Just over 24 hours after Michael Gove accused Andy Burnham of “posture” on the coronavirus, Matt Hancock came to the Commons in a spirit of consensus.
Just before his statement in the House of Commons, the Health Secretary walked across the chamber towards his Labor counterpart, Jonathan Ashworth, for what looked like a friendly discussion.
Obviously, the conversation will have ended before Mr Hancock invited Mr Ashworth to join him for a nightcap in the smoking room later.
It is closed now, anyway, like all the water points in Parliament.
But in their exchanges through the shipping box, Mr. Hancock suggested to his opponent that he was more in agreement with the government’s approach to the coronavirus than he dared to admit it publicly to the Commons. .
A clearly embarrassed Mr Ashworth retaliated by telling Mr Hancock he should spend less time admiring himself on Instagram and more time securing a financial package for the people of Manchester.
But throughout his statement and the exchanges that followed, the Secretary of Health frequently used expressions such as “collaborative and consensual”, “speaking with one voice” and “working together”.
He praised civic leaders in Lancashire and Merseyside, who agreed to accept the level 3 restrictions, and said he hoped to reach a deal with Mr Burnham’s Greater Manchester.
He pointed out, however, that the infection rate among those over 60 – the group most likely to need hospital treatment – in Greater Manchester had fallen from 171 per 100,000 to 283.
Mr Hancock has gone out of his way to express his sympathy to Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, whose brother Bill died on Friday evening, and to ‘our colleague’ Labor MP Yasmin Qureshi, who is hospitalized with COVID-19 after a positive test. .
Towards the end of his statement, after strong criticism from Labor’s Kevan Jones, Mr Hancock said: “This is a very consensual statement so far. It is teamwork that will allow us to overcome this. We are all on the same side. “
This sounds like wishful thinking, as during exchanges with the Commons it emerged that the last talks were the leaders of Greater Manchester and the government ended without a deal.
The government says this is “of particular concern”, given the numbers of hospitals mentioned by Mr Hancock, and that “next steps” are now being carefully considered.
In other words, it seems increasingly likely that Level 3 restrictions will now be imposed on Greater Manchester. So much for Hancock’s hopes for consensus.