View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
22 October 2018updated 07 Jun 2021 12:32pm

Why other cabinet ministers won’t follow Matt Hancock

By Patrick Maguire

And then there were six: Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has dropped out of the Conservative leadership contest after a disappointing showing in the first ballot.

In a statement released to the Evening Standard – the paper edited by his old mentor, George Osborne – Hancock admitted that Tory MPs had not been ready for a fresh face. “I ran as the candidate of the future, but the party is understandably looking for a candidate for the unique circumstances we face right now,” he said.

Always an outside bet, Hancock struggled to establish himself as a viable contender in a contest that has turned out to be much less open than any of its participants anticipated. As he admits, the defining question for most Conservative MPs is how they might stem the party’s loss of support to the Brexit Party. 

It was unlikely that Hancock would ever be the answer. His support was drawn from a fairly small pool of Tory Remainers and the audience for his key messages – avoiding a no-deal Brexit and taking the fight to the Liberal Democrats – was limited. A badly received launch did nothing to disabuse colleagues of the sense his bid lacked momentum either.

But despite Hancock’s struggle to enter serious contention, his team was not without optimism ahead of the first ballot. They had been buoyed by the defection of George Freeman, the former minister and Downing Street policy chief, from Michael Gove’s camp. They expected more to follow – and crucially, for Rory Stewart to fail to qualify for the second ballot. But in the end, neither Stewart’s failure nor the expected Gove collapse materialised, leaving Hancock’s path to the 32-vote threshold for inclusion on the third ballot so narrow as to be non-existent. 

His fellow cabinet ministers, however, will draw the opposite conclusion about their own chances. With Boris Johnson miles ahead, the focus of the five other candidates is on capturing second place. The margin between Jeremy Hunt and Rory Stewart is only 24 votes and Hancock’s decision to quit on his own terms releases 20 into play at once. It isn’t a given that those MPs will move en bloc to whichever candidate he endorses after discussions this weekend. But their entry into the market will encourage those ministers scrapping for second – particularly Sajid Javid, whose team are particularly bullish – that the race isn’t over yet.

Content from our partners
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE
Labour's health reforms can put patients first

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.