At least Matt Hancock’s finally got those Ukrainian refugees he wanted

Fans of Matt Hancock, of which there may theoretically be some, were left disappointed two months ago when the big man’s big comeback, via a business podcast hosted by the newest cast member on Dragons’ Den, was overshadowed by Vladimir Putin’s suspiciously timed invasion of Ukraine.

But, on the vanishingly small off-chance these fans exist, they needn’t have worried. Their hero would never be one to not turn a crisis into an opportunity (which is the sort of thing people say on business podcasts, when they’re not instead having to talk about snogging one of their staff on CCTV), and he has now managed to turn the war in Ukraine to his advantage.

It is not entirely clear whether a single fleeing Ukrainian had made it to the Polish border before Matt Hancock began writing a seemingly never ending succession of newspaper articles about his desperation to host a Ukrainian family.

On one such occasion, I may myself have written an article on the subject, in which I may have asked the question, in the headline, as to whether these people had not already suffered enough. And on that occasion, I may then also have been contacted by Matt Hancock’s “team”, who felt it all to be very unfair, that he was “doing a decent thing” and that he was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

Politeness appears to have prevented me from pointing out that one option worth considering would be simply to apply to host the family in question without any accompanying newspaper articles or TV appearances, thus rendering him exactly as damned and undamned as the other 500,000 or so people in the country who had managed to do just that.

Still, never mind. Because here we are, just a few weeks later, and somehow Matt Hancock has managed to find himself among the lucky ones whose application to host a Ukrainian family has somehow made it through the Home Office’s systems. And readers of this week’s Spectator magazine are even luckier, gifted as they have been with yet another full page article, all about life in the Hancock household which now has fully seven Ukrainian refugees and their four dogs living in it.

Team Hancock can have no complaints about the headline this time. “It takes courage to be vulnerable,” it states. The readers, on the other hand, may not be disappointed but possibly bemused when they discover, roughly three-fifths of the way through, that the courage and vulnerability in question refers not to the courage required to run for your life in the middle of relentless Russian shelling, but rather the courage of Matt Hancock, to travel to the Royal Palace in Stockholm and give a talk alongside various princesses from various countries.

(The subject of said talk was Hancock’s own dyslexia, a noble topic on which he now finds time to campaign, and with considerable success. He has, he said, managed to build support “across the spectrum” including from the current education secretary, 54-year-old Nadhim Zahawi, the former CEO of YouGov and owner of a personal property empire thought to be worth north of £100m. “One day he’ll go far,” notes Matt.)

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Look, none of this, per se, is Matt Hancock’s fault. It’s not his fault he was the last nice guy standing when politics went to the dark side. It’s not his fault that his relentless optimism and even more relentless relaunches have come to resemble the attempts of Rob Brydon’s divorced cab driver character, Keith, from the outstanding sitcom Marion & Geoff, who will only ever look on the bright side of everything as his life falls apart around him.

In one particular scene, Keith produces his collection of audio cassettes that he’s recorded himself, of solo trips to Chessington and Longleat Safari Park, to post to his children on the basis that they’d probably like to go there. “In this age of digital technology,” he says, “it’s almost like I’m on a computer game with them or something. I’m like a virtual dad, and with virtual dad, they can switch me off if they want to.”

And he’s right, they can. But when it comes to Matt Hancock, the British public appear to be finding it much more difficult, despite having made their feelings on the subject more than abundantly clear.


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