The Matt Hancock scandal needs no synopsis. It has monopolised headlines, rocked Whitehall, and – frankly – annoyed every resident of the United Kingdom.
The hypocrisy in Hancock’s actions is shocking. He is a key architect of the slogans and social distancing restrictions that have dominated the UK’s handling of the pandemic, from ‘Stay at home, save lives’ to the 1 metre plus rule. There’s an obvious hypocrisy in his flouting of the rules, as those who set the rules must follow them just like everyone else. It’s for this reason likely more than anything that the court of media and public opinion demanded his resignation. What’s worse is the message Hancock’s actions send about his faith in the regulations he’s helped design and enforce. As the Delta variant sweeps across the UK, Hancock, who is vaccinated, perhaps decided to just take the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by breaking social distancing rules. His actions also present an alternative message – he doesn’t buy into the rules himself. The prevailing theme from the government for the duration of the pandemic has been fear; Hancock’s actions are not those of a person afraid of contracting COVID-19.
There’s an obvious hypocrisy in his flouting of the rules, as those who set the rules must follow them just like everyone else.
The next issue of concern relates to national security – how exactly did the footage from inside Hancock’s office enter the public domain? Former cabinet ministers have commented that there were not cameras in their offices during their tenure, or if there were they weren’t aware of it. Further, if the camera was there to monitor his door for security reasons, the footage would be seen by security officers. Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis has highlighted the need to investigate two issues: if the camera was in the office “appropriately”, and if it was, how the footage was leaked.
This current scandal may be shocking – but it has plenty of predecessors and certainly won’t be the last of its kind. Government officials have a habit of developing the attitude that it’s one rule for them, and one for other people. In the instance of the Hancock scandal, questions are now being asked over whether there was a conflict of interest in how Gina Coladangelo earned her position as a non-executive director of the Department of Health, a role funded by the taxpayer.
The list of similar instances is long. Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules in May 2020, driving 264 miles from London to Durham whilst suspecting that he and his wife both had COVID-19. Professor Ian Ferguson, a SAGE committee advisor, resigned from his government role after a woman he was in a relationship with visited his home during peak lockdown in May 2020. Images from the recent G7 conference in Cornwall appear to show delegates not standing apart from each other, thus breaching current social distancing rules. The government has given special quarantine exemption to 2,500 VIP guests to allow them to attend the EURO 2020 at Wembley. Think as far back as to the 2009 ministerial expenses scandal, where one minister attempted to charge the taxpayer with £30,000 for gardening his second home, and – infamously – £1,645 for a duck house island to decorate his pond.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
There’s either a problem with the checks and balances in place to curb ego and entitlement in governmental positions, or there’s something wrong with the character of person being appointment to government. These are roles that are meant to be in service of the country and its people. Yet, there’s a consistent track record of individuals in positions of authority abusing their power. This is especially shocking in the case of Matt Hancock, whose tenure and individual role has seen unprecedented restrictions on basic freedoms. The key takeaway? “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.