Much concern was expressed for Matt Hancock's wellbeing following his tearful outburst during a TV interview. Many feared that it signified he had become incapacitated such they would have to resort to Paul McCartney for advice on managing the coronavirus crisis. Others have consoled them on the grounds that anybody vaguely sentient would most likely do a better job than Matt.
It turns out that they need not have worried. Scientific studies of the interview footage have suggested that Matt may have simply made a commonplace verbal stumble and seized upon the opportunity to gain approval by using it to tune into what he imagined to be the British characteristic of being over-emotional. If so, he was doing no more than deploying the favoured approval-gaining tool of so many of our current politicians. That is to say, he was patronising us. It just so happens that in Matt's case it was even more of long shot than it usually is.
For a government minister during a time of crisis, it might reasonably have been assumed that the demonstration of a cool and steady hand on the tiller would have been more likely to realise Matt's longing for respect. But maybe the sum total of his knowledge of us comes from the likes of a young man who appeared on TV a while ago. Aided by an interviewer, he had discovered that his step-great-grandfather, the existence of whom he had hitherto been unaware, had died on the Western Front after falling down a flight stairs. The young man immediately went into a hysterical fit of grief, no doubt much to the producer's satisfaction as he directed the camera in for a tortured close-up. Thankfully, Matt's own outburst seemingly caught the producer unawares, thereby sparing us such a spectacle.
Arguably, Matt might have been more likely to enhance his standing if he had instead taken his cue from David Attenborough. Attenborough was being interviewed when the interviewer, as they do these days, asked him if he had ever cried when he saw something bad happening to an animal. It was unexpected, and Attenborough was stumped for a moment or two before eventually saying, 'No'. It was the wrong answer and the interviewer persisted: 'Why not?' she asked, equally stumped. This time, Attenborough was quick off the mark: 'Because I wouldn't want to make an exhibition of myself'.
Mind you, Churchill, whom Matt's boss would like to be taken for, was tearful at times. But he was also competent and unafraid of unpopular decisions more consequential than any Matt has ever faced. He was also disinclined to reckless optimism and over-promising (I have nothing to offer but...; We should not assign to an evacuation the attributes of a victory...). It seems Matt has yet to spot that his boss's similarity to Churchill extends no further than embarrassing bargain-basement attempts to imitate his striking way with words.
But what if Matt were right in his assessment of what we are like? There is in fact some evidence to suggest he could be. Why, for example, would seasoned TV interviewers seek to lure their quarry into emotional demonstrations if they were not sure of their audience? And why would so many of their interviewees be so eager to oblige if they too were not sure of their audience?
Yet further evidence in support of Matt may be pending, from, of all places, Scotland. If he is right that even the most jaw-dropping of politicians can be rehabilitated by publically emoting, then world-beating outbursts from Joe FitzPatrick and Margaret Ferrier are surely imminent. We shall have to wait and see. (It should be noted that such waiting would be fruitless in the case of Priti Patel since she couldn't care less what people think of her, which is perhaps just as well.)
But even if such outbursts were to come along in due course, they would not constitute good evidence that Matt was right. All they would do is to show that two other politicians, such as they are, share his beliefs about us. Decisive evidence must be sought elsewhere.
In pursuit of such evidence, let us assume that English and Scottish people are not rendered qualitatively or genetically different depending on which side of a line on a map they happen to live. Let us further assume that if British people are unusually emotionally labile to the point where they rush to forgive incompetence in tearful politicians, then surely such lability would manifest itself as a suite of concomitant national traits.
As it happens, there are many examples of such traits, the most prominent being the British devotion to overstatement. Even in that part of Britain which produced the Scottish Enlightenment, nothing is simply good or up to the job. It is world-class, or world-beating, or world-leading. If it is not any of these, then it is incredible, or fantastic, or amazing. This trait is so pervasive that the last 50 years have yielded only one recorded instance of understatement, that being when Gavin Williamson was described as 'incredibly vacuous'.
Then there is our related devotion to indiscriminate name-calling. Irrespective of whether the owner of a particular political view is SNP, Conservative, Labour or from the mysterious Liberal Democrats, they are likely to be called a Nazi by anyone with different political views. Then, on discovering that this did not have the desired effect, it is often intensified by prefixing it with a progressive tense verb ending in 'g', and then further intensified by appending a noun ending in 't'. There is no consideration that the more such a descriptor is exaggerated the more it is likely to reveal more about the speaker's credibility than that of their target. And given that all their ammunition has already been exhausted, one wonders what they might call Nigel Farage if he were to walk into the room.
Many people have observed that Jeremy Corbyn has seemed immune from such exaggeration. But this is not so, the apparent omission being accounted for by the fact that it is impossible to imagine a greater insult than 'Jeremy Corbyn'.
Such exaggeration exists also beyond the level of individuals. Thus, for example, Scotland was once promoted as 'The Best Little Country In The World' without anyone having sought comparisons, and without reference to the evidence of their own eyes. A similar Trumpian alternative reality was evident when RBS claimed to be 'Here For You'. This was so at odds with recent history that even the most resolute of professional of Scots could not swallow it, eventually. No doubt Bank of Scotland's current 'We're By Your Side' will soon be going the same way.
Given all this evidence, there is no escaping the conclusion that Matt's outburst got us dead right. It turns out that there may be Charlie Brooker's characterisation of him as 'Your sister's first boyfriend with a car', even if it is not much more.