Sunday 27 June 2021

The Affairs Within the Affair

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Matt Hancock wrote "We owe it to the people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance." In truth, since those images of him getting handsy with his aide Gina Coladangelo were splashed by The Sun, he was doomed. Not because of the extra-marital hanky panky, but because of the blatant hypocrisy involved. Interesting then that Boris Johnson made it clear he did not regard it a resigning matter and was case closed as far as he was concerned.

This last month's coverage of Tory doings has focused on the party's vulnerabilities. Overreach is one, attacking the base is another, and thanks to Johnson's reluctance to give Hancock the heave-ho we can add one more: a propensity to keep on "fucking hopeless" - the PM's words - ministers. Had Hancock not thrown himself out of the window, Johnson would not have avoided the damage and have left himself vulnerable to the increasingly restless lockdown sceptics on the party's backbenches. But Johnson was never going to sack him. The prattle in Westminster circles talks about Johnson's resistance to "the mob", of his reluctance of being deflected from whatever he thinks he's doing by pressures exacted by the media, popular opinion, rebellious MPs, and so on. And from the standpoint of his playing the politics game, he's right. Central to Tory statecraft is confidence in the leader, and once that has gone it is practically impossible to restore. Johnson knows this, hence he resists anything and everything that is seen to pressurise or be expected of him. The advantage, among his new supporters, is single-minded leadership and doing what he promised to do. The downside is inflexibility, rigidity, and chances of having his judgement called into question if confidence is compromised in his ministers.

But this is only a specific rigidity applying only to certain aspects of government. If Johnson's management was petrified his authority would have crumbled long ago. Hence the resurrection of Sajid Javid's career. Having dispensed with his services because he contested Johnson's authority (or more precisely that of his then proxy, Dominic Cummings), he's been brought back to mollify the backbenchers. While Hancock was broadly supportive of SAGE's take on lockdowns, Javid has been of the "we've got to live with Coronavirus" brigade since at least this time last year. But also, on this, his position takings are in full accordance with the first instinct of his boss who has made great show of his reluctance to tackle the pandemic properly. The appointment, in the first instance, is to buttress Johnson's standing.

Away from the immediate who's-in-who's-out politics, the other questions surrounding Hancock's affair are far more interesting than getting caught in flagrante. Why was Coladangelo appointed in the first place? Expertise, Hancock's special interest in her or, given that she isn't short of cash and wasn't there for the money, her own family links to firms profiting from NHS contracts? Then there are the revelations the former health secretary used a private email account to conduct government business. Everyone in politics knows using private means for communicating the juicy and the dodgy stuff is best for avoiding FOIs and select committee scrutiny. What business was conducted on them and why? Where was the oversight? And lastly, of concern to other shaggers in Tory high command, how were the images of the Hancock/Coladangelo clinch obtained?

Compared to past Tory governments, none have ever been as mired in and turned a blind eye to such levels of institutional corruption. Spread across the body of the Tory administration it is particularly concentrated in procurement arising out of the pandemic response. And, if anything, the coming restructure of the NHS beds down the opportunities for even more corruption thanks to the free hand it gives the secretary of state. In the mean time however, Hancock's departure insulates for the government from searching questions. And if corruption threatens to dynamite the Tories, the former health secretary is now at a safe enough distance for the damage to be contained. So they think.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My pet conspiracy theory for why the footage was leaked is that it is an attempt to erode support for lockdown measures. The logic is, if we see them breaking the rules why should we follow them?

The obvious answer to this is because these measures are required to stop a deadly disease spreading, killing and mutating. At least until we have a thorough vaccination programme well embedded.

If fact if the rich are allowed to break these measures with impunity while we have to follow them strictly (which isn’t true but...) I can only assume that the authorities hate the rich and love us!