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With what eager beaver ebullience Matt Hancock comes to the crease and tonks the ball wherever he thinks we would like to see it tonked.

Within moments, he was rewarded with a ripple of applause. The broadcaster and journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was asking the questions, bowled him a fast one: “What are the chances of getting Brexit done on 31st October?”

Hancock went on the front foot and swung the bat: “Extremely high. We’ve got to do it.” Applause.

Oakeshott: “Is that 100 per cent then?”

Hancock: “Yes.” More applause. A novice might have said “110 per cent”, but Hancock realised his audience was numerate and would find that painful.

The NHS, he emphasised, is ready for a no deal exit. He had already got it ready for leaving with no deal on 29th March, funding the work from the enormous departmental budget, before knowing whether the Treasury would reimburse the costs.

Oakeshott asked what the chances are of leaving with a deal.

Hancock abandoned percentages, and with fitting caution replied “more likely than not”.

Oakeshott wondered whether he agreed with the tactic, mooted in that morning’s press, of threatening the EU with disruption if we don’t get what we want.

Hancock said it would be better to get there by collaboration, and then went on, bold as brass: “You noticed that I didn’t answer the question [pause], but that was intentional.”

“That was a non-denial, folks,” Oakeshott put in, for here was a game being played above most of our heads.

She wondered how being Health Secretary has changed his perception of the NHS.

“Mmm, great question,” Hancock said with preposterous enthusiasm. He added that there are “good and bad” ways it has done so.

Oakeshott asked for the bad ways first.

“Well, no, we’ll do the good first,” Hancock said. “People come up to you and want to thank the NHS by thanking you… It’s deeply emotional, this job.”

As for the bad: “You would have thought that working in the NHS was brilliant, the best job in the world…and it’s very sad, there is a high level of bullying and harassment in the NHS and it’s totally unacceptable.”

Whistleblowers also feel unsafe: “The solution to this is high-quality leadership.”

Oakeshott pointed out that he has made IT his big thing. Hancock agreed with her, and remarked, somewhat superfluously: “I’m self-confident in my understanding of IT.”

He told us the average length of time it takes to log on in a hospital is 20 minutes. But Hancock is on the case. His priorities are “People, Prevention, Technology”.

One or two pedants may have wondered whether it is possible to have three priorities, but Hancock swept blithely on.

He finished with a short homily about Prevention: “We should see our health as an asset…help people to stay healthy, in mental health as well as physical health… We have a responsibility to ourselves.”

Wise words. Hancock had fulfilled his responsibility to himself.

30 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Conference sketch: Hancock says the chances of leaving on 31st October are 100 per cent

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