Before it was revealed he was facing an investigation for the use of a personal email account to conduct government business, Matt Hancock had resigned after a whirlwind in which footage of his clinch with aide Gina Coladangelo was leaked to the Press.
What followed was a vague admission shared in a Twitter video. “I breached the social distancing guidance” admitted Mr Hancock as he resigned from his position as rulemaker-in-chief at the Department of Health. He could hardly have done otherwise to which those of us who have seen the video with Ms Coladangelo can attest. The now-couple, both married parents-of-three, were seen to carry out a very thorough Covid swab on each other’s tonsils complete with full-frontal groping while in a corridor purported to be inside the Department of Health.
But it prompts the question — what’s the worst part of Mr Hancock’s actions? The affair, his betrayal of his wife who believed they were happily married, how he is said to have woken up his youngest child (8) to tell them he was leaving — or that he set those rules that told millions they couldn’t go to weddings, had to choose who attended a funeral and prevented us from hugging some of those closest to us? Are we more concerned about politicians’ personal lives or their hypocrisy?
Despite being one of the first nations in the world to begin a mass vaccination campaign, around 130,000 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive test since the start of the pandemic. It’s the worst death toll in any European country.
Former top aide to Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, recently shared how they ripped Mr Hancock to shreds in text messages for what they perceived as his ineptitude. In March last year, Mr Cummings sent a message to Mr Johnson in which he highlighted the ramping up of testing capacity in the US and criticises Mr Hancock for saying he was “sceptical” about meeting a target. Mr Johnson’s response was: “Totally [expletive] hopeless.”
But even this series of criticisms and fatal errors wasn’t cause enough for Matt Hancock to resign. The man didn’t even step down immediately after The Sun revealed the footage of him with his aide, instead making us wait amid a mistaken belief he could see out the scandal despite publicly condemning other public figures including epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson for a lockdown breach with his lover, and Scotland’s chief medical officer after she left her area for a trip to London. Post-resignation, the former health secretary pleaded for “privacy for my family on this personal matter” and Number 10 announced that the PM “considers the matter closed”.
His hypocrisy aside, the horrific death rate in the UK alone is much worse in terms of public interest than anything he did with an aide paid for by the taxpayer, yet it’s failed to rock the headlines or social media like this affair has. Instead, the grim Covid death rate in the UK, while condemned, did not become a resigning matter. It’s the tryst with Ms Coladangelo, which has little to do with the ordinary person trying to avoid catching Covid in the UK, that was his downfall.
It brings to mind a scandal that dominated headlines and became one of the first truly viral stories on Facebook and Twitter when in 2009 Tiger Woods sped out of his Orlando driveway, across kerbs and a central reservation, collided with a fire hydrant and ploughed into a neighbour’s tree. What followed was a media furore as the sportsman came unstuck with a series of allegations in which women claimed to have had affairs with Mr Woods. He was later found to have five drugs in his system when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2017. The stories about him have been lurid in detail, salacious and have everyone wanting to know more. In headlines, Tiger’s affairs have been the main focus, not the car crashes or the details surrounding them.
Tiger is a public figure but he’s not a politician like Matt Hancock, chosen to represent the electorate and elevated to a position of extreme authority. But for those paid the big bucks to represent us, it can sometimes feel it’s all about their personality rather than their ability to actually do the job. Instead of a focus on their work, it’s all about personal image and Matt Hancock’s has certainly taken a beating, but not for how he handled the coronavirus pandemic. That seems to have been forgotten since the scandal began.
It’s perfectly understandable that being likeable or successful wins votes. But for Mr Hancock, the real failure was that he was unable to do his job, not that he is considered untrustworthy. We’d do well to remember that when it comes to politics, it’s about what’s in the brief, not the briefs.