• Alastair Cavendish

The Kiss of Caiaphas

At long last, government propaganda may have overreached itself. The Great British public has shown itself ready to believe six impossible things before breakfast, and at least as many more before lunch. It has believed in flattening the curve and saving the NHS. It has trusted blindly in the mystical prognostications of Professor Neil Ferguson. It has accepted unquestioningly that both dependent and independent SAGE know their onions. A section of it may even have swallowed the notion that Dominic Cummings tests his eyes by tearing around the motorways of Northern England with some children in the back seat of his car. It remains to be seen, however, whether anyone can be found to believe the latest and tallest tale of all: somewhere in this green and pleasant land, there lives a woman who has voluntarily kissed Matt Hancock.

There will, of course, be any number of lonely men and boys desperate to believe this story. The next time Gina Coladangelo opens her Facebook account, she will undoubtedly find thousands of friend requests from men for whom the idea that some women have such low standards has opened new vistas of romantic possibility. Some will point to the fact that other Cabinet ministers have managed to find lovers and life partners, though they have been reduced to trawling such sinks of iniquity as the Daily Mail and Conservative Campaign Headquarters to do so.

This, however, is not quite the point. It is perhaps the most vital part of Matt Hancock’s job (and certainly the part he does best) to be so obnoxious that, as Richard of Gloucester used to complain, dogs bark at him as he halts by them. Even the leaden, tone-deaf reincarnation of Spitting Image has grasped this point. Hancock is a man with no discernible talents, who has not put foot right in his current role. Add to this complete lack of ability the menacing demeanour of a teenager complaining that none of the girls notice him in a video made immediately before a school shooting, and you might wonder why he has remained in his post.

The answer is simple: Boris Johnson surrounds himself with imbeciles in order to make his own complete lack of ability less obvious. He is the tallest dwarf in the Cabinet. Hancock is one of the shortest, and everyone hates him, making him the perfect candidate to sacrifice in the event of a public enquiry. He has remained in post through all the gaffes, scandals, and shabby deals, so that he may be offered up as a sacrifice and deflect attention from the Prime Minister when the time comes. Because he is so widely detested, and his fall from office will be so satisfying, this strategy is all too likely to succeed.

It is impossible to feel sympathy for Hancock, a man who clearly feels not a shred of compassion for the millions harmed or the thousands killed by his incompetence, corruption, and fanaticism. However, his charmless manner does not make him any more morally culpable for government policy than the more plausible, smooth-talking villains in the Cabinet. Hancock owes his brief moment in office to his abrasive manner and punchable suet dumpling of a face. As soon as it is convenient for him to do so, Johnson will throw the Health Secretary under one of those buses he so enjoys painting, and the absurd rumour that public health’s favourite pharisee has ever been kissed will only make it easier for him to do so.

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