Sunday, September 19

Matt Hancock has the backing of Boris Johnson, for now | Katy balls

When Dominic Cummings gave testimony to MPs last week, few cabinet ministers escaped unscathed. But it was one man who suffered the most: Matt Hancock. While former senior assistant No. 10 didn’t make fun of his former boss, Boris Johnson, who declared him unfit to direct, it was the health secretary who ended up bearing the brunt of Cummings’ attacks.

Among the various missiles launched by Cummings are claims that Hancock should have already been fired for “15 or 20 things” and was guilty of “shameful and criminal behavior that caused serious harm.” The most serious allegation is that Hancock lied about protecting nursing homes from Covid in March, telling the prime minister’s residents that tests would be done before being sent back from the hospital when that was not the case.

Five days later, and despite the fact that the health secretary carefully refused to commit himself to carry out these tests “when we could do it”- the story refuses to go away. As new reports emerge from Hancock clipping of No. 10 meetings last year and from questionable guidance from the Department of Health from that point on, questions are being asked about Hancock’s future. The latest Opinium survey found that 44% of respondents believe they should resign.

They may be disappointed. Unless new evidence comes to light, few in the administration believe Hancock will be going anywhere anytime soon. It is not just that the prime minister tends to suffer from what a close ally describes as “broken bird syndrome”, and rarely wants to fire people: “the more criticized someone is, the more they want to support him”, it is also the fact that the accuser is Cummings. For Johnson, this isn’t just about an indictment of ministerial wrongdoing – it’s about who now makes the decisions at 10 Downing Street.

To say that relations between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings are at a low point would be an understatement. Even if the Conservatives maintain their lead in Labor polls, the prime minister is hurt by the whole thing. Johnson was already known as someone who took a long time to put his trust in people, and now he trusts even fewer people than usual. These days, When things go wrong in Downing Street, his former assistant is often blamed. Those in the building who are seen to have been close to Cummings and the Vote Leave team are viewed with suspicion.

That’s why the vicious tone of Cummings’ attacks is likely to provide some protection for the health secretary. “Matt is more confident than people think,” says a government adviser. “It’s very ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ there right now.” If anything, there are more suspicions at the political level in number 10 towards the cabinet ministers who did well in the session. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s long-standing praise did not go unnoticed, nor did the fact that Cummings’ former boss Michael Gove was barely mentioned despite being a key figure in Covid’s response.

What’s more, if Johnson were to turn against Hancock, he could turn attention to Cummings’ criticism of the prime minister. Given that Cummings had a lot of negative things to say about Johnson, admitting that he was onto something with Hancock might suggest that he also has something about the prime minister. Johnson and his team are reluctant to give Cummings a scalp.

But that’s not to say that Hancock’s future in government is promising. There are many current and former attendees who will attest to the fact that Hancock’s relationship with the prime minister was strained in the early stages of the pandemic. The ratio hit a low due to a shortage of PPE, which the No. 10’s aides blamed squarely on Hancock. It was not unusual to hear Downing Street aides distinguish “facts” from what they jokingly called “Hancock facts.”

On the other hand, those who work in the Health Department often find the number 10 difficult to work with. The fact that Cummings admitted in the testing session that when Hancock tried to hit his goal of 100,000 tests a day last spring, people calling saying “don’t do what Hancock says” has only confirmed their feeling that the number 10 would often obstruct them. “Imagine working with someone like that every day,” says an ally of the health secretary.

The generalized The dislike of Cummings is also helping Hancock when it comes to the parliamentary party, most of whom are taking the character’s murder with a pinch of salt. “I’m not Matt’s biggest fan, but we know that Dom is not a conservative and has an agenda,” says a senior deputy. “He doesn’t seem to know what the middle ground is, or someone is one in 10 or it’s amazing. Why is no one a six? The only Conservative MP to publicly put his head above the parapet is Dan Poulter, who has called for an immediate investigation into what happened in Britain’s nursing homes.

Given that Hancock’s position is considered secure for now, the more immediate question is whether he can retain authority in his department, at a time when ministers plan to assume more power over the NHS as part of a health system shakeup. But the situation could still change. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Conservative Party prefers to take Hancock’s word over that of a man they believe will not stop until he has overthrown the government.

New evidence or documents related to Cummings claims could change the calculation. Cummings has repeatedly said he has messages to back up his claims and has been asked to provide them to the MPs leading the committee’s investigation. Also new witnesses to the Commons investigation (and later the official one) could turn the dial if they corroborate Cummings’ claims.

“We will defend it, but not in the same way that we would with Priti,” says a 2019-er, referring to the secretary of the Interior, who is popular with party members and who more closely reflects the electoral interests of the new election. . coalition. Meanwhile, conservatives skeptical of the lockdown have long criticized the minister who they believe is one of the top pigeons.

For now, however, Hancock has the backing of the prime minister. As long as that continues to be beneficial to both parties, you are safe.

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