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Old Matt, new Matt: Mr Hancock’s diary


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Thursday, 8 August 2019

Old Matt, new Matt: Mr Hancock’s diary

Proud to be in Boris’s cabinet but a bit peeved to be back at Health and the Other Thing. BJ hinted at the Home Office or the Foreign Office but I gather he said that to everyone.

Pity, because I’d have been good at running the police or travelling the world sorting out other countries’ IT problems.

The team seem out of sorts when I got back to the office. Lots of crestfallen faces and a few tears. They are all very disappointed for me. Decent bunch: I’m very lucky to have them.

I want to bin all the leaving cards, but Lucinda insists on keeping them “just in case”. She’s obviously praying that Boris will spot my potential and move me up the pecking order in the next reshuffle – even if it means losing me as a boss. See what I mean about my people?

Can’t say I’m sorry to see the back of JH. His constant interference and offers of helpful advice were beginning to get on my nerves. A bit surprised when Boris offered him Defence as a consolation prize – and frankly relieved when JH turned it down and slunk off to the back benches to lick his wounds.

Looks as if Boris is going to be fairly hands-off when it comes to Health. “Don’t bother me with the details. I’ll leave it all to you, me old China” he says, playfully punching me on the arm.

Better still, the new PM is showing every sign of loosening the purse-strings, at least for the next few months. Splashing out on the NHS will keep people’s spirits up after 31 October and take their minds off rationing, he jokes.  It’s great to have a boss with a sense of humour.

Shabby down-payment

Boris immediately announces a capital investment in 20 of our shabbiest hospitals – “a down-payment on the next general election” he calls it. Catches me off-guard with that one, but it doesn’t take me long to come up with a suitable list with a bit of help from Rees-Mogg. “Make sure they are all in marginal constituencies, Matthew,” he suggests.

We follow it up with the announcement of an extra £1.8bn for the NHS. Media and industry commentators on it straight away like a pack of dogs howling that it’s not “new” money. That’s nonsense of course. It’s money we originally said they could have before circumstances changed and we took it away. Now they’ve changed again and we’re giving it back.

The mistake people frequently make is to assume that government spending is like a domestic budget, where you start with a certain amount of money and then spend it until it’s gone. When you’re running the country you sometimes need to take the difficult decision to spend it more than once. I wouldn’t expect a journalist to understand that, let alone a health economist.

No big deal

Also get a bit of flak for calling a no deal Brexit “unstoppable” after insisting a few weeks earlier that it was “not credible” for any PM to crash out of Europe. As I told the media, people should always be allowed to change their minds when new facts emerge. Or they get a new boss.

I thought Boris would be pleased, but he seems a bit steamed-up when I bump into him in the gents.

“Hancock, you chump,” he cries, giving me a friendly dead leg, “we don’t tell people it’s OK to change their minds. They’ll want another bloody referendum.”

He calms down when I explain that I meant elected representatives not people as such.

I cheer myself up by announcing a £250m fund to develop AI-based cutting edge new treatments for cancer and dementia. Details a bit vague at this stage, but it’s exciting, ground-breaking stuff.

A phrase pops into my head: “Why should people have to wait for the future?” I write it down. I can use it in my next speech.

I ask Lucinda to let the Treasury know about my AI fund so that they can update the new-money spreadsheet.

Diary editor: NHS Networks