The trove of 100,000 texts linked to Matt Hancock reveal his love of political clichés, “silly” jokes and “golf club banter” even at the height of the coronavirus crisis, one of the UK’s leading language experts told MailOnline today.
The leaking of the former Health Secretary’s texts has provided a glimpse into the workings of the government and the thoughts of senior figures such as Boris Johnson and Professor Chris Whitty on lockdowns, masks in schools and shielding.
Tony Thorne, a linguist at King’s College London, has reviewed the leaked WhatsApps for MailOnline and reveals what the language used says about those involved.
He describes Mr Hancock’s lyrics as distinctly ‘middle-aged and manly’ – and full of ‘golf club banter’. They’re also full of “silly” emojis, jokes, and “political jargon,” as well as desperate attempts to impress.
Matt Hancock calls education unions “a**es” in a text message to Gavin Williamson, then Secretary of Education
George Osborne’s scathing response to Matt Hancock’s testing regimen at the start of the pandemic
Matt Hancock at a press conference about the coronavirus on January 11, 2021
The WhatsApps raise questions about his handling of the pandemic and various policy issues, but also reveal his interaction with senior figures including Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty, fellow ministers including Gavin Williamson and former such as George Osborne, who supported Mr Hancock and his test regimen in his posts.
Mr Johnson was taught maths by colleagues including Dominic Cummings and Chris Whitty – and battled with them over foreclosure, comparing the chances of death from Covid to falling down stairs.
Tony Thorne reviews the messages and what they say about Mr. Hancock and his colleagues and friends.
Expert Tony Thorne said the tone of his posts is clearly “middle-aged and masculine” – and full of “golf club banter” and “childish” emojis.
Some of them include “desperation” to impress, especially Boris Johnson and George Osborne, who love to take him down.
He said Matt Hancock’s posts are “funny, pugnacious and some would say childish.” The language is even silly here and there, again given the context’.
He said that as Mr Hancock was in charge of the NHS during the pandemic, his WhatsApps contained “inappropriate frivolity given the desperate circumstances” and said his “joshing” was even brutal in places.
In January 2021 Mr Hancock said there was ‘no public call’ for lockdown restrictions to be lifted
Mr Hancock is speaking in political terms, an expert says, using ‘policy car crash’ and ‘u-turn’ in one conversation
Matt Hancock texts an advisor in a conversation where he appears to be mocking Gavin Williamson
The academic quoted his lyrics with Gavin Williamson where he called unions “total a***s,” saying it showed Hancock is a fan of “vulgarity.”
The former health minister, who acted in disgrace after his affair with Gina Coladangelo, is also addicted to ‘political jargon’
Mr Thorne pointed to messages containing his beloved phrases such as ‘rearguard action’, ‘policy car crash’ and ‘turn down the volume’.
He said: ‘The exchanges are clearly unguarded and he did not expect any further investigation – and this highlights the whole issue of whether politicians and public figures should hand over their private correspondence and messages’.
The linguist added that the leak is bad news from the MP. “No doubt it will increase pressure from some quarters to look into how to handle the pandemic,” he said.
Boris Johnson speaks frankly about the chances of surviving Covid
Mr Johnson also struggled to deal with data on infections and deaths
Mr. Johnson struggles with his math and makes fun of it
Mr Thorne said the messages from the former prime minister show he needs quick answers from his team – and that his frustration would boil over if he didn’t get it from them.
The academic said the language showed that Mr Johnson sometimes did not fully understand the topics discussed at the time, but he did not shy away from it and even made fun of himself in the process.
This became apparent when he asked about death rates and wrestled with whether it was a percentage. He said, eh? So what’s 0.04 if it’s not a percentage? (Five points; show work)’
Mr Thorne said: ‘Boris does not always understand and does not intend to go into details on his part, but expects immediate clarification’.
In other reports, Johnson was skeptical about asking 2.2 million elderly Britons to protect themselves.
He said: ‘If you are over 65 your risk of dying from Covid is probably as great as your risk of falling down the stairs. And we don’t like the elderly to use stairs.’
In another text he added: “If I were 80 years old and I was told the choice was between destroying the economy or risking my exposure to a disease from which I had a 94 percent chance of surviving, then I know which I would prefer. ‘
Mr Thorne said: ‘His comment on survivability could be seen as callous, cold-blooded and, again, given the circumstances and his crucial involvement. It was a personal, not a professional response and brusque rather than thoughtful and considered.”
While debating with Mr Hancock about survival rates and masks in schools, Mr Johnson often displayed a “tone of irritation, possibly and seen elsewhere in his public posts about the pandemic,” Mr Thorne said.
George Osborne’s comments to Matt Hancock about testing
Isabel Oakeshott’s leak to the Telegraph also includes messages between Mr Hancock and Mr Osborne, the former chancellor who was then editor of the Evening Standard newspaper.
Mr. Hancock told him, “I WANT TO MAKE MY GOAL!” while pushing for favorable front-page coverage as he pushed to meet the goal of 100,000 tests per day.
George Osborne said in an extraordinary way, ‘Nobody thinks testing is going well, Matt’.
It’s one of a series of pithy condescensions in the lyrics.
Mr Thorne said of the exchanges: ‘Hancock comes across as the nervous junior, perhaps yearning for approval. Osborne the more seasoned operator – feisty, dismissive and reprimanding.
Hancock betrays desperation, especially his use of exclamation marks. But Osborne is again ironic, short and dismissive.
Sir Gavin Williamson
Matt Hancock called education unions ‘absolute a**es’ in WhatsApp texts to then education secretary Gavin Williamson, calling them lazy
Mr Thorne said the messages betrayed how different Gavin Williamson’s public persona is compared to his unguarded texts addressing the teaching unions.
Today Sir Gavin said they were about ‘some unions and not teachers’.
Mr Thorne said: “The careful language and choice of innocuous words, the tone of Williamson’s more recent public tweets defending his actions and words all contrast with the unguarded, sometimes hapless candor of the leaked WhatsApp messages”.
Dominic Cummings’ lyrics are short and sweet
Boris Johnson’s former top advisor is also popping up in some exchanges and pulling the strings. And even gives his boss a math lesson.
Mr Thorne said: ‘Dominic Cummings is the eminence grise, of few words and a fount of instant wisdom’.