The way to end a government career is not by being stupid, but by becoming expendable.
Meet Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, unassuming, unambitious, always towing the party line. And as of last Saturday, ex-Secretary for Health and Social Care. To be fair to poor Matt, when he got the job in 2019, no-one expected much from the Department for Health and Social Care or the Secretary running it. Keep the NHS barely alive, fiddle a bit with the administration so as to look like you are doing something, mumble a word or two about “care plan,” and you are golden; that was the general idea. Then Corona struck, and all bets were off. But in true Tory fashion, Hancock didn’t rise to the occasion. Instead, he hid behind the Prime Minister and Johnson’s “world-beating” Covid response that so far has cost 150,000 people in the UK their lives. Boris Johnson ran the show, and Hancock appeared intermittently behind the lectern trying to look serious, without much success.
History, well, the part of history that cares, will remember him for a few things:
- Lying to Parliament when he declared last year May that they had “thrown a protective ring around the care homes right from the start.” That statement was made two months after the NHS had ordered care patients not needing immediate medical attention to be transferred back into their care homes unchecked and untested, and 20,000 elderly had already died as a consequence.
- Having broken the law by not publishing contracts awarded for PPE. We’re talking a total of £15bn here, so not just chickenfeed. Hancock’s argument that this was a pandemic, and that they really had better things to do than filing the paperwork, didn’t fly with the judge.
- Awarding contracts to a firm in which both he and his sister have shares, which is a breach of the ministerial code. Not that it matters much these days, but for now, it’s still illegal.
- Killing off the NHS with his idea of reorganising it. Basically, his plan hands control of it over to ministers, who do not have to ask Parliament any longer, and lets private-for-profit companies sit on the boards of health trusts. Privatisation by (not so) stealth.
- And finally, for having an affair with an old friend from uni, whom he employed in the department as a non-exec director. For doing 20 days’ worth of work in a year, she received £15,000 of taxpayers’ money as salary. Cronyism, anyone?
The affair came out because a picture was published in the tabloids that showed them kissing, in his office nonetheless. Not just a peck a on the cheek; this was a full-on, hands-everywhere, pressed-against-the-door smooch-fest. I don’t care where the man lets it hang out, that’s between him and his wife. But did it really have to be in the office? Hancock first apologised, not for the affair or anything else, but for breaking Corona distancing rules. Seriously? He’s been having an affair for years now, and the woman in question is not in his bubble? C’mon. Johnson accepted the apology on Friday and “considered the matter closed.” 24 hours later, Matt Hancock resigned, to take care of his personal life, i.e. leave his wife of 15 years and shack up with his lover.
Sahid Javid got the job as new Secretary at the DHSC a mere 90 minutes after Hancock had handed in his resignation. Efficiency is not a Tory thing, so he must have been literally waiting in the wings. Javid used to be chancellor, but he couldn’t get along with Dominic Cummings, then very special advisor to Johnson. When Cummings fired one of Javid’s own advisors last year and wanted to replace the SPADs in the Treasury with his own selection, Javid walked off in a huff. Now that Cummings is gone, Javid and the PM are best buddies again. Make of that what you want.
But does it really make a difference who does the job, Hancock or Javid or anyone else? Not one jot. One, since it is mandatory for anyone in the Westminster Cabinet to be a) a Brexiteer, and b) a sycophant, and c) not to have any factual knowledge of the brief they are responsible for, it really doesn’t matter which shitgibbon replaces Hancock in that post. Javid is as good as any other. Two, the most important decision has already been made – the NHS is about to be put on the chopping block. The one thing that worked in this entire pandemic mess, and especially its vaccine programme, simply because it wasn’t in the hands of Westminster alone and not outsourced to some private companies with connections to the Tories. The NHS is something akin to a national religion over here; touching it is almost sacrilege. But who cares, when you can make money out of it to put into the pockets of your pals?
There are so many questions surrounding this. The most important one: There’s CCTV in the secretary’s private offices that is neither safe nor secure so that anyone has access to it and can do whatever?? I’m not even shocked at the idiocy of conducting one’s extra-marital business at one’s place of work, or the chumocracy that goes hand in hand with it. It’s not even the incompetence of someone like Hancock in getting caught. It’s the fact that footage from the private offices is seemingly available to anyone who is willing to pay for it. Either my priorities are somewhat twisted, or I am already really, really jaded by the shitshow that is the UK government.
And of course the material in question finds its way to the pages of The Sun, one of the vilest rags available in the UK. On the other hand, it is not the first time that those working for the The Sun are implicated in bribery and corruption of those working in public services. So, no surprises there.
Othello says hello
The sinister thing about it all, however, is the fact that it was not the lying, the incompetence, the cronyism, or the blood on his hands that brought down Hancock. It was a picture on a tabloid front page. Hancock’s failings as Health Secretary are public knowledge, and due to Corona, what happened in the DHSC is more intensely scrutinised than at other times. And yet, nobody raised an eyebrow. In every other democracy, politicians are still somewhat accountable to the people, and journalists are the ones holding to account. But here it seems no-one gives a damn, neither the politicians nor the people nor reporters. No-one called for his resignation when 20,000 people died on his watch, no-one called for an inquiry when he was found guilty of breaking the law. The tables only turned because people were fuming having lost loved ones and not being able to attend funerals or to hug each other for comfort – because of the rules that Hancock proclaimed must be followed, only to break them himself. The backlash from his own constituency made him eventually resign. Not because he was wrong; hypocrisy is this government’s bread and butter. But because he knew he wouldn’t win another election with the Conservative Association there. It was doubtful they would have fielded him as a Tory candidate again.
And it is effectively the front page of a third-class paper that some people wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole which ends a political & government career. They could have chosen not to pursue this, not to obtain the footage, not to publish the photos. But they did, and in the process ended Hancock’s time as Health Secretary. It is unbelievable what kind of power Rupert Murdoch as owner of The Sun has in this country. CCTV cameras are not generally the norm in secretaries’ offices, and the one in question was originally pointed to the window and balcony, since those were identified as security weak spots. Until someone turned it around to film the office door instead. And made the footage available to the Sun. That little factoid in turn begs the question: Did Boris Johnson ask a favour here, or did Murdoch decide this on his own? As I said, they could have chosen not to pursue this, but they did, heaved a waiting Javid into the post, and created the fall guy for the inevitable Corona inquiry in one fell swoop. Because this is exactly what happened to Hancock here – the Moor has done his part, and he is now the perfect patsy for everything that this government has cocked up in terms of the pandemic response. We were promised an inquiry in 2022 to sort out what happened and when and why during the crisis, but it’s already clear – they will blame it all on Hancock. More importantly, he will also be the one who effectively initiated the destruction of the national treasure that is the NHS. And with that, he became expendable. The Moor can go. He’s no longer there to take any responsibility or defend himself, so it’s basically perfect. Whatever went wrong, it will all be Hancock’s fault. Even Javid can say at any stage: “It wasn’t me, I only inherited this mess.”
So, the shitshow that is Westminster will continue unscathed. Until the next time someone has to go.