Why Matt Hancock is in danger – even under Boris Johnson

The biggest threat to the Health Secretary following his “steamy clinch” is his unpopularity among Tory MPs.

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Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has declined to comment on reports that he is having an affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo after pictures published by the Sun appeared to show him in – in tabloid-speak – a “steamy clinch” with Coladangelo. A friend of the Health Secretary told the Sun “he has no comment on personal matters. No rules have been broken.” 

There are two things that protect Hancock from the exit. The first is that he’s not a social conservative – he hasn’t ever been prone to moralising about how other people should live their lives or conduct their affairs. The second is, frankly, one thing you can say for certain under Boris Johnson is that no minister is going to be asked to resign for having a “steamy clinch” outside the bounds of marriage: it would be humiliating for the Prime Minister personally.  

But there are two factors that could change things. The first is whether or not evidence emerges that Hancock acted improperly in hiring Coladangelo in the first place. The second is Hancock’s unpopularity among Conservative MPs, who see him as the face of continuous lockdown and endless restrictions.  

[see also: How Covid-19 could limit travel for years beyond the crisis]

The mood in the parliamentary party is unhappy after a slew of new travel restrictions were unveiled last night: which includes, yes, a number of new countries on the green list, but also a new category of countries halfway between amber and green. Many MPs don’t understand why the government is burdening the aviation and tourism industry with ever-changing levels of restrictions, instead of just using the established practice of vaccine passports, which have existed for diseases such as yellow fever for more than half a century.  

Social conservatism is on the wane essentially everywhere in the United Kingdom, including in the Conservative parliamentary party. That’s why Johnson was able to become and remain Prime Minister, after all. But don’t rule out a second wave of it among Tory MPs if they believe it’s the best way to rid themselves of a minister whose policy they dislike.

[see also: Matt Hancock is useless – but not for the reasons you might think]

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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