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The 10 most excruciating leaked Matt Hancock WhatsApp messages

 (Evening Standard composite)
(Evening Standard composite)

It seems Matt Hancock was conducting government via WhatsApp during the pandemic. As health secretary, he sent more than 100,000 messages concerning covid-19 policy, which have now been leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Some are banal, others excruciating.

Most importantly of all, these messages will help the covid inquiry assess how and why decisions were taken at the peak of the covid crisis. They will also be an invaluable resource to the historians of the future. But for now, they show just how bizarre the people in charge can be.

Hancock’s signature weirdness is already known to the millions who tuned into I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Now we know it translates into his messages, too, with all-CAPS texts sent late at night, far too many exclamation marks, and appalling uses of emojis.

Added to that, we get an insight into the character of Hancock’s correspondents, whether it be Boris Johnson’s struggles with maths, the Cabinet Secretary telling jokes about locking people up in hotels, or ministers referring to teachers as “arses”.

Here is a round-up of the 10 weirdest WhatsApps we have seen so far.

‘Eh?’

First up is Boris Johnson, then the prime minister. In a tortuous exchange dated August 2020, Johnson informs a group chat of his health policy gurus that he has “just read somewhere” that the covid mortality rate has fallen. Dominic Cummings, presumably through gritted teeth, explains to the prime minister that the figure he has read is a probability point, not a percentage point.

The PM’s response: “Eh?” Was this the moment when Cummings decided to jump ship?

Boris Johnson posing for photos at a hospital in Epsom during the pandemic (Kirsty Wigglesworth / WPA pool / Getty Images)
Boris Johnson posing for photos at a hospital in Epsom during the pandemic (Kirsty Wigglesworth / WPA pool / Getty Images)

‘Hilarious’

The least-humorous-looking man in politics, Cabinet Secretary Sir Simon Case, dicusses hotel quarantine with Hancock in February 2021. Hancock tells him that 149 holiday-makers have just been detained in British hotels after trying to get back into the country. “Hilarious,” according to Case.

‘I gathered’ / ‘No-one thinks testing is going well’

A double entry from former Chancellor of the Exchequer (and former editor of the Evening Standard) George Osborne, who seems to have mastered the art of the withering putdown during the pandemic. Responding to a manic all-CAPS message from Hancock about testing capacity in April 2020 (“I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”), Osborne cooly responds, “I gathered”.

Later, Osborne gets back to Hancock’s claim that “mass testing is going well” with a simple retort: “No-one thinks testing is going well.”

George Osborne silenced Matt Hancock with withering putdowns (Dave Benett)
George Osborne silenced Matt Hancock with withering putdowns (Dave Benett)

‘They really do just hate work’

With teaching unions sceptical about government instructions that schools return during the pandemic, education secretary Gavin Williamson and Hancock discuss the situation. The conversation rather degenerates, with Hancock calling the unions “arses” and Williamson responding “they really really do just hate work”.

‘Gavin going absolutely gangbusters’

Hancock’s shrewd assessment, to another colleague, of Williamson’s position on schools reopening.

‘Aargh sorry — just got this’

After receiving news from a junior health minister that excess care-home deaths have risen to 10,000, Hancock takes a while to read the message. “Aargh sorry — just got this,” is his painful response.

‘Don’t go crackers’

In an early morning heart-to-heart between Johnson and Hancock in June 2020, the PM says, “I am going quietly crackers,” about a lack of covid tests. Sensitive Hancock replies: “Don’t go crackers”. We all need a friend like that. Sad? Don’t be.

Matt Hancock relaxing in Parliament (Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament / AFP via Getty Images)
Matt Hancock relaxing in Parliament (Jessica Taylor / UK Parliament / AFP via Getty Images)

‘God knows why’

Another entry from Boris Johnson, this time on the subject of mask-wearing, particularly in schools. “The trouble is that the current guidance specifically excludes schools,” the prime minister notes, before making a troubling addendum: “God knows why”.

‘Total legend’

In the dark Christmas week of 2020, Hancock and a special adviser take a moment to sing the praises of Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty. “I love Chris Whitty,” texts Hancock. “Total legend,” his Spad replies.

‘Everyone looks very awkward on the call’

At least this dispatch, from a government Zoom meeting, is relatable.