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Boris Johnson’s biggest asset is that most people never want to think about Covid-19 again

There is little desire among voters to revisit the mistakes of the past traumatic year.

By Stephen Bush

Taxi for Matt Hancock? Today’s papers are uniformly awful for the Health Secretary, who is facing questions about what he did to protect care homes last year and the promises he made (or didn’t make) about testing capacity. 

The reason why Hancock has a target on his back is the testimony of Dominic Cummings, whose allegations that the Health Secretary lied repeatedly about care homes have brought all of last year’s stories about the tragedy in care homes back to the surface. 

But the problem with Cummings’s testimony is that the management of care homes and of testing capacity was a devolved responsibility, and both Scotland’s Jeane Freeman and Wales’ Vaughan Gething made similar decisions on care homes and testing to Hancock. There are important differences of approach across the UK’s governments – but they aren’t ones that can be easily understood with reference to Cummings’s “a bad Health Secretary did it and ran away” thesis. 

Of course, the biggest point in Hancock’s favour, politically speaking, is that to sack him is to concede that there is a germ of truth in what Cummings says: which, of course, creates bigger problems for Boris Johnson

That said, I suspect that the problem for Cummings – and for any opposition party that thinks there is political joy to be had by relitigating the mistakes of the past 18 months  is that just as people often want to move on past a period of ill health or personal trial in their own lives, the country as a whole would, I think, be happier to never think about 2020-21 again. To not revisit the terrifying moment when the government had not only visibly lost control of the outbreak but the Prime Minister himself looked like he might die from it, leaving an overwhelmed administration looking even more rudderless. To not think about the Zoom funerals, the overwhelming pressure of looking after children and working from home, the financial worries, and the seemingly never-ending month of January 2021. 

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As aggravating as that may be for people who believe, in my view rightly, that the mistakes of the last year matter, and risk being felt in a new set of mistakes over the coming years, Johnson’s biggest asset is surely that most people never again want to think of the year just gone.