Matt Hancock: Opens Up About His Affair, Mistakes & The Pandemic | E121 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Matt Hancock: Opens Up About His Affair, Mistakes & The Pandemic | E121".
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One of the reasons I wanted to come in and talk to you was because I want to just talk freely. - How does that all feel for you personally, that thought that one week earlier we could have saved 21,000 lives? - There were some mistakes that we made in terms of the measures, how they were brought in. Well, now you see, Stephen, you're getting into Gotcha question. - No, genuinely. - It's just all total rubbish. - No, no, no, I've not even asked the question yet. There needs to be boundaries. You've got to get- - No, no, those rules were not in place. - Can I ask the question? - You can ask a question. - I'm gonna ask a question. - This bit really hard for me. - People say you were a contradiction. - Yeah. - What's your response to that? - Could you do me a quick favor if you're listening to this? Please hit the follow or subscribe button. It helps more than you know, and we invite subscribers in every month to watch the show in person. When I started the Diova CEO, I wanted to create a platform where we get to see behind the scenes, where we get the truth, where we get the context. That is at least my attempt. The rest of it is up to the viewer to decide what they make of the conversation and what they take from the conversation. And the same applies to this episode. So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett, and this is the Diova CEO. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. Matt was really, really keen to have you come and join me in my kitchen here in London to talk in a long, fun way about a ton of different things that have front of mind for you that have gone on over the last couple of years. I think usually, and you've listened to this podcast before, so you know what typically start about with childhood and all those things, which I will get onto.
Interview Questions And Personal Background
Why did you want to have this conversation here? (01:27)
But the question that was really friend of mine for me, and I think will be for a lot of people is, why did you wanna have this conversation here? - Well, I love your podcast. One of the reasons I love it is 'cause I think what you manage to do is you manage to get people to be really, really honest about themselves. One of the things I admire about the podcast is that it's important that we have a space where people can talk about where things go well, and where people have failed, and what they've learned from that. And you're so sort of brutally honest with yourself about it, and you really put that on the line, and that in turn gets it out of other people. And I've been through this extraordinary experience of being the health secretary in the pandemic. There's a lot of things that I've learned through that and learned about myself. And I want to be able to articulate how I saw it, if you like. I just think that you're, it's just one of the most self-aware podcasts that I've listened to, and now I'm completely hooked. - Oh, so let's start then. I was brought up in a happy, loving, complicated, modern family. - Yeah.
Your early years (02:54)
- Explain. And why complicated? - Well, complicated because my parents separated when I was two, and I effectively grew up with four parents. So both of them happily remarried before I can really remember. So it was complicated in the way that lots of modern families are complicated, and I have a half-brother, I have step-brothers and sisters, but it was also very, it was very loving. And ever, you know, I got that love and support from four parents rather than the normal two. - What were you like in school? - Well, one of the biggest things that happened to me was that I, after primary school, primary school's in this lovely, very raw, raw Cheshire primary school, very, very straightforward, small, warm. And then at the age of 10, they put me in for the, or I was asked if I wanted to go in for the exam for the local independent school a year early. This was probably one of the biggest things that happened in my childhood, because I went and did the exam and I got through and I went to school, so I went to secondary school a year early. Suddenly, I went from being, finding it all pretty straightforward, to really having to struggle to keep up, really having to work hard, and both socially and academically. Suddenly, I was in this, I was in with a group, a big group of people who were all a year ahead of me and combine that with my sort of, my mother's work ethic. She started her own business and worked incredibly hard. And, you know, that had a big impact on me. - In what way? Specifically on the social side, you said socially struggling to keep up. Were you bullied? - A bit, I wouldn't say that was the main thing, but I was, but yeah, people, it was tough, people were tough on me. And I'm also quite sort of, you know, self-confident and exuberant, and that sometimes has robbed people out the wrong way, especially when you're the little guy at school. So I think, you know, that, so that, I'm sure that part of the sort of, the drive that I have comes from the fact that I found myself age 10, suddenly in a very, you know, a tough environment. - And you ultimately must have done pretty well in that secondary school where you were trying to think because you went to Oxford, which is just-- - Yeah, so I went to Oxford a year early, you know? So I was-- - You went to, yeah, because I was-- - Got into secondary school early. - Exactly. - And you studied politics, philosophy and economics, right? Which is a lot of people that go on to become politicians, study that course. That seems to be almost like a bit of a rite of passage to politics in a way, because you've got, you know, people like, is it Ed Miliband, David Cameron, Jeremy Hunt, that of all, study that.
Why did you get into politics and why would you want to? (05:41)
- Yeah, the list goes on, Michael Goon. - Ed Davey. - Right. - It's all. - Yeah, so one of the things that, as being a bit of a pot, like a, I guess there's two questions here. The first is, why did you choose politics? - I thought it was just, I thought it was the most interesting thing to do. I actually got into it through the economics. So I did, I studied the economics at a level 'cause I was really interested in business. And what happened was this, that when I was a teenager in the early 90s, my mum's business nearly went bust. And we had a moment when we had this, our major client themselves were struggling in the recession in the early 90s, and couldn't pay their bills. So it was a classic late payment cash crunch for a small business. We knew that if we didn't get this check, by the end of the week, then the company was going under. Eventually on the Wednesday or the Thursday, the check arrived and the business was saved, and it went on to prosper. But that made me ask this question, you know, how come a perfectly good business, employing a load of people who are working incredibly hard, how can that go bust or be at risk of going bust for something completely outside of their control? And the sort of sense of injustice in that, made me then ask, how does the economy work? And that's what led me to take an interest in economics, which I had a real affinity with, I loved it as an A-levels subject. So that's what led me to PPE. - At that age, say like 18, 19, 20, were you aspiring to become a politician? - No, I was aspiring to become an entrepreneur. So I actually almost did economics and management at Oxford, and then somebody told me it was easier to get into PPE than economics and management. So, and that sounded close enough to what I wanted to do. So that's why I ended up doing it. - It's they're not, 'cause people have said to me, you know, I've had business success and all these things, I've got a platform, people say have suggested, oh, maybe you should go into politics, Steve. And the thing that scares the life out of me is, it's like a lose, lose game. People are gonna fucking hate you, regardless of what you do. So I sometimes wonder, I'm like, who are these people that like want to be politicians? - So, thanks. The, but it's true, right? And my experience as health secretary is like, as you get, you know, some people are, some people love you and some people hate you, right? I was on the tube, and I never know what that, what, how it's gonna be, when they come up with a series. So I was on the tube last night, and some enormous guy in a heavy metal t-shirt, long hair comes up to me, and I'm like, oh, how's this gonna go? And he said, I just want to say thanks. I got my vaccines 'cause of you, and I'll never forget it. I was like, oh, well, that won't, that could've got worse. And so, and so, you know, and obviously not every interaction is, it's cheerful to put it diplomatically. And so in a way, you know, that is part of it. You know that if you're going to make a big decision that affects lots of people's lives, some people are going to like it, and some people aren't. And that isn't what got me into politics. What got me into politics was the observation that that's where the big decisions are made, and quite rightly in a democracy. You know, the big calls in economics to stop other people going through the same experience that I did as an early teenager with my parents' business where it almost went bust for something completely outside of their control. And that, and that's what drove me. And the combination of the interest, and you know, 'cause it's very interesting politics, and the mission got me there. - So one of the things that is also always leveled like political system in our country is that, and you kind of see this from, you know, you studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford, is that a lot of the people that do go on to make those big decisions as you've described, they come from like privilege, right? And even, you know, your parents went through a tough time, but living in Cheshire is, I'd rather live there than on the Moth side, right? It's a privileged place to grow up and to live and going into an independent school. You went to King's-- - King's school chest. - King's school in Cheshire as well, which is a privileged place to come from. So one of the things that I've always contended with and is, you know, and honestly, one of the things that actually quite honestly put me off ever going into politics was this prospect that it's kind of this elitist club where they all come from Oxford. And then the problem you have with that, if that is true, right, is that the decisions that are made for all of us are made from people that have walked a different set of first pathides, right? - Yeah, that, right. - Okay, so I think there's a few bits. Let's part of the Oxford point, because actually, if Oxford and Cambridge and the other top universities get it right, then actually they are great meritocratic levelers, because the thing that Oxford really did for me not only taught me how to read and write, but it also took a provincial boy from Cheshire and put him into exactly the group that you described, right? So I was from a very much a middle-class background, but if those, the top universities get their selection, right, who they choose, and if they get the support, right, so that people from your sort of background feel encouraged and drawn towards them and then support and want to get there, then they can be great levelers. Okay, so, but let's part the sort of Oxford Bridge debate, because that sort of, you know, that debate will go on for as long as those universities are preeminent, I imagine. I think the most important thing in politics is where you're going and what you're trying to achieve. And one of the most important skills that I think is incredibly hard to communicate in politics, but is vital to doing the job well is empathy, right? And you can't walk other people's shoes except through empathy. And the lived experience of a particular background is incredibly important, and I'm a big fan of welcoming people, trying to get people into politics in more sorts of backgrounds. So I'm not disagreeing with your critique. The point is each and every one of us has our own background. The way that you can try to get over the problem that you describe is through empathy, and that's incredibly important. - I can't have empathy for what it's like to be a woman, for example, because I've never been one. - No, that's not true. You can have empathy for it. - So yeah, I can have empathy, but I believe that empathy comes real true empathy for someone else comes from understanding the pain or struggle or situation they're going through. And I can never truly understand the pain or struggle that say, for example, a woman facing discrimination when she's trying to raise money is going through because I have never experienced that. So I can guess what it might feel like. It's like almost like the topic of racism, I think. No one can know, I don't know how a white male politician that's gone to Oxford will know what it's like to be called the N word on the playgrounds when I was 11 and how that made me feel like the feelings of shame and being different that I then went on to feel. So I tend to believe that the way we create a truly empathetic political system is by finding a way to get people in that have come from like low economic housing and different backgrounds and minorities. So when I look at the political landscape and I see that a lot of people have come through a very, like too many people have come through a very privileged background, it makes me think that the decisions that are gonna go on to be made will lack that true understanding of what it's like to grow up in a house that is like damp and moldy and there's rats and stuff. - So there's, I'm grinning 'cause there's two ways to answer this, right? But the thing that's absolutely screaming at me to say to you is that is why you should go into politics. - But I feel like I can't get in because-- - Of course you can get in, you'd be, I'll sign you up now, it depends which party you wanna join. That's, I can only speak for one of them, but go for it. So firstly, that's my actual response. But the other thing is, it is wrong to say that you cannot empathize with others and others' situations. You can't have lived somebody else's life, but you can seek to try to understand where they're coming from. And I certainly do that. And that's part of representing a constituency. I think it's actually really hard to communicate in politics this, the empathy point because it's really easy to generalize. And it comes down to the fact that if you poll people, right, most people think that politicians are useless, but when you name a politician, they tend to think they're their local person, their local MP, they tend to think that they're great, right? So there's a gap between what people think of politicians as a whole and think of individuals who they've interacted with. Yeah, I think I can definitely empathize with pain and suffering and all of those things. I just think in order to create a truly representative political system, it needs to be full of people who have actually gone through those things. Go for it. Join. Get involved. I think the thing that's always put me off is, 'cause when I heard about this, a lot of politicians have come from a certain background, and then you see how promotions and stuff are done, it makes me think that it's a bit of a system where we're promoting our friends and bringing them up and if they've gone to Oxbridge, and I studied with them, I'll promote them when I get there. So it's always felt to me, like running would be very, very, very difficult because I didn't come from that sort of privileged Oxbridge, like typically quite boys club place. That's how it feels, right, for me. I might be wrong. I really think you're wrong. Because I think actually the system in a way, because of this problem, the system actually tries to draw people through faster. Is it doing a good enough job? I mean, look at actually, give him his credit. Look at who Boris Johnson has put in his cabinet, right? And I know that you're immediately thinking of people he was at the same school and university has, but there are an awful lot of people who weren't, right? And I don't want to go through the individual bank story of the guy who arrived aged nine from Kurdistan with his dad with only a pound in his pocket, right? Sajajaved, who grew up in one of the poorest streets in Bristol and made it from there. And by the way, who's from a family of amazing, amazing men, I think he's got four brothers, there's five of them. Rishi Sunak, right, he grew up in his mum's a pharmacist, he grew up in a pharmacy. Right, there are loads of people who have made it from difficult backgrounds. And actually, I'm sad that you have the impression that you do because it's not really my experience of being there. So you make the decision then to move towards politics, you become eventually George Osborne's chief of staff in 2000 and... In 2005? In 2005, yes. And in 2010, you became the MP for mid-suffered. West Suffered. West Suffered, okay. Yeah. And that was your, I guess, your entry into politics. Yeah. Moving forward then, you get promoted a few times and then Theresa May comes in and... Oh, yeah. ..demotes you. Yeah. Yeah. So she demoted you to Minister of State of Digital Culture. Digital in Culture, and God, that was a brilliant job. I mean, so... Why did she demote you? She demoted me because they decided they wanted a clean break. From the camera in Osborne years. She didn't like George Osborne. George Osborne. Well, she fired him pretty brutally. And I was just, you know, head below the parapet enough to get through. And she demoted me. I was attending the cabinet at the time. And she... I remember the meeting. They had told the press that they were going to fire people until 11am and then start hiring people. And I was asked to go and see her at 10.50. So I thought, "Oh, this isn't going to go very well." I walked in and I was... She'd been running about 15 minutes late. So I walk in and there's a clock on the wall, and her house comes off as... And it says 11.05. And I said, "Oh, it's gone 11th, so I guess this is going to be OK." And... Because I thought, "Well, you know, at least make her laugh if she's going to be firing me, you know, and why make it unpleasant." And she said, "Well, that depends how you react." Because... And I... There isn't a space view in my cabinet. But I know you're really interested in digital. And that's one of the big things that's going on in the world. So would you like to be the number two in DCMS and be responsible for digital policy and just keep your head down and sort that out? And I leapt at it. It was absolutely wonderful. This is maybe a bit of my political naivety. But when I was reading through that, you'd been the minister for digital business, enterprise energy, and ultimately health. Yeah.
How can you be the minister for all these different areas? (19:17)
How can one person know anything about any of that stuff? And how can anyone be a master of five, six different things? Yeah, because that's not the job. So it's not the job to be the master. In a way, it's the job to be the people's representative amongst the experts. So your job as the minister is to be able to be the representative of the people who is responsible for the direction of that policy area. And you have endless experts. Your job is not to be an expert, it's to listen to the experts and then decide democratically what direction do we want to go? So take, I mean, an area that I do know, I did have a background in take on the future of the internet. And what was your background in that? Well, only that I can code and I understand a bit of about technology. But the big question was how do you keep children safe online? Right. And how you make, take the internet from a sort of a wild west and social media to a place where people have more protection, you know, that was the most important question in that area at the time. And for that, yes, you need experts, but you also need, you basically need a view of where you want to get to. It's a bit of, you want to, you need to set the mission and the direction. Let's talk about that. It's leadership that's needed. My background is social media. And actually, whenever I see like the social media policies being set, I always, the debate we have in social media and digital is like, who is it that's making these decisions? Because the people we see, when we see, obviously, the spokespeople, as you've described, we know that they don't know it like us. So we think that we pray that the decisions aren't made poorly. So let's take, because that can be the subject we use to describe all of these industries that you've led as minister. So as it relates to say social media, when you're trying to understand what policies to set for children to keep them safe, you're telling me there's this like group of experts behind the scenes who are discussing and feeding information. And then your role to play is in deciding... Yeah, on the trade-offs. The trade-offs, right? Which needs expertise to know what the trade-offs are. Yeah, yeah. And then also, and communicating them. Communicating it to the public, yeah. And understanding what the public is expecting. OK. Sometimes experts can get so close to their subject matter that you've got to be like, yeah, but there's 60 million people over there who aren't experts. And they need the voice in the room as well. Yeah. You're ultimately the person, when you're in charge of digital, that is making these calls. So you speak to the experts, then make the calls. My thing is, on a topic like digital, the harm that can be done, if someone doesn't understand that area of expertise, because ultimately, the minister makes the call, you can destroy an industry, cripple an economy. So I've always thought that the person making the call should be really experienced in that subject matter. And that doesn't seem to be the case because of the design of the political system. Because of democracy, Stephen. It's democracy. And that's good and right, right? Because when you have technocratic government, you just get... Experts are so focused on their area that sometimes they just don't see the big picture. And that's in partial kind of outsider to... Yeah, that's what I tried to be as a minister. And also, so it's about lifting people's eyes to the big social trade-offs. And I mean that in the best sense, that trade-offs within society, how free to be versus how safe to be in the internet. It's an absolute classic of political philosophy, right? And people have been worrying about that question in the offline world for 300 years. And we were bringing that sort of approach into the online world, as opposed to just leaving it as a completely libertarian space. But the job is to synthesise the expert view, but not just follow it. Because the experts can become so focused, but also they can't sometimes provide the leadership, right, to say, "We're going over there." And like, "Yes, of course we're going to take on Facebook over some of the harmful content." Of course we are. We're not just going to lie down and say that they can make the rules up. It's interesting, because when I see the political debates with things like Facebook, a lot of the government officials both here and in the US haven't got a fucking clue what Facebook is. And you can see them asking Mark Zuckerberg the most dumb, naive questions about the platform. And then as an outsider watching that these people that don't understand what they're talking about are ultimately going to be writing the legislation, as someone that works in the industry and could actually tell you what, in my view, having worked in the industry for 10 years, deep in it, that fully understands things like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and data privacy, and really also understands the context of the media pressure, which is sometimes, is agenda-based. And I'm worried that we don't have experts. So getting a rational solution out of that bundle of problems is not easy. Yeah, so what would you... But it is democratic to ensure that somebody who represents people is ultimately making the decision, but if they're any good, they'll listen to the advice that you get. I think my view is that they should represent the people for sure, and I think that spokesmen role in leadership is incredibly important. But I also feel like they should have deep understanding of the nuance and complexity, and it have experience in the thing, which kind of brings me on to you became in charge of health as well, the health minister, which is obviously something not in your wheelhouse. No, so I'm a doctor's asking, why should a non-doctor be responsible for the health service? Now two answers to that. First is, well, it's pretty arrogant of doctors to say it should be a doctor, what about a nurse, right? Because there's more nurses in the NHS than doctors. Park that minor local issue, right? The reason is because I am there as the representative, not just of those who work in the health service, but of the people who use the health service, which is to say all of us. And so I think actually it's better for the health secretary to essentially be somebody who is there on the side of the patients. Of course you listen to the clinical advice, you know, and some of the most amazing brains in the world, right? Like Chris Whitty, Jonathan Bantam. These people are amazing, wonderful communicators, very shrewd advisors. Ultimately, it's right that the person taking the decisions is representing the people through the democratic process we have, and not representing the producers, if you like. That is a better way of structuring it. You believe that? I really do. Yeah. I mean, look, I don't know these issues deeply enough to know the full complexities, and this is maybe even proving my point that I don't understand the nuance of politics. So I can't actually say if that's a better or worse system. One would assert, though, that the best solution might be to have someone who understands the side of the patients because they are one, we're all humans, we all live in this society, so we use it in a chance. That gives me a little bit of empathy as to the system from a patient's perspective, but also someone that understands health and the nuances of that. Maybe that's spent the last 10 or 20 years working within the industry and can understand those layers more than someone who was working in digital five minutes ago can. It's just an observation as a knife outside. Look, it's quite a common. People that don't have experience in a subject might have become the minister for it. Yeah, it's quite a common critique of politics, and different countries deal with it different ways. Some countries, the entire cabinet is made up of people who aren't in parliament. The US cabinet is made up of people who have to by law not to be in the Senate or the House of Representatives, but then you get even more of a divide between the political and the democratic over here and the essentially technocratic over there. Actually, I think that our system is better than the US system because these two things are emerged together because in taking these decisions, you get incredible advice, you get access to all the industry experts that you want to talk to. Ultimately, you're making balanced judgments. The way the UK does it as well is the civil service will never put forward a proposal that they don't think is workable. That's the deal. You do have these long-term experts who have been in the field. They'll say, "The way I tried to do it was I'd say, 'This is where I think we need to get to. How should we best get there?' And then the experts will come up with a plan of how to get there. You might have a view on some of the details of that, but essentially, I saw my job as saying, 'This is the mission and then communicating how we get there and then being advised by the way from A to B.' The thing you lose if you go for your model is you lose the democratic input and that can lead to things going wrong. In 2019, when Theresa May stepped down, you ran to be the next Prime Minister, or at least to lead the party. That would lead you to being the Prime Minister. Why did you want to be the Prime Minister?
You running for Prime Minister (28:50)
Because I thought that there was a need for a complete, fresh start. Did you think you'd win? No. At least you're honest. Yeah. No, but I had fun trying. No, I didn't think I'd win, but I wanted to get some arguments made. I worried that we were the party was talking not enough about how it's enterprise that leads to prosperity. Is it a publicity thing running? I watch the US elections every year. I'm obsessed with it. And the same people run every year. They know they're not going to win, but I think the exposure and publicity you get is incredible. Yeah, of course, that's one of the consequences. I basically had an argument I wanted to make, which was, 'Okay, Brexit, decision has been taken. Let's get that done and get on to building a stronger economy in the future and basically get it done as quickly as we can and move forward.' That was the argument I wanted to make. I managed to make the argument quite loudly because I was running. Well, and then I pulled out. Pulled out, came seven, got behind Boris. Seven out of ten, was it? Did you come seventh out of ten? Was it six or seven? Yeah. And then you got behind Boris. And then I got behind Boris. Because you knew he had won. Yeah, it was obvious that he was going to win. Also, I came to the view that he could sort the problem that we were stuck with at Brexit better than any of the other candidates. And also, I thought, this guy has great capabilities and he needs people around him. I've had so many people tag me on Instagram, even on Telegram and in my Twitter DMs in a picture of them starting their heel journey. And it's one of the most amazing things in my life that I get to do a podcast, which of course needs money to fuel. And I have a sponsor like heel who I genuinely believe is going to help every single person who starts their heel journey change their life. Because this podcast, the central intention of this podcast is to help people live better lives. And we get to sit here and I get to promote to you a product which has not only helped me change my life, but is going to help millions of people. And is helping millions of people live a nutritionally complete life. It's so it's such an incredible product. And for me, the reason why it's incredible is because it gives me my protein. It gives me my vitamins, minerals. It's plant based. It's low in sugar, gluten free. It does all of that in a small drink that tastes good. There are other products. There's foods, there's the hot and savory collection, many other things. But for me, this ready to drink is the absolute saviour of my diet throughout the week where I'm moving at such pace. Look, I don't want to labor the point. But if you haven't tried, he'll give it a try. And if you do, tag me, Instagram, wherever you try it, give me a tag. Anyway, back to the podcast. We move forward to COVID, which was, you know, you get appointed as being the health minister when a pandemic rolls in.
When covid hit (32:01)
I know. I remember seeing the Chinese publication on the 1st of January. So it was New Year's Day. And I saw this thing on the inside pages of one of the newspapers to say the Chinese have just announced that there's a new disease. And we didn't know it was a coronavirus, much of it a flu. I never knew whether it was serious or not. But I remember thinking, well, maybe this is it. But I didn't really think it was until a couple of weeks later. When was that? Because I was reading through all of the minutes from your Sage meetings to try and understand the phases of... Because listen, I run business, right? And we have crises and chaos and all those things. There's various stages you go through of trying to understand exactly what this is and then how impactful it's going to be and then what we should be doing. I kind of ran through all of that. So when in your view, did you start to realize that this wasn't just a cold? Yeah, end of January. So the Chinese published the sequence of the genome of the virus. So we then knew it was a coronavirus. That was bad news, right? Because we had a stockpile of flu vaccine for this sort of emergency, if it had been a flu. And the fact that it was a coronavirus and spreading this rapidly in China was bad news. And then at that point, I remember Chris Witte saying to me, it's 50/50. Something this contagious, either they can hold it in China or if it gets out of China, it's going to go global. So by the end of January, we were on to developing the vaccine, for instance, and trying to get the testing system up and running. And then we had this surreal month during February when nobody else was sort of thinking that this was a big thing. And we still thought it was 50/50, but 50% chance of a global pandemic is very, very bad. And we were, I remember standing next to the speakers chair in the House of Commons for a PMQs watching every single question was about something else. And nobody asked a question about what became known as COVID. And I remember thinking at the end of the session, the end of half hour, every single question that has been asked is totally irrelevant, because it's all about other things. And we've got this warm fact in China, and it is totally dominant. Why weren't you raising the bell? Oh, I was. I was giving statements to Parliament and what have you. And we were preparing inside government for what needed to happen. So at the end of January, JVT came and said, I said, how long will it take to get a vaccine? He said, well, normally it would take five years, but we think we can do it in a year to 18 months. He's in January. Yeah, if everything goes well. And I said, your mission is to have a vaccine by Christmas. And he and the team that we built pulled it off. So we were getting things moving. And then it was when we saw the pictures from Italy. Do you remember the, you know, that was the moment that I knew it was global. And that was what month? That was the end of February. February, yeah. It was the end of February half term. Because everything was calm at this point. We were watching it happen overseas. I mean, like, I remember the China scenes. Yeah. Everyone was kind of calm about it. Old China having a problem. That's kind of how it felt. And then the Italy moment was terrifying. Yeah, that was the moment when it was obvious it was coming. Right. And I remember having a call that my German opposite number, who I got, became very close to. He'd found me up. He said, have you seen this picture out of Italy? I was like, yeah, he was like, this is it. And it's like, yeah, this is it. So that was the end of, yeah, that was the end of February. But still in March, there was a lot of confusion in those age minutes about what to do. Yeah. About what was going to happen. Yeah. Could we stop here? Yeah. You know, complete lack of data. That's the, that was the problem. Total positive data. We had a, we didn't have a testing regime. We had to build that from scratch. And so you didn't know how many people had it. We didn't know the characteristics of the disease. We didn't know what the, we didn't know what, you know, what the symptoms were largely, because the symptoms of COVID are so varied that they didn't have a full symptom list. One of the things that we didn't know for ages, which we now take for granted knowing, is how many people have had it and have got the antibodies. There was a big debate after the first peak of some people saying they're optimists, like me, but it turns out far, far too optimistic, right? Saying, oh, yeah, three quarters of people must have had it by now. So basically we're fine. And we're through it. And then, so I got a survey done taking people's blood and got the, got a representative sample. It took ages to get this thing up and running. And we eventually got the data through that said that something like in London, 15% of people had had it, and outside London, it was under five. It's like, Christ, that means almost nobody's had it. And still, we've had all these deaths. And that means, you know, that was the moment we knew we had a major problem, because there was no way through this other than the vaccine. And sage at this point, and the meetings that you're having there, there's kind of this resignation that is going to just work through the population. But the, but the issue is the objective is now just to try and stop it smashing the NHS, basically. Yeah. So what happened was, you know, we saw those predictions of the, the reasonable worst case scenario. But the big problem was we were going up the reasonable worst case scenario quickly. You know, and I remember, I remember, of course, I remember the day that the first person in the UK died of COVID. But, but I remember the day that oddly, something like the 32nd person died. And it's a funny, say that number, but it's a, there's a reason for it. I was sitting on the side of my bath at home. And I got the news that we'd had 30, 32 deaths. And suddenly, there was a, this isn't, you know, one person from whom we've got a protocol of how you manage that. Terrible as that is. This is like big numbers. And it was a big jump in the number. And I knew that that number was going to get bigger. And the worst period, the most sort of frightening period of the whole thing was after we'd done the lockdown, we'd pulled every lever we could. So I remember sitting in the cabinet room and saying, we're going to have to tell people to stop all unavoidable social contact. And you probably remember, you know, that being said. And the really frightening time was after we'd done all those things, brought in the lockdown, we'd done everything. Right. And if this disease had carried on going up, there was, there was absolutely nothing more we could do. We'd shut the schools, we'd shut hospitals, you know, we'd pulled, you know, we'd set out at the start of March, a set of options of levers that we could pull to try to stop this thing. And by the middle of March, we'd pulled every lever. And it was a, and so the next two weeks as the numbers carried on going up, they carried on going up for about 10 days because of the incubation period, that was, that was, that was really scary. And then, and then, and then they started to turn. And then we knew we could get this thing under the court. The criticism leveled at the UK is that we were the last like major Western country to pull those levers you've described in mid-March. And when you look through the minutes, there is just like several weeks of like confusion and indecision. And obviously in those weeks, as you've described there, what you didn't, from what I've seen in the minutes and subsequent interviews, is what you didn't know was the speed of transmission that was going on. And obviously, because of that 14 day death delay. Yeah. So, so it's funny that, you know, it's funny that the previous conversation we had was about how you should have the experts making the decisions. Yeah. The truth is, we didn't have the, the experts didn't have the data either. So these were difficult calls. Actually, in terms of where we were on the curve, we pulled the levers ahead of other countries, because we were a bit behind Italy and Spain. But the, yeah, the... So Spain and Spain, France and Italy went to lockdown on the 9th of March. Yeah. But we reckon that we were several weeks behind them in terms of the progress of the virus that it as in it had come to those countries first, then from them to us. But either way, the big picture, we were much closer than to them than we were being, than the best estimate, right? By these, by the best people who were in sage, the scientists. And, you know, what it felt like was, this is an enormous call. So, the costs of action are huge. The costs of inaction are also huge. So, you know, we knew when we were sitting around the cabinet table, making these decisions, that the, the, the balance between these two was an enormous, enormous unknown. So, in a, with an unprecedented virus, with very little data, we were essentially, you know, doing these things that were so, we knew we were very, were going to be very damaging. If you think about the story about, I, I told earlier about coming in, I, I came into politics, partly because I had this searing formulative experience of something completely outside of our control, nearly knocking out the livelihood of my family, right? And here I am participating in decisions that we're going to have a more devastating impact on, on businesses and, and, and people who rely on social contact in order to, to survive and thrive. So, we were hugely aware of the, of the pain that would come from the decisions, as well as the pain that would come from, from delay. And the other thing that we didn't know was how the public would react, right? And this is, there, there's an optimistic story, which is the public were amazing, you know, and, and the advice that we were getting was, we're not sure whether the public will, will, will put up with lockdown for very long. And so, you've got a time, the period of lockdown. Actually, the public were amazing, once you explained that, you know, there's a serious problem, we're all going to have to do something, it's going to be uncomfortable, but we'll get through it together and the public were amazing. Obviously, with Italy, Spain and France locking down first, there was also a bit of a case study as to how publics will react, if presented in a certain way, to the lockdowns there, because we were later in locking down people, if you look at the numbers, they say that there's about 20, if we'd locked down a week earlier, 21,000 people would still be alive from that first wave. When you hear that, how does that, how does that sound and feel? And also, around that time Boris Johnson goes and does that interview and references, one of the options being taking it on the chin. And then in hindsight, how does that all feel for you personally, that thought that one week earlier, we could have saved 21,000 lives? Yeah, it's, obviously it's something that I'll always think about. You know, if I search for what I really believe about that, and the honest truth is, that we didn't know. And of course, you know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. And it was about, it was judgments based on these, you know, the balance of these two scales. And I think that whenever you go through a period of history, ultimately it's about learning from it. You know, you've got to make sure that if this, if a pandemic disease happens again, will be far better prepared. And I think that the, I think the Far East was far better prepared because they'd been through MERS and SARS. And honestly, that how feel is like, I really wish we'd known then what we knew now. Well, if you, in hindsight then, because we're playing games of hindsight now, which are, as they say, it's 2020, but what are, when you look back honestly, at the decisions that were made and how you got the data and the way that the meetings were handled with Sage and all of these and ultimately what led to these decisions, what in hindsight, which is a wonderful thing that we can only deploy in the past, in hindsight, what do you think were the mistakes, all the areas where we could have done better in the decision making, how we got the information and all those things. What were those mistakes in hindsight? Well, you know, we made, there were some mistakes that we made in terms of the measures, how they were brought in. As in, not hard enough or just, you know, just details about the things that really, really matter to people. I'll give you one example, funerals. We brought in rules saying that six people could go to a funeral, I think it was, very, very restricted. But for some people, especially people who were shielding, the rules were interpreted as, in some cases, even the spouse shouldn't go to the funeral if they were shielding. Now, that was terrible. I remember watching that, the film of a young boy who died, who was buried by people in hazmat suits without his parents there. And, you know, that was just awful. And, you know, you listen to that, right? And we changed the rules and made it, made it clear. So, you know, that was, that was all the time. I'd say, you know, all the time we were on the lookout for, okay, what do we need to be doing differently? Because it was unprecedented. And there was a, and, you know, in hindsight, some of it looks like these were sort of hard and fast and obvious decisions. They weren't obvious decisions at all. And we were constantly sort of questioning ourselves in terms of, in terms of whether we got the judgment right. What was your life like in that time? Oh, yeah. Well, I, so my alarm went off at six o'clock every morning.
What was your life like at that time? (47:14)
And I, you know, I basically had about half an hour with kids in the morning. And then, I'd get picked up at 7 30, maybe 7 o'clock. And, and then, and then work, just unbelievable until about about midnight. And I, you know, what my, my permanent secretary, Chris Wernwald at the start said, this is not going to be over in a, in a couple of weeks, right? You've got to get, we've all got to get ourselves into a position where we can just keep going. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And, and there was a, a weekend basically meant that we didn't start work till about nine. And so that was the, you know, that was the, the time officer to speak. And that, it was like that for three or four months during that period. What about your mental health position? Because I, yeah, you know, because that feeling that going home every day without feeling that my decisions could sway as we saw negatively, in this case, you know, 21 million, 21,000 lives, better for us. And ultimately, you know, 160,000 people died. You're going home with that every day. Yeah. With that thought that you'll just sit this decisions you're making now as health secretary. Yeah. A life and death. Yeah. How do you relax? Yeah. I think that's really, I, relaxation, I got to do through exercise. But the, in the health department, the sense was a total sense of mission. Um, and I've never been in the military, but some people say this is what it's like when you're on a military operation as well. Um, as in there was a focus over how to optimize how we could make decisions, you know, of course there were sleepless nights, but really we thought, you know, when we had some, you know, Chris Wity himself is a brilliant advisor on how to keep yourself, you know, personally in the, um, in the zone. So the, the sense of mission that we were trying to solve something that was incredibly difficult as best as we could, um, was very, very strong in that period. Did you have anxiety? It depends what you mean by anxiety. Of course. I was anxious about every, you know, all these big decisions. About that awful sense of nervousness that, you know, can be crippling at times. You know that? Yeah, but it was yes up to the, but not about, I, you know, I didn't, I didn't find it. I didn't find it crippling. I found it motivating. Do you know when I say anxiety? Do you know what I mean? I mean, there's the, the kind of phrase of describing something as being an anxious situation, but then actually suffering with anxiety. Yeah. Not, not in a medical, I didn't feel that in a medical sense. I basically felt like I got up in the morning and I did my level best and then I went to sleep and then I woke up and repeated the exercise. And that, for me, that was the only way to get through it without sort of collapsing a hoop. If you'd known that a pandemic would roll in, would you have avoided that health secretary job? Be honest with me. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. That's a great question.
If you’d known a pandemic would roll in would you have taken the health secretary job? (50:22)
Someone's got to do it. Would you have, if you knew that that situation was coming through? If I knew the situation was coming, there was about a hundred things I'd immediately have done, right? We would have, I mean, would you have put yourself in that role? If you'd knew that, if I said now there's a pandemic coming next week, you want to do a job of being health secretary? That's such a what if question. But I would answer it. The honest truth is yes. You would take it. Yeah. Okay. Because someone's going to make the decisions. Okay. So one of the one of the- Do you know what the overriding sense is? That I'm trying to articulate and optically well is a sense of duty, right? When the really bad stuff happens and you're in the job, you got to stand up and be counted. One of the decisions that was made was and ultimately criticizes this whole care home stuff.
The care home mistake (51:24)
What's your view on that before we get? Yeah. So, okay. This is a really good example of of learning from what you're seeing on the ground. So the criticism runs that the NHS made a decision to get people out of hospitals because we needed hospital space and send them into care homes and that took Covid with them and a lot of people died. That criticism is wrong. But there's a different criticism which is more accurate. The reason that's wrong is two-fold. There's been a piece of work that's a piece of analysis that's done that showed that approximately 2% of the infections that got into care homes were from that route. And the reason for that is that when those people went into the care homes, they were- they- they're isolated in the care homes. Because they weren't tested, because the test didn't exist. Now, I wish to- God that the tests had existed and we- you know, that was a big part of my life trying to build this testing system. But they didn't exist. And most of those people who left hospital actually went home, not into- not into care homes. The truth is that the peak in the care homes came about a month later. So the facts don't even stack up this narrative. But there's been- you know, there's a few false narratives that have got going about the pandemic and that's one of them. The truth is- and we couldn't say it- we didn't want to say it at the time because we didn't want to demotivate people. But the truth is that the main route of the virus getting into care homes sadly was from staff, because staff live in the community, and this disease was rife in the community. But I didn't want to stand at that podium and give the impression I was blaming the staff. The thing that we then did was we changed the rules so you could not let work in more than one care home. And in the second wave, the number of deaths in care homes was far, far lower than we had the testing. So actually, the- what we needed to have done was do the- do the staff movement policy much earlier. And we hadn't spotted that that was the route. And so, you know, there's an inquiry that will come and go through all these things. And I'm actually looking forward to it, because there's a whole series of points where we've got to make sure we learn the right lesson. And then there's a couple of other things that are upper there that just aren't true and need to be like this whole- yeah, we talked about criticism as a politician, right? One of the things I've been criticized for is for giving a contract to the local pub landlord, right? I don't know whether you read that story. Yeah, I've heard all of that stuff. Yeah. It's just not true. We'll talk about that. I want to just- because the point on the care home- yeah, okay. It's good. So you've answered one of my points there, which was about that whole rumor that people were being released from the NHS into care homes, and that was causing issues. The thing that I saw from the Sage Minutes was that on roughly the 10th of March, which was fairly early in all of this, Sage did say that there should be special policy consideration given to care homes and various types of retirement communities. Presumably you had the data at that point that said elderly people were being disproportionately affected by. So around the 10th of March, there probably should have been an action taken. And then in the Sage Minutes, you don't really seek care homes or retirement communities mentioned again until a month later, when there's been serious death in care homes. I think people going into care homes were 10 times more likely to die than if they'd just gone gone home because of the more than 10 times more likely to die. I think at the peak of the pandemic, the first wave that there were 17 times more likely to die in a care home than it had they just gone home to live with in a private home. Yeah, but that's because there's lots of reasons for that. You've got to unpack it. So firstly, it is the most vulnerable people who live in care homes. So their vulnerability to the disease is much greater. Secondly, the nature of care homes is obviously that the disease can spread more easily. And every European country had this problem. But the broader point about the Sage Minutes around that time, action was taken. But we didn't get to the policy that I think had the best impact, which was the stopping people from working in more than more than care home for several months afterwards. Yes. And if we'd known that that was going to be the thing that would say, stop it as much as it did. Obviously, we would have done that. We would have done that earlier. But again, it comes down to not knowing. Yeah. And I guess this is a point of judgment. hindsight has revealed that that was a mistake. Some countries got it right. New York didn't get it right either. I mean, other countries did get that. You know, and the other thing we were worried about. So we were worried about a different problem that didn't happen. And sometimes this, you know, it's important to think about at the time the things we were worrying about. So in Spain, a whole care home full of elderly people had died because the staff had all gone home. So we were also worried about making sure that the care homes remained staffed because people in care homes die if the staff aren't there. So thankfully that never happened. But we were worried about the we were worried about the opposite problem at the same time. And, you know, thankfully we avoided one. But the other one came to pass. Do you look back on that decision in particular? Because that's one of the big criticisms that a lot of people level out the handling of the process. Do you look back at that as a another mistake in hindsight? Because you, as you say, you were trying to make the best decision on balance, right? I know, I know for sure. And I would you've done differently. Right. Yeah. What? So on this foresight hindsight thing, I know for sure that I did my best. And I know that the team around me worked with the right motives to get through as best we could. The importance of learning how best to handle this situation, for God forbid, if it happens again, is absolutely vital. But I worry as much about learning the wrong lessons as learning the right lessons. So that's why it's important that we have this sort of discussion about the care homes in particular, to make sure that just because something is in the narrative, it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Without doubt, if I'd known then what I know now, we would have brought in the staff movement rule much earlier. In fact, do you know what? You should probably have it in normal times as well, because lots of people die each year in a fluent care homes. And, you know, so the and the processes of how flu gets into a care home are probably the same as COVID, because it's just another communicable disease. When people like mark the success of our handling of the pandemic, one of the ways that they choose to do it is to compare it to other countries.
Isn’t our high number of deaths an indicator that wrong decisions were made? (58:28)
And in that first wave in particular, our deaths were just so much higher than the comparable countries. So is that not an indicator that we messed up or that we got it or that our judgment calls turned out to be the wrong ones? A combination of a combination of things, right? Combination of things like the timing of the decisions to lock down. The obesity of our nation compared to others is one another factor. One of the factors that the experts think is a cause is that lots of people travel from all over the UK to Spain and Italy during that half term. And so it was brought back and seeded across the whole country. Whereas some other countries like France had it very badly in a couple of cities, but didn't have the spread in the way we did. So there's some things that are essentially, you know, just facts of life that were outside anybody's control. Obviously, that's not what you're getting at. And it's not the stuff that really affects how I think about it, because it's the active decisions that we also need to, you know, we need to go through and learn from. So that's what I'm saying is, is the large number of deaths that we had versus other countries, a indicator that we made poor decisions in that first wave. Well, now you see, Steven, you're getting into Gotcha question. No, genuinely, because because we're going to go into the good stuff, right? We're going to go into the fact that we're out of lockdown for everybody else. So that but the way the reason I reacted that way is that it is self-evident and obvious that you've got to improve decisions and learn from them. And the best and the best proof point of this, and the best sort of it's obvious from anybody who's running any organization is you constantly got to be asking, was that the best decision? And part of leadership is to allow your team to essentially learn from and change their decisions, not stay stuck with them, just because that's the decision that we took. And in the second and subsequent waves, we have done relatively better internationally. So how I feel about all that is I feel sad that the performance in the first half, if you like, was not as good as it could have been. Okay, that answers the question. And then I feel, and I but I feel pleased that we learned quite a few things. And in a way, you know, we did better second time round. But the thing I felt at the time, and this is true in any organization I've been in, is that if you want people to perform at their best, they have to know that if they screw up, they're not going to get shouted at. The question is not who did that, it's how do we fix it? Yeah. And that was a that attitude was a big part of how things, you know, we managed to get better. You know, testing is another example, right? Testing first, it was, you know, it was far, we didn't have any, we built it as fast as we could, that needed to go much faster. By this Christmas, the Americans were saying, why can't we have a testing system like, like the UK? You know, and my view is that Dido Harding did an amazing job. But every time we had a screw up, the question that we asked was, how do we fix it? Not who's fault is it? Did you actually think that was a got your question? Because you do think you think I'm the type of person that would sit in? I don't think you are, which is why I called you out on it. No, no, yeah, because it's every question I ask is honestly, honestly genuine. Yeah. Because I and then you're right, there's so many things that we did better than all of these other nations. And I'll be honest, I'm so here really lucky that we're able to do this in person, right? Because of the decisions that the UK took. So no, what I meant by Gotcher is that, you know, the question of, will you get the guy to say he that there was ex screw up is a classic of the today program. I based on my, and actually frankly, makes some of the decision making harder for no, I understand what you're saying. My question was that, is there was the increase in death at the start? Is that evidence as people claim that we made in hindsight, because that's all we have now, in hindsight, the decisions are wrong. And also, there's this other exacerbating factor, which was, I mean, the World Health Organization at the time, and even I tweeted it said that there wasn't, we couldn't wait for a vaccine. They said that we that's what they said, they said we couldn't wait for a vaccine because sometimes vaccines, I mean, there's not a vaccine for SARS still. Sometimes they take five or two. So you, so you, you thought there was always going to be a vaccine. Yeah. And sometimes, yeah, in number 10, he was basically the only other person who agreed with me. Why did he say the take it on the chin thing? Because I use that. And he was, I remember that he was, he was actually trying to argue against that. He was saying, he was saying that comes down to how difficult it is to communicate in uncertainty. He was saying, some people are saying we ought to take it on the chin. I don't agree with that. I think we need to act. But so one of the reasons it's hard to communicate in politics, and one of the reasons it's hard to communicate empathetically, is that you have to both have the actual conversation, but also every single word you say, can be twisted, will be taken and analyzed for better or for worse. And I don't hold this against the media particularly, but they will look at those words both within the context and out of context. And so, you know, this is true of this interview, but I knew that coming into it and have decided just to try to answer the questions. But that is part of communication. So the, the, you know, Boris saying that some people say we should just, what I can't remember the exact words. Take it on, take it on the chin. Right. But I don't think that's the way we should do it. Instead, we should do it that way. It was written up as Boris Floot's idea of taking it on chin. Well, he did float the idea, but he then immediately rejected it for a different proposition. I did read this age minutes. And to, to his and your credit, you don't mention herd immunity as a, as the strategy to take forward in those minutes. Correct. From what I saw. So, although that was a widespread narrative, it's not actually what was going on in the meeting. Well, the truth there is that some people were pushing the herd immunity idea. Right. And then the K, it came, it came, it bubbled up and came to a head. Yeah. And I had, I went out and killed it. So how did you say how did you say no, we are not doing that. So you, you knew that a vaccine was going to be I had at first, it was faith. Right. At first, it was faith. And it gradually became more and more real. And I just, I, I knew that we'd got a vaccine for Ebola. Right. And the, the Oxford vaccine actually comes from the work several years before to get an Ebola vaccine. And I had, I just had this belief. And maybe it's because I'm an optimist. Once the data came out in about May that showed that only, you know, this tiny proportions the public had, had antibodies and had had exposure. And therefore it was obvious and categorically impossible to get to the levels of antibodies you need across society without a huge amount of suffering and death. I, the people who've been promoting herd immunity were now evidently and scientifically wrong. It wasn't just, it was a bad idea. It was provably a bad idea. Once we got to that point, there was only one way out. And that was a vaccine. And, you know, I believe in the power of human ingenuity. And I believed in the team in Oxford. And I also thought that when the whole world is searching for something, then, then somebody was going to get it right. And so we brought in people to go and buy from around the world, like, like Kate Bingham. And we took this attitude, which was, sure, we backed the British one. But we absolutely, we're going shopping as well, right? And money is no object. And that's what we did and thank God we did it. Was there a tipping point where, because in the sage minutes, there's this, there's a misunderstanding that this is going to go through the population. And really the, the central objective has to be to protect the NHS. And then was there a tipping point where you realized the vaccine was going to come and it was going to come quickly? Yeah. So the strategy then has to go to like the vaccines on its way. So now it's about actually limiting death as well. So it was once we found out then that only a small proportion of the population had had it. It was obvious from then on that the only way out was through a vaccine. And therefore, the policy became to suppress the virus until a vaccine makes us safe. And I then repeated that all the way through the summer, the autumn, and the autumn, I was arguing for, you know, to keep this thing under control because the vaccine is around the corner. And people were briefing against me that, no, you know, Hancock's the only one who believes in the vaccine. And it's a running joke that there's only one person who thinks the vaccine's going to happen. And, and, and partly to try to stop some of the complications that had happened in testing, I report, I just spoke directly to the Prime Minister on this one and didn't go through his then advisors in number 10. And, and, and it, and it came good. We have a brand new sponsor for the podcast. 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And you can control it using the My Energy app on your phone to find out more about this product and more products like here that will help you make that sustainable transition. Head over to my energy.com and I highly recommend you check out the Eddy. It's a real game changer for a product and one that I'm going to be installing in my home soon. You talked about some of the procurement room. One of them, particularly, you wanted to mention about a pub, a friend that runs it is a publishing or something. Yeah. So this is an example of how you need to go through these things properly and how narratives can spin out of control.
The first vaccine - showing your emotions (01:09:55)
And this is true on social media, which you're a great expert in, but it's also true in the mainstream media. So for some reason that is lost in the mists of time, some of the papers got the idea that the landlord in the village that I had previously lived in in Suffolk, who had then gone on to run this factory, had got a contract that I had given him. And we know it was on the front page of the Guardian for several days. And it's just all, it's not true. He didn't have a contract with the department. He didn't have a contract with the NHS. Yes, he flipped his factory to making those little plastic tubes, you know, the ones that you test thing into. But we needed millions of these things. And somebody had to. I didn't have anything to do with the contracting arrangements because he was a subcontractor to another business. So there's no way that we, I mean, it's just a total nonsense. So in a stressed period, like a pandemic, a lot of conspiracy theories got going, this was one of them, there's been loads on vaccines from the anti-vaxxers. And dealing, so you've got to deal with that misinformation at the same time as trying to make the best decisions as you can. And that is one of the hardest things to wrestle with in terms of how we communicate. The rumor around that time was that he'd sent you a WhatsApp message and you'd like forwarded him on to someone and that led to him getting a deal. Yeah. So he, I mean, these WhatsApps have been published under FOI. There was something about something incredibly banal. It was about standardizing the size of these tubes across different suppliers so that they could be made more efficiently. I mean, like a really in the weeds bit of policy. Right. And I just ping this on to the people. I mean, it was, it was, it was at a level of detail about eight below where I was operating. There was in 2000, May 2021, there was some minor inadvertent breach because you held shares in a firm that had got a contract. No. No. So that's not true either. There you go. I mean, this is, I was, I was given some shares in my sister's company, right? And they had a contract, an existing contract with the Welsh NHS. And I wasn't responsible for the Welsh NHS. So it's another example. How are you familiar with that rumor? Yeah, of course. Of course. Yeah. I mean, I have to, I have to deal with these rumors all the time. And sometimes people stand up in parliament and say, you just have to hit it on the head every time it comes up. It's just not true. But there's an underlying problem, which is that, you know, the people working to save lives in this period were working incredibly hard to just deliver that as best as they could. And all the people who now try to sort of say, oh, no, no, you were trying to contract for vision. It's just all total rubbish. I mean, you can't, there is no other description of it. On the eighth, I think it was the eighth of December. It was. Yeah. Where that first vaccine was administered in UN TV and got very, you cried. I did. Yeah. Yeah. Talk to me about that day and those feelings and what's going on to your mind. Well, that was, it was incredibly emotional. It was because, because we'd put everything into this. And the very first vaccine down the tracks, so to speak, had worked. Right. We bought six vaccines, including the Oxford one. Actually, one of them only got approved about two weeks ago. And imagine if, you know, imagine if that had been the case for all six. So the fact that the very first one sailed through and has worked brilliantly. And then the Oxford one, like the home, the home vaccine, that also has gone brilliantly, although, you know, there was a load of noise in the politics of it and the Europeans getting shirtty. But on a clinical basis has been amazing. And so on the eighth of December, the first person receives it. And this is the way out of this terrible situation that we're all in. And all these people have died. And I knew that science was going to save us. But that wasn't the worst, you know, that was then the problem was at the same time, you know, we were having the second wave getting really big. So it was a really mixed period, because we had the, the, the joy that the vaccine was working. But at the same time, you know, cases growing. And I was on, I was on a good morning Britain. And I hadn't seen the image, you know, the video of Margaret Keenan getting, I'm sure you're thinking of it now, right? We can all remember it. And I had, but I hadn't seen that image. And they showed the image. And I completely lost it. And I was, I was in floods of tears and totally lost control of my, of my, of my body and my voice. And then I tried to pull it together. And they said in my year, you know, we're coming back to him five. And, and I tried to pull it together. And I just about got it together and then started talking to, I think it was Piers Morgan again. And on Twitter, they were like, this guy's making up. He's not authentic. He was just trying to cry. And the honest truth was, if they'd come back to me like five seconds earlier, I would have been in a complete mess. And I was trying to hold myself together. And maybe, maybe as politicians, we do that too often. I was, maybe I should have just been more relaxed about it. Because I got a load of abuse for looking inauthentic, because I was trying to sort of be professional and, and, and, and not cry. Well, for me, that was actually the first time that I thought you, you did have empathy. Right. I know that, right? Because, because I've said on this podcast, which you've listened to, I said that I thought you were an emotionless robot. And I genuinely, right? Genuinely, I just be honest, like, genuinely, genuinely, I, I've, I think Jacinda in New Zealand has felt much more, I don't know, like human and emotional. And I think that gives, gives me as a muggle, as a normal person. Yeah. A sense that they understand me. So when I see politicians being a bit straight faced and tough, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, he was really good at that. Braco Balmer, he would cry after Sandy Hook and these kids shootings. He would just cry, he would stand there for the nation and he would cry. And it made me realize that he felt the same way that I did. Whereas I, the reason I said you were, I thought you were in a motionless robot. And I know you heard it was because I'd never seen that. And part of the reason, I'll be honest, and I've got to be fair, part of the reason I'd never seen that is because you'll put in situations where they are trying to always just get you like five, 10 minutes. Well, that's, that's part of the defensive. Yeah. So one of the things that I've learned shadow of a doubt is that you've just, you've got to, you've just got to let that show. And I far, you know, as a, I find that, I find it hard. And you just got to let that emotion show more. And, and, and just, just try to be, just try to say it as you feel it. The podium doesn't help. Right. The very formal communication method, you know, to union Jack, so background. So the podium doesn't always help to, because it puts that a barrier in place. But then you mentioned Barack Obama and, you know, he stood up. The podium wasn't a problem for him, but he is extraordinary communicator. Right. He is extraordinary. You said you find it hard to show that emotion. Yeah, because the natural instinct when you're under, especially when you're under pressure in questioning is to sort of go, go alpha male. It isn't always the best answer. I think that is a problem with politics. I think that, um, I think that the political leaders, that probably will end up doing really well. And I don't, honestly, I don't see this on either side of the aisle. But, you know, because, because I'm relaxed now on the way that we're talking, there'll probably be something on mail online tomorrow. You know, handcuffs in such and such a screw up, right? Because that's how, I don't know what it is. I've been talking for so long, but there is, there will be, that is how the media reacts. And so you, and so once you, once you, once you're kind of experienced in seeing that reaction, right, you also then it tempers how you talk. So actually coming in, one of the reasons I wanted to come in and talk to you, was because I want to just talk freely. And I don't care if that is on, you know, item 10 of the mail online tomorrow. I'm just trying to answer the questions as best I can. And I, I genuinely think that is a better way of, of, of communicating in politics. And it's definitely something that I've learned. Yeah. And it's something that I've just seemed to be so absent on both sides of the aisle is, um, a real sincere feeling of like empathy. And I think that makes politicians feel like they're not us. Yeah, more distant. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, and there, there ends up being a language of politics. Yeah. And some people thinking that they don't understand the code of, you know, it's as if it's a, a code. And you know, there is a, um, and it's just, it's not helpful because it puts a barrier up. I worked really hard at trying to do that. That's why I was so upset when I heard you said somebody I really respect saying that I'm an emotional wreck or whatever, not emotional, but the opposite. Emotional robot. Thanks. No, you keep saying it. For me, for me, it's, it's important to say because it's what I said and what I felt and, and be it's actually not just you. It's generally like the politics as, as a whole. I'm like, what I see in normal people is real empathy and do not do not. The other thing is, it's language. Yeah. When you, when you, when you do those interviews on Good Morning Britain or whatever, yeah, the language is not human language. It's very political and very controlled. I think PR training is honestly a person of politics. I worked so hard not to do that. But it's, it's that political training. But it is, but it's, but it's in particular in response to the aggressive questions. Yeah. So you, you have not asked any aggressive questions. You've asked insightful questions instead. But when you're on, you know, when you get type question, you give the type answer. Yeah. And that, and I think that's the issue is, how do we get to a state where politicians go to know what I was a bit of a mistaken I know. Hands up to wonderful thing. You know, I'd say, I'll tell you a story. The first time I did any questions when I was new in Parliament, I, you go for a meal before you do any questions. And Nigel Farage was on as well. And he had two pints. And I, and I said to him, like, yeah, two pints before going on. And he said, yes, otherwise I can't talk freely. And I sat next to him and he managed to get every single question to answer, to an answer about why awful, why Europe was awful. And, but he just absolutely, you know, he had a couple of pints and he sounded like he'd had a couple of pints. Now, I don't, you know, whatever you think of his politics, his ability to communicate in a relaxed way. Now, remember thinking every time I then saw him, that was years before the referendum. Every time I saw like he was a stupid drinking. I mean, maybe that maybe that's one way to, but I think that the people that are really going to resonate with the public are going to be the normal people that break through without political PR training. Yeah. I think they'll resonate way more with people. I think Obama was, he felt like one of them to me. I know people, some people hate him and there's lots of things with drones and whatever, but he felt like someone in the way he spoke that I could relate to because I felt the sincere emotion. I don't really get that from Boris. I don't necessarily feel like Boris has that same, and then we go back to the question. I disagree with that. I think that one of the reasons that Boris relates to people and people relate to him is because he doesn't speak in, as you call it, political speak. One of the reasons he is such an effective communicator, whether you agree with him or not, is that he doesn't play by those rules. I understand what you're saying. He didn't entirely feel like a politician. Because come back to this question about when we were talking about at the start about people's backgrounds. Boris has a background as different from the voters of Hartley-Paul as it's possible to get, but he can reach people. I think that's actually, I think he's a good, I put him in the Barack Obama category, actually. For people of different politics, I would. Because he's one of the few people who really will withstand the criticism of the next day's press in order to try to actually say how he feels. He's a very, very emotionally engaged person. Let's talk about some of the stuff that you haven't really been able to speak about at length, which was in September 2020, there was laws established, well, not laws, but there was guidance given to stop us engaging within having casual sex with people outside of our household, etc., etc., right? Do you think you can ask the question in a little bit more, a little bit more.
The CCTV footage (01:23:30)
Well, let me, so in September 2020, you said, this is what you said, established couples shouldn't be having sex, there should be boundaries. You warned against casual sex, advising the public to stick to well-established relationships and joking. I know I'm in an established relationship. He told us to remember the basics of hands, face, face, and throughout that period, hugging was not, I remember you saying that you were looking for, "Tugging your mum in 17th of May," and then all of this stuff comes out with the sun, the CCTV leak, and everything in between. There's obviously- We just start this section again. How would you like to start it? I don't mind it, all of it, except the opening bit about casual sex. Okay, fine. I haven't had casual sex with anybody, I fell in love with somebody. You weren't so- Let me ask the question, and you can correct the question, right? So there's all of this stuff, which what I'm saying is- Well, let's start this bit again, and I'll relax. Okay, fine. But you've got to let me ask the question. Absolutely. This is what we do here. We just talk. There's no- Yeah, but you've researched a bit about casual sex. No, no, I've not even asked the question yet. Okay, let's do get to it. Right, so in September 2020, you said that when asked, that established couples, only established couples should be having sex. There needs to be boundaries. No, no, okay, so those rules were not in place. That was advice on TV. Yeah, but those rules were not in place when this all has happened. So there's a way that we can do this bit of the conversation, but we cannot do it with you starting talking about casual sex. Can I ask the question? You can ask a question, but let's ask a question in a reasonable way. Okay, so I'm going to ask the question. Okay, just- Yeah, this bit is really hard for me as well. I completely understand. I completely understand. I actually haven't asked the question yet. This is- This is a preamble. No, no, it's not. The point that's been leveled at you is very simple. It's that there's a contradiction in what you said and how you behaved. That's what- I totally get that bit. So can I ask that question? Yeah, go for it. So the point that's been leveled at you is there's a contradiction in how you behaved versus the guidance you were giving as health secretary. Yes. This is not a revelation. I mean, this is- It is not a revelation. Exactly. This is what everyone's been saying. Hugging was advised against distance. There was this whole hands, face, space thing, which we were all told to obey. And couples were- When I asked you were said to stick within well-established relationships. And you jokingly said, "I know I'm in an established relationship." Then this CCTV stuff comes out. My question is, you know, you talked earlier on about funerals and people going through an immense hardship. People say you were a contradiction. Yeah. What's your response to that? How do you receive all of that? This is what everyone says. This is not- Yeah. It's said it for the first time. No. So whatever the whole world is saying at you, this is the central thing. Yeah. And this is ultimately why you resigned. That is my absolute- That is my response. So I resigned because I broke the social distancing guidelines. Yeah. By then they weren't actually rules. They weren't the law, but that's not the point. The point is they were the guidelines that I'd been proposing. And, you know, that happened because I fell in love with somebody. And, you know, I've known Gina for more than half of my life. And we first actually worked together on student radio back in the Oxford days. And I brought her into the department to help with public communications in the same way we brought loads of brilliant people in who were experts in their field. And so we spent a lot of time together ironically trying to, you know, get me to be able to communicate in a more emotionally intelligent way. And we fell in love. And, you know, that's something that was completely outside of my control. And I, of course, I regret the pain that that's caused and the very, very, very public nature. You know, anybody who's been through this knows how difficult it is, how painful it is. Doing that in public is incredibly painful. And, but, you know, I fell in love with someone. Did you fall in love while working together? Yeah. Okay. So, you know, nobody, you know, we, it all happened quite, it all happened quite quickly. It actually happened after this sort of thing stopped being after the rules were lifted. But the guidance was still in place. So I'm not trying to claim that, yeah, I hold no bitterness about this because I broke the rules. You know, I fess up. I broke the, the, the guidance. And, you know, there were only two people responsible for this. And, and ultimately that's why I resigned. I took responsibility for my decision and I resigned. When that CCTV stuff happens, and I'm not going to go into the details of, because I don't want to drag people into this, but I want to understand how that feels. I can only imagine having dealt with a pandemic and getting this call from the sun, but they're about to leak something. Yeah. I had had a new, this is the, this is the, I would, I don't, like, I don't have the words to describe how that must have all felt. Yeah. But tell me, when you get that call. Well, it was, it was, it was awful. It was awful because, you know, we obviously knew what was going on. But we wanted to, to, to do this as unpainfully as possible. And by, and by the release of those images, obviously that caused a huge amount of pain. And, um, the, uh, and it was, it's, it's, it's been, I mean, anybody knows. Anybody knows how difficult it is. You know, ending a, ending a relationship. Um, and we have six children, you know, it's, it's, it's tough, but, you know, um, June, and I love each other very deeply. And, um, where are we? Seven, eight months later, it gets, it gets a bit easier with time. Um, and, um, but I have no sort of, I don't hold it against anybody because I was, because, you know, we were, I take responsibility. Have, have they figured out where that footage came from? Yeah. You know, so many people ask me this question. Everyone's asked the question. And, um, do you know my honest, the honest feeling I have in response to that question is I just don't care. All right. The, the, actually there's, there's a funny story, which is that, um, the best I know is that it was one of the security guards in the department. Um, there's a current ICO investigation. I don't know any of the details of that investigation. I haven't got any inside information of them that, which is public. However, the investigation, uh, is based on a law, data protection law that I took through parliament, into which I personally put a journalistic exemption. So, I'm, I don't hold it against, um, the, against the journalists for publishing it. Um, but obviously, you know, it was a very serious data, data protection breach, if you like, the thing that we've learned, and I think all my other colleagues in cabinet that learned immediately is why did you have a CCTV in the sector of state's office? Obviously I didn't know about it. Um, and, um, because even who's in the office is a, is a, is an important fact and a, and a sensitive piece of information. Um, but all of that is by them by because, you know, it is not the responsibility of others that, um, that those social distancing guidelines were broken. You know, that is, that is my responsibility. And I took responsibility for having done that. You took responsibility. You went to Boris. You said, you know, you'd apologize to him and he considered the matter closed. And then that's kind of where people thought it had been left off. But I think the, the, the media noise and the pressure built and eventually, the narrative is that you then resigned after. Yeah, after 24, 48 hours, it wasn't really after the, um, wasn't really the press. It was that, you know, some people I really respect, got in contact and told me about things that they had been not able to do. Like what? Um, like, you know, seeing dying relatives and, you know, even though it, you know, and, and, and, and I, and I realized that it was, it was unsustainable. Would you class that as the worst time of your life? Being health secretary is not nearly as difficult as worrying about your children in a very public divorce. Um, undoubtedly this, you know, going through that is undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever done by a long, long way. And as you go forward on that particular situation, what's your like strategy? Because you've come from a home where your parents weren't, they, they, they've broken up, right? Yeah. So what's your, what's your strategy going forward now to? To try to mend, to try to be kind, to try to, to try to, um, um, to try to make, you know, on the fact, obviously try to make things better. Um, and then on the professional side, you know, I've got a other things I'm interested in. I actually don't miss this job as much as I expected, right? I'm, I actually, I, I'm really enjoying the freedom of being on the backbenches on the professional side. And, um, I'm, I'm, I'm absolutely, you know, um, I'm absolutely in love with Gina and that, that helps a bit. A lot of the, um, since you departed the front, the front bench, there's, uh, I mean, now there's, there's a lot of party gate stuff going on and yeah, it's kind of almost reminiscent of your situation because the, the claim level that the government is that there was a contradiction. There was all these parties going on and then 10 Downing Street.
Discussion On Controversies And Campaigns
The parties at number 10 (01:34:36)
Sounds like it was a bit of a nightclub while the rest of the nation is, was, were locked down in obeying the rules. Yeah. You've not really been brought into that as much. I wasn't invited. You weren't invited, but what's your, what's your take on that? What's your, because I'm sure you get asked about this. Well, that's obviously very difficult. But I do think you've got to look at the big picture of, you know, we're coming out of the pandemic now and that's in part, in large part because of the, the big calls. But you resigned when, when you had the, I'll be honest, you had the decency to say, right, I have been a contradiction here and I have let people down. So you resigned, but. Yeah, but you know, the Prime Minister has so many other things on his plate as well. Right. He's got Russia, Crimea, and he's got the, you know, getting out of the pandemic. That was a big call, especially the response to Omokron getting that right. Coming through first. So he's got all these other big things on his plate. What you make of, I don't really have much to talk about on this particular topic, but there's all this dominant common stuff. Yeah. He's become a very interesting character, a bit of a whistleblower, exposure, type and, you know, you're, you've been supportive of Boris Johnson, pretty much the whole way, even as you say with the party gate stuff, you say, we need to look at the bigger picture. But he released some text messages that apparently are very critical of you, where Boris said that you, you fucked up ventilators and that you're totally fucking hopeless.
Dominic Cummings (01:35:49)
Yeah. But remember at that time, it subsequently transcribed that dominant companies was trying to get me fired. Right. And if you look at those text exchanges, they're like, a diatribe against what I was up to. Right. And that didn't actually reflect what was going on. So, you know, the, the, Boris was apologized for the way that came over. But actually if you, and for, you know, for sending those messages, but actually if you look at it in context, the context is this guy was trying to get me fired. He sent a load of aggressive messages to the prime minister, the prime minister responded as he did in a private setting, never expecting that to become public. So I'm completely, you know, what, what, you know, there are, there are people who really want to fix things and improve things in life. And, and I'd rather be that type of person. Speaking of fixing things. Yeah. One of the things you're really focused on fixing at the moment, and I've seen you talk about this in Parliament and in several other places, and a lot of the interviews you're doing on Twitter is this issue of dyslexia in our country. Tell me why you alluded to earlier, why this is personal to you.
Your Dyslexia campaign (01:37:05)
So, so I was only identified as dyslexic at university. And I know despite really good teachers, it would have been so much easier for me because before I was identified, I just thought I was stupid and bad at English. And some people say you shouldn't identify, you know, you shouldn't tell dyslexic kids they're dyslexic because then they'll be labeled, but I labeled myself as, as, as, as useless with words. And kids do that. But still today, only one in five children are identified at school. And I think this is ridiculous, especially in a world where you can have online assessments that can't then they can't give you the formal diagnosis, but they can give you the data that says this person's this child's highly unlikely to be highly likely to be dyslexic. So I'm campaigning for that. And in a way, it's one of these things that, you know, now that I've got, I can choose how I spend my time as a backbencher. This is something I really care about. I never got around to doing it in government. I actually had assembled a little team to push on this in the department for health after the election before, but those people got moved on to have to deal with the pandemic. So for me, this is unfinished business. And for the, you know, hundreds of thousands of dyslexic kids out there, if I can show them, if I can show just one of them that you can, you can succeed as a dyslexic person. And you can make it as long as you get the support you need, as long as you get, you know, you get identified, then then it will have been worth it. So it really, really matters to me. And I'm sure we can make loads of progress. When we talked about having this conversation with me here, there was, I remember you saying there was things that had been said that you wanted to kind of have a chance to address and rebuttal. Do you feel like you've had a chance to address and rebuttal those things?
Do you feel like you’ve addressed what you wanted to from this conversation? (01:39:02)
Yeah, I have. I feel like, you know, because we've been able to have a long conversation, you know, there's a few of those, a few things I've been able to explain, explain the thinking behind. But I also hope that we can have a proper debate about how this, how the pandemic size dealt with properly in the future. And we can learn, learn the lessons as best we can. And nothing that's important. Every guest in this podcast, you might be aware of this tradition, leaves a question in the diary of a CEO. And I don't read it. And I swear on my, I swear on all my family that I, that I don't read it until I open the book.
Final Guest Question
The last guest question (01:39:44)
So forgive me if I takes me some time to read the handwriting. Okay, here we go. So the last guest on the driver's here podcast left this question for you. If you were lying on your death, bird, what three things would you want to have achieved in life? Oh, well, that's great. Three things. Three things you would want to have achieved in your life. Pretty ambitious. The number one is I want my children to be happy and have fulfilling lives. That is, that is undoubtedly number one. The second is that I will have what I want to have a happy and loving and fulfilling life and relationship, you know, for the rest of my days. Just because of what's happened with Gina, Gina's actually here today. It's worth saying. Yeah. That's okay to say that. Yeah. Because of what's happened, I'm guessing it's made, it's the scrutiny around, because relationships are hard already. But the context and the scrutiny around that, what's happened must, it can't make it easier. We've been through a lot together. And, you know, that's the, that's the joyous bit. That's the easy bit. There's a lot of, you know, there's a lot of very difficult things that I have to deal with, you know. And having fallen in love with Gina is the, that's the easy bit. And the third one? And the third one. I hope that, I hope to have, I mean, it's sort of both, it's so obvious. But it, and I'm going to put some, I'm going to try to answer it more specifically. And I hope to have improved the country that I love. And, you know, if for instance, that is making sure that every single dyslexic child gets both the capability to read and write and be effective, and the self-esteem that comes with that, then that would be, that would be wonderful. And I'm lucky to have a platform in Parliament. And through the fact that I'm fairly well known, to be able to, to, to try to affect change. And that's what I want to do. Thank you. Thank you for both your time, because I know it's in tremendous demands. But also thank you for choosing to have this conversation here. These conversations aren't easy. So it's often easy to, easier to avoid them. And, you know, we talked about the importance of emotion and relatability in politics. So I want to thank you for taking the time to have a conversation where you didn't set any restrictions on me, my line of questioning at all. And you let me ask the questions, which as a quite naive person, who isn't really political, would have. And I think that's a credit to you. And I thank you for that. Yeah. Well, thanks for giving me the chance. I don't think you're naive at all. You're self-knowing. And, you know, that's the most important thing to know. Well, thank you, Matt.