Isabel Oakeshott Sensationalises On Matt Hancock Memoir

From Isabel Oakeshott in The Spectator:

Published this week, co-authored by me, [Matt] Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries are the first insider account from the heart of government of the most seismic political, economic and public health crisis of our times.

…As far as Hancock was concerned, anyone who fundamentally disagreed with his approach was mad and dangerous and needed to be shut down. His account shows how quickly the suppression of genuine medical misinformation – a worthy endeavour during a public health crisis – morphed into an aggressive government-driven campaign to smear and silence those who criticised the response. Aided by the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health harnessed the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups whose views were seen as a threat to public acceptance of official messages and policy. As early as January 2020, Hancock reveals that his special adviser was speaking to Twitter about ‘tweaking their algorithms’. Later he personally texted his old coalition colleague Nick Clegg, now a big cheese at Facebook, to enlist his help. The former Lib Dem deputy prime minister was happy to oblige.

Such was the fear of ‘anti-vaxxers’ that the Cabinet Office used a team hitherto dedicated to tackling Isis propaganda to curb their influence. The zero-tolerance approach extended to dissenting doctors and academics. The eminent scientists behind the so-called Barrington Declaration, which argued that public health efforts should focus on protecting the most vulnerable while allowing the general population to build up natural immunity to the virus, were widely vilified: Hancock genuinely considered their views a threat to public health.

This passage is being celebrated by the conspiracy crowd as evidence that the way in which the UK responded to the Covid pandemic crisis was no more than a  contrived “narrative” created by government-directed media manipulation, but which they themselves saw through and resisted.

However, having had a look at the relevant passages in Hancock’s memoir on Google Books, it seems to me that Oakeshott is sensationalising and even misrepresenting the work that she helped to create. On the Cabinet Office team, Hancock refers to

…worrying research suggesting that as many as half of Americans and a fifth of people living in the UK will decline the jab. A load of nutters are putting it about that it is part of some great global conspiracy, and we need to limit their influence.

We’ve pulled together a team from the Cabinet Office that was involved in tackling Daesh propaganda during the existence of the Caliphate. The online campaign they led was based on providing an overwhelming counter-narrative. Instead of focusing on responding directly to false claims, the main effort is to provide clear, objective positive material.

Nothing here about a campaign to “smear and silence” – and it’s not at all clear how this relates to the supposed “vilification” of Barrington authors. Oakeshott merely juxtaposes Hancock’s scepticism about the authors with a reference to the cabinet team to create an impression.


We are starting to think about how the social media companies can help. Jamie has spoken to Twitter and they’re going to tweak their algorithms so when people search for ‘coronavirus’ and various other key terms, they’ll go to our offical guidance page

…Clegg may have looked a mess when he Zoomed me from Yellowstone, but he got straight onto it re. combatting fake news. Facebook has taken down a wild-eyed Trump post declaring that children are ‘almost immune’ to coronovirus. Twitter followed suit.

Hancock’s media adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin speaking to Twitter is hardly “harnessing the full power of the state to crush individuals and groups”, a ludicrously overheated interpretation.

Some Spectator readers may infer that Oakeshott is giving an an unexpurgated account that goes beyond Hancock’s own authorised version. But she doesn’t say that, and she doesn’t provide any extra context that would justify the spin she’s put on her cherry-picked details. Indeed, context has actually been removed.

Oakeshott came under some criticism from the conspiracy crowd for agreeing to write the book with (for?) Hancock, and also when she coaxed Hancock into a recording studio in June for an interview alongside James Melville on the subject of cryptocurrency. However, all is now forgiven – one “social media campaigner” and GB News regular, June Slater, has written:

I apologise for doubting Richard Tice and Isabel Oakshott’s [sic] involvement with Matt Hancock’s book.

As her Spectator article proves today, it was a long game, a quest for truth, to ensure the government and minister could never lock us down or mandate drugs again.

One Response

  1. Really?!


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