BREX FACTOR: Horse fan Matt Hancock is taking us all for a ride
- Credit: Archant
How the Tory government's health pledges have backfired.
Matt Hancock and a horse walk into a bar. The barman asks: "Why the long face?" And Matt Hancock replies: "It's because I keep making an a**e of myself during the general election campaign."
Few Tories have had a bumpier ride over the past few weeks than the health secretary, with poor NHS performance statistics and the ongoing row over a possible sell-off to American big pharma adding to a series of self-inflicted wounds.
The tipping point may have come at the weekend, when at a hustings for his safe West Suffolk seat, Hancock was laughed at when he defended the government's dodgy claims to be recruiting 50,000 new nurses (the figure includes 18,500 already in the workforce).
Things somehow got worse after that, with an increasingly unwelcome Hancock calling Jeremy Corbyn and Labour racist, then refusing to hand back the microphone to the hustings MC while some in the audience shouted "liar" and "shame on you".
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What a contrast from another event Hancock attended at the weekend; a delightful outing to trainer John Gosden's yard at Newmarket, where keen rider Matt, with a 'Vote Hancock' rosette pinned on his silks, galloped out on Star Of Bengal for a photo and video opportunity. An interesting choice of horse as the four-year-old bay colt seemed very much to be a contender earlier after an impressive win at Chelmsford in late May, at around the same time Hancock seemed to be making ground in the Tory leadership race by attacking Boris Johnson with the Tarantinoesque sentence: "To the people who say 'f*** business', I say 'f***, f*** business."
Alas, since then Star Of Bengal has finished fifth out of five and ninth out of nine in his last two races while Hancock's own star has continued to fall. He was knocked out of the leadership stakes on the first ballot, and even a craven endorsement of Johnson ("I have been reassured, again emphatically, that a Boris administration will be pro-business") did not secure him a promotion from the hospital pass that is the health brief as Johnson named his first cabinet.
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Since then it has pretty much been disaster all the way. On the day it was revealed that the NHS is experiencing its worst-ever performance in A&E, Hancock declared that "in some ways the NHS is performing better than ever".
He has been roundly mocked for a series of weird campaign videos made for social media, and his attempts to defend the 50,000 nurses figure on TV have ended in humiliation - told to "do the maths" on BBC Breakfast, responding to a Good Morning Britain question about whether he has a "magic nurse tree" with the words "absolutely - and we've got a plan for that."
Even Hancock's headline-grabbing promise that all newborns will receive whole genome sequencing at birth, alerting parents to their risk from genetic diseases, has backfired.
Despite his frequent protestations that parts of the NHS will not be privatised or sold off to the USA - backed up this week by the famously truthful president Trump - gathering DNA data does seem conveniently like a stepping stone towards a future insurance-based healthcare system under which those at the most risk are asked to pay the highest premiums, or simply not offered insurance at all.
Before the hustings, the low point was the Tory manifesto launch in Telford on November 25, during which Johnson denied that a local A&E department was about to close.
"I'm looking at Matt Hancock here because I know that we have kept the A&E open and we will ensure that it is open and I will absolutely insist on that and I know that Matt will be very happy to give you more details afterwards," said Johnson. Minutes later Hancock has to confirm that yes, the A&E was closing, to be replaced by an 'A&E Local' only open in "core hours".
Attempting to seize the narrative of his ill-tempered hustings, Hancock has chosen to ignore mention of the nursing row while claiming the heckling "shows the depth of this evil in Labour". Presumably this is a reference to anti-Semitism within Jeremy Corbyn's party, which Hancock is taking far more seriously than Islamophobia in his own party.
Last month he was accused of "whitesplaining" by Tory peer Baroness Warsi when he rejected her demand for an independent inquiry, saying: "Well look, I like Sayeeda, she has a particular view on this. There are others who take a more balanced approach."
But Hancock is not as daft as he repeatedly makes himself look.
While some questioned his wisdom of going horse riding during a crisis, others pointed out that Star Of Bengal is owned by Lady Carole Bamford, the Daylesford Organic Farmshops founder who is married to Lord Anthony Bamford, chairman and managing director of JCB.
The Bamford family have given £12 million to the Tories since 2005, and Lord Anthony and his business donated a combined £61,000 to Johnson's leadership campaign. This did not include £10,000 the firm paid Johnson in January, three days before he gave a speech in which he declared "nothing and no one will stop (JCB's) spread" and asked his fellow politicians to "emulate the spirit of JCB".
So if Johnson should somehow become unseated on December 12, expect to see Hancock jockeying for position to pick up the reins. And then galloping off happily towards the knacker's yard.
Indiana-born Conservative Joy Morrissey, who looks likely to unseat Dominic Grieve in Beaconsfield, had better hope few local voters are film buffs.
As Joy Boden she starred in three low-budget films during the late 2000s, including the memorable Geek Mythology, described on movie site IMDB thus: "A lonely guy acquires a magical statue that makes him irresistible to women but runs into trouble when his best friend's girlfriend falls for him."
The statue's density no doubt explains the movie's tagline, "It's hard keeping it in his pants".
A dissatisfied customer wrote in the reviews section: "Wish I had 120 minutes of my life back.
"I won't knock the film based on poor camerawork and low-budget acting. Simply the plot, the comedy, and the overall feeling of the movie was worthy of being flushed down the toilet.
"You have been warned - you will be disappointed and wish you never saw it."
Brexiteers of the Week
4) ROBERT ROWLAND
What is likely to be the Brexit Party's greatest contribution to EU parliament debates came when former hedge fund manager Rowland questioned Greens' finance spokeswoman Molly Scott Cato's credentials in raising questions about the economic risks of a post-Brexit trade deal. "As far as I'm aware she does not have any degree in economics," he said.
Scott Cato then rose to point out that she was in fact a professor of economics at Roehampton University.
It's Rowland's greatest moment since July when he advised David Lammy that to understand economics he should "complete three years" at the "Chicago School of Economics". Lammy pointed out that American degrees last four years not three, that there is no actual Chicago School of Economics and that even if there was, he had already attended Harvard University.
3) CLAIRE FOX
On behalf of her Brexit Party colleagues, the former communist turned MEP moaned to the Washington Post that "we're not made to feel very welcome" in the EU parliament.
Just a thought, but could little things like turning your back on the anthem and ranting speeches about a "faux democratic charade" have caused this frostiness?
Fox also told the paper she was bored of the £90,000-a-year role which was cruelly forced upon her after she decided to run for election back in May, saying: "Get me out of this stupid job. It's deadly dull, technocratic. It's politics with the guts ripped out of it."
Perhaps the EU should invest in some fire-eaters and acrobats to liven things up for poor Claire, Nigel Farage having already supplied the clowns...
2) LIAM FOX
In a refreshing outbreak of honesty, the former international trade secretary delighted Remainers by tweeting "Get Brexit Gone".
The good doctor, largely off the radar since being dumped by Boris Johnson in July, made his surprising demand while promoting his new series of 60-second web videos.
It was, alas, a hastily-deleted error but it does make you wish Liam has been in charge of Conservative slogans in the past, giving us classics like 'Labour Isn't Twerking', 'New Labour New Banger' and, of course, 'Brexit Beans Brexit'.
1) JAMES HEAPPEY
The Tory candidate in Wells has been hindered by his campaign sending out hundreds of leaflets detailing how a Conservative victory would benefit the people of Wales.
A mishearing at the Tories' central HQ is being blamed for the blunder, which has seen residents of the Somerset city assured that voting for Heappey would deliver "more money for our Welsh NHS" as well as a renovated Swansea Parkway train station. Laudable though this is, Swansea is nearly 100 miles away and in another country.
Heappey, who is facing a strong challenge from Lib Dem Tessa Munt, described the error as "very embarrassing". His next leaflet will probably call it "not very tidy or lush".
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