NEWS
05/02/2021 06:00 GMT

The 6 Worst Answers Given By Government Ministers This Week

No, we don't know what Matt Hancock is doing here, either.

PA
Matt Hancock washing his hands like a normal person.

A big part of being a politician is communication so it’s baffling that they’re still so consistently awful at it.

It feels like we’ve spent quite a lot of time with the government since the pandemic began, what with the daily press conferences, an end to the boycotts of Good Morning Britain and the Today Programme, and the usual appearances in Parliament.

But has that actually resulted in more transparency? More accountability? Or has it just given them more chances to dodge the question, spew propaganda and repeat themselves?

We’ll let you read these “answers” and decide for yourself.

What is Australia?

Let’s begin with transport secretary Grant Shapps, who earlier this week was asked why the government was not introducing tougher border controls to help prevent mutant strains of Covid-19 entering the UK.

His answer deserves reproducing in full.

“People say: ‘Why don’t we just close down and then we’ll be safe?’.

“But, of course, we wouldn’t be safe, because we are an island nation, unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent.

“That means that we need to get medicines in, we need to get food in, we need to get our raw materials in, sometimes we have to move people around, scientists and others.

“If we weren’t doing these things then we simply wouldn’t be combating this crisis.

“In fact, specifically we wouldn’t have had things like the medicines that we’ve needed or indeed the vaccinations, some of which are manufactured in Europe, only 20 miles away at its closest point.”

Although Australia is sometimes called an “island continent,” most geographers consider islands and continents to be separate things and therefore, yes, maybe it is technically accurate to say Australia is a continent, unlike the UK.

But the distinction is largely moot – the island/continent/whatever is not self-sufficient and is still allowing the importing of the food and raw materials mentioned by Shapps as well as allowing some exemptions to the travel ban in and out of the country.

It confirmed its first case on January 25 and its borders were closed to non-residents on March 20.

From March 27 people returning home to Australia had to quarantine for two weeks in government run hotels.

Australia has not recorded a single Covid-19 death since December 28 and has suffered a total of 909 during the entire pandemic.

The UK’s average daily death toll has been above 909 since January 9 – nearly four weeks.

Why aren’t you doing your bit?

One of the biggest news stories this week was the sad passing of Sir Captain Tom Moore, the wonderfully cheerful centenarian whose mammoth fundraising effort for the NHS endeared him to the nation.

Such is the legend around the man that the PM himself announced a “national clap” at 6pm on Wednesday to honour his life.

But according to Matt Hancock, clapping isn’t enough. We’re all actually meant to... raise £1,000 for the NHS.

Chris Jackson via Getty Images
Captain Sir Tom Moore pictured last year.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday, he said: “The thing that I really admired was when we were in that first lockdown he could have just sat through it but he saw the NHS was under pressure and he decided to do his bit.

“And for him doing his bit involved trying to raise a £1,000 by walking around his garden.

“It shows that everyone can do their bit and you can just get up and make it happen.

“He came to symbolise something, and something that we all needed to see. That cheerful resilience in the face of adversity and the fact that everyone can do what they can.”

Far be it from us to suggest that adequately funding the NHS in the first place might be better than treating it as a charity. 

The empty(ish) prison cells

Prisons minister Lucy Frazer appeared on Woman’s Hour this week to explain how the government is trying to reduce the number of women in the country’s prisons.

To do this, she is... building 500 new prison cells.

We can’t quite work out the logic of this, and neither could Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett.

It starts... now! Oh, wait. Now?

Last month Boris Johnson announced he was finally getting round to implementing something that scientists have been recommending almost since the pandemic began – hotel quarantine for travellers from certain “high risk” countries.

Except that the government can’t seem to decide when it should begin.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said: “The health secretary will be making a further announcement about that tomorrow.”

Only he didn’t. It later transpired the PM had experienced a “misunderstanding” which, when you’re the leader of the country speaking on live TV, is something you should probably avoid at all costs.

On Thursday it was up to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi to clarify things, saying: “We will absolutely be setting out how the quarantine hotels will work next week.”

Finally, on Thursday night, the government announced the policy would begin on February 15 – almost three weeks after the plan was originally announced. 

It’s a simple question, Michael

On Wednesday, Michael Gove was asked a very simple question by Good Morning Scotland presenter, Gary Robertson.

The conversation went as follows. You’ll notice Gove says “well” a lot when he doesn’t have an answer.

Gary Robertson: “Just give us the number of people who have been vaccinated in England’s care homes.”

Gove: “Well, I think it is the case that we’ve seen a significantly higher proportion of people across England and other parts of the UK...

Robertson: “But I asked you specifically about the care homes because you keep talking about vaccines that are offered to residents but how many have actually gone into residents’ arms?”

Gove: “Well, it is the case that everyone knows that the overall number of vaccinations has been lower in Scotland...”

Robertson: “But I’m asking you specifically about care homes in England. If you don’t know the number then that’s absolutely fine, but given that you’re critical of the Scottish government, it would be incumbent upon you to tell us that.”

Gove: “Well, I’m not critical of anyone but I’m just stressing the point that it’s critical that we all work together. It is the case that every care home resident in England has been offered the vaccine.”

Robertson: “How many have got it?”

Gove: “It’s also the case that every part of the UK is following the JVCI recommendations, and it is also the case that fewer people have been vaccinated than in the rest of the UK.”

Robertson: “And it’s also the case, according to ONS figures, that England had twice the infection rate of Scotland and also a higher number of deaths in care homes in January – it sounds like the UK government could do with some advice from Scotland about that.”

🔥🔥🔥

How a movie saved your life 

In all honesty, we’re not sure if this qualifies as a rubbish answer or an absolutely amazing one.

It turns out one of the reasons the UK’s vaccine programme is rolling out as planned is... because Matt Hancock likes a good disaster movie?

Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he said: “I think the safest thing to say is Contagion wasn’t my only source of advice on this issue but I did watch the film – it is actually based on the advice of very serious epidemiologists.

“The insight that was so necessary at the start was that the big pressure on vaccines internationally would not be before they were approved – of course, there was a huge amount of work then – but it was after they are approved.

“So, one of the things I did early [on] was insist that when we had the Oxford vaccine, and we backed it from the start and that was great, I insisted that UK production protects people in the UK in the first instance. And, as the UK health secretary, that is my duty.”

Wonder where other ministers are drawing their inspiration.