WHEN you clapped for the carers last night, I hope you spared a thought for the forgotten heroes of this crisis.

They are out battling every day on the linguistic front line, caring deeply about each syllable and every inflection. I speak, of course, of the tone police.

Chief Constable Matt Hancock surely deserved an extra few bangs on the bottom of an old saucepan, given he is nobly combining that key worker role with the job of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for England. Does he get changed in a phone booth in between shifts? That might explain how he caught coronavirus.

It is, of course, vitally important that standards of parliamentary debate are upheld in these difficult times. Just because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and the UK has one of the worst death rates in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly permissible to stand up in parliament and say the Cabinet are cretins, the testing figures are lies or the Prime Minister talks shite. None of that is any more acceptable now than it was before the crisis.

Fortunately, top brass Hancock was already on the scene in the House of Commons when Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan started breaching his peace by asking him to make sure the promised 100,000 tests a day were actually carried out. A not unreasonable request, one might think, given that a) this was his own government’s target and b) he’s already claiming to have exceeded it, even though anyone who can count up to 73,191 has grasped that this claim was a terminological inexactitude.

Having issued her plea, Dr Allin-Khan added: “Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives, and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart in grief?”

This went down like a cough in a chemist’s. Again, one might suggest it’s not an unreasonable question given that Dr Allin-Khan is herself a frontline worker, and she and her colleagues are the ones having to relay the dreadful news of Covid-19 deaths to these families. Worse still, they are having to do it remotely, to relatives denied the chance to say a final goodbye.

But she was making the mistake of thinking their experiences were relevant to questions about the government’s strategy, when of course a Health Secretary should not be concerning himself with such trifling matters.

Hancock must surely have been tempted to bring out the handcuffs, but due to social distancing rules he was forced instead to let the MP for Tooting off with a caution. After welcoming her to her new post as a shadow health minister with all the warmth of liquid nitrogen, he added: “she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.”

One wonders what tone Hancock considers appropriate for one Member of Parliament to use when asking another if his government’s failure to follow a clearly articulated, globally accepted death-prevention strategy might have been responsible for the failure to prevent deaths. Jocular? Sarcastic? Irreverent?

One suspects it was actually the content of the question that he found objectionable, on the grounds that he didn’t have a convincing answer to it.

I could understand the accusation of a tone violation if Dr Allin-Khan had called Matt Hancock a useless prick, a patronising little scrote or a truth-twisting toad. Had she done so she would doubtless have been reprimanded for using unparliamentary language. But I must stress that she did not call him any of those things. She didn’t even call him a pathetic Daily Mail superfan or a hot-tempered incompetent. She just asked a couple of questions. She didn’t get started on why the UK believes its NHS tech division knows better than Apple and Google when it comes to creating a tracing app.

She didn’t even take the opportunity to remind everyone that when care workers were crying out for personal protective equipment, Hancock instead offered them enamel pin badges. She didn’t suggest that instead of telling workers not to waste the “precious resources” the government was unable to deliver in sufficient volumes, he should try shoving some PPE up his arse and then assessing how easily it can be wiped down and re-used. I can’t emphasise enough that she did not say those things. No-one said them. Absolutely no-one.

All she did was ask two questions: can Matt Hancock commit to a minimum of 100,000 tests each day going forward, and does he acknowledge how frontline workers feel? He didn’t even have to agree that their feelings were justified. He didn’t even have to answer the question – he has successfully dodged plenty of others.

Instead, after hearing a fellow MP describing families being unnecessarily “torn apart in grief”, he had the audacity to give her a telling-off. If frontline workers were angry with him before, they must now be furious.