STEPHEN GLOVER: Boris Johnson should have sacked Matt Hancock

STEPHEN GLOVER: Boris Johnson should have sacked Matt Hancock… but he has a habit of letting pals off the hook

Why didn’t Boris Johnson sack Matt Hancock last Friday after his energetic clinch with Gina Coladangelo — in blatant contravention of government regulations — came to light?

Given his own rackety private life over the past two decades, the Prime Minister may have felt he couldn’t fire Mr Hancock without being accused of hypocrisy.

He has long maintained that what politicians do in private is entirely their own business. Boris didn’t want to risk undermining this self-serving thesis by giving the heave-ho to the philandering cabinet minister.

But the main charge against the now former Health Secretary wasn’t that he had betrayed his wife of 15 years, whom he has now brutally dumped, but that he had flouted regulations he had applied with officious zeal.

Why didn’t Boris Johnson sack Matt Hancock last Friday after his energetic clinch with Gina Coladangelo — in blatant contravention of government regulations — came to light?

Here was a Grade A hypocrite who has enforced coercive Covid measures with puritanical relish — while at the same time displaying a high degree of incompetence — and was caught red-handed breaking his own rules.

Boris should have acted swiftly and got rid of him at once. Yet he seemed incapable of grasping that Mr Hancock’s behaviour was morally obnoxious, and declared with lofty insouciance that he ‘considered the matter closed’.

Thank God it wasn’t. Unsurprisingly, Labour politicians lined up to denounce Mr Hancock. But so, mostly in private, did many members of local Conservative associations, as well as numerous Tory MPs.

Like the majority of the British public (a YouGov poll found that twice as many respondents thought Hancock should quit than remain in office), grassroots Tories understood the widespread fury at the behaviour of a bumptious and slippery minister who devised the rules which he himself ignored.

Boris, though, failed to see this. Is it because he is, by nature, genial and pretty soft-hearted? Partly. It is also because, for all his popular touch which has endeared him to so many voters, he is often frighteningly out of step with the moral compass of ordinary people.

The main charge against the now former Health Secretary wasn’t that he had betrayed his wife of 15 years, whom he has now brutally dumped, but that he had flouted regulations he had applied with officious zeal

He displayed a similarly reckless indulgence towards Dominic Cummings in April 2020 after his chief adviser had broken lockdown rules, first by driving 260 miles from London to County Durham, and then by undertaking a 60-mile round trip to Barnard Castle, with the ludicrous excuse that he was testing his eyesight.

Many people were infuriated by the Prime Minister’s exoneration of his chief adviser who, like Mr Hancock, was a proponent of stringent restrictions which he then disregarded. Cummings has since repaid Mr Johnson’s forbearance by attacking him viciously, as he has the hapless Mr Hancock.

The upshot of the PM sparing those close to him is to foster the impression that there’s one set of happy-go-lucky rules for him and his mates, and an altogether tougher set for law-abiding humanity.

It was the same last autumn when an official report found that Home Secretary Priti Patel had behaved as a bully at work, and broken the ministerial code. Mr Johnson breezily declared his ‘full confidence’ in her, and in Boys’ Own language urged Tory MPs to ‘form a square around the Pritster’.

We should hardly be surprised by these double standards. After all, in his own private life Boris has long cut corners and scorned rules that constrain lesser mortals. It’s true of his endless sexual shenanigans, and it’s true of the way he runs his finances.

Just recently, the Government’s new standards adviser found ‘significant failings’ over the £90,000 refurbishment of the PM’s No. 11 flat. Lord Geidt judged that the handling of a planned trust to fund its refurbishment was not subject to ‘rigorous project management by officials’.

An optimist would say that Mr Hancock’s departure from the Government could enable it to have a moral make-over. His successor as Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, (pictured) seems straightforward and doesn’t carry much doubtful baggage

‘Rigorous’ is a word that seldom, if ever, applies to Boris Johnson. He wasn’t being rigorous when he gave a clean bill of health to Matt Hancock last Friday, and so further undermined what little stock of moral authority there remains in No. 10.

Mr Hancock was, in his way, as egregious a corner-cutter as Boris Johnson, the main difference being that he conducts himself with much less aplomb, and absolutely no charm.

More than anyone in the Cabinet — which is saying something — he has developed a reputation for encouraging ‘chumocracy’ — handing contracts to friends or contacts. One such was Alex Bourne, whose firm, Hinpack, was awarded a £30 million contract to supply test tubes to the NHS.

Mr Bourne is the landlord of Mr Hancock’s local pub in his West Suffolk constituency. Although the ex-Health Secretary has insisted he had nothing to do with the contract, emails obtained after a Freedom of Information battle reveal that he referred Mr Bourne’s plea for business to a senior civil servant in the Department of Health.

Questions also remain as to how a £28 million NHS million contract was awarded to a company of which Gina Coladangelo’s brother, Roberto, is a director, though the firm has denied that the contract had anything to do with the former Health Secretary.

The presence of Gina Coladangelo, a very old friend of Mr Hancock’s, as a part-time adviser in the Department of Health is in itself a conundrum, and possibly an example of taking chumocracy to an entirely new level.

Mr Hancock does not stand accused only of helping his pals. Among many alleged mistakes too plentiful to enumerate, he is blamed by some for thousands of avoidable deaths in care homes, as a result of the decision to discharge NHS patients without Covid tests in March last year.

This is just one of the charges of incompetence which Mr Hancock will have to answer when the official inquiry into the pandemic begins next year. He was ‘totally f****** hopeless’, according to a Boris Johnson text written in March 2020 and recently released by the vengeful Dominic Cummings.

An optimist would say that Mr Hancock’s departure from the Government could enable it to have a moral make-over. His successor as Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, seems straightforward and doesn’t carry much doubtful baggage, apart from being identified as a special favourite of Carrie Johnson’s.

I’m afraid, though, there are other Cabinet ministers who don’t have a spotless record. One is Robert Jenrick, who as Housing and Communities Secretary has attracted several allegations of sleaze.

In November 2019 he overturned a planning decision against a property developer’s £1 billion plan to build 1,500 homes in East London the day before a new tax was introduced, saving him millions of pounds. The developer, Richard Desmond, had made a £12,000 donation to the Tory Party two weeks earlier.

And then there is swashbuckling, shameless Boris Johnson who, incidentally, still faces investigation by the Greater London Authority’s oversight committee into whether he conducted himself in a way expected of those in public office during his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri while he was Mayor.

How one longs for rulers who are rigorous and even-handed, who do not indulge their favourites and treat them as members of a privileged gang permitted to follow their own convenient rules.

I’m glad the archetypal hypocrite Matt Hancock has departed, but I don’t think we will suddenly have a Government characterised by virtue and integrity.

On the contrary, as a result of not sacking him when he should have done so, Boris Johnson has reinforced the impression that No. 10 is short on probity, and a little more of his already diminished moral authority has drained away.

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