article an A+ for the ending alone.

Last edited 2 years ago by J Bryant
Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Not to mention, “a nation of poppies wearing poppies”.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

And a special commendation for the remainder. Excellent stuff, thank you Mr Lloyd.
And I’d always assumed Tony Hancock was the only comedian of that name: turns out I was mistaken. Has Matthew tried standup yet, do we know? At least he’d be harmless doing that gig.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“Wuhan cave bat”

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago

Entertaining article in a Guardian, snarky anti-government way, but for this comment alone, you can talk a long walk off a short pier, Will.
There is no national discussion, parliamentary inquiry, or interest from the Government in working out how the old can make it up to the young.”
I don’t know a single elderly person who demanded this, and trust me I am well into that age range. And you don’t have to be terribly old to remember Marr and Alan Johnson laughing and joking during the customary Labour knee-trembler on the BBC couch, during one the worst flu epidemics in living memory.
What I do know is a large number of journalists, many driven insane by their dislike of Johnson (understandable, but not part of their job description) demanding more lockdown and restrictions generally. All on the basis of Chinese propaganda (China, for crying out loud) and a data monkey with a track record of total failure turning information into society destroying nonsense via a spreadsheet.
Where are YOUR apologies? How are YOU going to make it up to the young?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Well said. Incidentally, the majority of people I see still wearing the useless masks are college-age. It’s become their totem.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

No idea where you live but my experience is completely different.
Great majority of people, including old happily complied with lockdown.
How would you otherwise explain empty trains and underground in London till at least end of May 2020?
And it was not because of Police stopping people (at least not in West London).

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew F
Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Hi Andrew – sorry if not clear from my rant. I absolutely share your experiences re compliance. Noted re West London 🙂
I’m talking more about the initial demand for extreme measures that would inevitably disrupt learning for the young, exacerbate mental issues, delay non-Covid treatments and (at least in the case of my son) caused several months unemployment. No benefits other than what I could provide, but hey I needed “to make it up to him”.
A broader explanation of my feelings:
The UK does not exactly lead the field in terms of national health, not to mention demographic issues into which I will not go – we are where we are (or were). Suffice to say, we were never going to have a “good” pandemic whether we’d locked down, sooner, harder or whatever.
The generation that Will is getting at are likely to have had parents who experienced war and actual austerity in the years after. Most of them respect what others went through before and consider themselves very fortunate to have lived through a period of relative peace and prosperity.
The last thing “the old” would have wanted was the sort of blanket restrictions that deprived “the young” of the sorts of prospects and lives that they were fortunate to enjoy. Now I have heard the likes of Lineker/Vine spout nonsense which to my mind amounts to a call for inter-generational discontent (I could use stronger language). It’s rubbish, unhelpful and needs calling out. Will’s not quite gone there but it’s close enough for me to want to put the alternative view.
I’m being hard on the journalists but along with Mayors/”First Ministers” they have a lot to answer for in their herd response and I will never forget it or let them off the hook.
Today we have people both young and old who still feel incredibly uneasy about going out – even double jabbed and boosted. So I still wear a face covering if the situation requires it. Personally, I think it’s largely theatre but it takes me no time to do it and if it helps one person recover confidence in adapting back to normal life then I have no problem with it. It’s a matter of personal choice for me and I don’t expect others to follow.
Thanks for reading the post and taking the trouble to respond.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dustin Needle
A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

West London was empty and soulless before lockdowns 😉 😛

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

To plagiarise Kipling:-
“I could not dig, I dared not rob:
therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my tales have proved untrue
and I may face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
mine angry and defrauded young?”

Mo Brown
Mo Brown
2 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

FWIW, I took this statement to mean something like “the lockdown fanatics used the elderly as rationale to nut-punch the young without having to actually walk us through how that would work out in the long run.” Maybe I’m wrong though.

Christopher Neil Brown
Christopher Neil Brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Dustin Needle

Don’t expect the media to critique the media (who undoubtedly whipped up the needless lockdown frenzy with their scare-mongering, context devoid “reporting”. Anyone under 40 should truly despise and hate the UK media for the financial debt they have incurred on their behalf.

Michael Hollick
Michael Hollick
2 years ago

Hancock was the speaker at my other half’s college reunion six years ago. I thought he was something of a joke. A man without qualities. Nothing I’ve seen since has changed my opinion, except that having such a vile, hollow individual in a position of power is anything but funny.
All he has ever had to offer the country is his ambition. It would be comforting to think that he will spend the rest of his life reflecting on his abject failure and the misery he has caused to millions. Failing that, I’d settle for life imprisonment.
I was unable to visit my mother in her care home for 10 months. She died, “of covid” (despite having tested negative days before she passed away). I said goodbye on WhatsApp. I wasn’t even permitted to view her body, such was the calamitous over-reaction overseen by Hancock.
Me, and many thousands (millions?) of others, have suffered at the hands of this man. He is worthy only of contempt. And while I appreciate the laughs this article has given me, it offers little compensation. He is contemptible.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
2 years ago

Oh dear Michael. If only life imprisonment was severe enough. Not even with hard labour, breaking rocks into ever smaller pieces.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Your understandable anger is misdirected.
Responsibility lies unequivocally with the PM , not with his buttock squeezing Proconsul.

Fred D. Fulton
Fred D. Fulton
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

True. It’s invariably the man or woman at the top who calls the shots. Your anger towards the Minister or the police or the military etc is mis-directed. It’s Johnson, and Trudeau in my depraved Canadian setting, to be blamed. Their Ministers are merely shields.

William Murphy
William Murphy
2 years ago

Surely what two years of COVID taught us that we never again let people like Hancock or Johnson anywhere near any public office. It is a measure of the disfunction in the current political system that we have elections such as Johnson versus Corbyn, with both radically unfit for the job.

Great article, though it left out my favourite deranged Hancock episode. At one point (around May 2020) he was plainly unhappy with the degree to which the public was obeying the ludicrous lockdown. So there he was on TV, threatening to lock us up 24/7 and not even let us out for our graciously permitted one hour of exercise. Even top security prisoners are permitted one hour of exercise.

Someone must have forced Matt to take his tablets, because we heard no more of it. Perhaps the police advised him that they were too busy flying drones spying on people walking their dogs, or arresting people for heinous crimes as walking in the park while drinking a Starbucks mint tea.

Michael K
Michael K
2 years ago
Reply to  William Murphy

In a perfect country, drinking Starbucks tea would indeed be a criminal offense.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
2 years ago

“A clip of Boris Johnson, patiently explaining possible Covid strategy to fellow scientific luminary Phillip Schofield goes viral. “One of the theories,” Johnson had said on March 5, was that “perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking many draconian measures”.”

Pretty much bang on the money.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

If only…

jim peden
jim peden
2 years ago
Reply to  Hosias Kermode

Yes, if only Boris had possessed a spine.

Michael K
Michael K
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Indeed, the first thing I heard about this matter from Boris Johnson, i.e. attempting to reach “herd immunity” the natural way, made me very hopeful for Britain. This is how the Swedes did it.
It would actually have been relatively easy to handle COVID. This is how:
You have a new respiratory disease going around that is so infectious, it even spreads during a complete lockdown. It spreads via animals and constantly mutates. You can’t wait it out, and you can’t effectively vaccinate against it. Luckily, it mostly kills old and already sick people. The only thing you can do is accept that it will spread, and protect those who are most vulnerable.
How do you protect those groups? By making those who spread it the most (i.e. the young) immune via their airways. You achieve this via infection, and only infection.
So what’s the plan?
First, you test anybody who enters a hospital or retirement castle.
Second, you provide clean, well-fitted masks for those who require self-protection.
Third, you leave the rest of society alone, but provide medical support to those who have severe disease, so they don’t die alone at home before they realize the gravity of their situation.
After about one year, the mobile population will be vastly immune, so that there will the usual spread of respiratory diseases. The spread within hospitals and retirement castles will have been minimized.
What you do not do is:
Lock people at home, force them to wear a mask, and make them get an injection that doesn’t prevent spreading a disease. Because now you have sick, but vaccinated people who have contact with older members of society, so you never realize that they are spreading the disease. Now the mobile part of society has not had their natural “boosters” via a yearly contact with other respiratory diseases, in effect making their immune systems generally outdated, and leading to higher cases of other diseases and the coronavirus.
It turns out public policy was exactly the opposite of what would have saved us two years of needless, life-destroying, soul-crushing trouble.

Andrew F
Andrew F
2 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Yes, you are right, but great majority of people believed in covid restrictions.
What is politician going to do in democracy when MSM are calling you murderer of grannies daily?
Lets stop creating myth of plucky Brits fighting dictatorial government over covid restrictions.
Brits were most supportive of covid measures in whole of Europe.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Agreed! It was the most sickening spectacle ever seen, or at least since the death of the Dianna person.
Five hundred years and more of the bulldog spirit, gone for ever and replaced by a supine, whimpering, terrified demos!
How on earth did ‘we’ make such people? And is there any hope for the future?

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

There was widespread public support but only because a wicked combination of the Chinese Communist Party, evil people with commercial interests, and our deluded / corrupted politicians and “journalists” scared the living daylights out of them.

The politicians, civili servants, and media people who knew that something was up but went along with it and compounded the fear because they lacked lacked the courage and integrity to do anything else will not, if they a modicum of conscience, sleep soundly for the rest of their lives.

Fred D. Fulton
Fred D. Fulton
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew F

As the earlier post suggested, Johnson could have grown a spine. BTW Canadians were just as smug about what a gallant bunch of lockdowners we are, fighting to be first in line for multiple vaccinations, but characteristically polite of course, eh?

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago

Best article I have read on here for some time (I have been a little disillusioned of late to be honest).
I don’t know who is the biggest oddball to have been a minister in recent times, Hancock or Gove.

Tom May
Tom May
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

I agree with your disillusioned comment. I can’t articulate exactly why, but some sparkle has gone.

Sheridan G
Sheridan G
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom May

There seems to be a lot of articles about trans and identity issues recently

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago
Reply to  Sheridan G

That no normal person cares a jot about

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

Men clearly don’t. Women have to because it is our lavatories, changing rooms, hospital wards, refuges, sports teams and prisons that are being invaded. Clearly you don’t care about women either.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

We all care about that bit. It is the theatrical posturing of a microscopically minor group that is getting tiresome.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Caterham or Pirbright?

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom May

I can’t articulate exactly why, but some sparkle has gone.
Unherd came to prominence in 2020 with its reasoned, balanced coverage of lockdowns and of the BLM riots. It was a welcome counterweight to the msm propaganda.
As the initial crisis phase of the pandemic has passed, they are becoming more of a general interest magazine that attempts to include opinions not often heard in the broader media (and that’s fine). In the process, however, they’ve inevitably lost focus. It’s hard to bring that edgy energy to a wide range of issues, some of which are much less important to most people than others.
I also suspect Unherd initially attracted a certain reader demographic, largely center-right and suspicious of government overreach, who now start to feel disconnected from the new Unherd.
If you look on Unherd’s youtube channel, their interviews on covid and lockdowns often get several hundred thousand hits, whereas most other interviews receive an order of magnitude fewer hits. I suspect Unherd faces a significant challenge defining itself as a general interest magazine. That category is already crowded.
I continue subscribing for the time being because Unherd still provides some excellent articles, but there are now a significant percentage of articles I skim and forget. We’ll see how this magazine develops over the coming year. I’m increasingly turning to substack for the type of content that really interests me.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

I think it’s partly because some of our more colourful commenters have either stopped commenting or been banned
(probably the latter.)

There’s usually at least as much knowledge, and often more fun, in the comments as there is in the articles.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

You are correct, the ‘new’policy is that all controversy is to be banned. The terror of litigation knows no bounds.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

I miss them

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  andrew harman

What about the man from another era
 the one in the suit with lots of children in suits. Rees-Mogg?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

To use the vernacular, a “nutter”.

Human Being
Human Being
2 years ago

This piece made me laugh out loud at least three times due to the writer’s wit – a rare feat for an article on this subject.

Last edited 2 years ago by Human Being
Mike Seeney
Mike Seeney
2 years ago
Reply to  Human Being

Agree – think I laughed throughout the whole read!

Mark Burbidge
Mark Burbidge
2 years ago

“They thought England’s experience of Covid could tell us about the national character”
The national character seems to be one of unthinking, non-questioning compliance. So depressing.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Moderately funny in a snarky sort of way; but woefully inaccurate.
I ceased to take it seriously in any way when I read that Neil Ferguson’s paper was “controversial”. He presumably means “utterly inaccurate and misleading”?

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

the bus drivers, cabbies and chefs contracted the virus, then died.”
Later on in the article the author points out that the median age of death from Covid is 83. I had no idea that was the median age of bus drivers, cabbies and chefs.
As a devastating deconstruction of Matt Hancock the article is good, if cruel – though Hancock probably deserves it for the cruelty he inflicted on the British people under the cover of Covid, especially the young and the old.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

Lord Jonathan Sumption mentioned medium age death figure within six months of the start of the Scamdemic.
He was instantly vilified.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

The best decisions are made when there is an open debate with different ideas and solutions put forward and discussed, but that no longer seems to be the way either in parliament or the media. It makes life much easier to follow the crowd and be politically correct..

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Iris C

You may recall that in the early phase of the Scamdemic UnHerd was a superb source of heretical ideas. An absolutely splendid forum, totally at odds with the spurious opinions of the ‘good and the great’.
Would that it were still so, but sadly the dead hand orthodoxy and censorship are now prevailing.

Chris Bradshaw
Chris Bradshaw
2 years ago

Between 89% and 94% of the public support lockdown.

A bit like the French Resistance, by 2026 117% of people will claim to have opposed them.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Bradshaw

Was it only 117%? I had heard it was more like 213%.

andrew harman
andrew harman
2 years ago

I dislike Hancock and what he did as much as anyone but quite a few posters on here are missing the point. It is essentially a semi-satirical pierce with a sober sting in the tail.
I think there are also some who react like a whipcord when a piece does not wholly conform to their own opinions.

Tony Lee
Tony Lee
2 years ago

An awful lot of effort to be pored into a short story about whom there is no dissent as to his uselessness. I don’t really get the point of articles like this and find the rather smug 20/20 hindsight vision rather vapid and somewhat smug. Yes Hancock’s half hour went on for too long, but it’s not as though he operated alone, is it? And most of the so called experts were even more spectacularly wrong about just about everything, including journalists.
Why not pick on someone your own size, unless that’s what you did



Mike Fraser
Mike Fraser
2 years ago

The article is amusing but does illustrate a fundamental truth. The scrutiny of The Media and Social media and their interminable criticisms, not always “fact checked”, makes it highly likely that most of those who put themselves forward for the challenge of this lowly paid and thankless political task, will not be the intelligent, decisive yet flexible, leaders, for which we crave. Hence the general inadequacy of most of our politicians. We do indeed get what we vote for.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago

What a beautiful picture at the top. Very fitfties Parisian style. Could be a French president leaving the Elysee in a voiture de luxe during spring rainfall. Very poetic. Now to mirror this. Who fell from grace in the Byzantine Empire had his tongue ripped out and his nose cut off. He who has no tongue cannot speak in public. He who has no nose cannot make a public appearance. Just in a sentimental mood, today.

Jesse Porter
Jesse Porter
2 years ago

Who, actually, chooses leaders? Or do they escape, on demand, from the Loonie bin?

Jim Davis
Jim Davis
2 years ago

SARS-CoV-2 was never “a twinkle in the eye of a Wuhan cave bat. “ It was a twinkle in the eye of a Wuhan lab rat.

Marianne Vigreux
Marianne Vigreux
2 years ago

Thankyou! Brilliant rendering of utter shameless incompetence; I laughed out loud at one point – but really should’ve be crying out in savage indignation: this isnt a soap but reality

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Good article, the only objection being the ridiculous headline, like unfortunately too many on UnHerd. The fate of an over-promoted second rate politician (who is not currently residing in the Gulag) is hardly a ‘tragedy’, even stretching the meaning of the word to its limits!

John Vaccaro
John Vaccaro
2 years ago

Enjoyable article and that’s to be congratulated as the content is centred around Matt Wancock.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 years ago

He won an amateur horse race, first time out, at Newmarket, which is more than 99 pc of the ToylitTory oiks could manage, always turned up at our Hunt meets, and replied to e mails, and was, I recall, a charming and bright neighbour….

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Unfortunately he was a very necessary sacrifice to sate the anger of the prurient British mob, some of whom infest this very site.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago

Anyone brave enough to get on a horse gets my vote

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

Tragedy is the story of a great man or woman who is brought down by his or her failings. There was never anything great about Hancock. Or Johnson. Or Cameron. Or Osborne. What is remarkable is that Oxford University is not embarrassed to have these men as former students. I can only presume that is because they are run by the same people who for a decade and more have ignored intelligence reports about Chinese and Russian intentions and taken money from hostile foreign powers.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago

We are actually in the asylum

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

No supporter of Hancock, you’d think he was the PM from this, but he’s gone, in politics time for quite a while now now, replaced by a worse nonentity inflicted upon us by diversity. One of three up there at the top spoiling our way of life, our finances and our health. There’s another, weeping about polar bears and a trace gas who is clearly out of his depth as well.
Mentally hamstrung teenagers? Who was running Education when the parents were at school? If kids were damaged by a few weeks off school they weren’t going far in life anyway. People used to go to night school; Americans still do if they want to get on.
These so called journalists, wise after the fact, patronise us with their hindsight but never discuss who would have done better, then, now and in future. What next? Extracts from Wikipedia and Google how NLAWS broke the Russian advance. Easy money.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

Long before SARS-CoV-2 was a twinkle in the eye of a Wuhan cave bat

There are no cave bats anywhere near Wuhan, as other commenters here have pointed out.

Graeme Laws
Graeme Laws
2 years ago

Has the author read the Intergeneration Foundation report that he airily presents as gospel? This organisation starts with a point of view and then assembles the data to support it. A quick scan reveals that the report ignores the fact that a very large number of people of all ages pay no income tax at all. It also ignores the fact that young people with jobs and debt normally benefit from inflation, which is the most efficient method of income redistribution yet invented. Worse still, it doesn’t spend much effort pointing out that inflation demolishes savings and occupational pensions.
In short, the article is witty, but lazy.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

Why is it a tragedy and whose tragedy is it?

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
2 years ago

May be worthwhile reading https://theconversation.com/did-the-covid-lockdowns-work-heres-what-we-know-two-years-on-176623 which confirms the (to some) rather obvious point that having lots of people together in close contact results in more infections. As an aside – this does not have to mean lots of people together in one room. They could be shuttling about between different rooms – or hospitals, care homes etc – to the same effect. Even better if those rooms are full of vulnerable people.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

This article is a pointless as Hancock.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Yes and if Gavin Williamson can get a Knighthood then Matt must surely follow.

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

An article that is cruel in places, nasty in others, with a large dollop of half truths and finger pointing.
How easy it is to sit behind a keyboard and criticise others.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
2 years ago

Not sure why an amount of energy was spent in trying to belittle soneone.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Scott

Because it boosts their self-esteem.