A perceptive Government adviser told ConHome earlier this week that Matt Hancock announcing his 100,000 virus test target by the end of last month was like J.F.Kennedy announcing that America would put a man on the moon within ten years.
In other words, the mere fact of declaring a “stretch target” would greatly increase the delivery of tests – whether the goal itself was reached or not. George Freeman has made the same point on this site.
Both were right. The Health Secretary has driven the creation of a new British industry from scratch – a considerable personal achievement.
That matters more than whether 100,000 was the right figure to aim for (Boris Johnson had previously cited 250,000); or whether the 122,347 tests that Hancock proclaimed reached yesterday should or shouldn’t have included 39,000 that have been sent out to homes and locations, but haven’t necessarily been returned.
The political significance of the news is that the Health Secretary has won respite from being set up by some in Downing Street, and some of his colleagues, as the Government’s scapegoat for failings.
Or Scapecock, as we labelled him earlier this week. Indeed, Hancock’s internal status will have been strenghtened by the reaching of the target. He is the leading Government “dove” – that’s to say, the champion of his department’s view that the sustainability of the NHS must be at the core of the lockdown strategy.
The target news plus recent briefing noise suggests that the Health Secretary is winning: very crudely, that his department, rather than the Treasury, has Boris Johnson’s ear, at least for the moment.
His friends will be able to claim that he is most successful Tory deliverer of a target since Harold Macmillan drove the building of 300,000 homes a year during the 1950s. (With James Bethell, now a Lords Minister, as his Percy Mills.)
Hancock is already one of the Government’s Big Five – Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and himself, plus the Prime Minister. The throwing-together of a new industry in next to no time will seal his status.