What two consenting adults get up to in their free time is a matter for them. Even if there are husbands and wifes and kids involved, best let those families sort the problems out between them.
So that Matt Hancock has been caught having an affair is not a problem in itself.
But there is a problem because of who he is having the affair with, and what rules he might have been breaking by doing so.
The photos are dated 6 May, but at The Spectator correctly points out, it was illegal to hug someone from outside your household until 17 May. OK, so perhaps the rule was too draconian, or maybe he was testing his eyesight and accidentally fondled Gina Coladangelo’s rear, but rule breaking by a Minister is never a good look. Especially one who has been sanctimonious about others breaking lockdown rules numerous times in the past, and was happy to call for Prof Neil Ferguson to resign from Sage for similarly having an affair during lockdown. The Mirror reports however that it’s understood Mr Hancock believes no Covid laws were broken, because he and Mrs Coladangelo were in the Health Department for legitimate work purposes.
But then if you look at the connection between Gina Coladangelo and Matt Hancock the whole thing gets even more messy. Back in November 2020 it emerged that Hancock had appointed Coladangelo as an adviser to the Department for Health and Social Care in March 2020, initially unpaid, but failed to declare that he knew her – but the pair have been friends since university, so for more than twenty years. Then in September Hancock appointed Coladangelo as a non-executive director at DHSC, a numerated position. Sky has also this afternoon dug up a further connection – that Coladangelo’s brother’s firm also has received several NHS contracts.
So what has happened?
At the time of writing, Johnson is standing by his man. Johnson has said he accepts Hancock’s apology for breaking social distancing rules, and considers the matter closed.
And are any of us remotely shocked?
Not a bit.
Which is pretty weird if you think about it.
The whole Coladangelo – Hancock relationship (whether there’s any snogging involved or not is incidental) reeks of corruption and cronyism. The revelations in The Sun have just conveniently highlighted what many of us missed back in the autumn.
But even so Johnson cannot dare sack Hancock, and Hancock lacks any sense of duty and will not resign of his own accord.
Putting it another way: bad personal and/or personal behaviour as a government minister does not have any consequences, and – importantly for this government – it cannot possibly start to have any consequences either. Because were it to do so, were actual decent performance to become a requirement of a ministerial job, a whole slew of ministers – at least Patel, Jenrick and Williamson, and probably even Johnson himself – would immediately have problems.
This is what I mean with the accountability inversion. Prime Ministers of the past – Blair, Brown or even May – could have scored political wins, or at least have avoided short term political damage, by sacking errant ministers. Johnson faces a different predicament. Bad behaviour of his ministers is basically priced in, and the Tories are leading in the opinion polls anyway, but were he to sack Hancock he faces two pretty major problems. Immediately he will get questions along the lines of “what about your own similar behaviour, Prime Minister?” And longer term the next time a scandal hits (and, oh, they will hit) then he will face the question “but you sacked Hancock for less, so why not sack [whoever commits the next misdemeanour]?” Facing either of those is too much, and so Hancock stays in post.
(Note: there is some debate about the very legality of the pictures themselves, given they come from the CCTV camera from inside Hancock’s office at the DHSC, but I do not think there any wrongdoing on that point by Hancock personally on that point, so I don’t discuss that issue here)