The forced resignation, for deceit and double-standards, of Britain’s beleaguered Health Secretary was the arguably inevitable outcome to a political career built on a bizarre amalgam of hubris and obsequiousness
Of all the fixedly glib-of-speech, yet infinitely flexible-of-principle chancers infesting UK politics, that the one whose extra-marital excursion has most starkly exposed an inherent tendency to hypocrisy should have turned out to be erstwhile Cabinet Minister and Health Secretary Matt Hancock feels distinctly unsurprising. That much was evident before he finally – albeit 48 hours too late – acknowledged the impossibility of his position and resigned late on Saturday afternoon, 26th June.
Throughout his political career, Hancock, possessed of an oleaginous unctuousness which if set in a Charles Dickens novel would make even Uriah Heep appear stand-offish and aloof in comparison, has always given the impression of being someone in whom Hubris would eventually clash with and be defeated by deserved Nemesis. The wave of simultaneous anger and schadenfreude washing over both UK mainstream and social media on Friday 25th June, in the aftermath of his exposure as a devious adulterer personally and blatant hypocrite professionally and politically, was almost tangible.
Given that his ascent of the political Greasy Pole was primarily via being chief sycophant, coat-tailer and bag-carrier to George Osborne – so much so that the Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, once allegedly joked that anyone seeking to advance their political career by crawling up Osborne’s backside would quickly find themselves blocked by Hancock’s feet – few were surprised that the subsequent development of Hancock’s own political career appeared to be based on sanctimonious agreement with whoever was in the political ascendant within the David Cameron led ‘moderniser’ metropolitan-liberal ‘Conservative’ Party at the time.
Seldom was this better illustrated than by his testimony to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in 2015, when he and arch-Remainer Oliver Letwin attempted weakly to justify, as Cabinet Office ministers, their shovelling of millions in taxpayers’ funds at the poorly run and ultimately collapsed charity Kids’ Company, with scant concern for due diligence or value-for-money, purely because by doing so they were fulfilling the political desires of their Party Leader and Prime Minister.
It’s Hancock’s performance as Health Secretary, however, particularly during the Covid pandemic, that vindicates those of us who argued that Theresa May, when newly installed as PM in mid-2016, should have sacked Hancock from the government on the same day that she peremptorily sacked his patron Osborne, as having been correct.
Given the societal restrictions which for 15 months he has been key, if not instrumental, in imposing on the country, the sheer scale of Hancock’s “do as I say, but not as I do” double standards is breathtaking, and on more than one level.
At the time, on or about 6th May, that the grainy but persuasively incriminating picture was taken of Hancock ardently embracing his paramour, Departmental aide Gina Coladangelo, Covid rules forbade the rest of us from hugging even close members of our own families.
Nor could a father even walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day without wearing a mask, a prohibition lifted only very recently. As a nation, we’ve had to watch loved ones die alone, without the comfort of human contact, or see friends’ serious illnesses go untreated, all because of Hancock’s lockdown-fanaticism and his willingness to turn the NHS into a Covid-only ‘service’, primarily to advance his own political career.
Yet, like SAGE’s Professor Neil Ferguson – forced to resign in May 2020 after breaking lockdown rules for an assignation with his married lover – before him, Hancock evidently felt able to pursue his own adulterous liaison with impunity.
Which might be thought a bit rich, coming from someone whose reaction to the revelation of Ferguson’s breach of country-wide lockdown rules was to affect shock and surprise. Then, Hancock professed himself ‘speechless’ at Ferguson’s conduct, declaring ‘I don’t understand‘, before adding, tellingly, not only that Ferguson was right to resign after his ‘extraordinary‘ actions, but even that the Police should investigate him with a view to possible prosecution.
Throughout the pandemic and the Johnson government’s policy response to it, as one of the members of the so-called Cabinet ‘Quad’ overseeing that response, Hancock more than any other minister was the one responsible for implementing, without proper parliamentary scrutiny, the laws and ‘guidance’ which have made the last 15 months such a misery for so many. It was Hancock who pushed to criminalise the private lives of others, ordered them to refrain from starting new relationships outside of ‘established’ ones, and tolerated no leeway or discretion in applying his rules.
Not only was he one of the most enthusiastic advocates for State-authoritarian lockdown, mandatory vaccination, so-called ‘vaccine passports’, and all the other tools of economic and societal repression in the name of public health recommended by the left-leaning behavioural-‘nudge’ scientists to whom he and Johnson seem in such thrall. He was also one of the most enthusiastic and insistent in stressing the importance of compliance with the most draconian restrictions ever imposed on the British people outside wartime.
Yet when challenged, about his own cavalier disregard for the restrictions whose rigorous enforcement on others he championed, and about his own misconduct similar to Ferguson’s, he had the gall to invoke intrusion into his own private life as some kind of protective shield. He seemed to feel that a sanctimonious apology accompanied by the usual bromides about ‘letting people down‘ was all that was required. Certainly not resignation. Perish the thought.
He then deservedly suffered considerable political embarrassment in mid-June, when it emerged that he had deliberately concealed positive data on the progress of the national vaccination programme, which might well have resulted in Covid restrictions being eased as originally pledged from 21st June, instead of being continued until at least 19th July. In hindsight, this looks like merely another example of Hancock’s arrogance and hubris which have justifiably brought him down.
Legitimate questions now arise over whether Hancock’s infidelity was solely that, with no other connotations for public or Hancock’s personal probity. Accusations of cronyism and doing favours for pals surrounded Ms Coladangelo’s appointment to a somewhat nebulously defined role in Hancock’s Department of Health, which appeared to have been made with less than entirely rigorous adherence to appointment procedures, possibly because of its relatively unofficial nature.
Big questions about what exactly Gina Coladangelo’s role in government is – she’s listed as a non-exec at DHSC, but also referred to as an ‘aide’. She’s not a spad (or at least not on the most recent list of spads…), so what is the other role, if there is one? pic.twitter.com/e2epyjwmNQ
— Tim Durrant (@timd_IFG) June 25, 2021
In addition, it has subsequently emerged that Ms Coladangelo’s brother holds a senior position with a company benefiting from NHS contracts. There’s currently no suggestion that those contracts were awarded to enable Hancock to curry favour with his lover, but it’s surely not unreasonable to ask whether the underlying purpose of her appointment was to bring her into a position of daily contact with Hancock, and on the public payroll, as cover for their affair.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the hours after Hancock’s resignation came the revelation that he now faces an investigation over his use of a private email account to conduct government business, including negotiating multi-million pound PPE contracts, meaning that official records of much of his political decision-making simply don’t exist. The suggestion is that this was done with a view to protecting himself when the Covid Inquiry starts next year, but it’s not hard to imagine how it could also have been designed to facilitate more a nefarious purpose.
If nothing else, l’affaire Hancock yet again shows starkly the apparently widespread “rules are for you, but not for us” entitlement of our ruling caste. We saw it on the insouciant disregard for masks and social distancing at the recent G7 summit, and we’re now seeing it again in Whitehall.
Not only do this Government’s medico-totalitarian elite appear not to follow personally the rules they impose, and subsequently assiduously enforce, on the rest of us; they also seem to expect to be personally immune from any consequences when they’re found out and their hypocrisy is exposed.
It was historian Andrew Roberts who once said of the hapless John Major that, had his mid-1980s affair with Edwina Currie been exposed while he was still Prime Minister, he wouldn’t have been so much hounded from office in anger and outrage as laughed out of office in ridicule. With Hancock having become the object of both anger and ridicule in equal measure, his legacy reputation looks more likely to mirror what Major’s would have been. Anger, given time, may be redeemable, but ridicule, once it reaches a certain level, is the political kiss of death.
Johnson may think that Hancock’s overdue resignation – after trying to cling on, limpet-like, to office for 48 hours – resolves an unpleasant problem for himself. It shouldn’t and it won’t; people will remember that, instead of demanding Hancock’s resignation promptly and sacking him if it wasn’t forthcoming immediately, Johnson vacillated and tried to ‘declare the matter closed’ on the strength of Hancock’s inadequate, blatantly insincere and barely-apologetic ‘apology’.
By any standards, Hancock’s position should have been recognised as untenable from the moment the story about his office trysts with Gina Coladangelo broke. Yet initially he received Johnson’s backing in appearing firmly set against offering his resignation, for reasons which seem murkier by the hour. Johnson, in his acceptance of Hancock’s resignation, unwisely also left open the possibility of his returning to government in the future. Johnson has done himself no favours at all by publicly backing Hancock despite clear grounds for sacking him, and then losing him anyway. As a result, he now looks foolish, ineffectual and lacking both judgment and resolve.
As for Hancock, he should detain us no longer. The political obscurity which he no doubt now confidently expects to be temporary should be permanent. An oily, slippery, opportunist, self-aggrandising careerist whose flexibility of principle would have made him equally comfortable in a LibDem or even a Blairite New Labour government, he will be missed by few. Good riddance.
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