Should Matt Hancock have been sacked rather than being allowed to resign?


Should Matt Hancock have been sacked rather than being allowed to resign?

Dr Sarah Lieberman discussed this question on BBC Radio Kent Mid Morning Show with Julia George, this morning and summarises the key arguments here.

There are a few different aspects to this question. First, there are many different things that Matt Hancock could at this point have been sacked for doing: one, breaking the Ministerial Code by putting friends into important positions – see Dido Harding’s appointment to the NHS Test and Trace scheme, and then her move to lead the National Institution for Health Protection and his lover, Gina Coladangelo’s, appointment as his aide; and by further breaking the ministerial code by giving NHS contracts to a company owned by his sister, and himself. Two, breaking the Ministerial Code by breaching security using a private email address – Hilary Clinton did this and was dragged over hot coals, surely Hancock was aware of this. Three, he might have been sacked for being (according to Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson) “Absolutely ******* useless” : which during a pandemic is not an ideal description of the Secretary of State for Health. Four, he could have been sacked, at the end of last week, for being caught on camera pursuing an extra-marital affair, breaking his own lock-down rules, and generally breaking the trust of the public. 

But instead he resigned leaving many people to question why he was not sacked by the Prime Minister. Again, this is a many faceted question, but has to include issues that might arise concerning the Prime Minister’s own personal life, pandemic competency, and the wider issuing of contracts to Conservative donors, families and friends. There is also the fact that Johnson has consistently ignored questions of Ministerial Code where it concerns his inner sanctum, thus leaving Patel in position despite accusation of bullying, and Gove in position despite breaking the ministerial code over NHS contracts. We, the public, must now ask what on earth would constitute a sackable offence?

But Hancock has done more than break the ministerial code through dodgy appointments, unlawful contracts, and security breaches, he has broken his own rules on social distancing, at a time when funerals were limited in numbers; families could not meet; those in care homes were isolated; and the UK population was told that only by abiding by the rules could we hope to return to any sort of normality. This is where he has really fallen from grace: the British public can apparently forgive crooked dealings, cronyism, and a complete lack of competency, but can they forgive hypocrisy and a sense that MPs see themselves as above the law? Can anyone forgive his flagrant disregard for lockdown as the rest of us watched our families grow up, grow old, grow ill, and grow ever more frustrated with the ever spreading virus, all over zoom? I suspect the answer to that will be no.

Dr Sarah Lieberman is Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Kent and other media.

Photo by By Richard Townshend – https://members-api.parliament.uk/api/Members/4070/Portrait?cropType=ThreeFourGallery: https://members.parliament.uk/member/4070/portrait, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86641678

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