About time. About time, that is, that someone in this delusional government had the decency to quit. I say “decency”, but of course there has never been much decent about the way Matt Hancock has behaved since he became health secretary.
We know rather too much about his private life; more importantly, we know his manifest failings as a minister. He was wrong to appoint his “close friend” Gina Coladangelo to the board of the Department of Health, a role worth £15,000, to “challenge” him: an absurd situation.
He was wrong to take up shares in his sister’s company, a supplier to the NHS. According to Dominic Cummings, Hancock lied multiple times, publicly and privately, about the response to the Covid pandemic – something Hancock has denied; and he failed to protect residents of care homes, and lives have been needlessly lost as a result – just as Cummings states. Test and trace, the ventilators crisis, the PPE shortages – all involved him. So did the inequalities of the spread of Covid-19, played down by the government. So did the 1 per cent pay rise for nurses (which he should, actually, have resigned over). So does the absence of any plan for social care.
The former health secretary’s allies say that he oversaw the successful rollout of the vaccines – but in reality, responsibility for that was wrenched from him and given to Nadhim Zahawi. So it seems Hancock was, in fact, “hopeless”, just as Boris Johnson discerned. Hancock cannot – and should not – bear all the blame for the fiascos of the past 15 months, but he must also take his share of the blame for one of the highest Covid death rates in the western world.
Had he hung on much longer, he would have shredded public confidence in the government’s advice and guidance on Covid. He was a dreadful hypocrite, promoted some way above his abilities. It is a sobering thought that 20 Tory MPs thought so much of him that they voted for him in the leadership election two years ago, though none appeared to have such a high opinion of his abilities as he did himself.
A certain overconfidence has been his undoing. He is clever, but lacks judgement – or the sort of low cunning that can help you understand how far you can push your luck. He has brought his fate upon himself. His is a shameful legacy.
Plainly, public and parliamentary opinion had grown so hostile to Hancock that he had to quit – jumping before he was pushed. So bad was his situation that even Johnson, reluctant to give Labour a scalp, might have had to sack him, whether in a reshuffle or otherwise, in the very near future. It was getting ridiculous, with videos of school disco songs, and childish sniggering all over the country. He should have quit instantly. Without being pious, we should at least also recognise the human tragedy being played out here among two families.
Hancock’s position was untenable, as is the idea of him standing up at that Downing Street podium, flanked by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, dishing out the rules he had failed to follow himself. It’s said he will make a comeback before long, but the Tory party can’t be that short of talent. Can they?