All waffle and no action won’t make you PM, Mr Hancock

Published by The Mail on Sunday (26th May, 2019)

After ten months as Health Secretary, Matt Hancock thinks he can offer a prescription to save his country and party in these tortured times. 

Sure enough, yesterday he declared he was the leader for Britain’s future.

Mr Hancock believes he can inherit the crown with a pitch for the centre, presenting himself as the young Cabinet gun who can sort out Brexit and win back generations turned off by the Tories.

I have known him for almost a decade since I took over his desk outside the offices of David Cameron and George Osborne during my brief spell as a speechwriter. Now, Mr Hancock seeks to fly their flag of compassionate conservatism.

Yet he was an undistinguished Culture Secretary. And on his biggest test at Health, he has not only shown a depressing lack of leadership skills.

Far worse, he displays near-contempt for people with autism and learning disabilities locked up in abusive detention, as well as their distraught families.

Yes, there have been lots of warm words and talk of action. But this scandal cries out for genuine leadership, not more reviews and technocratic tinkering, after so many years of political failure to free people who should not be in secure units.

We saw the legacy again last week with a distressing Panorama documentary revealing more hideous abuse – just as we saw in 2011 when similar horrors were exposed at Winterbourne View care home.

The new BBC exposé followed The Mail on Sunday’s campaign to end such barbarism, which often only helps profiteering private firms. As we have shown, it is far more effective, kinder and usually cheaper to care for people with autism and learning disabilities in the community.

Mr Hancock pledged instant action after I raised the case of Beth, a 17-year-old girl being fed through a hatch in solitary confinement for almost two years.

But she remains locked up, with her father having to resort to legal action against the NHS. Mr Hancock also set up a review by the Care Quality Commission in response to our revelations.

Strangely, the report was suddenly pulled forward to the day before the Panorama documentary – appearing on the same day as two other damaging reviews about the needless deaths of people with learning disabilities in the health system.

Yet he did the minimum possible in response, for all his pledges to parents. Not that he seems very bothered: he tweeted three times about waffles last week, twice with pictures of dogs, but not once on this scandal unfurling under his watch.

Then he went to Cabinet waving a bag of waffles, attempting to show his jokey side but revealing both his immaturity and breathtaking contempt for desperate people looking to him to salvage their lives and families. Their fury was intense.

He has, unbelievably, already slowed down targets for discharge. Now he says he will not ‘over promise’. But as his advisers made clear to me in private talks, his real concern was to get these issues buried before launching his leadership pitch.

Never mind the wrecked lives of distressed people seeking state support but ending up stuck in cruelty. Never mind their devastated families. They are merely pawns swept aside in Mr Hancock’s push to become Prime Minister.

This ongoing national scandal exposes a politician who is a depressing example of all that is wrong with Westminster. He sees politics as simply a platform for his ego, relying on spin and childish use of social media while playing games to further his personal ambitions.

This could not be further from compassionate conservatism. This is the soiled politics of the past, not the optimistic politics of the future.     

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