Matt Hancock reveals moment vaccine was approved trends now
Our exclusive serialisation of Matt Hancock's Pandemic Diaries over the weekend revealed how the Health Secretary dealt with the outbreak of Covid, the plotting of No 10 chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the exposure of his own affair with an aide. Today, hope at last as a vaccine is approved... but the political infighting continues...
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, has been sounding off about the impact of the [latest] restrictions on the local economy, accusing me of imposing them in 'knee-jerk' style and claiming it's 'confusion and chaos'.
Boris was indignant. 'Who is this t****r from Newcastle?' he asked. I told him Forbes had called for the measures and we'd worked all weekend with his council to agree them. 'Then he's come out against them. Unreal,' I said.
It's part of a pattern: Labour chancers cooperate with us privately and then the minute we announce everything we've been talking to them about, they take to the airwaves to bleat about it all being a mess.
Friday, October 2
Donald and Melania Trump have got Covid. Tempting as it was to take to social media and suggest Trump try treating himself with a blast of UV light or by drinking bleach, I left it.
Donald Trump leaves the White House for Walter Reed National Medical Center on October 2 after testing positive for coronavirus
Saturday, October 3
A day dominated by the discovery of a hideous blunder involving a week's worth of Covid data. Somehow or other we have failed to log around 16,000 cases, which all had to be piled into today's figures. We might as well just hang a giant neon sign above the Prof's 'next slide please' screen, saying 'See here: Spectacular Screw-Up.' [The Prof is the nickname for chief medical officer Chris Whitty.]
Monday, October 5
For reasons best known to themselves, No 10 are rowing back on tiers [putting areas of the country into tiers with different levels of restrictions depending on the Covid risk] and has pulled the planned announcement from this week's grid. They want tough action; then they don't want tough action; then someone gets to the PM and he changes his mind all over again. FFS.
Tuesday, October 6
I saw myself in the new Spitting Image today. I wasn't entirely unhappy. Though it doesn't sound anything like me, I was pleased to see it has plenty of hair.
Matt Hancock appearing on British satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image, where he receives a grilling from Piers Morgan
Saturday, October 10
Boris has finally agreed to announce tiers on Monday.
Monday, October 12
In the six weeks since I proposed the tiers system, there's been delay and watering down at every stage — while the virus has grown faster than the worst-case scenario. What's most frustrating is that I'm being portrayed as the one who's pushing for lockdown, whereas actually it's those with their heads in the sand who will lead us to a full-blown national lockdown.
Thursday, October 15
Today I announced that London and a few other places are going into Tier 2. The original draft statement was quite bullish on vaccines, but No 10 freaked, ordering me to delete anything that made it sound as if we think vaccines are the way out.
This really annoyed me, because they are the way out. Since that's our strategy, it's ridiculous to be told I can't say it. I will not be blown off the vaccine drive by the sceptics — in No 10 or anywhere else.
Matt Hancock delivers a ministerial statement in the House of Commons on October 15, telling MPs that London and a number of other areas are to move to Tier 2
Friday, October 16
Boris has been studying what they did during the plague and messaged this morning about how tiering worked in the old days.
'In 1606, the Privy Council decreed that theatres should be closed if deaths from plague exceeded 30 per week,' he told us. 'Not sure about these fixed thresholds,' I replied warily. Thankfully this was the end of the history lesson.
Saturday, October 17
Woke up to another briefing against me from No 10, this time in the i. Apparently 'Matt Hancock is the only person here who thinks there is actually going to be a vaccine . . . It's a running joke with other departments'.
The i front page on October 17, 2020 says: 'Matt Hancock is the only person here who thinks there is actually going to be a vaccine. It's a running joke with other departments'
If so, I'm happy to own it. Thank God I banned the team from talking to No 10 about the [vaccine] rollout. They'd just trash it.
Had a bit of a counselling session from Nadine [Dorries, mental health minister] this evening. 'You are too nice too often,' she told me.
Thursday, October 22
A 'request' from No 10 to switch the branding on entrances to Test and Trace sites from the NHS logo to the HM Government one to look more authoritative. Frankly I'm surprised. Why do they want to own something they currently consider a s***show?
Thursday, October 29
We're putting so many new areas into Tier 3 that it'll soon be a national lockdown in all but name. Had we brought in tougher tiers three weeks ago, as the Prof and I were arguing for, we wouldn't be in this position. And for goodness' sake, why aren't we pushing harder on ventilation as well as masks? We have known since a Spanish study proved it in the summer that Covid spreads more like smoke than droplets — yet the comms is still geared to masks, which are less important than ventilation.
Commuters wearing face masks on the London Underground on October 29, 2020
Friday, October 30
This afternoon I was called to a meeting of Covid-S, the strategy group chaired by the PM. At the end: victory.
Boris grudgingly accepted the stark, painful facts: that cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising and the NHS will run out of space unless we act. The upshot is four weeks of lockdown then back to souped-up tiers.
Having won the lockdown argument, I was exhausted but elated and literally ran up the stairs to my office, stopping off to see the Prof, who'd fought hard alongside me via Zoom.
'Secretary of State, you've saved many lives with what you've done today,' he replied.
As I headed off to Suffolk, I finally relaxed. We took the children for a curry at Montaz in Newmarket, where the staff seemed excited to see us. It was horrible to think they were going to have to close again on Thursday and I couldn't tell them.
I really, really wanted to forget the pandemic, just for half an hour, when [ITV political editor] Robert Peston's number flashed up on my phone. I almost choked on my chapati.
'I understand that this pm you, PM, Chancellor and [Michael Gove] met. Am told 99 per cent likely there will be a full national lockdown from next Wed or Thurs,' Peston said.
So the cat is out of the bag — already! Furious, I forwarded the message to my spads [special advisers] and No 10 comms. How the f*** had it leaked already? Only a handful of people knew!
By the time I got home, I had an enraged Boris on the phone saying his media people had told him hacks were pointing the finger at me.
'Whoever is telling you that is lying to you,' I replied furiously.
How had this happened? My money is firmly on Dominic Cummings via his acolytes. The agenda? To bounce the PM into announcing the lockdown sooner [rather] than later and stop him U-turning. If they got me sacked into the bargain, that would be a bonus.
I texted the PM to say that obviously the accusations against me were untrue and I could prove that if necessary. Half an hour later, he messaged asking me and [spad] Damon to bring our phones into Downing Street on Monday.
'With pleasure,' I replied coldly.
Peston wouldn't have texted me for confirmation if I was the source. Plus: it's not like I benefit from this information being out early.
'I'm taking a huge amount of flak to do the right thing and protecting you in the process,' I told Boris.
'Understood, everyone overwrought,' he replied soothingly, but with Dom dripping poison in his ear, I very much doubt that will be the end of it. So everything hangs in the balance. Either the PM has to rush into announcing the lockdown or there's such a backlash, especially from our truculent backbenchers, that he bottles it again.
'It's a f***ing disgrace,' I told [Cabinet Secretary] Simon Case. 'I hope you have a full inquiry.'
As lockdown approaches, I should be focused on testing, the vaccine and getting the new measures right to get us all out of this nightmare. Instead I'm fighting for my political life. This is no way to run a country.
Saturday, October 31
I hardly slept. Consternation from friends about how it all came out. Jim [health minister in the Lords] described it as 'the fastest leak since Nick Clegg was on world-record form' — he was notorious when we were in coalition.
Nadine was raging, telling me the culprit 'needs putting in front of a firing squad'.
Thankfully, at the press conference the PM gave it his all, warning of thousands of deaths a day if we don't do more.
Lockdown will be a little lighter than last time because we've got better evidence about what works. After the s*** I've taken, I don't feel triumphant, but at least we've avoided a complete collapse in the NHS and those Lombardy scenes in our hospitals. For now at least.
Boris Johnson announces new restrictions at a press conference in 10 Downing Street on October 31
Sunday, November 1
Boris was still far from reconciled to the lockdown he'd so grudgingly authorised, continuing to fret that we'd be accused of 'blinking too soon'.
Meanwhile, Cummings is deliberately ignoring my calls and messages. Extraordinary. We're in the middle of a national crisis in which hundreds of people are dying every day and I'm in charge of the health service. Yet he won't talk to me. It's pathetic, petty and downright irresponsible.
Tuesday, November 3
I think someone's trying to smear me. First, I'm falsely accused of being in a Commons bar after 10pm, then I'm falsely accused of leaking, and now The Sun wants to know if I went to have a haircut with Michael Gove at the weekend. Nothing to declare there.
One of my allies received a message from a journalist saying, 'We need to talk about who is framing Matt at some stage . . .' I think I can take an educated guess.
Tuesday, November 10
After months of working it up in secret, today I presented the vaccine rollout plan to the PM. I've rarely seen him as enthusiastic. Finally I think he realises this really is going to happen.
'Can we go faster?' he boomed, banging the table.
Matt Hancock speaks about the vaccination rollout on Good Morning Britain on November 10
As expected, the price of success is that No 10 has gone from not believing the vaccine will happen to getting completely carried away. Yesterday they started putting it out that 'ten million people' could get the jab before Christmas.
This was never the plan, is never going to happen, and [my spad] Damon spent half the day trying to kill it.
Friday, November 13
Cummings has gone! I am elated and, more than anything, relieved for the sake of the vaccine and the country. He's been such a