Lesley Riddoch: Let’s not kid ourselves that Hancock’s exit really means anything

Of course, with double standards that made Dominic Cummings look positively saintly, the English Health Minister had to go.

But he didn’t quit immediately, elegantly, with any great conviction or real contrition.

Nor was he sacked straightaway by a compromised Prime Minister who believes resignations are not necessary acts of public accountability but weak-willed capitulations to the mob.

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Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was rolled out on Sunday TV to give the official line – that Hancock “should be proud” of protecting the English NHS and that he resigned to put the best interests of the UK and his family first.

For anyone who’s lost a loved one to Covid, that’s unbearable sanctimony.

Apparently, Matt Hancock’s marriage is “now over” and he’s setting up home with his new lover.

I suppose it is possible to put your wife and three children first by leaving them.

But it’s not the usual way.

So, let’s not be under any illusion about his lofty motives.

Hancock quit because he was caught.

On camera.

By an erstwhile “colleague”.

And shopped on the front page of Britain’s most widely read tabloid.

But was it even humiliation that prompted Hancock to quit?

After watching on cheerfully while his reputation was trashed by Dominic Cummings, a Commons Select Committee and the Queen, you’d wonder if Matt Hancock can actually spell the word or feel emotion.

There’s an alternative explanation for his resignation volte face that’s every bit as believable but far more worrying.

The real story seems to be that Tory libertarians have long been hostile to “Covid cautious” Matt Hancock. Yip, you read that right. The Health Secretary on whose watch the UK has thrice been disastrously late to lockdown is nonetheless viewed as a fussy, o’er canny and restrictive operator by members of the Covid Recovery Group – inheritors of the European Research Group’s “freedom” mission.

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Reports suggest an anti-lockdown whistleblower obtained the incriminating photos of Hancock and lover Gina Coladangelo, six weeks before handing it over to the Sun. On the BBC’s Marr programme, the paper’s Jane Moore said the final straw was probably the postponement of “Freedom Day” two weeks ago, when Hancock appeared on TV urging everyone to refrain from hugging. If so, the final nail in the coffin was driven in a few days later when it emerged Hancock had withheld positive Covid data from Boris Johnson for three days, so the Cabinet would vote to delay the end of lockdown.

In which case it was Hancock’s postponement of Freedom Day – hyped by the UK Government like England’s 4th of July – wot done it and forced him to quit. Not rank hypocrisy, sexual indiscretion, Covid rule-breaking, belated awareness of family pain, or even a far-fetched concern about the best interests of the UK.

If that’s true, it’s scary.

A reactionary group of anti-vaxers and anti-lockdown Tories may have just claimed their first ministerial scalp, knowing that Boris Johnson is in no position to take them on.

It might also explain why Sajid Javid was chosen as Health Secretary over the vastly more experienced Jeremy Hunt or the current vaccines minister? Was Javid appointed because “Saj” is a great pal of Carrie Johnson as Dominic Cummings suggests? Was it because installing a remarkably un-rancorous ex-Cabinet minister, would obviate the need for a wider reshuffle?

Or does Javid owe his appointment to “liberal” views on Covid restrictions which meet the approval of the CRG?

If Hancock’s demise and Javid’s elevation are both explained – even in part – by their appeal to the Covid Recovery Group, then who’s really running the country?

Now admittedly, this might well be a conspiracy theory too far.

But the crushing reality is that the scenario sounds quite plausible.

So too the idea that Johnson may have “encouraged” the leaked photos of Hancock to get rid of his “totally f-ing hopeless” Health Minister for non-Covid related reasons.

This is how low the British Government has reached.

Voters too.

After all, “we” put them there.

So we console ourselves that Hancock got his just desserts.

And the most cavalier law-breaking government in generations has been usefully smacked o’er the knuckles.

Justice has prevailed.

But has it?

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This is a brazen Prime Minister whose cabinet ministers do and say what they like, almost enjoying any resultant flak. Give it six months on the backbenches with mouth shut a la Javid, and Hancock will be back in office, generating little complaint from those English voters who’ve irretrievably nailed their colours to the Tory mast over Brexit.

The majority of Scots may hope that Hancockgate has damaged or at least chastened Boris Johnson. But his clumsy departure may yet have the opposite effect.

Voter reaction has been confined to CRG supporters, marching through London to protest against continuing lockdown.

Essentially, Hancock’s weekend resignation has simply served to muddy the water – persuading the most gullible voters that even “hopeless” ministers possess a moral compass, that there’s a level of hypocrisy this Prime Minister will not tolerate, and that there’s a price for wrongdoing as a member of the British Government.

We all know there isn’t.

Hancock was probably only safe until Freedom Day provided a Covid milestone special enough to get shot of him. Boris may now bring the General Election forward to 2023 to avoid a damaging official inquiry into Covid. By then the negative impact of Brexit, stealthy alteration to public services and changes to the composition of the British population will have moved the dial so far from a progressive, organised society, that Labour will need two terms to swing it back.

Yet Labour is in total disarray. Torn apart by Brexit – just like the country.

So here we are.

Matt Hancock is temporarily gone.

But let’s not kid ourselves that means anything.

British Cabinet ministers will keep saying one thing and doing another.

The libertarian right will keep acting as judge and jury, deciding who thrives and who takes a dive. And when.

It’s how they roll.

And we will keep putting up with it.

Until we find a democratic way out.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992