Maybe, when you’re the secretary of state for health in the middle of a pandemic; when you’ve been on the TV telling people they can only have sex within an “established relationship”; and when you’ve also publicly called for the police to investigate a government scientist who broke Covid rules to have an affair – maybe you should know it’s wrong to have an old friend as an adviser on a taxpayer salary and start snogging her in the office in the middle of the afternoon.
But, you know, maybe he does know it’s wrong. Maybe knowing it’s wrong, that you really shouldn’t be doing it, is part of the fun.
It would certainly shed a little light on some of the goings on elsewhere. Maybe Matt Hancock, for example, knew it was wrong when – having been asked by the prime minister whether the people being evacuated from hospital and into care homes had been tested for Covid, and he said “yes”, when the answer was actually “no”, and then thousands of people died.* Maybe he’s always known it’s all just so, so, so wrong, and that’s what gets him out of bed in the morning, and then back into bed in the afternoon.
(*We should of course point out that these are merely the allegations made by Dominic Cummings. Matt Hancock has denied them. The prime minister hasn’t commented on them. And we, the mere public, have can only try and decide which of the available known and demonstrable liars might be telling us the closest approximation of the truth.)
Look, everybody loves a politician getting caught having an affair (if that’s what this kiss represents), and the accompanying social media feeding frenzy. And everyone loves, just as much, the attempt to make it a matter of public interest, to show that it’s OK to point and laugh because, actually, some rule or principle has been breached. Which it certainly has. It’s hard to gauge how much of the outrage in the moment is real, and how much is strategic.
Are people really and truly shocked and appalled that Matt Hancock told them they couldn’t see their lovers for months on end, yet has been caught kissing an old friend who also happens to be on the public payroll? Maybe they are. But to even be capable of outrage, at this point, is to still having something of your soul left to invest in the hope that some of these people, might not be absolute pure 100 per cent wrong’uns all the way to the very core. There has surely never been a time when there has been less rational basis on which to make such an investment. To be angry is to have expected better. That boat, surely, has sailed.
When a politician turns out to have told everyone to do one thing and done the other himself, no one, surely, can be surprised? And it should be clearly understood that what’s at stake here is a point of principle, not a matter of public health. Matt Hancock had Covid last year, and has almost certainly carried a high degree of immunity ever since.
He’s also now been vaccinated. It is not in the same league as Dominic Cummings’s alleged transgressions, which were to knowingly take Covid-19 from one part of the country to another, and to then expose NHS workers to it, which was to defeat not simply the spirit or letter of the rules, but the entire purpose of them.
It’s hard to tell, at this point, whether it helps or hinders Hancock’s cause that he couldn’t find it in him, back then, to say no to going on air and publicly defending the transparently indefensible, as he is liable to have to do again in the coming days.
At the end of quite possibly the most laughable briefing with the prime minister’s official spokesperson, which happened in private on Friday morning, despite the £2.9m briefing room that was built to host it, we would be told only that Boris Johnson has accepted Matt Hancock’s apology and considers the matter closed. This was the answer to every question on the subject, asked dozens of times over. Has he broken the ministerial code? Is it not a problem for a health secretary to admit having broken the rules on social distancing, which last year he called for a police investigation into a government scientist for doing the same. Answer came there none, but that is the way things are these days, in post shame, post-personal responsibility Downing Street.
It does not take the most analytical mind to notice that the PM would make life somewhat tricky for himself to sack someone for having an alleged affair, and one which is heavily coloured with questions about the correct use of public funds, when the very same cloud of sleaze has hung over him for years. He might also struggle to sack him for breaking Covid rules, when his own most senior adviser did so last year, and he instructed his entire cabinet to go on social media and humiliate themselves by defending the indefensible, which, of course they were all more than happy to do.
(Naturally, as is now well known, he would sack Cummings a few months later, to resolve a Downing Street civil war that had become irreconcilable after the prime minister’s rescue dog publicly humped the adviser’s leg at Chequers. Should the CCTV footage ever emerge it should be made clear, in Dilyn’s defence, that no restrictions on such behaviour were in place at the time. It really was an entirely private – and dare one say, beautiful – matter between a Jack Russell cross and a pair of Asda own-brand tracksuit bottoms.)
Even with Johnson’s backing for now, it is very difficult to see how Hancock survives this. How can a government possibly continue to uphold the restrictions it places on others, if it thinks it has no obligation, bar an apology, to keep to them itself? How can you seriously have a health secretary, in the middle of a pandemic, snogging his staff in the office and just carrying on?
Still, if it is to be the end of him, it could hardly be more of-the-moment that it will have been a snog in a corridor that did it. The tens of thousands of allegedly “needless” deaths he would have gotten away with – if it wasn’t for that one pesky kiss.