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30 June 2021

Commons Confidential: Hancock’s helping hand

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Yorkshire terrier Philip Davies had David Cameron in stitches a few years back with a crude dig at Matt Hancock during a Tory away day. “Anyone tempted to lick George Osborne’s backside should be careful because if you go too far,” mused the backbencher, “you will find the soles of Matt Hancock’s shoes in the way.” It was to the former chancellor that his protégé Hancock turned for advice after the face-grab-arse breach of Covid rules with closest adviser Gina Coladangelo. Osborne, these days engaged to his pregnant former aide Thea Rogers, counselled the health secretary to quit and lie low. Should he find a popular cause to champion, he added, he could be back in the cabinet within 18-24 months. We’ll see.

[See also: Rule-breaking ministers who did not resign under Boris Johnson]

Serial liar Boris Johnson’s suggestion that he sacked Hancock was contradicted by the dozen or so times his No 10 spokesperson told Westminster journalists the Prime Minister considered the Hancock affair closed. Hancock therefore had a nasty surprise when he called the chief whip Mark “and” Spencer, who informed him that 80 Tory colleagues, including several cabinet ministers, thought the office lothario must go. My snout muttered that the other 282 Tory MPs must have turned off their phones.

One last word on Hancock: Downing Street aides sharing memes of the hitherto public puritan in various sexual positions underlined the low regard in which they held the moraliser-in-chief. Cue embarrassment when one of Hancock’s team was inadvertently sent a Photoshopped image of his boss deep in “Covid discussions”, a successor to Private Eye’s wink-wink nudge-nudge “Ugandan discussions”.

[See also: Victoria Newton’s Diary: How the Sun got its Matt Hancock scoop]

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Over in Labour land, Keir Starmer’s political obituary was pre-written by a shadow cabinet minister who declared the leader’s reign is over regardless of the outcome of the Batley and Spen by election. The latest name in the frame for a leadership challenge is Jon “Tricky” Trickett, a left-winger who travelled to the Socialist Campaign Group via carrying bags as a PPS to Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown. One tale doing the rounds is that Trickett suspected two furtive men seen regularly on the street opposite his West Yorkshire office were MI5 officers spying on him. The pair were in fact local drug dealers.

Vengeful Dominic Cummings will be livid that “totally fucking useless” Hancock was brought down by his shameless hypocrisy rather than Cummings’s fusillades. The keyboard warrior’s impact is waning but No 10 is still concerned that Johnson may have rubbished Sajid Javid in messages to Desperate Dom. The Saj is said to be unconcerned. He and Rishi Sunak are the cabinet’s unsackable pair. 

[See also: Andy Burnham: “I’m prepared to go back but as something different”]