Jordan Henderson shows up Matt Hancock on team work – Tom Richmond

MATT HANCOCK inadvertently revealed far more than intended when asked if he would bow to demands of some Tory MPs and resign as Health Secretary over the immediate imposition of new Tier 4 restrictions on the eve of Christmas.

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson continues to show up Matt Hancock, argues columnist Tom Richmond.

“I’m dealing with a global pandemic,” Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr while looking incredulous at the temerity of the question and the fact that members of his own party were doubting his leadership.

It’s the repeated use of words like ‘I’m’ – and then ‘I’ in other interviews – which were revelatory because they maintain the pretence that Hancock, and Hancock alone, is leading the country’s fight against the Covid pandemic.

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However Hancock forgets the ageless adage that the letter ‘I’ does not feature in the word ‘team’ and he should have pointed out to his BBC inquisitor that we, as a country, are involved in a peacetime struggle like no other.

What can Health Secretary Matt Hancock learn from footballers like Jordan Henderson?

No wonder he’s looking – and sounding – exhausted if he won’t delegate key parts of his job because he doesn’t trust, or want, junior ministers at the Department of Health and Social Care to play a more prominent role. Good leaders don’t have to be omnipresent to be seen and heard.

I thought of this when watching the footballer Jordan Henderson – a passionate player who has made the most of his ability (and I mean that kindly) – speak so eloquently at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year celebration when Liverpool were named team of the year.

As club captain, he thanked the BBC for the recognition before paying full tribute to the “team behind the team” – the back-room staff, stewards and so on – who have been integral to the club’s return to pre-eminence and triumph in the Covid interrupted 2019-20 Premier League campaign. Many were taken aback by the sincerity of his words.

That’s team work for you. Henderson, whose quietly-spoken public persona contrasts with his stirring leadership on the pitch, also has form when it comes to Hancock.

Jordan Hendedrson at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

This follows their clash at the start of the pandemic when the preening politician tried to ingratiate himself with the country by suggesting that footballers took a pay cut – the sport was in abeyance – to help fund the NHS.

What Hancock did not realise, in the first of so many political own goals this year, was that this would mean the Treasury receiving less money in tax receipts for key services like the NHS.

And he did not realise that Henderson, like Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, had a social conscience and was working with all Premier League clubs on setting up the Players Together initiative.

This saw top flight footballers make an unprecedented act of financial benevolence into the fund safe in the knowledge that the money would go to the NHS – and those who needed it most – rather than being frittered away by politicians on dodgy deals with pals.

By my calculations, the scoreline is now Jordan Henderson 2, Matt Hancock 0 and that it would be prudent if the Health Secretary had a brief call with his new nemesis about captaincy, leadership and team tactics.

If he did, he might begin to appreciate, value and utilise the team behind him, the Government and NHS who are desperate for Britain (as distinct from Hancock) to kick the virus into touch in the New Year. And we – including Hancock – would all benefit.

SIR Keir Starmer also finds himself in an increasingly invidious position over Covid. The Labour leader is accused of disloyalty if he’s too critical of Boris Johnson – and damned by his own side if his comments are sympathetic towards the PM.

However, while he is more effective than his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, that’s not saying much and my sense is that he’s struggling to win the respect of moderate voters because Boris Johnson’s ‘Captain Hindsight’ jibe has hit home.

Yet it didn’t help, when Starmer was criticising the Christmas chaos over Tier arrangements, that he kept using the word ‘but’ in his answers. It smacked of fence-sitting when he needs to be far more direct – and clearer – with his messaging.

For, if he has the confidence of his convictions, more Ministers (and voters) might listen to him on his policy suggestions and it avoids answers like “We will support the Government but...”

JUST before Christmas, Ministers and civil servants undertook Operation Capstone – a stress-testing exercise to see how they would handle a blockade of ports in the wake of a no-deal Brexit and a surge in Covid.

Even more prescient given the events of this week, it also involved civil disorder and one final element – widespread flooding across northern England and insufficient troops to deploy to stricken areas.

Five years after the Boxing Day floods here, and too few lessons learned in the interim, what a shame Ministers don’t undergo such exercises for flooding. If they had, Defra and the Environment Agency might be quicker to respond, and draft in the Army (if available), when the rivers rise rather than waiting for areas to flood. By then, it is too late.

FINALLY Welcome to Yorkshire can’t afford any mis-steps over its ‘Walkshire’ campaign if the tourism body is to enjoy a more sure-footed 2021.

The tourism body emailed at 5.05pm on December 17 to give details – under embargo – of a New Year’s Day launch. It then sent out the same gumph at 1.50pm the next day for ‘immediate release’.

Such false starts do not inspire confidence – but having advised months ago that Yorkshire lockdown walks could have a wider purpose, I’m hoping WTY now puts its best feet forward.

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