It isn’t (just) that Matt Hancock is a grubby little man with the morals of a polecat that matters. If moral rectitude was a requirement for senior office the current incumbent in Number 10 would be nowhere near the place. No, Hancock’s manifest failings relate mainly to his lack of competence and his shameless mendacity rather than his adultery.
Political commentators with long memories struggle to find any parallels to the weakness of the current Cabinet – arguably Hancock wasn’t even the worst of this gruesome crew. The hard Right blog site ConservativeHome has regular surveys to produce ranking tables of the members of the Cabinet. In recent times Liz Truss has been at the top. See what I mean?
A political job is not like a normal job, especially at the top. It must be uncomfortable to be constantly in the public eye – but fame no doubt brings its rewards and makes it worthwhile. Egomania is a driver of political ambition along with, in some cases, ideological fanaticism.
Matt Hancock has no discernible political ideology and to understand him you have to see only his “Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself”. Like Macbeth Hancock was sucked into the belief that ambitions can be undisturbed by realities. In 2019 he briefly ran to be Leader of the Conservative Party. He alone believed he had the qualities needed in the job. But, to be fair, he must have looked at the other candidates and thought “Why not?”.
Before becoming Health Secretary Hancock’s brief political career was full of minor infelicities and a few pretty disreputable actions. His Wikipedia entry lists some of these. But being appointed to what turned out to be Britain’s most important political job in 2020 was soon to reveal how “hopeless” he was. As we know that was the Prime Minister’s description of him. Though he kept him in the job.
Confident, able men and women generally don’t need to lie nor indulge in cover up. Perhaps Matt Hancock realised that he was a classic example of the “Peter Principle” and then tried to bluff and bluster his way through. His boss is, of course, the true master of that dark art.
Under stress people do odd things sometimes and that is true of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. It isn’t just Hancock who was “hopeless”. Stress magnifies our insecurity so, for example, Priti Patel has become more illiberal and more bullying in her certainty since her dysfunctional leadership style was exposed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is visibly under huge pressure as well with public spending out of control and inflation rising. Not to mention working for a Prime Minister who wants to spaff £200m on a vainglorious yacht.
The Hancock affair could be the beginning of a realisation that we just don’t have people of quality at the top. For example compare and contrast the preposterous Lord Frost, a dithering confused mess of a man, with his suave and clearly able EU counterparts.
Perhaps Hancock’s ex Cabinet colleagues will in a perverse way be encouraged by his very public failure. It’s quite likely that in their private moments they say to their loved ones “But I’m not as bad as Matt”
Maybe the blogger and broadcaster Sophie Eggleton (above) has got it right. It’s not just the “poor man” Matt Hancock who is out of his depth.