YOU can always tell when a Tory politician is pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of voters because Matt Hancock is the first to take to the airwaves to defend them.
“I thought the Prime Minister’s speech was brilliant,” the pipsqueak Hancock declared on Sky News moments after Boris Johnson had launched the Conservative party’s election manifesto.
He would, wouldn’t he? After all, the brazen Hancock owes his job – Health and Social Care Secretary – to the patronage of the PM who clearly thinks the Minister has hidden talents.
Hancock said the same after David Cameron and Theresa May launched their own blueprints in 2015 and 2017 and is a career sycophant who would do the same if Donald Trump – or even Donald Duck – was leading the Tories because he’d be desperate to ingratiate himself.
Yet it is precisely this odious bootlicking and brown nosing which has contributed to the breakdown of trust between politicians, and the public, in this election because of the extent to which politicians – Matt Hancock being one of the worst examples – dodge their responsibilities.
And it is why Hancock’s post-manifesto launch words were so nauseating – they came at the end of a speech in which the PM had made no reference to the issue when he set out his vision for the country.
Johnson, who promised social care action on the day he became PM, did later restate the Tory manifesto commitment to form a “national consensus” about future funding after being prompted by a national journalist, but that was it.
Yet, while the Conservatives are still scarred by the 2017 manifesto when its so-called ‘‘dementia tax’’ contributed to Theresa May losing her majority, it does not excuse Hancock’s inaction since he took over the Department of Health from Jeremy Hunt in July 2018 (Hunt did admit during this summer’s leadership contest that social care cuts had gone too far).
One of Hancock’s first priorities was to publish the long-overdue social care Green Paper setting out future policy ideas and here are a selection of statements that he told MPs on October 17, 2018. ‘‘The adult social care Green Paper, which will be published later this year, will bring forward a range of ideas.’’ ‘We are working on both the Green Paper for the future of social care, which will come before the end of the year and the long-term plan for the future of the NHS.’’ ‘‘I hope that we can build cross-party support for it.’’
Which year? The Budget debate nearly a fortnight later on October 30, 2018, left no doubt when Hancock told Parliament, ‘‘The social care Green Paper to be published later this year...’’ and ‘‘The social care Green Paper will address the question of long-term funding reform’’.
And since then? A series of public utterances about as unreliable as one of beleaguered rail operator Northern’s rush hour trains on the Harrogate to Leeds line (and which are rarely on time). Yes, the Tory manifesto commits to the provision of an extra £1bn of funding for every year of the new Parliament, but this will struggle to cover rising costs – never mind the needs of 1.5 million elderly and vulnerable adults who, says Age UK, have unmet care needs.
Just what has Hancock, said to be desperate to become Chancellor, been doing? Attempts to establish if he has ever tried to begin cross-party talks with Labour, and others, have drawn a blank. Perhaps he’d like to take this opportunity to enlighten readers of The Yorkshire Post.
Now there’s no mention of the fabled Green Paper – it has either been ditched or was always a work of fiction – while Hancock spent Saturday morning, 24 hours before the manifesto launch, touring the TV studios blaming the profligacy of the last Labour government (which left office in 2010) and the 2017 Tory manifesto (which he backed).
What he does not realise is that every week of delay, dither and indecision makes it even harder to come up with a solution which poses a great a political challenge as Brexit.
He does not appreciate that fully functioning community care is crucial to fulfilling the NHS Ten Year Plan so that hospitals can meet the health needs of a growing population.
And he does not understand that uncompromising political language – I accept all sides are to blame – will make it harder to achieve compromise.
People’s lives are at stake here – if only Hancock realised that this is the issue – and the social care system is propped up by health professionals, carers, charities and volunteers whose brilliance is sparing Ministers from even greater embarrassment. Not even 50,000 new nurses, another mythical promise, will fill the breach.
I would suggest that Matt Hancock cuts out the media appearances – and focuses on the day job – but fear that this will further expose his limitations. And, as a former Tory MP put it to me, who else will go on TV at all times of day and night to defend the indefensible?
* Tom Richmond is Comment Editor of The Yorkshire Post. Follow him on Twitter via @OpinionYP