Express & Star

Toby Neal on Hancock: In the public interest or mere tittle-tattle?

GDPR, DPA... OMG! What a massive data breach. Confidential information has been shared with all and sundry.

Matt Hancock at work

If it weren't for the fact that the victim is author, TV personality, and national hate figure Matt Hancock, politicians would be up in arms and calling for a public inquiry.

And poor Isabel Oakeshott, having to trawl through over 100,000 sensitive WhatsApp messages to try to grub up some stories which meet the bar of being justified in the public interest, rather than mere tittle-tattle.

Allegedly the messages shed new light on the Government's response and thinking in relation to the Covid pandemic, but it's difficult to see how such snapshots can truly be seen in context, which means in turn that they cannot fairly be used to make judgments about judgments.

Meanwhile the Covid public inquiry has so far cost £85 million and counting, according to Sir Keir Starmer.

If the professionals are waiting for the inquiry to report on the "lessons that must be learnt," then gawd help us, because they should have learned all the important lessons already and be putting them into practice.

Its political value will be in identifying a cast of villains, satisfying the desire to find someone to blame for the disaster.

However, as for the inquiry laying down a useful template for how a government should react to a future pandemic, I have my doubts.

For a start, the dynamics of a future pandemic may well not be the same, while the underlying dilemma will probably be the same. That is balancing the liberties and livelihoods of people against the protection of people for their own good, when protecting people "for their own good" brings with it heavy collateral damage, such as the trashing of the economy, the loss of educational opportunity for children, and many working age people choosing to leave the workforce permanently.

The other big political news story of the week has been the renegotiation of trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, a rare triumph for common sense. The Northern Ireland Protocol was the UK's worst international agreement since 1938 and Boris Johnson only signed such a rubbish deal as it was the only way to get Brexit over the line.

It was so bad that he clearly thought the EU was joking and would adopt a pragmatic approach in practice. However, the EU doesn't joke about anything. It kept a stony straight face in preventing the sanctity of the single market being defiled by perfidious Albion trying to smuggle British sausages and house plants into the EU through the back door.

On a personal note, Thursday brought a potentially life-changing event. I caught the bus.

Now, before you bombard me with a barrage of sowhatery, catching the bus is not something I do every day. In fact, apart from a bit of London tourism, I can't remember the last time I caught one.

Not that I'm against buses. I used to have what was known as a Tellus ticket, complete with photo ID. I think I may still have it in the bottom of some drawer as a souvenir.

But you'll know how far I'm going back when I say that in my bus travelling days the services used to have numbers which conjured up images of glamour and excitement. Okay, I'm going a little over the top with that, but the one which went up and down the Tettenhall Road was the 501. I think today it might be the 1 (I'm open to being corrected), which lacks any numerical feng shui.

And there was the 909 I used to get, operated by Midland Red.

The bus I caught on Thursday was more prosaic, a 4. Much as I would like to say I caught a bus to save the planet, the real reason is that I thought it would be a lot cheaper than getting a taxi, although when mechanic Ray told me all the work that was needed on my car – which was in for a service – the extra taxi cost would have been a mere financial drop in the ocean.

And lastly, no, I didn't see the Northern Lights for the same reasons that, while I am not uninterested in astronomy, I have never actively partaken. Dark, cold, probably cloudy, light pollution... and the prospect of bed.

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