Mr Hancock’s messages show an on-the-ground politician who once hoped the pandemic could propel his career to the next level. When a London newspaper published plans to cut the time for approval of a vaccine, he texted an aide, “I called two months ago. It’s a Hancock victory!”
Yet at other times, Mr Hancock appeared to be a determined policymaker, battling ministers who he believed were prioritizing the economy over public health. When Alok Sharma, who served as business secretary, proposed loosening test-and-trace requirements for restaurant diners, Mr Hancock texted Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to say Said that they could not understand “why Alok is against controlling the virus”. Strange way.
“Pure Conservative ideology,” Mr Case replied in a comment that drew fire from critics who said it was unduly biased for a civil servant. Mr Case, who was appointed by Mr Johnson, is also in hot water for arguing that trusted local officials, not the prime minister – whom he deemed unreliable – should enforce the new guidelines.
In his statement, Mr Hancock expressed concern about the embarrassment the leak would cause to his former colleagues. He said he worked with Ms Oakeshott for more than a year on the book, which was published last December and was heavily influenced by WhatsApp messages as well as other sources.
He claimed that he had broken a confidentiality agreement in publishing the texts and had distorted them by not providing context. “Releasing them in this way is a partial, partisan account that is more in line with an anti-lockdown agenda,” he added.
Ms Oakeshott, the former political editor of The Sunday Times, did not deny breach of the legal settlement. But she said she was willing to take that risk and denied that The Telegraph, which has carried editorials against the lockdown, was publishing them selectively. That said, the editors employed eight people to comb through the 2.3 million words of text, four times the length of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
“The paper has been exceptionally careful not to cherry-pick parts of the conversation,” he added. “The team has been meticulous about the process.”